How much do you think you would pay to watch seven top class races (at ~30minutes / race that is three and a half hours of quality racing.) Racers include multiple olympians, and championship runners, and concluded with men’s and women’s championship races which would see the top finishers awarded places at the World Championships in London this summer (provided they also met the time cut off.)
The going rate for a session of athletics at the anniversary games in London this summer appears to be about £55.
Add in a seminar with a handful of sporting legends, and you certainly wouldn’t complain too much about paying a similar amount.
So, to think that the Highgate Harriers, and general overseer, Ben Pochee, offer access to this afternoon/evening/night of racing for FREE is nothing short of unbelievable.
I believe that this was the fourth year of the event, but the first time I have been able to go despite my best intentions in previous years. The concept of the event is one that I have long thought to be a good one as it focuses on putting racing at the heart of the action and bringing the spectators as close as possible to the athletes.
Once each race has started, the athletes pretty much use the two inside lanes. Sitting in the stands at a stadium means the crowd are maybe 10 m away from the action, at best. What happens here is that once the race pack merges, and after the second lap, the barriers are moved in and the crowd stand on the track, just feet from the action.
I trucked up to Parliament Hill early in the afternoon and although I had missed the first race of the day, a Junior’s relay, I had only just missed the beginning of the Men’s E race. Crowds were still thin on the ground, but fuelled by a bit of beer, and some pumpin’ tunes in the marquee on the back straight, it was easy to get sucked into the atmosphere.
The racing was exciting, and being in the middle of the action helped no end. Screens showed the action at the finish line and for 25 laps you could offer encouragement to the athletes, some of whom you might know, or in the case of Pearce, pictured above, you just appreciate the sheer effort that went into his race that afternoon.
Within a matter of a few minutes, race C was underway, and again after that race B followed quickly. The pace just steadily crept upwards, and the atmosphere got better and better as the crowds got deeper, the music pumped, beer flowed, and delicious burgers were consumed.
I particularly loved the C race where I knew a competitor, Paul Navesey, through social media so I was really able to connect with the race. I shouted encouragement with all I could and I was chuffed for him to finish 4th in a new PB – isn’t that what the event is all about?
I met with a couple of guys from the club as the Women’s B race was underway; a slightly more spread out field made tracking places a little confusing unless you were really focussing.
A break in the proceedings saw an endurance seminar hosted by Nick Anderson with Lord Coe, Paula Radcliffe, Wendy Sly, and Ronnie O’Sullivan. There were a few microphone / speaker issues throughout which meant I few times we had to imagine what may have been said. Still, pretty amazing to get people of this calibre to appear on stage and talk in the middle of the event for a good 30 minutes or so. And I couldn’t agree more with Seb Coe when he calls for a better profile, and more competitive fields, in the cross country events over the winter.
Finally, racing got back underway as the sun began to set, with first the Men’s B race and then the Men’s Championship race. We had moved to the end of the home straight by now and actually this was a shame as we could no longer see a screen or indeed quite hear the commentary very well so we were never entirely sure of proceedings – we couldn’t even see a clock which was a shame. However, the racing was phenomenal! Dewi Griffiths and Ben Connor had Andy Vernon shadowing them to begin with, and we were getting a bit annoyed that he was doing no work (though, of course, why should he?) However, with less than half the race completed, he took off and pulled away more and more with each passing lap. I wasn’t impressed with his showboating at the end, but because we couldn’t see a clock we hadn’t realised that he’d missed the qualifying time and was only racing for first place which he had sewn up. Dewi came in a commendable second with a great race.
It was particularly impressive to see Alex Yee start as a pacer in both of these races having stepped in at the last minute.
The grand finale was the Women’s Championship race. The field was STACKED!
After her disappointment at VMLM, Jo Pavey was keen to secure a place at the World Championships at this shorter distance. Alongside her, last years winner Jessica Martin, Beth Potter, Steph Twell, Sonia Samuels, and Kat Wootton, all lined up to make sure this was going to be as explosive as the fireworks and flamethrowers.
We weren’t disappointed; a lead pack formed and worked supremely well together, but then Steph and Beth broke away at the front and opened a gap. Ultimately though, Beth Potter simply ran the legs off everyone with a dominant display of racing and a time that sees her qualify for the Championships!
I had an absolute blast on Saturday night. I only had to pay for sundries (beer, burger, and a programme) and I got to watch six and a half brilliant races, from just feet away, and get almost within touching distance of some of the greatest British racers of all time.
So, don’t put anything in your calendar for this time next year – make sure you can attend Parliament Hill and the Night of the 10,000m PBs; I don’t think you’ll regret it!