Where: London, UK (course map*) aka, my first international race!
*This wasn’t the exact course we ended up running, due to another event being set up for later in the day. We ended up going down by the stadium on the “Old River Path” a few times.
Who: Just me, with moral support from Drew
Splits: none, because Simon failed me, losing all memory of the race as soon as I paused him at the end. Boo.
Note: This recap is way overdue. Please see my last post for excuses!
You may be asking, “What the heck were you doing running a race this far afield? London??” That is a good question, observant reader(s). A few days prior to this race, I was attending a conference for work in Wembley…
Quick pause for a Wembley Stadium selfie!
Having attempted to run an international race a few years back but being thwarted by a race cancellation, I really wanted to fit one in this time around. However, I didn’t want to take over an entire day of sightseeing or what-have-you just so I could get some foreign bling, plus I wasn’t sure how ever-more-pregnant me would handle a 10K. I figured I’d see how Beach 2 Beacon went, and would decide then. Since B2B went quite well, and with Drew’s supportive “you never know when you’ll get another chance to run a race in London… go for it” in my head, I searched for races and landed on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park 10km Series.
The race sounded pretty cool – running around a park where Olympians roamed four years ago?? – and came with bling and a goody bag, so I was won over pretty easily. I signed up, found a hotel close to the Overground which would allow for easy transit to the race, and eagerly awaited the big day.
A view of (part of) Olympic Park
After I carboloaded with some tasty ramen the night before, race day dawned not-so-bright and early. I was pleased with the overcast sky that looked like it would spit rain at any moment… at home it was still in the high 80s and I had been looking forward to cool race weather!
Drew and I hopped on the Overground and made our way to Hackney Wick, then strolled to and through Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. We had stayed nearby a few years ago, when the park was still at the early stages of reconstruction, so it was fun to see all the work that had been done since. We had the ArcelorMittal Orbit (the weird reddish tower in the above photo) as a homing beacon, and it led us to the race start area and packet pickup. Pickup was super easy and quick, and I spent the rest of pre-race time trying to both stay warm and poke my own pin holes through the bib, which didn’t come with any pre-made.
After a very half-hearted warmup on my part, a man with a megaphone (who shall henceforth be referred to as Megaphone Man) started strolling through the crowd of runners, reminding us all to double-knot our laces and treating us to witty banter in a Cockney accent. He then led us all in a group warm-up:
(Note the not-so-overcast sky in those pictures… I was beginning to regret not bringing a hat or sunglasses at this point.)
After some butt-kicks and jumping jacks and sky punches, we made our way over to the 2012 Walk, where the start/finish line was. It was nice and shaded, and looked charming, and I had hope in my heart that it would be a lovely race:
The start from Drew’s point of view…
…and from my point of view at the back
Drew caught a picture of a bunch of charity runners dressed as monkeys
I wanted so badly to take off with most of the rest of the pack when the starting gun went, but I forced myself to hang back and take it easy. Though B2B had gone well, a month had passed since that race, and I was now carrying more baby weight and was unsure of how my body would handle running 10k.
The first little portion of the race was decent – down the shady flat path, marveling at the fact that I was actually running a race in another country – and both Drew and the race photographer caught me looking chuffed to be running:
Photo: Basil Thornton
Not long after those smiley pictures, however, things went downhill. It was hot. And sunny. I was thoroughly unprepared for hot and sunny. I hadn’t hydrated enough (surprise!), hadn’t brought water like almost everyone else had, and hadn’t brought sunglasses or a hat, so I was squinty and worried about sunburn. Plus, I was really feeling the extra baby weight. Things were more jiggly and, as a result, quite sore, and I also got out of breath very quickly. I had to stop to walk before the first mile clicked by.
Stopping to walk meant I could take pictures!
And then I started to run so I could take a running selfie. I was all ready to be done!
The course was mostly exposed to direct sun, so I was hot and red and sweaty and unhappy pretty quickly. There were also more hills than expected; the race description mentioned “slight undulations” but we had to scale some steep ramps to get onto bridges, and our detour included more hills than the usual route. I walked a lot, more than usual (with my midwife’s “listen to your body, stop whenever you get any pain” echoing in my head), and found myself soon getting lapped by the lead runners.
