My Royal Parks Half

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I DID IT. Properly, actually ran 13.1 miles.

Dreamy conditions, peak physical fitness and a full Kennedy entourage came together for one fine day. On top of all that, the race route was heaven: six miles of cinematic city landmarks before what was effectively a seven-mile park run around Hyde Park.

Despite a long, anxious week of build-up involving endless injury paranoia, on the start line I felt very… ready.

We started out roaming the fanciest of all the city streets, heading past Buckingham Palace, Horse Guards Parade, Churchill War Rooms, Admiralty Arch, Trafalgar Square, etc., etc. It’s an endless string of iconic landmarks to captivate you every step of the way. I would still be admiring one as the next began to appear. It was so. much. fun. I kept bounding cheerfully past people – partly trying to make up for the minutes lost in a portaloo queue at mile one, but bounding nevertheless. It was the best feeling in the world. I would compare it to the feeling I imagine Westlife were singing about in Flying Without Wings.

I hit six miles feeling fresh. That was at the entrance to Hyde Park, where a lot of the charities based their support, making that milestone particularly packed with people. There were so many people cheering for so many runners, and I was part of it!!!! Overwhelmed to the max, basically. Then I turned a corner to see my own support team: Dad, Mum, Callum. I flashed a little smile with an ‘I’m KILLING this!’ level of confidence that was both uncharacteristic and magnificent because I absolutely, totally was. (Why do I never feel that fresh at six miles when I’m running six miles is my question?!)

The whole way round, there was an inspiring mix of calls of my name and funny messages – from “May the course be with you” (my #1), to “Tiramisu if you do it under 2!” and “You go, Glen Coco!” I kept wanting to stop and thank people for their support, except also never ever stop. Reading all of those signs, even if they were for specific people, kept me distracted for most of the way. It made you aware of why so many were doing it. Every crazy costume or heartfelt dedication on the back of a t-shirt was a reminder of how meaningful this challenge was for so many. And I got to be part of the fundraising side of the race for once. It was profoundly inspiring to experience.

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Home straight, aka the longest 800m has ever felt.

I reached the finish line in 2:03:05. This may seem odd to non-runners but, proud as I am of my finish time, it was when I saw my splits that I felt really chuffed with myself. I only went and got negative splits! Negative splits on my first half! Every single 5km of the race was quicker than the one before – and only marginally. Taking out the portaloo debacle that must have added about four or five minutes to my first 5km, all of the splits are pretty even. I bloomin’ NAILED that pacing lark.

Apart from anything, pacing it well meant I pretty much loved it from start to finish. At 10 miles the legs started hurting and the miles started to stretch out, but you rationalise the pain at that point; you’ve run 10. I knew at that point that I was going to finish, no question.

And finish I did.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored me, trained alongside me and put up with me talking about it non-stop for about two months. It was a joy I’ll never forget. And the team I was part of raised a total of £1,425 (£1,661.75 including gift aid) for Together For Short Lives.

Job well done I’d say.

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So You Want to Try Parkrun?

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If relentless endorsements of my favourite Saturday morning event have finally worn you down and you’re considering joining the lovely Parkrun community, at the request of my good friend Louise, I bring you every piece of advice that my months of weekly runs have taught me. From what you’ll need to bring along, to what you should expect, allow me to be your Obi Wan…

All You Need Is…

YOUR BARCODE. When you sign up for Parkrun on the website, you’ll get your own personal barcode to print off. Print it. Take it. You’re all set. This is the only absolute necessity.

I choose to also run with my Fitbit, my iPod (in an oh-so-chic bum bag) and a water bottle. England Athletics have become much tighter on headphone restrictions at road races so bear this in mind when entering other events, but at my time of writing you are still allowed headphones at Parkrun.

Start Line Protocol

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Poole Parkrun start line

Because Parkrun events attract a lot of newbies, the start lines can be a little more chaotic than your typical road race owing to the lower level of experience.

For those less versed in start line protocol, the front of the pack will likely be your sub-18 minute runners. Chances are, if it’s your first time, you’ll be closer to the back. At my Parkrun, there are often over 600 runners, and if a 35-minute runner plonked themselves in with the frontrunners, they would get swallowed as soon as the whistle went – or they’d go off too fast in a misguided attempt to keep up. That’s not fun for you or the runners attempting to get past you. But you do also want to avoid going too far back as it can then be hard to get through the crowd. It’s about figuring out your sweet spot. Basically, don’t be afraid to assert yourself but also be considerate to other runners. If you aren’t sure where you should be, talk to the people around you and ask about their goal times – if it matches up to yours, you’re probably in the right place.

#goals

Set goals. Go out with an agenda and push to achieve whatever goal you have set yourself – whether that be long-term or short-term. It will give you a focus. And when you succeed, it feels damn good. If you’re starting from a low level of fitness, the Couch to 5k app might be the perfect way to build up to a Parkrun. You can then set out with the goal of running the whole route without stopping, and then perhaps attempt to better your own Personal Best each week.

Reward yourself with PBPs. My friend Jen introduced me to the concept of Personal Best Presents. The goals we just talked about? Once you achieve ‘em, treat yo self ™. You’ll know you’re hooked when your PBPs end up being new running gloves or a high vis jacket. Reward systems work (I’m pretty sure Supernanny will back me up here), from big treats for major breakthroughs to celebrating sticking to your training plan with a favourite meal. After a few 5ks, you will start craving the achievement of a Personal Best time – and what do Personal Bests mean? Presents!

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