WHAT: Half Marathon
WHERE: Hackney, East London
WHEN: 22nd June 2014
“Once more, with feeling.”
I danced around my first half marathon. There was no pressure, no expectation, no time to beat. I just ran. It was the most fun I’d had on my feet and getting a decent time from just running on feeling was a brilliant bonus. But it meant I now had a number I was expected to reduce the next time I ran 13.1 miles.
Hackney Marshes felt more music festival than race village that morning. The sun was out, I knew lots of people taking part and the organisers had promised a party. I decided that morning, I didn’t want to have to focus on time, to push hard and not wave my hands around. I wanted to play. The elements were also against any PB chasing, a sticky 24 degrees is not the most comfortable temperature for a quick half marathon. I decided to ditch the GPS watch and run on feeling once more. I definitely felt relaxed, chatting my way from the pen, slowly forward over the start line and through the first mile. Without really realising, I’d started my second half marathon!
The route took us mostly through residential areas, all generously lined with supporters. Whether they were there screaming encouragement to their friends or stood in bemusement at why 12,000 people would wake up early on a Sunday to run, they made it feel like a proper ‘event’, an occasion. Spirits were up and so was my speed. The first few miles were comfortably fast. I was sure I wouldn’t be able to keep the pace but it felt good to blast out some quick miles to the sound of steel pans and brass bands.
By the halfway point, I’d slowed right down. I was uncomfortable and not just ‘in-the-middle-of-a-half-marathon’ uncomfortable but ‘slightly-delirious-from-the-heat’ uncomfortable. People were already suffering – I’ve never seen so many runners passed out on the side of the road – my job now was to look after my body and get it to the finish in one piece. Running by feel wasn’t just about my speed, it was about my health. Thankfully, the water given out on the course was in pouch form, so I could carry it with me to sip until it became so warm, I could bathe in it.
Hackney’s lumps and bumps, twists and turns had kept my legs entertained but it was a joy to see the red of the Orbit tower peek above the houses. I couldn’t wait to run in the newly groomed Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, until I remembered the energy sapping course ahead. I could soon see swamps of people seemingly only walking up a hill. We wiggled around each other, looping out and back, seemingly always up-hill and next to a line of runners ahead going the opposite way. Mentally, it was really tough. Luckily, there were London 2012 souvenirs – the stadium, the velodrome, ‘RUN’ in giant metallic letters – littered along the course for distraction.
I somehow arrived at the finish line with an accidental new PB. It turns out listening to my body, following the feeling in my legs and being inspired by the atmosphere of the crowd works pretty well for me.