Last Sunday was the day of the Not the Rio Marathon which was set in the grounds of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. I was really looking forward to this race. I love quirky/one off races.
As we were in a hotel overnight, I was concerned about breakfast/fuelling for the day. I usually have a porridge pot and a banana but on offer was a full breakfast buffet. Despite all the yummy delights on offer, I stuck with Granola and yoghurt and a small portion of scrambled eggs and mushrooms - I stayed away from the fried food (I made up for it the following day!)
I thought we had headed over to Stratford in plenty of time but it was a long walk from the station to the Velodrome where the race was due to start. I walked with my family until about 30 minutes before the race start when panic set in and I ran on ahead to go for a pee, change and register!
Despite the sprint to the start of the race, the start was delayed slightly as there was a queue at the race registration table. The race started on the outside Velodrome 1 mile circuit. It was another lap race and I'm still unsure to this day how many laps I ran - possibly 9 or 11?!!
There was a good crowd at the race. I had been worried as there was a 5 hour cut off for the race and given my most recent performances, I wasn't sure if I would make it within the 5 hours.
My family came along to give me support and to have a nose around the Olympic Park. My dad still isn't running and I'm not sure why but I got a little emotional at the start - it's still really weird running without him. We both entered the race together with the view to making a weekend of it, which we still did, but it is a little heartbreaking that I get to run and he doesn't. Fingers crossed he will be up and running soon, hopefully in the Autumn/Winter season.
I had a quick look at the at the velodrome track and it looked rather hilly. My dad's words to me were "At least you won't have to run up this hill!" Sadly we did......every single lap!
We headed off to the start and had to do one lap of the 1 mile circuit before starting our "proper" laps. There were some fast runners in the race so I expected to get lapped quite quickly and I was right. I believe I got lapped on my second lap!
I know other runners have complained about the route but I actually quite liked it. It was about 2 miles in total, it went around the 1 mile circuit and then out for a short while around the Olympic Park. Sadly, we never got to explore the full park but I was quite grateful to be close to the start/finish of the race and it meant there were always runners going by as my family were watching and we were no more than 2 miles from the drinks station!
The first couple of laps were a little confusing just because of the mileage markers. There were 26 markers out on a 2 mile circuit all at completely different intervals so it took a while for my brain to work out where I was and what lap I was doing. Thankfully, I wore my Garmin (I was told by Sunny at my previous race that I would never get any better if I didn't time myself so I took her advice on board and wore my watch). The mile markers were slightly out but at about marker 22 miles, I had run about 22.39 miles, so including the additional run to the start, I probably did around 27 miles - isn't that an ultra?! :)
The velodrome circuit was surprisingly rather hilly, with one particular cracking hill which went past the front of the Velodrome and past a cheery couple who cheered me on every single lap. By the second lap in, there were already a couple of people walking up this hill. I set myself the challenge to run up this hill on each lap. I did this on every lap, apart from my final lap when the course and the heat had beaten me. I thanked the couple who had stayed until the end to cheer on the runners.
My newly short hair was a complete pain. I'm still getting used to it - I can't tie it up as it is now too short but my hair is super thick and it felt like I was wearing a cat or one of those huge, furry hats on my head which just radiated heat! Had someone had a shaver with them (as one often does at a race?!) then I would have gladly just shaved it all off. It was windy and flapping in my face and just generally annoying. Finally, it just stuck in place due to water and sweat. Nice.
I liked all of the course save for one tiny stretch. There was one bit that went by some tennis courts. It was a long, straight section and when the sun came out it was a complete heat trap with absolutely no escape from the sun. As I turned the corner to enter this stretch of the race, the metal barriers around the courts would rattle in the wind. On my first lap, it sounded like crowds clapping. On my final lap, the sound was rather eerie. It just seemed to go on forever.
My favourite bit of the course was running right next to the Velodrome, this was the most sheltered part of the course and as you came around the corner, you were greeted by a most welcome breeze (and often by my dad with his camera)!
I felt good and even with my weird choice of breakfast I had no tummy issues or stitches. Maybe scrambled eggs is the way forward! Just before half way though I needed a pee! I asked the marshals who were stood outside the velodrome if the doors were open so I could bob in for a wee. I was told they were not and I would need to go off the course and to the front of the building to use the facilities. I was doing well and didn't want to break off and lose time so I continued on my way, discreetly glancing at somewhere suitable (a bush perhaps) to bob behind. Most of the course is covered by CCTV cameras and I didn't want my big white cheeks being shown on You've Been Framed. I eventually found a suitable place to go but as I headed in that direction, so did the race photographer! What timing eh? I continued on until the next lap where I was able to nip in and pee discreetly without the world watching!
