Category Archives: #18in18

Royal Parks Half Marathon

The Royal Parks Half Marathon is one race I will never forget.

Not only did it conclude my challenge to run 18 half marathons this year (#18in18) but it was arguably the best of the bunch and up there with the actual London Marathon itself in terms of a sense of occasion and the sheer atmosphere generated by the spectators along the route.

I have so many memories and so many experiences that I only hope I can do the day justice.

So let’s wind it right back to the beginning, back to 7am when my ever faithful and long suffering supporter Dawn and I left our hotel in South Wimbledon to make our way to Knightsbridge and then onto Hyde Park.

It was a bit of an interesting journey. The early part was ok, but the further away from Collier’s Wood and the closer we got to Green Park the bigger the crowds got.

We then had to change at Green Park for the final leg to Knightsbridge. The place was absolutely packed but, inexplicably, TfL only had trains running every five or six minutes.

Surely to goodness with such a mass participation event on the powers that be could have provided trains at a greater frequency than that, even if only for a couple of hours. Every train that came was packed, but yet more people tried to squeeze in.

And it was no better in Knightsbridge. Off the train we got, assuming it’d be a fairly straightforward process to exit the station. Not so. The platform was rammed, everyone was obviously trying to get to the same place but, yet, no-one was moving for some reason.

Eventually we made our way through, around half-an-hour behind schedule, into Hyde Park. The delay was a little stressful, but was more annoying because it didn’t give us much time to study the lay of the land, to pick out a meeting point for afterwards and to generally just sample the pre-race atmosphere.

We said our goodbyes after a few minutes and a few pictures in the rain. Dawn went to find a spot just after the start line, whilst I went to find my starting pen but not before using one of Hyde Park’s ‘natural’ facilities. The queues for the portaloos were massive and a sizeable number of men seemed to be taking matters into their own, ahem, hands so I found a discreet spot and … well, you know.

Finding my starting wave easily enough I settled in for a long wait, thankfully wearing my poncho to protect me from the worst of the elements. And it was a long wait, I think I got there at around 8:50 and I didn’t actually start the race until some 40 minutes later. I was cold, I was wet, my feet were numb – not really ideal ahead of a half marathon. I tried to keep as active as I could whilst mindful of the mass of people around me.

Eventually, finally … we were off! This was my last half marathon of the year, the last of my 18 and because of that a little wave of emotion washed over me. Dawn had messaged to say she was standing a few hundred metres past the start so I did my best to keep an eye out for her, sticking as closely to the left side of the road as I could.

But, after a couple of minutes, I didn’t see her. I thought I’d missed her so stopped looking and focused on the road in front of me until I heard her call my name out. This was great, from thinking I’d missed her to seeing her it added a spring to my step and allowed me to throw myself entirely into the race happy in the knowledge that she was able to see me off.

After leaving the park the first real point of interest, for me anyway, was Constitution Hill. This was the original finish to the London Marathon, and a road I’d run before when I decided to run along all three finishes to that iconic race on my own in a previous visit. It felt good to be back.

At the end of that road was Buckingham Palace. Again, I’ve run past the palace on quite a few occasions now – both training and in races – and it never gets old. It’s always special.

From there it was down Birdcage Walk to Horse Guards, through Admirality Arch, down and back up Whitehall, through Trafalgar Square, along the Strand before turning to come back through the Arch, up the Mall back towards the palace before returning up Constitution Hill/Green Park.

It was a wonderful route, and we weren’t even at the halfway point. I was having a ball. Given the conditions and time of day it was perhaps no surprise spectator numbers weren’t great but that didn’t really matter. There were thousands and thousands of runners out on the road for company, support and encouragement.

I was running in a t-shirt I had printed solely for this race. It listed all 18 of my half marathons on the back and attracted some interest from my fellow runners, a few congratulating me on my achievement, some asking about it and others just acknowledging it. This really spurred me on.

As I said, we hadn’t even reached the halfway and already the day was special. But nothing could have prepared me for what was to come.

Returning to Hyde Park, we were met by an almost deafening wall of noise and what felt like multitudes of cheering spectators. Running wise, it was up there with going over Tower Bridge on London Marathon day but, looking at sport in general, it is likely the closest I’m ever going to get to experiencing what it must be like in the Tour de France riding up Alpe d’Huez.

It seemed like the spectators were really closing in on us, it felt like we were almost down to single file at one point. From my perspective they were getting right in our faces, literally screaming encouragement … it truly was a spine-tingling moment.

