What better way to round off a week of training in which I got coached by an Olympian that to run a race that finishes on the London 2012 Olympic stadium track?
Another chapter in the sunny running annals today as 15,000 runners of literally every shape and size headed to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for the annual Great Newham London Run. This is the third time I’ve taken part in this event. For the first few years it was a 5 miler but from last year they extended it a bit to make it up to a 10k.
It’s a brilliant race for several reasons:
- The field is massive. 15,000 runners this year and the start is split into four waves, so not only are you very unlikely to be last, theoretically you should be able to position yourself well at the start.
- There’s a nice open start area with plenty of space and lots of loos.
- It’s in July, so it’s likely to be clear weather.
- It’s at the Olympic Park, so the route takes you past fun things like the Velodrome and other 2012 venues.
- They usually get an Olympian to start the different waves off. This year it was the lovely and talented Christine Ohuruogu.
It can also be a frustrating race for several reasons:
- The field is massive. And a large percentage of those 15,000 runners have no idea what time they can realistically run 10k in when they sign up. This is because the Newham run has an Olympic legacy association and has therefore always been a big community event full of first timers. It’s really great to see people getting out there, but if you’re in one of the slower waves like me it’s essentially an extended parkrun for several thousand people! This makes it hard to get in a good position at the start if there are optimistic folk in front of you who thought they could whack out 55 minutes for a 10k and then start walking before the 1k marker (no kidding – this happens every year).
- There’s a nice open start area with plenty of space….but no shade. None. It was really hot and sunny today and there were quite a number of people who had forgotten their sun cream and were already looking a bit singed around the edges even before the off.
- It’s in July. So it’s likely to be bloody hot. Each year I’ve run this race I have had sweat pouring off me by 1k.
- It’s in the Olympic Park…so there are a lot of short sharp hills around the velodrome and other venues to drag your tired, sweaty ass up.
- They usually get an Olympian to start the waves off – unless Christine Ohuruogu has popped to the ladies or something and misses your wave out, leaving you with a random nameless blonde lady blowing the airhorn and no super sporting star high fives to be had. At least last year afforded the opportunity to ogle Chris Hoy’s thighs.
So this is not really a PB course by and large. Originally I was toying with going for a PB today because I’ve been running well lately, but as we got closer to the weekend and saw the temperatures and humidity start to rise on the forecast I started to change my mind.
This was the right decision. I always arrive earlier for this race than I would if I was on my own, because Mr Duff is always in the first wave (such a show off). So after 2 hours of hanging around in full sunshine before my wave even got underway, I realised my body temperature was just too high already to even consider really going for it. I revised my goals down further to not getting stitch, keeping running, and beating my Osterley time on that day in June when I felt like death quite literally warmed up.
Even taking my foot off the gas I still struggled with the heat, and I started chucking water over myself by about 2k just to try to get a bit of breeze over my wet skin and keep my body that tiny bit cooler. I think this helped, even if the water warmed up pretty quickly. I chucked more over myself than I drank actually. Generally I feel like you need to be pretty fast or pretty cool to get away with flinging water about like this but when it’s hot, anything that helps is a bonus and I will definitely start doing this more.
We visited the Olympic Park quite a lot in 2012, mainly during the Paralympics, and I have fond memories of it (although I am sure there aren’t as many hills there when you’re spectating. They must bring them out specially for runners). I thought if I wasn’t going to be anywhere near a PB I might as well try to enjoy the pleasant surroundings and the experience, so I started thanking marshals, cheering on other runners who looked like they were flagging, and encouraging the crowds to give us a cheer. This approach definitely made the last couple of miles more fun.
This extended to the stadium – I thoroughly enjoyed the stadium finish this year. The route has changed very slightly, so you go underneath the stadium seating for a short while and then out onto the practice track. Quite a few runners let out exasperated noises at this point, not having realised there was this extra wiggly bit to make up the distance, but I rather liked it. If you think about it, the elite athletes probably spend more time on the practice track than they do in the stadium. It’s the Anniversary Games next weekend (can’t wait!) so I consider we were just warming it up for Usain Bolt. I’m sure he’ll appreciate our hard work.
When we finally entered the stadium I made sure to look for my name flashing up on the big screen. The organisers started doing this last year – there is a chip mat as you head onto the track for the final 300m and it flags your name up for anyone there supporting you, to make sure they know when to start looking for you at the finish. I totally missed it last year so I was determined to see it this year. I had to squint a bit but there I was, with the added bonus of having my club flash up alongside my name! I let out a little cheer and started making ‘cheer louder’ waving gestures to the crowd like some crazed long jumper. It worked, they cheered, and I headed into the 100m home straight knowing I had just about beaten my Osterley time and that I’d set a much better personal course record – it turns out today was 10 minutes 39 seconds faster than last year in slightly warmer weather. I’ll take that.
Despite the crowds, the heat, and the lack of PB potential I’d recommend this race to anyone. If you’re a London local, give it a go next year. If you’re not local but UK based, consider it. If you’re from overseas but you happen to be on holiday here on 2nd July 2017, sign up. Knowing it’s not a likely candidate for a speedy race takes the pressure off a lot, and the setting really is fantastic. You might not break your PB or cover yourself in glory, but you’ll certainly get a damn fine finishers photo out of the ultimate glory finish line.
Although the next time I decide to do a race when there’s a need to throw water all over myself the whole way round, could someone remind me to pack a dry pair of pants for the finish? Thanks ever so.