I signed up for two races this week. Now, that’s nothing too unusual in itself: I take part in quite a lot of races. But there was something that was quite odd about the two races I signed up for: they’re both in October. It’s February. October is, like, eight months away.
Now, I’m rarely the most organised person. I’m not much of a forward planner; it takes me some work to map out a three-month marathon training plan, for example. So it’s a little out of character for me to be plotting out my running eight months ahead.
It also strikes me as slightly odd. Eight months is some time away. Lots of things can change between now and then. It’s quite possible that other commitments – work, family, that sort of thing – might arise for the two weekends in October I’ve just shelled out money to enter races on. So why have I signed up so early?
Because, if I want the chance of taking part in those races, I have to.
Here’s the thing. Running is a popular activity. Lots of people run. And lots of people who run like to take part in races. Some races are particularly well-regarded and popular. But any race can only accept a certain number of entries. If more people want to take part in the race than there are places in that race, you have a classic case of supply and demand economics.
This isn’t a problem with most races. There are lots of races, and the bulk of the them don’t fill up their places: many offer on-the-day entries, if you’re so inclined. The trouble is that, without a lot of research, you often never know which will sell out and which won’t.
Finding out a race you want to do is sold out can be incredibly disappointing. Last year, I ran the Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon in March, and very much enjoyed it. Having survived this year’s Houston Marathon, I figured I’d tackle it again this year. But, by the time I decided I’d actually be up for a mid-March half, it had sold out. Rats.
If you’re a race organiser, having more people want to do your event than can actually start it is a lovely problem to have. And those race organisers have found different ways to cope.
One of the races I signed up for this week is the Cabbage Patch 10, a very enjoyable ten-mile race based in Twickenham (and, of course, the winner of my award for the best race I did in 2016 that wasn’t the London Marathon). It’s a popular event: its been going for 35 years, Mo Farah is a previous winner and, in my experience, extremely well-organised. Plus, the course is a flat, fast and fun loop around the River Thames, heading from Twickenham down to Kingston and back via Richmond.
The event didn’t run in 2015 because it’s regular date clashed with the Rugby World Cup, which used nearby Twickenham Stadium heavily. And when it returned last year, demand was such that it sold out months before the start.
Doubtless aware of such demand, organisers opened the entries on February 14 – eight months before the October 15 race date. It’s a first come, first served entry system: entries will stay open until all the places are filled.
Organisers advertised the date entries opened at last year’s event, and have plugged it multiple times on their social media feeds. Which means that people who did the race last year, or are interested in it, will likely be made aware entries are on sale. People like me. And those people then have the chance to enter early, when they know they can get a place.
There’s clearly demand, too: there have been almost 400 entries in the first two days. And, again, this is for a race in October!
The other race I’ve signed up for this week is a bit more complicated. That would be the Royal Parks Half Marathon, which takes place in central London in mid-October. This is the tenth year the race has been held, and it’s predictably popular, since it offers a very rare chance to run through the streets of London on closed roads (there’s another way to do that but, well, it involves running a marathon…).
With demand greatly outstripping supply, the Royal Parks Half uses an online ballot system. The ballot is open to entries for a week or so, and then about a week later people are told if they got in or not. People who secure a place then have a week or so to pay up. If they don’t, they lose their place, which gets redistributed in a second ballot.
Reading about the event, it seemed a fun race and a good chance for a second run round the streets of London. I was tempted, but unsure: did I really want to commit to a half-marathon in October already? What if I found some other running challenge for that time that seemed more fun?
With the ballot about to close, I made the decision to put an entry in. After all, the odds were likely against me getting a place, and not having to pay up to enter the ballot (that was an option, giving slightly better odds to get a place through dint of being entered into the second ballot) meant that it didn’t cost me anything to try. And it was probably academic. After all, the odds were likely against me.
And guess what?
I got in.
Suddenly, my hypothetical musings about whether I wanted to commit to a relatively expensive half-marathon in London in October wasn’t so hypothetical. I had a week to either pay up, or lose my chance. And the race is a week before the Cabbage Patch 10, which I really wanted to do again. That’s quite a lot of race mileage in the space of seven days. Perhaps I should pick one. But… both are tempting. What to do, what to do…
As my credit card bill will tell you, I paid up for both.
So now, it’s a bit weird. I have no real idea what I’m doing for much of the rest of the year. I haven’t planned my holidays, breaks, work events, family gatherings much beyond the next few weeks. And yet I know that, health permitting, I’ll likely be tackling two races on back-to-back weekends in mid-October. You know, in eight months time.
And given that most races don’t offer refunds or deferrals if you can’t run, it’s a bit of a gamble. I’m paying up now, and just having to hope that, come October, I’ll actually be able to take part in both events. If not, I’ll be out of pocket.
Frankly, it seems a bit daft. But, as my Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon experience showed me, it’s the sort of thing you have to do if you want to be sure of a place in a popular race you really want to do.
And, well, it’s hard to think of a better solution. And, hey, if nothing else I can now tell you what I’m likely to be doing on two weekends in mid-October…
Oh, and I’ll just add this: you’ve missed the ballot for the Royal Parks Half but, as I write, entries are still available for the Cabbage Patch 10. So, if you think you possibly, definitely, absolutely might just be free on October 15, I’ll suggest you head here and enter. You know, while there are still places available…
Shortly after this year’s London Marathon, around the time when the post-race ache in my legs was beginning to subside but the warm glow of achievement was still intense, I entered the ballot for the 2017 race.
