The Original Hampton Court Half Marathon is a UKA licensed event run by KBC Special Events Ltd. It starts in Thames Ditton and highlights a ‘closed road start and finish’ to ‘add to the big race feel and runner security’. It promises a scenic route through Thames Ditton, Kingston and along the Thames, past Hampton Court Palace. The organisers make a point of saying that ‘accredited marshals will keep you safe’ and that the wave start system will ‘give all entrants a clear run on the open public road elements’.
Park and Ride
Far be it from me to cause trouble, but I might just have to take the organisers up on one or two of those points. I ran the 2018 edition of the Hampton Court Half Marathon. I was looking forward to filming the event and helping my wife get around the course in a personal best time. My first issue came at the park and ride. It was £5 PER PERSON to catch a bus just 2km to the race start. There were three of us so we decided to save our £15 and use the 2km as a warm up jog. Surely the council and the race organisers should be encouraging car sharing. £5 per car would have been a far more appropriate price point.
The race village, at Giggs Hill Green, initially seemed well organised. It was certainly big enough to accommodate all the runners. However, huge queues at the toilets and the bag drop meant the first wave of the race started before many people were in the start pens. Still, we got going on the 1 mile stretch of closed road at the start. It was packed with runners, as you can see from my video. It wasn’t long before we turned on to the A309, The Broadway. This is a main road from Hampton Court Palace through Thames Ditton towards Esher. It is heavy with traffic.
At one point we came to a road crossing. A marshal, doing his best to keep order and ensure everyone’s safety, shouted for us all to stop, to allow traffic out of the junction. A runner from Fulham Run Club, who must clearly have seen and heard the marshal, completely ignored him and ran out into the street. Obviously, he is a grown man and is responsible for his own safety. There were no cars immediately in his vicinity and he wasn’t hurt. BUT, what annoyed me was his blatant disregard for the marshal and for the safety of the race in general. People have a responsibility when they enter a race to abide by the rules and adhere to safety instructions.
We carried on along the A309. We had pavement a metre or two wide on which to run. Suffice to say there simply wasn’t room for everyone and many of us, myself included, spilt out on to the road. There were signs asking runners to stick to the pavement, but again you can see in my video that we didn’t. It certainly wasn’t the ‘clear run’ the organisers had promised. It felt uncomfortably dangerous and all it would have taken would have been a slight trip and fall or a minor oversteer by a truck and there could have been a serious incident.
High Fiving Henry VIII
The route continued on the A307 Portsmouth Road all the way to Kingston upon Thames. This is some 8km into the race. Finally, by kilometre 9 (5.5 miles) we were running along the towpath by the Thames. It was still quite crowded but at least it was pretty and there were no cars! Unfortunately, by 10.5km at mile 7, we were back on the A307 running back towards Kingston. This section of road was less dangerous because the footpath was wide and there were no runners having to step off the pavement because of overcrowding, but it wasn’t exactly scenic.
Once back through Kingston we ran over the bridge and joined the towpath again, this time in the opposite direction, heading round to Hampton Court Palace. This gave us two miles of pleasant running by the river. It was a lovely, sunny day so it felt good. My wife was doing well, keeping to our planned race pace. It was fun passing the palace and high fiving Henry VIII on the way through.
Back on the Dangerous Roads
Unfortunately, for the final two miles, we were back on the same open road as at the start of the race. We followed the A309 and then the A307, both with narrow footpaths, all the way back to Giggs Hill Green. Despite the organisers saying it is a closed road finish, it really is nothing of the sort. The bit of closed road at the end is literally about 10 metres long before you hit the grass and run to the finish. It is misleading to say it is a closed road finish.
Victoria got her PB by 3 minutes and, to be honest, I think she can go faster. She suffered a bit of cramp in the final mile but other than that she was very comfortable all the way round. I felt comfortable in my running, but I certainly did not feel comfortable running on those roads, particularly at the beginning, in the first three miles. The crowds had thinned out a little by the end so it wasn’t quite so dangerous. But there were still runners dodging the traffic by skipping off the pavement to pass slower runners on the way to the finish.
Now, I wouldn’t be making such a fuss about this if it weren’t for one other thing. The Hampton Court Half Marathon is a UKA Licensed event. UKA rules state that where an event takes place on single carriageway roads which are open to traffic, then the use of headphones (other than bone conductors and medical use) is prohibited. To be fair to the organisers, they do state on their website under ‘Race Day Info’ that headphones are not allowed. They also state that ‘instructions issued by the Race Marshals, who will be wearing fluorescent yellow bibs, MUST be obeyed’. Unfortunately, I saw instances of marshals being completely and deliberately ignored and I saw absolutely no evidence of the headphone ban being enforced.
How many video stills do you want me to show you of runners wearing headphones? They aren’t even discreetly hidden. Some people are wearing enormous things on their heads. I am sure most had absolutely no idea that headphones were banned, but ignorance is no defence as they say. Read and understand the race instructions when you enter!! If you simply can’t run without music then don’t enter the race.
So, if it was just a case of a crowded race on busy open roads, I might be a little more forgiving. But it was a crowded race on busy open roads with a vast number of runners wearing headphones. If that is not a recipe for disaster then I don’t know what is. It’s all very well to say, well nothing happened, but that simply isn’t the point and it’s not good enough. Race organisers have a responsibility to try to uphold the rules of their governing body and runners have a responsibility to adhere to the rules set down in the race terms and conditions.
Hampton Court Half Marathon
I didn’t want to have to write this race report. I don’t want to get people disqualified or banned and I don’t want the Hampton Court Half Marathon to lose its licence. What I do want is for runners to be safe doing what they love doing. I felt safer 2 weeks ago running the Arc of Attrition 100 mile race in the dark, on a muddy path, on the edge of a 200ft cliff drop, than I did at the Hampton Court Half on Sunday. Overly dramatic? Perhaps, but just wait until someone is killed, then tell me I’m being overly dramatic. The race organisers seriously need to review the route, its capacity and their enforcement of the headphone ban, before next year’s event.
A huge thank you to the marshals who were cheerful and did their best to keep everyone safe. There were certainly parts of the Hampton Court Half Marathon which I enjoyed but, unfortunately, those were overshadowed by the negative aspects of the event and the blame for this is not all entirely laid at the feet of KBS Special Events Ltd. We runners, and I include myself here, have to accept some responsibility too.