Back in January, I saw an instagram post by The Runner Beans about entering the Royal Parks Half Marathon, a half marathon that runs through the Royal Parks in London. I’d never been to London before, and Lior had mentioned several times how he loved the city. In fact, when I asked him which places outside of Tel Aviv he’d like to live, he immediately said London. Cue foreshadowing…
The Royal Parks Half is a ballot (lottery) entry. I entered the ballot and put the race in the back of my mind. A few weeks later, I found out I was successful! I asked Lior if he’d be open to going to London for a week in October, he said yes, and I registered for the race. In April, Lior found out that he would probably need to temporarily relocate to London for a few months. I was apprehensive (that’s an issue for another post), but agreed to join him. Coincidentally, the relocation would start in early October. In fact, we arrived to London six days before the race–probably what I would have planned, had this been a short vacation.
Because this race is so popular, there were an abundance of race reviews to read, so I felt like I had a lot of valuable information prior to the race. What a nice change!
I had a grand plan, that I would train excellently over the summer, get fast, and run a sub 2 hour marathon at the Royal Parks Half. Instead, I spent most of the summer anxious, with little to no desire to run. Once I returned to Israel and felt at home again, it was much easier to run, and I ran with decent consistency (minus a week where I had a stomach virus…). I ran two long runs of 15km. The second of these was the Hever Race, and I felt great during the race, having fueled and hydrated well. For me, I “know” I can complete a half marathon if I can run 15km/9.3mi and I don’t want to die at the end. I know I have the mental toughness to get through the remaining 6km, it’s just a matter of running on tired legs.
Going into the Royal Parks Half, my goal was once again to beat my Tel Aviv Half Marathon time of 2:14. More importantly, this race was meant to get me pumped for Tokyo Marathon training. After this race, I have another week of base building, followed by a 10 day trip to Amsterdam and Paris–where I’m racing an 8K and a 10K–and then marathon training officially begins!
I completed a few runs in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, where a decent amount of the race is run. It was exciting, seeing the start/finish village being erected, and knowing that I would be there on Sunday! The runs themselves were unremarkable, it was mostly just fun to run around my new home, in a beautiful and serene setting (minus all the geese).
Price: £59 and £3.95 postage, or $79.69. This race is much more in line with American races, but cheaper than the Brooklyn Half Marathon. Unlike the larger Israeli races, this feels like it’s organized on a a much larger scale…that I’m actually getting something (like port o potties…) for the money. There were also some major road closures, which is where a good chunk of race fees tend to go, which is 100% understandable. Value for Money: A
Website: Very organized! A
Publicity: I received the occasional email, and the communication wasn’t overdone. I also followed the race’s Facebook and Instagram pages, so I got extra content there. A
Transportation to race: I’m living just northwest of Kensington Gardens, and the start village is in the south/southeast part of the park. The fastest way to get to the start was definitely by foot, and it made for a nice warm-up! A
Weather: The weather was forecasted to be mid 50s and possibly rainy. I’ve run races in downpours (Staten Island Half 2017, I’m looking at you), and it’s doable, but not fun. Also, the weather in London just feels colder than in NYC…55F here doesn’t feel the same. However, as the race creeped closer (as in, from Saturday evening to Sunday morning), the forecast because slightly more favorable. In the end, there was only the tiniest bit of sprinkling around mile 4, and the rest of the race was dry…and then it started to lightly rain a bit once I finished. All in all, perfect race conditions!
Time: 9:00am. This meant I could wake up at 6:30, have my coffee/eat something, and be out the door by 7:45am. The corrals didn’t even open until 8:40, so the timing was perfect. I would have obviously liked to sleep in more, but this was much better than the 4:30/5:00am wake ups for the Israeli races!
Sadly, the coffee did not help move things along, digestive-wise. I briefly contemplated taking Imodium for insurance, but ultimately decided to risk it. What can I say–I live on the edge!
