I finished this race yesterday and have to say I left the 'festival' area on Hackney marshes buzzing; the atmosphere during the run was great as was that in the festival area however I do think there is definitely room for improvement. Insofar as I can see this is Virgin Sport's debut outing into mass participation runs which explains the clunky parts of this event but also the fresh 'festival' take.
- Good: atmosphere, support, route, bag-drop efficiency, festival feel, other entertainment, food & drink availability and medal
- Improve: pre-race comms, admin/organisation, loos, t-shirt and goody-bag system.
I did the race last year so was keeping an eye out for it since I'd enjoyed it so much, annoyingly I booked it the day before they released a discount code...but it happens. I'd advise people to wait to book until one is available, if you register interest they do come up every now again. The booking process itself was, I initially thought, quite straightforward however when only one out of the two race packs arrived I realised that perhaps it wasn't. I e-mailed and tweeted and got a response a few days later after I'd already called and clarified that if "+1's" hadn't accepted the T+C's they had been sent they would have to pick up race packs in the morning of the event or the day before. I opted to go the day before as I knew it would be inconvenient on the day as it appeared lots of people had the same issue, given the queues I saw at the helpdesk on the morning of the run I was clearly right! This was a minor inconvenience for me but could quite easily have been a major inconvenience to others.
The race pack contained a race number with the chip in it, reasonable size plastic bag for bag drop, some safety pins and a leaflet saying the actual race guide would be sent digitally. I downloaded the event guide which was helpful and had all the required information although it was advising people to get there at 7am for a 9am start which was totally unnecessary. I’ve noticed a lot of events do this and can understand why but I would have been pretty miffed if I’d gotten there for 7am and it had rained all morning like it was forecast too, especially since hardly any of the festival area was covered over. I got there for 8.15 and that was plenty of time for a bag drop and loo visit. Getting there was easy enough, I headed to Leyton Station and did the 15-minute walk with hordes of others and it was apparent many people were doing the same from nearby Stratford. They had signs and marshals to guide the way too which was useful, I could see that anyone who did know the area might get confused without them.
The event village was sizeable and had a plethora of the obligatory eateries (including hipster east London ones of course given the venue!), helpdesk which looked to be swamped, very efficient bag drop and NOT NEARLY ENOUGH TOILETS! This is my one major annoyance with these events; lots or runners means lots of people hydrating and generally being nervous which means lots of people who will need a loo! I walked into the event village and my heart sank when I saw a massive snaking queue for only 4 portaloos, luckily, I managed to find some more with a marginally smaller queue and had plenty of time given that I was in one of the later starts and had arrived with 45 minutes to spare.
The race started on time and was thoroughly enjoyable, I regularly run around east London so getting to do 21k of running on closed roads in the area was great. The support was brilliant; lots of little enclaves where people were clearly having little street parties and had come out of houses to offer water, jelly babies and encouraging hollers. The race was good humoured and although it became a little crowded in some of the narrow parts I didn’t ever feel as though I was having my heels trod on or was going to tread on anyone else. The aid stations were good and had plenty of water bottles which were easy to grab and the mist showers towards the end were very welcome. I’m not too sure that the Lucozade in cups was a great idea as they didn’t seem able to pour quite quickly enough to meet the demand on the latter two stations. There were tonnes of first aiders around which was reassuring and of the one or two people who I saw that looked a little unwell or injured it looked as though they were getting tonnes of support and aid. They had lots of pacers on the route spread across a variety of desired finished times and I really liked that they had a ‘joggy’ and ‘jog-run’ pacer – wish I had that for my first one! It was a really inclusive run with lots of different shapes, sizes and speeds which made for a supportive atmosphere.
The finish was great, a huge crowd greeted you back into the marshes through a fancy finish gantry and then you filtered through into the area where you got your medal and goody bag items. I was initially a little dubious about the medal but it’s really grown on me; it’s really different and has a slick understated elegance you might expect from something associated with Virgin. The goody bag area was not so slick and could be better described as carnage. I’m not at all convinced by the ‘grab a bag and help yourself’ method of goody-bagging as it lends itself to greedy people (of which I saw one or two!) taking more than they need and leaving slower people with very little which saddens me given the huge achievement it might represent for those running a little slower. I had a mare trying to get a t-shirt since they were fitted and gender specific and the marshals didn’t seem to know which was which. I initially picked up a ladies small which, when unwrapped, looked as though it might cut off blood supply to all of my upper body limbs and therefore had to venture back in to swap it. I eventually got a ladies medium which was far more reasonable; the front design is pretty boring but the rear looks cools. The quality is thin and flimsy and feels quite cheap in honesty – I expected something a little better from Virgin and something a little…redder?!
The festival area you got to enjoy post finish was quite cool; a stage with fitness classes and another with bands kept you entertained whilst you enjoyed some hipster fried chicken, craft ale and really nice coffee. I queued an age for the coffee though, they definitely need more coffee places next year as they seemed more in demand than anything else. I also had a free post- race massage, it was free so I can’t complain too much but in honesty I wish I hadn’t bothered waiting for it and I still don’t understand who the company was and what they were offering in conjunction with the event?!
The other thing which I think was a little strange was the mixed messages around the branding of this event, ‘virgin’ didn’t feature that heavily and I’m not sure who (if anyone) were events partners – it didn’t seem as if there was one unifying theme.
All-in-all I thought this event was made great by the atmosphere that my fellow runners and the supporters created helped by the provision of some extra entertainment and plenty of options for good quality food and drink. I think Virgin can definitely improve in regards to organisation, communication, loo provision and quality of the t-shirt they provide…especially given the price they charge for entry.