MADE IN EAST LONDON
The Hackney Half Marathon has a special place in my heart.
It was my very first attempt at 13.1 miles. It’s in East London and a place I’ve spent much of my childhood and even as an adult today. It’s a firm fixture in my running calendar.
London is my home, but East London is where I was made.
These are the same streets I saw morph from a derelict and deprived area to the vibrant and trendy borough it is today. If only people could see what it was before.
The transformation Hackney has gone through and now hosting events like this can get me quite emotional.
I was determined more than ever to perform well.
I’m no stranger to Hackney Half having ran it back in 2018 and 2021. This year was going to be my 3rd Hackney Half and my 5th Half Marathon overall.
But in all those races, I cramped up, feeling that I didn’t give the best version of myself. because my legs just won’t let it.
Manchester had given me a massive boost and I was hopeful that this time, I would finally be able to give the best version of myself. However, I was still very mindful of cramping.
I had not really trained with Hackney in mind. In truth, I never really stopped running after the Manchester Marathon. I just kept on going and so, I was hoping my base level of fitness would be enough to get me through the run fairly comfortably.
I was hoping to replicate my training run when I was training for Manchester and run close to 1 hour 50 minutes.
Sadly, it wasn’t so straightforward. This year’s run took place under the scorching sun and by the time I had crossed the start line, I was already sweating like a Russian athlete at a doping test.
At 11km, I was feeling alright. Definitely working, but not digging in deep.
At 14km, the wheels unexpectedly started to fall off. The legs felt like lead. The other voice that was screaming at me to stop got louder and body started to win over mind. It was, quite frankly, terrifying.
Maybe it was the heat. Maybe I didn’t eat enough. Maybe I simply wasn’t fit enough. Maybe it was the nerves. Maybe it was all of the above?
I don’t know how, but I am proud with how I clung on and climbed out of that dark place. I am pleased I was able to adapt and change up my fuelling strategy to combat the soaring temperatures, those energy gels kicking in right when I needed them the most.
My thoughts go out to all those people who struggled near the end. I hope you’re all ok.
I crossed the finish line the strongest I ever felt in a Half Marathon. With the last 2-3km’s to go, I finally picked up the pace and started running the way I know I can.
If cramp finally got to me, I’d be disappointed, but glad that I’d only have to limp a few more meters as opposed to a few thousands. I crossed the finish line feeling happy and relieved, but also feeling like there was still some more left in the tank. That may be the high of finishing, I don’t know.
THE PEOPLE OF HACKNEY
I’ve always maintained that Hackney is one of the best races in London for atmosphere, and it delivered in heaps.
There were people who came out of their front door to cheer us on. Some were blasting music through their living room window to keep us going. People got their garden hoses and water pistols out to help us cool down. There were crowds lining every corner to cheer us on.
This is why Hackney is the vibrant and lively borough it is today: the people.
The residents of Hackney came out in full force and did their borough proud.
With every run and every race, there is a lesson to be learnt and the big takeaway for me from Hackney ’22 is to be adaptable.
Even before a race, if conditions are unfavourable, either because it’s boiling outside or tipping down with rain, you have to manage your your goals, your expectations and even your race strategy.
There are things beyond our control like the weather that stops us from running to our fullest potential. You may not get that PB or dream finish time. But it’s ok. There’ll be more races, more half-marathons to try and try again.
During the race, I am glad I took my energy gels and electrolyte tablets early enough. I very nearly hit the dreaded ‘wall’ at 14km, a distance I am normally comfortable with.
With the conditions being as hot as it was, I should’ve taken my gels even earlier. Next time I encounter another heat wave, I’ll know to take gels every 5km intervals and not the 7-8km I’ve been so used to.
Unpleasant as it was, I’m glad it’s happened. It’s all part of that experience.
I’ve waxed lyrical about Hackney, but I am not one who is easily blinded. There were some glaring organisational mistakes that would’ve made the event so much more memorable.
For one, there should’ve been a finisher’s t-shirt. It’s standard at every race. There was one last year so, why not this time?
The medal for the 5k shake out and Half Marathon should not have been the same. Two very different runs, one way more challenging than the other. The Half Marathon should’ve been extra special, particularly for those who ran their very first half, to mark the gargantuan achievement of completing a Half Marathon.
There should’ve been more energy drink stations. There was just one about halfway and with the temperatures being what it was, there needed to be more.
I wish water was handed out in bottles rather than plastic cups. I get that it’s a push to be more environmentally friendly, but it presented a challenge for runners. It is tricky to drink from a cup when on a run and it caused quite a pile-up near the water stations as swathes of runners all moved to one side to grab a cup and stop to drink. The paper cups weren’t even full, but rather half filled.
I did low-key aim to run close to 1 hour 50 minutes and although I didn’t quite manage it, I cannot be too disappointed.
It was a hot day. I didn’t cramp up. I finished a half marathon stronger than ever. I adapted well. I fought my way of out a very dark place. I still recorded a PB. There’s a lot more to be pleased about this year.
The goal is surely to be as close to 1 hour 50 minutes. With the Big Half, Royal Parks and Oxford Half to come, there’s still a chance it may happen this year.