Consolation prize

Blog Hackney Half

Borderline smug middle-aged woman with cat and medal

Veteran runners are supposed to lavish far more time on recovery than springier chickens. It would have been sensible, therefore, after running the London Marathon, to pack away the road shoes for a while and re-acquaint myself with the swimming pool.

In the diary, however, were two little bumps on the downhill race to recovery: a 5km Assembly league race with my club in Hackney’s Victoria Park and two days after that, the Hackney Half

Down among the hipsters

It’s fashionable, Hackney, and a great place to run. I like the cut of Victoria Park Harriers’ jib – I’ve always enjoyed club running in their handsome east London stomping ground – it’s on my list of training runs in marathon build up. This half marathon, though, is something else.

The Vitality series of half marathons and 10ks make full use of the old cliché ‘iconic’ to drum up interest. The last one I did, back in March, finished in the ‘iconic Wembley Stadium’ and this one, Hackney takes a route through the ‘iconic Olympic Park’. What with April’s little trot taking in sundry London landmarks including The Cutty Sark, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, I’m all iconed out.

Still, for all its overwrought, cliché ridden publicity material, the Hackney Half is as good for jolly crowd support and noisy atmosphere as its big 26.2-mile sister a couple of weeks earlier. The largely residential route guarantees a huge, trendy crowd of good-natured Hackney folk sitting on their stoops and proffering vegetarian Haribo or artisan ale, or lovingly chopped Fairtrade bananas. It also gives its participants a carnival atmosphere on Hackney Marshes before and after the race, a generous goody bag and fine T-shirt, and gallons of water and isotonic jollop along the way.

Hackney was so hot this year. On the hottest day of the year. Air quality gave cause for concern, and the message, repeated over the tannoys at the start, was ‘this is not a day to chase that PB.’ That was me off the hook, then, although, in retrospect, I should have been a little more reckless.

Thrown into panic about overheating, I had to keep dousing the back of my neck with the bottled water given every few miles. I’m not in the habit of throwing water about, in case it runs out, but I could see pallets loaded up water bottles everywhere, and there were no instructions to conserve water, so picked up a bottle at every station. I even forced down sickly Lucozade to counteract the ominous ringing in my ears that has once before given rise to total blackout.

This gran can (usually)

In the event I was five minutes off my half-marathon PB. Walking through the funnel to pick up assorted goodies I felt sweaty and spent, but compos mentis enough to inwardly crow over beating the (male) acquaintance I’d started the race with, who overtook me at mile eight. I’d sailed past him at mile 12.

You can be cosily competitive as a veteran ‘old bird running’. The older you get, the more the little victories accrue. However slow we run, post 50, we are in a small elite class of our own, because we are faster than the millions of others who believe they can’t, because they might do themselves a mischief.

There is no health risk to getting sweaty, feeling breathless, feeling your bingo wings flap and your mum tum wobble as you push yourself out of your comfort zone. All those minor embarrassments are familiar to me but they are as nothing compared to the joy of running. Self-consciousness about your ageing body should not prevent you trying your very hardest in a race situation, and loving the buzz that effort engenders.

So, I was delighted I beat my running mate, who is about 10 years younger than me, and a bloke. Even more so when I checked the results and found I’d come fourth in my age group, and if I’d run my normal pace I would have been second woman in that group of 136 wonderwomen.

The moral of that experience, I suppose, is that I should find more hipster races like this one, which attracts a huge, young crowd (there were 11,772 runners) and is largely avoided by gnarly old clubrunners like me.

If I play my age cards right, I might even win a prize.



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