Even though this year my primary focus is on running half marathons, I could not resist entering this scenic 10k race during the Richmond Running Festival weekend in the beautiful grounds of Kew Gardens. I would have also loved to sign up for the half marathon which was happening the next day, however, on this occasion, I let common sense prevail – racing hard at both events would have probably been too much for my injury-prone body to bear, and on the other hand, what is the point of signing up for a race if you need to switch to ‘energy-conserving mode’ to be able to do two events in short succession?
Oh, and have I mentioned that there was a Marathon as well on Sunday, a brand spanking new event?? Richmond is becoming a runners’ paradise both in terms of scenic trails and events to suit all abilities and goals. Luckily for me, although I don’t live anywhere near Richmond, it only takes me about 45 minutes by car to get there, outside the congestion charge zone.
I woke up to a sunny and crisp morning on race day; as usual, I left home just after first light to allow myself plenty of time to find good parking in Richmond, to ensure a stress-free start. Unfortunately, free or cheap parking in Richmond is a rare commodity, and is only available after 10am just outside Kew Gardens (which was too late for me as the race itself started at 8.30am). So the only choice is to swallow the high cost of leaving your car in one of the public car parks. On top of that, none of the parking machines seem to accept cards (which is my pet hate), so make sure to arrive with a truck load of cash. On this occasion, I decided on the Old Deer Park car park, as the Richmond Running Festival was due to start later directly opposite that car park (more on that later). This cost me no less than £7 for a few hours and a 30 minute walk to the starting point of the race. The walking I did not mind too much – I still had more than enough time to get to the start, and it was a great warm up before the event, with the streets still being quiet and peaceful.
Just before I got to the race village (set up just outside Queen Victoria gate) had I realised that I had lost my baggage tag during my power-walk from the Old Deer Park. Pants! Fortunately, after explaining the situation at the Information Tent, I was swiftly issued with a new race number and baggage tag, with no questions asked. (I think the guilty look on my face said it all LOL). I started to feel a bit less grumpy after that.
The baggage drop was fuss-free and quick, however, I ended up spending a good 25 minutes in the toilet queue, leaving me with just a couple of minutes to occupy my place in the starting pen (you know it is race day when your whole digestive system decides to go on a staged strike against you.)
Whilst waiting for the gun to go off, I was trying to devise my racing strategy. I felt good and energetic, but I had not really done much fast running in the weeks leading up to the race (not to mention my stress-induced, poor diet over the past few weeks since I changed jobs), so I felt that a sub-50 minute 10k should be a challenging, yet achievable goal under the circumstances. Besides, we are talking about a pancake flat course. In light of that, I glued myself to the 50 minute pacer lady in front of me and stuck to her all along. Well, almost.
I quite enjoyed the first half of the run, listening to the casual chatter of other runners around me, and soaking in the seasonal sights in the garden – the sculptures were especially interesting, with my favourite one being a giant metallic bee-hive construction, one of the main visitor spectacles this season. The branding of the race and the design of the medals also seemed to reflect this ‘bee’ theme; and indeed the garden was buzzing with excitement that morning.
The garden did not only offer interesting visual distractions, but I found my other senses indulged as well as I was inhaling the cinnamony and earthly scent of the different plants around us, making me forget for a while that we were in the middle of London’s concrete jungle. A few people dressed up as fairytale characters were cheering us on from the side – I spotted Alice in Wonderland and Little Red Riding Hood with her Wolf. The rest became a blur, I’m afraid! Our pacer lady was really friendly and chatty, she was constantly encouraging us; most importantly, she was as accurate with her pacing as a Swiss watch. Clearly, running a sub-50 minute 10k for her was more like an easy jog as she even had energy to sprint ahead a few times and take photos of our little group, without getting out of breath much.
I felt I was starting to flag at about 7km; I have no idea how I got from 7km to 9km – all I remember was the pacer lady slowly breaking away from me, then nearly disappearing from my sight. I felt slightly frustrated – I had pushed myself so hard until that point, I could not let my time goal slip away, making all that effort go to waste! On the final stretch, I somehow managed to find a few more drops of energy left at the bottom of my empty tank. As a result, I was gradually able to close the gap between myself and the pacer, feeling in some kind of trance, induced by sheer adrenaline and my mind rising above the physical tiredness that was tearing my whole body apart. By that time, the original group had significantly thinned around the pacer, conveniently leaving me with enough space for a sprint finish. Had the pacer lady not shouted encouragements at me on those final few hundred metres, I would have probably given up! Sub-50 minutes is not my best 10k time, but I regard it as my base standard for racing a 10k, so I am glad I managed to bag my target time, well under 50 minutes. I have no bloomin’ idea how people can bust out a 30 – 40 minute 10k, they must have a genetic advantage as the best I could ever manage was about 47 minutes, with loads of hard training under my belt. Realistically, if I can ever reach 45 minutes, I will die happy! I did have a really good run though, and thankfully, racing for me is not only about the finish time, otherwise I would have hung up my racing shoes a long time ago.
The walk back to the Old Deer Park felt like an absolute eternity on tired legs. Fortunately, I felt physically fine, with no niggles or early signs of too much stress on my knee and ITB. I bumped into a few people still being in the race on my way back; it looked like the race had a generous cut off time as a lot of people chose to walk rather than run it.
Upon arriving back at the Old Deer Park (just after 10am), there was still no sign of any kind of running festivals happening on the large green… The tents and vendors were set up, but not a soul in sight, it felt like wandering around in a ghost village. I’m not sure what the organisers had in mind, but the festival seemed to be ill timed for us 10k finishers and the 9am parkrunners. And don’t even get me started on the massive hike between the festival venue and the 10k race village in Kew Gardens – could this have been one of the main reasons of the abandoned look of this event on Saturday?
Putting the lack of festival mood aside, as well as the cost of parking, I really enjoyed the Kew Gardens 10k race and would definitely do it again – the organising was seamless, the pacers fantastic, the venue absolutely perfect – you stay on the neat paths within the garden all along, except you come out onto the pavement for about 1km during the final third which is no big deal. I reckon I could have stayed in Kew Gardens for free as a runner for the rest of the day without paying the usual entry fee, if had wanted to (once you’re in, you’re in, right?). Maybe I will bring the Hubby next year and we can make a fun day out of it – he seems to be getting into his running game, with his very first half marathon this October. The bee themed medal is genius (one of the best ones in my extended collection!) and I love the technical T-shirt we received with the goodie-bag – maybe a bit too plain in terms of design, but it is made of good quality material and the tailoring is great, so no complaints from me!
Do you know of any wallet-friendly parking options in Richmond? Please heeeeeelp!
What is your best or worst experience with pacers? I want to hear all about it.
Photo credits: Richmond Running Festival Facebook page