A few weeks ago it was announced that Virgin Sport (sorry, who?) would be taking over three races in the UK that previously sponsored by Vitality:

– Run Hackney Half Marathon

– The British 10k

– Oxford Half Marathon

Along with it came shrieks of the price of the RunHackney race in April.

 

Who are Virgin Sport?

When I emailed Virgin Sport to ask for some justification of the pricesIi was surprised to get a reply from someone saying they could only talk in the afternoon as she is located in New York! I got to chat to the lovely Erin, who was completely open about the company, their ambitions and where they can improve.

As well as the three UK events they’re also putting on a race over in San Francisco, hence the NYC office.

The London office is mainly Finance and Legal and NY is mostly Marketing and Ops.They have about 5/6 people in each office, it’s not the huge organisation you instantly expect when you see the Virgin brand tagged to a company name and things started to fit into place knowing that.

Erin admitted they needed to up their social media communication and they have some way to go with reaching out to new runners and be more involved with the community as a whole.

The Cost

Now this running game is never cheap, the £150 Garmin, the £80 shoes, top, fancy shorts, £15 socks (I mean £15 for a pair of socks and they’re not even Ralph Lauren), you get my drift, and yes, you can do it cheaper if you want to.

However along with that is the price of the races, if racing is your penchant. The most costly race i’ve entered (and successfully got a place) this year is the London 10 Mile in June which comes in at just over £41 including fees. Had i got into Berlin, that would’ve been €108 and that’s before you add €5 for the timing chip (refundable) and €27 for the finishers tee. And i’ve seen all the comparisons of this is a marathon vs half and it £x’s per mile, but i think in truth, races are much more than that – it’s how well organised the race is, the package you get at the end, how well your friends and family are catered for – i’ve spent many a Sunday morning with my mother freezing cold in a field with nothing more than a burger van for company.

With this is in mind, I did think we should really give the Virgin guys a chance, hence why i contacted them directly to understand why they thought they needed to up the price and where the extra benefits were.

Weeks ago I saw a similar thing when GNR ballot opened, then again this week with Royal Parks Half, but people still entered. When you look at Royal Parks, one which i consider to be one of the best (£59 inc fees) and Great North, which has mixed reviews (£54 + fees), Hackney is actually cheaper than some of the other big half marathons around. Although, yes i know £48 (earlybird) is still a lot, especially when you can find another half in Cambridge, Stoke or Silverstone for half the price (no pun intended). It seemed that the main aggrievance is the price hike.


Just been digging around doing a bit of research and looking back at tweets it looks like the price has reduced from initially being £58, to £48 earlybird, £53 post Feb 1 and £58 post March 1 to now showing £48 earlybird and £53 post March 1.


Personally, i’m going to give Virgin a bit of credit here, as expensive as it is, they’ve listened to the feedback from the community and changed their prices – it’s still not ‘cheap’ but they’ve at least done something. Erin did tell me that they’ve combined the race entry and processing fees all in one, great idea i thought, but, i wonder if they’ve shot themselves in the foot by making the price look escalated somewhat?

 

RunHackney

Down to the gritty bit. From my knowledge from talking to runners who did RH last year, it was already a good event, just slightly warm, so what’s new? I’ve written the below as the facts of what they are, i’ll let you decided whether you think that the experience is something you would enjoy or encourage you to sign on the dotted line and pay your £48.

Their CEO is the former Head of the New York City Marathon and they’ve been working with Race Directors (i.e. Chicago Marathon RD) to make sure that the event is a success. Erin spoke about Operational Excellence –  making it an enjoyable environment for runners and families.


They’re a company who don’t just want to take your money and have the same kind of race as everyone else, they’re trying to do something different and I take my hat off to them for that They are looking at the Value-add experience, they are looking to increase the experience you get from the event, not just run the half and sod off home.

Few basics of what you’ll get at RunHackney this year.

  • T-shirt in Males and Female fits
  • Medal (Of course)
  • Bag (fancy training bag or plastic bag drop bag i don’t know)
  • Spectator App (Idea i wish more races did this – settles a lot of nerves of parents and loved ones)
  • FREE PHOTOS (I just emailed Erin to check this is right, yes it is free pics – worth £20 compared to the likes of MarathonFoto etc)

My slight issue here is that this is in tiny print on the sign up page – probably where most people click the close button because they’ve just seen the price. In my opinion (particularly the free photos) should be shouted from the front page, jumping up and down in front of you as i’d say this is what is going to attract me more than the race village.

They will be working with Hackney Council on giving out a limited number free places to residents in both the Half Marathon and the 5k and possibly at what they can do to get  local running clubs and run crews (e.g. Adidas Runners, Nike Run Club, etc etc) involved.

