In short: Another fine race In full: The only thing wrong with this year's race was the atrocious weather - which is to be expected in January, I suppose. Cold, wet and windy it may have been, but that didn't dampen anyone's enthusiasm, including the incredible marshals, who turned out in vile conditions to wave and guide us on our way. Like I said last year, I'll be back. Date of review: January 28, 2014
In short: The Wrong Way Round In full: A very nicely organised race. A good course, on the whole, but I would have preferred to have run up to the racecourse and got that part out of the way early on, so that the final miles were easier. Date of review: September 16, 2013
In short: Chips with everything In full: Or rather, no chips. I have no problems with the race - it started late because apparently "some runners were still on their way". Well, tough. The race started at 11 - plenty of time to get there. The race was well organised otherwise, with friendly marshals and well signposted. But the price was supposed to include a chipped time, and there were no chips and no offer of a refund. Otherwise, a good morning out. Date of review: September 10, 2013
In short: One of the worst organised races I've run in 30 years of running In full: When I heard that the Cobalt Appeal were looking for runners for the British 10k London Run on Sunday 14 July I was happy to put my name forward. I'd heard of the race, I like the charity, and I wasn't doing anything that day except not painting the spare room.
When I worked out the logistics I was slightly less happy – the baggage store was open from 0800 to 0900, which meant setting the alarm for 0520. My companion and I left Cheltenham at 0600 and, thanks to no traffic and the tube, arrived at the baggage store in plenty of time.
So that just left the walk to the start. We started following a crowd, only to notice some other people walking purposefully the other way. We asked a marshall, who didn't know where the start was. Another pointed us somewhat uncertainly in what turned out to be the wrong direction, but eventually herd instinct kicked in and off we set. A sign would have been useful, since those of us who had brought our race notes with helpful maps had left them with the baggage.
We walked, and walked, and walked, for what seemed like miles. It was a very pleasant day for sitting in St James's Park watching the ducks, but slightly too wam for even mild exertion.
Finally we found ourselves at the Bomber Command memorial, along with several tens of thousands of others, trying to get onto Piccadilly. It was about 0920, so we were fifteen minutes early for the start which, according to the race notes, would be at 0935 in 30 second "waves", on a first-come, first-served basis.
At around 0930 the announcer asked us to give it up for "Katrina and the Waves". I was standing on a barrier and by craning my neck I could make out Katrina sans Waves on a balcony overlooking the start, doing a bang-up karaoke of her best-loved bits. Meanwhile under the relentless sun, we waited for the start. 0935 came and went, as did its immediate companion 0936 and its distant acquaintance 0940. Katrina was replaced by the inaudible Lord Mayor of Westminster.
Finally, around 0950, off went the gun and the elite runners. We didn't. We continued to stand there for quite a few minutes, until eventually we shuffled forward ten yards. Then another ten yards. Then twenty. Then we were actually, you know, walking. But what we were actually walking towards was Hyde Park, when we should have been walking towards Piccadilly Circus. Eventually, though, we crossed the underpass and, some fifteen or twenty minutes after the start, we crossed the first timing mat.
So far, so good. It's a mass participation race – over 20,000 runners – so expecting to be a couple of seconds across the start line (like at Frampton six days earlier) was never on the cards. And anyway, it's chip timing, so I could still win!
In every mass participation run I've ever entered you line up according to your predicted finishing time. The London Marathon, the Great North Run – these races enforce your adherence to this very sensible arrangement. The only time I ran the GNR I was running with someone else's number (tut! tut!), someone who had predicted 2h 20m, nearly an hour slower than I was aiming for. Though I appealed to the stewards, I was rightly refused entry to a faster pen, so I had to make my way for the first five miles past a herd of rhinoceros, clowns, stilt-walkers and the like.
The London 10k doesn't do "predicted times" unless, presumably, you're an invited elite runner (the winner, Robert Byron, ran 28m 34s which is reasonably elite in my book). The folly, for the semi-serious runner, was evident to me within about a hundred metres.
No, not salty potato snacks, I mean people walking. Sometimes three and four abreast.
I'm not a running fascist. Everyone goes at their own speed – that is a given. After all, at the end of a 10k Haile Gebrselassie would be nearly two miles ahead of me, which is a humbling thought, so I'm not in a position to look down on anyone and, on the hottest day of the year in the hottest place in Britain, walking wasn't a bad way of completing the course.
But it made it quite a problem for those who preferred to run. Even in the GNR starting so far back, after about five miles I had more or less stopped overtaking people and was running in a pack, but this never happened in London. I don't remember being overtaken, but after a while overtaking lost its novelty value (and I like overtaking, as a rule).
Even when the road was wide there was no way of running in a straight line, except on the pavement. And on the pavement were marshalls, shooing me (and other runners) back onto the road. Some walkers had moved to the edge but others were all over the place. One man had stopped on Westminster Bridge, right in the middle, facing the wrong way, taking a selfie on his iPhone.
Had I listened to the pundits (fast course, flat as a pancake) I might have been miffed at the impossibility of running this as a competitive 10k (I'm reasonably sure that, had I been wearing a Garmin, it would show at least 12k). As it was, after a hard week's racing and training, I was just there for the craic so for me it was no biggie.
But it was a problem. I saw several collisions between slower runners/walkers and those trying to overtake them, as well as liberal use of elbows. It wasn't the fault of the slower people that the organisers had thrown them in at the deep end.
