London, beautiful city with amazing architecture and surprisingly a lot of green spaces, want to run through both, do Royal Parks Half Marathon.

But first, let’s rewind 12 months.

I’d just deferred Great North and recovered from a 3-month running hiatus after a bad Achilles Injury. I signed up to do RPH at 3am in the morning after seeing an ad for BCRT saying they were offering places for £20 with no minimum fundraising – they were eager to get rid of places before cut off I imagine.

This was going to be my first half marathon and I was still quite junior in my running career, I certainly hadn’t learnt the art of pacing which would prove my downfall. It was also the first time both my folks were coming to see me race and it was two days after my birthday.

I’d bought a bottle of fancy champagne to celebrate and I was awfully nervous – I had no idea how this was going to go down.

In short, I loved it, well, the first half of the race – too much. I went through 10k in only a few strides over my 10k PB time and I was only hoping for Sub-3:30, at this rate I’d be in under 3:15. By 7miles I was getting tired and walking more, by 9miles I was dead – legs had gone and I wanted to quit so much. I finished, declaring “never again” as I ran over the line and couldn’t walk a step more. I got back to where I said we’d meet and ended up laying down next to some bin storage. I made it hope, slept for 6hrs, didn’t tweet and didn’t drink my champagne.

Fast-forwarding to 8th October 2017 and it’s race day again on a cool crisp overcast morning. Uber was the transport of choice and this time I got to Hyde Park at 7.30 before most of the crowds arrived. I swung by the BCRT tent to say hello as I was in so much of a state last year I didn’t make it to the celebrations. I picked up a sweatband (praise the lord I did) and made my way to the Xempo tent for the ukrunchat/IG meetup.

Lots of lovelies turned up, new faces and old, running peeps and cheering peeps.

I was lucky that having my folks there meant I could leave my bag with them but the baggage queues were chaos. They have this system where you get a wristband and bag tag completed different to your race number – WHY??? I’ve only ever had one other race that did this (JP Morgan Challenge) and that was a shitshow as well. Give people a tear off on their bib, they put it on their bag, you take bag and put in marquee with all its other bag friends – why they feel the need overcomplicate it I do not know. It was utter carnage and I saw a fair few people running with their bags.

The loo queues looked huge too, although us gents had it lucky with ‘wee trees’ – their words not mine – basically urinals where you are facing someone opposite eye-to-eye, which is weird and more awkward than making eye contact on the tube.

I said goodbye to my folks and Katherine (cheer squad and chief jaffa cake guardian for the day) and made my way to my pen. I was somehow bumped up a pen this year into yellow (2nd from last) and I’m quite happy with this as I prefer running with company, even if I’m not actually chatting.

It took about 30mins to get over the start line and I was off.

This Half was going to be different. Normally I set myself pace targets in the first half to ensure I don’t go off too quick, stay constant from 6-10 then just crawl to the finish. However the Half doesn’t hold that fear for me so much now so I gave myself some targets to hit that I thought were achievable and put my pace goals around them:

Targets for the day were:

A) Beat 2016 time (3:30:11) to be honest I should be able do this walking backwards now

B) PB (3:15:58) set at Hackney on a hot and hilly course

C) Sub-3:15 – this was my C/D/E goal last year but I think I’ve got a good shot at it

So, off we go and I am swiftly overtaken by an inflatable t-rex (one of my favourite costumes I’ve seen), how does a t-rex eat jelly babies if their arms can’t reach their mouth? Anyway, I digress……

There’s a sneaky hill up to Hyde Park Corner and I remind myself that as the running gets a little more difficult. Swing right through the gates, Admiralty Arch and already on my way down Constitution Hill where there are people heading back the opposite way nearing 6miles and I haven’t even seen Mile 1 yet.

I saw it, about 50yards ahead of me as my Garmin gives me a buzz to say we’ve covered a mile. My Garmin tells me I am spot on pace, but by the time I got to the mile marker it’s another 20-odd seconds later.

I became very aware that something wasn’t quite right – I was hot, and I don’t mean in a good way…. I decided to wear a baselayer and long-sleeve tee which standing around in the Event Village was perfect, but after running for 10mins I was starting to get very warm. I considered binning the baselayer somewhere but decided to carry on and see how I got on, however uncomfortable I was.

I’ll be honest, I was a bit disappointed with the support – there were tourists around Buckingham Palace, Whitehall etc but no one was really cheering along, the best support was coming from the marshals including one lady at 2miles with a megaphone who was superb.

My legs were complaining already and my thighs were doing their tightening up trick they do when they don’t want to carry on anymore. However, I surprised myself, instead of going oh poo, this is going to be an awful race, I’m going to take forever, I feel like quitting, blah blah blah, I just told them to shut up. I just said to myself/legs, you always hate the first few miles, it’ll get easier, just try your best to stay on pace. I’ll be honest they never did feel any better and I can only put this down to doing Berlin two weeks prior. I never got that fresh, springy feeling when you’ve had a good rest pre-race – but I was impressed that I didn’t let myself go into that dark place early on that has happened a few times before.

2miles came up short again, but then 3miles was spot on with my Garmin so I was finding it difficult to pace myself as I couldn’t rely on my Garmin even though I hit the lap button at each mile marker for the first 6miles.

I skipped the first water station on Whitehall as it was manic but decided I’d take a water at the second station on The Mall but I could only see Lucozade, something I’d not trained with and tend to avoid like the plague to be honest. There were water bottles stacked but no one was handing them out, one guy just went and got his own out of the packs but I couldn’t be bothered so I took a Lucozade sport.

Finally some support at the end of The Mall as a few charities had their cheer points there and it was nice to get some support and a few cheers – I was regretting not having my name on my tee at this point though.

