There’s nothing comparable to the way that a local race can transform familiar streets into a completely different environment. Landmarks and buildings are replaced by mile markers, closed roads offer a totally new perspective of your surroundings, the smallest of inclines that once went unnoticed become grinding drags and the mass of feet pounding along generates a noise totally alien to that location, yet all the time creating a totally unique experience in a utterly familiar place.
This was my experience of Run Hackney at the weekend, a new race that saw 12,000 runners congregate at Hackney Marshes before setting off for a tour of the East London borough where I live (and run).
As with all routes in an urban landscape, they tend not to be the most picturesque and Hackney is no different, but this doesn’t mean that it’s not visually enjoyable. The route skirted parks, wound its way along major roads and residential areas before weaving through the Olympic park on its way back to the marshes, the whole while supported by cheering residents who stepped out their doors to the throng of strangers streaming past their houses.
And this was the real highlight of the race: the crowds. What could have easily have been an overly warm trudge around London on a Sunday morning was a lively and energised race. From the steel drum band at mile two all the way through to mile 11, the crowds helped carry the event along and made the experience a very pleasant one.
However, with as with all first events, there were teething problems (many of them discussed here on our race ratings page) but it was pretty clear that some mile markers were not in the right place and the heat of the day made water options and distribution all the more important, but it was the final few miles of the course that proved the biggest issue of the day.
The Olympic legacy has left Hackney with some wonderful memories and even better facilities, however the danger now is that any sporting event taking place in the borough must in some way be tied to this and yesterday that meant two miles of demoralising switchbacks through the Olympic park. Yes the Olympic park is a grand place to look upon, the heralded ground that made 2012 a great year for sport in the capital, but with the crowd support fading in the back ground and the temperature beginning to become problematic, the unnecessary redirecting around cones, slowing down and picking up the pace over and over meant that the surroundings became a place of silent torment and weary legs were made to suffer unnecessarily for what felt like a misplaced allegiance to location rather than experience.
However all was forgotten as I left the park, the crowds grew again and I rounded the final corner and saw the finish line; it hadn’t been my best race but I’d been able to walk to the start line from my house and my post race beer was in a local pub where the first pint was free to anyone with a finishers medal, so I had very little to complain about.
London is not famed for it’s abundance of large scale half marathons; Run To The Beat is now a 10km in Wembley leaving Royal Parks half as the only other ‘big’ event at this distance. Yes, there are many very good half races with a 2000 or so capacity, but in terms of races that have an impact on the community and draw crowds into the street, there need to be more like Run Hackney.