2010-07-11 British 10K, London   5 comments


An acquaintance offered up a place on his corporate team to the sold out British 10K, held this past weekend.  Normally £30 to enter, I got in for £10 and so shouldn’t really complain.  However,

This is an event that can only serve to harm the participatory sport (or, for a lot of us, mere recreational activity) of running.  Because of its hype this is one of the events that many out there have trained for to be their first ever race.  The poor planning, worse execution and high cost of the British 10K make it a sour experience for those that know what to expect in a large field; for newby’s, this will put many of them off from ever trying another, better race.

The race packet I received came with some shoddy maps that were confusing even though I’m pretty familiar with the area and have run parts most of the route as bits of other runs. Jamie was going to come along and meet me afterward but as it turned out where we originally had planned for her to watch the race and subsequently for us to meet up were impossible to get to without following the race route itself.  Fortunately, she decided to beg off this trip and this mishap was avoided.

Worthless as a map, unpleasant as a graphic design

Of the 30,000 registrants roughly 25,000 participated, but it wouldn’t be surprising if lots more showed up and thought, “fuck it, I’m not getting in that crowd.”  Of the ones that DID show up, only 5000 of us had RFID timing chips that log when you cross the start and finish pads; this means that for most participants timing was entirely their own responsibility…and I didn’t see a clock at the start. As a corporate participant, I was afforded a timing device which indicated that I did the course in 48 minutes 52 seconds, although my gun time was 1 hour 26 minutes 22 seconds (or 37 minutes 30 seconds from gun to crossing the start mats).  The chip time represents the my personal worst 10K performance (PW) in over 35 years, but as a 12.5 K (once you factor in all the dodging and weaving), it wasn’t too bad at all.

The start was about a mile from the bag drop and the route between them passed the extensive queues for the inadequate number of Port-A-Loos. I went for a little jog in Green Park and found a public potty that was clean and empty save for a couple of other runners and so after a 20 minute jog around the park was able to rejoin the sad procession of participants toward the start line. The crowd came to a halt, for the most part, and we waited for the opening ceremonies–far away down the sea of people–to finish.

The starting gun was a cannon fired at about 9:35 am.  You could see the smoke from the shot and see the elite runners head our way a full 3 seconds before hearing the ‘boom’ itself.  Twenty minutes after the start, I was still at the same point, halfway between Clarges and Half Moon Streets, 1/2 mile from the start mats.

Since there was no effort to sort the runners by expected finish times, there had been a crush of idiots moving toward the front as though this was at all likely to help with their plans.  I opted to go the other direction and to start dead last (there were only 9 or 10 others that crossed the start line with me), and moved toward one of the barriers to watch the crowd coming down the eastbound side of Piccadilly, while the rest of us were queued on the westbound.  As a testament to the slavish dedication to queue’ing that exists here, folks kept trying to get me to move up with them and seemed confused that I was willing to let them go on ahead.

Either way, you were going to be stuck in crowds with folks walking 6 or 8 abreast, dodging slower runners that were dodging even slower runners, and looking for open lengths of kerb and pavement on which to take two or three full length strides.  My thoughts regarding starting at the back was that at least I would only need to cast a cursory glance over my shoulder to avoid crashing into anyone coming up behind me because it was almost impossible that anyone behind me would be able to keep up with my normal pace.

However, none of the thousands I passed showed that much courtesy and instead opted to switch positions as the whim grabbed them.  Not the most graceful man on my best days, I was forced to move with elegance and timing far beyond my normal capabilities in order to hit gaps between bodies and to avoid knocking these turds straight to the ground.  That I only had two collisions was a testament to effort and concentration.

This effort ruined the most attractive part of the event, though: the route itself, which was fantastic covering as it did the major downtown sightseeing spots with the roads closed to motor vehicles.  The random pedestrians that decided to try to stroll through the sea of 10K participants only exacerbated the need to keep totally focused on your immediate surroundings.  Even allowing one’s peripheral vision to drift away from the turbulence around would have courted disaster.  And, since the weather was spectacular to have had to miss the views on most of the route was a real dissappointment.

Races with smaller fields often instruct participants to be aware of those that want to pass, and to make way if they aren’t actively competing; although these instructions are offered to no effect in these other races, at least the effort is made. The British 10K announcers along the way actually appear to actively encourage this poor behaviour.

While there was no water to be had until 7 km into the race for the late starters, it was just as well that there wasn’t enough water.  The tossers ahead were tossing the empties on the streets and we followers were forced to run through the debris.  This is typical at a race and usually nothing to moan about except that the water was all served in 500 mL plastic bottles creating a real slipping hazard if you stepped too suredly onto the sometimes crushed waste.  Printed paper cups could have done as good a job at advertising the sponsoring company, would have been marginally more environmentally sound, would have been safer, and the same amount of water would have served the entire group. Tsk.

At the finish, we were herded through another narrow passage for a long walk back to pick up our drop bags.  Some girls were distributing a sport drink (again in plastic) but there wasn’t enough for the crush of people, and there weren’t enough people distributing the meager amount of fluids.  No fruit at the finish, either.  Just the slow meandering death march away from Trafalgar Square which I needed to double back over to once the guards and fencing dissipated.  The so-called ‘goody’ bag had a granola bar, one of those annoying finishers medals I’ve griped about before, a wrist band (in case I wanted to look like a tennis pro in 1974), and an oversized ballpoint pen with ‘Asics’ written on the side.

And, the only pubs that open before noon down there were cordoned off.  I rode back out to Uxbridge before I could get any refreshment!

Posted 2010/07/12 by Drunken Bunny in commentary, Run Across Britain, running

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5 responses to “2010-07-11 British 10K, London

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  1. Also ‘ran’ the race and agree with all your comments. It felt like lots of corners had been cut to save/ make money.
    I also found a blog from someone about the race in 2009 and more or less all the same comments were made.
    I can’t believe Ascics, Gatorade and other brands would want to associate themselves with an event that continues to be of such a poor standard.

  2. Actually i disagree i thought the route was well managed with lots of water stations placed around, guys on tanoys encouraging you around the course. Yes the bag that was given at the end was too basic but as long as you got your badge what did you expect really.

    • One thing you could expect was water at the water stations and a modicum of safety that would have come from, well, anything softer than plastic bottles to stumble through.

  3. Pingback: Second Year in Britain: Run Across Britain Progress « The endless British pub crawl

  4. Pingback: Queen’s Head, Uxbridge, Greater London | The Endless British Pub Crawl

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