I had run the glamorous, glorious Royal Parks Half Marathon three times before today, on each occasion in luminous autumn sunshine . This year was different. The forecast was ominous, and as I and the rest of the 16,000 participants arrived at Knightsbridge station – to discover that only one of the three escalators was working, and it was the “down” variety – and filtered through the foothills of the ludicrous 1 Hyde Park, the cloud formations were threatening. The downpour came about 20 minutes before the start, drenching me as I queued to check my rucksack in. It took the delicious bathos of a brass band playing Jerusalem as I made my way to the start line to lighten my mood.
The first part of the course takes you out of Hyde Park and down Whitehall, where there was more comedy to be had from a course signpost warning of a “U-turn ahead” positioned close to Downing Street. By that point, to the relief of all, the rain had just about stopped and I was able to hum along to Roxy Music in my head, as I always do, when in the Strand. Then its up The Mall, past St James’s Park and Green Park and back into Hyde and Kensington Gardens for the business part of the race, when you start to hurt, watch the clock and obsess about passing the next mile marker before, at long last, hitting the long, straight 800 metres to the finish line.
The Royal Parks Half is the biggest and most deluxe event over that distance London offers, a journey through the city’s most celebrated green lungs and some of its most august seats of power. It has a bit of a corporate feel, even though the main event partner Royal Bank of Canada kept a modestly low profile, which made me appreciate their contribution to the occasion more. Rather, the impression is formed by the snatches of overheard chat among fellow competitors and occasional sightings of financial sector livery on sportswear. A different feature of this year’s Half was its embrace of the plastic-free cause – one taken up with gusto by the Harrow Half, held last month – as part of a wider environmental theme. This year’s T-shirts were of a nice mossy shade and made from recycled materials.
I completed the course in one hour, 53 minutes and 58 seconds. I’ve run it in under 1 hour 45 minutes in the past, and may have to accept that, at the age of 60, I might never achieve that time again. But, if I can swing it, I might be back at the Royal Parks Half again next year.