People always say about how muddy it was at Alton Towers in 2011. It was muddy, really muddy. In fact it was so muddy they had to shorten the course , and it took so long to get the mud off me in the tiny shower cubical in the Holiday Inn Stafford, we nearly missed the last food orders at the pub.
Parliament Hill this year though was pretty muddy too. It wasn’t the thick gloopy stuff that made you feel like you were climbing out of the trenches at Alton Towers, but soft, wet, sticky, gripless mud that still sapped at your energy.
Everyone always starts too fast at Parliament Hill. In the start pens you look up to the crest of the hill about 600m away, brown and churned up from the all the earlier races. Instinct seems to tell you to try and get as near the front as possible by the top, regardless of ability. This is ultimately self defeating. Everyone does the same thing so you end up queuing to get through the narrow gap at the top and knackered with 50 mins or so of running to go.
The National is always busy, but 2015 was a bumper year. There were just over 2000 finishers in the male race which is a phenomenal number, and great for the sport, but for someone in the middle of the pack like me it also made for interesting running. The whole of the first lap it was so busy I found myself actually using other runners to keep myself upright and moving forward. I’ve been in plenty of racers where it’s tight and you have to jostle for position, but never where the field was so think the closeness of other runners actually prevented you form slipping and falling over.
I really struggled on the second lap. This year I seem to have struggled on the rougher courses, and this one was no different. I saw a few of my team mates disappear into the distance and had a few low moments, especially around back of the course, even momentarily contemplating the DNF. I realised pretty quickly though that in terms of the whole field I wasn’t actually moving backwards and this gave me an added kick for the third and final lap.
The finish at Parliament Hill is stunning. It’s obviously a huge relief as you come towards it, you’re almost done. But there is also the view over the tents, flags and athletics track to the rest of London. Clearly I was concentrating fully on finishing as hard as I could rather than surveying the view, but I suppose this this all adds to the theatre and sense of occasion that comes with this race. To me it’s absolutely no surprise that competitor numbers are rising year on year.
A fellow runner wrote a much better piece in the Telegraph about this year’s race here, which is definitely worth a read.