It was probably almost a year ago that I entered The Big Half Marathon in London, running for its first time this year, organised by the London Marathon Events team and billed as being a one day festival centred around the half marathon to celebrate the cultural diversity of the communities in London.
It sounded good, it sounded big, with up to 15000 runners but being its first year, I still wasn’t sure what to expect. On the run up to the event, I began to realise that perhaps it would be as good as it promised as the announcement that the likes of Sir Mo Farah and Callum Hawkins would be racing, plus information began to come through about what to expect en route and at the finishing festival.
With the snowy few days we had in the run up to the race, there was lots of apprehension on social media about whether the race would continue but the organisers proceeded to set up in the snow and confirmed on the Saturday that the race would go on.
As soon as I got my place, I had booked a hotel near to the start “just in case” I needed it as getting to London early on a Sunday can be a logistical nightmare. So on the Saturday afternoon, my husband, daughter and I made our way into London and enjoyed the afternoon being tourists and showing my daughter some of the sights.
On the Sunday morning, I enjoyed a hotel breakfast along with many other runners staying in the same hotel as me (the hotel was obviously not prepared for so many early risers on a Sunday as we jostled our way around the buffet whilst they were still setting up (Errr – did they not know that there was this massive event taking place on their doorstep?)
Race instructions said to arrive by 8am, so I left the hotel just before this time and made the 5 minute walk to the starting area which was by Tower Bridge. It was a glorious morning, the sun was shining and not a cloud in the sky. It couldn’t have been more perfect. Runners had been split into 2 starting areas – orange and green. I was orange which meant that I had to cross the bridge to the bag drop area (nice and easy, no queues) and then head back to find the assembly area for my start wave. Here, I found plenty of toilet facilities and with relatively little queuing needed for a change. The first wave wasn’t heading off until 9am so we had a bit of a wait but everyone was in good spirits and there were lots of announcements being made and music being played to keep us entertained a bit.
The race started with the wheelchair racers and the elite runners, and I was in wave D, the 4th wave out of 8 to go.
And at last it was our time to race! We made our way from the assembly area to the starting line. Here I saw the pacer for my group – the 2hr pacer – I had applied for the race before I had even run my first half marathon and I guess this was my anticipated time then. This pace was a bit slow for me so I tried to get as near to the front as I could and just hoped that I could get away cleanly and pick up pace.
I started off well, was able to get a good pace almost straight away and didn’t find it was too congested to move through the other runners. The race headed out initially in the direction of Canary Wharf and it was when I was around mile 1 that I experienced my race high – Sir Mo and the other elite runners whizzed past us in a flash in the opposite direction. After this we entered the long Limehouse Link Tunnel, where lots of chants of Oggy Oggy Oggy could be heard echoing through amongst the runners. The tunnel seemed to go on forever and after about a mile we finally saw light ahead and made the climb up the hill to exit the tunnel. It was just after the tunnel, that I saw my family for the first time which gave me a little lift as I didn’t know where I would see them along the route.
The route continued on towards Canary Wharf, past the whiff of Billingsgate Fish Market. We wound our way around Canary Wharf, past all the skyscrapers of the city, enjoying some music from a local band. I continued to run well, not truly believing the pace showing on my watch as I’d had GPS problems at the start. There had been a couple of drinks stations by this point if you so wanted and sweets were plentiful on offer from the spectators.
During the loop back from Canary Wharf towards Tower Bridge, we hit a long stretch of running over cobblestones which was tough and led to a slight reduction in pace.
Around mile 7, brought us back to the familiar point of Tower Bridge and where we crossed over the river to continue with the second half of the run south of the river passing through Southwark, Lewisham, Bermondsey, Southwark and on towards the finishing point at Greenwich. We were welcomed by Steel bands and Reggae singers, all helping to create the carnival vibe as the organisers intended.
It was around mile 9 that I started to flag a bit. Up until this point I had been running well, with some splits faster than I usually ran and I found my mind started to wander a bit and I began to lose focus. With a quick look at the watch and a few mental calculations in my head, I realised that if I carried on at the rate I had been running at, I would be on for a good PB. I gave myself a bit of a telling off, sunk another gel, retained focus and picked up momentum again.
As I neared the end of the race, crowd presence picked up again and helped to push us on. As we ran the last mile, the crowds were several deep, apparently my family were here but I didn’t see them as it was so busy. The finish line approached by the Cutty Sark and I managed a sprint finish through the end. And I’d done it! I finished in 1 hour 47 minutes – my 5th half marathon since May last year and my 5th PB!
On completion, we were given foil blankets, a rather heavy goody bag containing 3 drinks and a dodgy tasting cereal bar, a t-shirt and of course a medal.
We were then funneled through to the bag collection area and on towards the festival which seemed to take forever to reach. On reaching the festival, I was met by family and my daughter (once she had pinched my medal and seen what goodies she could take from my bag) wanted to enjoy the attractions at the festival which included a big wheel, a boxing ring and basketball – all free and laid on by local organisations.
My sister and brother-in-law were also running the race, so we waited for them to finish and then we headed back to Canary Wharf on the DLR to enjoy a nice well-earnt family lunch before we returned back to the hotel to collect our luggage and then made the journey back home.
After failing to get a place in VLM for the 6th year in a row, I was hoping this might be the nearest I was going to get to experiencing the London running experience and The Big Half didn’t fail me. The event was well organised, everyone was buzzing, the crowd support was amazing, with lots of local bands, choirs, DJ’s singing and playing music the whole way along the route. It certainly captured the community spirit as intended. I will definitely try to get back next year in The Big Half and maybe next year might be my lucky year with the ballot………
Some interesting stats:
I finished 2957th out of 11504 finishers (I think a lot of people couldn’t make it because of the snow).
I was 619th woman out of 5097 and 77th out of 857 in my division.
Over the 1st half of the race, I passed 1154 other runners and 63 passed me.
I had just passed mile 5 when Sir Mo finished his race. (Edit: But Claire did give Mo a substantial head start!)