Working together means greater competition for Norfolk road racing

The Blickling Half Marathon goes off with new staggered start times and a funnel system to get runne

The Blickling Half Marathon returns in May. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Running might well be the ultimate lockdown sport – you don’t need expensive kit and there are loads of health benefits. 

But for those wanting to take their running further, or established runners aching to wear their club vest with pride, the pandemic has been devastating. The Norfolk race calendar became a set of blank dates. The motivation of training for a specific event went completely out of the window.

Of course, virtual races have taken place (with some amazing medals), but there’s something truly special about racing on closed roads around Norfolk’s amazing countryside, pushing yourself just that little bit further because you know you won’t have to stop for traffic.

As life begins to re-emerge, race organisers are getting ready. In late May and early June major Norfolk running events will take place: Norfolk Gazelles’ Valentine’s 10k (23 May), the Blickling Spring Half Marathon (31 May) and Coltishall Jaguars’ Mike Groves 10k on 6 June. The Valentine’s 10k – now based at the Norfolk Showground – is usually the second race in the Sportlink Grand Prix season.

The Blickling Spring half takes participants along the beautiful country roads around Aylsham and Blickling, and the Mike Groves 10k is based at the former RAF Coltishall.

The most important part of returning to racing is safety – if you sign up for a race, you need to be confident that it will be staged in a Covid-secure way, with no crowds or unnecessarily close contact.

The Blickling Half Marathon goes off with new staggered start times and a funnel system to get runne

An official at the Blicking Half Marathon. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Getting events up and running again therefore means working hard to create a new approach to racing, until we can return to mass starts and finish lines thronged with spectators.

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The organisers of the late May races, EPIC Norfolk (Exercising People in Communities) and Norfolk Gazelles AC, have worked together to ensure that their events, taking place on consecutive weekends, are safe, competitive and fun.

EPIC Norfolk staged the Autumn Blickling Half Marathon last October, at a time when no other road race had taken place in the county since March. It went well, and participants – including a few runners from Norfolk Gazelles – were really happy to race again.

Gazelles were inspired by the success of the October Blickling race to push ahead with their own annual fixture. Because EPIC Norfolk had staged a safe race, Gazelles knew they could too. The organisers also liaised over dates for the May fixtures to make sure there wasn’t a clash. 

The Covid-safe race experience will be different, but no less challenging. If you’ve raced before, you’ll know the thrill of congregating in the pen, adrenaline pumping and stomach tightening as you wait for the starting gun. Of course, that’s not an option at this point in time. Instead, rolling starts on larger start lines allow runners to set off Covid-securely.

When you enter a race, you’ll be asked to predict your finishing time; these figures are then used to create safe “waves” of starters. Faster finishers will go first, which reduces the risk of overtaking on the course.

The Blickling Half Marathon goes off with new staggered start times and a funnel system to get runne

The Blickling Half Marathon showed that running events can be staged in a Covid-safe way last year. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

There’ll be more space at the finish line – oh, and the first runner over the line may not actually be the winner, because a faster entrant may have set off in a later wave. However, pushing yourself during a race is an individual experience during “normal” times.

Waiting till you’ve got home to check your result online – instead of finding out there and then – isn’t a huge change. 

Blickling and Valentine’s have also increased the availability of car parking, meaning you don’t need to use a bag drop.

The Valentine’s 10k is now based at the Norfolk Showground, where there’s loads of space around the start and finish lines. And as anyone who has taken part in the Jags’ races will know, there is an abundance of space at the airfield.

The Norfolk running community is strong, and race organisers know that listening to each other, learning and collaborating will help to ensure the successful return of the Norfolk race calendar.

Some clubs have their hands tied in terms of their venues, meaning they simply are unable to put their races on at the moment – virtual races have been the only option. Supporting these races too will help these clubs tremendously. 

If you’ve taken up running during the lockdowns, you’re probably ready to take on the challenge of a race. As well as pushing yourself, racing also presents an excellent opportunity to raise money for charity. It’s time to get training!

You can enter Norfolk Gazelles’ Valentine’s 10k here

The Spring Blickling Half Marathon has sold out, but places may be available for transfer.

EPIC Norfolk are also staging the North Walsham 5k on Friday, June 25  and the Aylsham 5k on Friday, July 9

Details of the Mike Groves 10k are here