Fast, flat and freezing! - Women's Running

Fast, flat and freezing!

Author: Chris Macdonald

Read Time:   |  February 1, 2015

I’ve always preferred city races to trail events and if you can set me up with a fast flat course in the UK’s capital then I’m generally a pretty happy woman. Yet despite the title of the race, I’d underestimated just how much the cold would affect me when I signed up for today’s Cancer Research London Winter Run. This new race, intended to raise vital funds for the charity, was appealing to many because of the route through the heart of London and some 15,000 people signed up.

But unfortunately, it really was a winter run. When I woke up at 6.30am, the temperature was zero and when I arrived at Embankment to head for the start line, I realised that the base layer, t-shirt and jacket I was wearing were not going to keep me warm.

Quick and efficient

The baggage drop was quick and efficient and the walk to the start line, which was about ten minutes away on the Embankment, was enough to get me warmed up and ready to run. But the trouble with a big race like this is that they had to set people off in waves. While it makes sense to separate people of mixed abilities, for anyone further back it meant a lot of hanging around in the cold. Fitness First had supplied ‘motivators’ to lead a warm up and make sure everyone got moving before they started running. But the race was so crowded you didn’t have any room to do any of the warm up moves. Crammed in like sardines, we tried to lunge without tripping other runners up and squat without pushing our rear ends into someone’s torso. This race was going to be busy and all we wanted to do was get moving.

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Finally, around 10.30am, we headed off. The race started along the Embankment and we headed East along the Thames, past Blackfriars and in a loop past St Paul’s Cathedral, then back out East past Cannon Street, Monument and towards Tower Hill, before heading back along the Thames and finishing almost in the same point near Westminster.
Apart from the genuinely cold weather, other added winter elements of the race included Snow Zones, where machines belted out real snow at three points on the course, including the finish line. Polar bears were on hand at the finish line too handing out free hugs. This race was clearly about having fun.

The marshals were excellent and all of the staff associated with the race, including the baggage drop teams, were extremely friendly. There was great crowd support at the end and on various points of the course the Fitness First staff were on hand to motivate runners. One even stepped onto the course to encourage a woman to run again after she started walking.

Going downhill

I’m in the thick of my marathon training and today’s fast, flat course, which even had a few downhill sections, was meant to be an easy run. After all, I’ve been building mileage every weekend and now that I’m up to 11 miles I thought it would be fun to ease back and do a shorter race for one weekend only. I expected it to be easy. But I severely underestimated how much the cold would affect my joints and also my breathing. My chest felt tight during the whole race, presumably because I’d got so cold at the start and began the first 20 minutes of the race trying to warm up.

I thought of the ultra runner Pam Reed, whom I interviewed years ago. I remembered her telling me how much the hot weather helped her run. I tried to visualize being in a really hot country and running somewhere warm, but this visualization technique did nothing to dim the reality of the cold.

Plus points of this race – great organisation, efficient baggage drop. I can’t fault the course. It should have been so easy. But a tea station serving hot drinks at the end instead of the polar bear hugs would have made a huge difference.

For more information on next year’s Cancer Research London Winter Run, visit

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Chris Macdonald

Editor-at-Large, Women's Running

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