Just A Mile? City of London Mile Review

Up until a couple of months ago, a mile was just something I repeated over and over in any of my many runs.  In April I found fondness for the mile and entered a competition that I subsequently forgot about.  Today, I claimed my prize at the City of London Mile!

Despite knowing of Bannister’s legendary performance to do the impossible and secure the first sub four minute mile I hadn’t realised that this year was the 60th anniversary.  Learning of that milestone (sorry – I couldn’t resist the pun) got me thinking and my mission to find 59 others around the world to run a mile on 6th May in tribute to Bannister began.

A couple of weeks earlier I had seen a tweet from the Running Bug about a competition to win a VIP entry to the inaugural City of London Mile.  All I needed to do to enter was retweet the said tweet, so I obliged.  Then I promptly and completely forgot about it.

The tweet that caught my eye
The tweet that caught my eye

Historically, I’ve had a fair amount of luck through Facebook and Twitter when it comes to competitions but given my terrible memory, or perhaps just the fact that I enter so many running related competitions, I was still amazed to get a message just days before Bannister’s anniversary to say I’d won!

All of a sudden I had an additional focus for my mile tribute.  As a 10k and half-marathon runner I’d never given a thought to running a mile race so had no idea how fast I could go.  The Mallorcan morning sunshine wasn’t ideal but I set a benchmark of 6 minutes 13 seconds and now had 6 weeks to work on my pace.

As any of you who follow me on Twitter will know, I was just a tiny little bit excited about the chance to feel like an elite athlete on my mission for a sub six minute mile and I must say I wasn’t disappointed.

With a knee niggle on Monday and my birthday on Friday, my final preparations had been less than ideal but I wasn’t going to let it spoil this opportunity.  We had a relaxing day on Saturday and got to the Tower Hotel (which I believe is the hotel the elite London Marathon athletes stay at) mid afternoon under a gloriously blue sky.

With strict instructions to enjoy the weather and the hotel, @MrsTWymer and I took a wander to St Paul’s so I could walk the course.  It sounds ridiculous but I like to be prepared and as it was my first ever mile race I wanted to see what the corners were like, along with a feel for the final approach to the finish.

The course is almost pan flat and the roads are nice and wide so even the copious amounts of London street furniture could be easily avoided.

The City of London Mile iconic course
The City of London Mile iconic course

The corners in the first half of the course were fast and flowing with the second half containing some trickier, but still open, right angles.  The final turn on to Cheapside leaves you with just over 300, slightly-inclined metres to the finish line.

With my pre-race research complete we headed back to the hotel for dinner and an evening of relaxation.  The calm before the storm if you will.

The view from our room at The Tower - the hotel not the castle!
The view from our room at The Tower – the hotel not the castle

After a good night’s sleep it was then the tough choice on breakfast.  I don’t normally eat breakfast, unless I’m staying in a hotel.  I prefer to run on an empty stomach, but I’m staying in a hotel.  With a buffet breakfast.  With great restraint I ignored the cooked breakfast and opted for a small apple danish and a croissant with honey before heading off to the start line.  And what an inspiring journey to a race:

A beautiful view on a beautiful day
A beautiful view on a beautiful day

On arrival at the race village, picking up my race pack was swift, with plenty of staff on hand to help.  The baggage drop was equally well staffed.  There was a little confusion from a lot of runners about attaching the chip – it was the ChampionChip, which I have previously used on a Velcro strap or attached using tie tags but this time it came on it’s lonesome meaning you had to un-thread some of your laces and thread it on.  It wasn’t a big deal to sort out but it did make it slightly slower to remove the chip at the end of the race.

No matter what the distance, I always need to visit the “facilities” beforehand.  There were ample portaloos but I opted to head into the adjacent shopping center instead.

Whilst waiting for my wave to be called I turned round to see a familiar face: Simon Freeman, fellow blogger and face of Freestak and Like The Wind Magazine, who I’ve met at Xempo and Ashmei promo days.  He’d flown in from covering Outrun The Sun in Chamonix that morning to pace a competition winner on her mile (successfully getting her around under her target time).  After a quick chat it was time to get warmed up.

