Thursday, 26 September 2013

Running London (5): Hackney Marshes 5k Your Way

The start - photo by Adnan Mohamedy (more at facebook)
Last week (18th September) I ran in '5k your way', an event on Hackney Marshes bringing together more than 800 council workers and other public sector employees to run, jog or walk for 5000m. Teams in colour coded t-shirts took part from London Boroughs including Bexley, Camden, Greenwich, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Lambeth, Redbridge, Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, as well as Leyton Sixth Form College and  'Central London Finest' with people from Westminster, Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea.

Team Southwark, complete with British Heart Foundation mascot
 I was definitely in the running camp, and the front was fairly fast (too fast for me anyway). Glad to report that one of my work colleagues (David White from Southwark) came first with a chip time of 16:05; fastest woman was Claire Mcmahon from Islington in 19:05. I was pleased enough to get a 5k PB, and come 2nd in age category.

With the Marshes' wide open skies and green expanses (home to 82 football, rugby and cricket pitches), you feel like you're way out in Essex rather than in London. It makes for a good scenic run - nice and flat too - with changing rooms and a decent roof terrace bar at Hackney Marshes Centre (where we retired afterwards, walking back to the station under the full moon I half expected to bump into one of the Hackney Marshes 'bears' of urban folklore renown)

Of course you are in Iain Sinclair territory there, the writer even worked on the Marshes painting white lines at one point. In his book 'Ghost Milk' (2011) Sinclair mentions a 19th century running track nearby in Hackney Wick, started by one James Baum of the White Lion public house in 1857.  It was here that 'William "The Crow-catcher" Lang came down from Middlesbrough in 1865, to take the  world one-mile record with a time of four minutes seventeen and a half seconds. Not bad for an uneven track with an uphill section and a mob pressing tight to the verge. John "The Gateshead Clipper" White established a six-mile record that stood for sixty years, before it was broken by Paavo Nurmi, the legendary Finn, in 1921'. Thousands turned out here to watch 'Louis Bennett, a Native American known as Deerfoot'.

As Sinclair also notes, round there 'Everything begins with the fact of the river. the Lea and its tributaries. Like a wig of snakes. A dark stream sidling, fag in mouth, towards the Thames at Bow Creek; foam-flecked, coot-occupied, enduring its drench of industrial pollution'. Running alongside the River Lea was very evocative for me. I spent most of my childhood living by the river close to its source in Luton, playing football and cricket on the 'Riverside Walk' green by its Birdsfoot Lane banks, and more often than not arguing about who was going to fetch the ball out of the water (there was also the time I smashed my next door neighbour's glass door after whacking a golf ball with the cricket bat, but that's another story). Like the river, my journey brought me from there to London.

Something else got me musing about Luton on '5k your way', the experience of running in work teams reminding me of all the time I spent in the late 1960s/1970s hanging out at Vauxhall sports grounds, watching my dad play football or going to Vauxhall sports day, a big annual event with fair rides and games. In those days of one big company dominating a town (my dad worked for the car firm along with many others in Luton), there would often be sports clubs and facilities linked to it - Vauxhall in Luton even had its own running track up until the 1980s. I guess most of these facilities have vanished along with the manufacturing jobs that many assumed would be 'for life' - Vauxhall, which had once employed 30,000 people in Luton, ceased car production there in 2002. Still in a small way, 800 council workers on Hackney Marshes were still flying the flag for workplace-based sports and sociability last week!

You can run a 5k on Hackney Marshes every Saturday with the parkrun there, starting from Hackney Marshes Centre at 9 am. 

Terrain: mainly on tarmac paths, with some grass.

Getting there:  308, 276, 236 and W15 buses run close to the start of the course. The closest rail stations are Homerton and Hackney Wick.

Post-run refreshments: Hackney Marsh Centre has a cafe/bar.

Previously in the Running London series:

See also Run Don't Run's report of the Hackney Marshes 5k Your Way 2013

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