Highgate event has secured the European 10,000m Cup for the next two years but race director isn’t ready to rest on his laurels

While race director Ben Pochee is hugely encouraged by the impact the Night of the 10,000m PBs is having on British 25-lap  standards (see the November 22 AW magazine), his biggest sense of pride comes from the event having become a real celebration of the sport.

Created to address the need for an appealing high-class racing opportunity, the first meeting was held in 2013 – the same year in which Alyson Dixon was the sole female competitor in the British Championships 10,000m final in Birmingham – and it has evolved with every edition since.

The event has also expanded in stature over the last six editions and after incorporating the British Olympic trials in 2016, the IAAF World Championships trials in 2017 and the European 10,000m Cup for the first time earlier this year, the continental competition has recently been confirmed as returning to Highgate for the next two years.

Spectator experience is also high on the agenda and the volunteer-powered meet features a ‘lane three beer and cheer ethos’, which gives fans the chance to follow the action from right on the track, plus circus entertainment, a ‘lactic tunnels of love’ for athletes to run through, a home straight pedestrian bridge, infield spectating, live music, a back straight DJ and a ‘Legends’ seminar.

“I’m just so proud of our sport,” says Pochee, as he reflects on the growing success of the Night of the 10,000m PBs.

“I love what it has been able to demonstrate about just how passionate people are for the sport and, not that they didn’t show it before, but I think this event has allowed people in a different way to demonstrate how much their sport means to them and in a really positive way.

“I’ve invited people down to the event who have got nothing to do with athletics and I feel cool that I can bring them to something that they think is really funky and aspirational.

“All those years you used to run and you used to be a bit embarrassed that you were a middle-distance or long-distance runner because it wasn’t really that cool – I think it always has been cool but it’s how the event can present how cool it is. I think that’s what I’m proud of,” he adds.

“Obviously I’m proud of how we have helped push 10,000m running in the UK but, broadest of all, I am really proud of how everyone has come together to celebrate our sport.

“It has now become a real celebration of what we all do and what we all love.”

The big innovation for the 2018 event was the home straight bridge and while plans for next year’s meeting are still being confirmed, Pochee’s next plan centres on audience experience.

“All will be as it was in 2018 from an infrastructure point of view but we do have an innovation. It’s all about how we can engage the spectators more in what’s going on with the race,” he explains.

“My big push for 2019 is spectator engagement and what we can do to help them get a better feeling as to exactly what is happening on the track while they are chatting and drinking with their friends. Ideally you wouldn’t have to be staring at a stopwatch the entire time to have an idea of what is going on with the race.”

Both 2018 European-leading times were set at the event in May as it incorporated the European Cup for the first time, with Germany’s Richard Ringer running 27:36.52 and Israel’s Lonah Chemtai Salpeter 31:33.03. Three British men also broke 28 minutes in the same race for the first time in 35 years – led by 20-year-old Alex Yee – and eight GB women ran under 33 minutes.

With the standard of racing having risen over the past few years, and the addition of the European Cup taking things another step forward, Pochee is excited to see what might be possible from athletes in future.

“I love seeing our British talent realise their potential, beyond maybe what they were even believing a couple of years ago,” he says. “I think that’s what is exciting, when you see Alex Yee’s face when he crossed the line this year – you can see how much it meant to him to maybe go beyond what he was planning to do that day.

“It’s one thing delivering what you hoped for but when people go beyond that, that’s when you think something is worth watching, when you think even the athletes themselves are going to be surprised.

“It was the same with Richard Ringer when he won the men’s race,” he adds. “He got a massive PB. I don’t think he had run sub-28 minutes before and he ended up running 27:30 and that’s what excites me, when people take that step beyond. I think that’s fantastic.

“I love the fact that the European Cup is coming back for two more years because I see more opportunities for more people to make unexpected excited leaps into the unknown in terms of quality.”