About 22 miles into my first marathon last year in Brighton, I fell into pace with a woman wearing the same Prostate Cancer charity running top I was. It was clear that we were both struggling mightily. Without sharing a word, we simply ran, side by side, for four long, agonising miles. There was a sense of shared pain, but also determination, that passed between us. As we finally crossed the finish line, I turned to celebrate with her, only for her to promptly to vomit copiously over the floor. She was whisked away quickly by the amazing staff and that was that.
It’s a small anecdote but it’s my start point for a passionate promotion of mass participation events. Could I have completed those four miles on my own, running around my hometown of Portsmouth? Maybe, yes, but I suspect I may well have simply given up. However, in Brighton, with the crowd, the support, the camaraderie of your fellow runners, anything seemed possible. In those four miles, I repeatedly had jelly beans thrust into my face by encouraging supporters who could see I was flagging. I’ve always found jelly beans close to impossible to swallow when running but I sure appreciated the gesture.
Exercise is a very personal thing. I know many friends who see it as something to be done privately, or in the gym. This has never been my way. I am a competitive person and I need that edge of competing with others to truly push myself. That has coincided with an absolute explosion of organised running events. Most towns now have multiple sporting events, let alone the fantastic, FREE, park runs that are now popping up everywhere.
Mass participation fitness events
What fascinates me about mass participation events is that every person has a story, every person has a goal. I marvelled as I ran the marathon at the people walking from the start line (how long will that take!?), the man we saw dressed as an enormous dinosaur, the vast amounts of charity runners, some of whom have turned personal tragedy and hardship into their motivation to do something remarkable. It’s incredibly inspiring.
You get the full range, from those who are looking to clock fantastic times to your many ‘complete don’t compete’ runners. They are all wonderful. And of course, mass participation events are not limited to running either. Cycling, triathlon and duathlon are all becoming more popular and accessible.
Of course, mass participation events come with their downsides. There is a cost involved. I have experienced long jams in cycle events where we’ve had to dismount and walk. For stronger athletes, there are times when a little bit of weaving through traffic is necessary. However, for me, there is magic at these events.
One of my favourite memories was during the first 10 miles of the Brighton Marathon, when myself, my brother and my cousin found ourselves running alongside a fellow Prostate Cancer runner. He was struggling badly. We began chatting and I mentioned he should probably pace himself, but the best thing was he genuinely didn’t care. He knew he’d suffer later in the race, but was just revelling in lapping it all up.