It took an eight-hour round journey, I ran with 5,000 others (many were very, very fast) including 1,500 other women and one man dressed as a zebra (he must have lost half his weight in the heat!), I’m sure there were at least one million other people walking in the opposite direction to the one I needed to go in to get to the race (London’s tube strike… bad timing for a race day) there were many bends to negotiate and historic monuments to admire on the closed streets of London: yes, I was lucky enough to run in last night’s Standard Chartered Great City Race.
This is a 5K race – but don’t balk at it being *just* a 5K. As you snake round the closed roads of London (this is the second of only two races in which London’s roads are closed, you know which is the other one) hemmed in with thousands of others chasing their own PBs, the energy of everyone competing against the clock, to outrun their work friends, and secure their company as the winner of this prestigious city race – well, it’s like having a constant jolt of electricity hammering through body and brain.
You have to give in to the pace and go for it in this 5K – from the moment the gun goes off. Elbows have to be out, you have to stand your ground as glory chasers stampede past, and you have to be brave. I knew it was a PB course as I was lucky enough to run it two years ago. After my first Great City Race experience I was addicted.
It was unfortunate that London Underground staged its 24-hour strike on the same day as the race – and maybe this accounts for the numbers being below 6,000 – but there was a feeling in the air of people needing to get to their destinations, and nothing was going to stop them.
Anyway, there’s nothing quite like a 40-minute hike through London’s streets, fighting the skateboarders, scooter-babes, bike riders, and thousands of other people marching along the streets, all mixed up with hot exhaust fumes from bus after bus to warm up your body (and clog up your lungs).
It’s a privilege to be able to run in this race, not just because it’s a corporate event for companies from the accountancy, banking, media, insurance and legal sectors, packaged up in a crazy atmosphere, with a furiously fast course with inspiring sights peppered along the route. The real beauty is that this event is staged to raise money, and awareness, for the charity Seeing is Believing.
Seeing is Believing tackles avoidable blindness across the world – this year, all funds raised through the race will be used to support the ongoing East Africa Child Eye Health Programme. Standard Chartered also promises to match £10 from each runner’s entry fee pound for pound, to maximize the amount raised.
The perfect location
The location is perfect for thousands of people to converge. The start/finish is situated in the Honourable Artillery Company, Armoury House on City Road, where, in the time you take to hop across the road to enter the site, you can feel respite from the rush of the city.
Our team (both Men’s Running and Women’s Running) were fashionably late, which meant we had to hurdle a few barriers to get our numbers and dump our bags, with just a few minutes to spare before the gun went off. This extra warm-up gave us a distinct advantage. We had approximately 1min30 seconds to get our kit on – but it was just long enough to view the opposition, the Runner’s World team, across the media room and make just a momentary eye contact. Having got this out of the way, we charged to the start. Not ideal preparation, but all of us were willing to give this race our best.
When you take just a few minutes to think about what the impact of blindness is for children you realize what a huge success this event is. It is estimated between 8,500-10,000 children are blind in the East Africa region. The impact of blindness and visual impairment on children is far greater than for adults. In terms of the impact on reducing years lived with disability, curing a child of blindness is, on average, equivalent to curing 10 adults with cataract blindness. Blindness and visual impairment have serious effects on the educational and employment opportunities of children (less than 10% of blind children attend school).
Following the zebra
As you power through the streets of London you feel humbled by the efforts of so many people to end avoidable blindness. There were roars from the crowds of Londoners soaking up cold beers as the sun beat down on us all. I really benefited from these as the man in the zebra costume was just ahead of me – the roar followed him all the way round.
The Men’s Running team powered home, but we knew they would. Then came Women’s Running. Jenny, our digital writer was not going to let a sub-25 minute 5K get away from her and she beat her target by over half a minute. I also managed a PB and slipped in under 21 minutes; we were both pleased/relieved to finish. It’s such a blessing to be part of a great team of people.
Mr Zebra finished to huge applause; if you imagine that each of his stripes represented £1,000 then his costume, totaling up to over £100,000 encompassed the efforts and generosity of all the runners. This 5K is a great event whether you participate, or are associated with it, and getting a PB makes it just that little bit more special.
Stats: Every team of four who entered this year will provide enough funding to train one health worker in Primary Eye Care.
Around 39 million people in the world today are blind, most of them living in the developing world. Yet, in eight out of ten cases, blindness can be prevented or treated with proven, cost effective interventions.
Seeing is Believing was launched in 2003. As of December 2014, we have raised more than $80 million, reached more than 78 million people, funded 3.4 million cataract operations, trained more than 173,306 health workers, supported 98 eye health projects, and distributed 776,200 pairs of spectacles.
Entry costs is £30 of which £10 goes to Seeing is Believing (with Standard Chartered £10 match this is a significant amount for one race to raise).
There’s a range of talent involved. At the front end of the race the pace is blistering: Phil Wicks (Team Allianz UK) was first male in 14:43. Lara Bromilow was leading lady in 17:38 for HSBC.
You can donate to the official race page at www.seeingisbelieving.org/help-us/donate-now and help to eliminate avoidable blindness.