Active Travel



What do you look for in a Race?

Mar 12, 2018 | life updates, Lifestyle, Running, Running Advice | 13 comments

What makes a good race?

On Saturday I took part in the Rough Runner Chiswick 10K. To say it wasn’t the best race would be an understatement. The start and finish was in Chiswick House & Gardens (one of my favourite places in Chiswick), sadly neither the 10K or half marathon routes actually went through the grounds, instead we headed straight out along the main road, under the underpass and onto the Thames Towpath.

There were waves every 30 minutes, with groups of 5 runners set off in minute intervals. This was a good idea to keep crowding down but annoying for us standing in the rain waiting to start.

Rough Runner 10K

I ran the first 2 miles with Tom then planned to use the rest of my race as a workout.

1-2-3-4-3-2-1 minutes fast with 90 second recoveries (most of these were run around a 7.30 min mile pace)

1 mile cool down

Unfortunately the towpath was very, very crowded due to runners (both those taking part in the race and those just out for a Saturday morning run), dog walkers, and spectators watching the Head of the River race. Not to mention the rowers taking part in the race, and transferring their boats from the boat houses to the water – meaning that many of us had to duck under boats or round them as we ran.

Rough Runner 10K

There are some very tight corners and narrow paths along the path which also meant I had to come to a complete stop at points – none of which I minded as I wasn’t racing it.

The real problem was with the signage and lack of volunteers. I had looked briefly at the route course, so knew where we were going as I’ve run thousands of miles along this stretch training for multiple marathons, and therefore could follow the route without signs. I heard that people who were running the 10K ended up covering 13K, whilst the half marathoners ran 12.1 miles…

The organisers had set up a water station near the halfway point but it was undermanned and we had to stop to wait for them to fill a cup per person. Again, not a big deal if you’re fun running, but not ideal if you’re trying to race.

Rough Runner Chiswick 10K

Oh and did I mention that the event wasn’t actually chip timed… Apparently this was to do with issues with the timing company and equipment being stuck at customs, however none of this was communicated to us before the race. If it had, perhaps we would have been a little more forgiving and appreciative for the organisers honesty. As it is, 48 hours + later and we’re still waiting for timing. If parkrun can do it without timing chips, then Rough Runner should be able to do it in a timely manner too.

We had stick on race bibs, which I initially thought were awesome as it removed the need for safety pins however as mine flew off 3 miles into the race, I realised they weren’t so great after all.

Rough Runner 10K

I was disappointed that the race used generic medals that are clearly used at all of their events, without the name, date or any specifics on it. Makes me wonder what exactly the £34 entry went towards… in total I got 2 half cups of water and a cheap medal. Honestly, it’s the first race I’ve ever done that I thought was a total waste of money. I wish I’d spent the cash on a post-run brunch instead and just run on the towpath for free!

Rough Runner Chiswick 10K

As my friend Jo said, ‘overall the efforts of the team are appreciated however the event was overpriced and not just because of the issues. In essence we paid £34 to run on fully open public route with no cordons and very little safety consideration and no timings yet…’

I do have to say that Rough Runner have sent out a post-race follow up, however in my opinion, the emails are less apology, more a chance to pass the buck.

‘Thanks for attending the event at the weekend. We saw and spoke to a lot of people that had a good time and enjoyed the event, but we also had some negative feedback about it, so we’d like to address that here.
First, we want to assure you that our events have always received an overall fantastic level of feedback, which you can see on any of the reviews pages on our website – each and every one of our events is rated at 4.5 stars or higher. With this in mind, we are keen to show everyone who came along at the weekend, whether their experience was positive or not, how good our events usually are. If you know anyone who’s been to one before, they will tell you the same!
We’d also like to collect your feedback in one place. We are aware of a number of issues, but we’re always looking to improve what we do so please do give us your thoughts, as constructively as possible. The first thing we’ll be changing in future is to only hold events in private areas where signage is much less likely to be tampered with!
Timing was one of the issues we faced, which we’ve had a few questions about already. In short, we were let down recently by the guys who were coming in to chip time the event, so ordered in (at considerable cost) a system to do it ourselves. It arrived from Italy this morning, having been held at customs for several weeks. As a result, we resorted to manual/video timing, the results for which will be posted as soon as they are complete – a link will follow in another email.   
Finally, we’re a small team who have spent the last 4 years putting our very souls into the events that we run, and we’re disappointed on a personal level that this one may have affected our otherwise strong reputation. So if you did have a good time at the event, we’d love to hear that feedback too!’

