Did you see them? Scattered around London last Sunday in their red shirts and running shoes. There were around 32,000 of them in all, so it must have been pretty hard not to have bumped into at least one of those tired looking souls, sitting on a tube or edging down a street, with heavy legs, a self-satisfied smile and a medal round their neck.
You might have wondered what they'd been up to, but if you'd spent your Sunday morning in search of a nice realxing walk in either Battersea, Hyde or Victoria Parks, then you'd know, becuase you would have been forced to duck for cover as hordes of them surged round the paths of each park, throwing regular glances at their wristwatches and leaving empty water bottles in their wake.
They were 'Running London' and amongst their number were three of our own, who've been detailing their race preparations on this site for a good few weeks now. From looking at their first (somewhat boobie-obsessed) entry , it looks as if they've come a long way from those first tentative steps, but how did they get on on the big day itself?
Let's find out.....
Ken (Battersea Park)
Three days before the big day, our final pre-run post goes up and I'm off out for the regular Londonist piss up. After the usual self-deprecatory discussions as to what we should do better, followed by booze-induced self-congratulatory discussions as to why we're great and what we're going to do to make ourselves even greater, I leave the bar. During the 50 yard walk to the bus stop, I discover that I am unable to walk properly. Nothing to do with alcohol and everything to do with aggravating the injury I picked up two days earlier, I am now in such a state that I am even thinking of declaring myself unfit for my game of football on Saturday. (The ultimate litmus test of any illness or injury affecting me is to see if I'd be prepared to play football through it.) I eventually get back home safely, thanks to the wife picking me up from the station, and I put my feet up, feeling very sorry for myself.
Contradictory feelings now enter my head. On the one (injured) foot, part of me (my legs, mainly) thinks that it will be a relief to have a genuine reason not to run the 10k given that I only started my training 13 days before race day and only managed 6 training sessions (and a football match) before the injury struck. On the other foot, I don't want people to think I'm a quitter, especially when Alex and Hazel have been putting in the hard work.
Miraculously, upon waking up the next day, my foot has recovered sufficiently for me to be able to play football on the Saturday, so I'll be able to run on the Sunday. The football passes without great incident, although my foot doesn't appreciate not being given a rest and my hamstring starts to tweak in sympathy. Still, nothing that should prevent me from finishing the 10k as long as I run at a reasonable, slow pace. My target is to finish quicker than 1:30 and hopefully closer to 1:15, a pace of 8kph, my training speed.
Sunday, and my body protests at the 6.30am start required to give my stomach enough time to digest my fuel-giving breakfast before the run. I'm so tired but adrenaline induced by the fear of what I'm about to put myself through soon takes over. After the horrible Americanised 'wooh yeahs' (so incongruous for a chilly Sunday morning in a London park) emanating from the big screen and stage, it's soon time to run my first race since the 400m at my school sports day, and my first race above 1,500m ever.
My tactic to get through the race is to keep listening to the music instead of my protesting body and it works. The first song is the rather inappropriately-titled Stop by Charlotte Hatherley, swiftly followed by New Order's Bizarre Love Triangle (the Brotherhood version). Before I know it, I've run a kilometre and I haven't even finished two songs. The 'motivational' signs along the way provide further distraction, especially 'I will not think of the pee word' which, as someone with a passing knowledge of NLP, annoys me for a full kilometre. Shed Seven's Disco Down comes on the iPod, I briefly put my hands in the air (like I don't care) to dance along to it, and I realise that my pace is being dictated not by my carefully-measured training stride, but by the speed of the songs I'm listening to. Still, I feel comfortable and, oh look, I'm halfway round and about to start my second lap of the park. I look up at the clock and nearly trip up when I notice that I've run the first 5k in 30 minutes.
The second half of the race feels better than the first, with the smug satisfaction that is gained from overtaking people who have not paced themselves properly. Not long after the 8k mark, Moloko's Sing It Back (Boris Musical Mix) comes on. I think to myself that this song will be the penultimate one I hear this race and then think that actually, if I get a wiggle on, I could even finish the race before the song ends. Before I know it, my stride lengthens, my breath deepens, and my head breaks into a Paula nod. I see my wife cheering me on down the finishing straight, I put a sprint of sorts on to ensure my time is under the 1 hour mark, and not long beyond the finish line I come to a sudden halt, barely able to stand up. It doesn't take long for the pain I'd been ignoring throughout the race to make itself known. Barely two minutes before, I'd been finishing a 10k run comfortably, and yet now I could barely walk! I count my blessings, though, as I notice someone vomiting profusely; at least I have the puff to hold a conversation comfortably (which begs the question as to whether I could have run even quicker than I did).
