This is my review of the Hampton Court Half Marathon in 2018 – aka the road to sub 1.30. A lot of the races I enter are large mass participation events with 10,000+ runners minimum. These races are unrivalled for their atmosphere, the level of support and general entertainment. However, they have their drawbacks as well – often even starting in the first wave you find yourself stuck at the back of a bottleneck, unable to get past slower runners in front or get up to speed. This forms a nice segway into one of my goals for 2018. In the three half marathons I’d done before I have been yet to break 1.30. In fact I haven’t broken 1.35! Given that, it might have been a bit ambitious to set a goal of sub 1.30 this year, however I felt fitter than I had been in the past and like to set challenging targets to aim for. Emboldened by this, I swiftly signed up for 3 races between February and the end of March, with the aim of hitting my goal in one, or more of these.
The Hampton Court Half Marathon was the first of these, in early February. Unlike the races described earlier – this race is a much smaller affair – probably no more than 4000 runners. Taking place in February there was also the potential for an extremely cold run, and starting early in the morning – 8.30 is far earlier than I’d ever normally run (the majority of my runs are in the evening, and most races I’ve done haven’t started earlier than 9am). As such, I was somewhat apprehensive about this one. Getting up early in the morning to make the 45min journey to Thames Ditton didn’t assuage these fears, and combined with a long queue for the toilet at the race village meant I almost missed the race start as well! Running pretty much straight from the toilets across the start line I assumed this was going to be a slower run, just to gauge my fitness level and hopefully break 1.30 in one of the next two races.
However the start was fantastic as it happened. Whereas most races I end up unable to overtake and being forced to slow down initially, here the smaller field and start wave specifically for sub 1.30 runners meant that I could get up to speed straight away. I decided to start just behind the 1.30 pacer, some 30 seconds behind when I crossed the start line and then catch up with them. I overtook and knew that I had a 30 second cushion if I could just not let them past.
The route itself was great – pancake flat, and whilst quite narrow in places (especially as roads were not closed), the smaller number of runners and well planned starting waves meant that there were never any frustrating moments stuck behind runners. Additionally, running besides the river through Kingston and past Hampton Court were fantastic moments.
As I passed Hampton Court, I sprinted past Henry VIII and his wives walking towards me. This was the first race I’d done with a running watch, and as I glanced down at my Garmin I realised simultaneously that not only had the pacer not passed me, but I was well under 1.30 pace, with only 4 miles to go. At this point I got the dreaded side-stitch. I slowed, but held on for the next mile and with 3 left, managed to pull the speed back up, saving just enough energy for a final sprint across the line in the last few hundred meters. I glanced up at the clock as I crossed the finish line. 1.27.57. Not only had I broken 1.30, I’d gone 2 minutes faster, and a massive 7 minutes faster than my Half Marathon the year before!!
As a summary of the race – I loved it. It had a very different feel to the big races, but the route was fantastic and support and atmosphere great nonetheless. The shirt and medal were great and this is a race that is definitely PB potential. Additionally, this is the first event that has had a specific sub 1.30 wave and as such been able to solve the issues of many big races start zones.
- Fantastic course with great PB potential.
- 1.30 start wave & pacers
- T-shirt, medal & general organisation
- Henry VIII was cool…
- Smaller field meant that narrow roads didn’t matter quite so much.
The not so good
- Not closed roads.
- Start is in Thames Ditton which is more difficult to get to.
- Atmosphere can’t compare to bigger races, but then is a different style.
Next year – the road to sub 1. 25??? Who knows!!