What did I do on Sunday whilst most normal folk were still asleep? I got up out of a lovely, warm bed at 5:30am to get myself to London for the inaugural running of the Vitality Big Half.
After the previous days’ snow, the race was still on, which meant having to get to London Bridge for as close to 8am as possible, hence the early start. Top Tip for anybody thinking of running this event next year, there is a train from Woking Station at 6:36am (or so) that will get you to Waterloo for 7:30ish. No trains running that early at Farnborough Station, so had to be a car journey to Woking. Getting my wife up at 5:45am (not a minute earlier, I was told) to take me there seemed to be the logical choice.
I had two alternatives once I got to Waterloo. Plan A, follow directions to Waterloo East and wait for a train to London Bridge or Plan B, walk/jog/run to London Bridge for a warmup and maybe get there sooner… LOL. Having never been to Waterloo East Station before, I talked myself into going with Plan B and I think I was glad that I did, as I could walk/jog/run off any nerves I had before the race start, which was incidentally at 9am! What was the hurry then? The Luggage Trucks were departing at 8:20am so no time to dawdle.
Has anybody ever noticed how many bridges there are along the River Thames? Seemed like they were never ending! Pant, pant, pant, is it this one?.. No. Pant, pant, pant, this one?.. No. I needn’t had worried though as it soon became apparent which bridge it was, as it was absolutely mobbed by thousands of runners, (11,500 in all, spread across 2 starting points, Orange and Green) all trying to get (as it seemed) up the narrowest steps to the top of the bridge, where you had to go to get to the infamous ‘Luggage Trucks’. I had wondered why a large number of people were stripping down to their race attire a little way from the steps, and soon found out why that was as, after getting to the bridge and seeing the trucks, this was where the vast majority of the runners were, all jostling and barging their way, trying to drop their bag off. Oh! I was still fully dressed! I had to get to the front of the queue (sorry to all the smaller competitors there, but I was just using my size to muscle my way through) then I could strip down while being pushed and jostled, which made for an interesting experience. What I couldn’t do though was remove my tights (sorry Mum, they were my running tights though) as they were under my shorts so resigned myself to running in them. After a lot more waiting and forceful tactics that I am not proud of (sorry again Mum) I was finally free of my baggage and could elbow and fight my way out of the mad scrum still broiling around me with only minutes to go until 8:20am. In reality, I don’t think the trucks actually left on time as there were still so many runners still trying to dump their bags. By the way, we were all given one of those London Marathon see-through bags that you get from the London Marathon peeps, as the Big Half is part of their brand and was even featured on the TV. Why the Baggage Trucks? Just like the London Marathon, the finish is somewhere else, so the trucks had to get to Greenwich before the fast runners got there.
Next on the list was to get to a porta-loo, hoping I could get out of my tights (sorry Mum) and the one extra sock I still had on. Yes, in my hurry to strip down, I had left one extra sock on my right foot. I needed extra socks earlier as it was still quite cold at 6am. Brrr… That done (no real dramas there) I had to find my start pen, as I had accidentally jogged into the wrong one. I was now in Pen B and ready for the start! Elite Wheelchairs announced first on the tannoy, then Elite men and ladies, including that man again… Sir Mo Farah! YEAH!.. We could not see any of this of course, but still cheered anyway and before we knew, we were off.
I think I was in a quick Pen, as I was swept along at a fairly brisk pace and (now all the usual excuses can come out again) I found myself going too quickly. (Here we go…) My training had not gone well, I was out of shape for the pace that was being set, I couldn’t slow down, thing is though, all of this was true. We entered quite a long underpass tunnel that we ran through after a mile or so which was quite weird. It felt quite airless so (adding in another excuse) felt as though we were running indoors. It felt like there was a lack of free-flowing air and so I began to sweat quite early on in the race. Unfortunately I became aware that most people were passing me so felt as though I was going backwards which was quite disconcerting. Also, there were quite a few cobbled stretches of road, more than you would imagine which was not very pleasant and the course did rise and fall a fare bit too. I would class the run as ‘undulating’ rather than flat.
The Water Stations were good, the mile markers were huge, the Cheering Points were great with music and lots of crowd support, very reminiscent of ‘The Big One’ itself. You could tell it was ‘organised’, very slick and well marshalled too. The first half of the run I was looking out for my friend who said that he would be at one of the water stations and did manage to see him; sporting one of those huge, foam hands for ‘high-fiving’ people. It gave me a bit of a lift, so thanks for that George.
Memorable parts of the race:
After just a few miles, a little, innocent voice from the crowd piped up, ‘Why is everybody getting slower Mummy?’ as I was beginning to tire slightly. She must have seen the elites hurtle past earlier on… Bless her. 😉
At about 10 miles, a different little girl was holding out sweets for runners to take (as they do) and because she had the biggest smile on her face, I veered towards her. Her Dad said to her, ‘Look, there’s a runner coming over now’ and her grin only got bigger! A real delight and looked like I had made her day. 😊
Unfortunately it was not long after this I decided to walk for a bit because I was completely done in, but did manage to rally after a half mile or so; then ran/walked for the rest of the race. I will put this run down to experience and think about the Reading Half in just two weeks time…
The finish area was fine, we were given a space blanket for the walk to the Festival Area, as we picked up our finishers t-shirt and goody bag, before being deposited into the Meet and Greet/Festival Area proper which was across a road. This area was fine, but all I wanted to do was to get some warm clothes on (it was cold again now) and maybe some hot food and drink. I plumped for the chicken curry and green tea, but there was quite a large range of food on offer. The best bit was that the dining area was under cover, in a large tent with heater lights, which was very well received by all.
After this it was a case of finding a train (very well sign-posted) to head back to the start, then on to Waterloo East, then Waterloo Main and on home, this time to Farnborough Station. I had to pay the extra fare from Woking to Farnborough, but my wife was meeting me there so was worth the extra money. Would I run it again, with a group of friends it could be a craic, but solo, just seemed a lot of effort just to get there. If they changed the start time, I could be tempted but all in all, a great taste of the London Experience.