What makes a good race great?
Some races are just a real pleasure to compete in, wouldn't you agree?
But what makes this the case? This is a question I’ve been pondering this since the announcement of the 2017 Racecheck Awards.
Is it the organisation? The PBs? The cheering supporters? The bling?
What’s clear from reading every single one of the reviews of the 17 winning races is that there are a few common themes, including great organisation, enthusiastic and supportive marshals, and local support.
Several other definitive factors of the best running races in the UK are outlined below, in no particular order. I hope this post will inspire you when finding your next race: it's certainly done so for me!
But first I'd like to give a huge round of applause to all the organisers, the marshals and the locals – you made these events truly memorable.
The race setting
A number of these races stand out for their stunning and varied terrain. These include:
- Brooks Snowdonia Marathon Eryi- a route described as "the most stunning course I’ve run", and one that describing it would fail to do it justice.
- The Rat Roseland August Trail– running options from 11-64 miles (17-100k). Described as a race set in a "breathtakingly beautiful part of the country" providing "a terrific run along a beautiful coastline".
- 310 to St Ives– a 5km (3.1 mile) run from sand to cliffs and beauty
- Harder than Snails– a 10km (6.2 mile) run where there’s forest, views and perhaps mud that make this race worthwhile and fun.
- 32GI Eastbourne Triathlon– a sprint triathlon that "in a world of bland flat sprint courses…stands out as an absolute gem", and offers "stunning viewsacross the South Downs as well as the Eastbourne seafront".
- The Lakesman Triathlon– an Ironman "that has to be one of the most picturesque settings for a triathlon anywhere in the world". A real "stunner". "Swimming with the Cumbrian peaks catching you each time you turn to breathe" and "a varied bike course…views of mountains, coast roads with views across Scotland…"
- The Deva Triathlon– an Olympic distance triathlon with "beautiful scenery" and a "lovely location"
- The Thames Marathon– a 14km (8.7 mile) swim where the route is described as "beautifuland the scenery constantly changing".
- The Castle Triathlon Caerhays Estate– a sprint triathlon in "a stunning location" with "crystal clear sea, rolling bike ride and brutal run".
A tough race course
Judging from the comments on the following races, people are not scared of a challenge. It’s clear that not all races are about PBs: these are not for the faint-hearted!
If you’re looking for a tough running challenge, these races might just be for you:
- Brooks Snowdonia Marathon Eryi – this one fits the bill as both stunning and brutal (and yes, the word brutal was used by many of those who commented). "What a brutally, brilliant race" and "is this the most stunningly brutal thing I have ever done? YES!!!"
- The Rat Roseland August Trail – as with the Snowdonia Marathon Eryi, this race stood out for being both tough and beautiful with a real sense of achievement in completing the selected distance. "The hardest race I have ever done but I’m absolutely on cloud 9" and "you’ll never leave without feeling you’ve achieved something special". Be prepared for "incredibly tough terrain and steps, steps, steps".
- The Castle Triathlon Caerhays Estate – for this one, the run was singled out – the concise phrase "brutal run" was included in a couple of the comments.
- Fitstuff G3 Race 3 – a cross-country race with 10 and 15 km (6.2 - 9.1 mile) options. Hills, mud, "a wonderful course, mix of path, woodland and tracks". Described as having "tough ascents and exhilarating descents".
- Harder than Snails – another race that ticks the box when it comes to scenery and a tough event. "What a tough but gorgeous run".
- 32GI Eastbourne Triathlon – described by one person as a race that must be one of the toughest in England. And you also get some great views!
- Killerton Duathlon – covering 55 km (34.2 mile) in total, with 15 of that running, where it’s described as "beefy" and with quite a few climbs. What’s not to love!
Feeling like part of a community while racing
Being part of a community is important for many who have taken part in these races.
There are two key elements here – events which are clearly organised by athletes themselves, and races that are inclusive and suitable for different abilities. If this is your thing, then you might like some of these:
- DH Runners 10k – a race where "there was no pressure but everyone was just so supportive of one another".
