What better preparation for the Easter break than running 13.1 miles? Katie Scott shares her most recent race day
Many of us have a love-hate relationship with running. I know I did when I first started. In a bid to burn calories, I donned my trainers and began pounding out my very first mile on the residential pavements near my mum and dad’s house. Fast forward six odd years and I’ve now clocked up more miles than a dodgy motor, have more sportswear than you can shake a stick at and can even boast a new PB at every event I run. For me, events are fantastic – I love using them as a clearly defined goal to reach and a challenge to squash. Having a set race day in mind is great for tailoring your training to a time frame, and testing out different courses and routes always provides more fun than your regular routines. I also love the sense of occasion at events – it really is about putting your best foot forward.
My most recent event was a couple of Sundays ago on the 20th March – I dimly thought that a half marathon would be brilliant to include in my birthday celebrations, although I’m 100% positive that my running companion and twin sister Jess did not agree in the slightest. Brushing aside her meager complaints, I selected a course that featured a rather impressive starting point and finishing line; the Vitality North London Half Marathon, which would begin and conclude at the iconic Wembley Stadium. How can you match that for a sporting great? The 13.1 mile route would see us tackle the closed roads, heading towards the Allianz Rugby Stadium, home to the Saracens, before looping back the way we had came to act out a celebrity style finish on the pitch at Wembley Stadium.
So, my prep for this event was different to usual. For my past couple of runs, I have ramped up the training only to stumble by getting yet another bout of plantar fasciitis a few days before the event. This time I was determined not to be let down by a dodgy foot so I mixed up my training. I alternated days, tackling my stamina and endurance training with long outdoor runs, building up the distance and playing around with pace. In between these sessions, I would hit the gym for low impact work on either the strider or the cross trainer, along with my usual weight work and exercise classes. This mix of cardio worked a treat and I am pleased to report that I suffered no pesky foot issues before race day.
The joy that is engineering works meant that my support squad and I arrived at Wembley a little later than anticipated, so I had no time to find the event village and explore what that was all about. I pretty much just had time to pin on my number and find the right timing pen before an energetic bundle of red from Virgin Active took us in a short warm up featuring plenty of jumping jacks and bum kicks. I navigated my way into the 1hr 30 – 1hr 45 pen. With my training being different to my normal outdoor endurance / gym speed work, I had no idea what time I would be getting and I hadn’t even set a target. I would be happy with anything that was around my previous PB. With the sky a disappointing grey and the drizzle spitting half heartedly, there was a decided air of getting down to business as we clustered around the start line, people in my pen limbering up with leg stretches. Clutching my bottle of raspberry Lucozade, I was stretched and ready to roll.
I ended up crossing the start line at 9.05am, beginning the first part of the route down residential streets. With a few unexpected hills, there was more climbing that I thought, but in these early stages the legs were fresh enough to handle these with enthusiasm, loving the momentum gained from hitting the downhill. Powering through, the roads were nice and spacious, allowing us plenty of space to run at our own pace without getting trapped or hemmed in by other participants. In previous events, this has been a huge bugbear for me and is especially frustrating if you get stuck behind a slower runner with no space to go around them. The roomy roads helped to avoid this, the marshalls usefully pointing out the route although there were also lots of bright orange cones to guide the way.
Handily, there were markers at most miles which meant that keeping track of your progress was really easy. Flicking the occasional glance at my watch, I could see I was making good time and was on track for my PB. The only slight niggle was that where the course looped back on yourself, you would sometimes spot a marker for a mile further along, for example mile eight, when really you were on mile five. It’s rather disheartening when you realise you read the wrong sign! The course was well plotted in the sense that the Allianz Stadium provided a half way point to aim for. On arriving at the venue, we did one lap of the red tarmacked athletics track, seeing our sweaty faces on the big screen before pushing off for the second half. I quite liked this symmetry and the fact that we looped back on ourselves meant that as I was coming out of the stadium, Jess was going in, so I let out a huge cheer and whoop (#embarrassinglittlesisteralert).
Although the drizzle had cleared up, the weather was still overcast and it was time for the second half of the race – this part definitely felt a hell of a lot longer than the first! I have never felt such a strong feeling of camaraderie as I did when I reached mile 10. Remember those hills that featured at the beginning of the race? Those three, long, sloping, steeply trudging hills that I tackled with fresh legs and a smile on my face at mile three? Well, very different story now it was mile 10. I could have sworn the race was advertised as a flat course, so to have these three imposing hills rearing their ugly high heads at miles 10, 11 and 12 was unpleasant to put it politely. Panting as if in labour, the collective pain of us runners seemed to permeate the air with an angry fog.
Runner next to me: “F**k.”
Me: “You sound how I feel”.
Runner next to me: “Wasn’t expecting these.”
Me: “I thought it was a flat course.”
Runner next to me: “F**k”.
Once past the hills of doom, it was time for the home straight back to the stadium and what I would comfortably say is the longest 1.1 miles I have ever encountered. Approaching the stadium, it look nearly the entire mile to run around the outskirts, coming in through a car park entrance round the back so we could emerge through the tunnels and on to the main pitch side area. Finally coming out on to the pitch, I could see the finish line round the next bend. Kicking some extra power into the old quads (lord knows from where), I attempted a sprint finish before collapsing in a fit of coughing once I crossed the line – the annoying side effects of having a cold pre event! Looking around, friends and family were all sat on the shiny red seats of the audience, the finish line being beamed across the stadium thanks to the big TV screens.
So, did I get a PB? I managed to shave 45 seconds off my fastest half marathon time, going from 1hr 35 mins and 56 secs last September to 1hr 35 mins and 11 secs in this event. Considering all of my previous races have been flat, I’m rather pleased I managed to put in a slightly quicker time despite the hills. Part of me wonders whether I could have run any faster – guess I won’t know until the next time!
Finding my team after I crossed the line was near impossible. Despite being advised that there would be designated meeting points, I couldn’t see any of them. I had to walk back out of the stadium and then up and very big staircase to reach the spectator area in a bid to find them – phone calls were pretty much useless due to the loud music and general noise of thousands of people in one place. Eventually finding my mum (aka my personal bag watcher) as well as Jess’s boyfriend, we then waited for her to cross the line (1hr 51 mins in case you wanted to know). Presented with the blissful sight of a gin and tonic, Jess and I swigged our beverages standing by one of the concessions stands in Wembley. We couldn’t really see anywhere else to go and sit or anywhere else to go and investigate, so once we had our drinks and a post race stretch we headed back to the train station to make our way home.
On the whole, I did enjoy this event and I’m glad I got the chance to do it. I liked the fact that the roads were closed and wide, as it gave us all our own space to run our own races, without crowding or getting in the way of other runners. Finishing at Wembley made for a great sweaty selfie, however I don’t think the most was made out of the venue. The hills were an annoyance I could have done without and some more warning about them would have been appreciated! It was a great morning though although one word of warning – I couldn’t really do stairs for the following two days!