Hampton Court Palace, on the banks of the Thames a few miles down from Kingston, is best known as the former home of King Henry VIII, and the site of a very popular flower show. It’s massive, and pretty spectacular (the palace, that is, not the flower show), even if (like me) you’re not all that into old palaces and stuff.
I headed there last weekend, not to take in the Royal Apartments or try my luck in the garden maze, but for a race: the Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon. Which, of course, shouldn’t be confused with the similarly titled Hampton Court Half, which took place a month or so back.
The Hampton Court Palace Half claims the distinction of being the only race to start in the grounds of the palace, before heading down the Thames towpath to Kingston-upon-Thames. The route then goes over Kingston bridge, passing through the town centre before heading down the other side of the Thames. The race crosses back over the Thames on Hampton Court Bridge, right in front of the palace… before turning back for another run down the towpath towards Kingston, before a final run back the outer wall of Bushy Park before a finish on Hampton Court Green.
Having done a few races, and plenty of training runs around the area, I knew the course pretty well. That was quite useful, because there are a few places where the Thames path gets pretty narrow, and tricky pavements to traverse on the sections running alongside main roads. Having a bit of insider knowledge was useful when running in a group: sometimes I knew I needed to sprint ahead of some slowing runners to avoid getting stuck behind them in a tight bit.
This was my final planned training race ahead of the London Marathon and, aside from being a touch on the cold side (not helped by a chilly breeze coming off the Thames), all went well. Very well, actually. Due to the tight course the race was started in waves, based on the predicted finish time runners had given. My 1h 30m estimate put me in the first wave, which meant I was starting in a pretty competitive pack.
That turned out to be a good thing: there were plenty of people to pace myself off in the early stages, and I found myself feeling pretty comfortable despite setting off considerably faster than my planned pace.
I was able to sustain that pace pretty well, at least until a few miles from the end, when a combination of aching legs and that chilly headwind began to slow me. Still, I recovered for a strong final mile, and my final time of 1h 27m 54s (and 77th place, which I still find hard to comprehend) knocked a good 1m 36s off my previous best (and, indeed, only) race time for a Half Marathon.
Another reward? A finishers’ medal and T-shirt. Both of which are among the best I’ve seen…
It was the sort of effort that has given me a dose of confidence boosting with five weeks – 34 days! – until the London Marathon. Until I remember that the run was a Half Marathon. That’s, like, half a marathon. I’ve got to run a full one in five weeks. Five weeks? Five weeks?! That’s really not that long now…
Oh, an amusing footnote to the race: running along the narrow part of towpath near Kingston-upon-Thames I encountered an old couple heading in the other direction out walking their dog. As I reached them they were looking past me at the stream of runners heading their way.
“Oh, they’re all running down the narrow bit,” said the lady. “That’s really… inconvenient.” It was said, at least to my ears, with a touch of disdain.
So, on behalf of the 3029 finishers who took part in the half marathon, sorry for being an inconvenience. Hope we didn’t ruin your walk.
I’m running the 2016 London Marathon to raise money for the South West Children’s Heart Circle. It’s a great cause, so any donations would be gratefully received. Please sponsor me – just click the ‘Just Giving’ button below for details. Thanks!