As the marathons creep ever closer, last weekend called for the half marathon distance. I’m struggling with long runs where I live as I find it boring, but a search on the internet led me to the Old Deer Park Richmond Half Marathon.
It was described as flat. It was described as fast. And I could get to it. Perfect! Getting across London from Sidcup to Richmond by 9am was not for the faint hearted, but TFL showed it was possible. Game on then.
Sunday rolled around and I woke up on a cold and frosty morning. Perfect for me though, considering that I am the ultimate sweaty girl.
The journey to Richmond was uneventful and I followed several lycra clad bottoms to Old Deer Park where Race HQ was set up. The scene was one of organised chaos and it was very relaxed. Plenty of toilets were provided, each with a short queue. I chose the one with the shortest queue (just me) and waited.
5 minutes later I wondered if someone had fallen down the toilet and reached a sticky chemical loo end and joined another queue, this time with one person.
Luckily, I’d allowed plenty of time and being a “back of the pack” runner anyway, I didn’t need to rush. The bag drop was out in the open and there really was a vibe of turn up and run. We were called for a warm up (I ran away) before being called to the start line by estimated finish time – well done organisers – before the race started on time, to the tune of Chariots of Fire.
The first 400 metres or so were run on grass, before thankfully moving onto the tarmac path. It was a frosty day so the ground was damp, making it slippery, especially when it came round to the second lap. We were then led out of the park, along the roads outside Kew Gardens before joining the tow path. It was a beautiful day with gorgeous views and running along the Thames Path is always fun.
I had planned to run the race slightly quicker than my planned marathon pace and managed to stick to this well for the first 8 miles, actually running slightly quicker than planned. It wasn’t always easy along the path where the weather the day before had left plenty of huge puddles and slippery patches, this combined with the rocky and uneven terrain meant it was really necessary to watch your footing. Word of advice for next year – wear trail shoes if you have them! Thanks to people trying to pick their way around the edges of puddles, there was also some bottlenecking although this was not the organisers fault. I know many runners would have relished charging straight through, but on a freezing cold day as a slower runner, you don’t want to get your feet wet and then have to spend another couple of hours running in the cold!
Have you ever run a half marathon with steps in it? I can now honestly say that I have! The race was made up of 2 laps, including 3 flights of steps from the tow path back up to join the main road. Doing this for the second time at the 12.5 mile mark was not exactly kind on the legs.
My race went wrong after I managed to slip and aggravate my SPD. I’m delighted that the first 8 miles was done slightly faster than my planned pace and although I ended up missing my target by 6 minutes, I’m quietly confident that had I not slipped and hurt myself, I would have done it. I have the North London Half Marathon in 3 weeks time and look forward to doing myself justice then. I didn’t have the legs for my normal sprint finish, thanks to the combination of hurting myself and steps, but the slippery mud would have made this difficult as the race finished back on the grass. I saw runners just ahead of my desperately trying to shave off those last few seconds and simply sinking in the mud in frustration.
Despite the promising start to this race, I was disappointed with the finish and not just for my time. The race was rightfully described as fast and although I was one of the slower runners, there were several a long way behind me. When I finished, the advertised energy bars, crisps and juice had all run out. There were a few bananas and cups of water left and I was rewarded with a filthy look from a volunteer when I asked for a banana. The hot drinks stand had started to pack up, having being told that there was no point remaining open. When I went to retrieve my bag, I was unable to bend down to pick it up and asked the bag volunteer if he could pass it to me. He put it by my feet and I had to ask him again to actually pass it to me, where I got another filthy look. The marshals at the water stations were great and one or two on the course made a point of clapping people along, but the vast majority looked bored and fed up and mostly ignored the runners. Most seemed more fussed about texting and I heard of one case where a woman was sworn at by a marshal for being slow.
I get that waiting in the cold isn’t fun and marshaling can sometimes be boring, but if you are going to be miserable and not make an effort to join in, then why bother?
Would I recommend? Possibly as I liked the course, but marshals? If you don’t want to do it, then don’t volunteer. And get rid of the steps. Please?
Finally, a word of advice. If you wear arm warmers, make sure they are on properly and haven’t bunched at the top. Chafing really, REALLY hurts.