Anya Culling: The Hackney Half - London's 'Glastonbury of Running'


, by Anya Culling

Anya Culling at the Hackney Moves Half Marathon. Photography courtesy of: Anya Culling / Marathon Photos

Dubbed 'The Glastonbury of Running', the Hackney Moves Half Marathon highlights the best of the London running community. Anya Culling shares her experiences from this year's race.

Hackney Moves Half Marathon is the race that encapsulates everything I love about the London running scene. It’s a cocktail of community spirit, contagious energy, vibrant diversity, and immense pride. The race connects people through movement and culture and has cemented itself as one of the UK’s favorite running events. I urge anyone who has ever flirted with the idea of a race to get yourself a place at next year's event.

This year was my second time running The Hackney Moves Half Marathon and it is the one race I would recommend to anyone, no matter your running ability. There’s a different air about the race, people forget their anxieties and fears around racing and head to Hackney Marshes to chase the vibe rather than a PB - and in doing so, often run the race of their life.

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There’s no talk of world records or Boston Qualifiers, lactic testing, or double threshold days, everyone is there with friends and family to have fun in the streets of East London. The race starts and finishes at the race festival village at Hackney Marshes, with a medley of food vendors, bars, stages, and events it’s no wonder the weekend has been dubbed the Glastonbury of running. The race itself could be mistaken for a 13-mile carnival with the music blaring, confetti cannons, disco balls, and MCs on the mics. The atmosphere makes you forget about the trivial pressures of racing and brings us all back to why we love the sport.

(L) Anya Culling at the Hackney Half. Photography courtesy of Anya Culling / Simon Roberts. (R) Runners at the Hackney Half. Photography courtesy of: Anya Culling.

A half marathon might seem like a huge feat for your first race, but it’s a distance anyone can train for. It’s a milestone race for so many but an achievable challenge without taking over your life. I think it’s the best race distance; you get to enjoy the ‘fun stuff’ about long-distance running - gels, blisters, training plans, portaloos, and carb loading - whilst the training is still conducive to high energy in your everyday life. Plus you can finish a half marathon in time for a Sunday lunch! Now I am not saying it’s an ‘easy’ race - despite it being called a ‘half’ marathon it isn’t half as hard, it is just double as fun.

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The start of the race

The race begins at a very sociable 9 am, the early summer sun is just starting to heat up, music is playing and we are in the pen waiting for the start gun. Everyone is looking good and feeling great, it’s like an East London fashion week for performance wear - running apparel is the zeitgeist not complete without wrap-around mirrored sunglasses reflecting off each other.

A half marathon might seem like a huge feat for your first race, but it’s a distance anyone can train for. It’s a milestone race for so many but an achievable challenge without taking over your life.

As we cross the startline the supporters roar, a cacophony of loved ones screaming encouragement that fills the E1 borough. I start with a few of the guys I regularly train with, my boyfriend, and some of my closest friends who I met through running. The first 5km takes us past Hommerton to Hackney Downs, into the heart of East London. The first 5km of any half marathon is all about finding a rhythm, conscious not to go out too hot, and simmering to a sustainable pace.

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I was happy tucked in behind Joe, Max, and Conor who dragged me up the undulating hills, shaded me from the sun, and sheltered me from any wind. Always find a group to run with if you can, stick on their heels and work together as a pack. We were clipping along nicely at 3:40/km average pace, I took on an energy gel and was rolling smoothly. We rounded the corner to Hackney Central where we passed the fifth entertainment zone in double the kilometers, the support had turned up a couple of decibels and it was one big party out there.


My boyfriend picked up the pace and I dropped back a couple of steps, he shouted back at me to catch up to which I swiftly told him to ‘leave me alone’ - a regular exchange of words that we have become far too used to in recent times, at least I couldn’t threaten to get an uber back home like I do on the bike. It’s a miracle he doesn’t have neck strain from looking back in every run, cycle and swim we do together but it’s tough love which gives me something to chase.

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10-15 km is always the meat of the race, the hardest part is when you have to engage your mind and push through the discomfort. I always break a race into 3 parts, the first section focuses on running with your legs and finding a rhythm, the middle section running with your head and staying strong, and the final section with your heart and giving it everything you’ve got. We ran from Dalston, through Haggerston, passing the Hackney Empire and crossing Regent's Canal. My boss Ben Parker, who founded Runna, the training provider of Hackney Half, picked me up and got me to run with him averaging 3:46/km.

No matter how many races you do, the pride you feel is always the same. It’s why running is contagious.


I remind myself to run the mile I am in and not to get too excited, 6 km is still a long way to go. The sun is hot now and I am pouring water from the aid stations down my back. We run from Broadway Market past London fields towards the run communities ‘Your Friendly Runners’, ‘Mafia Moves’, and ‘Midnight Runners’ alongside Victoria Park.

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You can hear the noise growing as you approach, see the neon paint on the roads, and the confetti from cannons in the air. I need this energy to get me through the last few km. I saw my dad and my brother supporting and they started running alongside me, screaming encouragement and support. My hearing was muffled and my eyes were blurring with tears.

No matter how many races you do, the pride you feel is always the same. It’s why running is contagious. I was waving my arms and cheering to strangers in the crowd, the support from people who just want you to do your best always blows my mind. The more you give a crowd the more they give back - my mantra is a smile a mile and my cheeks hurt with exhilaration.

(L) Anya at the finish line of the Hackney Half. Photography courtesy of: Arran Mcaskill. (R) Anya and Holly at the finish line. Photography courtesy of: Anya Culling

The finish

I crossed the finish line with more energy than when I started. Often I don’t have the minerals to lift my arms in celebration but the runner's high was euphoric. I finished in a time of 79.54, with six seconds to spare on my target of 1hr 20mins. I ran into the arms of my best friend Holly who came 2nd female and my boyfriend Joe in a salty embrace of pride and achievement. I love looking at the elation of other runners at the finish line, it’s the gamut of human emotion - it’s hard to describe the feeling of finishing a race but they get it too. It’s nothing like anything you can experience in normal day-to-day life, you’ll have to sign up yourself to understand it for yourself. Trust me you won’t regret it.

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