I’m an idiot of the highest order, but fortunately the Vitality Hackney Half Marathon caters for idiots of the highest order, so despite turning up at the Race Village without my race number (was that a sign from the recovery gods that I should have stayed in bed?), I spent the morning sightseeing in East London, and earned myself a medal so hefty it will surely break the medal wind chimes.
I scored my race place courtesy of Vanessa, my parkrun touring buddy, who had won a couple of places in a competition. She’s been battling with a succession of injuries, the most recent of which caused her to pull out of Paris Marathon at the last minute. On the understanding that one or both of us would probably DNS or DNF, we agreed to take the places, start at the back, adopt a walk/run strategy and see what happened.
And what happened was grit, forbearance and inspiration in equal measure.
As 9am approached, we headed for the 2:30 plus flag and joined Jim, resplendent in his parkrun t-shirt and shorts at the back of the field. He’s been running at Hackney Marshes parkrun since July, ran his first parkrun in 40 minutes and ordinary shoes, has increased his age grade score from 41% to 64% and had entered the half marathon because it was local and “just four back to back parkruns”. He passed us in the last half mile looking as fresh as a daisy, and was probably back home before we’d picked up our bags.
The first five miles were fairly straightforward. We ran a parkrun, walked for a bit, set off on our second parkrun, and chatted to a couple of Wimpole Estate parkrunners who spoke fondly of their hill and glowingly of their café and its cheese scones.
Unfortunately, at about mile 5, Vanessa’s injuries reared their ugly heads, and filled her feet with broken glass. The sensible thing to do would have been to stop and bail at Hackney Central, but Vanessa has the soul of an ultra-runner, so she carried on running to mile 6, dropped into a walk, swore a little and then gutted out a run-a-bit, walk-a-bit second half.
There’s not too much to say about that second half. It was long, it was hot, and it did not feature Lucozade from the mile 9 drink station because they’d run out by the time we got there (and if I donned my “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” ultra-runner hat and picked up one of the discarded bottles from the road side, I’m not telling). It did feature a game of leap-frog with Jude, the Orpington Roadrunner and ultra fan who was kind enough to forgive my blatant t-shirt braggage and compliment me on my TP100 finish.
It also featured a ridiculous number of people telling us that we were “nearly there”. Trust me, mile 7 is not “nearly there”. Nor is mile 8 or mile 9 or mile 10. Or mile 11 or mile 12 come to that. Fortunately, the lying toe-rags were outnumbered by more encouraging Hackney locals, who cheered from their roofs, balconies, windows and doorsteps.
I’m not quite sure how Vanessa put up with me. My feet had just about returned to their normal size after a week of rest, but the time on feet was making them swell again. Running was fine, walking not-so-much, so every time Vanessa walked, I’d start trying to chivvy her back into a run. She did have a couple of minutes of respite each time I stopped to loosen my laces, but her forbearance was impressive, and we reached the finish line without bloodshed.
We hobbled over the timing mat, collected our medals, water, bananas, energy drinks, t-shirts and an assortment of other edible goodies, and then sat in the sunshine chatting to a couple of parkrunners we bumped into at the baggage tent.
As impromptu races go, this one was a winner.