This year marks the 6th Night of the 10,000m PB's. A night of 10,000m races that refuses to conform to the norms and traditions of track racing. From world class athletes, to beer tents that the athletes run through each lap, to live music, fireworks and spectators in lane 3. The event has gone from strength to strength, with over 8,000 spectators expected to line the Parliament Hill Track on May 19th. Ahead of this year's event we caught up with the man behind it, Founder and Race Director Ben Pochee.
Many people credit Night of the 10,000m PB's as being the event that has really pioneered a new, fun, spectator friendly, but still hotly competitive approach to 10,000m running, and track racing more generally. How did it all begin, what started it?
It started in 2013 with the inaugural event to see if there was scope to do things differently. The catalyst was a slow burning nagging sensation that the passion, wit, humour, camaraderie and competitive spirit I enjoyed in the club community didn’t have an adequate platform to shine. And then I got frustrated with the incessant thoughts in my head and bit the bullet to see what would happen if we actually tried something mildly different in reality.
In the early years did you ever imagine, or dream the event would become what it has? Was today's race your vision?
I certainly felt there was scope for us to achieve the depth of racing quality that we now have, because you only had to look at the road rankings to see that the talent existed, it was just that the top performances weren’t happening at a singular track event and were actually spread across a myriad of different road races.
However, I couldn’t have dreamed for how the club community has backed the event, supported it physically and also given me the confidence to keep trying new ideas, it is this organic support that has seen thousands line lane 3 of the track to watch & marshal 25 lap racing. You feel pretty exposed at times hosting a race event (ask any race organiser), add to this attempting to innovate non-traditional athletic ideas and you quickly want a flak vest to continue, but the overwhelming club support has provided me with a much cherished ‘grow a set’ mandate.
So, for anyone that's not been along before, or for that matter may not have heard of the night, what can they expect at Parliament Hill Track? And for the regular attendees out there, what's new for 2018?
If you haven’t been before, get ready to witness the core elements of our great sport, laughter, emotion, passion, friendship, suffering and joy, all from lane 3 of the track and for free. Not to mention music, beer & a circus vibe.
And if you have been before, then welcome back my friends, and get ready to witness #Highgate10k 6.0, this year we bring you the very best of Europe as 27 nations battle for the Euro 10,000m Team cup, not to mention we have an RAF Typhoon jet flypast, a Strava 10k online challenge, the Soar DJ up a scissor lift, a gin bar and oh and did I mention we are building a pedestrian bridge over the home straight so spectators can watch from the infield?
It's fair to say the event is not lacking in either performance terms, or atmosphere, but what's more important, the quality of the races and athletes, or the crowds and the many additional attractions? Perhaps they're not mutually exclusive....
Absolutely – at its core improved athletic performance is the holy grail, but I firmly believe it’s directly interlinked with enhanced atmosphere, which in turn is created by big & amped crowds getting closer to the action and ensuring athlete neck hairs don’t get to sit down for all 25 laps.
This will be the 6th year of Night of the 10,000m PBs - is there a particular favourite year, or stand out memory amongst them all?
Ah that is cruel, it is like asking me to pick a favourite child. The lovely Ed McGinley going sub 30mins at our first event was a special moment, Jo Pavey obviously in 2014 taking the win before going to snaffle European Champs Gold, our pub supplier running out of beer in 2015 was a particularly proud moment, 2016 has to be Jess Martin taking the unexpected win and booking her spot to Rio Olympics and the 2017 memory was the huge lane 3 crowd support and passion for the juxtapose Q&A with Seb Coe, Paula Radcliffe & Ronnie O’Sullivan.
We're seeing more and more events and race organisers replicate the Night of the 10,000m PB model across the UK, and even abroad - do you think this is a sure sign of the 'future' of distance running? Could major championships follow suit?
I certainly get a sense more people at club level are aware they can create the racing changes they want by hosting a race and testing the feedback, and it’s very exciting to have more people in the mix experimenting with new ideas. To successfully innovate our sport, competitors, athletes and officials need to collectively accept that not all new ideas will succeed, and while it’s great to applaud our successes, within reason, if we aren’t also seeing some failing innovations then I don’t believe we’re being brave enough.
And yes I think with Lord Coe publically backing athletic innovation and brave creativity there’s a real opportunity for major championships to dare to explore new ways to engage with spectators.
What does the future hold for Night of the 10,000m PBs? How would you like it to evolve - and have you anything else up your sleeve for next year and beyond?
The future of the event firmly rests with our lane 3 voting electorate, if the feedback continues to be positive we will clearly keep pushing boundaries – and funny you should ask if I have anything up my sleeve, someone mentioned a ‘crazy idea’ to me today and I didn’t think it sounded that crazy…
Lastly, who are your athletes to watch at this year's event?
Thanks Ben, See you on May 19th!
Photo: Lynn Wilson