Before getting half a mile down the road on Constitution Hill  I instantly regretted taking a Lucozade – I had stomach cramps and quite painful ones too. I knew there were loos ahead if I needed them but I was going to have a gel at 6miles and questioned whether it was a good idea to take it or skip it and not have any fuel for the second half.

By the time I got into Hyde Park I’d forgotten all about the stomach cramps and was feeling okish. I didn’t enjoy Hyde Park section last year – this is where it all fell apart and it’s just loops with no real sights to give you an idea of where you are.

This year it was actually nicer in the park as there was a good amount of support around and several cheer points. I kept an eye out for the IG guys but didn’t spot them but kept  an eye out for the Chasing Lights crew who were at 10 miles and conveniently I could see heading the opposite way at 8.5miles.

I checked my watch and wasn’t so fussed about keeping a particular pace, just as long as it was under 15m/m, but I stopped looking after a while.

Not long after I hear a recognisable and deafening shout from the other side of the road – Becca, god bless her, along with Jo and Rebecca. If there’s any good reason to stop mid race, it’s for hugs and we stopped for hugs and a very quick chat before we all went our separate ways, me bouncing along after seeing some of my favourite people.

Back down to the Serpentine and I was coming up to 9 miles and runners were still coming the opposite direction – I was so glad to see that these guys were still getting the same support at the cheer point.

From 9 mile is a long stretch to 10mile and I was trying to hang onto the coattails of the person in front. Unfortunately this sections is really open and there were cyclists and pedestrians all over the place – yes, most were walking by this stage but we should still be able to go the route we feel is the quickest. There were some barriers up ahead and a parent crossed leaving his toddler on a scooter thing (that every single kid has nowadays because they’ve clearly lost the ability to walk) and he decides to cross just as I’m about to go past. I grab his coat as he heads for the floor just about holding him up, while his parents are off in the distance somewhere – minor incident avoided and I get congratulated by the person I was following on stopping just in time. I move swiftly on but feeling rather annoyed.

I can sense the 10mile marker up ahead and decided I’m going to run until I see the Chasing Lights guys. As I catch a glimpse of them they erupt with whistles and whooping. I give Craig a hug and hi-5 my way down the line and give Nav a shout and it gives me another lift – one that I really needed to get me home.

Buoyed on I keep running – at least until I was out of sight and now was just a case of getting home. I hadn’t realised but for the past few miles I hadn’t even checked my watch to see what pace I was doing, the walks were becoming longer and it was harder to get running again. I took to Darren’s method of counting to 100, which I have an inability to do in my head while running so got a few odd looks counting under my breath to 100. It worked for a bit until I made the most of a downhill section and then forgot all about it on the way back up. Having done the race before it was nice knowing where I was and I knew 11 miles was just around the corner, but my watch pinged to say 11 miles before I could even see the sign – I was still just about on track and was working the calculations in my head.

I crossed 12 miles in 2:59:36, 15m24s to do 1.1miles – in my head I said a mile. That was definitely possible as long as I ran as much as I could and I ran most of the mile. Compared to last year (and Berlin) the miles felt like kilometres and they were flying by, I wasn’t moving quick but I was moving ok.

I ran to the turn, then ran to the gate then I saw the 800m to go sign and most around me decided to commence their sprint finish. I got a hi-5 from Lucy on her way home and through the gate you could only just about see the finish, 800m is twice round a track so I decided to powerwalk until the 400m sign and begin my shuffle to the finish.

I gave my folks, Katherine and Carmen and CLC crew a wave as I was finishing and felt like I had a fair sprint left….the video suggests otherwise….

I collected my medal – disappointed it’s the same as last year, plastic bag, bottle of water and no banana. I went to go get my goody bag only to find that the queue was huge! So I sacked that off and decided I’d go back later.

I caught up with my folks, Carmen and the Chief Jaffa Cake Guardian (aka Katherine) for a catch up, selfies and more Jaffa Cakes I’ve ever seen in one go in my life – I was a happy boy!

I got changed, stole a leaf for a medal (I find it weird calling it a medal when it’s made of wood, other name suggestions please) and headed back to the goody bag queue which was shorter now, but no food left. I managed to get some cucumber….drink, iced coffee which I hate despite my love of coffee and some stuff for cleaning your teeth – but to have ran out of banana’s over the finish and food at the goody bag station is pretty poor going – thank goodness for Jaffa Cakes which I made myself sick eating a packet on the train home.

So, Royal Parks 2017 done – definitely a better experience for me personally this time, I was able to walk for more than 10 paces this time post-race but the experience as a whole was a bit of a let-down this year. Hardly any support on course apart from the charities and crews, the baggage drop off carnage, lack of things to eat post-race and according to family not really much to do or see while I was running either.

Personally, I am fairly happy with my run, disappointed to miss a couple of goals but I am only two weeks out from Berlin so that probably doesn’t help me feel particularly fresh.

A) Beat 2016 time (3:30:11) – Of course, I haven’t improved in my running that much (only 30sec off my 10k PB during the last year), this just comes down to starting off slower.

B) PB (3:15:58) Just 7 seconds away

C) Sub-3:15 – quite a bit off, looking at my splits I lost a minute between 9 -12 miles, to be honest I couldn’t have done much different, it was how I felt at that moment in time. I’ve got it in me, I just need to make sure I’m well rested and prepared for it.

Would I do it again – I am not desperate to, I’ve done it twice now and the novelty has worn off a bit. Still a good race with a brilliant route but with Chicago and Yorkshire on the same day, I will likely look elsewhere next year unless I can rope my dad into running it.

Would I recommend – yes I would – I would recommend everyone does it once, it’s particularly good as a first half and I know tons of people who had it as their first one.

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