I have done the Reading half marathon twice in a row already, so this year I was looking to do a different spring opener race. I wanted to do something relatively local, scenic and almost completely flat around late-March time. The Richmond Half marathon sponsored by Salomon seemed to be the perfect choice and it indeed did not disappoint!
The race started at 9am (which counts as early – most Sunday races normally do not start until 10am) so the best way to get to the venue for those who come from outside London is by car, as it is quite unlikely anyone would get an early enough train to Central London at this time of the day. The good news is that Richmond is within the low emission zone so no congestion charge applies. There are lots of car parks which come at confusingly different opening times, limits for staying and not to mention cost. I can personally recommend the Paradise Road car park, about 10 mins walk from the Race HQ – it opens at 7.30am, you can leave the car for the whole day for £4.30, and given this is the ‘furthest’ away from the start, finding a space is likely to be stress-free and you can treat the 10 minute walk or jog from here to the race venue as part of the warm-up, and on the way back, your cool down.
By following the herd of runners flowing out of Richmond station it was easy to find my way to the Race Village, which was set up on the outer skirts of Kew Gardens. Another advantage of getting there early was to be able to use the (still relatively clean and well supplied) portaloo, before long queues started to form. (There were already lots of 10k runners who started at 8.30am). However, on the flip side, this morning turned out to be one that brought back the mid-winter chill and I have to say that waiting for the race to start for an hour in the a** kicking cold was far from pleasant.
The start of the race was conducted in a very organised and very English manner. We had to queue up in pens marked with our estimated finishing times. First I sheepishly stood in the 2:10 pen thinking that someone who had not put in a decent amount of training and did not even bother following a structured training plan should not aim for a faster time than that. My average distance during preparation was between 12-14 km with one half marathon distance in February, which took me well over 2 hours to complete. In the end, just before the race started, my pride got the better of me and I moved up one level into the 2 hour pen. Sod it, I thought: if I can’t do a flat half marathon in 2 hours, I might as well hang up my running shoes for good!
And how glad I am I moved up. Despite the wet and freezing cold start, I quickly found myself easing into a brisk pace, feeling energetic and strong. (Which is great, considering that my breakfast nearly came back up at home as I was getting ready, due to having butterflies in my tummy).
The first few km’s on the road pavement felt slightly crowded as the road had not been closed off from traffic, so I found myself stumbling a few times and squeezed between a group of runners who were equally keen to glue themselves onto the pacer guy just in front of us, whilst trying to stay on the pavement and dodge pedestrians, cars, dogs, prams and giant tree roots – you name it!
Having taken a look at my Garmin watch, I quickly realised that the pacer was quite off the 2 hour pace so I decided to overtake him. It was another good decision as I found myself running on ‘autopilot’ later on, bang on pace, overtaking bigger groups of people. I knew exactly how much I had in my tank at all times. I did not even notice when the 2:00 pacer completely sank into oblivion somewhere behind me.
Whilst running, I tried to soak in the scenery as much as I could: the river path running alongside Kew Gardens, the River Thames itself, a loud rowing class taking place on the river, posh villas and gardens on the side, the Old Deer Park, Teddington Lock and the historic Ham House and the surrounding estate. Apparently, I later found out that it is reputed to be one of the most haunted houses in Britain. (I am just glad the race took place in broad daylight and not after sunset LOL). The weather seemed to calm down as well and even the sun came out! A truly beautiful setting for a race in the capital. My advice for PB hunters (and also a future note to myself) is to break away from the crowds early on because dodging slower runners on the narrower bits at the start and by the riverside can be quite tricky sometimes. At least there are no kissing gates.
Kew Gardens in full bloom
The Old Deer Park
In the final few km’s it became clear to me that the best time I can achieve would be around 1:55 so I set my focus on chasing that pace on the final stretch, visualising a ‘1:55’ finish time in my head. In the finish line I attached myself onto a lady who was obviously going for the same goal, albeit having slightly more spring in her ‘steps’ than me at that point. I burst through the finish line with a sprint, feeling strong and ecstatic, having comfortably achieved my 1:55 time, without needing to collapse dead on the grass. Certainly not my best half marathon time, but not the worst, either. Given the amount of (or to be more exact, lack of) training I had put in, how much better can I be next time if I really set my focus on training properly?!
Here I am, with the ‘1:55’ look on my face in the finish line! (Ignore the heel strike…)
Also, this experience taught me that it is always better to set our expectations of ourselves slightly outside our safe zone – as the saying goes: aim for the moon, because even if you fail, you land among the stars! If I always stay in my comfort zone (the so-called fail-proof zone), I would constantly be thinking about the ‘what if’s’ in the end and that would eventually leave me feel unsatisfied and also stagnating at the same level. At the end of the day, we can only improve by constantly pushing our boundaries with a ‘can do’ attitude and reaching for more, setting targets that ‘stretch’ us – but not break us. This obviously requires a degree of believing in yourself and your abilities, and finding a healthy balance between ambitious and realistic goals. Training with this in mind can help you tap into resources you never imagined you had. You can definitely do more than you think you can.
After taking my medal and race goody bag, I rewarded myself with a hot cappuchino and my favourite Belvita biscuits. I finished the race just on time to escape the hail shower that came upon us in the end. We managed to experience all 4 seasons in the course of just a few hours today – this is not unusual if you are in England at this time of the year! I drove home feeling elated, looking forward to telling my Hubby all about it and sitting down for a good old Sunday roast with my in-laws and having a chilled afternoon together.
The next challenge is on – Regents Park 10k here I come!!