Running The World: The UK

This is the last Running The World for a couple of weeks. I’m on my holidays and whilst I’m hoping to blog a few times whilst I’m here, regular content is going to take a little break! It’ll be back again at the start of July!

In the meantime…

Yesterday, the Dude and I landed at London Heathrow for 2 1/2 weeks, leaving the Husband to feed the cat, train for his Ironman and watch the World Cup. It is unbelievably lovely to be home, so, to celebrate, this week’s Running The World interview is from the glamourous shores of …the UK.

Dan, today’s interviewee, is an old friend of mine (long-term, as opposed to aged). We met 15 years ago when we went to the same church in London and bonded over the same (excellent) taste in literature. We both got into running once I’d moved away.

It may be a little odd, featuring the UK, being that I’m British. But I haven’t run seriously in the UK for 10 years and a lot has changed since then! I actually feel quite distant from the UK running scene, so was really interested to hear what Dan had to say. I know a number of you lovely people who read my blog are Brits as well – I would love to have your thought s in the comments below.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m 45, married with a 2 month old daughter. I work as a project manager/management accountant within the Health Service and apart from running, I enjoy playing guitar, literature, history and coffee. Oh and I’m a Christian.

Dan looking pretty fierce!
Dan not looking very Christian 🙂

Tell us about your running history.

I ran a bit as a kid, and enjoyed it, but it felt like you had to be much faster than I was to join a club or anything. I would run on and off but then developed some quite bad pains in my feet. I found it very easy to believe that my body was breaking. It’s a message that people get a lot, and a lot of times it’s overblown.

I started running around 2001, mainly to lose weight. I went for one run and was so shocked at how unfit I was that I had to keep going. I did a couple of slow marathons as part of this time.

I got more serious around 2008. I’d got married and put on some weight and we’d moved near a big park that’s great for running in. I got into it again, this time much more seriously. I got into forefoot striking and got quite a bit quicker, joined a club and started running much more competitively. Got to where my PRs were; 1500m – 4:54, 5k – 18:58 10k – 39:55 ½ marathon – 1:27.

Last year I was working in job that made it hard to train during the week so I’ve put on some weight and slowed down a bit (did a 20:20 5k yesterday). Plus we now have a new baby,  I’m trying to work out how to fit running around family and work commitments to get me back to where I want to be.I’m aiming to run a 10k in under 40 minutes later in the year, which is going to be a real challenge.

How big is running in the UK these days.

Running is pretty big, you see lots of people out running. And I would say that it’s definitely growing. I think it’s a real cross section of society. In the UK the poorest are also the most sedentary and I would say that’s the only group that isn’t running more. It tends to be people 30s and above who are getting into it rather than 20 somethings. My club has a junior section that there’s a waiting list to join.

What’s the racing scene like?

There are lots and lots of 10ks and half marathons. It feels like it’s something every town feels it should have. The average price is roughly £20 ($30)  for a 10k. Running clubs also put on races pretty cheaply.

There are companies who organise races, who also organise triathlons as well but most of the 10ks tend to be organised by town councils or other local groups. I don’t know for certain but it feels like most races are organised by clubs or bodies which organise one or a year.

As a member of a club there are a lot of competitive club races. In the summer we do evening 10k road races and in the winter lots of very muddy cross country. These are clubs running against each other, everyone in their club vests. They tend to be much more low key events, ie roads not closed and not chip timed.

Dan racing in London
Dan racing in London

What are the big races?

The biggest race is the London Marathon. It is televised live on BBC1 and is the centre piece on British running. If someone knows you run, their first question is ‘Are you doing/have you done the London Marathon?’ The Great North Run (and other regional Great runs) are also hugely popular.

My favourite are locally organised 10ks, it’s a distance that I can do on a normal amount of training, I like the atmosphere. Also I tend to finish quite high up which is good for my ego.

What’s new on the scene?

parkrun is one of the biggest new developments here. It’s a national movement, offering free, timed 5k races in parks in pretty much every city and town in the country. They are great, and are really good at getting people into running. There’s been research to show that loads of the people who run them have done nothing else. They have a great range and can get really quite tasty at the front end. Someone needs to introduce them to the States. Both I and many people I know use them as they’re a great way of getting a hard run in and be done by 9:30 in the morning, which gives time for other commitments. Cat’s note: there are 3 parkruns in the USA.

Another growing trend is triathlon, which is the fastest growing participation sport and one where the UK has world and Olympic champions. Lots of people who run will also be dipping their toes in those waters.

Britain has a great tradition of club running which formed the basis of the days when 3 of the men’s 1500m finalists would be British. Although club running is still strong it hasn’t really succeeded in tapping into the boom going on, though clubs try.

My club runs a beginners’ course that takes people from nothing to 5k and something like 80% of participants then join the club,  and my local parkrun has links to another local club who encourage people to make the leap and join.

If you could recommend one UK race to a traveller, which would it be and why?

I think if you’re visiting the UK and are here on a Saturday I would recommend doing a parkrun. It is really easy to register and you can find them online… just turn up and run. A great way to meet UK runners.

Is Trail Running big in the UK?

There are trail races but trail running in the way you mean in California isn’t a big thing. I think it’s probably to do with the different type of terrain. In the US you can find  wilderness-like terrain quite close to big cities in a way you don’t have in the UK.

I always intend to run some National Trust routes (an organization that preserves historical stately homes and grounds),  that are very scenic but have never quite got round to it. I’ve never heard really of people running those kind of routes just because they’re there.

