Hot on the heels of the Iffley Miles, I headed to the Olympic Park to see if I score a second PB in as many days at the Great Newham London 10k. The day turned out to be amazing, tough and ridiculous in equal measures!
You know when running is more than just a hobby when you go to bed early on a Saturday night, setting the alarm for 05:50 on a Sunday morning. WTF!? These are the things you (and your wife) do in the name of running!
The early start was necessary to drive into London to the Shepherd’s Bush Westfield, meet up with Tamsyn’s cousin Steve, his wife Karen (both of whom were also running) and their daughter Abi, and then head across town on the Central line to Westfield Stratford and the Olympic Park. At least at that time of the morning the traffic and the tube were quiet.
On arriving at the stadium it looked like everyone had got there before us. It was thronging with people. I was in the first wave so headed straight into the start pen to wait the last 20 minutes before the gun…although that became 30 minutes as they were having some issues out on course somewhere. It wasn’t raining so couldn’t grumble.
My grumble instead started during the mass warm up and was two-fold:
1. Whilst I appreciate there is potentially some responsibility on the event organisers to ensure less experienced runners are fully warmed up (assuming more experienced ones have warmed up already), it incredibly difficult to do what is essentially an aerobics workout when you’re crammed in like cattle!
2. I was appalled when, after the leg pumping, arm raising and shoulder rotating, the “professional” leading the warm up, high in his cherry picker (rather him than me!) instructed us all that is was absolutely essential to stretch and proceeded to take people through static calf and hamstring stretches.
Static stretching can be a divisive topic but I know where I stand: firmly alongside the British Athletics recommendations that you should not static stretch before exercise, instead preferring dynamic mobility. If experienced runners decide to go old school and stretch themselves to breaking point before a race then that’s their call, but for a professional to instruct the masses to stretch when they’re not even likely to be warmed up, let alone exercised is shocking! Tut, tut Great Run.
Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox and get back onto the race.
We got underway and the roads were relatively wide but I was glad to be in the first, smaller wave when we came to a hairpin bend just after 1km. I heard from Steve and Karen, who were in the third wave that they came to a standstill at this point.
As we moved past 2km we hit a fly over which slowly picked us up over the River Lea and a section of the park. Fortunately we had the benefit of the downhill on the other side so it was time to relax and find a rhythm. Or so I thought!
I’ve been to the Olympic Park on a number of occasions and I had expected a few ups and downs but the undulations through this race felt like mountains. Looking back at my watch data, there seems very little change in overall elevation, it just doesn’t remain constant – the longest flat section was the final 600 metres in the belly of the stadium and on the Olympic track (but more on those later!).
I kept going and at 5k I was still on target for a narrow PB but the sun had come out to play and the undulations were picking on my legs!
It was great to see the London skyline on the horizon and to run past all the sights of the Olympic Park – the Orbit, the Aquatics Centre, the Copperbox, the Velodrome (although the course got very twiddly and convoluted here) – but the stadium was what it was all about.
We rose up (again) after the 9km mark and headed for the stadium. Entering the coolth of it’s belly was refreshing.
I briefly caught sight of the track before we were turned left deep into the bowels of the stadium. The tunnel was full of anticipation; the runners knowing they were nearly there but not entirely sure how long the tunnel would go on.
Cleverly, the speakers inside the tunnel were set up with an Olympic-themed soundtrack including the commentary from the last 600 metres of Mo’s Super Saturday performance. It was great to hear the bell and the noise of the crowd from that night echo around in the last 100 metres of the tunnel before we ourselves emerged onto the famous track.
The noise wasn’t quite the same but that’s not surprising seeing as half the seats aren’t there anymore and even those seats that were there were less than half full – it was still a great atmosphere.
A nice touch was a chip mat at 300m to go transmitting runners names onto the big screens alongside camera footage to help spectators see who was entering the track.
I’d already started to speed up in the tunnel with the electricity of Super Saturday and I continued to slowly ramp up my speed on the beautiful surface that was underfoot. I hugged the final bend and pulled out all the stops with 100 metres to go, having to go as wide as lane 4 to fly past other runners enjoying the atmosphere. Instead I was enjoying the literal spring in the step that the track gave me – it was truly uplifting and helped me bound across the finish line.
I was almost brought crashing down immediately after the finish line due to someone stopping as soon as they crossed the line. I careered at 3min/km pace across the line yelling “Don’t just stop!” and managed to twist myself sideways, avoiding a full on collision.
I hadn’t quite got round in under 46 minutes which meant I was 90 seconds off a PB which was a little disappointing but running on that track was so amazing it didn’t really matter!
So the tunnel and track were amazing, the weather and course were tough so what was ridiculous? The signage (or lack thereof) to help reunite you with your supporters.
After crossing the line we were funnelled back out of the stadium, collecting our goody bag on the way and then could make our way back inside the stadium.
Areas of the stadium had been allocated the colours of the waves (sounds sensible) and we’d decided to meet in the orange section. I entered the first turnstiles signed as orange and made my way to the block of seats.
Like trying to find a needle in a haystack. I walked down and up the aisles scanning the seated crowds, all of whom seemed to be waving, just not at me! Getting frustrated I went back to the concourse and walked further round the stadium only to find the green white and pink sections. I headed back and decided to stand somewhere my Witney vest could be seen. Over 45 minutes after I’d finished the run I was still yet to be reunited so I watched over the finish looking for Steve and Karen, thinking back to childhood when your parents told you, “if we get split up, just stay where you are and we’ll find you.”
I managed to spot Steve and Karen (or rather they spotted me – I was resigned to standing in an empty stadium at dusk waiting for my wife to find me!) and Steve had seen Tamsyn and Abi in the crowd so directed me further round the stadium the other way. As I walked that way, peering into the seats where I could I heard a shout. Finally!
It turns out that a combination of very limited signage, stewards/security who don’t seem to know what’s going on and grouping a very similar red and orange onto the same signs had resulted in Tamsyn and Abi taking a seat in the red section – quarter of a stadium away from the orange section I’d spent the best part of an hour in!
Steve and Karen joined us and we exchanged stories on the heat and the hills. They managed to get round in 1:06 which is cracking considering they also clocked an 11th kilometre trying to get through the crowded green wave!
Considering it was the first time this race has been run it was a good day. The atmosphere and the scenery were inspiring and brought back great memories of 2012. The course is tough and I’d suggest not one for a PB, although my time of 46:04 is my second quickest 10k! Also, worth noting that the tunnel plays havoc with GPS but by that time I was just running as hard as I could so it didn’t matter too much.
I loved the opportunity to run on such an awesome surface. I wish I could attempt a mile on it; I’m sure I’d get a PB on that one! The biggest opportunity for improvement next year is to improve the signage and information to help after the race. Perhaps a few more stewards or volunteers with knowledge of the event organisation rather than just security people too.
A great venue and an almost great run from the Great Run organisers.