Richard and I transferred to England from Belgium in August 2019, but we have been running in the United Kingdom since 2014. As a runner always looking for races to run during the weekends, the UK immediately attracted me for the number of races they offer through all four seasons.
My first race on UK soil was the Flitch Way NYE Marathon in 2014. It was a trail marathon during the winter on New Year’s Eve; not an ideal introduction to marathons for newbies but thankfully I was no longer a newbie. I had already completed more than 60 marathons and ultramarathons by then. This was a challenging race for me but it made me appreciate the opportunity to run on this side of Europe. I completed 30 more marathons in the four countries that make up the United Kingdom before we made the official move in 2019.
Here are at least five reasons that makes running a pleasure here:
A race or two every weekend. I am spoiled for the choice of races we have here. You can find at least one, if not two, races each on Saturday and Sunday all year round. Sometimes there will even be 10 challenges in 10 days or 20 challenges in 20 days! These races are organized by running groups and organizations such as Phoenix Running, Saxons, Vikings, and Normans (SVN) Marathons and Challenges, Saturn Running, Zig Zag Running, Suffolk Running Centre, Enigma Running, How Hard Can It Be, It’s Grim Up North, White Star Running, and 1m2go, just to name a few of the people we regularly run with. The London Marathon is extremely hard to get into unless you are willing to do major fund raising for charity. The small races around the UK are easier to sign up for and run.
A friendly racing atmosphere. The runners and the race directors are just so friendly here. Almost everyone you meet on the course would say “Well done!” “Keep going!” and sometimes call your name that is printed on the bib. These small gestures of encouragement mean a lot to runners, especially when we are hitting the wall, or just not having a good race. I see familiar faces at many of the races, and they always have a kind word or two at the beginning or during the race. They consider runners their family.
Recognition opportunities. The UK-based Global Marathon Challenges provides opportunities for ordinary people like me to achieve extraordinary things. As soon as I found out about this website, I signed up for and completed the 12 Marathons in 12 Months Challenge, 52 Marathons in 52 Weeks Challenge, and the 100 Marathons in 100 Weeks Challenge. I became a member of the 100 Marathon Club UK and became eligible to wear the 250 Marathons shirt in February 2020. I also received the Rookie Runner of the Year Award from SVN Marathons and Challenges in December 2019.
Variable distances. The race directors are hard core runners themselves and they understand the reality that some days are not the best days. The races are often multi-loop routes beside a river, inside a national reserve, or on well-established forest tracks. As long as you complete a loop you are considered a winner in their eyes and you get your medal and goody bag. There were two races in the winter of 2019 where I only did a 5K and a heavy half (16-miler) but was still able to have my finishing time and distance recorded. Thankfully a DNF (Did Not Finish) is not a part of the vocabulary of the supportive race organizers!
Incredible finisher’s medals. I think the organizers are trying to outdo each other, if not themselves. The medals I have gotten from races here are just to die for! Phoenix Running’s The Explorer finisher medal is the world’s largest finisher medal. The SVN medals always have a tank embedded in their designs and it is always fun to find them. I got a huge thrill to see my name on the finisher’s medal for the Usual Suspects Marathon Class of 2019! Indeed, the medals are huge, colorful, and sometimes 3D! As a bling lover, I can’t help but register for as many races as I can, if only to get my hands on that beautiful medal!
I feel that I am just getting started on my running journey here and am looking forward to run as many races as I can here!