By Pete on 2019-02-11
A brand new event on the calendar for 2019, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Half Marathon somehow packs 21 km into the space of about 2.5 square km, keeping within the grounds of the park for the full route. As my first race of the year and with the memories it brought back for me I decided it would be worth a little write-up.
I was a regular visitor during those magical few weeks 7 years ago as London hosted the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, so I entered the event curious to explore the park in its newer guise. That it was taking place on a cold, damp and windy February morning made for a fitting contrast to those sunny August days when I’d come along to watch athletics, cycling and even some handball.
We started outside the renamed London Stadium, and next to the ArcelorMittal Orbit, constructed during the games to give spectators a birds-eye view of the park, and that has recently had a giant slide from top to bottom added to form its headline attraction. The event village was small and well-organised, making it easy to find our wave.
Once underway, the first part of the route gives you a good chance to get into some rhythm before the necessary twists and turns later on, as long as you’re watching out for the odd set of bollards that come with the nature of the venue and it still being used to host top class sport on a regular basis. I’d started relatively close to the front so these were easy to negotiate, and they were well signed and marshalled in advance anyway.
After notching up the first couple of k’s around the stadium the route took us up the western side of the park, past the Copper Box arena with its huge metallic letters outside spelling out “RUN”, just as fitting today as it had been in 2012. Then a lap round the huge Broadcast Centre used to house the world’s media during the games, and still serving similar purposes today as home to BT Sport among others.
From there the route starts to twist back and forth around northern half of the park. Five miles in, a left turn to take you alongside the River Lea for a short section, and a first glimpse of the Olympic rings that had overlooked a popular grassy area during the games. Where 7 years ago a large queue of people would have been gathered to get their signature Olympic photo taken, today those rings seem a fairly modest reminder of that amazing summer.
An impressive amount of the route was crammed in around the area of velodrome, scene of so many of Team GB’s successes. On the route map beforehand and on my Strava route afterwards it looks like a completely bonkers series of twists, turns and switchbacks, but to run it was never especially tight, and the organisers had made clever and efficient use of the various walkways, meaning a few slight undulations as we traversed their different levels. Given the complexity of the route map it must have been quite an undertaking to sign, barrier and marshall at points such as this, but the organisers had got it all spot on and never once was there any doubt over where we were supposed to be running.
From the velodrome it was on to the Wetlands Walk that had been around during the games, offering a chance for spectators to break away from the crowds and the sport momentarily. Then through an area that would have housed the Basketball Arena, one of the temporary venues used during the games and where I had watched my one and only game of handball. In many ways that had summed up my experience of watching the Olympics. I’d gone along not knowing what to expect and it turned out to be an exciting match that’s stuck in the memory, in which a well-supported French team came from behind to win their quarter-final with Spain in the dying seconds.
The race route continued on its indirect way back towards and then around the main stadium, with another trip up past the Copper Box to pad out a couple of extra k’s. By now I must admit I was taking in less of the surroundings and focusing more on my tiring body. I had my usual mental struggle to fight through it and keep the pace going over the last 5km or so, but we were eventually back at the stadium for one last half-lap round the outer concourse to reach the finish.
Ever so slightly inspired by memories of watching inside the stadium 7 years ago as GB’s 4x400 relay team narrowly failed to claim a bronze medal, but when the noise from the crowd I was part of had felt like it would raise the roof off, I managed to get my legs going for the final 200m and pull off a sprint finish of sorts. I’d made it round in 1:29:43, about 90 seconds slower than my PB but a decent effort and a satisfying start to the running year.
The race itself was excellent, well organised, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an early season half marathon, assuming it keeps the February slot in future editions. And if you were lucky enough to attend the 2012 Olympics, then definitely do this event if you get chance. On top of the enjoyment of the run itself you’ll be able to take yourself down a real-life memory lane, back in time to that once-in-a-lifetime summer.