New races are cropping up all over the place at the moment, literally dozens of the things, and not just little ones either. We’re talking events with thousands of runners just appearing almost out of nowhere. We’ve taken part in quite a few of them over the past couple of years. Some of them are pretty good, others are just commercialised excuses to make a lot of money.
When the Vitality Hackney Half Marathon appeared in the early half of last year we were worried it would fall into the latter category. Because unlike most other races that have cropped up, the Hackney Half filled a lot of people with hope. It’s a part of London that holds a very fond place in people’s hearts, a place with character, a place that, if done right, could end up producing a very important race in the calendar.
Whereas a lot of races are often just convenient, a half marathon in Hackney could, like the London Marathon, be an event more about community and crowds. Unfortunately the 2014 event was awash with problems which resulted in a variety of negative aspects. Firstly it was held at the end of June, the temperature was in the mid-twenties which meant it was far from enjoyable. There was also a noticeable lack of water stations and a depressingly arduous final few kilometres where runners did a kind of weird meandering route around the Olympic park. We really didn’t enjoy it.
A year later and we decided to try it out again. Most large scale races tend to have a number of teething problems on their first outing, the second attempt is a chance to correct those. And we really wanted Hackney Half to be good. Everyone did.
For the 2015 event the date was changed to early May which meant the weather was far more manageable. Still warm, but enjoyable warm. Warm enough for spectators to stand happily at the side of the road and everyone to go and sit in beer gardens afterwards. It was pretty much the perfect conditions for a race.
The race village, situated in Hackney Marshes was well organised, which is easier said than done when you have 13,000 runners pottering around trying to prepare, not to mention the spectators as well. The toilet queues weren’t too long, the bag drops were quickly dealt with and the various information points seemed to well manned and sorting out problems pretty easily.
But what about the race itself? Well our memories of the 2014 event focussed largely on heat exhaustion, thirst and the fact we’d decided to test out a skin-tight pair of running shorts that left little to the imagination. By the time we’d realised it was too late. This year we took on the race with a fresh slate, and we were right to. Ignoring the perfect weather, the route was a joy to run. The high point by far for us was making our way down Broadway Market as people stood waving whilst holding their artisan coffees.
The final section, something we’d dreaded from the previous year’s route, was also changed. Now the last few kilometers took a scenic route around the Olympic Park before heading to the finish. As well as plenty of water stations there was a finishers goody bag on a par with the London Marathon’s and a medal we’re still wearing around the house three days later.
So there we have it, after a few issues in its inaugural year the Hackney Half delivers the goods everyone hoped it would. A race as conducive to community spirit as is to getting PBs. If you haven’t tried it yet, or avoided it because of the 2014 event, make sure you give it a go next time.
Picture credits: Anthony Upton 2015