Race Review: The Big Half

I love a big London race, where they close down the roads, and you get all the atmosphere, bands, crowds, noise, charities, big finish – it’s just pretty special.  So I’ve only done 10km races in London, and since last year, I’ve been secretly wanting to do The Big Half.

This year I didn’t sign up, simply because of the expense. I’ve already spent quite a lot of money on the Brighton Marathon race place, so another big ticket race was not on the cards.  However, I did know that doing the race would be good prep for the marathon.  I was lucky when a friend couldn’t run due to a foot injury and asked me to take her place.  I jumped at the chance, except, I didn’t check the family calendar.

Juggling family life

So, my 8 year old had a away rugby tournament.  The problem is that my 4 year old, doesn’t do so well on the sidelines, and really who can blame him.  It’s a long time to stand still and watch other people play, hard even for an adult, let alone a 4 year old.  I was able to secure a babysitter for the morning, which was great, but now this race is starting to cost me money again.  At this point I was so set and excited to do the race, there was no backing out now, and I just had to swallow the cost of the babysitter.

Race Pack and other pre-race info

On the Big Half website, they had a nifty participant info microsite-style page of great information, including maps, starting area information, how to fix your timing chip, and more.  But if you need to get back to a specific piece of information, say the starting zone maps, you have to navigate through all the other sections to get to it.  It’s not a huge deal, but in the lead up to the race, I found myself going through the whole thing multiple times to get the information that I needed.

The race pack included a clear bag, that you had to put your stuff in.  You are either green on orange with a race number and also a letter.  Your clear baggage bag has strings that match your race number colour, and there was a sticker with your race number to stick on your bag.  The bag was an ample size to fit a jacket, and two changes of clothes.

Marathon training stops for no one

The 1st 7 miles

So, the weekend of the Big Half coincided with the first 20-miler of my marathon plan.  I’ve been sticking to my plan, so I decided to run 7 miles to a closer train or tube station and then get public transport the rest of the way to the start. Then doing the half marathon (13 miles) with my earlier 7 mile run, meant I got to tick the 20 miler off my plan.  This meant that getting to the race, was pretty easy for me, but my friend who was also running it, was having a hard time figuring out how to get there in time.

The baggage trucks closed at 8:25, so we had to be at Tower Hill by 8 (to allow for delays), but the trains from Teddington were not running that early.  She ended up getting a bus to Hammersmith and then I met her there (after running the 7 miles to Hammersmith) and then we got the District line direct to Tower Hill.

Pre-Race Shenanigans

We got off the tube at TowerHill about 7:50, so we had plenty of time.  We were confused about where to go, and there was signage for Elites (which we were not) so we ended up wandering around and following other runners, until eventually we asked someone who happened to know where to go.

Smiling despite the weather

The weather was pretty diabolical, raining, cold and windy.  We stood opposite the baggage trucks, and sorted out our baggage bags, and passed them to the correct baggage bag handlers, as designated by the number and letter on our race number.  We then queued for the loo, and both activities having taken up all of about 10 minutes, we still had 30 minutes to kill before our race pen closed at 8:30.

We went off in hunt of shelter, and found a pedestrian tunnel and cowered in there with a few other runners who had also discovered that little gem.  It felt so nice and relaxing to be out of the wind and rain.  I was so thankful to my friend for bringing throw-away jackets from the lost and found for us to wear and discard after we started, that was a life-saver.

Starting pens

We hadn’t realised that our race numbers had different starting pen letters on them.  Mine said F and her’s said G.  We reasoned that they would’t mind a runner going ‘back’ a pen, so we would try and both get into G. The checkers at the start of the pen were really thorough and I wasn’t sure how I was going to get in. Somehow I just managed to shuffle in. Now it was 8:30, and our starting pen start time was not until 9:35.  By this point we were getting a little tired of all the waiting around, and now we had more than an hour ahead of us.

The rain had stopped thankfully, but the wind had whipped up to epic proportions.  Everything was flying everywhere, bins, bits of building, paper, rubbish, it was crazy.  One thing to note was that there were ample portaloos inside the starting pen, which I think was a great feature, especially considering they kept you waiting in the starting pens for so long.

And then we were off

The Course Map

About 9:30, we started to walk forward, through the other, now empty, starting pens (and passed all their loos).  Eventually, we got to the start and set off.  As we were in the last pen, we were with a lot of costumes and walkers, which was fine, and we found a nice rhythm passing people by.

I had studied the route map online, and I knew I wasn’t very familiar with this part of London.  Prior to getting a place at this race, I had assumed it was a central London race (like the Winter Series 10KM route), but it’s more of an east London route through Rotherhithe, Canary Wharf, and Deptford.  I can’t tell you too much about the route, what I remember most was the wind, it was comical and very distracting how ferocious it was.  So the route wasn’t too memorable in itself – key things I remember were a big tunnel, Canary Wharf was pretty windy, and running over tower bridge was pretty epic.

On the course

The supporters on the course were pretty amazing.  It seemed every mile there was either a band, charity cheer point, or just lots of spectators.  People had come out with sweets to give runners, and lots of lovely home made signs and high fives!

The water stations were well placed.  I wore my hydration pack, so I didn’t need water, but my friend took water at each station and had no issues.  We both commented that it was nice that the water was in bottles and not cups, I always find drinking out of a cup while running nigh on impossible.  I did take a Lucozade capsule thing at one of the water stations. I remember it said that the membrane was edible (eco-friendly Oohos – seaweed-based edible packages), but once I popped it in my mouth, I couldn’t stomach the membrane and had to spit it out.

The mile markers were easy to see, and useful as both of our watches were about .6 mile off, after loosing signal in the tunnel early on.

Finish line

The roads around the finish line were jam packed with people cheering, and because we had such a conservative pace around the course, we were able to open up for a blood-pumping sprint finish!  As soon as we passed the finish line we were awarded our medal, and then kept walking down the finish path.

We got our goodie bag, t-shirts, and then were in a big queue to get to the baggage trucks.  We were packed in like sardines, and in the end when we popped out there didn’t seem to be any big crowd crush.  So I think it was just a bottle neck/pinch point in the finishers route to get out.

The goodie bag had less stuff that the Hampton Half Court Marathon bag (which was the best goodie bag I’ve ever got after a race), and this one had just water, a bottle of Lucozade, a nature valley bar, and some sweet potato crisps, oh and the silver foil blankets (which I was wondering where everyone got their’s from, and I didn’t think to check my goodie  bag).

All medals & smiles on the train home

We found the baggage trucks, got our bags, put on some warm clothes, and set off to look for the nearest train station.

The Big Half Festival

As we were walking passed Greenwich park, we realised that they had cancelled the festival.  It was very windy, and we guessed it wasn’t safe.  It turns out all the Royal Parks across London had been closed.  This created big crowds just outside of the park, as the park was the meeting area for friends and families to find runners after the race.  We managed through and got to the train station and got home pretty easily.

Overall

It was a nice race, with a slightly unexciting route (except the Tower Bridge and Cutty Sark Finish).  It was well supported with a friendly atmosphere.  Would I do it again? On balance probably not, but I am happy that I got the opportunity to do it!

Did you run the Vitality Big Half (or did you really want to)?  What did you think?

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