The British 10k – The Wrongs and the Rights

200907132008.jpgI’ve run the British 10k several times. It’s a great opportunity to test how my training post the London Marathon is going. But it has a lot of flaws. Some 27,000 people run this race. That’s bigger than every race in London other than the Marathon itself. They say it’s the largest non-televised 10k in the UK. The organisers need to learn that with great size comes great responsibility:

1) I applaud anyone who enters any kind of race, whether it’s 5k, 10k or longer. Everyone deserves a chance. I think they also deserve the chance to run it at their pace. I started about 2,000 people back from the start line. There were, therefore, 25,000 people or more behind me. It took me 13 minutes to get to the start line. When I finished (about 49 mins later) there were still people running – not walking – at the 1-2km mark, meaning that they’d probably had to wait an hour to cross the start line. That’s just crazy. You can see from the photo at left how far back the start stretched – it goes from the top of the roundabout at Hyde Park Corner all the way back to the Ritz Hotel.

It’s time to rework where the race starts. Either use both sides of the road and have people run down by St James’ Park and along to Parliament Square, have people line up along the length of Park Lane (and route the traffic to the other side – it’s Sunday morning after all) or have the start in Hyde Park itself and set people off and running through multiple routes on to Piccadilly.

2) I’m not the fastest runner and I’m not the slowest. I ran the first 3k in 4:15, 4:30 and 4:45. But within yards of the start I was dodging people who were already walking. Like I said above, everyone should get their chance, but there needs to be some kind of banding. If there were multiple routes to the start, then different speeds could line up in different places; or those with slow times could line up to the left and the runners on the right. I was talking to a lady next to me at the start who was hoping to finish in 2 hours – her doctor had told her not to run as she had a heart condition! Someone like that needs a gentle start – not one surrounded by thousands of people jostling to get going.

So, some pace banding, some room to one side for charity walkers, some different start points or something to ease the crush and confusion at the start.

3) The Mayor of Westminster made a lovely speech, we had God Save The Queen (the long version if I’m not mistaken) and then a minute’s silence in memory of someone (I really don’t know who) who had recently died. And this was all before the gun. The race started late.

Runners with itchy feet don’t like to be kept waiting. It was hot on Sunday and getting hotter the longer we stood around. For those expecting to finish in 90 mins or more and starting way back anyway, it must have been extra torture. Keep the start quick and to the point. Do the speeches when everyone is milling around the baggage area.

4) You made the cardinal mistake of running out of water. At the 7km mark, you’d closed up shop. Water bottles littered the road and you’d folded up the tables. And I was at that point probably 60 minutes after the gun (5min/km * 7 plus 13 mins to cross the start line). That wasn’t a good moment for a lot of people, especially with the next water on Westminster Bridge. When I got to the bridge, the marshalls moved me to the right hand side of the lane, away from the water – so that was closed off to me too. But I was up front, relatively, what was going on for the 25,000 people behind me?

Forecast how much water you need and add some more. Then add some more the week before if it’s going to be a hot day. Then add some more again. I’m sure you can get a sale or return deal.

5) The course, in its 10km length, has three doublebacks – three points where you have to do a 180 degree turn from one side of the road to the other. Inevitably, people slow down, bunch up, trip over each other and then have to speed up again. This isn’t good. It also routes you through the road tunnel at Southwark Bridge both on the way out and on the way back. On a good day it’s sticky and ugly in there, on a hot day it’s a lot worse.   

I’d love to work with you to design a different course. We could take in Marble Arch, Admiralty Arch, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, cross the river, a couple of km on the south side, back via Westminster or even Lambeth and along to the finish line in Whitehall. The worst turn you’d make would be 90 degrees How much more fun would that be?

6) The official map in the race brochure is impossible to follow. I mean completely impossible. Each time I’ve run the race, the route has been different. The big change this time was a run down Victoria Street with a 180 turn and then back to Parliament. The last thing I want to do as a runner is have to figure out where I’m going and when I need to speed up. The km markers are hard enough to see as it is – I missed 8km and 9km – so it’s important that the route is clearly marked in the brochure. I ran the last km in 3m 40s – I had plenty of gas left that I was saving for the last couple of km but ended up using it all in the last km and then, for the first time, finished without feeling like I’d given it everything I had.

This is the map they provide of the course


From this you might think you’d see Tower Bridge, maybe even cross a few bridges (why make them red?) and that you’d cross Westminster Bridge twice and then go down Embankment again before turning left (New Scotland Yard or thereabouts) and going up Whitehall (away from Trafalgar Square) to the finish – which you’d say was somewhere around where Westminster Bridge is or, at least, at the Parliament Square end. And you’d see all those TV markers and wonder what that was about given it’s a non-televised race.

Here’s the actual 2009 British 10k Race Route (or race map if you prefer)


If you want a bigger copy of this to look at, let me know and I’ll send it to you – leave me details in the comments section.

Why not do a proper map in the race book that comes out with the numbers and the t-shirt? Make it clear where the km markers are and let people think about where they’ll be making turns.

7) The finish is just weird. You cross the line – actually, not always, a chap just ahead of me collapsed yards before the line and, as far as I could tell, didn’t make it up again based on what the paramedics were doing – and then what? To get your medal, you have to go all the way back to the bag checkin. I didn’t have any bags – what I wanted to do was go and cheer the people still going. But last time I did that, you’d run out of medals by the time I got back to the bag check (I eventually found one thanks to a kind marshall).

Make the finish clean and simple – hand out the water, check the chips, give everyone a medal and a photo. Every race does it that way.

Wrap Up

So that’s my list. They’ll probably never let me run it again, but I’d love to do it if some of these were fixed. I’ll even volunteer my time with the organisers to help sort it out – and to poll wider running forums for their ideas of what to change too.

If anyone’s interested, here’s my race profile


I know I could have run this one faster. I’ve never really trained for 10k races so I have a lot to learn about when to cut loose. I think that last km proves I could have run faster.

5 thoughts on “The British 10k – The Wrongs and the Rights

  1. HI Alan and thanks. I thought I was being pedantic to consider the same flaws in the race. I'veonly been running these type of races in the past year and although this one is the most beautiful in the world, the issues are real. I ended up running it 4 mins slower than the one I ran in Melbourne Australia two weeks earlier. I must have crossed the line close to you as the runner on the ground was receiving medical attention as I crossed the line! My other concern was with the race pack. I paid for it online and never received it. The official website has no phone no. or email address – it goes out of its way to ensure you can't contact them. This is unfortunate. I would have liked to see wave starts – I started with some guerillas!!! It was brilliant but more difficult than it needed to be. I agree with your proposed route. Particularly for a foreigner it would be so much nicer!good luck in 2010!

  2. Suggest you write to SAKA MINERAL WATER, MISHCON, ASICS and GATORADE and make the point to their marketing director. Seems a pointless event and they are advertising more runners next yearin the 2010 chaos.Even Nike got their RunLondon Wembley badly wrong so perhaps it is young marketeers arranging something only runners really understand. Sort them out Alan.Mischon de Reya should know better, ask them why their thirteen letters drive laughter in running man\”.

  3. 1pumplane … ohhhhh … starting from the back is terrible. i did that once, never again. at least it didn't rain.

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