I’ve experienced a fair few special moments since I started running but this really was something else.

Up until this point I was running a hard and fast (for me) race but this reception just floored me, so much so that I purposely eased off a little. I wanted more of it, I wanted to savour the last half of my last half marathon. I didn’t want to bust a gut chasing a time and possibly miss out on what a wonderful experience this was turning out to be.

Dawn had messaged to say she was standing just beyond this near a specific charity flag so, on a high from this reception, I kept an eye out for her. But I couldn’t find the flag and, again, I thought I’d missed her. Damn.

Then, after what seemed like an eternity but really wasn’t, I spotted the flag and there she was. This was brilliant. Not that I was struggling or anything like that but it was just so good to see her, to let her know how I was getting on … although I can’t remember what I said.

This moment was also notable, with hindsight, because I was able to study the pictures she took to confirm I had no bleeding nipples! Why do I mention this? Because not long after that, around seven miles, I noticed that I did.

I’ve never experienced this before. It didn’t hurt or anything like that. I just happened to glance down and spot the not inconsiderable amount of blood. It perhaps wasn’t surprising. I was wearing a brand new t-shirt, one which was too big on me and hence moved around my body too much causing friction on my skin. Rookie mistakes.

It was a mixture of surprise (no pain), embarrassment (blood, white shirt) and pride (runners badge of honour?) and passed a fair few moments as I tried to figure out what was going on.

Running past an aid station my predicament was obviously spotted by one of the volunteers who beckoned me over and handed me a big glob of vaseline, or similar.

After applying said product onto the affected area I carried on my merry way. Then the heavens opened. It had been raining most of the morning, but this was different. This was torrential. My shirt, which was about two sizes too big, stuck to me like cling film.

This downpour must have lasted for around a couple of miles but that didn’t deter the almost fanatical support out on the course. Granted it wasn’t continuous now, there were areas of the park that were crowd free but when they were present the noise and enthusiasm was amazing.

Once the rain had ended I began the process of unsticking my shirt from my skin, taking extra care not to further aggravate my very own version of ‘nipplegate’ … but where was the blood?

I’m not exaggerating. Where had it gone? I hadn’t imagined it, the first aider clearly spotted it but, now, there was nothing there! That shows how heavy the rain had been. It had effectively washed my shirt. Royal Parks, is there nothing you couldn’t do? Wonderful course, masses of runners, electric atmosphere, fanatical crowds … and, now, a laundry service 🙂

Up until this point I hadn’t really experienced much emotion, with this being my last half of the 18 and all that. A bit at the start, yes, but not too much more.

That was until around the 12 mile mark. I had been running behind a couple of young ladies for a while, they had been chatting non-stop. I then went past them, they fell silent for a bit before one said to the other, “Did you read that?” to which her friend replied, “Yes, wow!”. Clearly they had read the back of my shirt and had looked at the list of all 18 races.

Hearing this almost set me off. I was into the final mile, I was about to complete my challenge. Could I hold it together? I wanted to, but I also didn’t want to. I wanted the emotion, I wanted the goosebumps, the sense of pride and achievement … what I didn’t want was a blubbing face on the official photographs.

I think I struck a happy balance. I let myself go until I spotted a photographer, then composed myself until I went past and then allowed the significance of what I was about to do take over.

I also knew Dawn would be close to the finish so I focused on finding her which offered me a distraction from the emotion of crossing the line.

I wanted to spot her. She had been to five of my races, including the opening one back in March, so it was fitting I’d see her just before I finished the entire challenge. It wouldn’t have felt right otherwise.

Dawn spotted, I was then able to concentrate on those last few yards … I put on a bit of a sprint finish, ending on a high. I had done it! I had completed all 18 half marathons!

I’m not really sure how I felt. There was relief, but also exhaustion. There was emotion, I’ll not deny that, but my focus then turned to finding Dawn in the event village. We must have walked past each other because it took a few minutes.

I think I was a bit shell-shocked too, the significance of what I’d done hadn’t really sunk in. But it came, slowly but surely. After navigating the seemingly endless goodie/freebie funnel we made our way to the main stage to listen to the Rock Choir. I can’t remember what they were singing but it felt really uplifting and spine tingling.

I got a few photographs taken with them as a backdrop, then in front of a Royal Parks sign at which point Dawn produced a celebratory cake. Then it hit me. I tried telling her about some of the incidents from the day but found it difficult to compose myself. This is the emotion I wanted, I was glad it came. I was a bit concerned that I hadn’t felt it as much as I expected, so it was good to let it out.