I feel like some more upfront communication to the runners would have gone down well – a pre-event email explaining the timing situation, or even on the day announcements would have helped. Rough Runner are offering free entry to another event for those that got lost, however I actually feel like they should be offering everyone a free race entry to a future race as a good will gesture.

Apparently instead of spending money on a free race t-shirt that many of us throw away, Rough Runner announced that they dropped the ticket prices. I have to say, I would hate to know what the prices were before they were dropped, considering the Half marathon cost £45!

The whole race has left a bad taste in my mouth and I’m unlikely to be giving one of their races a second chance…not for £34/45 anyway.

Rough Runner Chiswick 10K

This weekend’s disappointing race got me thinking about what I look for in a great race,

  • Chip timing & course length – needs to be the right length, obviously!
  • Starts on time.
  • A pretty route! Also must be well sign posted. (Lots of people messaged to say they look for courses without plenty of switchbacks).
  • Plenty of loos at the start (and on the course) with no huge queues.
  • A free bag drop is a must. I hate races where you have to pay for this, or ones that don’t offer this (Race for Life – I’ve seen people running with their handbags!)
  • Not too crowded – it’s hard for big races to avoid this but as long as I have some space to run at my own pace, then I’m happy.
  • Friendly volunteers, I like it when people are cheerful, happy to be there and chatty!
  • Crowd support is a major bonus, especially during a marathon when you need the extra motivation to get to the finish line.
  • It’s not the most important factor, but I love a good medal. The bigger, the better in my opinion, especially when there is a fun design.
  • Free race photos are a mega bonus. I love races that do this or that have a ‘pay what you want’ opt in.
  • Snacks afterwards – I think the American local races have got this down with the breakfast spreads post race, but we are a bit behind here in the UK. A lot of people on Instagram mentioned cake as integral to a great race… I agree!

What do you consider a MUST for a great race?

What race do you think has the best organisation or value added? 



  1. Tess @ FitBits

    What a palava!! Just as well you weren’t racing, it sounds like hard work!

    And Race for Life make you pay for bag drop?! That’s ridiculous.

    • charlotte

      The worst bit is that the race organisers aren’t admitting any fault! I actually don’t think Race for Life had any bag drop now that I think about it…

  2. Phillip Prophett

    I Like a Medal and a finishers Tshirt, but a closed road is a definite, I ran a hilly 10 mile race on open A Roads earlier this year and did worry about mine and fellow runners safety as at times some drivers were very impatient. I have found some cheap races to be far better organised than the larger more expensive ones. I am lucky to live in area where we have local running companies put on some very good races as well as the Hampshire Road Race League which hosts a series of good races as well.

  3. Jae

    It was my first half marathon. Although it turns out it wasn’t – I ran about 12.6 miles. So disappointed – I could have done the distance – I was prepared for it. ?

    • charlotte

      I am SO sorry that this was your first half marathon experience. I really hope you sign up for another one and experience what a real half should be like!! xx

      • Jae

        Thanks Charlotte. I’ve signed up to Paddock Wood Half which has good reviews, so fingers crossed!

  4. Fiona

    That sounds utterly rubbish- I am not really keen on spending money anyway so I don’t really do official races when I can run for free (and spend the money on trainers etc instead!). I just did the MK festival of running half on Sunday and I was a tad disappointed that there was no goodie bag/T shirt (well there is a T shirt but you have to pay extra for it). We got a banana and medal. The route was well signposted, supposed, so many portaloos at the beginning and never a queue which is all important for the nervous pees before hand! I carry my own water but the stations were great and they had bottles rather than filled cups which I thought was good. The support was great and the volunteers were calling out your names as you ran past. So I guess I like a goodie bag if there’s one going but I think that for me, the toilets, signs, and quality water stations are the most important thing!

