Almost everything you need to know about the Hackney Half Marathon

Hackney Half Start

This Sunday marks the return of Hackney’s annual half marathon, Pic: Virgin Sport

The final countdown to the Hackney Half Marathon, organised by Virgin Sport, has begun. With four sleeps to go before race day, EastLondonLines presents almost everything you need to know about the day, the track, and how drunk it’s safe to get afterwards.

When, what, and why?

This Sunday, May 20; 13.1 miles, for a whole variety of noble causes.

Virgin Sport says their mission, in both this race and beyond, is to connect people “through movement and culture”. Whether you are coming along to do that, set a new PB, or earn the free pint after, EastLondonLines salutes you.

How many people will be running, and is it too late to join them?

Over 20,000, and unfortunately, yes.

Sunday’s race is completely sold out and has a record number of athletes competing. Even if you’re keen enough to steal another athlete’s race pack and join in the action, Virgin Sport told EastLondonLines: “runners who swap packs could be disqualified.”

Where will I be running?

Through the greenest parts of Hackney.

The race is designed to be a fast, flat tour of Hackney’s most natural spaces. Starting on the marshes, the route loops past famous spots such as the Hackney Empire, Stonebridge Gardens, Victoria Park and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Hackney Half race route 2018

The 13.1 mile route will be a green tour of some of Hackney’s most famous landmarks, Pic: Virgin Sport

What time should I get down there?

Sometime before 8am.

Virgin Sport say to arrive at Hackney Marshes at least an hour before the race starts, leaving enough time to drop off your stuff, get in the zone, and be there for group warm-ups at 8.10am.

What time will the race start?

Around 9am.

As a runner, you will be assigned a pen and labelled from A to J. Those with letters A-E need to be in their start pens by 8.35, and F-J by 8.50. A-E will cross the starting line sometime from 9.00-9.20, and F-J from 9.20-9.40.

How do I know what pen I’m in?

It will say on your race number.

You will have, or will soon have, received a race pack in the mail. Inside there will be your assigned race number, the first character of which will be a letter; this is your assigned pen.

I haven’t got my race pack yet, should I be worried?

Not at all, it will come.

A lot of runners have been contacting Virgin Sport, complaining about a continued lack of race pack. Don’t panic, race packs are still being sent out and Virgin Sport promises yours will come before race day. If it doesn’t come this weekend, there’s still no need to fear; you can pick up a new pack on Virgin Sport’s Festival Village, on the Hackney Marshes this Saturday, between 12 noon and 4pm.

Where should I park?

Probably at the Westfield Stratford shopping centre.

There are 4,500 spaces available in the Westfield car park, which is a 25-minute walk away from the Festival Village. However, with over 20,000 runners, and all their adoring fans descending, this may fill up. For full info on pricing and available spaces, click here.

Will there be any road closures?

All around the race route from 7am.

Thousands of runners, supporters and fanatics will be descending on the Hackney Marshes this Sunday, so expect heavier than usual traffic. All roads around the race route will be closed from 7am. Roads will be reopened one by one, as runners complete each section. For all road closure updates, click here.

What will the weather be like?

Pretty hot.

Weather on Sunday will be ‘mostly sunny’, with highs of 22 degrees Celsius during the mid-afternoon. At 10am, when the race will be properly underway, expect heat of about 16 degrees, and when you cross the line sometime around midday, it’ll be up to around 19 degrees.

Hackney Weather

Weather around the Hackney Half race route is expected to be sunny, hot, and very sweaty, Pic: Google Weather

What is the pollen count going to be like?

According to the Met office, ‘medium’.

You may want to pack an anti-histamine as official counts expect pollen levels to gradually rise throughout the week, peaking on Sunday. Key allergens will be Oak, with a little Ash and Birch.

I’m not running, but I’m coming out to support. Where should I go?

The southern end of the Hackney Marshes, or on the walking tour.

The festival village at the southern end of Hackney Marshes opens at 7am, and gives a prime view of the race’s start and finish. Alternatively, you stroll through the race’s leisurely walking route. It will get you to specific viewing points far faster than whichever runner you’re cheering for, so you can watch then speed past more than once.