Fell running is a crazy part of running that predates the more recent running boom. I was up in Yorkshire visiting my Uncle a couple of years ago and we came across a fell race. It was basically up a cliff and back down again. Something for mad northerners, not suitable for soft southerners.

Cat’s note: Just a quick addition. The UK’s biggest trail running magazine recently relaunched and I got an online subscription. It looks like trail running is growing quite dramatically at the moment – the Peak District, Yorkshire and the beautiful Lake District are the most popular areas! Scott Jurek and Ricky Gates recently ran there and loved it. 

What are the cool brands out there at the moment?

Good question. There are lots of specialist running shops, of varying quality. The best London store is Run and Become in Victoria. In terms of gear it’s all pretty functional, people wear shoes that they like and clothes that are comfortable. I never really get a sense that there’s a fashion element. Maybe there’s a gap in the market.

In my club everyone has Garmin watches, I’m a big fan of running in sunglasses but beyond that everyone just saves that ‘Cool Gear’ side of things for their bikes 😉


What media is popular?

The biggest running magazine is Runners World UK. Athletics Weekly Magazine is exactly what it sounds like, and has pages and pages of club race results. Apart from that, the magazines all seem to be aimed at beginners, and don’t seem to want to cover the sport side of it at all. I feel like there’s a gap in the market, something like the running equivalent of ProCycling magazine. There’s a new magazine called Like the Wind that is trying to carve out a niche, but it’s a very small venture so far.

In terms of podcasts, the biggest podcast I think is Marathon Talk, which does a great job of linking the elite world with recreational runners.

Who are people’s running heroes in the UK?

The people love Mo (Farrah) , and Paula (Radcliffe)  and Jess (Ennis, Gold Medal Heptathlete). Having the Olympics was an amazing experience. However it probably got oversold in terms of “legacy”, which is the word that got used all the time to justify the spending. At times it seemed like it was being promised that after the Olympics, everyone would be out doing sports they’d seen during the Olympics. Every time there’s a news story on how little exercise people take there’s lots of tutting about what ever happened to legacy.

The BBC make a big push for athletics and there’s actually quite a lot of track and field on TV, and there’s much more scope for people to become household names from track and field in the UK than in the US.

However recreational/club running doesn’t hugely run into being a fan. I find that on runs with my club mates they are much more eager to talk about Premiership football than, say the latest Diamond League meeting, much to my frustration as I’m a huge Track fan.

In terms of heroes, we’ve never quite got over Coe/Ovett/Cram (British track stars from the 1980s). They probably occupy the same place as Steve Prefontaine does in the States.

How does running social media work in the UK?

Twitter and Facebook are very popular in the running world.  One of the good things is that even relatively famous athletes are still small scale enough that they will tweet you about stuff. Tom Bedford is a race director, and son of former 10,000m world record holder, Dave Bedford  and he’s always good value on twitter, but to be honest I follow US stuff a lot; Let’s Run, House of Run, Flotrack, that sort of thing.

What do UK runners use to fuel with and hydrate with during long runs?

Pretty standard I’d say… gels and drinks. My favourite gels are GU caffeinated. My longest long runs at the moment are only just over an hour so I’m not taking nutrition at the moment.

If I landed in your city/the UK, where would you send me to find out about local running routes/group runs etc?

Hard to say because London is huge. I’d just find a local park and run round it. London streets are not a grid so if you’re coming from the US don’t think you can just run round the block. There are stories of people getting very lost indeed.

Cat’s note: if you’re staying in Central London, I always recommend Hyde Park or along the Thames for some pretty fantastic sights. And don’t forget which is my personal favourite resource for finding new routes.

What’s the best thing and the worst thing about running in the UK?

The best thing is that people do it – the world would be a better place if everyone ran. The worst? The dogs tend to get in your way!

Thanks so much Dan for your help in pulling this together. You can follow Dan on Twitter here.

You can read other Running The World interviews HERE.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. padraigjapan says:

    Great report! Thank you.

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Great interview, again 🙂 I knew Parknrun thanks to Emmanuelle (from the blog, “Running sucks”). She lives in Scotland (she is there for a short period of time) and she spoke about it on her blog. She participated in them and loved it. After she talked about it, I checked for the USA but it is a really really small mouvement here… it’s a shame because it’s a good idea.

    1. Cathryn says:

      Yeah, I believe it’s hugely impacted the growth of running in the UK, it would be amazing in America!!

      Had a chocolatine today in London… It almost tasted French! awesomeness!

      1. Aaaahhhh une chocolatine… ❤ ❤ ❤

  3. Jen says:

    I feel like I’ve learned quite a lot about running in the UK thanks to the Marathon Talk podcast, and your interview with Dan really reinforced that. Park runs and fell runs both sound like things I’d like to try if I ever go to the UK!

  4. Grace says:

    Thanks for this! I love the notion of parkruns – they combine my favourite aspects of running (social, a little training, a little competition, community-organised) without the big corporate-sized fees for corporate races. Wish there were some here but it would take a really dedicated team to put them on week after week! I feel like the UK has much more of a running club culture than many other places, and it shows in international athletics results (and in other sports like triathlon, as young runners sometimes branch out there).

    1. Cathryn says:

      I think parkrun is remarkable…I’d love it to start in the US but the thought of committing to running a free 5k in my town every weekend is just hugely daunting, I agree!

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