The Hackney Half is the only half marathon I have run three times. My first outing was in 2015 and it almost didn’t happen. I had wanted to enter, but it clashed with my friends’ 40th birthday party. But ten days before the party, the friend in question, who had not been well, decided to cancel the party. Well, obviously this was very sad for her, and for me as I had been looking forward to it, but every cloud has a silver lining! I snaffled a charity place from London’s Air Ambulance, laced up my trainers and off I went! I had been doing a few long runs (15k ish) just for the sheer hell of it, so I wasn’t completely undertrained, but I was a bit clueless and it was a very hot day (it is always a very hot day) and my enduring memory is regretting wearing the same socks that I’d been training in all winter and having feet so hot that at every water station I grabbed a bottle of water and poured it straight over my feet. My finish time was 3:01:20 which was actually a PB by 14 minutes.
In 2016 I was better prepared AND had some thinner socks on. I was possibly the fittest I’d ever been at this point and would have probably got a really good time if it hadn’t been so bloody hot. It was 28°c at the start of the race and hit the high thirties as I entered the Olympic Park. It was absolute carnage with bodies strewn on the side of the road and the constant wail of sirens in my ears. I ran with a bottle of frozen water in my hand and just a minimalist sports bra on my upper half (mysteriously, there are more photos of me from this race than any other), and, in an uncharacteristic fit of sensibility, walked large chunks from the beginning. This time I poured the water on my head instead of my feet and took time to dance under the hosepipes toted by the locals. My finish time was 2:59:28 and I was pretty pleased not only to get a course best but manage to make it back thirty-two seconds before the point where the race organisers decided to put a stop to the carnage and call the race to an early close.
I missed 2017 because it was the day after my 40th birthday party and I (correctly) anticipated being in no fit state, and in 2018 I volunteered and found a free place thrust upon me, which brings me to last weekend and the reason why I found myself running my third half marathon of the season when I had vehemently insisted I would only be running one and definitely not a hot one. Hackney sat awkwardly in the middle of my triathlon training and I knew that if I took it too seriously it would be far too easy to neglect swimming and cycling and take myself out for a nice long slow run instead. The consequence was that for six weeks before the half I hadn’t run more than 10k in one go. I hadn’t tapered (or maybe I had overtapered, depending on how you look at it) and I had been to speedwork three days before. How much difference would this made to my time compared with London Landmarks, six weeks before? Would I be able to get another course best?
My original plan had been to run/walk as per 2016 but when I realised it was only going to be a bit toasty instead of mega heatwave (low 20s) I revised this to “run as much as possible but take walk breaks if needed”. When I discovered that the “joggier” pacers were aiming for 2:50 following them seemed like a good idea. (But a rant: why can’t they just give the slower pacers a proper flag with a proper time like the faster pacers? I’m not a beginner or a child and I’m not a sodding jogger.) For once something that I thought was a good idea turned out to be a really good idea. I stuck with Team Joggier from the off. They actually started out a little bit too fast, which probably suited me as I haven’t quite got the hang of even pacing or negative splits and possibly never will, but after a few kilometres settled into an easier pace and I found myself slowing down to stay with them. Just before 5k was the Viewtube water station and it was lovely to greet all my friends, even if they were all looking a bit stressed and suffering from wet feet due to having to fill cups with water instead of giving out water in cups like last year. Of course I was full of beans at this point. Every familiar face I saw from then on (my mum, various people from parkrun/RunThrough events, the Vegan Runners cheer station) got a bit less of an enthusiastic greeting. My 10k and 15k times were actually a few seconds faster than at Landmarks even though it was hotter and I was putting less effort in, but by 16km I was definitely starting to have had enough and a few little walk breaks started to creep in. I wasn’t disappointed by this because it went to prove that all those long slow runs are not pointless. I think I would have been more annoyed than anything else if I had done better than at Landmarks. Anyway, this was not the case. By 18k, going through the Olympic Park, Team Joggier (who had been a few metres behind me for the last 5k or so) caught up with me. Instead of having to slow down to their speed, I was now struggling to keep up with them. I can’t praise these people highly enough, they got it just right – leaving me to my own devices at the beginning and gently cattleprodding me to keep running at the end. They did not let up or let me walk and I am very glad to say they got me to the finish line in a course-best-smashing 2:50:47! I think this was the perfect result: slow enough to show the value of training, fast enough to show that even though I didn’t train I am still relatively fit and perhaps coming up to the time when I can start thinking about actually getting a PB in a half marathon at some point again in my life. Probably not at Hackney, though.