- The Madness of King George II – 12 hours of running around a 1 mile (1.6km) loop! And a number of points raised here – "it’s easy to see that this race is organised by other passionate runners" and it’s suitable for different types of runners in a "well supported environment".
- Brooks Snowdonia Marathon Eryi – not only scenic and brutal, but a race flagged as "clearly planned by runners" where "they put your names on the race bibs" so that the locals can cheer you by name… a nice touch.
- Shrewsbury Half Marathon – this race is a real standout in terms of the number of comments about both a race designed by runners, for runners, and the sense of community amongst the field. With the fact that this race is organised by runners for runners, you can tell!" and that the "community spirit amongst the runners was a real highlight".
- Wilmslow 10k – at this race, ‘the organisers are really passionate about the event’. In addition, it was noted that this race is "ideal for a fast time or a first timer" and "provided something for everyone".
- The Rat Roseland August Trai l– while this race is both scenic and tough, "the company and the banter from the other Ratters was scintillating" where people chat and everyone looks out for each other.
- Manvers Dusk Till Dawn – from 6pm to 6am, see how many of the 3.21 mile (5.2km) laps you can do. There’s a real sense of community where "there is as much excitement from someone coming to do 1 lap as there is for someone coming to do 20", and there’s a real team atmosphere. It’s a "social event with a non-competitive, supportive vibe".
Accessible and open races
There are a few races that stand out as events for anyone from elites to first timers. If this is for you, wherever you are on that spectrum, you might want to investigate the following:
- Wilmslow 10k – flagged as being great for first times and those looking for a fast time.
- The Rat Roseland August Trail – what’s not to love with a distance to suit and stretch every athlete. As one commentator noted ‘a fantastic experience from a team that make you feel looked after and motivated in equal measure regardless of ability.’
- 310 to St Ives – described as ‘technical enough to challenge the beginner and fast enough to satisfy the experienced.’
- 32GI Eastbourne Triathlon – this one certainly has something for everyone – from first timers to elites, and even stuff for the kids. As one person commented, ‘all very chilled & relaxed but efficient at the same time.’
- The Stradbroke Triathlon – a sprint triathlon early in the season that’s considered suitable for both beginners and the more experienced with ‘lots of friendly help.’ I must add a special shout out to the transition manager for being very helpful as flagged in one of the comments.
- The Thames Marathon – described by reviewers as ‘great for beginners and experienced open water swimmers alike’. Faster swimmers start first which seems to work well for everyone.
The best of the rest
And last but by no means least, there are the races with added extras.
I think this must be my favourite category, and the one that certainly gave me the most laughs in reading the comments.
For going above and beyond expectations, The DH Runners River Run 10k clearly stands out. One reviewer noted "best toilets ever’". And the reason? Those little touches: flowers, heat rub, Vaseline, plasters, and deodorant in the portaloos.
Back to the start!
If you hate the idea of catching a bus back to the start line to pick up your bags etc, why not try catching the train with your fellow competitors as was the case with the 310 to St Ives.
Their role is critical both in the smooth running of events as well as providing much needed motivation and inspiration when the going gets tough. While all these races had fantastic marshals and local support, there were two that really stood out.
The first was The Madness of King George II. "The crew were the best thing about this race – feeding and watering us, forcibly applying sunscreen as the temperature rose, dunking hats in iced water…".
And if you like the idea of a Mexican wave, being given a nickname, and shouts for each runner, this race might just be for you.
At the Shrewsbury Half Marathon where it got a little warm, a big thanks to locals setting up unofficial water stations and providing hoses to keep the runners warm.
Easy booking and regular updates to participants prior to events, quick registration, to the event running smoothly from start to finish are all appreciated in this field.
What do you think makes a good race great?
By Sophie Taysom, freelance writer and consultant. Sophie is also a passionate runner and a member of racecheck's #visorclub community. You can follow her blog on runningonfullblog.com