From Classic to Crazy, Britain Loves Running Races

Visit Britain

With the Boston Marathon taking over Beantown this past weekend, it’s a good time to think about the top running events in Britain. From elite to community, races in the UK are much like they are in the U.S. – with centuries of additional history along the routes.

Some of history’s most proficient runners hail from Britain, where track and field events were among the most popular during last year’s Summer Olympics. Roger Bannister, then a medical student, was the first man to break the 4-minute mile mark, in 1954. Sebastian Coe won four Olympic medals and broke eight world records as a middle-distance runner. He and fellow Brit Steve Ovett dominated middle-distance running in the 1980s.

Paula Radcliffe, a powerhouse runner who holds the current women’s world record for the marathon, has won the New York and London Marathons three times each. The second-fastest British female runner, Mara Yamauchi, retired in January.

Here are some of Britain’s most notable running races. If you’re not into running, it can often be fun just to watch from the sidelines.

London Marathon

Happening just six days after Boston, the Virgin London Marathon is one of the world’s most prestigious. The race’s website includes a route map that will come in handy for anyone wanting to run in the race, watch or just navigate London on April 21. The interactive map lets you see where runners of varying classes are expected to be at any given time. This is especially helpful for spectators hoping to get close to the action. The map even shows notable cross streets or landmarks near any given spot.

Silverstone Grand Prix 10K

No matter how fast you run this race, you won’t go nearly the speed that most competitors do on the Silverstone track – it’s historically one of Britain’s most famous car and motorcycle racing venues. But you can imagine being in the driver’s seat as you cross the finish line (which could make this race especially fun for wheelchair and hand-cycle participants). The Silverstone Grand Prix race, held on May 8, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

Jane Tomlinson Run for All events

These races raise money for the Jane Tomlinson Appeal, which gives it to charities supporting children and cancer research. Tomlinson was an indomitable mother from Leeds, in northern England, who lived for seven years with terminal breast cancer that doctors told her would kill her in less than six months. During those years years, she completed a full Iron Man triathlon and finished the London Marathon three times. Although she died in 2007, her legacy lives on in the form of races — four 10Ks and a half marathon — throughout northern England. Many of them pass some of the most notable landmarks in their respective locations, including Leeds, Hull, York and the county of Lancashire.

Great Gorilla Run

Every September, gangs of gorillas run through London. But this isn’t a mass escape from the London Zoo: It’s the Great Gorilla Run, and it’s for a good cause. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the race raises money for conservation projects in Africa that will benefit real gorillas (as well as humans and other species). You don’t even need a gorilla costume: It comes with race registration. In turn, participants agree to raise at least £400 each for the charity. Go to the website to find out how you can donate, and be sure to watch for gorillas if you’re in town on September 21.

by Christy Karras

Photos: Runners go past the Tower of London during the Virgin London Marathon 2012 on April 22, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)

Elite wheelchair athletes make their way past Westminster during the 2012 Virgin London Marathon. Most major races in Britain include wheelchair ivisions. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

Wilson Kipsang and Mary Keitany of Kenya pose with Prince Harry after winning the men and women's Elite race during the 2012 London Marathon. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

Competitors dressed in a gorilla outfits prepare ahead of a Great Gorilla Run in London, raising funds for projects dedicated to the preservation of gorillas. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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