Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Halfway there

Before I do any race I like to feel that I have the distance I am planning to cover in the bag. By the time I did 5K I knew I could run that far with ease, same goes for 10K and I am confident about my upcoming 15K race too, but I knew the marathon would be different. I understand that I can't just pop on my shoes and do 26.2 miles, but I suppose never having even completed a half marathon was making me feel a bit unsure of myself.

Today I set myself a challenge that I hoped would put my mind at rest. I had a meeting in town at the BFI on the South Bank and I decided that rather than hop on the tube, I would pull on my trainers and run there instead. A fellow runner had assured me the distance was doable and suggested a race route that took me there via several of London's prettiest parks.

Off I set giving myself a good three hours to ensure I wasn't late for my meeting (luckily it was with a very understanding client who I knew wouldn't mind chatting to me in my sweaty running clothes). At first the route was pretty grim taking in main roads and lots of confusing identikit streets in the labyrinth that is Hampstead Garden Suburb.

I kept getting lost and eventually found myself yomping up a trail that brought me out a good mile from where I thought I was. That place never fails to fox my sense of direction and I was glad to put it behind me. Then it was on through Belsize Park, which was tricky due to the influx of pedestrians on the pavements until I reached Primrose Hill.

I was impressed that after 70 minutes of running I could breeze up the eponymous hill with ease, but I was rewarded by a stunning view of my home town. Up rose the BT Tower in all its sci fi glory, around spun the London Eye and the Shard is finally starting to live up to its name. I could even spot the now diminutive dome of St Paul's nestled on the outskirts of the City. Such a view cannot fail to lift the spirits and I raced down the hill with a smile on my face.

Regent's Park proved to be a bit of a disappointment as without the softening influence of leaves or flowers it's a bit flat and grey after the wonders of Primrose Hill, and I found myself getting disoriented and lost again. Not so much fun when the fatigue is beginning to bite. Eventually I escaped its bosky grasp for the choked Euston Road and then on towards the West End.

It is a particularly cruel torture for a shopaholic like me to have to run past all the boutiques of Marylebone High Street without being able to take in the wares in the windows, but after all the direction malfunctions early in my run I had to get a move on now. Fortunately at about an hour and a half in I really was into my stride and fully enjoying the run.

Once I had escaped the back streets behind Oxford Street teeming with delivery drivers and shop staff having a sneaky fag, I finally glimpsed the white splendour of Marble Arch and once again I felt real joy at being able to explore London powered only by my own legs. I ran through Hyde Park and on to Green Park, after which my way was stopped by a police man who had closed the road to accommodate the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

I stopped in my increasingly weary stride - I had now hit the two-hour mark - to watch the soldiers in their grey coats and magnificent black bearskins hoick their ceremonial rifles onto their shoulders. It certainly made a change from being stuck in my office on a Tuesday morning.

Onwards I went down the Mall and across into the pretty St James' Park, where I had to work hard to avoid crashing into the abundant wildfowl that make their home there. I left several shocked geese in my wake.

As I rounded the corner out of the park up popped Big Ben, presiding over the Gothic might of the Houses of Parliament. This surely has to be one of the best running routes in the world. I dodged tourists taking pictures of one another hanging out of the old fashioned red phone boxes and then powered on across the river.

My goal was in sight. As the barges and tourist boats chugged along the brackish brown waters of the Thames I saw that the pods from the London Eye were laid out on the ground for cleaning like giant petals fallen from a vast metal flower. As the BFI hove into view I finally came to a halt, checked the MapMyRun app on my iPhone and gave an internal whoop as I had covered 14 miles - over half the distance I will have to cover in the marathon. It took around 2hrs 15mins which is a little slower than I am hoping for, but not bad for a first attempt at a truly long run.

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