Neil Featherby: There is a need to find best of both worlds at local events

Runners in this year's Broadland Half Marathon - next year's is already full. Picture: Norwich Road

Runners in this year's Broadland Half Marathon - next year's is already full. Picture: Norwich Road Runners. - Credit: Norwich Road Runners.

Being involved with running and runners on a daily basis, I have to say there has been a fair bit of debate in certain quarters about the decline in standards in so many of our local road races this year.

Upon checking the race results it is also very noticeable that many top local runners are missing from these events. However, it is also quite clear that whilst some of the better runners are missing, all these races have had mass participation and record numbers. This seems applicable to all events, be it city centre or a local village race.

This mass participation has also ensured that all races are pretty much full within days of opening up for entry. Whilst this is good news for those who organise such events, a number of the better quality athletes are suggesting that they are missing out due to not being able to gain entry as in the past, when they preferred to enter races depending upon their fitness levels closer to the race date.

Some of these races are also being used for county championships where the medal places and even top 10 are finishing in times a little slower than you would expect. Having also just checked out the last five 10k races in Norfolk during the last two months, the average winning time is 35mins and 22 secs, with the quickest being 34:27 and the slowest 37:16. This most definitely does represent a drop-off in race winning times over such distances.

Whilst running is certainly on a crest of wave in respect of numbers and in view of some of these suggestions, I decided to speak to a number of high-profile athletes within the county just to see what they all really thought. The consensus of opinion appears to be that as competitive athletes their motivation is to race and not just get around. This, of course, depends upon fitness levels going into such races, as already mentioned – most say it is difficult to predict months in advance due to injuries, illness etc.

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With races also hitting maximum numbers well in advance, this, for them is creating a problem. For instance the Broadland Half Marathon next March is already fully subscribed.

In a nutshell the criticisms seem to be as such:

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Mass participation causing events to sell out too quickly.

The cost of some entry fees are now over inflated.

Lack of reward for the top finishers despite high entry fees.

Lack of competition at the sharp end of the field.

With this in mind I also had a really good discussion with one of our leading coaches who certainly has several concerns remarking that it is not just Norfolk where standards are diminishing in local road races. He pointed to a number of factors whilst also suggesting the magazines, shoe companies, sports authorities and some of the businesses and organisations who now organise many of these races are more interested in quantity rather than quality.

However, he did also say that those who blame mass participation as the sole cause for the decline in standards, perhaps should also look at what their real ambitions are before blaming what can also only be a great thing when it comes to getting the nation up off their backsides and go for a run. It is all to do with mindset and if you want something badly enough then you won't let such things get in your way.

From my own personal point of view, I think it is absolutely brilliant that so many people from all walks of life have taken up running. Trying to see it from all angles, I can understand why organisers need to open up entries months ahead and I can also understand why the recreational runners want to get their entries in early so as to have time to train for these races and what for them is a great achievement.

Nevertheless, I also understand the views of the competitive athletes and the coach and fully agree with them when it comes to their views in respect of the decline in racing standards. However, there is an obvious solution so as to get the best of both worlds and that is for race organisers to keep open a number of places for what is seen as Norfolk's elite.

If, of course, these same runners are then seen to consistently decline any such invitations, well then it does go back to what the coach said – ambition!

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