Most of the marshals were brilliant and really supportive, especially those outside of the velodrome area - they really spurred me on. I didn't get any of their names so I just gave them nicknames. Firstly, there were the two ladies after the bridge out of the Velodrome, then around the corner to the chap who would always clap and cheer, then down the horrible stretch by the tennis courts but to the crazy lady just before the underpass - she was great, so happy and high fiving the runners and dancing about. Brilliant. At the other side of the underpass there was sponge lady! I don't think I could have finished the race without the help of this lady. A bucket of cold water and a wet sponge to ring over your head each lap. Perfect. Turn around guy (obviously the one at the course turn around/u-turn) was cheery and supportive too and then there was the bridge chap (he manned the section just under the bridge by the finally finish into the Velodrome). He cheered me up the monster hill on each lap. Fabulous. I couldn't fault the marshals. They were great and I made sure I thanked each and every one for their help on my final lap.
I was actually on to do a good time and was aiming to get between 4:20 and 4:30. I set off slowly and kept my pace steady but I was eventually beaten down by the heat, especially from about mile 22. It was hot, hot, hot!
My favourite section of the course - shaded with a lovely cool breeze!
Just before my last lap, my dad greeted me with a welcome bottle of cold water. Sadly he and my stepmum had to head off to catch their train (my plan to finish before they had to go unfortunately failed). The bottle of water lasted about half of my final lap.
I was looking forward to the finish as we were allowed to finish in the actual Velodrome itself but the finish was a little bit of a let down. The bridge chap cheered me on as I entered the Velodrome but it was all quiet in the Velodrome itself. There was supposed to be a finish board with our names and times on but I didn't see one - possibly due to being over hot and out of it but I'm still not sure if it was there. There was no-one handing out medals so I had to collect my own medal and t-shirt and there were no goody bags, just a bottle of water (which was very much appreciated).
I believe my finish time was around 4:48 so I made it back within the 5 hour limit. Yay!
Given the lack lustre finish, we decided to head off back to our hotel. We were due to stay in the stadium and watch the end of the men's Olympic marathon.
All in all it was a good race and I did enjoy it, despite the heat. Yes it was hot and quite a challenging route - hills and lap races are not for everyone - if it was flat though, it could have become quite tedious.
It was the first running of this race so there were bound to be some hiccups. If they do another race at this location, there are a few minor teething problems which will need sorting. A few runners have harshly criticised the race but I actually quite enjoyed it. My main issue was the loos - it would be great to have access to the Velodrome toilets from the side doors rather than having to leave the course or pee in a bush! A race director cannot control the weather but it would have been good to have had more squash - it was usually only water on offer but on a couple of laps I managed to grab some orange squash and this sugar kick, was a life saver. There were probably limited resources for us stragglers at the back of the race. Finally, it would have been good to have either had some sort of food - a banana/cereal bar or the goody bag which was advertised (hopefully with food in) as by the time I had finished, I needed something to quickly restore my energy levels! Thankfully, I had a bag of jelly worms in my own race bag - my current go to sweet at the end of each race!
Others moaned about the medal. It was a rubbish medal but I understand there had been issues with the medals advertised and these may be sent out to us. This wasn't as much as an issue to me as we also got a tech t-shirt and usually it is one or the other so to get both is a bonus!
If they put on another race at the Olympic Park I would definitely return to give it another shot. The Velodrome itself was a great place - it had the central race circuit, an area for BMXs and a mountain bike trail, plus the 1 mile track we were using. There was a fabulous play park right next to the Velodrome so my kids were kept entertained while I was plodding along. They have done an amazing job on this area. The houses/flats are surrounded by grassy and tree lined areas - all very picturesque and perfect for a picnic or to eat al fresco in one of the cafes. At Stratford Station is a massive shopping centre, Westfield. On our way back to the hotel we had to once again go through this to the train station and the smells of the food coming from the many restaurants was mouth watering. Had I not been a big, stinky mess I would have stopped for food!
Well, that's marathon number 25 in the bag. My next race is back in Yorkshire, in Saltaire next month. Bring it on.....
My annoying hair! I was not impressed! Need to re-think this before my next race!