Race Report: The Big Half

Judy Russell, a doctor at Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, took on the Big Half 2018 – with a 100-strong team, she shares all the action from race day...

The runners run down Tower Bridge. The Vitality Big Half, Sunday 4th March 2018. Photo: Ben Queenborough for The Vitality Big Half

Staff in the NHS are great at looking after patients, but we aren’t always so good at looking after ourselves. Day–to-day stress, growing demands and often shift
work mean we sometimes don’t lead the healthiest of lifestyles.

With this in mind, our Trust set up a great programme of activities and information to promote staff wellbeing. These included fitness sessions and classes run by staff, for staff, including yoga, circuit training and a beginners’ running group, organised and supported by Jo Gennari (general manager of acute and emergency medicine, as well as a keen runner).

I spotted an item in our weekly staff update asking if anybody was interested in joining a Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust community team for a new half marathon planned by the Virgin Money London Marathon organisers. As well as many of Jo’s beginners’ group, a lot of runners, like myself, signed up.

Team effort

A view of the final metres as the runners approach the finish line. The Vitality Big Half, Sunday 4th March 2018. Photo: Jed Leicester for The Vitality Big Half

Eventually, our team swelled to more than 100 – all ages, genders, backgrounds and abilities – making us the biggest community team taking part. A wide range of NHS professions were represented; midwives, doctors, nurses, support workers, physiotherapists, dietitians, radiographers, volunteers and pharmacists, among others.

Once we all registered, Jo kindly organised a number of promotional and motivational activities. Marshalling more than 100 NHS professionals of varied running experience and expectations was a challenge Jo rose to with enthusiasm and good humour.

The logistics of getting us all kitted out in team shirts in the week preceding the race was another difficult task, on top of battling the ‘Beast from the East’. The sudden deterioration in the weather was a huge challenge across the NHS. Some of our children’s nurses even slept overnight in unused ward areas, to make sure they could work their next shifts. Many of us resorted to treadmills for our last training runs.

Sadly, the Little Half race was cancelled, but the snow thawed overnight and Sunday morning’s conditions were bright and clear. Perfect for running.

Race-day spirit

I layered up and made my way across London to Tower Bridge. On the way, I met several lovely supporters and a couple from Scotland, who had bravely travelled to London for the event. On the tube, I also met Dr Elizabeth Aitken, the medical director for our Trust, who was nervously anticipating her first half.

Together we found our way to the already buzzing assembly area. Lovely marshals guided us to the bag drop where we peeled off all those extra layers before heading to our starting pens. The race had a staggered start and, rather brilliantly (only runners will appreciate this), each pen had a block of portable loos!

The elite start, including eventual top three finishers and legendary Mo Farah, Daniel Wanjiru and Callum Hawkins, set off at 9am. It was great to have two colleagues to chat to – Bunmi, who was aiming to get round her first half as a new runner, and Georgina, a very fit dietitian aiming for a PB. As we were waiting to start, we were able to cheer on the wheelchair racers whizzing past at their halfway point.

Great Britain’s Charlotte Purdue wins the Elite Women’s Race, with Lily Partridge coming second and Charlotte Arter coming third as they pose for a photo at the finish line at the Cutty Sark. The Vitality Big Half, Sunday 4th March 2018. Photo: Jed Leicester for The Vitality Big Half

By 9.20am we were off. The route covered sections of the Virgin Money London Marathon course. Shortly after starting, we were into the Limehouse Link

Tunnel – almost a mile long and livened up by a sound system belting out Queen tracks. Continuing east, we looped around Canary Wharf, then back around to the west again, hugging fairly close to the Thames through Shadwell and Wapping. We had been warned about the cobbles, but the stretches weren’t too long.

Iconic landmarks

Soon we were back facing the Tower and about to cross Tower Bridge – a massive race highlight.

Many charities had set up cheering points on the bridge and created an amazing roar of support that inspired us to lift our heads, smile and wave as we passed them. The remainder of the race took us through London’s now trendy Bermondsey, then Rotherhithe, Surrey Quays and Deptford. Then it was the last mile and into Greenwich.

The marshals were brilliant throughout and easily spotted. Plenty of well-placed water stations helped the journey, which was undulating but had no hills. There was lots of music along the course, including steel bands and show tune choirs who belted out ‘Oklahoma!’ (I did join in!).

Some hardy colleagues and friends came out to support us on the final stretches, and it was great to finish alongside the iconic Cutty Sark. Foil-wrapped runners were then efficiently funnelled into Greenwich Park with their medals and goody bags, where the race festival was well under way, with lots of food and wellbeing stalls.

It was a great event, well organised and supported, and it will make a brilliant addition to the running calendar. Taking part as a team has really brought people together from right across our NHS Trust. From the newest runners to the fastest and most experienced, and from all backgrounds. The encouragement and support the team has given eachother has been incredible.

We’re also very happy to have raised more than £2,000, so far, for our charitable funds (justgiving.com/fundraising/team-lgt) and we’re already exploring future events to take part in.

We’re also looking to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the NHS in July with something special – follow us on Twitter at @TeamLGT to hear about it!

For more information on next year’s Vitality Big Half, please visit thebighalf.co.uk.

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