Great City Race Greats – Lisa Thompson, Assistant Race Director/Operations, London Marathon Ltd
1) How did the initial idea for a Great City Race come about?
There was a desire to have an event which would appeal to the thousands of people who work in the City on a weekday evening that, crucially, they could get to easily and quickly from their offices. There are many regular runners who work in the City and to give them the opportunity to run on traffic free roads past iconic sights such as the Bank of England was also a driving force.
2) How has the event changed since it first started in 2005?
Not many changes really. We listened to the quicker runners and now protect an area at the front of the start line up for them. The course has been tweaked a few times to allow for ongoing building works in the City. The assembly area has stayed the same throughout and was originally identified by looking at a map of the City and searching for a good sized green space. The HAC was the only place that offered this and they have been supportive of the event since year one.
3) Closing off the roads around the Square Mile during rush hour is some feat. How do you make it happen?
It was crucial to get great support from the City of London and the City of London Police, supplemented by others such as TfL buses who have to divert a number of routes that evening to keep the race route clear.
Once the plan for closing the roads is written and agreed by all parties it’s a case of making it happen on the night, with police support and stewards on every road junction to implement the closures, all coordinated from the event control room who are watching CCTV cameras and talking to people on the ground.
Another aspect which often catches people by surprise is that when you close a road during a busy time of day it can take 10 minutes or so for all the residual traffic to “drain” away from the closure. That is why road closures come in 45 minutes before race start. It’s also why the race start is at 19:15 – to avoid the absolute rush hour peak.
We also work closely with TfL who have the pan London picture – it’s easy to forget that a closure can have an impact on roads some distance away. Of course when the event is over the whole process has to be done in reverse to reopen the roads and get back to business as usual.
4) The level of organisation required on race day must be phenomenal. Sorting the road closures is one hurdle but what would you say are your other biggest challenges?
We are under pressure from the City not to have infrastructure in place more than 24 hours in advance. So a crew works through the night the evening before putting out barriers and cones on the route. We have a one day hire at the HAC too, so nothing is in place there before 06:00 on race day. It’s a swift build and derig so challenging and tiring!
5) You've been involved from the start. Do you have a most memorable year and, if so, what made it unforgettable?
One year, 2007 I think, we were having a mini heatwave with temperatures in the 90’s. We were concerned about the implications, brought in extra water, warned runners to take it easy and fortunately all went smoothly. But it was extremely hot and working in that heat all day and evening was challenging, everyone was searching for shade!
6) The race sells out every year. What makes it so popular in your eyes?
It’s easy to get to, there’s a great atmosphere before and afterwards at the HAC, people can drift off to their favourite local if they want to, it’s a Thursday so almost the end of the week too. It’s always good to see groups from companies arrive together in their t-shirts and swapping war stories over a drink afterwards. Like any social activity, especially in large companies, people have a chance to mix with people they wouldn’t do during a normal working day.
7) If you could sum up the race in three words what would they be?
Great race, great city (yep, I know that’s four!)
The Investec Zebra has become a race day favourite. What is it about the Standard Chartered Great City Race which draws the Investec Zebra and the team of 100+ Investec employees to the event each year?
Primarily because it’s a fantastic cause but the race also draws on teamwork and a strong competitive spirit; attributes that are closely aligned to Investec’s values.
Does the Investec Zebra need to train for the 5KM?! If so, what sort of training goes into the preparation?
The zebra does not need any special training, he is always ready for the challenge!
Is there more than one Investec Zebra? How are they selected for the race?
It’s never hard to find a volunteer to be the zebra, we normally have to draw a name from a hat.
As the team mascot, what does the Investec Zebra stand for?
The Zebra is a visual symbol of our ‘Out of the Ordinary’ philosophy designed to highlight the unique nature of Investec. Hopefully it will inspire our runners to go that bit quicker!
As the only animal to take part in the race, attracting attention is inevitable. What’s the most memorable thing someone has said or asked the Investec Zebra?!
We are often asked why zebras have distinctive stripes: there is no definitive answer but it is believed that zebras use the stripes as a sophisticated camouflage.
What other challenges (running or other) does the Investec Zebra compete in?
The Investec Zebra is a big Tottenham Hotspur fan and regularly makes trips to see the Investec Derby, England’s Test matches, and the GB women’s hockey team in action. However, in terms of competition, it is saving its energy for the Standard Chartered Great City Race.
