The build up
What’s the best prep for your race tomorrow? Staying up till 2.30am dancing the night away at your friends 40th birthday party and getting 3 ½ hours’ sleep? Yep, that’s it. No excuses. I knew what I was doing. Just a couple of little beers and lots of water!
It was an early start on Sunday morning to get over to East London. I didn’t know where I was going, so built in a little safety. My kit was ready (number already pinned on) so jumped in the shower to wake up, got dressed, grabbed my bag and breakfast out of the fridge and was gone.
By the time I got to the Tube at Waterloo, most of the carriage was filled with runners, some catching up on sleep as I should have been doing. The start was about a 20-minute walk from Stratford station and I was starting to worry that even more time on my legs was going to become a problem.
Leaving early had been a good move; I got to the start area at 8.45am for a 9 am gun. Stripped off, checked my bag had a safety wee and got to the start with 5 minutes to spare. I was in such a rush; I forgot to apply my nipple plasters and Vaseline between my legs. Note – It’s good to have an event surrounded by trees. Even the ladies were sneaking into the undergrowth.
This was my first Hackney Half and don’t have first-hand knowledge of previous events but I believe it had a local community feel and people were proud of their local half marathon. There was worry that Virgin would corporate it up and that feel would be lost.
The event was called a Festival of Sport and its Virgin’s idea that there will have something for everyone including family and friends with a combination of the race but also local food, music, art and culture. Richard Branson was there to start the race and hand out medals and said this first event was an experiment and if it worked they intend to roll it out across the world
I’m not quite sure of Virgin’s intention. Is it to associate their brand with health and sport (the way Coke and McDonalds do with the World Cup and Olympics) or something more? Their website says it’s to “challenge to inspire millions of people to enjoy an active lifestyle”, which is a good intention for starters. Appointing the former CEO of the New York Road Runners that oversees the New York Marathon is a possible sign of their intentions. The events also tie in nicely with their Virgin Active health clubs.
I had made it to the start line, the sun was out and my legs were feeling ok. I got into my corral and found the 1 hr 50 min pacers. The gun went and we were off. Any regular readers can guess what I did next. Sacked off the plan of staying with the pacers and set off at a faster pace. I wasn’t too crazy though, the idea was that as long as I came in with or before the pacers; I would be safely under 1 hr 50 mins.
The first few miles flew by as I focused on staying calm, keeping a steady pace and not getting too excited. My mantra for this race was “Stay comfortable”. Don’t go burning off early, just to blow up in the last few miles. And I was managing to do this – the kilometre splits were coming in at metronomic regularity (all within a couple of seconds of 5 minutes). I decided to stop looking at my watch and run on feel. I knew that if I maintained a consistent pace, my time was going to be ok.
I’m a fairly infrequent visitor to East London. Most recent visits have been to events at the Olympic Stadium, so it was good to see more of the east side of town. There were some nice places, particularly Broadway Market.
The crowds were amazing (helped by the good weather) and there were Fan Hubs set up along the route with bands and DJs. Not that they were particularly needed as the number of residents with speakers in their gardens or on their balconies blasting out motivational tunes was incredible. Two particular favourites were the ones pumping out Survivors – Eye of the Tiger and then Tina Turner’s – Simply the Best. The pacers were all carrying Bluetooth speakers in the packs too. There was no need for headphones at this race.
There were a few spots where the route narrower over small bridges were groups (possible Run Dem Crew) had set up a cheer sections. They felt like they were right on top of you and created a tunnel of noise which felt quite personal as if it was all especially for you. It was a wonderful feeling and added inspiration in the latter miles.
I kept knocking out the 5-minute km’s up until the Olympic Park. The route had been pretty flat in my book, the odd bridge or underpass that with 10 seconds of hard work were soon cleared. Around the Olympic Park though, there does not seem to be a flat road going. You are either going up or down as you pass over various tributaries of the River Lea. It’s always nice to run past the Olympic Stadium though, but it’s lost some of its lustre now that it has West Ham Football Club plastered across the side.
I held it together and the support over the last couple of hundred metres was fantastic. I turned the last left back into Hackney Marshes, gave it everything I had left and crossed the line in 1 hour 47 mins and 4 seconds.
5 minutes better than my time from the Richmond Half, 6 weeks previously. So, pretty happy and definitely going in the right direction.
I corrected a lovely medal and passed through the novel way of doing the goodie bag. They handed you a bag and then you helped yourself to whatever you wanted (water, Lucozade, banana, Weetabix drink, dried fruit, crisps and a t-shirt). A smart way of doing it I think. Photos are also free, which is a nice touch.
I reclaimed my bag, changed out of my sweaty kit, had a mini water bottle shower, snapped some pics and headed off on the long trudge back to Stratford Station with sore quads.
I would have liked to hang around a bit longer as the weather was good. There were also DJs, food vans, bean bags and even craft beer to partake in, but I was due to make dinner for friends that evening.
An estimated 11,000 runners ran the half marathon on Sunday, but you might not have known it. This was possibly down to the organisation that was excellent. There was a massive amount of space where the festival/start finish was, so there was plenty of room for everything. There no queuing and good signposting made it clear where everything was.
The race was only a week after the London Marathon, which may have kept some away. Branson again mentioned this on the day and there is a balance to be found between that and the soaring June temperatures that occurred at last year’s event.
I think Virgin’s intentions are good. Branson is talking about helping the obesity crisis and motivating people to get involved in these types of events. I think it may work. I’m sure that friends of mine had they come along to the event as spectators, would be encouraged to take part next year or at another Virgin Sport event.
It comes at a price though. The cost to enter was over £50. A price that could be too steep for many. The next event is what was the British 10km, in Central London. This is still being advertising with early bird entries at £45, even though theses entries were due to close weeks ago, suggesting that the price is a deterrent to entering.
So all in all, a successful race personally. I liked the route; the crowds were class and had I had more time the festival might have been fun. It will be interesting to see where Virgin Sport takes their model and if their experiment is a success.