I was signed up for the Big Half last year. It was during a period where my race calendar played a game of Find the Lady with me. I was supposed to run GMU45, but tried to drop to GMU30, as it was just after TGC and so binned the Big Half as it was a week later and the lesser of the 3 by a country mile. But then the snows came, GMU was cancelled and so I was free the Big Half weekend but just didn’t fancy it. I was cheer squad instead down in Greenwich, fighting for space on slippery cobbled pavements with families trying to get a few moment’s view of their loved ones as they ran by. This year, despite not fancying it again, a week after GMU30, I said I would run.
My initial thoughts – this is the fugly half of the London marathon route in reverse. In my head, much like Hackney Half, as I read the bunf about the crowds and the atmosphere and all the palaver, I realised that this race was just another money spinner. But what else would you expect with Vitality involved? The organisers would probably talk about the crowds and atmosphere and all the nonsense even if no one actually ran the race. Such is the way of many big events nowadays. It is an experience not a race with more celebs and influencers than you can shake a selfie stick at. I am, however, happy to be proved wrong. I just don’t think I will be.
Is it a big half? Well, it is massively over-subscribed and overcrowded if that is what they mean? 13,000 of the 18,000 registered actually bothered to run. A lot of places are given to corporates and charities, there were unlimited community places for a tenner. But, for regular humans, it is surprisingly inexpensive for large London races at £35 when Hackney have a whopping £80 VIP ticket and Royal Parks have yet to throw their crazy pricing into the mix. I used to love halves, and rarely run them nowadays. I ran 3 last year, and this is one of only two planned for 2019 which is a bit of a pain, as one of my aims for this year was a PB at every distance and I am no way near fast enough to challenge my half PB at the moment.
So why the Big Half? God knows, I should probably have signed up for Ealing, as it is supposed to be wonderful. The Big Half, from the people who brought you the most over-subscribed and overcrowded marathon in the World, has too much wrong with it for me to be enamoured with the idea of running it. Other than missing the 2018 race, where most of my London crowd ran it, and therefore some sort of closure, I don’t know what possessed me. It certainly wasn’t a love for the route.
It is the fugly first half of the London Marathon, without the really grotty Woolwich bit, but in reverse and people will still pay through the ass to run in London. Those people would include my people. Rachee Vee, Baz Tav, Sarah Grimshaw, Kyla Whitefoot, Nick Tam, Dave Adams, Stephen Reynolds, Ro Saunders and Grumpy would all be there for a half bimble to name but a few, in the midst of a storm (strong winds and possible rain forecast) and then a beer and FEB (full English breakfast) tweet up at the Lost Hour on the way home. And I guess that is it for me this year, whilst I am soloing a lot of races (so far 14 of my 27 races booked I am flying alone), it is those where I get to see the peeps that mean the most. And so, to the Big Half, and given my last 3 races have been Pilgrims, Portland and Green Man (a week ago), thirteen point one miles on a flattish road in my home town is both weird and unusual.
I think it was an unnecessarily early start for a London race. Bags by 8.20. Pens by 8.40. And you may not even start by 9.45 (although I was out before 9.10. 9:06:41 to be precise, as they make a big thing about the efficiency). And this all seemed odd and early. I have run races in Surrey where I have gotten up, tubed to Waterloo and trained to get to the start later than this. And, when I met Baz and Rach at London Bridge to walk to Tower Bridge with the masses, it started to rain too. So much so that, after dropping off my bag in my numbered truck, and waiting for Baz and Rach to return from theirs, I decided to take off and find my start pen, head down, and focused. Focus? I hear you ask.
I know. It doesn’t seem like me at all. But the issue I have had this year, if you can call it an issue, is that I have spent much of it on muddy trails, bimbling on in the mud eating my way through ultras. Pilgrims was 33 miles of mud and snow a month ago. Green Man was 30 miles of self nav mud last weekend. So a flattish road half marathon in my hometown? Should be a doddle really. But it wasn’t. I still had the sticky grumblings of my chest cold and was therefore unsure about getting around in any sort of time.
How I did
I started well, ticked off a few KMs before dipping into the tunnels on the Highway on the way to Canary Wharf. My GPS died in the Limehouse Tunnel, buzzing like an angry bee on my wrist to tell me it had no signal. And when it came out, rather than springing back, it left me several hundred yards short of my actual distance, and would do so for the rest of the race.
After the Highway comes a loop of Canary Wharf (I know it well after my time in 2000-2001 on the Bear Stearns trading floor, more than a decade before I took up running). The wind was strong here. Some poor guy in a Big Ben costume really suffered.
And then, we were out and I was chasing down Virgin Radio DJ and runner Chris Evans, catching him at 9K on the wet cobbles of Wapping.
The first 10K took me a comfy sub-hour and then I was crossing the bridge again, heading Sarf of the river.
And this was the bit a lot of people didn’t like. After Bermondsey and some support, we turned onto quiet estates and business parks, and didn’t see anyone other than marshals guarding the streets from any traffic. There was no support at all, but I was feeling a bit ropey, so was okay with that. I hit 15K with the same splits as the 10 as I kept going. I felt tired a week after Green Man. I was getting by on a cuppa, and I had some Sport Beans on the way. Water at the tables. Two or three sips. Still coughing up the green stuff (Gwynneth will probably market it as some sort of miracle cure). I tried a Lucozade “ovo” in Bermondsey and it was good, and then, as I hit 20K, my iPod started a musical Tribute to Keith Flint all the way to the finish.
Bosh! Not my fastest by a good 15 minutes, but I am happy with that given the last month.
If I had to call it, the medal looks like a Hilda Ogden cave painting.
In my opinion, and this was my 45th half in 6 different countries so hopefully I know of which I speak, the Big Half is the worst half of VLM in reverse. Some people will love it, but some people love VLM. But from me, if you want to do a London half do Ealing, or better still sell a kidney or your first born and do Royal Parks. It was too crowded (at times charity walkers 4 abreast), it was fugly (sorry Deptford and Lewisham), dead at times and in the end the weather put paid to the big festival in the park as the tents would have blown away in the wind. So, all in all, a bit of a washout.
The highlights for me were chasing down Chris in Wapping, and how comfortable I felt at the end. I could have taken 10 mins off that time if I had felt more confident and been bolder, but I have a double marathon in a fortnight, so took it easy (there is that comfort zone again).
Lowlights? Single use plastic bottles used, although they did have Ovu/Ovo things on one table. Handled by the marshals, although you are supposed to eat them as they have a seaweed casing so am thinking food safety here. No support (see photo from 28 Days later), and it was like that at times. It felt like a production line. The whole rigid 8.20 bag drop, then walk in massive throng to pen by 8.40 to freeze for 20 mins plus at the start, combined with the massive crowd funnelled through the Maritime museum and Greenwich College (see below for a movie reference), then across the road, then into a different area, then to the trucks, removed the fun factor for me.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THE BIG HALF? NO. In a nutshell this is one of those mass participation events that focus on the charity element and the experience more. Great if this is one of your very few charity races, or your only race, or your first race, but shit if not. I am not sure I would see any of my running crowd doing it again, unless they get it for free. OBVS.
WOULD I RUN THE BIG HALF AGAIN? NO. Ealing is the only London half for me. Unless I get entry to the Royal Parks for free for some reason. OBVS.