Sunday, 20 March 2016

North London Half Marathon

Today I ran my 13th Half Marathon at the North London Half Marathon, a race boasting to have 'the greatest finish line in the world' as the race finishes inside Wembley stadium

For me I was really excited to run this race as I don't tend to do too many mass participation races and the idea of finishing in one of the most iconic sports stadiums in the world really appealed to me.

I have been training hard in the last few months and having ran half marathons in the previous two months I was in good shape to hopefully run a PB. The elation of a PB finish in Wembley stadium, what's not to like? I have missed the chance of scoring a winning goal in a cup final so this was my chance of achieving a small piece of sporting stardom. 

My less than ideal race build up

The race didn't quite go to plan though, more to the point the race build up. Here's what went wrong:

Firstly my last effort run on Thursday night finished with a sore throbbing in the ball of my right foot. Later in the evening this led to some swelling in my foot and I struggled to be able to put any weight on it. Ouch! Some painkiller and some ibuprofen gel made a big difference though but it still didn't feel right during and after a gentle jog on Friday. I was apprehensive how it would feel for 13 hard and fast miles in North London. 

Secondly I managed to tweak my back on Saturday, I didn't even do anything to it like lift something heavy or fall over, I must have just sat awkwardly on the sofa when visit family as when I got up it felt so tight and stiff. Come the evening it had worsened and I was struggling to walk straight, I must have done something to affect a nerve as I was also getting sensations through my legs. So going to bed on Saturday evening I wasn't 100% sure I would be running in the morning.


Morning of the race 

Sunday morning came around and my back felt OK so off we set for North London, big thanks have to go to the wife for getting up at 6.30 on a Sunday morning and agreeing to drive me to and from the race. I wasn't sure how my back would respond to running so it was going to be a 'see how it goes' kind of race. 

Additional niggles included a tight left thigh and a painful knot in my left calf which had worsened over the last few days, the joys of running! 

Pre race was the usual thing you expect with large races, queuing in traffic to get anywhere near where you want to go, queuing to park and then the final inconvenience of queuing for the toilet as I had the need to do an unmentionable before I set off. 

That left me very little time to warm up and then to squeeze into the starting pens, I could only manage to find a gap in the middle of the 1.45-2.00 pace group but I thought that would be good for my early pacing strategy. 

The race was soon underway and I gingerly set out to run the first few k's at a steady pace to see how my back felt and then reassess my race strategy from there. 

The first section of the race was quite congested as you would expect which helped my pacing. 

Despite starting and finishing at Wembley there was a realisation that North London wouldn't offer much scenery to view for the rest of the 13 miles. To be honest I was quite pleasantly surprised with what the race provided. After the first mile or so we were basically in the country with a road flanked by fields and roadside verges covered in daffodils. At around mile 3 there were a few thatched cottages (I know near Wembley in north London, who knew?!) and there was also the RAF museum we passed twice where you could see a few planes on display. Sure there were a few grim parts, some non-descript residential areas, some dull industrial areas but by no means a soul destroying backdrop. 

The half way point was marked by a lap around Saracens Allianz park which had a great atmosphere and running on the running track there literally put a spring in my step! 

It was at around the halfway point I knew that I had a decent chance of getting a good time as I had covered 10K in around 50minutes, my back felt OK although my foot felt sore but I decided to increase the pace for the next 5K. 

Being a there and back route I felt that the race went really quick, I am not sure if it was knowing the route back to the finish or the distraction of watching runners stream the other way on the other side of the road. 

In the last few miles I thought I was on for a time just outside of 1.40 but this turned out to be out of my grasp as I finished in 1.42.33. This is my second fastest half marathon time which is cause for celebration and seeing as I view my PB as a complete fluke you could say this is a kind of PB?! 

Race review

In terms of my review of the race as an event I suppose it would get a solid 7/10.  

My observations were that the course was very congested, I think because of only using half the road at any one time. The support on the course was very poor, not much of a turn out and any people out on the street were more bemused at the spectacle in front of them rather than supportive. Such a contrast with Run Hackney last year which had phenomenal course support. 

As for the hills the course is by no means easy and certainly has more hills than you would expect for a city event. The hill at around 10.5 miles is particularly horrible, one because of its place in the race and secondly because it's a sneaky one! As you start heading towards Wembley there is a gentle climb and then you can look down and see the stadium below you so you automatically assume it's all downhill from here to the finish but no the sneaky hill appears out of nowhere! 

The course is nowhere near as hilly as other events I have down before and pales in significance to Tunbridge Wells where I got my PB so I would actually say it's a reasonably fast course with decent PB potential. 

The end

So how did 'the greatest finish line in the world' workout? Not great if I'm honest, I knew it wouldn't be the greatest but thought it would still be pretty great but in reality it was only a good finish, but then I can be a hard man to please.

My reasons for this are that you run down Wembley Way (which was phenomenal, great support and brilliant to have the stadium in view ahead of you) towards the stadium but instead of heading into the stadium you run about half way around it before heading into the stadium itself. Even then you are running in the dark bowels of the stadium before finally emerging for probably less than 200m onto pitch level. 

I still enjoyed my small taste of sporting stardom in front of several hundred spectators despite a non PB finish. Finishing in the stadium certainly provides  some unique race memories and provided some great photo opportunities. 

Upon getting home I was really pleased with the great race goody bag, a cool medal and a brilliant looking Tshirt which I am looking forward to wearing soon.  

Thank you as always for all the support I have received in the build up to the race, next stop a marathon PB at Halstead in May...

I received my place in the North London Half Marathon courtesy of Urban Massage.