Back on Track!

After my epic fail at the Foots Cray Meadows 10k earlier in the month, I wasn’t too sure what would happen at Sunday’s Morrisons Great Newham London Run (bit of a mouthful).  This is the event formerly known as the “National Lottery’s Anniversary Run” but which has now been brought under the umbrella of the Great Run series.  It’s also been extended from 8k to 10k.  I took part in its original format in both 2013 and 2014 and my run report from last year’s event can be found here, and having reread it, I did have a bit of a bee in my bonnet when I wrote that! 😉

The “cunning plan” is definitely showing signs of becoming a bit too successful.  If I’m not too careful, I’ll be sooo relaxed in September, I might just forget to turn up on the start line!  I started off the weekend with an overnight trip to Camber to visit a holidaying friend and my “have to leave in the morning” stretched to “around lunch time” and after a “do I have to go”, I eventually departed mid afternoon!  Historically I wouldn’t have dreamed of being so far from home the day before a run, let alone spending the morning jumping around in the waves and then laughing at all those townies doing their King Canute impressions.  For the uninformed, the tide at Camber goes out a very, very, very long way and watching people set up windbreaks close to the water’s edge at low tide can be very amusing!

Anyway, I digress!  The forecast for Sunday morning was cool and showery with sun expected late morning/lunch time.  Well the forecasters were a few hours out!  It rained ever so slightly before I left home but by the time we arrived at Stratford, the skies were blue and the heat tempered just a bit by a cool breeze.

Having my brother and nephew there for support meant I didn’t have to worry about using the baggage area so while they went off to explore the park, I got my priorities right and joined the not too long toilet queue.   Then I meandered around the assembly area taking photos and soaking up the atmosphere before thinking perhaps I’d better join that queue again – it was much longer by this time!  Announcements to start gathering in starting pens seemed to go unheeded, well we didn’t have a lot of choice really if we wanted to be “comfortable” on our run!

WP_20150719_009

I eventually went to wait patiently in my “white wave” pen only to suddenly realise I was actually in the “pink wave” area, I blame it on my sunglasses and the pale nature of the pink!  So having extricated myself from there and hastily finding the correct pen, I found myself at the bottom of the Orbit with a perfect view of the “warm up” man.  Most of us joined in with the obligatory squats, arm waving and stretching.  There was a short ten minute or so delay in the start but eventually Paula Radcliffe sent the first wave on their way and then it was time for my wave to move forward, ready for our turn.

WP_20150719_012

While waiting, I saw Paula walk past with an aide “so she’s not starting us all off then” I thought!  No, we got Brendan Foster 😉 Only appropriate as the founder of Nova International which organises lots of mass participation sports events, including the Great Runs.  I loved his final words of advice for us runners, “start off slow and then get slower”!  Sensible words in view of the rising temperatures.

The route was out passed the Aquatics Centre, around the outer perimeter towards the Copper Box and Velodrome, before heading back towards the Stadium and running under the stands to emerge out on to the track for the final 300m.  My memories of the course suggested to me that once we’d got over a hilly stretch at the start, the rest of the course would be fairly flat.  Boy, did my memories get it wrong!  Every time I thought “it’s going to be downhill after this one”, I’d get to the top and any enjoyment at the downhill bit was ruined by the sight of another slope up ahead.  But I persevered and wherever possible kept to the shady parts of the route, it was getting hotter and hotter by the minute.

There were musical interludes around the course to encourage us on our way.  Audible groan moments?  Not long after the start we were subjected to “Let It Go”, I’m assuming the joke was the fact it’s from the film “Frozen” and it was a hot July day!  Then in the second half we had The Proclaimers with, yes, you’ve guessed it “I’m Gonna Be (500 miles)”.  That’s enough to make anyone run faster!  And then, perhaps predictably, as we ran under the stadium towards the finish we were greeted by the Chariots of Fire theme!

During my other runs here, much of the park has been a building site which meant spectator access was limited and therefore support en route was severely lacking.  Although there’s still a lot of building work going on, much more of the park is open to visitors so there was a bit more vocal encouragement on the way around.  But the wall of sound when you emerge into the stadium is overwhelming.  In a way it’s a bit of a shame that you can’t totally appreciate running on the track at the end of the run because you’re tired, hot and keen to finish – but I suppose it wouldn’t work at the start of the run, would it!

