Highgate Harriers host elite athletes in third Night of the 10,000m Personal Bests event
Highgate Harriers will welcome the next British 10,000m champions on Saturday as their third annual ‘Night of the Personal Bests’ takes place at Parliament Hill.
Four-time British Olympian Jo Pavey used her victory in the showpiece race last year as the springboard to a gold medal at the European Championship in Zurich – and athletics fans can get a trackside view of some of the fastest runners in the country this weekend.
As the name suggests, the original idea in 2013 was to provide a setting and atmosphere that could inspire 10,000m runners to break their personal best time.
But such has been the growing prestige of the gala that British Athletics has given the Harriers the honour of hosting two races that will decide the next male and female national champions – and Commonwealth Games internationals Aly Dixon, Beth Potter and Rhona Auckland are due to compete.
Event organiser Ben Pochee is eagerly anticipating the third edition of the free-to-attend celebration of athletics, and has called on the community to embrace its unique quality.
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“We’ve now been going for three years, and I’m confident this year will be even better than the last,” said Pochee.
“Normally when you go to watch athletics, you have to enter a stadium and pay 20 quid, but this is 100 per cent free, and people can come and stand literally in lane three.
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“Once the athletes have left their starting blocks, we narrow the field, so you can stand in the lanes yourself. It’s not often you can be so close to the action.”
A total of six races, incorporating the British Championships as well as trials for the European Cup and Under-23 European Championships selections, will bring a competitive air to the occasion – and the leading men will be targeting the 28-minute mark while the women are aiming for 32 minutes.
Pochee was the driving force behind the event’s inception, after Mo Farah’s gold medal in the 10,000m at the London Olympics provided him with a lightbulb moment.
“It was fantastic to see Mo doing so well, but it left me feeling an overwhelming sense that there weren’t enough 10,000m events for aspiring athletes in this country to follow in his footsteps,” he said.
“The Night of the 10,000m PBs is an opportunity for us to discover the next Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe. The success of the first year was so palpable that we now have elite athletes coming from France, Norway, Sweden and Belgium.
“My ultimate goal is to make this event the number one 10,000m track event in Europe.”
With a pop-up running shop, a fully-licensed pub and a DJ playing a tune chosen by each athlete, the Harriers are trying to change the common perception of athletics, making the sport more attractive.
Former 10,000m world record-holder David Bedford will attend the event again, while it is hoped snooker star Ronnie O’Sullivan will be present, handing out golden cues to the person who he feels makes the best ‘break’ in each race.
“We are opening the doors to the local community and to the best runners in Europe,” Pochee continued. “When Jo Pavey won the women’s main event last year, it catapulted her into the front pages of the newspapers.
“She had to win our race and in a certain time to go to the European Championship, where she won the gold medal that put her up for the Sports Personality of the Year award.”
Pochee – who has been a member of the Harriers since 1985, having joined as a pupil from nearby William Ellis School – highlighted the altruistic nature of the club, with this weekend’s event being completely volunteer-run, without any commercial entity.
“It’s no exaggeration that we make schools athletics happen in Camden,” added Pochee, whose father ran for Highgate in the late 1970s. “It’s nice to let the local community know what the club does.
“We aim to provide a platform to launch athletes into the stratosphere, and we want to make running very aspirational for those in our country.”