Race Date: Sunday 2nd April 2023
Race Report by: Laura Rangeley
Where to start with this race report? Strap in, it’s a bit of a long one, and doesn’t really have all that much to do about the race to begin with – but it’s a story I hope you don’t mind me taking the time to share.
The London Landmarks Half Marathon is the race that made me want to run. 4 years ago, I saw a lovely friend of mine take her first steps into running, build up the mileage, and travel to London to do this race – and she loved it. I’d done the odd Parkrun before then, and struggled my way around the Sheffield 10k for charity, but always found running so arduous and hard – my friend’s experience was so inspiring and relatable to me that I began to think “maybe one day, I could be brave enough to do that”. A couple of weeks later, I saw a post on Facebook about a 5-10k course organised by local running club Steel City Striders… and the rest as they say is history.
Fast forward to the return of races post-Covid. I had plenty of miles under my belt by this point and running had been a real lifeline to me throughout the pandemic. I absolutely couldn’t wait to get back to racing and signed up to, probably, far too many! Late 2022 and early 2023 saw me on an upward trajectory, smashing PBs at every distance, although a sub 2 hour half marathon was still eluding me. And then, in the middle of last year, my mental health had a pretty major wobble. I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember, but have generally always managed to keep it under control with the support of family and my own coping strategies, but suddenly and for no real reason I can pinpoint they just… stopped working. I ended up in the walk-in centre in crisis mode and was put on medication. This was exactly what I needed at the time to get my head back on track, but as the weeks and months went by and I started to feel better I realised that running just wasn’t the same. I felt so sluggish, all the time. Long distances weren’t an option – anything approaching 8 miles had me rendered completely exhausted. I was still trying so hard to race, but the joy had gone. And that affected my head in a different way.
Then I got a ballot place for the London Landmarks (on the first try!), and suddenly I had a new focus. A goal, a target, something to aim for. This race already meant something to me and simply running it wasn’t what I had in mind – I wanted to smash it. A conversation with my GP followed and it was agreed that I could try coming off the medication. I coincided this with the new year, and the start of a 12 week training plan. Clubmate Malcolm very kindly helped me put a plan together with sub 2 in mind – but with the main aim being always to feel stronger, and in a position to enjoy 13.1 miles, something I had never really managed before!
So the training plan itself was a real journey in more ways than one. And, honestly, I know it sounds a bit eye-rollingly profound but I will never stop being grateful for those 12 weeks. I filled in each month in advance (using very cute free downloadable planners from Runr, filled in with sparkly gel pens for extra motivation), and I managed to tick off every single session. I developed my self-awareness enormously and was able to keep the anxious thoughts at bay. I refused to let excuses stand in the way, I went on adventures with lots of wonderful people in all weathers, and I learnt that I am stronger than I give myself credit for. Most importantly I had SO MUCH fun doing it!
Anyway, I should probably get on to the race. We decided to make a long weekend of it, with my husband and fellow Strider Jim being on cheer squad/bag duty while I ran, and lots of other fun London plans made around the race. Race day dawned with pretty decent running conditions – dry, with a gentle but chilly breeze, and by some miracle I’d had a decent night’s sleep. Despite telling myself repeatedly that all I wanted to do was enjoy it, I’d let the pressure get to me and was a bit of an emotional mess (this is an understatement). After so many months of not being able to achieve any kind of “pace” last year, I genuinely didn’t know if I was capable of my sub 2 dream – I did know I’d put the work in, and that whatever time I crossed the finish line in I could be truly proud of that, and at the very least it would be a good indicator of my current form – but I also knew that if I was over 2 hours it would probably ruin our holiday (sorry Jim). We were staying close enough to the start point (Trafalgar Square) that the walk there could be considered a warm up and meant we didn’t have to contend with public transport. I managed to get some pics of the sights I’d later be running past on the way so I wasn’t tempted to slow down to take them during the race (always listen to Colin), then I saw the finish line looming in the distance and promptly burst into tears. I soon cheered up when I spotted a bank of portaloos with no queue for a completely stress free emergency wee.
Over 17,000 runners were pounding the pavements alongside me, but the start area by Nelson’s Column was surprisingly calm and organised (I was in an early wave, and have heard from those running later that it did get lots more congested, so perhaps I was just lucky). I was funnelled into my wave pen for a warm up 30 minutes before we set off, aka just enough time to get freezing cold again. Luckily Jim was able to stand right by the fences so I could keep my jacket on til the last minute!
I had my goal pace in mind, and my plan was to set off with the 2 hour pacers and hopefully hang onto them the whole way round. This went immediately out of the window when we crossed the start line with absolutely no fanfare, and I got to the mile 1 marker a whole minute ahead of schedule. Whoops. But, I was feeling good, it didn’t feel like a silly pace, my “Running Bangers” Spotify playlist was being thoroughly enjoyed and London is very flat so I decided to roll with it. (As an aside, I loved having a hearty chuckle later on at the numerous comments on the Facebook page moaning about how hilly it was, with a whole about-the-same-as-Castle-Parkrun 100m of elevation gain!)
