The Harrow Half Marathon is a recent addition to the capital’s array of distance running events, and I entered it for the first time this year with a degree of trepidation. I had to nurse an achilles strain back in June, you understand, and the nearest station to the starting point is Harrow on the Hill. That’s Hill is in Uphill, as far as the race is concerned.
The course begins next to a rugby pitch on the grounds of Harrow school and soon you’re puffing your way up a punishing incline, comforted little by the knowledge that you’ll have to drag yourself through a similar ordeal again right at the death of the 13.1 miles.
The rest of the course is officially described as “undulating”, and though no other part of it comes close to the sadistic gradients at the beginning and end, there are long gentle road climbs and a bit of a mean one in the prettiest part of Pinner. Logic suggests that the toll taken by these upslope slogs would be compensated for by the equal amount of downhill running, but it doesn’t work like that.
Quite a gruelling course then, at least in a few parts, but no less satisfying for that. Harrow, of course, is classic Metro-land Outer London and you can take your mind off how sore your feet are becoming by taking note of the classic interwar terraces and sudden stretches of grass along the sides of long, straight roads. You also go through the fast-changing town centre and the lush Harrow Recreation Ground.
The Harrow Half is on a much smaller scale than the now well-established Hackney Half or the prestige Royal Parks Half, with far fewer spectators and much more basic arrangements. Unlike with other half marathons, there are no mile markers until near the end and as I groaned through the last three miles, by then with few other runners around me, there were points when the signposting was a bit unclear, meaning I had to call out to stewards to make sure I didn’t take a wrong turn.
Still, the marshals were cheery and the T-shirt and medal I got for reaching the end are very nice. I didn’t miss the mostly useless goodie bag marketing clutter you get handed at the end of larger races. This was a plastic-free event, meaning that water was dispensed on course in little biodegradable bubbles, rather like water bombs, rather than in plastic bottles. I tend not to visit drinks stations when doing half marathons, but I thought I ought to try one. Much of the water escaped when I bit into the bubble, but I’m sure I would get better with practice and the initiative is to be praised.
How did I do? One of the rewards of long distance running at my age is that it enables you to extend your mid-life crisis into your sixties yet win the occasional round of applause, as opposed to deserved mockery, for doing so. I covered the ground in one hour, 56 minutes and 30 seconds, which is not one of my better times but I have my excuses (those hills, and did I mention that achilles strain?). I finished 278th out of the 588 men and women who completed the course, and I was seventh out of 21 in the 60+ males category, which I’m hoping sounds a bit more impressive. I’m pleased I can say I’ve run the Harrow Half Marathon. Well done to everyone else who can say the same.