Next stop was the Diabetes UK charity stand. I had been trying to raise a little for them throughout the year alongside my challenge so I went over to say hello, and had a lovely chat with them especially Lynsey with whom I discussed my plans right at the start of the year. It was nice to be able to tell her face to face that I had actually done it.

Incidentally, if you’ve followed my progress or enjoyed this account and would like to donate a little to the charity my fundraising page can be found here.

What a remarkable day! What a wonderful year of running! High points, low points but so so many special memories and experiences, I’m so glad I’ve done it and hope I’m not too pompous in feeling proud of myself.

So what now? I have the small matter of the full Dublin marathon at the end of this month but after that I’ll take a bit of a rest. I’ve got a holiday planned in November and have no races booked for the rest of the year. I’ll still be running, but I’ll be taking it easy.

Relive my run

 

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Great Scottish Run 2018

One of the self imposed ‘rules’ of my challenge to run 18 half marathons this year was that I had to include at least one race in each part of the British Isles.

Northern Ireland was already covered (obviously), and my travels so far had also taken me to England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland. That just left Scotland.

Thankfully, the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow was ideally scheduled to allow me to complete the set before I finished my challenge back in London where it all started next month.

This was #17 and my fourth in September. I travelled to Glasgow alone, as usual, a couple of days in advance of the race. I like to do this to give me a chance to explore somewhere new rather than just arrive, run and leave again. It also allows me to rest plenty beforehand and soak up the atmosphere. Not that any of that makes one iota of a difference to how I’ll run! I’m not some highly tuned athlete that needs to acclimatise in order to produce an optimum performance. I am what I am, I do what I do.

I’m from Northern Ireland. I’m used to it being cold but, my goodness, Glasgow was something else! I don’t think I ever warmed up from the minute I arrived to the moment I left. That could be purely coincidental, there has been a bug doing the rounds and I haven’t felt well since returning.

When I say I was alone in Glasgow, I wasn’t really. My club runs an annual trip to this race so there were around 14-15 of us in the city, most of whom stayed in the same hotel as me.

But I kept myself to myself largely, through choice. For some reason I felt sad for a lot of my time in Glasgow. Sad and lonely, despite having familiar faces on call if I needed. That thing about feeling alone in packed room very much rang true for me.

Anyway, about the race. It forms part of a weekend of running in Glasgow so on Saturday I walked the very short distance from my hotel to George Square to watch the family/kids races.

I really enjoyed this, and found it both inspirational and emotional in equal measure. Seeing some of the young kids who had overcome severe adversity in their short lives display such determination to cross the finishing line really pulled on the heart strings.

Onto Sunday. Being so close to the start I was able to go out and watch the 10k waves get underway before returning to the hotel to get ready for my own race.

That done, and several trips to the loo later, I was good to go. I made my way to the pens and almost immediately bumped into Michael, one of my running buddies from Diabetes UK and whom I spent a long time with in Swansea back in the summer. It was great to see him again and catch up, he’s faster than me so I knew I wouldn’t see him during the race!

If you know the Great Scottish Run you’ll know it starts with an almighty climb up St. Vincent Street. It looked quite daunting and it wasn’t for the faint hearted but it was good that it came right at the beginning when fresher legs are better equipped to deal with it.

I intended taking it slowly but with the adrenaline flowing it was difficult to do so. Knowing that I’d gone up it too quickly I made the conscious decision to make my second mile a very easy one just to allow my legs time to recover, so I dropped right down into a gentle jog.

Mile three brought me back up to speed but, for some reason, my fourth mile was even slower than the second. I’m not really sure why but this trend continued for a while – fast mile, slow mile – until, just after the halfway point, I settled into a bit of consistency. Not that I was struggling or anything like that, it was just how it went.

I felt I was running ok actually. Going into the race I had taken all pressure off myself as regards pace or time so perhaps being more relaxed was paying dividends.

I wasn’t going to set a personal best or anything like that (the inconsistent start put paid to that) but I was doing alright. I was enjoying myself going through the Glasgow parks and taking in some of the sights of the city.

Perhaps what I liked most about this one was the varied entertainment on route. There were pipers, lots and lots of pipers, as you’d maybe expect. There were also bands, dj’s, circus performers and, would you believe?, belly dancers! It was fantastic.