Are there any other events happening on the day?

Loads, it’s a fitness festival.

Until 3.30pm in the Festival Village, health fuelled activities and demonstrations will be taking place, including wall climbing with Parkour Generations, and an open workshop with East London Capoeira.

Hackney Fitness Festival

The Hackney Half is part of a wider fitness festival, organised by Virgin Sport, Pic: Virgin Sport

What is a good finish time for competitors?

Around two hours.

The half-marathon world record is 58 minutes 23 seconds, held by Zersenay Taded of Eritrea. For those of us with other hobbies, breaking two hours is the usual goal (hitting around nine minutes a mile), but you will have until 1.15pm to jog, run, dance or prance your way across the line before the event gets cleared away.

How hard is it going to be?

For a half marathon, not too gruelling

Virgin Sport describes the event difficulty as ‘flat’. While 13.1 miles is never going to be easy, the Hackney Half has quite a minimal incline, the highest point being at around 2.5miles in, you go up to about 55 feet, from a starting height of 30 feet.

Do I get anything for finishing?

A medal, some discounts, and smugness.

At the finish line, event staff will be waiting to hand you what Virgin Sport are calling “a shiny new medal”. With that medal comes a number of discounts, including a free pint at Mason and company, a free coffee at Hackney Coffee Company, and a half-price BBQ at White Pose Café. For a full list of available discounts, you can check out page 28 of Virgin Sport’s race-day handbook here.

Will I see anyone famous while I’m down there?

Depends on what you call famous.

Social media has been uncharacteristically quiet about the famous faces we can expect to see at Sunday’s race, but just like all big events featuring cameras, crowds, and sweaty shirtless people, you can probably expect to see at least a couple of familiar faces bobbing about.

Richard Branson at the Hackney Half

At last year’s race, Virgin owner Richard Branson came by to cheer runners on, Pic: Virgin Sport

Is there any training I should be doing in these last few days?

Take it easy, and eat well

Don’t push yourself in these few days before the race. The most important thing to be when you wake up on Sunday morning is recovered. On Friday, do one or two easy miles, and on Saturday maybe just a walk around the staging area.

What should I eat the night before?

As you probably know, carbs.

When you eat a bowl of pasta, most of the carbs are stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver. While not your only option, glycogen is the body’s most easily accessible form of energy, and so loading up on it is efficient. As for what kind, its dealer’s choice, just be careful of having too much fibre, you don’t want to do a Paula Radcliffe.

What should I wear on race day?

Something comfortable

Worn in, well-fitted running shoes are essential. Don’t even think about buying new trainers for race day, unless you love blisters. You may, however, want to invest in sweat absorbing clothes and some anti-chaffing tape. Above all else, your goal is to be comfortable. The 13.1 miles of gruelling pavement will provide enough discomfort; don’t add sore nipples to your list of complaints.

What race-side help will there be to keep my spirits up?

Music, loved ones, cheering crowds and five water stations

As well as five increasingly appealing water stations, during your run you will be able to enjoy performances from 12 upbeat musical acts, spread carefully along the track to keep your enthusiasm high. They include ‘South London Samba’ at 2.3 miles in, ‘The Ukulele Ska Collective’ at mile 8, and ‘Big Smoke Bass’ at mile 11.6.

Can I get drunk right after?

Just make sure you eat first.

Immediately after the race your priorities should be rehydration and replenishment of glycogen, to make sure you recover at an optimal rate. This means maybe have a meal before knocking back any units. Fill yourself up with simple carbohydrates and some protein; after all, this is your chance to gorge on all the things you’ve said no to for the past few weeks of training, make the most of it.

To read Virgin Sport’s own official race-day handbook, click here, and from everyone at EastLondonLines, good luck.

Hackney Half finish

After crossing the finish line on Sunday, runners will earn themselves a number of discounts and freebies at local Hackney stores, Pic: Hackney Council

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