  5. maureengetsreal

    A great race definitely needs to have good signage and a private course. Medals aren’t a huge deal if they are being put on by a charity in order to keep costs low but a tshirt is appreciated in that situation so that you get something to remember it by. The best races have timing for when you start the race and not just a generic timing that starts when the gun goes off. Breakfast after is always a plus in a race.

    It’s so frustrating the organizers don’t seem to be taking any responsibility to it! Even if it’s not their fault timing was held up at customs they should accept the blame themselves.

  6. Kristi

    I look for race course first and price and distance to get there. I am in Houston and it’s not easy for me to consider a very hilly race like San Francisco Half Marathon/Marathon. Plus, that price is steep. I only considered it once, because my friend was already signed up. So, I do like flat races. I am getting to the point where I don’t like crowded races as much. I have thought about doing the NYC Marathon a few times, but then I ran the St. Jude Marathon in Memphis and it was just miserable trying to get around the very congested crowds. I tried to catch up to the pacers and was stuck. I do like crowd support, too and a good scenery. I didn’t enjoy the St. Jude, because as soon as the half marathoners left us, the crowd support died immediately and there were very little runners. I had a few homeless people cheering us on, but not much else. Also, I look at price to get there. My friend and I were considering the Grandma’s Marathon in Minnesota in June, which we have heard nonstop love for, but then I looked at airfare. It would cost me a minimum of $400 to fly there. I was like that’s just too much. So, we are running the Philadelphia Marathon.

    You mentioned about running in Texas and I said that I absolutely recommend the Chevron Houston Marathon. I love the medals, course (very flat), and crowd support. Someone else recommended the Woodlands Marathon. I just did the half. My beef with it was that the distance was more like 13.28. This girl I ran with for the last mile said it’s been more for the last three years, including 13.8 last year. That is just unacceptable to me. There was not much crowd support and that’s due to logistics of where crowds can go and get too. But the scenery was very pretty. I lost my friend around mile 10 and didn’t have my headphones. I just listened to the trees and wildlife and it was a beautiful Day. Although, I can’t imagine running that if March was normal temperatures like in the 80s and full sun. So, I decided that I would rather run the Chevron and not the Woodlands.

    • Erin

      I can add to this. I ran the woodlands half a few times and I’ve done the woodlands Marathon a few times as well. It’s a pretty race with minimal crowd support but where there is support they do a great job. but the area is really nice to visit overall. think running g 13.2 is pretty normal for a race because tangents and the course has curvy roads. But the weather in this area is rather unpredictable in March/late feb and it can be 80 or 30F. I do this race every year just changing up the distance and have had all the weather from hot and humid to freezing rain. However, If I was traveling across the ocean to run a race in Texas it would be the chevron race in January. Weather is predictable and likely perfect and houston is an awesome city and that race is supposed to be wonderful.

  7. Eve

    I once had a 10K where the course was short by .12. I had trained hard and was in for a massive PR, but since the course was short I couldn’t count it as a PR. I was SO mad. SO mad. A short course is ridiculous. As someone who runs regularly, it takes a lot for me to register for anything shorter than a half, as it seems silly to pay money to run a distance I can easily do on my own!! I contacted the organizers and was told
    “Well it was a fun run, does it really matter that the course was short?” Of course it matters! Very frustrated on your behalf.

  8. David

    Reading your review it seems very hard to find any positives about that race. It all seems very amateur and not a run/race organised by runners.

    I have to say I’m always a little dismayed at Great Run- some are brilliant and others are just poor show considering the size and price. B’ham Half and Marathon was terrible last October, the start of the Half was just a melee.

    On course support is a huge factor when I run and consider going back. I think a good race draws people and support.

    I like good toilet facilities, simple bag drops, a medal(!), And easy access/organisation. One thing I hate is laps or loop backs. This sends the boredom factor right up!

    Leamington 10k, Warwick Two Castles and Worcester 10k are all fantastic races,hoping you can make one! Worcester is September and a very good course! Defo OB potential with great support

  9. Rebecca

    There’s just been a local race have similar problems. Lack of marshals/signage meant runners got lost and covered the wrong distance, lack of car parking and the times being completely out of sync. Such a shame when people pay for these events and train hard for them. For some people this was here first half marathon and they only ran 10 miles!


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *