Hyde Park, London
January 1, 2006
Moumin Geele 31:08
Bernadine Pritchett 37:19
No. of Finishers
While diehard New Year's Eve celebrants straggle home, runners rise to face new challenges. A New Year's Day race wins bonus points for those intent on new resolutions and bestows virtue on anyone who shows up.
Within Central London the unusual calm provides an impressionistic stage. In the early days the Serpentine 10K used to compete with the City of London 10-miler. That landmark race was shunted out of the City into Victoria Park, where it withered (to 10km length) and eventually died.
The Hyde Park race, meanwhile, went from strength to strength. Started by the London Road Runners Club in the late 1980s, the Serpentine Running Club was always involved and took over organisation in the early 1990s. There was an early self-imposed limit of 300 runners, and it was always reached.
"It's a favourite race to enter, but because of the date fewer than usual show up," says Hilary Walker, the Serpentine president who was race director for many years. Even so, the race withstood the test of time and eventually the Royal Parks agreed a limit of 500.
Time, and the passing of it, is part of the recipe. There is unselfconscious ritual. Many of the people who show up first at the start line have been unseen by other runners for the previous 12 months - since the same occasion the previous year - but this is the first day of the year, and things can start afresh. We are all part of the same community, and use this occasion to reaffirm our allegiance. The run is therapeutic: it is a way of starting things off right (all over again).
Late-coming participants straggle into the Park only a few minutes before the 11am start. They hurriedly stow their bags at the bandstand, or go straight to the start line. The Royal Parks' refusal to allow money to be exchanged within their precincts means that there are no late entries, and no fuss: you turn up ready to go./p>
That often squeezes out any warm-up, and Hyde Park is a bad place to try for a personal best. Apart from a seasonal indulgence discount the comfortable contours of the Park are deceptive. Year on year I set personal worsts in this race.
It is just short of three laps: up the Broad Walk, across towards Kensington Gardens, and then doubling back towards the Serpentine. There are no navigational worries. A bike rider leads out - in defiance of normal Park regulations - and shouts warnings to lapped runners to clear the path.
There are crowds down by the Serpentine. Vocal partisans share the paths with immaculately casual strollers decked out in seasonal finery. This is a place where different worlds meet, without quite colliding.
At the finish line Huw Lobb, winner for the last two years but sitting it out this time, cheered on the finishers. It's that kind of race: you just want to be part of it.