Running in the Richmond Half on Sunday prompted reflections on how the face of running has changed over the last 40 years. In 1978 very few people had run a marathon, and even half marathons were fairly unusual. The long distance road race for most was 10 miles. And nearly all races were organized by running clubs.
The game changer was undoubtedly the first London Marathon which took place in 1981 and brought distance running to the attention of the masses. Over time longer distance races took over and 10 mile races became less common (although some like the Cabbage Patch 10 survive and thrive). As races began to grow in size and number, and organization became more complex, more professional organisers moved in to stage them. There were a number of reasons for this. The rise of car ownership has lead to much busier roads and for some races road closures (full or partial) have become necessary. Sunday shopping did not exist. Now it is an accepted fact of life, meaning that town centres are much busies on Sunday. And race organization administration, health and safety, licencing etc have all become much more complex.
The club race scene does though remain alive and well, albeit attracting a different profile of entrants. Richmond this Sunday had a field of 516 runners, most of which were club members. My finish time of 2hrs 02 minutes 5 seconds placed me at 424, which meant that around 82% of the field finished ahead of me. Compare that to the recent race my company Quicksilver running (KBC Special Events) organized, the Royal Borough of Kingston Spring Half on April 1st. Out of 652 finishers a 2hr 2m time would have place me considerably higher, with only 65% of the field in front. Then look at where I would have finished in the Hampton Court Half Marathon in February. 2hrs 2m would have placed me 2013 out of 4068, finishing in the top half of the field.
I am not sure that there is a moral to this but there are several points worth making. One is that there has been a massive explosion in the number of people running, which is a good thing. Its extremely positive for the nations health to have so many getting out and exercising on a regular basis.
Many of the new generation runners do not view themselves as athletes. Sure they may have goals but they are not training to win races. It about running a good time and having a good time enjoying it with your mates.
There is still a strong club scene. And increasingly clubs try and look after both their keen faster runners looking to improve and those more interested in the social side.
And there are plenty of races out there to suit all requirements. If you like a big city feel go for the Landmarks Half (but it will cost you!) If you want value for money hunt out a club race (but be prepared for some stiff opposition). Or take the middle ground and look for local events geared to the average runner (whatever he or she may be!)