North London Half

Seasoned ultrarunner Gary Dalton dials down the distance to have a go at his first road half-marathon – and says he'll be back

north london half

There are just some days when everything just feels right. When you wake up on race day refreshed and raring to go. When your kit makes you feel like Mo Farah and when your mind and body are focused on the task ahead.

This wasn’t one of those days. This was one of those days when you feel like something the cat has left you as a present, you can’t find your lucky shoes and your journey to the venue is assisted ably by rail replacement services. When your race pack hasn’t arrived and they can’t find you on the list. When you think to yourself, “I’m an ultra runner. Why am I doing a half-marathon?”

And I have no good answer for that, I’m afraid. Though comparatively short, half-marathons are almost perfectly tough. Accessible to all with a bit of training, there’s a real sense of having achieved something for the finishers. For experienced runners, then, the challenge is of course much simpler: just run faster.

So it was with a fair degree of trepidation I made my way to the start line of the North London Half in Wembley for my first ever road half-marathon. My excuses had been made on every social media platform I could think of. I’d brought my friend Richard along to make sure I didn’t bail out and seemingly despite the best efforts of the admin team we’d finally gotten our numbers. I had to run.

And if I had to run, this was how to do it. Closed roads, huge support from a range of sponsors including our hosts Lucozade and possibly one of the most iconic sights in London of the Wembley arch meant that whatever happened today for me I’d remember it. And I was guaranteed a PB!

And what a sight it was. The North London Half has expanded hugely in one short year to become one of the biggest half’s in the UK, and in using Wembley for a start and finish line they’ve pulled a masterstroke. Logistically, it’s perfectly geared up for receiving thousands of people and distributing them smoothly. And though the roads at the start were a little too narrow to accommodate easily the increased crowds, we soon found space to spread out on the surprisingly hilly course.

As I didn’t really know what to expect, I tried to keep a pace that was sustainable, the hills breaking up my rhythm nicely and the out-and-back nature of the course great for giving support to the other runners. It’s in the nature of halfs that everyone will have low points, as I did, the repeated muttering of my mantra ‘”I feckin’ hate roads, I feckin’ hate roads” getting me through until one final turn later and the famous arches appeared.

But the end of a race never comes quite as soon as you hope and we had to navigate a warren of underground tunnels before emerging, blinking into the sunlight, to cross the hallowed turf and finish in front of the stands. Not quite FA cup crowds to greet us, granted, but those that were there were vocal in their support.

I came to the conclusion on my way around that there was a reason I disliked road running and it was that it provides you nowhere to hide. The clock was the arbiter of how good you were. But my clock had given me a shiny new BB and, as we all know, PBs are there to be broken. Besides, now I know the course I know where I can shave a few seconds off next year…

For more information, visit the North London Half website

Written by Gary Dalton | 8 articles | View profile

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