I was fortunate enough to be offered a place at this years North London Half Marathon. I went to the launch as part of #NLSquad and was really looking forward to the fantastic Wembley Stadium finish. Unfortunately I then realised it clashed with Silverstone Half which I had already committed to pace. I then started to think about this event, and wanted to write something about it. I have managed to secure contributions from three amazing perspectives:
- The front of the pack – Danny O’Reilly – 01:17:29 for 19th place
- The average runner – Kirsty Addicott (AKA my wife)
- A pacer – Phil Jefferies – 2:30 pacer
Although I was not able to take part in this event I was able to turn up unexpectedly to see Kirsty before she started which was great to see her start.
The front of the pack – Danny O’Reilly
On Sunday 12th March 2017 I ran the Vitality North London Half Marathon on behalf of Fitness Rewards and Team Vitality.
This was the first time I’d tackled this particular event and my 8th half marathon all time. So I’m not a veteran by any means, but also not the new kid on the block. I still get jitters, struggle to sleep the night before and need several pre-race toilet visits.
With an 8:30am gun start, the event was a touch on the early side, and with London’s public transport being a tad unpredictable (I’ve been stuck in tunnels, left on platforms and late for races before) I decided to remove some pre-race stress and treat myself to an Uber to the start line. So I arrived painlessly, with ample time, although some inexplicable Sunday morning surge pricing meant my wallet is lighter than hoped.
The normal pre-race gambit is long cold queues for bag drop and throngs of crossed leg runners waiting for funky smelling portaloos. But with Wembley Stadium being blessed with more toilets then any other building in the UK, this issue was agreeably removed.
Bags dropped, toilet visited, coffee purchased and a selfie or too in the stadium with plenty of time to spare.
We were all cajoled to the start line on Wembley Way – again another thing to note here. All the pens were well separated and easily accessed. Often the pens at other events are full early doors and there’s no way of accessing your designated pen.
The skies were threateningly grey, and the weather forecast hadn’t been optimistic, with heavy rain predicted. But, fortunately the rain held off until around 10am and temperature was mild.
So, on to the race itself, and apologies in advance, but i’m a metric man. So all timings and breakdown of the race will be in kilometres. If you’re of the imperial persuasion, I’ll leave you to the maths – it’ll keep your brain young.
I’m not one to check course profiles and i’m glad I didn’t here, as this course was hilly and challenging. Not undulating, but actually hilly, with some brutal climbs. it was better that they were a surprise…I think.
Previous Vitality Half Marathons I’ve tackled are famous for the masses of cheering locals lining the streets, but unlike Hackney and Oxford, and maybe due to the early gun time, and Wembley Stadium focal point, the streets were absolutely empty.
This didn’t stop the marshals and volunteers doing their absolute best to make some noise though, and it was greatly appreciated. Anyone who is handing out water on Sunday morning to ruddy faced runners, instead of tucking into a fry-up and watching Sunday Brunch is a good egg.
Starting in Pen B, I was in perhaps the first 100 to get going. The start was fast and frenetic. There are no pacers for times below 1h 30m, so you have to pace yourself. There’s no one to latch on to, and think “I’ll stick with this as long as I can”, or “I’ll do 10km with this pacer and then try to kick on.” It’s just yourself and your own experiences and intuition. I’m very new to achieving times sub 1h 30m for a half marathon, so this sort of race strategy is a new skill to learn, and one I’m slowly getting used to.
My PB from 6 months earlier was 1h 22m 04s and I knew I need sub 4 minute kms and then some to get close to that.
The first 5km was peppered with climbs and descents, but more up than down. However, I kept telling myself I this would make the final 5km a little easier. I covered the first 5km in 18m 31s (average pace of 3m 42s per km). I knew I’d gone off hard, a little excited by the fast runners around me and was well on for a PB. I just told myself I’d keep this up as long as I could and if / when I began to fade, hopefully I’d have some time in the bank.
At 10k I clocked 37m 06s, so I’d slowed 1 second per km, but had remained pretty consistent all in all and was well on to break my PB.
My lungs burned, my legs ached it hurt, but it’s meant to. You have to push yourself. But it doesn’t matter if you’re Mo Farah, the person winning in 1h 09m or the last person over the line – a half marathon hurts. There’s sometimes a myth that perpetuates that those finishing faster find it easier – they don’t. Everyone gives it their all and is praying for the finish line with a few kms to go.
At the halfway staged we entered the Saracens Rugby Stadium and did a short lap of the running track. The spongey surface was a welcome treat and the big screen showed us running in. It’s little things like this that make you feel like a real runner.
So here we turned back on ourselves and almost follow the exact same route back to the finish, hugging the opposite side of the road to those approaching the stadium.
Reading the news, spending time on social media, commuting, you can lose your faith in humanity. But running races really restores it. The human spirit, the guts and the camaraderie show the best of people. For the entire 10.5km back to the stadium I was cheered constantly by people coming the other way. People I’ve never met and never will, people with 10, 12, 14, 16km still left to run. And it’s these things that keep you going, drag you to PBs, and why 9,000 people turn up on a damp Sunday morning for a half marathon in North London.
