All races got cancelled, parkrun stopped, running club went on hiatus. As soon as it was all gone, I had the sudden urge go training, run with others and race.
Six months passed of run commuting from my front door back to my front door. I’d been fairly consistent, but got stuck averaging 4 miles a run on my new preferred route I could squeeze in before work.
When an email popped up from the Richmond Runfest crew for a socially distanced Kew Gardens 10km, I was a little sceptical. Could it be pulled off? I thought – “I’ll give it a go, if it gets cancelled, I’ll get my money back”.
To cut to the chase, it did go ahead, and it was fantastic! Not my run or my time which was tough and a little slow, but the set up and organisation. A big shout out to the organisers for even having a go at getting the relevant permissions, the organisation and the running the event itself. I can only see that it would have been headache after headache, but they pulled it off with aplomb.
I will give the normal event description amiss and focus on how this event was pulled off and how, except for initially getting on the bus there, how I felt completely safe and calm.
The link to my review of the non-COVID race last year is here.
How they did it
Significantly Reduced Capacity – the capacity was reduced by a third and runners were continually moving throughout the even before, during and after the event (all socially distanced).
Location – the race took place fully inside the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, therefore runners could be kept separate from the public. The stretched out entry via the car park provided lots of space.
No Spectators – no spectators were allowed in Kew Gardens for the event, but families and friends could join runners inside Kew after the event.
Linear Course – The new course was designed to separate the start and finish line and provide maximum width on the course.
Reducing Congestion – the event layout and throughput of people meant very little mass gathering. There was no music stage, entertainment, food or drink
Track and Trace System – all runners provided contact information as normal. The timing system and the allocated start times, allowed the potential to know who each runner has been overtaken by.
More Space & Holding Areas – These were large and designed it to flow runners in the same direction. The pre-start area was broken down into several pre-race holding areas based on the colour of your race number. Different arrival times were also provided.
Additional Car & Bike Parking – I took the bus, but many people arrived via bike.
Masks – all staff wore face masks, gloves and visors. All runners were advised to arrive wearing a mask and when in the event village but did not have to wear them whilst running.
The all-important toilets – enhanced cleaning regimes for toilet facilities were put in place and the number of toilets was increased and spaced out.
Big Bag drop – this was spread out over a larger area to prevent gatherings of people.
Start Waves – more waves with fewer people per wave. Each wave was socially distanced with 4 runners crossing the start-line every 2 seconds and each wave is rolling (not a mass start).
Water stations – ‘Help Yourself Only’. More tables to prevent bunching. Runners were also encouraged to bring their own water.
Race Rules and Social Behaviour – runners were encouraged to run on the left side of the course and overtake on the right when there is space to do so.
The Finish –all finishers were kept moving to maintain flow. Medals, water and finishers packs will be pre-packed and you collected them yourself. No de-chipping.
What worked well?
This event could not have taken place in an open public environment. Both the half marathon and marathon were cancelled due to this reason. I was impressed with the race last year and being able to hold it in a “controllable” environment this year was the reason it could take place.
The entry, bag drop and holding areas were large and social distancing could be maintained at all times. There were a few bottlenecks, and all but a few latecomers who squeezed their way through to their wave, were very respectful.
The Rolling start – As I weaved towards the start, I thought I’d just become a bit detached from the people in front of me so started jogging to catch up. I only realised I had crossed the start line, when I crossed the start line. I still had my mask on and my earbuds in listening to a podcast. I was moving nicely as I stuffed my mask and earbuds away awkwardly. The rolling start spaced the runners out well for the remainder of the race. There were a few points where I had to speed up to get passed others and vice versa, but it was few and far between.
The paths within Kew Gardens are not always particularly wide, at some points only wide enough for two “distanced” runners, so the “stay on the left” instructions worked well and most runners adhered to, or remembered to do it.
I had no preconceived ideas about what I was going to do in this race. I just wanted to enjoy the event and take it in. To have a bit of normality on a Saturday morning. I enjoy the anticipation of a race and the ritual of arriving and preparation as much as the run, and it was great to have this back. To see runners arriving from all angles on Kew Green, to have that communal aspect of running back.
The weather was a little chilly, but the sun came out by the start. I was a bit shocked when I realised I suddenly crossed the start line and tried not to go off too fast. Everyone was well spaced out, and many of the runners around me were a similar pace so there was not too much passing. The route weaved around and at times you would see the runners in front of you and conversely behind you at parts of the course. The first few kms clicked by, but I could feel myself slowing (which my splits clearly show).
I’ve only run over 6 miles a few time since mid March, so the last few kms were tough. The slightest rise, and they were very slight, felt like a grand hill. I kept my head down and hoped the finish would appear in the distance. It did and I finished as best I could, keeping the runners chasing me at bay. I followed the route out, thanking the marshalls and volunteers, collected my goodie bag and bag from the bag drop and wandered off to the bus home. The medals had not arrived, but were posted later.
My only gripe would be the two plastic bottles in the goodie bag. For what Kew Gardens represents as a UNESCO World Heritage site and its environmental credentials, plastic should be avoided. All races should work to eliminate or minimise the use of plastics. The River Thames also runs past the gardens. I should point out that last time I visited Kew Gardens they were still handing out plastic cutlery, which I hope has changed.
It was great to be back “racing” again, and as I stated, to have that bit of normality. The organisers and all the marshals and volunteers did a fantastic job, and to give of their time in such times is first-rate. It shows that organising races during COVID can be done, albeit in a closed controllable environment. I hope more event organisers manage to get events on because the running community will be behind you and will be supportive.