Rise of the serial racer

Racing used to just be about signing up for one or two events a years; a couple of milestones in the year to work towards and give your training some focus and to achieve something. People would look at the cost of a race and think “I’m happy to pay this, it’ll mean I really put the effort in”. At the end of the year you’d have a couple of medals that you hang on the wall and think “maybe I’ll do a couple of harder ones next year”.

Over the past few years there’s a been a massive shift in running and how people race. In London especially you can pretty much find a race to take part in every Saturday and Sunday throughout the whole year. You could race every single weekend if you wanted to and you’d barely have to travel anywhere. And people actually do that. I say that because I’m one of them. About six years ago, after a slightly overindulgent summer, I remember deciding to do a race every weekend for a month. At the time it seemed like a pretty big task – who the hell races every weekend in a month?

I loved it though. The mental focus I have when taking part in a race compared to when I’m just going running is enormous. I’m faster, I try a hell of a lot harder, I enjoy it a lot more and I feel a sense of achievement every time I finish one. It was inevitable that I’d end up doing more and more. The other thing I noticed when running every weekend was that I got better very quickly, probably because of the level of effort I was training at in comparison to the average level I’d put in on my own.

Over the past few years I’ve been running an average of 35 races a year. That’s more than one every two weeks. My friends have said to me that it’s not normal and I should tone it down. But that’s the old mentality of racing. I’m not signing up to these races to get PBs every time, I’m not signing up because I’m hoping to win. I just enjoy racing. Racing is more of a hobby to me than running alone ever was.

And I’m not the only runner that’s like this. When I go to these races I see the same people there all the time. Serial racers like me who just love to get up on a Sunday and go all out on a 10k route or a half marathon. It’s not an anomaly any more, serial racing is a thing and race organisers are beginning to realise that.

If I wanted to run every weekend of the year five years ago it would have cost me a ridiculous amount of money, with most races coming in between £20 to £50 depending on the scale of the event. With all of those costs you’re looking at about £500 a year at least. Something your average non-runner would look at and say “what the hell, that’s a holiday/new outfit/sofa”. To be honest is it really that big though? If you live in London and join a gym you’re looking at around £800 minimum for membership over the year. If you’re the kind of person that does pay as you go studio classes you’re probably forking out at least £20 for a 45 minute HIIT class. Compare the sense of achievement you get from a HIIT class and a race and it doesn’t seem that expensive at all.

It hasn’t gone unnoticed by the racing world, inevitably as a response to racing being more than just a one-off event. You only need to look at companies like RunThrough with their ridiculous good value race season passes, The Race Organiser and their loyalty scheme and of course parkrun and their committed following to see how the racing world has changed.

Next year I’ve signed up to my season pass again. Waking up at 8am on a Saturday morning to head to a race before grabbing breakfast and nipping out to do something else; another medal hung over door hook. Each slight achievement keeping me feeling motivated, not only because I’m doing what I enjoy, but because sometimes I know I’ll get a PB or maybe meet someone interesting – probably one of the other thousands of serial racers that I see every weekend.