After the run, with medal in place.
Looking undeservedly smug and a little stupid

Invoking the rule that this is a personal blog (and not a councillor blog) I come to the belated boastfulness of my performance in the Royal Parks Half Marathon. Some of the boastfulness comes in just completing it. Some in completing it in a fairly decent time, 1:36:06 (those six seconds are important).

Of course, the time isn’t exceptional: I still crossed the line nearly half-an-hour after the winner and in 942nd place on chip time. But as a chubby runner, who’d had a bad time in training, I think it’s something of an accomplishment.

Most of all, however, I was astounded at how much I enjoyed it. Having convinced myself that I was an anti-social runner, who liked to run in relative solitude, it turned out running with thousands of others along a course partly lined with friends, family, volunteers and charities was something very special indeed. I have no doubt that some of my run was powered by high fives from various children along the way.

My conversion was such that I had a short bout of post-race depression (which is actually a thing) and found myself searching for other runs I could pencil into the diary.

Of course, the personal blog façade was not going to last forever, and I think it’s worth highlighting some Wandsworth connection.

First is a personal one. Runners Need in St John’s Road did me an excellent deal on a new watch when my old one died two days before the run and I was paranoid that my pacing would fail me totally without the assistance of gadgetry. I sometimes worry that a developing narrative of independent-good, chain-bad means we overlook the value of the many great shops that are firmly rooted in their community despite being part of a much bigger business. Runners Need is one example, and I’d highly recommend their Wednesday night running club (which I attend when the diary allows).

Second is for a Putney business, Crewroom who provide the shirts the Royal Park Foundation give to runners. I only realised they were a Putney business when I met their founder at a business event the week before the run. But it is another example of a business firmly rooted in the local (rowing) community developing their product and creating an exceptionally good shirt that I know I’ll still be wearing on runs for years to come. Or, at the very least, until I get a new Royal Parks shirt next year (ballot permitting).

That really looks like fun, doesn't it? (Photo from Royal Parks Half Marathon website)
That really looks like fun, doesn’t it? (Photo from Royal Parks Half Marathon website)

I’m running the Royal Parks Half Marathon on Sunday. Not, I add, for any charity, but purely for the dubious fun of going for a run without the freedom to choose your own route and having thousands of other people in the way.

And, now I think about it, with added guilt for not having any fundraising element to it while many of the others will be doing it to raise cash for good causes.

I really have no idea how I will do. My training suffered towards the end–partly self-inflicted through an over-indulgent holiday and partly unlucky with some calf niggles–which has resulted in a real loss of form. I’m hoping for a decent-ish run, but certainly nothing close to my hopes of just a few weeks ago.

If you are at all interested in how I do then you can track me on the Royal Parks Half Marathon app, my bib number is 2632 (at least, I that’s the number I’m wearing, the organisers had a mix-up with bins and I’m in the app as 2633, I’ve no idea which is actually me). And if you are running it yourself, then good luck.

That really looks like fun, doesn't it? (Photo from Royal Parks Half Marathon website)
That really looks like fun, doesn’t it? (Photo from Royal Parks Half Marathon website)

I was lucky enough to get a ballot place for this year’s Royal Parks Half Marathon and, at the risk of annoying those who failed to get a place, am feeling strangely ambivalent about it.

I entered the ballot largely on a whim having been told it was open by a friend who ran it last year. And I entered fully expecting I wouldn’t get a place. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve failed to get a spot in the London Marathon (something I really do want to run at least once) and imagined my record of losing the random lottery and then being bombarded with offers to get a place by raising a huge amount of cash for charity would continue.

The problem is not because I have any problem with the distance. For a large part of last year my weekly long run exceeded the 13.1 mile half marathon distance. Nor am I concerned about the training, although I can’t help but wonder how on earth I will fit it in.

Instead I am troubled by the knowledge I’m an incredibly anti-social runner.

As an adult I have only run with other people on three occasions. Once in the Roehampton 10k, once with the Nike Run Club when they had the FuelStation on Clapham Common (and I do think its a shame it was removed, though recognise it was not universally popular) and once with my wife. I am an anti-social runner; the prospect of sharing a few miles with several thousand other people does not appeal.

While I found Haruki Murakami’s part-memoir, part-running diary What I Talk About When I Talk About Running slightly disappointing (perhaps because my expectations were not well-managed) his view of running as a solo challenge did resonate. I care little about my performance compared to other runners, but I care deeply about my performance compared to my past efforts. It is deeply troubling if my pace and stamina are not steadily improving. And my current form, suffering the impact of a bad chest infection at the beginning of the year is downright depressing, however much I tell myself it’s an understandable blip.

In addition the almost meditative nature of running provides an appeal. Murakami comments “Somerset Maugham once wrote that in each shave lies a philosophy. I agree … No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act.” I can see how exercise, or at least running, is often cited as beneficial to mental health. And I can even see the attraction of running to the likes of Sri Chinmoy devotees (even if my lack of spirituality leaves me viewing such groups with suspicion).

But how does that work in a large organised run? How can your performance be your own when pace will often be dictated more by the size of the pack and the road they are trying to fit? Or inner peace sought among the hubbub of runners and supporters?

So, I have eight months to prepare physically – and I have no concerns about that at all – but also mentally. I hope to divine some meaning to the undertaking of collective exercise, but I’m terrified that eight months just isn’t enough.