A couple of weeks back, I took part in the North London Half Marathon for the second year in a row. I had a tough race in 2016, having suffered from gastric flu leading up to the event. I was looking forward to hopefully doing myself justice this year as a member of the #NLSquad.
Perfectly timed for those training for a spring marathon, the North London Half gives runners the opportunity to test their fitness on a closed road race and the cost, for London, is reasonable, starting at £38. Your entry fee includes water and fuel on route and a technical t-shirt, medal and goody bag at the end.
Starting outside Wembley Park tube station, the route starts slightly uphill to cheering crowds. Much of the race is run through residential areas, which gives the course an unusual atmosphere for what is a big road race. Generally in big city races, you can draw a lot of support from the crowds if you’re feeling miserable, but that isn’t the case here. However, it should be pointed out that the marshals are fantastic and the drinks stand volunteers yell themselves hoarse for the runners. The residents who do pop out of their houses to watch and cheer on are lovely and it means the occasional high-five means that much more.
The route isn’t easy and the hills are challenging, but the out and back aspect means that runners know what to expect on the return leg. This means that you can plan your tactic on the go, but much better than that, you can cheer on the incredible front-runners as they tear up the opposite side of the road. The halfway point comes at Allianz Stadium, where runners get to run a lap of the track before beginning the route back.
I arrived at the race, bright and early. The start time of 8.30am was earlier than previous years which meant a very early start for many. On arrival, improvements had definitely been made. Unlike last year, the bag drop was inside the stadium and as well as toilets inside, there were plenty outside. Queues were fast-moving and volunteers made sure people were where they needed to be. The pre-race warm up was led by Adrienne Herbert as stragglers made their way to their start pens. As previous years, we were allocated a start pen by expected race time. I was in G and it took about 15 minutes to cross the start line, after a prompt start.
Personally, I didn’t have a good race. As many of you know, I have moved house and haven’t been putting in the distances. I also had a cold. I ran badly and to be honest, I deserved to run badly. I loved the cheers of “come on mermaid” and “awesome hair” from volunteers and marshals, and the halfway lap was a great pick me up. But I struggled on the way back, lamenting the hills and paying horribly for lack of hill running. Oh the 10 mile hill. Oh, how could the organisers be so cruel?
The race finishes inside Wembley Stadium and this is pretty epic. Runners run up to the stadium with cheering spectators lining the way. You then loop round the back and through the service area before emerging triumphant into the stadium where you run a couple of hundred yards in front of the crowd, through to the finishing line. It was approaching the stadium that Fleur caught up with me and we dragged each other over the line.
It was nice to receive a goody bag in a drawstring bag that could be thrown over the shoulders. We grabbed our medals and race shirts, took a selfie and then it was time for a quick bag reclaim and a banana.
Vitality have done a great job with this race and it’s a perfectly timed half marathon for those looking to complete a spring marathon. The hills are not to be under estimated and the fairly dull course requires a certain element of mental strength. That’s not to say you can’t PB, other members of the #NLSquad ran some STUNNING times.However, completing it will give you a fantastic boost for your spring marathons, the price is reasonable for a closed road London race, transport links are good, water and fuel is provided out on the route, and as an extra perk, race photos are FREE. Plus you’ll be finished by lunchtime meaning you can feel virtuous and smug all day.
If you want to take part in the North London Half Marathon next year, pre-registration is now open.