On the 12th September 2020 I took part in the Kew Garden 10k for the 4th year in a row. This year I went to race day already knowing that my plans and expectations would be changed, owing to the Covid 19 Global Pandemic. This would be the first year that I would not be pacing the 45 minute #funbus and the first year that I did not organise the pace team. Also, my plans were to run the 10k, 5k and Richmond Marathon, but all apart from Kew Gardens 10k were cancelled. This is the first mass participation event of this size since lockdown, so I am so grateful to the organisers for making it happen and excited to be part of it. Throughout this blog I will be commenting on the race experience and measures in place to make this event covid secure, if you want to read more about what you can expect from Kew Gardens take a look at last year’s blog HERE.
As always I got my kit ready the day before. Unfortunately I’m out of practice and forgot my basic checks, so when I turned up on race morning I realised I had forgotten a belt for my phone. It was not the end of the world because it was a 10k, so not too long to carry my phone. Also, I had already decided to aim for around 42 minutes, not wanting to push too hard as I’ve been nursing a few injuries over the last couple of months so massively reduced my running.
One of the first noticeable changes was that our bib was posted. Usually you pick this up, and to be fair this can cause queues on the morning. Having all these posted in advance is clearly a positive for race day. We also usually have a timing chip which acts as a souvenir, this was replaced by chip on bib. It acts as a covid safety measure, removing a touch point, a plus for getting the race passed the risk assessment stage.
A big reason why this event is the first to get started is that it is held entirely within Kew Gardens. This means you can control so many factors which other events need to deal with. It meant that spectators could not come into Kew Garden until after the event, and it made the atmosphere at the start very different. Usually with family and friends we are grouped together, with start line warm ups, and pacers to motivate runners. The support of runners is a huge part of the race day experience for many, and it was missing, but it was more controlled. In the long term this will evolve, but for now its necessary and how this event was able to be put on successfully.
Although other events have unknown variables and less control when outside a secure venue, I believe these can be successfully risk assessed to continue. It is the other measures put in place that make the difference, and it’s these measures that will help other events begin to take place. We arrived straight into a large area for toilets and baggage. We were also encouraged to leave bags in cars and bring as little as possible with us. There was a lot of space, and we were asked to wear masks, and PPE was available on tables, with regular stations for hand sanitisation. The only thing missing was the potential to check temperature on arrival which I have seen at a smaller event. Although that would likely create conflict and queues at a larger event, so absolutely understand why temperatures were not taken. We were advised not to come if we were unwell.
I came with Austin and it was nice to know someone at the event. We were all spread out across fields and there was so much space which made it easy to social distance. For races with less space this would already be mitigated by the use of face coverings. Making these mandatory at the start and keeping things flowing at the end means you are able to increased numbers without the need for social distancing. I am used to a great atmosphere at the start of Kew, but to be honest I think everyone was just pleased to be at the race. We were called to the start area in our waves, and here we queued and soon we came across dots spaced out. This was for us to space out for the start.
The start worked really well. We were told we would be released every 4 seconds in 2’s but the reality is we ended up just running across the line because the queues and spacing meant it was a natural flow by the time we got to the start.
I didn’t rush to the front of my wave, which meant I spent the whole race overtaking people. This is fine for me as I would rather that than being overtaken. I think many people will be a fan of the staggered start as there is more space and to be honest, once you got going the actual run felt exactly the same. If you like running alone you would probably prefer these measures and hope they continue.
The only negative from this set up is the loss of the psychological push from runners around you. Unless you are lined up according to ability (which would be a logical nightmare) you will always be on your own. On bigger events overtaking could become difficult, but today it was absolutely fine, I did not witness any issues overtaking, a couple of points I slowed and waited for space, but this did not bother me in the slightest.
As a solo run; a race against the clock, it was fantastic. The next step for organisations would be how they implement mass starts. As although there are benefits with the staggered start, it did mean that I was not running alongside anyone of a similar ability. This meant that it was just me against myself, and no-one to give me that little boost. Just like as a pacer I would not only call out support, but my presence would encourage people to pick up the pace. There is a place for this in running events, and I hope that soon the measures at the start will enable groups to form to encourage each other. For now its just great to run.
I had a good run overall. I told Austin before I started I was aiming for a sub 42. At the start I was maintaining sub 6:30 min miles comfortably. I was in need of water at the half way point when they gave out water in sealed cartons. These were really good and again would be a good addition to races in the future. I slowed down a little after passing 5k in 20:04. I could have held on, I could have picked up the pace, but frankly I didn’t want to. After not running much for months and coming back from injuries (and a hip flexor that is still angry) I did not feel the need to push myself unnecessarily. I kept a strong pace that I am proud of and finished in 41:23.
After the event we passed through the same way we came in. To get our finishers bag and out we went. I waited for Austin to finish, and again everything ran smoothly. I am really impressed with the organisation this year. It is very unfortunate that there were delays getting medals delivered and this will of course be subject to some criticism.
We usually also get an awesome finishers top which was replaced by a buff this year which is a shame. But I absolutely get it and I’m so grateful for the organisers overcoming all the barriers to put this event on, most likely at a loss to the business. The actions taken today are a huge step in the right direction and will pave the way forward for future races to be able to put on their events.
This is clearly only the beginning, but its so good to see mass organised events back on. It will take time but we will be back to pre covid times, and I have a feeling it will be bigger and better.
For now I have a marathon to run in the morning, and it’s my birthday. What plans do you have?