Having not run a half marathon since 2013 (Race Your Pace at Eton Dorney in 1:37:02) I had no idea what to expect from this.
I jogged down to the start at Wembley as it is only 2.5miles from home and would have been more effort to get the tube. This also gave me chance to check what the route looked like, even though I knew a lot of it from my runcommuting.
I arrived at 8.10 ready for the 9am start. The bag drop was extremely quick and efficient. They were checking inside bags too - nice to know security is a consideration. Nic from Advent Running had kindly agreed to run with me so we hung around in the entrance to the press area until 8.45 as I was lucky enough to have a press place. It was pretty chilly out, so I was glad we had an indoor option. I'm not sure I would have liked to be hanging around outside the stadium.
I had originally planned to try for 1:27 but the combination of knowing the hills, a long drive and not much sleep the night before made me revise my goal to 1:28. We decided to go for the 1:15-1:30 pen so that we'd have more space at the start of the race. This was the only pen up on the top of the road - all the other pens where held in the pedestrianised area of Wembley Way and then brought up behind us just before the start. Our pen didn't have many people in it and I started to feel a bit like I didn't belong in there. I remember thinking "you better prove that you are right to be standing here". I also saw a guy with the new £200 Asics trainers on, so I was quite keen to finish ahead of him wearing my £40 sale trainers. I know, silly thoughts but hey, you have to take what you can to spur you on!
The start was actually on a hill. You'd think this would be bad but I think it actually helped as it meant I had to be intentional about pace uphill right from the start. Getting even a slight incline done at a good pace whilst on fresh legs was an encouragement.
The race started on time and under grey skies. A cool day and not much wind meant that it was perfect conditions. The course is heavily undulating but Nic was all over the pacing and even from the start he was telling me "you don't need to go any faster than this". Through the beautiful part of Wembley (yes there is one), Fryent Park (photo here) and down into my home-town of Kingsbury things were feeling good and Nic was having to rein me in fairly often.
Hay Lane is the steepest hill on the course. I run it every morning on the way to work and it's always tough so I was pretty worried about how I would handle it at any kind of pace. Thanks to some strong encouragement from Nic, a bit of dogged determination and some very smiley school-kids handing out water near the bottom I powered on up the hill. Flying down the other side was a relief and from then on it seemed like any slight incline was offset by a long downhill. In no time at all we were at the halfway point which was Saracens HQ - Allianz Park. We saw the elites coming the other way looking amazing and we realised I couldn't be too far back in the ladies race. Running on the track at halfway felt fantastic. The bounce of the rubber, the familiar setting, the fact that our names were flashed up big screens, the drummers playing and seeing the friendly warm-up guy from The Race Organiser all made me want to surge onwards but Nic kept reminding me "you don't need to go faster than this". That phrase is exactly what you want to hear in any race.
Through half way in 47:03 we held it steady and Nic worked out that we were on for 1:28 with some time in the bag. I cruelly asked him to work out if he thought we could hit 1:27. It's a bit harsh asking someone to do maths whilst running 6:30/mi pace but he rose to the challenge! The race is an out and back so it was great to cheer the runners coming the other way and get some positive vibes from them to keep us going. I knew we had Hay Lane hill again at mile 10 and another decent incline at mile 11 so we agreed to keep it steady to mile 11 and then push on if it was still feeling good. Hay Lane part 2 was the first point in the race that it felt like an effort. I was incredibly relieved to get to the top of it and took the downhill to relax a bit. I was surprised to be feeling so fresh and was hearing that I might be 4th or 5th lady so we kept the pace going and powered up the hill at 11.
Wembley arch was now in sight and we thought we had a lap of the stadium to do at the end. Mile 12 and I started to feel I was having to work. Running down Wembley Way was fantastic but the sight ramp round the side of the stadium was an unexpected effort, as was the fact that we entered the stadium via a service entrance which was really dull and dispiriting. Into the stadium though and we had realised that there were only a few 100 metres to the finish arch. The astroturf was spongy underfoot which was a bit of an extra energy drain but nothing major. As we neared the finishing arch I noticed the clock said 1:25:xx. Nic was urging me on and I did my best to squeeze out a sprint finish. All done in a huge and surprise PB of 1:25:34. Absolutley stoked.
Bag pickup was super fast and the goody bag was great - good t-shirt, popcorn, Beetit flapjack and Urban Massage discount. Actualy stuff that I would eat and use - hurrah!
I loved the race and even without the happy ending, I'd run it again. If you're not from the area I can see that it's not the most picturesque area and the undulating nature might put you off, but I think that the support levels will grow and grow for this race. Our neighbourhood loves getting behind things like this so once they get used to it they'll be out to cheer in force. Also, the out and back nature of the race make it great for gauging progress.