Slowly, real races are popping up, claiming to be Covid secure, offering us the opportunity to experience the thrill of race atmosphere once again. But are they secure? Can they really provide the atmosphere we’ve been missing?
I signed up for Kew Gardens 10K almost a year ago, long before any of us had heard of Covid.
My last real race was back in January this year. My London Winter 10k in February was cancelled for bad weather. Then along came Covid. In March I decided to forego my place in the Bath HM even though it went ahead, and instead this became the first of several virtual races that have kept me going this year as one by one my event bookings were all cancelled and became virtual … except Kew 10K. This one defied the odds and went ahead at the weekend.
I love Kew Gardens and really wanted to do this run. The organisers emailed constantly, sharing their thoughts on a Covid secure format. I wanted to believe it was safe. They actually split the race over two days, with just under 2000 runners on the Saturday and just over 1500 on the Sunday (when I ran). They gave us other options, but I definitely wanted to run this !!!
On entering Kew Gardens, marshalls were checking we all had our masks on. There was a fair bit of steady walking, with everyone mindful of space. First up we came to a deserted bag drop which had been alphabetised and spread out across an entire car park. Next were some beautifully distanced portaloos, with beautifully distanced queues … most importantly they were the shortest loo queues I have ever seen! Handles were being regularly sprayed, and there was hand sanitiser everywhere facebook.com/RichmondRUNFES...
My main concern had been the pre-startline process, all that waiting around packed together in holding pens. I have to say though, that part of the event felt very safe. There was lots of space to stand around in until our wave was called, then when given the go ahead to move forward we all walked along, well distanced until we were corralled into lines between marked tape - single file, 2m apart (think car ferry queues!). Lanes were then released two at a time and we walked off double file, 2m apart until the orange dots on the ground split us into four lines walking side by side, 2m apart … and then there we were … a bin for each lane to drop our masks … 10m more to walk and we were over the timing mats! There were marshals with loud speakers at all points during this ‘crowdflow’, giving clear instructions and urging us to keep our distance.
Wow it was a fantastic feeling. I love running among runners (not necessarily with runners, but definitely among them). It was a bit like coming home, felt all familiar and uplifting and exciting!!! Woohoo!!!
Out on the course there were people overtaking me, people to overtake. The paths were wide and mostly there was plenty of room. I have to say though, at times in the first half of the run I had to hesitate, and maybe I didn’t always leave 2m as people moved. I wonder if this could have been improved if we had been started in a slightly more spread out manner - more waves perhaps? Having said that there was far less jostling than your average parkrun, let alone a race.
The course had been altered to stick to wide paths and to separate the start and finish areas; this meant there were lots of marshalls on lots of corners. They all held signs - ‘smile it will make you faster’ etc…, they blew whistles and they whooped, cheered and encouraged us on. There were people dressed as various animals (not sure why!) whooping and dancing, playing music and generally providing distractions. There were several water tables spread out at the halfway point, with one loud and cheery gentleman insisting ‘no smile, no water’. I didn’t want water, but it did make me smile! There were no spectators lining the route, but these enthusiastic marshals and cheer teams made plenty of noise and created a good atmosphere. It was definitely more Parkrun than London Landmarks Half Marathon, but it was miles away from the solitude of a solo virtual run!
The finish line was real - timing mats and photographers. Less cheering perhaps, but that wasn’t a problem as my main concern at this point was struggling to get my heartrate below max and my breathing quieter than an old steam train; the less people to witness that the better! The walk from the finish line, via the well spread tables of goody bags (sadly minus medals which are still sitting in a slowly moving container) to the exit from Kew Gardens was well spaced, yet filled with the sound of friends talking and people on phones … all the usual post race hubbub - without the jostling.
As I say, there was a lot of pre-race information from the organisers, and I found this article about outdoor risk particularly interesting: vox.com/future-perfect/2020... It at least balances the bad with the good, albeit a lot of the references on both sides of the argument are non-peer reviewed.
The organisers are declaring the event a success and this is their post event press release: richmondrunfest.co.uk/get-i...
Did I enjoy it? You bet I did, just look at the photos! Was there enough race atmosphere to make me try really hard? Again look at the photos - some weirdly intense expressions and the best photo of flying feet I own - they tell their own tale. Was I safe? Well, this was probably the riskiest thing I have done since the start of lockdown; having said that, I have been ultra cautious and I will say I felt safer than I would in a supermarket or on a train or bus (not that I’ve done any of those things since March). Would I do it again? Absolutely!!! I can’t wait. Larger events will struggle, but this showed that smaller events can be organised successfully, carefully and still provide a great atmosphere.
Fingers crossed I don’t get a call now from Track & Trace to say I passed/was passed by someone who has since tested positive!