A tale of two halves: Vitality North London half marathon 2016 race review

 

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Just one week after Dartford half marathon I was ready to tackle 13.1 miles again. Despite the challenging route I had been disappointed with my time the week before, but a speedy 9k run in the week convinced me I had more in me. Inspired by the prospect of achieving a PB in Wembley Stadium, I decided to at least have a crack at breaking my two-year-old personal best of 2 hours, 14 minutes and 24 seconds. Whether I’d achieve it was another matter…

COST

£40 affiliated (£42.40 including booking fee), £42 unaffiliated (£44.52 including booking fee)

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PRE-RACE ORGANISATION

Booking was fairly straightforward online, although the entry form seemed slightly on the long side and having a booking fee on top of the already fairly pricey cost of entry felt a little cheeky to me. That aside, the entry pack was posted out ahead of race day and even came with safety pins, as well as a leaflet containing all the pre-race essential information. On the day everything was well signposted from the station, baggage drop was straightforward and route to the start was simple.

TOILETS

The queue at 8.30am looked slightly on the insane side, but there were plenty of portaloos and it actually moved pretty quickly. Shout out to the toilet stewards ensuring all empty toilets were used… and shooing off people attempting to cut the queue. There were also plenty of toilets on the route which is always good to see. I didn’t actually use them but it’s nice to know they’re there!

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THE RACE

It took about 15 mins to actually get to the start line, giving me plenty of time to try (and fail) to use MapMyRun on my stupid replacement phone. I had a watch so would be fine keeping track of time, but I was frustrated I wouldn’t be able to look at my splits after the race. It also meant I wouldn’t have my pace shouted at me as I went round, so I’d be reliant on my own maths to work out if I was sticking to my target pace or not.

The first few miles aren’t particularly inspiring, but luckily I found they were going quite quickly. The route is an out and back so before I knew it the winner was passing by on the other side of the road. Cue clapping from us slower runners and a few ‘f***ing hells’ at the sight of his speedy running (he eventually finished in 1:02:41). There were a couple of sights on the way, as we ran past the RAF Museum at Colindale.

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At about halfway we entered Allianz Park – last year’s end point. I didn’t do it last year, but  I can imagine it felt a bit of an anti-climax finishing here after going through Wembley Stadium halfway through! As a halfway point it was quite fun though, looping round the athletics track before heading back, especially seeing your name on the big screen.

After exiting the stadium I started to pay closer attention to my splits, knowing that I was currently on track for to beat my PB. I knew if I kept to roughly 10:10 miles I’d be ok and so far things were bang on track. The advantage of the out-and-back nature of the course meant I knew a few more hills were on the way, but things were going to plan so far.

By the end it seemed like there was a hill around every corner, but I powered on knowing that eventually I’d be on the final downhill stretch to the finish line! While the hills were a little tricky, none of them were so steep as to force me into walking. At every mile marker I was checking my watch to ensure I was around that 10:10 target and I was still on track for my PB. It also helped that on the way back the crowds of spectators were a little more enthusiastic and a few high fives helped keep my spirits up as we headed down to Wembley.

 

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The weather had been slightly miserable for most of the race, but the sun came out at pretty much the exact moment I reached the downhill stretch towards Wembley. Running down Wembley Way was pretty special, while finishing inside the stadium was fantastic, especially once I knew I was definitely getting my PB. My final time was 2 hours, 13 minutes and 14 seconds. Hardly a speedy half marathon for most people, but for me shifting a 2-year-old PB was a nice confidence boost before the Paris marathon.

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BLING/T-SHIRT/GOODY BAG

Bling is reasonably hefty, with a nice stylised image of the Wembley arch. The technical t-shirt was a nice design, with ‘I crossed the line’ on the front and ‘Finisher 2016’ on the back. It was also good to see plenty of t-shirts in stock – I had no trouble getting the size I wanted. The t-shirt was rather generously sized, but I guess you can’t have everything! The goody bag was great – popcorn, dried fruit, cereal bars and water as well as something I think is a sticker but I’m using as a bookmark. The cat was impressed, anyway…

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OVERALL VERDICT

The route isn’t the most exciting in the world, but the start and middle are pretty good and the finish is pretty amazing. Excellent organisation, challenging but not impossible course and a good goody bag. Would I do it again? When I crossed the line I thought ‘absolutely’, but coming to write this blog I remembered just how pricey entry was. Given that last week’s half was only £23, had a more scenic route and a nicer medal, it does seem like you’re paying an extra £20 just to finish in Wembley Stadium. That said, it did feel pretty amazing to be running along the pitch knowing I was getting a PB. The price alone would put me off doing it every year, but I certainly could be tempted to do it again.

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