WP_20150719_014

Once we’d crossed the finish line we were ushered back out under the stadium where goody bags were being distributed and my first priority was to check that there was a medal in my bag after my experience in 2013 when a number of goody bags turned out to be medal-less and an uproar ensued.  Then I think I probably walked around the whole of the outside of the stadium to get back to the turnstile I needed to rendezvous with my brother and nephew back inside the stadium!

WP_20150719_018

My overall experience of the run was such that I entered for next year as soon as I got home – entry was open before the run had even finished!  I’m not sure whether the finish line will be on the stadium track again but it’s such a well organised event and it’s great to see how the park is developing.

Oh, and I managed to run the whole 10k in a good time (for me)!

Advertisements

Legacy

This weekend I took part in the National Lottery’s Anniversary Run (or #runthepark as it was known) at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford.  I intended to just blog about the run itself but the evening’s media coverage irked me so much I felt I had to also comment on the question of the country’s waning, or otherwise, Olympic legacy.  This will be a longer blog post than normal – I apologize in advance but hopefully it has some merit!

WP_20140720_003

But first, the run itself.  I took part in last year’s event and the big attractions then were the finish in the Olympic Stadium and the fact that two friends/family members could come in and see me and thousands of others cross the finish line.  Such was the interest that the initial run entry closed very quickly and I left it too late.  Then subsequently there was a ballot for additional places and I was lucky enough to get in.  After missing out in the ballot for Olympic tickets in 2012, this was a wonderful opportunity to see the Park which had been so spectacularly shown off by television coverage.

This year’s run took a different route with no big Stadium finish.  We were, however, guaranteed priority entry for next year’s run when the plan is to have the finish again in the revamped Stadium.    After I secured my place in this year’s run, social media promotions indicated that there were still a few places left.  It was obvious that the run was not quite so popular this year.  I will return to this subject later!

On my journey to Stratford, an American tourist on the station platform and a woman I sat next to on the train both asked what run I was taking part in.  I was probably the only runner at Ebbsfleet International not wearing the official top but it was way too hot for a t-shirt, technical/wicking properties notwithstanding!  (Now if I had been in normal dress, would either have struck up conversation with me?)  Both of them were runners, indeed the female and I had a conversation about parkrun.  Running (and probably other sports) seems to break down barriers and open up conversations like nothing else.

On arrival at the Park I made my way over to the start area and en route was able to see firsthand some of the new landscaping around the venue.  Once at the assembly area I made myself “comfortable”, settled down on the grass to admire the view, take some photos and massage my leg/ankle.  After around a quarter of an hour, I looked up and turned around.  OMG!  Snaking behind me was possibly the longest toilet queue I’ve ever seen!  How had that happened in such a short space of time?  I would have taken a photo but I don’t think it would have done the line justice.  There were still people queuing as we were given our final calls to starting pens.

It's behind you!!

It’s behind you!!

Sir Chris Hoy returned to start the run (he wants to be careful or we might expect him back every year!).  The four different waves went off with well organised efficiency.  This year’s course was indeed different.  We headed out towards the former Athletes Village but which is now a local residential area.  Then we ran back into the Park to circumnavigate the Velodrome (at least this year I knew that’s what it was and not some random cafe in the middle of the park).  We strode past the former Media City and the Copperbox which was recently re-opened as a local sporting and entertainment venue.  We then came back towards the Stadium/Orbital Tower via the Aquatics Centre.  There were plenty of opportunities to see how the area is evolving.

Le "warm up"

Le “warm up”

I have to say that despite the sun fortunately not showing its face until after I had finished, it was very hot and humid.  We were constantly advised to keep hydrated during the run and warned this was not the occasion to try for PBs.  The misting shower between miles 3 and 4 was very welcome and I did have to resort to sharing some of my drinking water with my head.  The man with his hand held water spray just passed the finish line was very welcome too if somewhat novel.  I’m assuming he was there officially!

Finish Line

Finish Line

Last year I blew up around mile 4 and it would have been very easy for that to happen again this year.  But I was determined to keep going and once I saw the “300m to go” sign, I knew I couldn’t give in.  I crossed the finish line in 44’ 30” which yes, is a PB for me but then I’ve only done that distance once before (last year) and it wouldn’t have taken very much to beat that time!  Still I was quicker than I expected so I was a happy bunny!

Proof of my PB

Proof of my PB

As I made my way back towards Stratford International a little while later, I passed many families making their way towards the start area in preparation for the Family Run.  There were many small people proudly wearing their run numbers and enthusiastically “warming up”!  It was also very pleasing to see that a large number of people were using the Park as just that, a venue for a family day out and there was plenty going on without the run.