Unbeknownst to me, I was in 33rd place at this stage and without planning began to speed up. I’d catch a person, sit in for a while and then go for the next target. Whether this is a good strategy or not I have no idea. It wasn’t planned, it just felt natural.
I covered the next 5km in 17m 42m, not far off my PB over that distance. At km 17 was the mother of all hills, I decided to attack it and see what happened – I just wanted this race over and done with.
So finally I approached Wembley Way, where football fans have ambled for years. Through the underground carpark and into the stadium. This felt like Olympic Marathons that I’ve only seen on tv, and another reason you could consider this half. Not many half marathons for the masses offer this unique opportunity, and for a split second I felt like a professional athlete.
I crossed the line in 1h 17m 29s in 19th place. My app gave me a time 57 seconds faster – these discrepancies are always a little annoying, but with bit’s of weaving and poor racing line, I covered an extra 250 metres So around 5 minutes slashed off my PB – I was thrilled.
Medal, great t-shirt, selfies and a free massage , which I credit being the reason I’ve already made it back out for a few runs this week, and off to the pub.
I highly recommend this half marathon. Definitely work on hill training if you tackle it.
A big thank you to Paul Addicott for sorting this place out for me, and now planning for the next challenge.
If you would like to join me for a run, my crew @HackneyRats are on Twitter, and publish sessions there. Say hello.
The average runner – Kirsty Addicott
When I found out my husband had nominated me to run a half marathon in his place and blog about it, I had mixed emotions. It wasn’t my first half, but my last official race was London marathon two years prior and with two kids and a full time job running took a fairly permanent back seat for a while! But having a goal is good, and the draw of this race is that it was around my childhood stomping ground, so I hoped the familiarity would help pull me round!
When I arrived on race day I felt weirdly relaxed.. perhaps because I was just aiming to finish due to my training only consisting of regular 5ks and nothing longer! The set up of the race is ace, and I loved being able to use a real toilet pre-Race inside Wembley stadium. The race Start was well organised and the atmosphere was phenomenal.
Given that it took me a fair while to get round I won’t talk too much about the run, there isn’t space. But it’s a very Hilly out and back course (middle section quite flat) with some nice tree-lined streets, and some not so scenic residential areas full of supporters.
The marshals were plentiful, as were the water stations and toilets on route. The hills on the return journey were particularly evil, and the race organisers rather comically placed one of the photography spots at the top of the beast of a hill at mile 10, slightly cruel in my opinion, although I’ll admit it spurred me on to look like I was moving faster than 2mph.
The race entry includes all of your photographs for free and I did actually get some good ones, in particular they captured my sprint finish through Wembley stadium which I was pleased with.
The finisher bag was on the more generous side, with a nice medal and an unbeatable finishing location. I definitely want to do this event next year, but I will practice my Hill runs a bit more before then and get my mileage up a bit more, in the hope of aiming for more than ‘just finishing’ 😎
A pacer – Phil Jefferies – 2:30 pacer
I had a place offered to me in the race through Fitness rewards/ Vitality, and was also asked to pace the event by the race directors.
Organisation was superb, as a pacer I had access to the behind the scenes activities that preceded the race, and was able to see the well thought out plans being put into place, the large number of volunteers being well briefed and prepared before being sent out to the posts.
A very early start, 08.30am, to allow the event to reopen the roads of the route early to avoid traffic problems.
Starting pens were clearly marked and well marshalled on Olympic way, formally Wembley way, and the pre race warm up kept the runners entertained before the start.
Started right on 08.30 with no problems, being the 2 hour 30 min pacer meant I was in the final pen, and it took about 10 mins to reach the start line.
The route is described as undulating by the race website, for that read mostly flat with some fairly big hills thrown in. The final hill between 9 and 10 miles causing many grumbles amongst my pace group!
The route took runners away from Wembley through local suburbs and parks, passing the RAF Museum at Hendon on it’s way to The Allianz park rugby ground. Excellent water stations and aid stations were frequent and manned with cheery volunteers, and the course was well marshalled throughout. Some bands and drumming groups on the route, made up for the lack of local supporters on the roads.
After a lap of the Rugby ground it was time to head back on the return leg, following the same out route back for most of the way. My only complaint with the drinks stations would be concerning the 2 lucozade stations where drinks were poured from bottles into small paper cups for runners to drink from, I assume to cut down on waste and litter, but some around me found it hard to run and drink from the cups.
On arrival back at Wembley runners were directed into the stadium and did a half lap of the pitch before finishing on the touchline and crossing the chip timing mat. A good medal, quality Tech finishers shirt and goodie bag were efficently handed to finishers. A well organised, and enjoyable race to sum up, despite the lack of big landmark areas out on the course, the uniqueness of the finish make it one that you should consider running at some point.
Thank you to all my wonderful contributors for this blog. They all ran a fantastic race: Danny with a fantastic PB, Kirsty with a great first half post baby number two, and Phil spot on pacing as always. Certainly an event to look out for next year, and such good value for money with free photography included.
Finally, I currently have a live raffle with lots of amazing prizes. £10 to enter and over 20 prizes. Check it out HERE