28 November 2008

Meet me on the corner

I have been flattered this week by some positive comments on my running blog, so I'm enthused to write more. Moreover, I have a good reason to practise now, of which more perhaps anon. So here goes …

Hyde Park on a cold November lunchtime is not best place in the world. I know, for example, from recent experience that it would be much more agreeable to be running on the beach at Boca Raton. Just to put the matter beyond doubt, it started to rain just before the runners in the Last Friday of the Month 5K lined up.

Matters were not improved by the fact that the race this month took a novel route, necessitated by a sort of over-blown funfair called Winter Wonderland which for the first time last year took over much of the stretch from the Serpentine to Hyde Park Corner. It’s back again now, bigger and worse than ever.

Deprived of the usual start, the organisers moved it back to the lakeside, a quarter of a mile or so to the west of its usual position, and marked out a two-lap course that stayed north of the Serpentine. Even the revised finish used last year, a modest but killing climb up from the Dell, was pre-empted by the worst commercial excesses of the Christmas season – and it’s not even Advent yet!

As well as being over two laps, this month’s race had a single start – normally the hares go at 12.30 and the rest start precisely two minutes later. Some start later still, joining in when they happen to arrive: I have twice started a few seconds after the field, and today Guy found himself in that position. Because of the obstacles erected between the most popular entrance to the Park and the start line, several runners were still trying to find a way through Winter Wonderland when the race started.

The loop that formed the two laps followed an uninspiring route alongside North Carriage Drive and West Carriage Drive – one of the joys of running in the Park is usually that you get so far from the London traffic, and the established route keeps close to the side of the Serpentine. A spur leading from waterside to the Police Station linked the start and finish to the loop. Runners had to contend with the usual collection of pedestrians, illegal cyclists and Royal Parks vehicles (one of which joined in the sprint to the line, presenting a novel challenge to some of the fastest runners).

The race was won by Paul Whitelam (Hallamshire) in an amazing 15:29, nearly a whole minute ahead of the second-placed man, Tom de Canto (Niketown) and looking as if he was out for a gentle jog round the Park. He's still over a minute outside the overall record for the event, though. Sarah Swinhoe was first woman in 17:58.

As for me, when the race got underway I was trying to find a way through the massed rides, stalls and sideshows of Winter Wonderland, and I did not find it in time to tag on the end. In these straitened times the fair will probably make a thumping loss – at least, I hope it does. Bah, humbug.

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