FitPro’s Olivia Hubbard shares her experience of running her first half-marathon: the Vitality Run Hackney.
For any first-time half-marathon runner, the ideal weather would be a cooling breeze, light drizzle and a general October dampness to the air. I flicked on BBC weather at 6am and read “highs of 27°C today” in London. It was going to be hotter than Ibiza in an “exceptional May heat wave” and I was about to pound the roads of Hackney for 13.1 miles with around 15,000 other enthusiasts, while normal people were lounging with romantic literature on picnic rugs and scoffing mini scotch eggs, overdoing it on the quiche and getting giddy on pink lemonade. As I drowned myself in Quaker’s trusty oats and dollops of honey, I thought of my parents and anxiously scribbled my emergency contacts on the back of my race number. Then, I remembered that they weren’t actually in London and had visions of being wrapped around a Run Hackney marshall begging for jelly tots.
‘Race day’ really begins as soon as you leave your front door. Fellow runners waited for the bus at my local bus stop at 7:15am hugging coffee and chomping down on a premature banana. I headed down from Dalston Kingsland to Homerton with run pal Em Suff and made the limbering 15-minute walk to the race village, which was swarming with anticipation. Apart from the hipster boys handing out iced coffee (poor sods who got sucked into that one) there was good organisation. Bag dropped off, toilet trip complete and I made my way over to the 1:45-2 hour pen. We were clucking in the heat as the sun began to get serious. Luckily, I had run pal Jess to my left and my tunes could block out the out-of-tune Fleetwood Mac the gentleman next to me was singing to try and calm his nerves. He was dressed in camo and had the attitude ‘I may as well give this a go’ stamped on his forehead. The Teletubbies were also there and so was Mario – clearly regretting that late-night pub “yeah, let’s dress up!” chat now, aren’t we boys?
It was a strange environment to be faced with when you haven’t been there before. We were urged to move forwards and I panicked about potential crushing. Then the words, “Don’t push, you’re all going to run” reminded me of what we were about to do: great. We were cooped up for around 20 minutes in the pen. I almost bailed for the pub. We were 15 minutes late starting and it took eight minutes to get across the line. Then I was off – two miles in I gave Lion Run Club founder Matthew Jeary a sweaty hello hug as he stood on the pavement, his children high-fiving every runner whether they wanted to or not. I had to make a dash for the horrible portacabins at 5km, which I was annoyed with, but after that I was off again and sped up to overtake the two-hour marker man. I had time to make up, which I did, and I tried to ramp up the pace again. Hackney residents put on quite a show: one old boy had his gardening hose on ‘jet’ to spray the sweat away from puffing faces and who doesn’t love a steel drum? Groups of over-excited under-fives handed out sweets; I remember grabbing a few milk bottles and gummy bears and instantly regretting it, what with the potential choke hazard, but I chewed on regardless. Pure Running 2016 was my race soundtrack. How Deep Is Your Love? saw me over the start line, Fearless helped me trudge along Broadway market and the best was Feed Em To The Lions – I mouthed the angry chants as I overtook onto the pavement and literally felt like I was on top of the world. I wasn’t, I still had four and a half miles to go.
You know what they say: “Don’t take your eyes off the road.” For whatever reason (I won’t blame the occasional potholes) I stacked it and went over on my left ankle. It must have been quite the picture, hands out to save myself; I managed to slide in impressive fashion, grazing knees and hands in the process. I hurled myself up, checked the damage, received a thumbs up from a lovely bloke to my right who wanted to check that I was actually OK, and off I went again in search of mile 10. The final three miles were dangerous. (They don’t put these runner photos on the promotional website.) I passed the Olympic stadium and a few bodies who were drenching ice on their foreheads. Form had completely gone out of the window by this point. I aimed to keep tall throughout the race and I’m a huge fan of big arm movements but, during this final stretch, I may as well have been trekking in the Sahara in search of water reserves and Bruce the camel. I was the colour of a beetroot and the chafing in my right armpit is a sensation I never want to feel again. I took a gel on board – banana and strawberry – but it didn’t do anything. Why not? Because my mind was elsewhere and I had to tell my legs, “It’s not over yet.” I did it in one hour, 54 minutes. My aim was under two hours and, considering the 27°C, I was relatively happy with that. Can you tell?
Was it how I predicted? No, it really wasn’t. It was harder, a lot harder. It was incredibly draining; I didn’t prepare myself for people stopping, dodging onto the pavements, weaving past the water bottles and tripping over my own feet. I haven’t fallen all year – you can train as much as you like but ‘race day’ is beyond anything you experience. Would I do it again? You bet. I finished the evening with Irish dancing and beer. Be prepared for when the endorphins and adrenaline disappear though and cue the longest week of your life.
Recovery and injury
I booked an appointment with Fix London (fixlondon.co.uk) for three days after the race for a deep tissue sports massage. I had a fantastic session with Sanja Maretic. Her bag of skills includes deep tissue massage, trigger point therapy, scar tissue release therapy, myofascial release, muscle stretching, taping and dry needling.
Massage is great at helping to manage a whole host of injuries, as well as keeping the body in good functional order. Sanja commented, “As your injury was still in acute stage and inflammation was still present, I was using lot of pumping techniques to bring the circulation to the injured area to aid the healing process. Having a sports massage during this early stage of injury helps in formation of less rigid and irregular scar tissue.
“Lots of muscles around the site (calf muscles, tibialis posterior and anterior, peroneals) have gone into protective and guarding posture, so I was doing lot of releasing work on the muscles to help let go. The tension was travelling further up the chain (iliotibial band, biceps femoris, TFL, vastus lateralis) and it was essential to address and release those muscles too to prevent hip and knee compensations. Do exercises to maintain function and to restore proprioception (self-awareness) and strength. You could probably have another session in two or three weeks.”
She added, “I taped your ankle in slight dorsiflexion and eversion. This is to avoid stretching of the injured ligament, to encourage the blood flow and to give you some support.”
I would whole-heartedly recommend a sports massage post race. Sanja also emailed me exercises to do at home. I didn’t experience any injury throughout training; the heat and exhaustion and stress on race day all played a part in the damage to my upper back. My posture was compromised and resulted in poor form. I have definitely learned from this experience and, before my next race, I will make sure I massage during high peaks of training and ensure my form isn’t compromised. I also plan to get my running gait tested and invest in a serious trail running shoe as my running continues. Marathon next year? Let’s see how the training goes, shall we? Never say never. Paris is lovely in spring, isn’t it?