About to get lapped by fast people
Trying to muster a smile for Drew
Right after the above picture was taken, the course took us past a huge crowd of cheering people. Drew later told me that Megaphone Man had rallied a bunch of random passersby together so that we could have a cheering section! That was a fun little surprise.
The first water stop wasn’t too long after, and I savored my drink as I took a slow walk break in the shade. I had two laps to go, and I was mentally and physically done already. I strongly considered stopping, since I knew Drew was close by, but then I thought of the finisher’s medal and how I didn’t want to have my first international race also be my first DNF. So I soldiered on.
I started to hate the scenery. Three laps of the same thing gets very old when you no longer want to be running, no matter where you are. I kept taking frequent walk breaks, pausing every now and then to shove a Percy Pig – my chosen fuel – in my gob. (While tasty, those little suckers are hard to chew while walking, let alone running! I missed my Honey Stingers.)
Struggling up a hill on the last lap
Two of the course marshals helped me carry on – one saw me struggling during the first lap and yelled out encouragement, then remembered me on subsequent laps and kept saying awesome things to me. The other saw the Shamrock on my singlet and said things as I struggled past, but her Irish accent was so thick I couldn’t make out her words! They sounded friendly though, and I like to think she was looking out for me especially because of the Shamrock. Seeing Drew at the end of each lap was a huge help too!
Struggling up the last hill!
I can’t even express how happy I was to crest that final hill, knowing the finish line was close! I considered trying for a sprint finish, but the worrywart in the back of my head didn’t want to overdo it.
Nearing the finish!
And then Megaphone Man appeared. I was a little ways behind the lady in front of me, and as he saw the two of us approaching, he started yelling that we should “make it a race!” and have a photo finish. The other lady had earbuds in and didn’t speed up at all, despite his goading her:
Megaphoning into her ear
So he turned his megaphone on me and started shouting encouragement, urging me to beat the lady in red. So I thought, what the heck? I enjoy the first picture in this next series (all courtesy of Basil Thornton), because you can see the exact moment I tried to kick it up a notch – arms flailing and goofy look on my face:
Clearly I didn’t beat the lady in red (she was going just a little too fast for me to catch up, though I did get close!), but I did manage to remember what Megaphone Man told us all we had to do at the finish – put our hands up. He joked that results wouldn’t count if our hands weren’t up, and that made looking through the race photos pretty fun – almost everyone has their hands up!
I made a bee-line for the water table, sucked down a couple cups’ worth (I was one of the last finishers, so didn’t think taking multiple cups was bad), and then stumbled off to get my goody bag and bling.
So red, so sweaty, so tired… so happy to be done
I then made Drew hang out for a bit so I could hop up on the podium they had set up. Clearly I hadn’t won anything, but other people were leaping up for photo opportunities and I decided it would probably be the only time I’d have a podium picture, so darnit, I was going to make it happen:
I can almost safely say that I was indeed the first place preggers American!
Mission accomplished, we set off for Stratford tube station, making a quick stop at Marks and Spencers so I could get some food to refuel (the recovery drink in the goody bag had sucralose in it – boo!). I got some interesting looks as I stood in the corner of the mall between M&S and the tube station, sweaty and wearing tiny shorts while pounding a milky coffee beverage and shoving chocolate in my face, but whatever – I had just finished my first international race despite really wanting to DNF, and was enjoying my runner’s high.
Goody bag contents
In the end, I’m so happy I opted to run a race while in London, even if I had been cursing myself while running the thing. I may have finished 313th out of 327 runners (91st out of 99 ladies), but I finished! And, once the runner’s high kicked in and my body forgot about the pain and exhaustion, I realized I’d even had a bit of fun too. It was a cool experience to run through an Olympic park, let alone experiencing an international race for the first time, and it will be fun to tell my wee running buddy about it someday 🙂