After six failed attempts at a sub 2 hour half marathon, I finally smashed my goal at the London Landmarks half marathon. But what made this race the one where everything came together at last?
I arrived at the race in plenty of time, having stayed over in London the night before with a friend who was coming to support me, and I was pleasantly surprised to find there was no queue for the toilets! I had anticipated waiting a long time as it is such a big event, so I immediately felt calmer and ready to get started. I made a beeline for the 2 hour pacer, hoping to stick with her for as much of the race as possible, however as the start was quite congested when our wave eventually got going, I lost sight of her by the first corner.
But I refused to let that put me off. I had written on my arm the splits I'd need to hit at miles 3, 6, 9 and 12 to come in at 1:59:59 and knew all I had to do was stick as closely as possible to those timings to sneak in under the 2 hour mark. The GPS on my watch was all over the place though, and by about mile 4 the mile markers on the course were clearly not matching up to my watch. Thankfully my coach had discussed the possibility of this happening before the race, so again, I didn't let it faze me and kept checking in with the more reliably measured mile markers, aiming for approximately 9:07 minute per mile pacing for the first eight miles before pushing on to the finish.
The course was very twisty and turny, with several short out-and-back sections to give runners (and spectators) the chance to take in as many landmarks as possible. I actually found this helped me break the race up, compared to the repetitiveness of heading in one particular direction for miles and miles which I had experienced in other races. It was mostly flat with a few short inclines, but due to the nature of the winding course, most of the time the uphill sections were immediately followed by a downhill section. As well as the most famous and eye-catching landmarks, there were also lots of facts about London and some lesser known monuments scattered along the course.
As the course was so concentrated within central London, it meant that there were always plenty of crowds to cheer the runners on, including several choirs, bands and even people dressed as famous historical Londoners! There was definitely no need for headphones in this race. I was also so grateful to spot my friends in the crowd twice near the beginning to see me off and then twice in the final two miles to get me over the finish in good spirits - and then to celebrate with me afterwards of course!
Along with my clear pacing strategy, I was also more confident with my fuelling for this race. I had switched the brand of energy gel that I was training with from High-5 to Torq, and just found them to sit better with me. I was also taking them more frequently than I had previously, approximately every thirty minutes. This was my first race in a while where I managed to take on all my planned gels with no issues.
But the change in my mentality and my use of positive self talk was probably what made the biggest difference to me in this race. I actively focused on the notion "run the mile you are in" and chose to dedicate each mile to somebody different. These people included my family, my friends who had come to support me, my coach, and friends who had lost babies through miscarriage and premature birth, which I chose to include as the London Landmarks half marathon is organised by the baby loss charity Tommy's. I also dedicated one mile to myself, to be my own cheerleader and to force myself to recognise the work I had been putting in to get to the start line ready to chase after the sub 2 goal one more time.
Of course, there were still a couple of times in the race when my mentality faltered, and I definitely had a bit of a wobble approaching the 12 mile marker. It seemed to be teasing me in the distance along one of the longest straight sections of the course before the final couple of turns back to the finish. I started to wonder if I would ever reach it. It was at that moment that I saw my friends in the crowd again which encouraged me to keep running strong. I also caught up with (and eventually overtook!) the pacer I had lost within the first few seconds of the race which gave me the confidence boost I needed.
When I turned the final corner and saw the finish line so close I knew I had done it. I pushed as hard as I could for those last few hundred metres and crossed the line knowing I had given this race my absolute all. I had not only finished in under two hours, but I'd done it feeling strong both mentally and physically at a distance that I'd struggled with in several other attempts. I am still so happy with (and slightly in disbelief of) my chip time of 1:57:24.
If you get a chance to run this race, either through the ballot like I did or with a charity place for Tommy's (or any of the other fantastic charity partners), you will not regret taking part. The atmosphere and the route are among the best I've experienced. And you might even come away with a new PB too! You can pre-register for the 2024 event here.
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