What was more serious was the lack of water at various places. Normally in a 10k I wouldn't stop for water, but when it's hot (have I mentioned that it was hot?) then drinking and drenching are both vital. At some water stops the service was pretty poor (apparently one of the people handing out water was asking if the runner wanted the bottle to be opened for them!) – and at the end it was almost dangerous. Having crossed the timing mat the first thing I wanted was liquid, but could I find any? Could I eckerslike. Eventually I came upon a discarded pile of empty water cartons and in the distance a chap sauntering across the road with a replacement pack and a jaunty air. Before he'd reached me the thirsty vultures in front had nearly stripped his aquatic carcase.
After the race was over and we'd collected our kit we met up with the some others who were also running for Cobalt, and had our picture taken with our medals. Ah yes, the medals. Very nice, too – but I lost count of the number of times we had to explain to bewildered finishers where we got our medals from (bizarrely they were handed over when you retrieved your baggage, which was something of a disadvantage to those who never checked any baggage in).
The BBC political satire "The Thick Of It" is most notorious for the inventive swearing of the lead character Malcolm Tucker, but it also gave us the very useful word "omnishambles". For my money (in this instance £0 – except the cost of petrol and topping up my Oyster card) the London 10k was an "omnishambles" – certainly one of the worst organised races since any one of several of the Tewkesbury Half Marathon debacles of recent years.
No blame at all attaches to the marshalls, who were doing their best. Nor to Katrina, whose fault it was not that there was no room on her balcony for a Marshall amp and a poodle-haired guitarist, never mind a drum kit. But somewhere buried in the organisational apparatus – no, not apparatus; contraption* – someone forgot to explain the basics of how to organise a running race; to wit –
a) Start the race at the appointed time, particularly when the weather isn't conducive to keeping thousands of people hanging around b) Set people off in something at least approximating their likely order of finishing c) Don't say you're going to set the race off in waves if you're not going to set the race off in waves d) Train those tasked with operating a water station how to do it efficiently e) Tell marshalls at the baggage area where the start is f) Put up signs showing the way from the baggage area to the start in the event of the failure of e) g) Arrange for people to get their medals when they finish – don't make it a guessing game.
Would I do the race again? I might, if I could contrive to be about ten feet behind the elite runners at the start. It's heavily charity-centric, and for me that made a change from low-key club races. Plus, it is a truly fabulous course, round some of the most iconic sights in London. Would I recommend this race to an inexperienced runner? Not on your nellie. Do a few parkruns first.
* Credit for this to Martin Bell, the ex-BBC reporter who successfully stood for Parliament against the disgraced Tory MP Neil Hamilton. Bell described his political support as "less a machine than a contraption". Date of review: July 17, 2013
In short: Excellent race In full: It's been very difficult in the last 12 months arranging road races in Gloucestershire - after the debacle of the Cheltenham Half Marathon the Police clamped down on road events, which has meant the loss of some much loved races. Luckily, the Linda Franks race has survived, and is in very good health. This was very well organised and marshalled - and it's quick too! But the best thing was the terrific tea and cakes afterwards - keenly priced and delicious, not to mention an extensive lucky dip where your running number was put in a hat and you stood to win a prize (I got a very nice photo frame). I'll be back! Date of review: January 30, 2013
In short: A few hiccups but ... In full: I'd been meaning to do this race for some time, and this year I got my chance. I wasn't disappointed - although it's not really a PB course, I ran a reasonable time and felt pretty happy at the end. The course is very pretty and although the weather was rubbish, the atmosphere was great. The only glitch was the results, which I think were the result of trying to write down times and numbers in the driving rain. Date of review: June 6, 2012
In short: An absolute and utter disgrace In full: This year, being in the form of my life, I decided to run the 5 instead of my usual half. When I saw my time at the end I knew it was short, confirmed by my team mate who won the race, who was also going for a PB. If you advertise a race as being a certain distance, and you take money off entrants, provide them with chip timing etc., then surely the least you can do is either measure the course or mark the race as "Approximately" 5 miles. I won't be running any more races organised by this crew. Date of review: May 22, 2012
In short: Interesting and unusual In full: The Fire Service College is where fire persons from all around the world come to train to tackle emergencies of all kinds. Set in a disused airfield, there are burnt out buildings, cars, aircraft, you name it. There is also no shelter, so when the race was run in a Biblical storm it was sink or swim. At the end of the first lap I was tempted to pretend I was running the 5k fun run but decided to get my money's worth. At one point on the course the wind was so strong that my trailing leg was blown into my leading leg and nearly tripped me, while at another point I had two runners behind me sheltering from the wind, who had the nerve to come out and overtake me when I turned out of the wind. Still, it's a potentially great PB course, full of interest, well organised and if the only complaint is a lack of showers at the end, well that's not too bad. Date of review: April 30, 2012
In short: Some teething problems In full: The main problem was parking - why not add the parking to the cost of entry or something? Weren't the organisers paying Worcester Warriors for the use of the facilities anyway? The delayed start was annoying, but nothing more. The race itself suffered from a lack of mile markers after 5 miles, and I was sent the wrong way when the half marathon and marathon courses diverged. Having said that, I ran a fast time (the fastest for a good few years) so I had a good day at least. Date of review: April 16, 2012
In short: Not trying very hard In full: Why not send out the chips with the numbers? Why not enough loos? Why some loos run out of loo paper? Why no countdown to the start? Why water stations undermanned? Why so little in the goody bag considering the entry cost? Why so windy?
Ok, the last one isn't the organisers' fault, but the others are. I think it's a shame that so much of the race is run on boring roads in industrial estates, past army vehicle depots etc. But from 5 or so miles on it gets more pleasant. Date of review: May 24, 2011