Published on November 5, 2014
Parks Half Race Report
The Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon, or ‘Parks Half’ to its friends, was established in 2008 and is fast becoming well established on the race scene.
Any race in mid-October in the UK has to be good; it’s competing with a veritable wealth of half marathons (and other race distances) all hoping for great running conditions in cool autumn weather. The Parks Half holds its own by offering runners closed roads, bountiful London tourist sights, scenic park beauty, great organisation and a fairly flat course… It’s expensive at £48, but this doesn’t put off the 16,000 runners who start, or the many more who apply in the ballot. The fact that it doesn’t feel as big as its 16,000 runners would suggest is down to the slick organisation.
Before the gun you can join in a mass warm-up (or just limber up in the park like I did.) Yes, you’ll have to queue for the loo, but which race doesn’t start like this? Starting pens are well set out by predicted finish time and the race, as always, set off on time.
There is plenty of water and Lucozade on the course to keep you running until the end and I used the detailed course map I received in the info pack before the event to plan to take my gels just before a couple of water stations, so I could wash them down.
Every step of the way offers impressive views – Buckingham Palace, The Houses of Parliament, The Thames, Whitehall, and, of course, the parks themselves. London really is at its finest in autumn weather and it’s a rare privilege to run along traffic-free London roads, and particularly enjoyable to be able to focus on the sights rather than dodging buses.
The Parks Half marshals keep fairly good control of pedestrians crossing the course although there will always be some – both marshals and pedestrians – who are perhaps less good. Some runners I spoke to found the narrow parts of the course fairly congested (there are signposts to warn you where this happens) and, as this tends to be towards the end of the course where some runners were slowing slightly, this exacerbates the issue.
I’ve run the Parks Half several times before and each time I’ve been surprised that even though there are quite a lot of spectators, overall they’re a pretty quiet bunch. I often find when I’m running with relatively fast runners that support is less vocal; perhaps people think these runners are ‘serious’ and not in need of encouragement… But comparing notes with other runners, many found the crowd support excellent (barring a bare patch around miles 10-12 in the park), so it may depend what pace you’re running. Either way, the race volunteers were all very enthusiastic throughout and, as this is a race with a large charity running element, the charities themselves did an excellent job of cheering runners on.
The other aspect that strikes me each time I run the Parks Half is that the course isn’t exactly pancake flat. If you survey runners afterwards some will say it’s flat, others will say it’s got some tough inclines. I can only conclude that it all depends on what sort of day you’re having; there are certainly a few sharp turns, and some gentle inclines, but if you’re having a good run you wont notice the small ups so much, and a PB is very doable.
The excellent tracker app works well for spectators following you (or celebs if they prefer!), so RunningMonkey’s supporters all knew there was no PB this time, with a 1.29.16. finish. There are well-organised pacing groups to help you duck under a time goal but if you’re eyeing up the win, this year you would have had to beat Carlos Fernando García Mañas who won the men’s race in 01:12:05, or fastest woman Amy Clements with a 01:17:02.
Whatever your time, everyone gets a great wicking T-shirt before the event and a beautiful wooden leaf medal at the finish line. You also get given a small bag, which you can fill with some of the free goodies from the food festival – we love the fact that if you don’t want them, you don’t take them, so there’s less waste.
Finally, if 13.1 flattish miles sounds too easy, you can always choose to run the Royal Parks Foundation Ultra instead – it’s the shortest ultra you can do, at 50km – only a few kilometres more than a standard marathon.
Further details on the Parks Half at royalparkshalf.com
Parks Half Race Report by RunningMonkey contributor Sarah Dudgeon – You can follow Sarah on Twitter @ArtOfYrSuccess