‘The world’s most exciting track meet’ – introducing the ‘Glastonbury of the 10,000m’

The 2018 edition of the Night of the 10,000m PB's saw three British men, led by Alex Yee, run under 28 minutes for the first time in 35 years

Night of the 10,000m PBs
Venue: Parliament Hill Athletics Track, Highgate, London Date: Saturday, 6 July Time: 20:30-22:30 BST
BBC Coverage: Watch live action on BBC Sport online from 20:30 BST and on the Red Button from 21:15 BST

The Glastonbury of the 10,000m. The world’s most exciting track meet. The future of athletics.

Saturday, 6 July. London.

In the 12 miles that separate Wimbledon and Highgate’s Parliament Hill Athletics Track, Pimm’s and polite applause are swapped for cold beer and cow bells as the Night of the 10,000m PBs hosts its unique mash-up of world-class middle-distance running and a right good knees-up.

Lord Coe, the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), will be among the cheering crowd of 8,000 at the floodlit, free event, alongside seven-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, who has kept his snooker diary free so he can head to Highgate as a fan.

The Guardian has described it as “the future of athletics”. An Outside Online magazine article last year went further, calling it “the world’s most exciting track meet”.

So what is the Night of the 10,000m PBs?

‘This is what we want to see’

It was established six years ago by Ben Pochee – a 48-year-old athletics enthusiast who has spent much of his life working in advertising.

At the 2013 British Championships in Birmingham, the 10,000m reached its domestic nadir when just one athlete – Aly Dixon – entered the women’s race.

The Night of the 10,000m PBs had been staged for the first time earlier in 2013, with fewer than 100 people in the crowd.

A year later, Pochee and British Athletics were partners.

In 2014, British Athletics asked the Night of the 10,000m PBs to double up, as it has done ever since, as the national championships and the trial race for the major championship of that summer.

Jo Pavey won the title in 2014, securing her spot at the European Championships, where she won continental 10,000m gold aged 40.

In 2016, British athletes such as women’s race winner Jess Andrews booked their places at the Rio Olympic at an event Pochee admits started as little more than “one man’s idea scribbled down on the back of a fag packet”.

Germany's Richard Ringer celebrates as he crosses the finish line first in the Night of the 10,000m PB's in 2018

Two years later, European Athletics decided it wanted a piece of an action-packed evening in which the track is reduced from eight lanes to two so the athletes can smell the beer on the breath of their adoring fans.

So, as well as being the British Championships, Saturday’s event doubles up as the European 10,000m Cup – a high-quality competition which counts Paula Radcliffe and Mo Farah among its former winners.

In 2018, Germany’s Richard Ringer and Israel’s Lonah Chemtai Salpeter took victory in front of 8,000 fans, with both their winning times the fastest by European athletes across the whole of the year.

Ringer said afterwards it was the best 10,000m race he had ever experienced, adding: “This is a new format for athletics; this is what we want to see.”

Wavelight – the pacemaker of the future?

Coe agrees, saying: “One of the areas we are working on at the IAAF is the need to be more innovative in how we project, interact and present our sport to the world.”

He praised the event’s “innovative approach and ideas, which are very successful, exciting and interactive for all the athletes, attendees and supporters”.

When Coe returns on Saturday – “I don’t even need to send him an invite, he just turns up,” says Pochee – he will see yet more innovation.

For the first time in the UK, electronic pacemaking technology, due to be rolled out at IAAF events later this year, will be used.

The device – called Wavelight – puts a moving line on the track which will show the athletes the pace they need to run in order to meet the qualifying standard for the World Championships later this year in Doha.

Athletes run through beer tents on every lap

Athletes running through a beer tent - there are beer tents on the back and home straights of the Highgate track

Britain’s Eilish McColgan will be following that line closely as she looks to ride the crest of the wave of what has arguably already been her best season.

McColgan – daughter of former 10,000m world champion Liz – has already run the World Championships qualifying standards in 1500m and 5,000m this summer and will hope to feature at the sharp end of a field including 2018 champion Salpeter.

The cutting edge Wavelight technology is in stark contrast with some of the more basic methods employed to drive athletes to fast times, such as beer tents on the back and home straights which the runners go through on each of their 25 laps.

It is an idea that was also rolled out at the World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark in March with track and field, like many sports, acutely aware of its need to attract younger audiences.

‘We are the Glastonbury of the 10,000m’

In this context, Pochee emerges as something of a pioneer, albeit a reluctant one.

“British Athletics have been so supportive down the years,” he says.

“I do think we have encouraged national governing bodies to sit up a bit. They must have been thinking ‘we could do more’.

“I still find it amusing what the event has become. I like to joke that we are the Glastonbury of the 10,000m.”

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BBC Sport – Athletics

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