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31 March 2012 – A once in a lifetime day – The National Lottery Olympic Park Run

Last year I entered the draw for the National Lottery Olympic Park Run. They would pick 5,000 runners from all 40,000 entrants to be the first people to run in the Olympic Stadium. I won a place. I couldn’t believe it.

This is the story of an incredible day making history…

0730 Time to get up. Yesterday was a long drive from Hamilton to our friends Linda & Denis’ house in Brackley. 6 hours driving is not the best preparation for a run but I was feeling ok. My back was a bit tight but nothing unusual considering the trouble I’ve had with it recently.

Great pre-run breakfast of bagels, scrambled egg and smoked salmon (courtesy of chef Linda). One last check of the bag, put on the red race t-shirt and make sure Avril and David have their spectator bands.

0910 Off to London

Parked at Greenford Tube Station a took the central line direct to Stratford.

1230 The entry to the Olympic Park was through the fantastic Westfield shopping centre, the massive new mall right next door.

Olympic Park Run Banner

The advice was to arrive early, allowing a couple of hours to clear the airport style security, and as we approached the Olympic Park it looked like would need all of that time. The queues moved quickly though, and despite Avril being directed to a different scanner we were soon reunited and heading into the Olympic Park.

The Olympic Park was dressed head to toe in Olympic Park Run banners and National Lottery logos. It looked amazing.

The first buildings in view as you enter the Olympic Park are the Olympic Stadium straight ahead and the Aquatic Centre to the left. As stadiums go the Olympic Stadium is pretty cool. It isn’t a tall or imposing building from the Westfield side but it is distinctive and I like it.

Olympic Stadium

You enter the stadium at the concourse level above the lower tier of seating which explains why the stadium doesn’t look very tall. It’s unlike any stadium I’ve every been in. There are no turnstyles and the toilets are built into the outside of the stadium. It is surrounded by small buildings which look like they will be concession stands for the Olympics which makes lots of sense in terms of space.

The seats have plenty of space but aren’t very steeply sloped so you feel a little far away from the track and I’m not sure how it would work as a football stadium after the games. The pitch might seem a bit remote, but that’s for another day.

Olympic Stadium

Before we go any further I should address the most important matter of the day… it was FREEZING.

The wind was whipping round the stadium and the spectators were so cold, a real shock to the system after the great weather of the previous week.

We watched Killer Queen who performed on a small stage at the opposite end of the stadium. Still, it’s the closest I’ll ever get to a Queen stadium gig, clapping along to Radio Gag and We Are the Champions. Then it was time for me to leave Avril and David and head out to the start…

white wave start

13.30 As I began warming up the sun came out a little and I made the decision to ditch the thermal top and be a big boy and run in just my t-shirt (so glad I did). Bryan Burnett was hosting the start zone, and doing his usual great job of it. It makes such a difference to have someone hosting the start that really understands how a race feels from a runner’s point of view. The big tunes (Moves like Jagger, Barbra Streisand, Firework (someone got Now That's What I Call Running!for Christmas) pumped out to get us pumped up and our warm up was assisted by Mr Motivator off of the 80′s.

Then it was race time.

1400 The elite wave is set off by Princess Beatrice and the chief exec of the National Lottery.

1412 The white (royal – Princess Beatrice was running in it) wave is set off by Olympians Roger Black and Steve Backley.

The course wound through the Olympic Park passing the brilliant velodrome, basketball arena, handball courts, copper box, and aquatic centre. Much of the park is still a building site but you can see that in a very short space of time it will be transformed into a place with lots of green open space.

I loved the velodrome. It’s by far the best of the buildings. I looks much more permanent than some of the others and is beautifully designed.

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The BBC’s Nick Hope gives a great runner’s eye view of the run and I’ve added some runner’s youtube videos at the end which give a great sense of running around the tunnel under the stadium and emerging onto the track.

Running in the Olympic Park

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There were some pretty steep inclines along the way with a long drag at about 3.5 miles. It was worth the climb though as the top of the hill gave a brilliant view of the stadium, our destination.

The highlight of this run was always going to be the finish. This was the first time that members of the public would be given the chance to be first across the Olympic finish line.

As we approached the Olympic Stadium I started to get really emotional. I think the realisation that I was about to do something that only a very few people would ever get the chance to do was suddenly very real.

We entered the tunnel and ran 300m around the tunnel under the stands. (My Garmin went in the huff at this point so it looks like I flew over the stadium) After a few meters of the tunnel I could hear music… It was the Theme From 'Chariots of Fire'. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry but I certainly felt inspired. The tunnel seemed to go on for ever but all of a sudden there was a bright light at the end of it…

…and I emerged onto the track of the Olympic Stadium.

It was amazing.

This was a test event. There were only 12,000 spectators but even with that amount of people the atmosphere was brilliant. I decided that the time didn’t matter. It was great that we could take a couple of spectators to witness this unique event. Running is often quite a solitary sport but for most people it’s impossible without someone to support your efforts. I’m in the middle of training for my first marathon. I was injured for most of January and without Avril’s support I’d have given up then. It was really special to have her there to watch.

Before the race both David and I had predicted I’d run it in 42 minutes and I was on target for that but I was never going to get this chance again so I moved to the outside of the track, hoping to see Avril and David on the way round. Of course I didn’t have my glasses on so I was really hoping they would see me because I couldn’t see very far! David saw me but just as I approached the woman sitting in front of Avril stood up and started waving to someone behind her so Avril didn’t see me until I was round the bend. (I’m impressed she didn’t belt the woman in front! I would have after sitting in the cold for two hours for that one moment!)

home straight

Without really realising it I found myself running down the home straight. It was almost over… and a sub 42 minute time was still on. I turned up the pace, well you have to go for it across the line, and headed for home.

finish line

I finished the 5 miles in 41:51. (that’s me under the right hand corner of the pink wave timer – the time on the White Wave was for the start of the wave and I was at the back!)

olympic park run certificate

What an amazing day. I still can’t quite believe that I spent Saturday afternoon running round the Olympic Stadium. And just in case you are wondering… I beat Princess Beatrice, just.

My Flickr photo set

Soundtrack of the day:

Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky) – woke up with this in my head

Firework, Moves Like Jagger, Forgte You, Sexy and I Know It – warm up songs

Nesun Dorma – sung to us as we set off

Theme from Chariots of Fire – playing as we ran through the tunnel under the stadium

Barbra Streisand – playing in the warm up and when I entered the stadium

Videos from other runners

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Love the Steve Jones reference in this!

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6 Responses to “Making History”
  1. marc stokes says:

    Well done mate, i finished around the same time as you, and echo the thoughts of your blog post, great day, great emotions. memory for life.

  2. Mark Coyle says:

    I live in Bellshill (but work in London) and did the run too.

    A brilliant experience all round.

  3. Stewart says:

    That’s some commute Mark! ;)

  4. Congratulations Stewart You must have felt wonderful at the end.
    You definitely made history that day.

  5. [...] March I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  I won a place in the a once in a lifetime Olympic Park Run and was one of the first people to [...]

  6. [...] year I won a place on the Olympic Park Run and was one of the first to cross the Olympic finishing line in the newly opened Olympic Stadium. [...]

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