What It’s Really Like to Be a #Backpacker

Unofficially, I decided that 2017 was gonna be the year of volunteering for me. And I’ve stayed true to my word. Ive volunteered at Parkrun a couple of times (for the first times ever) and on Sunday 30th April I volunteered at Hackney Half Marathon.

Back in March 2016, I ran what goes down in history as my Personal Worst half marathon time at the North London Half Marathon. I mean, it was so bad (for me) that I don’t even think I wrote it in the post but from what I can remember it was around the 2:47 mark… like, worse than my first half marathon where I did around 2:27 having never run more than 10km and not having trained. During that race, I learnt what it was like to be right at the back of the race and I experienced how it felt when people had gone home and no one was there to cheer you on and keep you going. So I chose my volunteer role for Hackney Half based on that experience… I opted to be a Sweep Cyclist… on a bike with the very last runners.

In my head, the very last runners meant just those who were a little slower than the rest but the reality was that they were mostly made up of people who just turned up late… like really late. We didn’t set off until 9:36 …when the race officially started at 9:01. So in the picture below… runners are half way round (the fast ones obvs) and I’m still at the start line…

Anyway, the first few miles weren’t too bad. We kept up the pace with the runners who were pretty decent runners (just late) running between 5 and 6 minutes per kilometre. Eventually they’d catch up with slower runners and we’d leave them to it and stick with the slower ones…

Note that there were four sweep cyclists, followed by a BMW mini which was shooting t-shirts out of a bazooka, then a sweep vehicle with medics and then the actual sweep stuff like rubbish trucks and those little vehicle things with the brushes… picking up injured runners and all the rubbish left behind by the race in order to reopen the roads.

By this point, I don’t know what speed I’m cycling… I just know that it’s slow enough to make me almost fall off my bike a thousand times when clipped in. The runners we cycled with varied in attitudes and energy… from the pair that had never run before… yes, you read that right… they’d never run before but here there were doing a half marathon… to the pair where one friend was suffering from an injury in training… to a lady who was a true backpacker running consistently at her own comfortable pace, the woman who fell and then carried on running catching up and making good headway… then, my final runner who I rode with to the finish line (quite literally) – Silina.

If I shared with you all the things Silina and I chatted about I think it’d need a separate post but just know that we put the world to rights. I did my best, as a fitness professional, to help Silina keep an eye on her running technique, talking through mantras and sharing my own running experiences because running kinda is the same no matter how fast or slow you may be…

As we were coming close to exiting the Olympic Park, the course director informed us that the runner behind Silina would need to move to the pavement as she would not make the cut off, which meant that Silina was now officially the last runner on the course… and the last runner to finish …IF we could get to the finish line in time.

I filled Silina in on the situation and told her that we just had to keep moving in order to make it to the end. If you wanna see real determination and real motivation, this is where you find it. She ran… and ran… and ran… and eventually we were at the bit where the finish line is just round the corner at the end of the road. There also were still people on the course who I encouraged to cheer, clap which visibly encouraged her to keep going…

Let me just take a moment to go back to mile 10 or 11… wherever Run Dem Crew had their cheer station positioned and say a huge Thank You, firstly for still being there and secondly for still cheering with all the energy I imagine you gave to those at the front… I even remember confetti flying and I seriously smiled so much I can’t remember anything else other than the energy!

Right, now back to the finish. Sometimes when you’re so close to the end, you just have nothing left until you hear people clapping for you, cheering for you and shouting YOUR name… and seriously, that was enough to give Silina the energy for a sprint finish! Damn… I swear, if you already know you could be proud of someone you barely know, you really haven’t felt anything till you’ve been where I’ve been…

And people, yes, I recorded every single kilometre on Strava… because, yeah.

There you have it! …I’m not sure if I’ve covered everything but I’m sure you’ll ask if you have any questions, right?! …I also wanna say that I have no experience of the event itself as a runner (I didn’t go to the “Village”) …and I wanna say that my actual experience as a volunteer was sh*t …if it wasn’t for the amazing runners I met on the route and the rest of the sweep cyclist team I think I would’ve sacked this off from the minute I arrived at the venue to check in… but that is another (moany) story that I’ll save for when I see you…

Have you ever been at the back of the race?! 

Elle 🙂 

p.s this time round, my time was gifted to Virgin Sport (730am – 1pm) …in return for crap food, the feeling that they were doing me a favour and (hopefully) a free race place which I think I will use to enter the British 10km. As usual, all opinions are my own… lol 😉 



  1. Chi-Chi
    May 9, 2017 / 17:11

    Insightful article Elle; happy that Silina finished the race and finished strong! I was still in the village at the time, but aching on the grass lol!I actually just signed up to be a volunteer for the VS 10K in July….these races are costing me bare money!! I hope that the volunteering experience won't be too onerous……Chi-Chi | http://www.lifeofchi.co.uk

    • Elle Linton
      May 9, 2017 / 17:28

      I know right! …I'll be running the 10k in July (using the place I got for volunteering at Hackney! …did you get to choose your role?? what did you pick?! …hopefully will see you anyway x

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