I wasn’t absolutely sure that I wanted to, but given the ballot entry was only open for a short period, I reasoned it made sense to put my name in. After all, to spout a cliche, you have to be in it to win it (that’s strictly referring to winning a spot in the marathon by being in the ballot. I’m under absolutely no deluded pretence that somehow being in the marathon would give me any chance of winning it…). If I won a 2017 place in the ballot, I’d have options.
Of course, things have changed since then: I’ve committed to running the Houston Marathon in January 2017. And I’d decided that would be my marathon challenge for 2017. So, in some ways, I didn’t want to get a ballot place for London next year.
After all, I wouldn’t want to run two marathons in three months. That would be daft. If I beat the odds and won a place in the ballot, I’d obviously be deferring it until the 2018 race. Because I obviously wouldn’t want to run another marathon a few months later, would I? No. Of course not. Absolutely not. No, no no.
Unless… well… would I? I mean, I suppose I could. It’s a three month gap. I mean, it would be possible, wouldn’t it. You know, if I got a place.
Anyway, that’s been the circular random argument going on in my head over the last few months. Until I received my results from the London Marathon ballot in the post this week. When I found the envelope on my doorstep there was a palpable sense of excitement. Would I be in, or…
Now, this was the interesting bit: I honestly didn’t know how I was going to react. When I randomly entered the ballot for the 2016 London Marathon it was on a whim. It was only when I missed out on a place and realised how disappointed I was that I grasped how much I wanted to do it. That was the path that led me to the South West Children’s Heart Circle, and the chance to run the marathon for a brilliant cause.
So how would I react to rejection this year? Well… actually, I was fine. Totally fine. Sure, it was a little disappointing – because entering any ballot or prize draw and not winning is a little disappointing. But I didn’t find myself heartbroken.
In many ways, it was almost a relief – it saved me from myself. Would I have been sensible or smart enough to defer a 2017 London Marathon entry? Or would I somehow have challenged myself to run two marathons in three months?
Honestly, I have no idea what the answer to either of those questions would be. So I’m sort of glad I didn’t find out. And it means I’m now totally mentally free to focus on Houston.
So, the Houston Marathon then: 97 days and counting…
As an aside, to anyone who has secured a place in next year’s London Marathon, especially any first-timers: congratulations. You are in for an extraordinary experience. Good luck!
I started doing the ‘running FAQ’ posts to answer the most common questions I was asked while training for the London Marathon. But in the week or so since I completed it, there’s been another question people have frequently asked me… are you going to run another one?
Now that’s a good question. Hmmmmmmm.
Here’s the thing: I knew the answer to this question. I had 100 per cent made my mind up. As I was running painfully slowly (and in some pain) up the final drag of Embankment, the Palace of Westminster looming in front of me, I had firmly made my mind up.
No. Never again. This will be my one and only marathon.
To paraphrase Taylor Swift, me and marathons were never ever, ever, ever getting back together. Like, ever.
Why? Because, in all honesty, I wasn’t really enjoying it. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the experience. A week later, I still keep thinking of moments and memories that will last me a lifetime. But with about ten miles to go, I began to struggle. I ached. It hurt. Smashing headfirst into The Wall I struggled on, pushing closer to my limits – possibly even a bit beyond – than I probably ever had before. And I really didn’t enjoy it.
So no. No more marathons.
Now, I’m not the kind to make snap decisions, and before the start of the marathon, I promised myself I wouldn’t resort to cliche by crossing the line and immediately vowing I’d never run one again. So I didn’t. Instead, I made my mum and my brother promise to never let me enter another marathon (I also made them buy me a cup of coffee and a muffin in Pret, but that’s not really relevant at this juncture…).
While I didn’t utter ‘I’m never doing another marathon’, I was genuinely firm of my intention that I didn’t want to do another one. I love the challenge of doing races, but figured my speciality was shorter events – up to a half-marathon or so – where I could push myself without having to explore my limits quite so hard.
There’s just one problem with that: my stubborn, competitive spirit. I ran a marathon – my first marathon, two years after I took up running – in just under three-and-a-half hours. I finished 6112th in the 2016 London Marathon. My family, friends and work colleagues were pretty impressed. Some were amazed. Me? I was happy. Thrilled, even. But…
Like many runners, I rarely celebrate what went right – but spend my time thinking about how I could have done better. Could I do better? Is 3h 28m 17s as fast as I can possibly run a marathon? Would it be possible for me to go quicker? Could a different training programme have cut a few minutes off? How much better would I have done if I hadn’t fallen ill a month before the race? Would I have done better if I’d set out a bit more steadily?
I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. I really don’t. And, to paraphrase Harry Hill, there’s only one way to find out…
But what about the pain? The discomfort? The struggle of pushing myself to the limits?
Well, funny thing. The pain wears off, memories of the discomfort fade. But the euphoric feeling of running the London Marathon – the sensation of doing something that ranks among the cooler things I’ve done in life – remains.
So, would I ever run another marathon?
Still, I haven’t broken any promises. And there’s no guarantee I’ll get in: there’s huge demand, and only something like 10 per cent of the ballot entrants actually get a place. But in the unlikely event that I do, my mum and my brother will have a lot of explaining to do. They promised not to let me do that…
I completed the 2016 London Marathon to raise money for the South West Children’s Heart Circle. I’ve finished now, but it’s not too late to help a fantastic cause. Click the button below for details on how to sponsor me and donate. Thanks!