North London Hills
"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves."
-Sir Edmund Hillary
Today was the third of 12 half marathons that I am hoping to run in 2016 in support of the charity, Mind. More details on which races I am entered for or entering and why I have chosen Mind as my charity can be found here.
I have never been a morning person but since taking up running, the sounds of 5 am morning radio breaking the tranquility of sleep have not been greeted by my standard chagrin at being woken; instead they signal a new dawn, a new challenge and the promise of something positive.
So it was this morning as I arose and readied myself to leave to catch a 7:15 train from Loughton to Wembley Park via Bond St and Finchley Rd.
On the agenda today was the Vitality North London Half Marathon, a lot of hills and a stadium finish inside the home of football.
I arrived at the race village in good time before the 9 am start, or so I thought. The queues for the toilets were already staggering and the signposting for the bag drop was standard British ineptitude. However, despite lining up in the wrong queue to deposit my bag (who is inept now) I managed time for a quick comfort stop before heading to my starting pen.
On the way I bumped into friends Deano, Susannah and Clive; the 3 boys (Susannah was supporting) entered the pen and shuffled our way towards the start line as the klaxon had sounded at the front.
Across the start line Clive and I soon realised what we were in for as the first of many hills welcomed us.
Miles 1-6 were pretty comfortable but busy and we spent a fair amount of energy running around slower runners to find space. At about mile 4 we saw the first of the elite runners on the way back (an elite will do the half marathon in around 60-70 mins) and I cheered a few of them as they passed. We also saw our friend Delase who was on official 2 hour pacing duties for the day.
At about mile 6 Clive kicked on past some slower runners and I lost touch with him for the time being.
Between miles 6-7 is the home of Saracens rugby, The Allianz Park and a lap of the running track that surrounds the pitch signalled the halfway mark and our return towards Wembley.
As I exited The Allianz I heard a "YES RICHARD" from Delase as he passed me headed into the arena with his 2 hour runners. That gave me a little boost and I set my mind on remaining focused for a strong second half.
There were quite a few Mind runners on the course today, some a bit quicker than me, some a bit slower but all warriors in my book and wherever I saw a blue and white vest I shouted "YES TEAM MIND"!
As I approached the base of the killer hill at around about mile 11 I saw Clive again. Looking back at my splits I see mile 9 was my fastest and that had allowed me to catch up. The hills kept coming and I was beginning to feel heavy legged.
Between 11 and 12 I saw Katherine, a fellow NRC runner, but in support mode today. We exchanged a frenzied wave and a cheer as I disappeared past in the crowd.
Finally the end was in sight and I was running up Olympic Way towards Wembley Stadium. I thought I must be close to a good time and considered a lung busting burst over the final half mile, but I had 1 eye on the next race in 2 weeks and a hammy that had given me concern on a run the previous Thursday.
It was a sensational feeling to finish the race inside Wembley Stadium and as I exited the belly of Ver 2.0, from shadow into light, I got a small sense of what it is like on match day with the sound of the cheering spectators and the chatter of the tannoy. On a much smaller scale you understand but still.
With the finish line in sight I tried scanning the stands for friendly familiar faces but without my glasses, which I don't run in, they were just faces. Finally came the welcome relief of crossing under the inflatable marketing arch, over the black rubber mat and through the imaginary finishers tape. Apart from a few evasive manoeuvres to avoid runners who had come to a complete stop immediately after the line, my race was done.
A quick picture of me in my Mind vest inside the stadium kindly taken by another runner is included in the extras.
Finally it was time to go meet my friends and go refuel with a Dirty Burger. We had earned it.