London's Night of the 10,000m has proved the sport can provide excitement and reach new audiences when presented in the right way, writes Chris Broadbent.
How refreshing is it to see the continued success of the Highgate Harriers Night of the 10,000m PBs. The annual event in London’s Hampstead Heath has become something of a cult classic on the British sporting scene.
The recent running saw thousands gather in the north London park, including athletics royalty Seb Coe and Paula Radcliffe, all for a quirky cocktail of distance running, fireworks and beer.
GB stars Andy Vernon and Beth Potter won the headline elite events that doubled as trials for this summer’s World Championships in London. But the real winner has been the 10k distance itself. For many years, the track version has been hugely overshadowed by its road equivalent.
Road running boomed with mass participation as the track version struggled to attract entries for its UK and home nation championships. All during a time when GB was enjoying success on the international stage, most notably through Mo Farah.
Now it has an event that has lifted its profile, made it more accessible to the talented club runners and, above all, added a domestic event that is improving performance, made the 10,000m cool again and – not to be underestimated - given thousands of sports fans a bloody good Saturday night out at the athletics.
To this point, mass participation events have really led the way for innovation in distance running. Events like Tough Mudder, the Color Run and Run to the Beat have all, in their own way, reached out to new people with something fresh and exciting.
Now’s the time for the higher performance levels of the sport to take the initiative like Highgate has. Events like the World Cross Country Championships and even the UK Championships are poor spectacles in comparison, appealing only to the hardcore supporters.
British Athletics and the IAAF need to do much more to make their events accessible and engaging to new audiences and they could do a lot worse than looking to a small corner of North London for their inspiration.