I’m not sure how, but The Big Half completely slipped under my radar and I only heard about it a month or so prior to the event, by which time it was already at full capacity.
I’ve taken part in plenty of Vitality events previously but hadn’t received any email communications or seen any targeted (or even non-targeted) digital ads, which is unusual, particularly as this event is created by the London Marathon events team.
I was super disappointed as The Big Half was a brand-new event for 2018 set right in the heart of London and would be the perfect way to get some miles in before the Brighton Marathon.
I’ve had quite a lot of luck previously with gaining last-minute places to events through social media (I know it’s against most event guidelines!), so one evening I searched for #thebighalf hashtag on Twitter and lo and behold, someone could no longer run and was selling their place at a reduced rate. They posted their race pack to me the next day and I had everything I needed for only £30. PERFECT. (Of course, the downside to running as someone else is that the entrant receives all of the emails and the glory if you get a good time, but personally I don’t see this as a concern.)
However, in the run-up to The Big Half, ‘The Beast From The East’ hit Tunbridge Wells with force. I was snowed in for two days and ventured out on the third day only to fall over (twice) and skid my car in the super icy roads. Trains were either not running at all or were running on a limited service. Vitality cancelled the ‘Little Half’ version of their event and it didn’t look promising; I wondered whether the event would still go ahead and whether I’d actually make it up to London.
Luckily the snow cleared enough and Vitality confirmed that The Big Half would proceed as planned. I was able to drive the twenty minutes to Sevenoaks train station on Sunday 4th March and catch the train straight into London Bridge without any issues. (The only downside to doing running events on Sundays is that trains don’t run that early from my town!).
At London Bridge I didn’t have a clue where to go. I couldn’t see any signage and it was HEAVING. I followed the crowd and hoped that I was going in the right direction. Other people seemed confused and a few people asked if I knew which direction to go in. It was so busy on Tower Bridge that I started to feel claustrophobic and panicky, and couldn’t find the toilets.
I followed the crowd up towards the pens and found mine – Orange D – which was clearly sign-posted and had toilets in it, which was a nice touch! One thing I love about these events is seeing all the discarded hoodies/jumpers etc that runners take off and leave out for charity in the starting pens – there seemed to be hundreds. The waves set off at 9am and my wave walked up to the Start line to the sound of an enthusiastic DJ and motivating music. We started running at 9:18am but it didn’t feel as though we were waiting for that long.
The weather was dry and a little chilly but much warmer than it had been. I wore my Primark mesh-detailed leggings with SKINS calf compression sleeves underneath, London Marathon ‘rejection’ jacket, Action Challenge neck buff, black 1000 Mile trainer socks, Brooks Ravenna 8 trainers and new Nike headband, resulting in a super comfortable outfit. I’d eaten porridge and a Graze Protein Bite for breakfast along with a litre of water, which was better prep than previous races !!
The route started near Tower Bridge and finished in Greenwich. I’m not too familiar with some parts of London and didn’t know about the long dark tunnel leading towards Canary Wharf – it definitely came as a surprise and seemed to go on forever – but I was full of beans and felt really good in the first half of the run. Some runners started singing and whooping in the tunnel which sounded awesome!
The route was really up and down in terms of scenery (some places were lovely, like Tower Bridge, but there seemed to be a lot of dull residential areas) and atmosphere (again some spots had pockets of supporters, but a lot of places along the course were empty). There were a few bands/entertainment along the route which livened things up on the remote sections. The route was also narrow in some places so therefore could be a little frustrating, and the residential area with all of the cobbles was horrible to run on!
At one point Sir Mo Farah, Callum Hawkins and Daniel Wanjiru ran past on the other side of the road with a TV crew in front, which was fantastic and super motivating! The runners around me cheered and clapped and my pace definitely picked up for a while after that.
The amount of water stations along the course was perfect – mini sports bottles of Buxton were handed out as well as cups of Lucozade, which were very welcome! I took a bottle at each station and the staff were really supportive and encouraging.
Overall I felt OK, didn’t struggle as such as just tried to enjoy the run. I sucked a Lucozade energy gel at mile 10 which was delicious and kept me going. The timing chip fell off my shoe at mile 1 so I don’t have an official time, but I have a ballpark figure and to be honest I just wanted to get the miles in and complete the event comfortably, which I did. Also, I’d completed the Walkie Talkie Tower Climb the day before so knew I wouldn’t get a PB.
The last mile was tough, though! There was an uphill incline which took some effort, but once levelled out towards the finish there were huge crowds and a lovely atmosphere, with the Cutty Sark in my eyeline as I crossed the finish line.
There was a short walk to complete before a medal was hung around my neck by more lovely staff, and then runners could pick up a goody bag (which included a bottle of water, bottle of Lucozade, can of Green Cola, Kind cereal bar, Nescafe Azera sachet and bespoke technical t-shirt) before leaving the finish area. I’ll be honest, I don’t like the medal but it’s different, and it’s bespoke and chunky and will certainly stand out in the medal collection!
There was a festival-type area in Greenwich park with food stalls, activities and meeting spots etc but I always head straight home after events and don’t like to explore, hang around or socialise because I feel sweaty, gross and tired – plus I knew it would take at least two hours to get home.
From what I’ve seen on social media, the feedback on this event has been super varied. Personally, I think that the Vitality team (all staff, volunteers, marshals) deserve a round of applause for making The Big Half happen. It’s a massive challenge to organise and hold events of this scale, especially for the first time, so the curveball of snow makes this all the more impressive.
I’d run this again and would recommend it to others, too. It’s something different and I had a fab morning!