Start/finish area: It rained the day before, and there were a few small drizzles throughout the week. The race organizers warned people that the start/finish area was “like Glastonbury (music festival”, meaning that it was a giant mud pit. They suggested that people bring a spare pair of shoes to wear before changing into their running shoes. I only have one pair of running shoes here, which I plan to get another 150-200 miles out of. These are the only pair of shoes I have that I can intentionally get dirty! I briefly considered putting plastic bags over my shoes, but in the end decided to suck it up. Yes, my shoes got a bit dirty. There were a LOT of muddy puddles in certain areas, to the point where they were unavoidable. Alas.
There were several vendors and activities in the start/finish area, but since it was a giant mud pit and I wanted to get home and shower, I bailed. It’s not the organizer’s fault (the race I ran in Jerusalem had the same problem), but it dampened my enthusiasm (see what I did there?). After the race, volunteers handed out cans of water (apparently aluminum is “infinitely recyclable” as opposed to plastic…and requires less manpower than filling paper cups), Tenzing energy drink (haven’t tried yet), bananas, and energy bars. We also got reusable bags, to carry everything. I’d heard there were more freebies, but maybe they were hidden in mud? Who knows.
cute bag, I’ll probably use it in the future
Packet pick-up: The race bibs were mailed to participants. Naturally, mine never arrived. This meant that I needed to collect a replacement bib the day before the race. Not the end of the world, but still annoying. Side note: The race is trying to be more eco-friendly–giving out the shirts after the race to avoid plastic packaging, not having isotonic bottles on the course and not using water bottles (instead using cups and seaweed pouches filled with water). This is great, but they would also save a lot of resources (minus volunteers) by requiring everyone to pick up their bib prior to the race. It seemed like a lapse in judgment. Also I was annoyed that the Israeli Post messed up and didn’t deliver my bib…but the pick up process was super easy. I went to the race info tent, told them I never received my bib, showed ID, and 30 seconds later, I had my bib!
This bib had a place where I could write my name, so spectators could cheer for me. I loved this! I did not love that the bib didn’t have pre-punched holes for safety pins. However, the bib was surprisingly sturdy (including being carried around in my bag for a day of sightseeing) and after the race had almost no wrinkles and only a little tearing in one of the corners, from the pin.
Race shirt: It was weird to collect the shirt after the race, but since I wasn’t planning to wear it, it didn’t really matter. It was just weird, from a marketing perspective, that the race organizers didn’t give the option for people to collect the shirt prior to the race. A+ for environmentalism, just…feels like a missed opportunity.
At any rate, I love the shirt! It’s purple, which is a shirt color that race organizers rarely use, they had men’s and women’s sizing and I could choose whatever I wanted, my standard size fit, AND the bottom doesn’t cut straight across (does a tiny bit lower in the front and lower in the back), which I personally find more flattering. A+, this shirt will definitely enter my rotation.
What I wore: After some deliberation, I wore shorts, a long sleeved shirt, and a running cap. This was the perfect outfit. I could have managed with a t-shirt or singlet, but this way I wasn’t too cold before and after the race. Also, the temperatures were cool enough that I usually didn’t feel like I was dripping in sweat. Instead, the sweat dried on my face…running is so glamorous! The one issue with my outfit is that I had some chafing at the neckline of my shirt. This was weird, as this is not a new shirt and I have worn it for long distances in the past. Oh well, nothing a little Aquaphor can’t fix…
Bag drop: It was there, but I didn’t use it. In retrospect, I would have checked my windbreaker, to wear after the race. And maybe a dry pair of socks and shoes? Because I did end up taking my shoes and socks off when I entered my apartment building, climbing a million stairs barefoot.
I loved the course. During the first half, I ran through many of the sites Lior and I visited during a walking tour the day before. There were several out and backs, which I like because mentally it gives me a marker to look forward to later in the race. There were some spectators during the first half of the race, but they usually just stood there, quiet. It was weird. That changed once we entered Hyde Park. The crowds were great! Everyone was cheering, and since I wrote my name on my bib (see above), some would say things like, “Great job, Sarah!” and that always felt nice. There were also a lot of people spectating with dogs, which I always love. I even saw a duo of mini schnauzers three times!