Making sure I collect my medal (it may be tacky, but I bloody well earnt it!) I meet my wife who congratulates me, then tells me never to do anything so bloody stupid again. I agree then work out that a half-marathon isn't much more than twice the distance I'd just run...
Official time: 59m 34s
Overall position: 13499
Battesea Park Position: 1938
Hazel (Hyde Park)
T-shirt number 22648, wave 3, 11.30am start, Hyde Park - nine weeks training completed
Estimated time to complete: 1 hour 30 minutes at worst / 1 hour 20 minutes at best
Weather: crisp, bright, sunny and warm with a refreshing breeze blowing over the Serpentine
Total time to complete: 01:06:37:85
Sprint finish for the final 50 metres to The Killers' Somebody Told Me
- this last burst of speed induced by the line "somebody told me you had a boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend I had in February"
A jazz trio in tuxedoes played at two different points in the run and the marshals who were posted at every half kilometre gave out endless shouts of encouragement, applause and held their hands out for high-fives as we went by.
Two men ran with their toddlers in all-terrain pushchairs; there was one person in a gorilla outfit with the regulation red t-shirt pulled over the fake fur.
Red signs printed with variations of the " I will run London" slogan were dotted throughout the 10km route - the most memorable were "I will not think of the pee word", "I will really enjoy that pint tonight", "I will nod like Paula" and the most significant "I will dig deep" at 7.5km which caught my eye just as I needed to see it.
I paced myself carefully over the first 3.5km then sped up slightly to cover the 4th and 5th kilometres quicker, kept a steady pace for the 6th and 7th, had to push myself mentally from the 7th kilometre into the 8th...
Then once I turned the corner after the 9th kilometre marker, the right song came on and I started to speed up... as soon as the finish line was firmly within my sight, I pulled every last breath, every last spark of energy and every tiny drop of imagination I had left in me and ran as fast as I could to the finish line.
I could barely look at the time on the counters above the finish line but stole a glance at the last minute and flew the last metres, feeling as if I had left the ground and nothing else mattered - I just had to get past the line before the counter started showing 1 hour and 10 minutes plus. And I did it. I did it: 1 hour 6 minutes.
I ran Hyde Park. I will run more.
Alex (Victoria Park)
Mission accomplished. After two months of training, fretting about not training, sore knees and being given the bird by loutish drivers in Wanstead, I completed the Run London event in Victoria Park in 54 minutes, 30 seconds and 70 milliseconds. My aim was to beat the hour mark, so to achieve that with a bit to spare was a real thrill, but it was satisfying enough simply to have set out to do something, to work for it, and then to realise it.
I've lost a little weight, not much (I fear that real weight loss might depend on me ceasing to survive purely on a diet of lager and pies, which is hard to believe I know), but enough for people to comment on. The effect on my asthma has been much more noticeable, and this has proved to be a very positive development for my life in general.
But the biggest plus has to be the realisation that if you train, your body will repsond and if you can put that in tandem with a confident mind, then perhaps you can run for as far and as fast as you want. I can now see how running a marathon might be done, whilst at the same time knowing that if it is to be achieved, then I shall have to committ to more training, more sacrifice and less excuses. So the limits of my expectations have been stretched, and once something is stretched, it can never quite go back to its original shape.
Running the race itself was a real pleasure. Over the last ten years I've spent a lot of time in Viccy Park: playing football, cycling, writing, watching films, drinking in its pubs or just sitting down for a chat. And so to be able to spend a glorious October morning (thank you Mr. Global Warming) running around its borders in a well-organised running event, picking out my favourite spots along the way and finding the time for some reminiscence, was a rare treat. I had spent my last training run focusing on starting at and then maintaining a steady pace, so I was able to resist the temptation of bombing off at the starting line, and instead I enjoyed a leisurely first half that allowed me to concentrate on all the sights and sounds around me. At the halfway point I caught sight of my wife and then other runners already finishing, with the combination of the two getting me a little premature in my delight at an impending completion. I soon hit a mini 'wall' at the 6-8km point and was forced to knuckle down, concentrate on my breathing and ensure that one foot kept on going infront of the other. Soon enough, the finishing straight arrived and I had enough left in the locker for a final sprint, which no doubt looked less impressive than it felt. Having collected my medal, I went on to receive the real prize, a hug and a packet of wine gums, given to me by my wife.
As well-organised and enjoyable as this event was, I am ready to seek out future races that don't come under the Nike banner. Unsurprisingly, there was a very corporate feel to the whole thing, and as I was doing the race for myself, rather than for a collective desire to 'just do it', certain aspects (such as the sheep-like attire and the pumped-up aerobics at the start) were a distraction rather than an added plus.
Next objective is the half-marathon, but before training re-starts, a a well-earned break is in order. Pass the choccy digestives please......
Photo by Tom Page on Flickr.