In July 2012, Bridge The Gap officially came to London for the British 10K, which saw Nike’s running crew elite descend on the capital for a weekend of fast times and fast living (Meanwhile, in the rainy city of Manchester, Rich and I were in metaphorical running diapers, sprinting hills and scouring dirt trails pretty aimlessly beyond the acknowledgement that something called ‘Run Dem Crew’ existed… Life has a funny way of bringing things together, eh). So after two years of one-up-manship and a notable expansion of the running crew scene, the weekend of the 21st-22nd of June would see #BTG’s return to the big smoke, and Run Dem Crew‘s chance to host once more.
The challenge? Run Hackney Half Marathon. Distance: 13.1 miles… Terrain: Urban, winding, hilly… Conditions: HOT, treacherous, unforgiving…
So the Still Waters Run Deep crew travelled staggered, and I followed Rich on Friday evening with
the weight of the world our bespoke Sy Illustrations Cheer Dem prints, 50 newly pressed Still Waters tees, my weekend’s kit and Terry Dolan (the bike) strapped to my back. I can’t remember the last time I travelled light to London, but this was an exceptional amount of baggage, even for me… Transporting this up hill from Euston to Brick Lane with the help of Dani Fej and Sorrell was a definitely an enlightening experience…
With Saturday morning came the first of the weekend’s sunshine, and energy. The itinerary started off with an early morning stretch of the legs followed by a BBQ at Nike’s newly refurbished NIKE LAB 1948 space located on Bateman’s Row, Shoreditch.
Nike Lab locations exist in six different global spots, including London, offering Nike the opportunity to fuse physical retails spaces with digital experiences driven by product innovation. 1948 has been Run Dem’s home for a minute, but the regular facelifts create an exciting environment for visitors.
Due to on going knee issues, I’d built up to the morning’s run being the extent of my physical exertion that weekend – where running was concerned at least – and made sure not to waste the opportunity to run alongside international visitors from Patta Running Team, NBRO, and Run Pack Berlin, not to mention my Still Waters comrades.
Our intended 5km shake out became a 10km tourist spot tour, but the clear skies and company provided the necessary adrenaline buzz to override any little niggles in my legs. Seeing Saturday tourists part like the Red Sea as a 100-strong pack of runners flew across London’s Millenium Bridge was a personal highlight.
And if you needed reminding what makes us different to other running movements, what better place to stop for a crew shot than inside the Tate Modern?
We separated into speed groups for the returning portion of the run, and regrouped back at 1948 for some BBQ and beverage action courtesy of the Nike camp. A long day in the sun wound down via Thai & Lao Streetfood at Boxpark, and a trip to Shutterbug in search of a World Cup suitable screen. Most needed their rest for the race that would follow…
Sunday started in a paradoxical frenzy, with my body firmly planted in holiday mode and my brain telling me to move. My partner in crime for the day, Liz, rocked up 30 minutes late which postponed our early start with Cheer Dem Crew but resulted in the accidental discovery of The Gallery Cafe – a quaint vegetarian and vegan cafe located in St Margaret’s House Settlement in Bethnal Green.
St Margaret‘s is an independent community charity space which has been initiating and funding projects and activities to serve and enable the community since 1889. The settlement facilitates over fifty office and meeting spaces, including a large hall, resource center, and even three enterprising projects: Ayoka, a boutique charity shop; The Create Place; a workshop based arts and crafts centre; and, of course, The Gallery Cafe.
The space is as warm and welcoming as the staff, and the food exciting and inventive. The cafe promotes sustainability through the use of biodegradable packaging and sourcing produce through local suppliers. Fresh, cruelty-free and with profits driving straight back into the charity, there wasn’t much to dislike – Apart from the 15 minute deadline we had to reach mile 12 on the race course. Our brief haze fell quickly back to the reality of the task at hand. We ate fast and rode faster.
The 9/12 mile cheer station was cleverly positioned in the middle of a bridge over the River Lee Navigation in Hackney Wick offering each runner two chances to pass – A greatly appreciated boost for everyone suffering in the unrelenting heat. The road curved and climbed into mile 9, which meant that every encouraging word felt like a tail wind pushing forward, and while the second pass of the cheer station into mile 12 was a decline, after the twists and turns through the Olympic Park, it was a much needed kick coming in to the finishing mile…
It was a brutal race, but for Still Waters, it was important lesson too. As a predominantly fledgling crew, we are still pretty romantic about the whole running and racing experience, but our less confident runners realised new limits, and our more confident runners experienced new struggles. It might sound slightly sadistic (don’t get me wrong, seeing my friends struggle was not a thing of enjoyment by any means) but without days like these, you never discover how far you are willing to go for the things that you want.
Despite the persistent heat and the rolling hills, the challenges faced were respective to every racer. For all, it was a humbling experience. And more importantly, it was an experience shared. Mirka guided Jamie to the completion of his first ever half marathon. Bangs sat tight with younger Melanie through her first race experience, and after younger Mac experienced cramp at mile 4, Sarah stayed with him to the finish line, ensuring that his determination didn’t falter.
Naturally, races form the season highlights for crew runners as they set personal goals against both casual and vigorous training regimes, and more often than not races offer the foundation for most Bridge The Gap trips, but Hackney Half offered an oddly refreshing perspective; for most, it seemed, the challenge became the distance itself. PB times made way for humble finishes. Ego’s stood aside to leave room for the accomplishments of others. This was #crewlove in real time.
After the race came some early partying at Crate Brewery, and after the early partying came the after partying at Casa Negra. I hit up Alpress Espresso on the way through Shoreditch for a quick refreshment and we were good to go…
Our Monday was an intended active recovery day, so with half the crew still lingering around London, we made out on bikes and headed steadily for Regent’s Park. Broadway Market was our starting point with another vegetarian breakfast covered this time by Cafe Maloka.
Cafe Maloka (previously named Cafe G) is a hidden gem. Despite not offering a great deal of cooked food, their predominantly vegan offering covers the basics without falling into the category of predictable. More importantly, their wall to wall selection of tea’s remains unrivalled.
Our route (after about 45 minutes of faffing around to pick up 6 Borris Bikes) took us canalside past Central St Martins, all the way through Camden Down, and out to Primrose Hill. We made a few pit stops along the route, which gave me regular opportunities to sample my hand-delivered cold brew courtesy of Takk in Manchester – It went down a treat, Oll, so thanks for that..!
Although Primrose Hill is the name for the surrounding area, for the most-part the name represents one of the only points where you can get a clear view of Central London. Surrounded by Victorian terraces, Primrose Hill doubles up as one of the most expensive and exclusive residential areas in the city, planted in the urban belt that separates London from the suburbs.
The 256ft mound offers a brief respite for wayfarers, and an opportunity to reflect against the urban expanse, bringing our weekend to a close.