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On race day you’ll also get access to the Fitness Festival. The Fitness Festival feel is Virgin’s big thing – this is what they hope will make them different from the crowd.

It’ll based around the local community – local food and entertainment and it will be family orientated. Along with that there will be HIIT sessions, Yoga, bootcamps etc going on during the day (do I want to be doing a HIIT session after a half-marathon? Nah ah – even if i have the ability to walk post race). Do I think this is a bit of an Americanism, heck yeah. They have a race in SanFran which is where I can see the Americans lapping up the post-race fitness activities. On a wet day in Hackney – maybe not, but again it’s down to the individual.

The (£25) 5k. 

Lets face it, if they said it was going to be anything other than free they were going to get a ton of abuse on this.

So why not keep it free?, What are you adding?

  • Entry to the festival,
  • Medal (was there a medal last year peeps? I couldn’t find a 2016 5k medal online)
  • Goes out onto the HM course instead of around the Hackney Marsh and 5k runners will get the support of the HM spectators – I kind of get it, it makes it seem like a proper event not just a kiddies fun run around the park whilst mummy or daddy does the Half Marathon. I hope that this will get more people involved, particularly those who don’t feel unto half marathon distance yet.
  • Erin tells me they’re going to do a 2-4-1 offer on the 5k “Chase your mate”. I do think this might be a reaction after seeing the response to the price, but fair play for at least doing something. Does it soften the blow?, only if you have someone else to do it with.

I didn’t do the 5k or Half last year so can’t comment on how good/bad it was and whether these improvements will actually make it better.

I did do a check on the prices and did a quick comparison to other London 5k’s below

Supernova – £15 – medal & head torch, on paths around QEOP – no closed roads

Colour Run (London) – £28 – Tee, headband, Medal, post race party

RunHackney – £25 – 2-for-1 entry and as above

I can certainly see how the post race ‘fitness festival’ will be more appealing to the 5k runners.

The British 10k

We had a quick chat about this race as it often comes and lots of moaning about the race organisation, the price etc etc.

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This was my first proper race (2015), I didn’t hate it, but it was overly expensive and poorly organised and I fed some of my feedback to Erin, which she has noted.

  • the waves they were not big enough and so there were far more people than waves than laid out – noted
  • no celebratory finish. you finish, get given a bottle of water and then have to walk half a mile to get your medal – this will not happen this year.
  • none existent goody bag, when you’re paying £50+ you expect more than a medal, however nice that medal is
  • post race area (bag collection, massage are, stalls) far too small for such a big number. I did ask how the Festival feeling would work here and Erin admitted they can’t do something as big as Hackney or Oxford here as they just don’t have the room but they will do their best and they will develop the race over the coming years with a few ideas they’re going to put into place for 2017.

I am looking forward to seeing what Virgin do with this race, i think the previous Sponsors/Organisers were pretty much just happy to take people’s money with really giving much value to the event – I hope that Virgin can change this.

The price needs some work too – yep, it’s in central London, closing roads in Westminster is expensive, but comparing to the London 10,000 (one of my favourite events last year), where a much larger area of London covered, Bank Holiday Monday, awesome goody bag and event village – it’s only £28/£30, bargain compared to British 10k.

I am looking forward to what Virgin Sport are going to do with this, they have lots of opportunity to make it into a cracking race.

 

Conclusion

They’re a new company, and small. it seems like they’re learning as they go along, I like their ideas, whether they’ll take off we’ll see in April. I emailed Erin yesterday and told her the free photos is worth its weight in gold and need to make the most of promoting that along with the other things you get alongside the Fitness Festival.

I am looking forward to these guys getting more involved on Twitter and Instagram, they are only 10-12 people strong and I think that has shown through on Social Media. They need to be a lot more engaging and answering questions directly instead of asking people to DM as i am certain more people will have the same question.

They got their pricing wrong, Erin reassures me that they’re putting the event on for as low as they could for the consumer and it’s obviously taking some time to find the right price balance that doesn’t put people off, but also means that they make something from it (lets face it they are a business, they’re here to make money). I see where they were going with adding the processing fees into the price, but i think this just makes the price look worse.

I am excited to see where Virgin Sport go with this new venture, they’re doing somethings which i really like and I imagine others will follow. I do also hope that people give them a chance

I have written this with the facts I discussed on the call with Erin, I am not trying to persuade you either way, this is purely the facts and hopefully gives you a better understanding of what they’re trying to achieve and you can make an informed decision as whether RunHackney will be on your calendar this year.

 

Knowing that, would you consider running Hackney Half?

What would you like to see done differently?

Is price the main factor in you choosing a race, if not, what is?

 

 

Disclaimer

Do i work for Virgin Sport – No

Did Virgin Sport ask me to write this – No