We’re an active bunch at London Calling and we love getting out-and-about to experience the city’s most exciting events. So taking part in The Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon was too good an opportunity to miss! RPFHM celebrated its 10th birthday on 8th October when 16,000 runners took part in one of the most picturesque and landmark-packed half marathons on the planet. Our Head of Distribution Guy Smith entered the race to find out if it was as good as we’d heard…
London’s eight Royal Parks cover 5,000 acres of green space across the capital, providing Londoners and visitors respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. The RPHM takes in four of the eight Royal Parks on its route – Hyde Park, Green Park, St. James’s Park and Kensington Gardens – and with the roads closed especially for the race, you get a VIP view of some of the loveliest sites in the city.
Travelling to the race I spotted many fellow runners in their yellow RPHM t-shirts and gave a knowing nod while making my way to the tube. At the race village in Hyde Park the complicated logistics of getting 16,000 people into an orderly queue was done incredibly smoothly. Bag drop was swift and even the nervous pre-race queues for the toilets seemed to disappear quickly! All this efficiency got me to the start far too early and I had a 25 minute wait in the starting pen to ponder my pitiful lack of training in the past two weeks and to think of adequate excuses for my expected poor time.
After the elite runners had departed, the remaining mere mortals started in waves, every five minutes, depending on their expected finish time. I was safely tucked somewhere in the middle where it was becoming rather cosy and people were starting to strike up new friendships: “Nice shoes!” and “What’s that tattoo meant to be?” I heard around me. The answer to the latter was, incredibly: “…a pig with a chicken’s head.”
So what if my training had been poor? This was a flat course and a beautiful morning – sunny but cool with absolutely no wind. No excuses.
A congested first mile saw runners jockeying to find space to hit their intended race pace but once we were into Green Park the field started to spread out and you were able to run more easily and take in the magnificent view of Buckingham Palace with the morning sun lighting up the Victoria Memorial. Next was St. James’s Park and then through Admiralty Arch just after mile 2, taking a sharp right turn down Whitehall for an ‘out and back’ past Downing Street.
At mile 3 we hit the Strand and keep going along the Strand… and we’re still running along the Strand several minutes later… Who knew the Strand was so long? Phew, left onto Aldwych and an about turn back onto… the Strand again! Then back towards Trafalgar Square, through Admiralty Arch, and down The Mall back towards Buckingham Palace, making a note to myself that I must go to the ICA very soon.
Back through Green Park and into Hyde Park at mile 6 where the crowd support was just overwhelming. The entire route was well lined with cheering spectators, bands, sound systems, even Morris dancers, but the depth and noise of the support in the parks was amazing. Mention must also be made of the efficient and encouraging staff of the plentiful drinks stations around the course providing much-needed supplies of water and Lucozade. You’re awesome.
We skirted the Serpentine and completed a double loop of Hyde Park covering around 4 miles. This is where I completely lost my bearings, not knowing in which direction we were going. It was only at mile 11 that I realised we were now in Kensington Gardens when, out of nowhere, came The Hill! I say hill, possibly just an incline really but a long one that came as a shock after 11 pancake-flat miles.
Once I spotted the Royal Albert Hall I knew we were almost there and somehow managed to up my pace slightly for the last half mile. I’d decided to avoid looking at my watch during the race and just enjoy the surroundings and was delighted to cross the finish line in a time much faster than expected. The beautiful Royal Parks wooden medal (something I have coveted for some time) was placed around my neck and I staggered away, slightly delirious, for a well-earned banana and a lie down.
In the 10 years of the RPHM over 128,000 runners have now taken part with over £35 million raised for more than 750 charities. So in the week that I received my annual London Marathon rejection, this beautiful and inspiring race was more than ample compensation!
Inspired by Guy’s experience? You can now register your interest for the 2018 race!