Cancer Research UK London Winter Run
“Erm…right. Can I get a cab please?” And in true flyer fashion race out the door leaving the Flyers post Christmas party in full swing and like Cinderella get home just before midnight. Of course I couldn’t sleep. The mixture of, is that a twinge? Am I gonna sleep through my alarm? Did I pack a juice? Running through my mind like narrative. With under 6hours of fitful sleep the alarm does indeed go off and in a blurry haze we set off on the train to London meeting fellow TailRunner and Essex Lady Pippe Reeve and our selfie Flyer Richard Pryor. The closer we get to London the more fluorescent and Lycra clad bodies climb aboard the train. They must have been freezing! It was freezing! I was one of the lucky ones, my wonderful husband had accompanied us in support and acted as our ‘official bag drop’ which meant I could wear my winter coat and take lots hot drinks and of course had the warm glow of my loved one at the start and finish line.
We arrived at Fenchurch Street and the route to the underground was shut, so we had to walk the long way round which just meant following the turquoise bags everyone had been issued as the only acceptable bag in the bag drop area. Pippa had built in some time into our itinerary and calmly made our way to the tube station and luckily the waiting train. Maybe I was still drunk but considering I had been anxiously excited all night was strangely serene for the day. There really is something mystical about London on a weekend where none of the hurried commuters are barging about.
We exited Westminster and saw the first of many volunteers who set the tone for the day. Cheerfully directed us to the start line “yes there are polar bears” she could read my mind!
Now this was Richard, Pippa and my biggest run. Reportedly 15,000 runners. We were all running this for our own reasons but admitted that part of the reason we had all signed up was the promise of polar bear hugs at the finish! Well none of us could resist and indeed received multiple warming hugs whilst waiting to meet up with the London crew I had booked the race with.
Lots of “where are you” calls later and we were in our own running group. We waved Richard off to find his Niece Esther from Australia he had agreed to run with.
Fellow Flyer Catherine O’Keeffe had arrived in London the night previous and running with her friends. Had hoped to all run together but we all had varying start times and allocated pens so knew this would be difficult. “See you on the course” we had promised but I had my doubts. So we waited…the advertised snow ball fight was in fact oversized white beach balls well, one must have knocked my friend on the head or maybe it was hearing the Frozen soundtrack for the umpteenth time as she had a EUREKA moment. “They not checking the pens…it’s freezing…let’s go” so we legged it and joined an earlier wave! We skipped, jumped and laughed our way to an earlier pen and Pippa spots the ambassador and European gold medalist Jo Pavey at the start line ready to take part in this sell-out race.
We bounced around in our pens (it was cold) and must have been the third wave as we did three lots of warm ups by the Fitness First Instructors. I never do the pre-race warm ups but this was the best pre-race warm up ever. Maybe it was the crowds? Maybe it was the iconic London backdrop? Maybe it was gratitude at being healthy and able to run. This was after all the Cancer Research UK London Winter Run. The warm up guy asked everyone to raise a hand if you or someone you knew had been affected by cancer. Every single hand shot up.
To keep your hand up if you had personally been affected by cancer. Then poignantly to keep your hand up if you were currently still undergoing cancer treatment. Well, those people received the biggest cheer and applause of the moment and surrounded by strangers all clapping and hugging was a moment I will never forget and held those people I am running for in my heart. Then the clanging of giant cow bells, yes cow bells, we were off!
The route, as our fast runners would say ‘definitely had PB potential’ with only one slight incline was flat and smooth. There could have been some wind resistance running along the embankment but on this crisp winter morning was none. I had as race organisers suggested left a unwanted hoodie at the start (to be collected for the homeless) and had little ‘hottie’ hand warmers in my gloves. It really was freezing! It took the first 5k to feel our feet and feel that we were running as we chatted our way round. Two of our crew had dropped back so Pippa and I started to focus on style and pace and synchronise with the pitter patter of runners feet hitting the ground. No sirens. No traffic. No horns. Just the hypnotic sound of other runners feet, mesmerising as the sound of rain hitting a window pane. Sound I will never get used to nor ever take for granted. Felt like a privilege running past the landmarks on the closed streets of London and we were going to enjoy every moment. We heard the distant peel of bells and gradually looked up to the magnificent St. Pauls Cathedral.
My Garmin lost GPS at blackfriars underpass ‘’we are going too fast’’ mentioned Pippa ‘’How do you feel? You look strong’’ I asked ‘’I feel fine’’ she happily replied and proudly we kept to a steady pace. There were snowflake silhouettes and snow scenes projected on the tunnel walls. Not really the ice cave as advertised. Nor were the ‘snow zones’ I had imagined Eddie the Eagle Edwards flying overhead. I had also seen Frozen, they certainly played the theme song enough and really had expected a Disneyesque epic snow zone…well there would have been more impact on a MacFlurry than the snow flurry created by an underpowered snow machine that could have been hired by Trotters Independent Trading as it pathetically puffed artificial snow into the air.
There was a marker every km which I don’t know if it encouraged the other runners or not but come 8km I felt a slight sag in my running buddy. I was pacing her to PB and she was keeping me from doing anything stupid. I was undertrained but over excited a dangerous place to be when coming back from injury ours was the perfect partnership. I kept her going and she kept me steady. Being a keen canicrosser usually adopt a flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants running style where the only concentrate is looking ahead at your dog. Here I got to focus on stride, rhythm and footfall and urge my loyal buddy to the end.
Breaking my concentration “WOOP! Go Amanda!” and coming in the opposite direction there was unbelievably Flyer Catherine! “Go Catherine” and surprisingly shortly after we also saw Richard “WOOP! Go Pippa! Go Amanda!” And there trots by Richard and his Niece Esther “Go Richard. Enjoy your run.” We had just been talking about the friendliness of our respective clubs (Pippa runs for Essex Ladies) and I laugh and say well that is the Flyers! Weirdly I look out for the support crew. It has been said before and I will reiterate there really is nothing like the warm glow of the orange army and I did miss seeing Lins Pom Poms and of course my four legged running buddy.
However the streets were lined with supporters, volunteers and a few drama workshop type choreographed cheer leaders and we were lifted to the finish. We crossed the line to a PB for Pippa and I finished content and happy. Never run a race and felt so relaxed. The PB pressure was taken away from me and made this race a new enjoyable experience. We caught our breath and strolled to be adorned by our medals which were given to us like prize winners and not just handed out like leaflets. Made to feel very special and of course there were the polar bear hugs. These volunteers really were a breed apart “come here you know you want to” and I really did!
Now the stats, well I didn’t know what running among 15,000 people would feel like and I still don’t. We finished position Female 2,148 of 7,248. Female Veteran 446 of 1,485 and finally 4,759 of 11,461 runners. This is a shame. Out of our original London crew of five, two people had to pull out, one due to injury and the other a bereavement (significantly who lost her sister to cancer) but the race organisers wouldn’t let the places be transferred. Other than that the event organisation was impeccable. Maybe as we had arrived so early but there was no toilet queue. The was no feelings of frustration in any of the pens and everywhere you looked there was a smiling volunteer to direct you or a dancing polar bear to warm you up. Now to just get the theme tune of Frozen ringing out my ears and enjoy the feeling of running for a significant cause at its inaugural event.
*Note to self when hugging the bear and comically jiggling its belly make sure they are actually wearing comedy padding!
Cancer Research UK London Winter Run 1 February 2015