I’d love to tell you all about the route but frankly I have absolutely no idea where I went. It was full of twists and turns, sharp corners, little out and backs (which meant I could keep an eye on where those pacers were) and of course lots of Landmarks! CityPainter has me down as visiting a whopping NINETY SIX of them, many more than the “official” ones as stated by the race. These included the Royal Courts of Justice, the Guildhall, the Shard, the oldest church in London, the Walkie Talkie tower (still no idea what I was looking at for this one) and according to CityPainter pretty much a whole pride of various lion-based statues. My favourite part of the race was around St Paul’s Cathedral and past St Mary-Le-Bow church where the Bow Bells were ringing which was amazing. This is also where I spotted Jim who did 10 miles of his own looping round the crowds to cheer. He saw me a further two times but I was completely oblivious of these other occasions – clearly in the zone!
For the majority of the race I was feeling strong and in control – I hit 10k in under 54 minutes which is quicker than I’ve raced that distance for ages, and was absolutely elated to reach 10 miles in 86 minutes – I’ve never managed sub 90 over this distance before. The 10th mile had the only notable-ish “climb” of the race, up a slopey dual carriageway where I took a moment to feel smug as my Sheffield calves meant I overtook a load of people walking up the gentle incline. I have since found out this road I took to be some kind of boring flyover was actually Tower Hill and we turned round at the Tower of London, which I didn’t notice. What an absolutely useless tourist! The little downhill as we turned back to head towards Big Ben, with the Shard across the river to our left (I got that one) included a brief halt to proceedings due to a Palm Sunday parade needing to get across the road – a later wave had been slightly delayed setting off due to a similarly themed Easter donkey.
After the 10 mile mark things didn’t go quite so swimmingly. I suddenly went light headed and dizzy, and a brief moment of sheer panic and feeling like I’d come so far only to let myself down was overcome with a stern word with myself and a minute or so of walking with an energy gel and a well-timed water station – coupled with the realisation that I had over half an hour to get round the last 3 miles. I could do this!! The last 3 miles, I noticed afterwards, is actually the only portion of the run where I stuck to my goal pace.
The race organisers had advertised loads of other stuff – a number of bands and choirs, which were a great addition to the atmosphere, plus historically costumed people and other things to look out for, which were on the whole less so. Of particular disappointment was the “Roman Reception” area which featured absolutely zero gladiators at the time I was running past, and the “Rave Tunnel” which turned out to be an underpass with a few people with pompoms in it. Probably not helped by it being at mile 11 when I was still struggling to get myself back going again. But somehow the miles were still passing quickly and in what felt like no time at all I saw the mile 12 marker! The last mile was an out and back across Westminster Bridge – I was so excited to be running between Big Ben and the London Eye and finally relaxed a little bit, which I heartily regretted as I immediately got cramp in both calves and my legs seized up. But there was NO WAY I was letting that get the better of me at such a late stage in the race knowing the 2 hour pacers could still catch me, so I adapted my running style to a bizarre stumble-hop type thing, not to be recommended under usual circumstances and resulting in a lot of photos of me grimacing (I sent one to my sister who thoughtfully replied that I looked like a Wallace and Gromit character). The 13 mile marker brought one final corner onto Downing Street (Rishi wasn’t there, but I sent a boo in the direction of number 10 anyway) and then the finish line was in sight, obviously I cried again but they were happy tears this time (although I was slightly irritated that I couldn’t muster anything even resembling a sprint finish) and it was a hobble to the line before having my medal draped around my neck by a woman dressed in Tudor garb, very on brand for the history lover in me. My chip time was 1:55:39 – a half marathon PB by over 6 minutes, and a massive 29 minutes quicker than my last raced half marathon back in October.
At £63.50, this was a fairly pricey race, but I’d say well worth it overall. Closed roads in Central London is a minefield I don’t envy the race organisers getting embroiled in, their communication throughout was on point, I found the facilities plentiful, and the goodie bag was amazing! As well as a good quality top, there was a sweatband with a teeny zippy pocket which would hold enough coins for an ice cream, a fancy looking bar of vegan chocolate, an energy bar and a can of water, all in a London Landmarks boot bag. And can we take a moment to appreciate THE MEDAL! It’s huge, it’s very pretty, and it even opens! It’s also a tiny Tower of London so at least now I know what it looks like for next time. In celebration of my PB I have treated myself to the optional extra tab which engraves your name and time and can be slotted in a little space inside the medal. Support all the way around the course was fantastic, most of the runners taking part were fundraising for charities close to their heart (the race and runners as a whole have so far cumulatively raised £8.8million for charitable causes including official charity Tommy’s, which is incredible) and there was a real community spirit.
I don’t want to go full Gwyneth-Paltrow-At-The-Oscars-1999 and this is already exceedingly long (I think I’ve spent longer writing it than the race took me, HA!) but I do just want to end with a brief thank you to everyone in the club who’s offered their time run leading, joined me on a run, sent words of support, or who listened to me when I needed to talk (as a small aside, I’m ALWAYS willing to lend an ear to anyone in need of a friend, and don’t forget we have a club Mental Health Champion, Tessa). I’m very lucky to be part of such a wonderful bunch.
17,249 runners took part in the London Landmarks Half Marathon. The race was won by last year’s winner David Smale in a time of 1:08:03 (although he crossed the line together with Ben Leaman who is credited with 2nd place just 3 seconds behind) with Alice Neil first female in 1:21:33. There are no clubs listed in the results but here are the Striders I’ve found so far!
Full results can be found here: https://results.sporthive.com/events/7037394564091167232/races/485022 (positions are done on either gun time or category position with no overall chip position so I’ve not included those in the above as they’re a bit confusing!)