Because the race started at a reasonable hour and went relatively close to our apartment, Lior planned to meet me just before Mile 11. This was aided by the fact that the Royal Parks Half had an app where you could track runners. The app sent updates after I crossed .5mi, after every 5km, and then once I finished. I thought our meeting place would be perfect, because by that point in the race I’d be riding the struggle bus, so I’d have a reason to be running strong and happy.
Just after Mile 10, there was a turn in the course that I mistook for our meeting point. I was really sad to have missed Lior, since he made the effort to come spectate, and I was really looking forward to seeing him. A few seconds later, we passed a section of Hyde Park that I recognized, and I was energized, happy to know where I was and excited that I would still see Lior. I was then immediately demoralized due to a minor incline on the course, which slowed me down. But then there was a mini downhill! And I saw Lior! And he recruited a group of people nearby to also cheer for me!
Then, Lior surprised me, and I saw him again, around Mile 12! I wasn’t expecting this, and it was so sweet and amazing.
I will say–the course was mostly flat, which I loved. There are a lot of turns on the course, but fast times are definitely possible. There was almost always enough space, except on one of the narrower roads in Hyde Park, and during the last mile, where there was a lot of congestion. Personally, if I’m not super fit when running a half marathon, I prefer to run most of the race at a moderately easy pace and then bang out the last mile+. Sure enough, the last 1.23 miles (either the course was a little long or I did a poor job of running the tangents) were definitely my fastest of the race. It was the only time where I really had to weave around people, as during most of the race I was being passed. A lot.
In the end I did not beat my Tel Aviv Half Marathon time. I ran 2:16:59. However, this is slightly faster than my 2:17:38 from the Brooklyn Half, so I’ll take it. And maybe one day I’ll actually do speed work again, and run faster!
Water stations: If it had been warmer out, I’d say that there were insufficient water stations. But I ended up being fine. (The race also allowed people to wear hydration packs, so there was no reason for dehydration.) The first water station gave out water in seaweed pouches. I was curious to try this! The race organizers even posted a video, showing how to take the pouches from volunteers and drink the water. I had no problem getting a pouch, and it was very easy to open. The water had a slight aftertaste–not bad, just a bit different. The seaweed pouches are edible, but I didn’t want to eat anything new on race day (my stomach was a bit touch and go), so I passed. It seemed many others agreed, as I then had to watch the road and make sure I avoided slippery seaweed. The rest of the water stations used paper cups. I don’t get the gripe about paper cups. They are easy to use, you just take the cup from the top, dump a little out if it’s too full, make a spout, and drink in small sips. I have poor coordination and I can do this while running, so there is no excuse.
Bathrooms: There were bathrooms! Not as frequently as NYRR races, but they were there! And there were signs alerting runners when bathrooms were coming up on the course! I ended up not using any, though I briefly considered it. That was the only downside to no rain–no way to discreetly pee without stopping. (I’ve never actually done this, but it is definitely a thing.)
Pictures: There were several photographers on the course, but I haven’t received any notifications regarding pictures yet.
Medal: The medal is made from recycled wood, not metal. After reading several race recaps from previous years, I knew what to expect…but if I hadn’t known, I might have been a little disappointed. However, the medal is very unique, and in keeping with the theme of environmentalism and sustainability. They made the medal a bit different this year (putting a circle around the leaf), which is a nice touch. I can imagine that if someone runs this race multiple times, it would be anticlimactic to keep receiving the same (or very similar) medal. A
If you’re looking for a fantastic half marathon and an excuse to visit London, I can’t recommend the Royal Parks Half more! Even better if your partner happens to be temporarily relocated to London and you are funemployed and have an apartment a mile from the start…
Keep in mind that I lucked out and got a space from the lottery. If that doesn’t work, several UK charities offer places through fundraising. I saw a lot of people wearing charity singlets, and it definitely adds a level of significance to running the race!