A quick bit of background: I recently returned to running after an exodus of 10 years. In 2004 I had a nasty snowboarding accident, which resulted in a series of reconstructive surgeries coming to an end in 2014 when I had my lower right leg lopped off.
The formative years involved 15 operations and a leg that was able to take my weight but not much else. The desire to run and move freely was the nucleus of my choice to go down the amputation route.
My build-up to the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon has been based on enjoying running and getting the miles built up before I run my first marathon in the mountains of Afghanistan this November (this race is 3,000 meters above sea level and running anything longer than 20K on a prosthetic socket made out of rock solid carbon is as comfortable as sticking rusty nails in your eyes). So, it’s shaped my training – no more intervals, no speed, just putting the miles in and trying to minimise the pain.
(Note: we all have a pain threshold and as fatigue sets in the threshold drops. I effectively run in a carbon bucket morphed around my stump with a silicon interface between me and the socket – I’m not able to take any weight through the end of my stump so the socket supports the leg using the area below the patella tendon and the flared sides of the fibia. The feeling while running is akin to a Chinese burn administered by metal clamps, replacing the twisting motion with linear up/down friction that builds and burns the longer and faster you run. The key, like everything, is to adapt and work with – and hopefully around – the barriers).
Anyway, I woke up on the morning of Royal Parks very chilled and knew today was a run to enjoy. I arrived to the pre-race arena at 8am and went to meet the guys at Right To Play, a charity I’m really proud to be part of and raise money for. Right to Play transforms the lives of over a million disadvantaged children every week across the developing world through the power of sport and play.
The atmosphere was jovial and excited. We had been blessed with the weather: early teens, blue sky, no wind; perfect running conditions.
I made my way to the start around five minutes before kick off and as the host shouted down the microphone that we were approaching the start she boldly claimed that Mark Foster had the horn and was ready to get things going. (Got a laugh from me if not anyone else.)
Mark dutifully blew his horn and off we went. The first 10K saw us exit Hyde Park into Green Park before passing Buckingham Palace towards Whitehall, Strand and Aldwych. I grew up in London and have lived and worked in the centre of town for the past decade, but the opportunity to run on streets closed off to people and traffic is a real treat and provides a unique vista of this magnificent city.
The course looped round Aldwych back towards the Mall, past Queen Liz and up Constitution Hill, before heading back into Hyde Park and the halfway point. As we re-entered the park the atmosphere was electric. My running partners suggest that my pace seems to increase as we pass busy bars and places with throngs of people. That was certainly the case here…
For the first kilometre back in Hyde Park I felt like I was flying, with people cheering and clapping and beats of music blaring out. It sent a shiver down my spine and gave me a huge boost. I checked my watch for the first time: 10K in and it read just over 45 minutes.
The course switched its way round the park and the crowd kept cheering. Having started around the 1:40 finishing mark I knew I would only move forward in the race, which is a great positive – moving forward in a field really helps especially when you’re running on feel.
With five to go I took on a sports gel with caffeine and gave myself a slap. Coming into the final few klicks I was certainly aware that I didn’t have much energy left, but held on and ran a 3:50mins/km final split to finish with a time of 1:30:15.
All in all the race was a joy to run. The weather, atmosphere and set-up were all spot on and I’ll be back next year – hopefully with a bit more oomph.