The waves were well announced courtesy of MC for the day, UKA Coach Nick Anderson, and marshalls helped to gather people up and walk us round St Paul’s to the start line.

As usual for chip-timed road races, the start line was a little narrow so I made sure I got a decent position near the front and to one side – that way, I could move out into the space of the wide St Paul’s Churchyard road giving me space to get to pace and let anyone past if needs be.  It wouldn’t be the most efficient or shortest route but I reckoned being comfortable as quickly as possible was worth more than saving a couple of metres.

Being new to mile racing I’m still nervous about my pacing, especially as it’s completely different to the 10k and half marathons I’m used to.  To non-runners this might sound stupid – surely a race is about running as fast as you can for the entire distance?  Well yes, in a way, but with the longer distances it’s about keeping within yourself, at least until your well into the race.  With a mile, you just don’t have the chance to wait and see how you’re feeling, but at the same time I didn’t want to blow up.  So what should I do?

Ultimately I knew I needed to run quick so for the first two 400 metres I decided to push, ease off ever-so-slightly in the third so that I could push hard for the final 400.

Running within a race always helps to get you going quicker, with people to chase and push you and this mile race was no different.  It felt amazing to be running almost at full pelt among other runners doing the same.

I’m glad I saved a little for the final straight – I felt great, the atmosphere form the crowd was awesome and the rhythms from the band of drummers made me push as hard as possible.

As I got closer to the finish line I spotted the race clock ticking towards 6 minutes: my stretch goal!  I knew it was too far to get under the 6 minutes but I was damn well determined to limit the number of seconds I’d miss by.  So instead of a disheartening drop off, I used the spirit of Bannister and the wise words of Nick Anderson and made sure I left nothing on the London tarmac.

It was an amazing feeling to cross the line with a new personal best and only a few seconds over my stretch target.  Now it was time to relax, get the bling on and soak up the atmosphere to watch the following waves.

The spirit of Bannister was with me thanks to Iffley Road
The spirit of Bannister was with me thanks to Iffley Road

I always love cheering other runners on from the sideline and it was inspirational to see the range of people involved across the waves: the regular runners, the newbies, the youngsters and of course the super-quick elite!

The final few yards of the women's elite mile
The final few yards of the women’s elite mile
Inspirational running from potential stars of the future
Inspirational running from potential stars of the future

As well as cheering on my fellow milers spent some time at the Mizuno stand trying some new trainers.  Those of you who have read my blog for some time will know I have famously fat (over-pronating) feet and struggle to get trainers that are comfortable but thanks to some help from a friendly couple at the Mizuno stand I learnt a couple of interesting things:

#1.  Despite historically being a heel striking over-pronater, my running technique is apparently much more even and mid-footed.  Just shows how working on running form, flexibility and core strength can help improve your running.  It’s made me even more determined to continue with my drills and strength work.

#2.  Despite historically being a heel striking over-pronater, my trainer options are not limited to heavily supportive bricks.  The alternative models I tried were not only featherlight but really comfortable too!

I wasn’t brave enough to buy any there and then; this was such a revelation!  I’ve taken photos of the models I tried and I’ll be hunting them out again later this year.  It just goes to show that you should always go running shoe shopping with an open mind!  With my new-found running shoe optimism it was time to head back home to Oxfordshire.

The proud PB-er
The proud PB-er

So many people have asked me why I would choose to run just a mile, let alone travel into London to run for just 6-and-a-bit minutes.  Now don’t get me wrong, winning the VIP entry package helped, as did my #runyourmile exploits earlier this year but I’m not sure I can explain how exhilarating running a mile can be.  I’m most definitely hooked on the mile and with equal certainty I can confirm the City of London Mile was not “just” a mile – it was a well organised, friendly festival of mile running with something for everyone.  I hope to see some of you there next year!

 A big thanks to Tom and everyone who was involved in organising such an amazing day of running.  Here’s to many more years to come.

Results from the City of London Mile are available here.



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