I was kindly gifted my race entry by Limelight Sports, all opinions are my own.
Looking back at the times I’ve had stomach issues during races, there is a common theme…HEAT.
Yesterday at the Hackney Half, by mile 11 I had to duck into a portaloo then walk for 3/4 of a mile before I felt that I wasn’t going to sh*t myself. The Chicago Marathon in 2015, I struggled with nausea in the second half of the race, and in Malawi at the Impact Marathon, I dropped down to the half marathon (although that may have also been due to the water pump during the week leading up to the race which made a lot of us ill!)
I signed up for the Hackney Half very last minute when I realised I had 12 miles on my training plan and could make the much-loved event work with my schedule.
When I got to the event it was clear it was going to be a hot day and the organisers announced that it was an Amber weather warning. Limelight race organisers kindly gave me a bib and VIP access, which meant I was able to easily drop my bag, get changed and use the loos, and wait for the race start in the shade. I bumped into George and Ian and realised that George and I had similar race plan – aiming for around 2 hours (my goal was 9-9.15 min miles for the day).
With temps only due to get hotter, we started around the 1.45 pacers, just wanting to get started (and finished!). There have been issues in the past with water stations during the Hackney Half. There was the year they completely ran out of water in a heat wave and spectators had to get water for runners from local shops, when I ran in 2019 there weren’t any drinks ready to grab when we got to the first water station, and unfortunately it seems that this year was no different.
The first water station at mile 3.5 was well stocked when we got there however water cups were only 1/4 full so both George and I grabbed two. We had discussed ahead of time that we’d walk through the water stations and both start taking our gels early to try to get the fuel/electrolytes and ensure we had a sensible hydration strategy. I feel bad now seeing online that by the time runners in later waves got to the aid stations there were no cups/water left.
We chatted as we ran for the first half of the race and then with the heat and wanting to keep on pace (we were averaging around 8.50 min miles) I told George I would probs get a bit boring and less chatty! The crowds on course were amazing, lining most of the streets and cheering loudly, alongside bands, speakers and charities encouraging runners. Every time we hit a particularly loud part our pace would pick up a little and we would then have to back off after.
At the mile 5 water station, we had one cup of water then refilled our cups with the jugs at the end of the water station to get more fluid in. There was an energy drink (although I can’t find out what it actually was!) at mile 7 – I’m not sure it was very well signposted as I saw a lot of people throwing it over their heads thinking it was water! Again my cup was only 1/4 full of sports drink and there weren’t any gels or other electrolyte drinks on course.
George nipped into the portaloos at mile 8 and I had another two cups of water there, and again at mile 9, although at this point my stomach was feeling a little off, and I didn’t have the Shotbloks I’d planned to start taking at this point.
I couldn’t face the water at the Mile 11 water station and had to dash into the loo at that point. Let’s just say, my body expelled things from both ends… I told George I had to walk for a bit and she kindly walked with me until I sent her on her way and told her I’d meet her at the finish line. I walked for about 3/4 of a mile before I felt safe enough to jog it in to the end.
Overall, it’s clear they have changed some of the water station following feedback from previous races (like removing the barriers that were in front of the water stations in 2019!), however but I think they need to start hydration stations earlier on course, and obviously have more cups and water, plus electrolyte drinks. It is almost always hot on race day, and provisions need to be made for this. In 2019 it looks as if there were the same number of water stations (six), however the first one that year was at mile 2.5 vs 3.5 this year.
I do also think runners have a responsibility to listen to their own bodies and slow down or walk if needed, especially when there is a weather warning. I was really sad to see so many runners passed out on the side of the race course, needing medical attention (they were all being seen to when we ran past otherwise we would have stopped). But what number of those could have been prevented by more on course hydration?.. I don’t know.
My pace was bang on and whilst I my heart rate was higher at an 8.50/9 min mile pace than I would like it to be, I’m sure this was related to the heat and chatting on the run!
Unfortunately I had to go straight to the loo again after finishing, and again a couple more times. I baby wiped, changed and tried to drink some more water but was struggling to keep anything down, including the Nuun that I’d brought for post-race. After catching up with a friend that had also run, I text my cousin who lives locally knowing that I couldn’t face an hour on the Central Line quite yet. After sitting on her sofa, using her loo, and managing a couple of pittas, some water and Diet Coke – I finally felt a little more normal!
I know some runners were upset that there was no t-shirt at the finish line. Personally, I don’t tend to wear race tees but did find it odd that the 5K runners were given the same medal PLUS a t-shirt for the free event while Half Marathoners had to buy a t-shirt for £30 if they wanted one, on top of the £50+ race entry. Additionally, they’ve stopped the free race pics (they’re now £14.99 – £19.99 for downloads).
The race village was buzzing post-race, however there were further water shortages there apparently as well as low supplies of the finish line goodies by the time some later runners came through.
My own learnings were that I am still not getting my fueling/hydration right, and that I can no longer eat what I want in the days leading up to a long run and hope for the best! 20 weeks to go and it’s time to knuckle down….