I don’t really know where to start with this one.
I signed up to the Ealing Eagles Running Club back in April and almost immediately signed up for the Ealing Half Marathon (EHM). Although not an Eagles event, the organisers are heavily involved in the running club and the event attracts a large contingent from the club.
It’s an event I’ve known about for the past couple of years, however entries into the Royal Parks Half Marathon, which in 2012 and 2013 took place on adjacent weeks to Ealing, meant that I didn’t run. Despite the race starting half a mile from us and going directly past the flat on 2 occasions I had also never even watched the event. I had been missing out.
The day before the race Rhian and I helped to put out some of the signs. As newbies we were put on toilet duty.
I’m not going to go too much into my running or training from April as I’ve captured this in previous blog posts, but post-marathon, this was the event that I was really looking forward to. The goal was always sub-1.40, but having achieved this during the Maidenhead Half 3 weeks previously I had to reassess. So having run 1.37.04 I decided that I would target a similar time.
The day of the race proved to be an emotional affair. The runners of EHM were asked to show their support for the campaign to find missing schoolgirl Alice Gross by wearing yellow ribbons – the symbol of the #FindAlice appeal. The race route takes in an area which includes the home and the school of the 14-year-old, who went missing on 28 August. It’s really fitting that an event that is all about the local community did their bit to raise awareness of the appeal. In this most difficult of times for the family of Alice Gross, there is a real feeling of pride in how the communities around Ealing have come together.
The race village was amazing, this was a huge event, not just with the number of runners, but the large amount of amazing volunteers and spectators. I was determined to enjoy the race. After all, it’s not every day you get to run around the streets of your local area with people shouting your name the whole way round. We had 178 Eagles running the event, so there were plenty of people to talk to beforehand and many of us got there in time for the pre-race Eagles photo under the finish line.
About 10 minutes before the race I made my way to the start line and gradually edged my way towards the front between the 1.40 and 1.30 pacers. I was with fellow Eagles: Graham, Jen, and Yvonne. Over the past couple of months I’ve got to know a lot more people in the club and invariably you get to know those that run similar times to you. We talked about what pace we were all going to go off at, but with the looming hills (undulations) I think we were all slightly apprehensive about whether these paces could be maintained throughout. As the start time got closer I looked around at my other fellow competitors. They all looked seriously quick. Despite running a 1.37 a few weeks before, I still didn’t really feel that was a 1.37 runner.
9.00am on 28th September 2014, the gun went off. It’s always a bit of an anti-climax unless you are at the front, as it usually takes a minute or so to get to the start line. With it being a chipped race (almost all races are these days) there is no rush to get to the front. I think it was less than a minute before I made it to the start line, so off I went up Culmington Road. It was a great feeling, the sheer number of runners, the noise and the weird feeling of running down the middle of the road, having run along the equivalent pavements 100s of times over the past 2 years. A couple of minutes later, I was opposite our flat and approaching the first water station, where Rhian was volunteering. Unfortunately I got myself on the wrong side of the road and it wasn’t until I passed Rhian that I spotted her and the noise of the crowds and the large volume of runners meant that she didn’t hear me calling her. Not to worry, I would see her on my way back. The crowds even at this point were amazing and there were plenty of ‘Go Eagles’ shouts. These would come in handy later.
I quickly got into my target pace, but it was evident early on that this was going to be a tough race. The temperature was close to 20oC and there was hardly any wind. After about 2 miles, my legs felt a little bit heavy. Maybe I had gone off too fast and I still hadn’t reached any of the hills!
The first hill on the course is Park View Road, around the 3 mile point. It’s the first of the 3 hills that everyone warns you about. On their own they are not a problem, but the cumulative effect means that you have to respect them. The good thing about hills is that by the time you reach the top you know that at some point you will have the luxury of running down a hill.
By about mile 5, I really started to get into the race. The pace was good and I was really confident that I could achieve a similar time to Maidenhead. I negotiated the hill on Greenford Avenue and still felt strong. Running down Greenford Avenue was one of the best parts of the race. It’s one of the few points where there are runners on either side of the road, so I moved over to the left to support my fellow Eagles and high-5 as many of them as I could. ‘Love this club’
This was the high point, but the low point (and only low point) came after coming out of ‘Bunny Park’ and onto Drayton Bridge Road. Mentally I thought all of the hills were done and whilst this wasn’t hill, in fact it’s only a gradual incline, it really took it out of me. By the time I got to the top I seriously doubted whether I would be able to finish the race without walking. I decided that this wasn’t an option. I’d been looking forward to this event for so long and I knew that I’d only be happy if I ran all the way. I wasn’t that bothered by the time, but I wanted to finish strongly, so I set myself the goal of getting to mile 11. I knew that if I could get to this point that the crowds would get me to the end. And that’s exactly what happened. The next few miles were tough, but the crowds as they had been up until this point were amazing and I was starting to see more and more familiar faces. I knew I could do this.
With 1 mile and a half to go, I was coming up to the final water station. I knew I would see Rhian and that this would be the boost I needed to get to the end. She clocked me running towards her and had a water bottle ready with my name on it. Just as I was about to grab it, a fellow runner changed direction at the last minute and swiped it from her grasp. We laughed and I took water from the next volunteer. The volunteers are a huge part of the event, with 500 people helping across the weekend, again this really shows what a great community Ealing has.
With just under a mile to go, we entered into Lammas Park. The crowds were huge and I was greeted by the broad smile of Kelvin Walker. Kelvin is the race organiser for EHM, a real community hero and a true gentleman. He put out his hand for a high-5 and shouted ‘Go on Linney’. This was a great feeling and I ran round the park with a big smile on my face, absorbing every minute of the amazing atmosphere.
I crossed the finish line with my arms aloft. I hadn’t looked at the watch – at this point it didn’t matter. It was a tough race but because I’d been looking forward to the race since April, I was delighted to have loved every (well almost every) minute of it.
My time in the end was 1.37.52, just 48 seconds slower than Maidenhead. I felt great.
I spent the next hour or so around the finish line, congratulating fellow Eagles that had already finished and those that came through after me. Everyone was in such good spirits, even those whose races hadn’t completely gone to plan. We were part of something great and that was all that mattered.
I’ve lived in the Ealing area for 6 years now, but it’s only really in the last 6 months that I’ve felt part of the community. It’s somewhere that I will always call home.
Here’s to EHM 2015.