Hackney holds a very fond place in my running journey. Back in 2015 it was my first half marathon. When I lined up absolutely clueless wearing totally inappropriate trainers, eaten a bacon sandwich for breakfast, having only been running for 2 months.
Fast forward two years and two full marathons later, I was feeling a little twitchy a week after London and wanted not only run but I was craving the buzz of race day. My legs weren’t up to 13.1 miles but the idea of a 5.5km in a race setting was rather appealing. I was also intrigued by Virgin Sport’s takeover of the event and the concept of turning the day into a festival.
I had every good intention to arrive around 10am to cheer on the half marathoners but a few too many glasses of prosecco the night before meant we arrived around 1pm. We had shopping and cinema plans later in the day so decided to drive and park in Westfields which is a pleasant 25 minute amble through The Olympic Park to the start line in Hackney Marshes.
The 5.5km was due to start at 1:45pm. I’m not an early bird but even for me this was a little late. Having started the half marathon at 9am it would have perhaps been better to start at 12:30/1pm so that more of the half runners might have stayed to add to the atmosphere. Unfortunately, this was coupled with the British weather letting us down. It was overcast and I suspect if it had been a sunny day the crowds would have stuck around for some gentle post race basking/ getting gently sozzled. It was however perfect running weather.
Following a group warm up, which I always feel very awkward taking part in but is great to learn new exercises, we made our way to the start line. If you wanted to race it required some elbowing to get to the start line but I was going no where fast.
Unfortunately the course itself was a little uninspiring, with an unexpected hill thrown in. Given the green surroundings two double backs on a road seemed a wasted opportunity. However it did ensure that everything was kept compact and meant that there seemed like more spectators on route. It was a pleasant surprise that there was a water station around the 2km mark. I saw a 1km marker but other than that there didn’t seem to be any, so running without a watch, I had no sense of distance. I would have at least liked a half way marker but perhaps I just didn’t spot them.
Before I knew it we were heading back into the park and the race was over. It may have just been 5.5km but we were still treated to the full works – chip timing, medal, finishers t-shirt and an array of snacks and drinks.
I was lucky to have been given a race bib by Virgin Sport. The 5.5km was priced at £25, which initially I winced at, however the theme of race was “Chase your mate” and this also included a bib for your friend. So if you split it, at £12.50 I’d say it was well worth the pennies if you are looking for the race day experience; particularly if it’s your first and don’t want to tackle a 10km just yet. There were even race photos taken on the course, avaliable for free online afterwards.
For a 5.5km race I was pretty impressed. It also made me question my sanity of running full marathons when this distance got me the race experience and saw me back in just over half an hour for lunch.
Another thing which I was pleasant surprised about was Virgin Sport App which provided me with all the information I needed about the day, a festival village map and even for the 5.5km a breakdown of my 3 & 5km splits.
Post race, I headed over to the Fitness Stage for some yoga/stretching. Through out the day there had been a series of workouts led by the likes of Bradley Simmons, Shona Vertue and Faisal (Mr PMA). Should have thought about getting here earlier for this before the fifth glass of prosecco!
Had I of done the half marathon I would have been straight into the massage tent but food was calling and I have to say as a massive street food lover I was pretty delighted with the selection on offer. Chicken burger and fries were first up from Butchies. Followed by CrossTown Doughnuts who really ought to be at every race finish line. Alex even found decent coffee and beer to keep him entertained whilst I was running, which isn’t always easy at races. Big thumbs up on the catering front!
The race was perfect for my post marathon legs. With a little tweaking to timings and the course for the 5.5km, I think Virgin Sport are on to a winning concept of a festival here and everything felt very professionally organised. I’m certainly planning on coming back next year to run the Half Marathon.
In the mean time I’ve been having a peak at the other festivals Virgin Sport have planned. There’s one centering round a 10km in Westminster in July, they are coming to Oxford in October for a half marathon and perhaps most tempting is San Francisco; I will make it to America one day soon!