Sorting a course for a race can’t be easy. At all. You’ve got to find a course of a set distance (from 5 and 10k courses to marathons and beyond) that can start from a venue able to cope with a pack of runners descending on it.
You’ve then got to work with all sorts of people (such as, say, local authorities) to source a suitable route, considering things like land access, road traffic and non-race pedestrians. You might need to negotiate with private land owners or park bosses. You’ve got to make sure that route can cope with the number of runners in the race. The list goes on.
Oh, and you’ve got to try and design a course that runners will enjoy.
So no, finalising a course for a race definitely isn’t easy. I just wanted to make that clear, because what follows definitely isn’t a criticism of race organisers. Really. I’ll explain why.
This is about an annoyance I’ve encountered with the final part of several races – and it was one I encountered on the very enjoyable Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon last weekend.
The final miles of the race took runners along a road between Hampton Court and Bushy Park, back towards the finish area at Hampton Court Green. The point where the green came into my sight, complete with big inflatable arch, was a pretty good feeling: there’s the finish! Then I looked at my Garmin, and I was confused. I still had the best part of a mile to go. That finish arch wasn’t a mile away. Eh?
Thing is, as far as the race route was concerned, the finish line was still the best part of a mile away. The course went within a few hundred metres of it, before heading down the side of the green, doing a hairpin at the end and taking in a half-lap or so of the green.
For the spectators, it was great: they could cheer on the runners for the last half-mile or so of a half marathon. It helped add to the event atmosphere on the green. So it’s a clever idea – and that’s why this isn’t a criticism of the race organisers.
It’s just that, when you’re close, so tantalisingly close, to your final goal, having to run so close to it for a painful few minutes somehow makes that final half-mile hurt even more than it already does.
This isn’t about one race. I’ve encountered similar late twists within sight of the finish on plenty of other races. And here’s the really important thing: the random running annoyance here isn’t actually with the route design at all. It’s all in my head.
When I could first see the finish I knew I still had more than half-a-mile of running left. My Garmin told me. The marker boards told me. The encouraging and friendly marshals told me, while cheering me on.
So I should have known there’d be a few late detours to come. I should have just pushed on and enjoyed the final part of the race. Instead, my brain ignored all that. It saw the finish arch, and the moment it did, it wanted to be there. It didn’t want to keep running.
So race organisers: when I saw I’m annoyed with your route, I’m not. Honest. I’m annoyed with myself.
I’m running the 2016 London Marathon to raise money for the South West Children’s Heart Circle. It’s a great cause, and any donations received would be greatly appreciated. Click the ‘Just Giving’ button below for more details. Thanks!