Race 20: London ‘Winter Run’, London, England, 1st February 2015

LondonWinterRunMapWith a title such as ‘Winter Run’, a run in early February was always going to be a chilly one and, along with polar bears giving people hugs (well, people dressed as polar bears, sadly. Real ones would have certainly sped things up), giant snowballs, the blusteringly windy and cold morning created the “freezing your balls off” atmosphere the organisers were probably after.

I had reasonably high hopes time-wise for this race. I had spent the winter doing quite a few 5km parkruns and a 10km run to prepare. I got a few PBs (and minor injuries: bloody cross country) in the process: 17.36 for 5km and 36.55 for 10km as well as my first podium finish in the Bushy Park 10km race two weeks earlier so my confidence levels were reasonably high. In addition, the lack of training for half marathon/marathon distances meant my legs weren’t totally ruined for once.

Enough toilets for the Queen and all her subjects (and Pippa and her banana)
Enough toilets for the Queen and all her subjects (and Pippa and her banana)
Front row start for Pippa!
Front row start for Pippa!

So, important things first: there were enough toilets!! For possibly the first time ever, there might have actually been MORE than enough toilets! The bag drop process was swift (admittedly, we were there almost an hour early) and the sea of volunteers kept everyone moving along in the right direction. On the downside, the ‘starting waves’ system was bizarre, to say the least. Everyone was told in advance what time they were meant to start but, in practice, it was a first-come first-served basis so you had very slow runners on the front line and frustrated fast runners in second/third waves etc. Not much fun for either the fast runners having to overtake people or the slow runners being pushed out of the way for most of the course. Anyway, I used the expert skills I learnt from growing up in France and, miraculously, there I was right at the front of the first queue. Bravo Monsieur! Even then, at the last second, a group of 20 slow runners had been waiting on the side and were allowed to come and stand in front of the whole front line. It was all a bit peculiar and I can’t imagine they enjoyed serving as bowling pins to the front runners wanting a clear run for a PB.

Back to the race. Just as the sun made an appearance, so did the “starter cow bell” and off we went. The run would take us past some of London’s most famous monuments: Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, the Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral, to name but a few. Conveniently, most of the course was my normal run to work so I actually knew it off the back of my hand which helped. Having said that …. the route was basically a straight road so I was hardly requiring the memory of an elephant to remember where to go.

Westminster start
Westminster start

As per normal, I set off like an arrow and, once I’d dodged the super slow runners at the front, I found myself all alone in Number 1 position. It was fun leading the race through London and I was feeling quite smug a) for being at the front and b) because Jo Pavey (European Champion in 2014) ‘started’ the race and I assumed she was running it properly. As she was nowhere to be seen, I was clearly displaying super-heroic running abilities. It was only after a few kilometres that I worked out she was jogging it with Cancer Research runners so I wasn’t quite so super-human.

Anyway, off I was sprinting away. While I was going too fast, the 1km marker being in the wrong place (after 850m) confused the hell out of me. Had it been correct, I would have done this first kilometre in 2m48, which is, well, international standard speeds! As the rapturous crowd of 6 people cheered me on, my adrenaline-fuelled mind drifted off and I started picturing myself overtaking Mo Farah in the last stretch of Olympics final … until I crashed back to reality and realised the only person doing the overtaking was the ginger bastard who’d just overtaken me. Fair play to him, he ultimately cruised to a well-deserved victory in 34 minutes sharp.

Looking slightly gaunt....but leading the race for another minute or so
My last few meters at the front of the race
Cruising by the Tower of London
Cruising by the Tower of London

Before I move to the rest of the race, another odd thing was the man on a bike filming the front runner on a Go Pro camera the whole time. It can’t have been very exciting material but i guess that means there should be roughly 5 minutes of me pulling grunting faces and blowing snot out of my nose. Hopefully they’ll make a Christmas special DVD out of it.

I stayed in second place until we reached the Tower of London where a group of 3 runners, including the female winner, rightfully overtook me. The support remained pretty sparse (for London) although there were lots of Cancer Research volunteers cheering people along, which is what the event was raising money for. There were various gimmicks along the route. Some vaguely made you chuckle (e.g. signs with “Smile and say Freeze” instead of “Cheese” for the photographers) but others which were just a right pain such as the various fake snow machines which seemed to only have one purpose which was to make you swallow as much foam as possible as you ran by.

One legged-running is harder than you think at this speed
One legged-running is harder than you think at this speed

Due to the number of tunnels we had to go through, the Garmin was as accurate as the race’s kilometre markers but it more or less caught up by the 5km mark which, to my surprise, I reached in 17.25 – a new unofficial PB for that distance!

Now running away from Tower of London, we took a sharp turn for a small climb up to St Paul’s cathedral. The bells were chiming as we ran past which, if I’m honest, I’m quite sure was in my honour.

Guess who's eyeing up a PB....
Guess who’s eyeing up a PB….

The last two hills around there were the last spots where I got overtaken and, after digging deep and despite running in what seemed like an icy wind tunnel for the last few kilometres, I managed to keep my 7th overall position until I crossed the line in a new PB of 36.10!

However, by the time we sat down for brunch with Pippa and her friends, I was down to 8th and, by the time I was on the tube home, I was down to 9th: a couple of fast runners obviously didn’t make it to the first wave so had to have a lovely race alone later that morning – d’oh!

Selfie-time?
Selfie-time?

In the meantime, Pippa destroyed her PB by so much that I had only just got back in time (by about 2 seconds) to see her finish in 52 minutes while Pippa’s friend Nick and Catherine respectively finished in 44 and 54 minutes. PBs and smiles all round!

All that was left to do was a group photo which proved a little harder than expected. After 55 (!) selfies by the nice man who agreed to help us out, we finally had a good shot of us all!

LondonWinterRunGroupPhoto

Time: 36.10 (9th/11,454)

Speed: sonic5

Difficulty: demon

Atmosphere: thumbsup1

Weather: rain1sun1

Scenery: palmtree4

 

 

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