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The sun rises, drunks ahoy, Muppet pacing, YES YES YES, gingerbread girl, squirrel head, nutrition nightmare and how do I get home?

I entered the Royal Parks Half ballot on a whim and then promptly forgot all about it until an email arrived to confirm my place. It then took me a few days to decide whether to pay or not but eventually thought I should just man up and get on with it.

Several months later I then had the great idea of making the race part of my last 20 mile marathon training long run by running from home to the start in Hyde Park. Such a genius idea in thought but in practice I was calling myself an idiot as I stepped out of my house at 7:14am on a Sunday morning to start my run into central London.

I rounded Park Royal station and was greeted by the sight of the sun just rising above the London skyline. I made a sudden stop to take in the breathtaking view and immediately upgraded my ‘idiot’ rating up to ‘inspired’. The sun inched its way up into the clear blue sky as I ran along the A40 and eventually through into Shepherd’s Bush, where I had the pleasure of passing groups of night-time revellers making their way home and using the streets as their no-so-private toilet.

The entrance to Hyde Park appeared and I made my way into the park as other Royal Parks runners were walking down towards the start area. I suddenly realised that; a) I had no idea where the race village was located (must read race packs, must read race packs, must read race packs); and b) I still had another mile to run to make the magic 7 mile pre-race total. Problem b) solved by running around a lake and then problem a) solved by following everyone wearing the official red Royal Parks Half technical tee.

My bag was deposited at the baggage tent, where they stuck a looped bad around my wrist, and then followed signs to my start pen. I can’t remember what finish time I predicted but I was in the second wave and ahead of the 2 hour pacer so that seemed about right to me. Unfortunately I then threw conventional running wisdom out of the window and started the race at half pace and not a more sensible ‘I have just run 7 miles and this is actually a 20 mile training run’ pace. I was so caught up with the crowds of runners and enjoying the London view, that I was trundling along too fast.

The first half of the course weaved through the streets of London to take in Buckingham Palace, Parliament Square, Embankment, the London Eye across the river, back past Downing Street, across the corner of Trafalgar Square before making a trip back to Hyde Park. The entrance section to the Park was packed out with cheering crowds and a fantastic section where all the charity cheer squads lined both sides of the path to create a cacophony of sound.

My legs started to complain at this point as they realised that 13.1 miles were over but another 7 miles lay ahead. I also started to tire of the course as we zigzagged across Hyde Park. I am sure it was a nice course but I was tired and I have run through Hyde park multiple times before so it just seemed a bit ‘samey’ to me.

I did have a chuckle at a nearby runner who was starting to shout out mantra after mantra to himself. My favourite was “YES! YES! YES!”, which caused much mirth to those around him as he sounded like someone engaged in an altogether more private activity.

The temperature was starting to rise due to unseasonal weather and I began to spot runners being treated by the medical volunteers, most notably a series of unconscious runners. I remember running the Silverstone Half one year when it was surprisingly hot and there were runners passing out due to heat exhaustion.

At one stage I spotted a huge squirrel head floating in the air towards me on the opposite side of the path. I started to wonder if the heat was getting to me but then realised a charity runner dressed in the Royal Parks Foundation squirrel outfit had taken off the head and a runner next to him was holding up the giant squirrel head above his shoulders.

The rest of the race was bit of a struggle and I took some brief walking breaks during the last few miles. I was prompted to start running again when a rather pungent smell hit my nose and I wanted to get away from it. I assumed that some nearby flowerbeds had been treated with some sort of fertilizer but the smell remained until I spotted an unfortunate woman in front of me who had experienced a visit from the gingerbread man. The backs of her leggings were streaked with brown down to her knees and then further down her exposed calves. It made me run faster and I felt for her as she had to complete the race in such a poor state.

Finally I crossed the finish line and slowly made my way through the crowds until I made it into the race village. I went straight to the baggage tent so I could put some layers on and I proceeded to go through a long series of stretches. My plan was to go buy some food from the numerous stalls but by now there were huge queues everywhere. Instead I picked up some cheap kit from the official Royal Parks outlet (last years kit on sale, fantastic) and then began the journey home. Kind of. Until I suddenly realised that I hadn’t planned a route home other than ‘get the tube’ so in my tired ‘just run 20 mile’ state I fumbled with my mobile until I realised that Hyde Park Corner tube station would suffice.

I really enjoyed the race and it fitted well in my plan to complete my last long run before the Abingdon Marathon. I failed on many levels for this race – I did not look at the course beforehand (I thought it just went around the parks and had no idea about the great sections through the London sights), I failed to pack my usual post-race snacks and I failed to plan my route home. Maybe next year I will apply in the ballot again but next time just run as a half and go for a better time.

  • Chip time: 1:59:15
  • Garmin time: 1:59:17
  • Gun Position: 6191 / 14841
  • Chip position: 6561 / 14838
  • Gender position: 4642 / 7626
  • Category: M
  • Category position: 2739  / 5780