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Race report: Hyde Park 20 miler

hyde park route map

Yesterday was my final long run, a 20 mile race around Hyde Park, designed with spring marathon training in mind. I’ve run up to this distance before – once a month ago, and again last week – but this race gave me an opportunity to try it out in race conditions, with water stops and chip timing.

Up uncharacteristically early on a Sunday morning, it looked like quite a nice spring day as I headed for the bus. By the time I reached the starting point near Hyde Park Corner it was gloomy, cold and threatening to rain. I handed over my £20 on-the-day registration fee and was given my timer chip, race number and bag tag in return. It was only then I realised I’d forgotten my Pebble.

Hyde Park start line

At the start line

As I pinned on my race number, I spotted an old schoolfriend, Paul, who’d decided to run the 20 miler for no reason, with little training and  without the last-minute training desperation of a spring marathon. Can only assume he was doing it to undermine my own struggle. We haven’t seen each other in a long, long time, so it was great to catch up, not least because it took my mind off the freezing weather and the fact it had started to rain.

As the start time approached, I said goodbye to Paul, who headed over to the speedy pacers, and made my way to the chunky plodders group at the back. The race started exactly on time. It takes a winding four-mile course around the park, run five times to make 20 miles (16 and 24 mile options are available for slower and faster runners, respectively).

All in, the Hyde Park 20 Miler is an excellent race for marathon training. It’s well organised, with water stops every few miles and a decent swag bag at the end. The five-lap course is a little dull (especially on the fifth time around), but that does help with pacing.

I began strongly, but slowly, with a steady 10 minute mile pace all the way around for the first three laps (miles 1-12). The first lap was one big throng of runners, being cheered on by people in the park, but this thinned out progressively as the faster ones sped ahead, and by lap three I was running on my own and the cheerers were replaced with bemused people wondering while a handful of runners were wearing race numbers.

Paul overtook me midway through my third lap, and finished over an hour before I did. It’s been well over a decade since we left school – we’re both getting our first grey hairs, but ironically are far fitter than we were back then. As I ran, I realised I could never have done this at 18. I didn’t touch sport from the age of about 13 onwards, and it wasn’t until I found running in my thirties that I realised I had the mental and physical strength to do it when I put my mind to it. I only wish I’d discovered this earlier and saved myself a lot of self-loathing in my twenties.

By the time I hit the fourth lap, I could see the fastest runners finished already and collecting their goodie bags. I still had two laps to go. Around about here I started to feel really bad cramp in my leg. I spent the next mile wondering if I should stop. I pushed on through, slowly, and by midway through this lap it had eased off. The rest of lap four passed reasonably quickly, but the number of runners was really starting to thin out.

By the time I reached the end of lap four, I wondered if I was so slow there would even be time to do the next lap. I checked with the steward, who told me there was plenty of time, and reassured me that there were plenty of people behind me. I grabbed a Lucozade and kept plodding on for the fifth and final lap. This one was hard. It was just the slowest runners (like me) left, plodding along but flagging.  Somewhere on the first mile of this lap I hit a junction and with no runners in sight to follow, couldn’t remember which direction to take. I chose the wrong path, and had to double back on myself.  I had chat with another woman who made the same mistake, and we ran alongside each other for the first three miles, cheering each mile marker.

We reached the Mile 3 sign – signalling the last mile of the course – and let out an audible cheer. I powered down this stretch of Rotten Row, determined to run this final mile. I did, but I was so slow it was barely running at all. My lap five companion powered ahead, having found a reservoir of strength somewhere that I didn’t have. It was all I could do not to stop and walk. As the bandstand came into view I found a tiny bit more energy and sprinted as best I could for the last 300m to the finish.

Me at the finish

Me at the finish, exhausted

As I picked up my goodie bag I burst into tears, wondering how the hell I’ll do that again in three weeks time, with six more miles on the end. No one warns you how emotionally tough distance running is. This race was hard, but I performed better than I have when running on my own, and felt a genuine boost every time someone cheered me on from the sidelines. I’m hoping this will see me through the final 6.2 miles on the big day.

My Runkeeper made it 3:41:48, which I’m relatively pleased with as it’s a full minute per kilometre faster than I did on the same distance last week, and bodes well for a sub 5hr finish.  Pleasingly, my Runkeeper has upgraded itself to Elite, which gives me access to extra charts and stats (which makes my inner analytics nerd happy).

Emotional wobbles aside, after a rest and massive Sunday lunch, I’m feeling as prepared as I’ll ever be for 26.2 in three weeks time.

Let the tapering begin.