As well as taking part in the Anniversary Run, last year I was also extremely lucky to go to the Anniversary Games.  This year, the Run and the Games were taking place on the same day.  As a previous attendee of the latter, I was given priority access to tickets.  The problem, however, was the venue was at Horse Guards Parade.  As much as I would love to have gone, I already had my place in the Run and I wasn’t too sure of the logistics of finishing the Run, getting home and making myself presentable and travelling back up to that part of London again.  And once I’d seen the price of the tickets, my decision was easy.  The cheapest was £50 and at the time there was no clear timetable of what or who you would see.  Regretfully, I decided not to go and had my fingers crossed that there would be some television coverage.

Well, what a sensible decision!  During the pre-amble at the Run we were advised on several occasions that if we took our run number along to Admiralty Arch later in the day, we would get four free tickets for the evening session of the Games!  I had already surmised that, as with the Run, the tickets for the Games had obviously not sold as well as last year and indeed had received several emails regarding ticket promotions.  But if every one of the 7,000 runners had turned up with their numbers, would there have been 28,000 seats available?  Just a little bit risky on behalf of the organisers!

Anyway, I was home in time to watch the coverage of the afternoon session and I did notice empty seats around the arena.  Then later in the evening, I caught the local news coverage on both the BBC and ITV.  What a difference!  Whilst the BBC coverage was positive about both events and highlighted the free run places offered to Newham residents in an attempt to increase local activity levels and sports participation, ITV decided to be the voice of doom and gloom, reporting that only half the number of runners took part in this year’s run compared to last year and that visitors to London were more interested in watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace rather than the sporting events going on in The Mall.  Their suggestion was that the Olympic Legacy had significantly diminished.

I’m not so sure the reduced number of runners and empty seats had anything to do with a diminishing Legacy.  Judging from the reaction in my starting pen when mention was made of the free places afforded to Newham residents, many had taken up the opportunity.  I believe the Stadium finish last year was a massive draw and will be again next year.    

As far as the Anniversary Games themselves are concerned, I feel the price would have been a big stumbling block.  For £50 last year, I had a seat overlooking the finish line whereas this year, it would have seen me sitting at the opposite end of the arena to the finish line.  Although it would have had a brilliant view of the pole vaulting event, at the time of the initial ticket application there was no definitive running programme so I could have been looking at an unused area.

In addition to the events happening in the Parade, there were also a few races going on in The Mall and these were free to watch.  The television coverage I saw showed plenty of people enjoying the spectacle.  Perhaps the ITV cameras were filming at a time when there were no events happening, and to be honest the Palace always has visitors hovering outside the gates whatever’s going on in the Mall as evidenced whenever I’ve taken part in the BUPA London 10000m.  That doesn’t mean there’s any less interest in athletics and other sporting events!

Could the poor ticket sales have perhaps been down not just to the prices but also to the open nature of the venue and the unpredictable nature of the British summer weather (or should that really be predictable)?  At least a stadium event offers some form of shelter, whether from rain or sun, at some point during proceedings.  And the weather was something which crossed my mind when deciding whether or not to go.

When researching the meaning of legacy, I came across a couple of explanations which I thought appropriate, one global and one more personal.  The global definition is “something we inherit from past generations and pass to our future generations”.  The more personal is “what we remember about a person” and I shall come back to that at the end.

The London 2012 Olympic Legacy has economic, regeneration, social and volunteering aspirations as well as sporting goals.  This latter has been further defined as “continuing elite success, development of more sports facilities and encouraging participation in school sports and wider”.  When you think about the redevelopment of the different sporting venues, not just the ones I’ve already mentioned but also the Lee Valley Watersports Centre and presumably further afield in Weymouth; and from a purely running perspective, the success of the Anniversary Family Run, together with the continuing expansion of parkrun and junior parkrun, how can ITV claim that the legacy is waning?  I don’t personally think the desire to take part has waned.  Maybe some of you will disagree?

Coming back finally (hurrah I hear) to the personal definition of legacy – “what we remember about a person”.   When I was younger, my Dad used to watch athletics and I could never quite understand the attraction, I used to think how boring.  Now if I’m around when there’s a Diamond League event or some other form of athletics meeting on the television, I’m stuck in front of the box.  The distraction of the Olympics in 2012 was bad enough – nothing got done.  Heaven help me now we have the Commonwealth Games starting this week.  Television bum sores ahoy!  I only wish my Dad was here to see the change in his daughter and that we could watch together!