Will the Investec Zebra be taking part again this year on 11 July?
‘Great City Race Greats’ - It’s a Family Affair
The world of sport is littered with famous sporting couples. Think Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf, Gabby and Kenny Logan, and Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki, to name a few. The Standard Chartered Great City Race has its very own famous duo too. Phil and Emily Wicks rule the road when it comes to the annual 5k corporate run around the closed off streets of the Square Mile.
The results speak for themselves. Last year, the couple, who married in 2010, achieved ‘the double’ by winning both the men’s and women’s races, for the third time. It was Phil’s fifth overall victory and Emily’s fourth consecutive title.
We caught up with Phil, who works at Legal & General, and Emily, who works at Punter Southall, to tell us why they’re always among the first to register…
For the past 4 years, you’ve ‘done the double’ by winning the male and female categories in the SCGCR. What do you both enjoy about competing in the SCGCR?
It’s great to race through the streets of London with our work colleagues. The atmosphere is fantastic with the streets lined with supporters and the city workers cheering everybody on and it’s a great opportunity to socialise with work colleagues before and after the race. We also love the fact that the race has raised so much money for good causes.
Given your success in the SCGCR, do your colleagues expect you both to win the race each year and do you get any banter from them before the race?
We never expect to win but it’s always a great feeling to cross the line first. There’s plenty of banter between colleagues and rival companies which all adds up to make the race such an enjoyable experience and everyone really looks forward to it each year.
Has your success in the SCGCR managed to inspire any colleagues to take up running?
We both run for companies that encourage active participation in sport and have a history of good turnouts at the corporate races. However, we are very competitive and encourage our team mates to train hard in the lead up to the race so we can try to win the team event. Phil’s team (Legal & General) has had lots of success and has won the event many times but Emily’s team (Punter Southall) were really pleased to win the mixed team race in 2011!
Phil, do you think you can break the 14 minute mark at the SCGCR? What do you need to break it… the right conditions, the right competitor?
To break 14 minutes on the road would be fantastic but would be very difficult to do. If the conditions are good this year, I will give it my best shot!
How easy is it to juggle work with your running schedules?
We both have full-time jobs so training has to fit around our Monday to Friday working hours. We both train in the morning before starting work and then again afterwards so life is pretty hectic but it is also very rewarding.
Do you train together over a 5km distance?
We both compete for different clubs (Emily for Aldershot, Farnham and District AC and Phil for Belgrave Harriers), so we train with different groups and rarely get a chance to run together. We enjoy training for the 5km distance but we also train over longer distances too and often cover around 80 to 100 miles a week.
How did you meet? Was it through running?
Yes, we met whilst running for England in an international race in Germany in 2006 (although we didn’t properly meet until the flight home when we happened to be sitting next to each other!). A few weeks later we saw each other again at another cross country race and started seeing each other away from the mud and hills shortly after! The training is a huge time commitment so it is nice that we share this common interest and are very supportive of each other.
The SCGCR is all about getting colleagues across the Square Mile out for a fun evening together. Do you think events like this help promote team work in the office?
Definitely. There is a real buzz in our offices around the time of the SCGCR and even colleagues who don’t compete in the race come along to support the team.
Do you think it’s important for companies to encourage their employees to pursue a healthy and active lifestyle?
Yes, it’s really important to have a balanced lifestyle and taking part in sport or leisure activities is a great way to unwind after work.
Are you both planning to compete in the 2013 SCGCR?
Yes, we are both looking forward to competing in the 2013 SCGCR and trying to defend our individual titles!
What are your goals for running in 2013?
We are both competing in the Virgin London Marathon in 2013 – Emily is making her debut at the distance and Phil is hoping to run a new personal best (currently – 2:15:38 – Amsterdam 2011) to gain selection for Great Britain at the World Championships this summer.
‘Great City Race Greats’ is a regular feature in the newsletter. Have you got a story to tell about your experience of the race? Have you competed in the race every year since it started in 2005? Are you now a seasoned runner having been inspired to take it up by the race? If you do, we want to hear from you.
“This year we aim to raise USD 59,000 which could provide enough medication to help tackle trachoma in the Kasempa District of Zambia – protecting a population of 73,740 people”