The Future of City Races in London

The fourth City of London Orienteering Race is only a few days away, and with the maps off to the printer, and the final details out, the organisation team can start to relax a little and keep our fingers crossed for good weather on the day.

I first thought of the idea of putting on a City Race in London in November 2007, after a low-key Street-O event was organised in the City, and Bankside, by my club South London Orienteers. A discussion with the race director of the Rat Race was crucial, in determining that the City of London Corporation were enthusiastic and helpful with such events taking place. Brooner, with his key experience of organising modern orienteering races and adventure races, such as the Purple Thistle and Rat Race, and structuring the Nopesport Urban League, was soon on board, and together we managed to get over 400 people to the first event in October 2008. Along the way I had organised a test event, at Queen Mary University of London, using a map prepared in Adobe Illustrator, to test the printing and map quality. Being able to use a Mac, and Illustrator, was the key motivator in producing the City of London map, as was having a lot of free time, as I took a year out to study for an MSc at City University, just up the road.

The strength and depth of experience in South London Orienteers meant we had a large number of volunteers on the day to make things run smoothly, and the first event was a great success. I should also mention the controller, Simon Errington, whose experience of sprint and urban events at the highest level was invaluable at steering us towards producing great courses for the race.

Since then the race has grown and grown. Last year we had the previous year’s Venice Street Race planner on board to design the courses – Matthias Mahr. With Venice being the biggest urban orienteering race in the world, this certainly helped with the profile of the the event abroad, and the current race director, Alan Leakey, has also been abroad frequently, spreading the message. We now have over 1100 entered for Saturday’s race, including 300 from abroad, and 100 non-club runners – likely new to orienteering. The map has spread west, south and (this year) north for each edition of the race.

So what next? Well, the City Race itself will doubtless still keep going. We were hoping to use Canary Wharf and the Isle of Dogs for next year’s race, but filming in the former area has put paid to that. There is also some potential for expanding the map east, at the expense of constricting the courses somewhat. A new format, such as a middle-distance race or Stockholm City Cup style event, might be an option.

So it’s not just the City that can host major urban races in London. Other places include:

  • Isle of Dogs and Canary Wharf – an obvious location with the glamour of the skyscrapers in Canary Wharf and the river and dock features.
  • Hampstead – used by LOK for a Street-O, but combining this with part of Hampstead Heath would make for a great urban event – plenty of hills to make it interesting too.
  • Kingston – already mapped for a potential future sprint by Matthias.
  • Wapping and Bermondsey
  • Rotherhithe Peninsula
  • Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – we are unlikely to have access to all of it for many years to come as much of it is actually earmarked for housing, but there will still be a decent expanse of parkland, and the sports venues themselves, which may be accessible from 2014 onwards.
  • A race at night in the City
  • Extending the current map south-west to cover parts of the South Bank.

I don’t think a large race could happen in the commercial centre of London – the West End – because of the volume of traffic. However LOK do organise an annual evening Street-O event in this area.

I hope that other city races in London, and indeed elsewhere (hello Bristol!) would follow a few key ideas that we have tried to adopt for the City of London Race:

  • Iconic race arenas which are not hidden away from the public. Admittedly there aren’t many passers-by around in the City at the weekend.
  • Distinctive uniforms for marshals and helpers. We have distinctive red T-shirts and hoodies.
  • Freebies for the aforementioned helpers. They get to keep their T-shirts.
  • Nice weather. We’ve been lucky three years in a row!
  • A dedicated website.
  • An emphasis on photographs rather than text and maps, in the publicity.
  • Visiting iconic features on the courses, even at slight expense of course quality – although we at least haven’t needed to compromise significantly.
  • Use of social media. This is becoming more and more important. We have a Facebook event with over 100 RSVPs, a Twitter account and Attackpoint event. The race is also being discussed on Nopesport and is listed on Runnersworld.

2 replies on “The Future of City Races in London”

Another great London City race. The organisation, map and competiton area was outstanding and I am already looking forward to next year. I hope other clubs consider organising city races – Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow must have something to offer the urban orienteer. They also offer the newcomer an adventure challenge that does not come with an expensive entry fee or requirement to be part of a team. Bigger and better next year? – A high standard has been set – many thanks to all the officials and volunteers that made it such a memorable day.

The City of London races stand apart from many others for the reasons you give in your final para. I think they represent a positive future for orienteering and you and SLOW deserve much credit for delivering such high quality, inclusive events in a contemporary way. I have been to all 4 and enjoyed them all.
Community orienteering coach

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