The local support out on the route was something else I really enjoyed. I can’t remember what they were saying or shouting but I did smile a lot.

Approaching the finish I felt content with my run, not my best time but nowhere near my worst either. An enjoyable run, all told.

I did feel a bit emotional at the end and took myself off to a quiet corner just past the finish line to have a moment. Obviously I was spotted because within moments this woman came rushing over to check if I was ok. I thanked her and reassured her I was fine.

I only felt the emotion because I knew I had only one race left to complete the 18. If I felt like this now I can only dread to think what I’ll feel like after my last one!

Relive my run

Belfast Half Marathon

A year ago I ran the Belfast Half Marathon and didn’t really enjoy it. I hated it in fact but,  because I’m running 18 half marathon’s this year, it would have been foolish not to include it on my schedule.

It was almost as local as it could get for me, getting there would be hassle free and, financially, it wouldn’t entail having to book flights, hotels or any other expenses. A bit of a no-brainer really.

I suppose, too, including it would give me a chance to lance the boil from twelve months ago, an opportunity to make my peace with the race, to put things right.

Travelling to the city with Bronagh and Iverene, the day started well enough with a pleasant journey and no problems getting parked.

Then, and I’m possibly veering into TMI territory now, as soon as we started walking towards Ormeau Park and the race ‘village’ my stomach suddenly began to play up. This wasn’t good. I really needed to find facilities somewhere but this was south Belfast on a Sunday morning, nowhere was open and the portaloos near the start seemed miles and miles and miles away and then some.

Entering the park things were getting really desperate. I was surrounded by trees and bushes and I really did seriously consider making a quick dash to quite literally become one with nature but, trying to maintain my dignity, I resisted as best I could.

Instead, I decided, I would sprint for the portaloos and just hope I’d be able to make it in time. Thankfully, I did but as soon as I joined the queue everything suddenly settled. Typical. Do you know how you could feel so very ill, get an emergency appointment with your GP but once you’re in the waiting room feel on top of the world? That.

I still made sure I did what I had to do (still TMI?) in case it quite literally came back to bite me on the arse during the race.

Anyway, onto the race. That’s why you’re here after all!

In my last few races I started off with a plan of holding back in the hope that the energy saved at the beginning would help me during the latter stages. That tactic hasn’t really worked so, this time, I decided just to run how I felt for as long as I could in the hope of building up a head of steam and that the time banked would make up for the inevitable slowing down later on.

I know that is something many coaches and experts warn against but I do think it’s the best plan for me.

I’ve tended to find that I start slow, stay slow and then get even slower. That, in turn, messes with my head. For me running is a big mental battle so I hoped that recording better times over the early parts would encourage me to keep going for longer and therefore clock an improved time at the finish.

Almost the first four miles of the race are focused on Ormeau Park. It’s slightly frustrating because it feels like it takes ages to actually get out into the city. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pleasant run around a leafy part of Belfast but all you really want to do is get going.

I was quite pleased with these opening miles, finding my pace remarkably consistent throughout and faster than my last three races. This is what I wanted.

Now, as the route finally took us away from the park and into east Belfast, it was time to see if my pre-race plan would work.

And, do you know what?, it did! Miles five, six and seven were almost the same for pace as the first four and if I did slow it was only by around 10-15 seconds or thereabouts.

This was great. I wasn’t going to get carried away, but I was feeling good and had settled well into the race.

What hadn’t settled, unfortunately, was my stomach. Spying a bank of toilets I made a quick pit stop (hey, I said pit!) at around mile eight, partly precautionary because I didn’t know if there’d be any in the city centre. I knew at this point I was in personal best territory but I also knew if I was to get there I’d need to be in a good place for the last few miles so now was the best time to prepare myself.

Ultimately that stop was to cost me. I missed out on a PB by just under a minute, that same minute or so I spent in the loo! Yes, I was disappointed, but I was also pleased with my run so it balanced out. Plumbing issues aside everything went like clockwork.

Miles 10/11 were faster than in my more recent races which was good. I pushed hard for the last couple of miles in an attempt to chase that PB but, despite, my best efforts I just couldn’t make it. On the flip side, I was just over 20 minutes faster than last year! That’s a huge improvement in anyone’s book and something I’ve got to be happy about.

That’s number 16 done and dusted! SIXTEEN! Just two more left, the Great Scottish Run this weekend and the Royal Parks Half in the middle of October. I’m nearly there!

Relive my run