I took part in The Big Half last year, and really enjoyed it.
Created by the London Marathon events team, The Big Half was a brand-new event for 2018 set in the heart of London, which almost didn’t happen last year thanks to ‘The Beast From The East’. Vitality cancelled the ‘Little Half’ version of their event and put contingencies in place, but the main event went ahead as planned – and I said at the time that I would definitely take part again.
The day before race day this year, I sat down and read all of the instruction emails and runners’ information for the event, and started to plan my journey. It was then that I realised a few things: This race is split into two zones – Green and Orange. Each zone hosts its own baggage trucks, toilets and starting pens. Last year, I was in the Orange zone, which was a short walk from London Bridge train station. This year I was in the Green zone, which apparently involved two tube journeys to Tower Hill. The downside to doing running events on Sundays is that trains don’t run that early from Tunbridge Wells, so I was going to have to drive into Tonbridge anyway – but the earliest train from Tonbridge got me into London Bridge just before 8am, and the baggage trucks in the Green zone closed at 8:25. I spent at least an hour looking at tube, train and driving options, but came to the conclusion that all I could do was try my hardest to get to my zone and deposit my bag on time.
It was incredibly stressful, but I managed it: On Sunday 10th March I woke up at 5:20, drove to Tonbridge and caught the 7:09 train, and then made the (very impulsive) decision to forgo all tubes as advised, and walk/jog from London Bridge to the Green zone. However, at London Bridge 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.
I made it to the baggage truck and left my belongings there with five minutes to spare. I can’t have been the only person who struggled and panicked about meeting that deadline; and I actually saw someone running in the event with their backpack, which can’t have been intentional (or comfortable)!
I joined a super-long toilet queue and then followed signage towards the wave pens and found mine – Green C – which was clearly sign-posted and had additional toilets in it, which was a nice touch. Entry to each wave pen closed at 8:45am and set off was at 9am. My wave walked up to the Start line to the sound of an enthusiastic DJ and motivating music, and we started running at 9:08am.
The weather was super windy, chilly, and rainy. So much so, that Vitality emailed the following on race day: “With the exceptionally strong gusts of wind we had this morning, we had to implement many of our contingency plans and scale back much of the event infrastructure. As a result, there were fewer course signs, mile markers and timing clocks than normal and sadly we also had to close Greenwich Park, which meant that The Vitality Big Festival and The Vitality Big Mile had to be cancelled.” I felt bad for the organisers, who were having to cancel parts of the event for the second year in a row.
I wore Slazenger leggings, Primark sports bra/vest all-in-one combo, Primark jacket, Buff headband, Nike gel pouch, and black 1000 Mile trainer socks with Brooks Ghost 10 trainers, resulting in a super comfortable outfit. I’d had porridge, a banana, and a cup of Beanies coffee for breakfast, along with two Clif Energy Bloks and Sports Jelly Beans; and felt super positive and full of energy.
The route started near Tower Bridge and finished in Greenwich. Thanks to taking part last year, I was expecting and prepared for the long dark tunnel leading towards Canary Wharf. Once again, 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 narrow in some places so could be a little frustrating, and the residential area with cobbles was unpleasant to run on! The wind was challenging to run in on some parts on the course, especially over Tower Bridge.
The amount of water stations along the course was perfect – mini sports bottles of Buxton were handed out as well as new Lucozade Oohos (seaweed-based edible packages), which were amazing! I took a water bottle at each station and the staff were supportive and encouraging. I had a Lemon Drizzle Torq energy gel between miles 7-8 which was delicious and kept me going. I usually have two energy gels during a half marathon but found that I didn’t need or want the second gel, for the first time ever! Overall I felt super, full of energy, and really enjoyed the run.
I could hear the 2hr pacer coming up behind me at mile 12, where there was also an uphill incline. It took everything I had to stay in front of him and maintain a steady pace – and then increase it towards the finish line. I was on fire and succeeded in not letting the pacer pass, crossing the finish line with a PB of 2:00 (previous PB was 2:01). It felt incredible and I was so proud of myself! The finish area itself was amazing – 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, Natural cereal bar, Emily veg crisps and bespoke technical t-shirt) before leaving the finish area. The medal is the same as last year in a different colour – it’s bespoke and chunky and will certainly stand out in the medal collection!
From what I’ve seen on social media, there were a host of PBs gained this year – amazing, considering the challenging weather conditions! I think that the Vitality team (all staff, volunteers, marshals) deserve a round of applause for making The Big Half happen for a second year: It’s a massive challenge to organise and hold events of this scale, especially when the event is just two years old and there have been weather curveballs both years!
I’d run The Big Half again and would recommend this event to others, too. It’s something different and I had a fab morning!
NEXT UP: Sevenoaks Knole Park 10K, Sunday 17th March 2019.