Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Hackney Half Marathon

The Hackney Half Marathon held in East London on 10th May marked my tenth ever half marathon.

Spanning some 9 years my half marathon times have improved markedly from struggling to just be able to dip under the 2 hour mark in the early days to my impressive PB of 1.39 which I achieved last year that I am incredibly proud of.

I am pleased to say that Hackney marked my second fastest ever time where I finished in 1.43. 

A rather weary post race selfie!
After two disappointing half marathon races this year at Tunbridge Wells and the Hampton Court where I hadn't been able to train enough to put in a run I could be proud of I wanted a race where I could train hard for and run equally hard to at least get close to my PB.

So I opted for the Hackney Half marathon which is in its second year forming part of the Vitality series taking place on Hackney Marshes. Incidentally a venue I have become familiar with due to recent visits to the Hackney Marshes parkrun where I recently ran a 21 minute minute parkrun smashing my PB. I picked Hackney out of the plethora of spring half marathons as it was local (ish as in its in London as opposed to the other end of country), was around six weeks after Hampton Court which felt like an optimal time to build on this race and push for a PB and it is also advertised as a super fast strong PB potential course.

One of the landmarks on the route the RUN sculpture in the Olympic Park
And after parting with the best part of fifty quid to enter the race had a lot to deliver!

And to be fair it pretty much did!

Arriving at the race village was like walking into a festival field full of carnival atmosphere, people chilled, relaxed and ready to have a good time. Which I know isn't everyone's emotions when they think about running 13.1 miles around East London.

The awesome race village which had a real festival atmosphere
I had arranged to meet up and run with my Asics bootcamp buddy Chris Brammer as we figured we were equally matched for pace and both fancied a crack at breaking the 100 minute mark and running a sub 1.40 time, Chris to improve on his 1.46 PB now that he has two sub4 marathons under his belt and me to prove my 1.39 last year was no fluke.

We had a clear strategy in place, 2-3 kms at around 5min/km pace before settling into the required 4.45min/km rhythm before hopefully finishing with a few quicker kms closer to the 4.30min/km mark.

Negative splitting, fueling strategies, warming up gradually over the first few kms, using the 1.45 pacer as a market we had discussed it all like a well thought out military campaign.

The Obit and Olympic Stadium as I walked my way to the start area
The time soon came to take our place in the starting pens and this is where my only criticism of the race organisation comes in. The starting straight was far to narrow for the volume of runners and could have done with being twice as wide and as for having a designated walkway cutting through the starting pens still open minutes before the start? Sheer lunacy! Needless to say chaps congestion and a fair bit of runners being squeezed into the starting pens like stressed commuters on an overcrowded rush hour Northern Line ensued.

Organisers please take note!

Anyways we started the race around half a dozen tightly packed runners behind the 1.45 pacers. The first few hundred metres were similar to most races, finding your feet, warming your legs up and meandering in and out of runners trying to settle into your own rhythm. 

We covered the first km in around 4.45 minutes and I was conscious to slow it down a bit and relax into 5 minute km pace as to not peek to soon and burn up too much energy. 

However allowing the pace down didn't feel right I kept surging past slower runners and pushing the pace rather than easing into the race.

Around the 2k mark I started to feel too hemmed in as there was a big bunch of runners sticking close to the 1.45 pacer, feeling the need to see a few inches of clear road in front of me I pushed on. 

I went through 5km in sub 24 and tried to maintain pace through the halfway point where I passed 10 in sub 49. I wasn't suffering at all from the slightly faster start and realise now that my faster race start was due to a caffeine energy gel I took pre race, although I have used one before I haven't had one in a while so wasn't used to the sudden injection of energy. 

I had by now left Chris and the 1.45 pacer behind, I knew Chris wouldn't be too far behind and as a more experienced and disciplined runner I knew he would be running a steady and consistent pace towards his goal. I dare not look behind me as I didn't want to be panicked by my proximity to the 1.35 pacer. 

So what about the route? Well I will be honest and say it left me quite uninspired as it failed to live up to the pre race hype. You didn't see as much of the Olympic park as I thought although turning a corner to be greeted by the incredible view of Olympic stadium and Orbit at around mile 10 was pretty awesome. 

The course also wasn't as 'flat as a pancake' as runners were promised, true there are no hills but there are several inclines and undulations that are enough to blow the wind from your sails.

What about the support? The support in places was amazing, really amazing, some of the best I have ever encountered. One section in particular will live long in the memory, it was at almost 10 miles I think just around the corner from Hackney Wick Overground station as you go up a bit of an incline over the canal. The road narrowed and was completely surrounded by supporters banging saucepans, cheering and waving banners, it was like a scene from the Tour de France as words of encouragement had also been drawn on the ground, a truly inspiring scene that spurred me on and made my hairs stand on end. Thank you people of Hackney for your support you deserve medals for your efforts!

And the conditions? Last year the run was held in June and it turned out to be too hot so this year it was moved forward to May and guess what? It was still pretty hot! On Sunday evening as I relaxed after eating a mountain of food it was my sunburnt face that was causing me problems not my aching legs so that gives you an idea of how warm it was and how strong the sun was. 

Part of the mountain of food I ate post race
So my tenth half marathon, my second fastest time and a run that is definitely in my top few half marathon races. I think the half marathon remains my favourite race distance and Hackney is a great example of a brilliant half marathon which I would highly recommend for beginners and PB chasers. 

Check out the goodie bag below, quite a stash and an awesome medal so at least you can see what the fifty quid entry fee went on. 

Did you run the #HackneyHalf this year? Or were you were of the supporters helping to create a remarkable atmosphere? I would love to hear your experiences from the race, I hope you had a successful run and enjoyed the day just as much as I did.