In recent years, running has seen an enormous level of growth, with new races popping up every month and options catering for all levels of ability. That massive surge in events means that the choice of distances, locations and terrain is enormous and choosing the right one can be a difficult task – and when many can cost upwards of £40, not counting things like travel and accommodation costs, you want to know you’ve spent your hard-earned money wisely.
In the UK you can find races to enter regardless of location, especially when you include parkruns, however, few places have seen the sort of meteoric rise that London has. A city of over 8 million people, a big chunk of those runners, where you can sign up to at least three races a week if you really wanted to (we wouldn’t consider that well-planned training though).
There’s an enormous range as well, with everything from one-mile events and 5ks to ultramarathons and tower running challenges, making the task of picking the right one even trickier.
We’ve tried out most of the races in the capital, covering every distance and format. Here we run through our favourite options for you to include in your race calendar, whether you’re a beginner looking for your first race or someone searching for the biggest challenges the city has to offer.
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Best for beginners
The Vitality Westminster Mile
There aren’t many large-scale mile events in London, which is a shame as the distance is an extremely interesting one to tackle. It’s the perfect race for an absolute beginner as you can experience the atmosphere and logistics of a running event without the fear of covering one of the longer distances, while still pushing yourself to hit a personal goal.
It’s not just for beginners though as the mile is by far one of the most difficult distances to go all out on. You can’t sprint the whole thing, you can’t take it too steady and it’s incredibly difficult to pace effectively. For more experienced athletes it can be a really tough experience that seems a lot further than it appears.
The Vitality Westminster Mile takes place on the Sunday before the Vitality London 10,000, just outside Buckingham Palace. The beauty of that is all of the runners finish in the same location as the London Marathon, which is by far one of the most iconic locations for a race around the world. The weekend also sees an enormous festival-style set-up in Green Park with food, yoga, live music and entertainment. Not bad considering it’s one of the cheapest races you’ll find across the capital.
When: 1 May 2023
How much: TBC
Best 5k races
RunThrough Olympic Park 5k and 10k
If you’re on the hunt for a 5k then the chances are you’re either building up your race distance or you’re focusing on speed. Either way, you want a nice flat course where the only thing you need to worry about is the distance.
RunThrough host events all over London with an enormous range of distances, elevation and backdrops. Its Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park race is by far one of the most popular, with the course taking place around the weaving paths in an area perfectly designed for road runners. The course covers half of the 10k route that takes place at the same time, so if you’re feeling chipper you can opt for the longer distance.
The race has been running for a few years now and the organisers have got it down to a fine art. Due to development across the Olympic Park, the course can change from race to race, so make sure you check the FAQs before you turn up.
As well as some of the best custom-designed medals in the business, each race finishes with a selection of treats including the famous RunThrough homemade flapjacks.
When: Throughout the year
How much: From £26
Best 10k races
London Winter Run
The Cancer Research UK London Winter Run hit the news when it first launched in 2015 as one of the few mass participation running events through closed London streets. Since then it has gone on to become one of the most popular running events in the capital.
And rightly so. The 10km race not only offers an incredible course that takes in some of London's most impressive landmarks but has managed to bridge an enormous gap between those runners looking for a fast course as well as those who want a fun and relaxed experience. The result is an enormously inclusive event that has something for everyone, whether that's a PB or a hug from a polar bear.
The fact that it takes place within the first few weeks of the year also makes it a favourite for people who want to set the year's running goals off with a bang.
When: 5 February 2023
How much: From around £45
Asics London 10k
There are only a handful of running events which manage to close central London roads throughout the year and the Asics British 10k is one of the oldest.
The route, which sets off from outside Green Park, covers an enormous range of London landmarks including the London Eye, Regent’s Street, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. All of which goes to make the event one of the standout races in the city.
Although the event caters for around 10,000 runners, the wave starting system, along with the use of the city’s wide roads, means that the course is perfect whether you’re aiming for a PB or just hoping to enjoy the scenery. The fact that the London streets are full of crowds makes the race an excellent chance to experience the atmosphere of the London Marathon, without the extra 32km.
Tip: Get there early as there's a long walk around the bag drop and the starting pens.
When: 9 July 2023
How much: £40
RunThrough Greenwich Park 5k and 10k
Another entry for RunThrough on the list. Not only because they have so many races across the capital but because this slog around one of the city's most famous parks really is an exceptional event.
Some people love hills and some people hate them, for obvious reasons. However, there are some races where theirs a big payoff for making your way to the top of a massive incline. Greenwich is the perfect example of that. The 500m+ long stretch may seem like pure hell, especially considering you have to cover it three times, but once you scale it you're treated to one of London's most incredible views.
Not only that, but half of the race is a largely downhill treat where you can either push for some really fast km times or settle in and get your breath back.
RunThrough holds events at Greenwich throughout the year. For our money, the most enjoyable is by far the spring races. Partly because Greenwich is a true spectacle at that time of year but also because you're going to get really hot climbing that hill.
Tip: The toilet is a way off from the start line. So plan to pop in as you walk up the hill from Greenwich.
When: Throughout the year
How much: From £26
Best 10-mile races
Harry Hawkes 10 Mile
There aren’t many 10-mile events around the capital – it’s an old-style distance that doesn’t tend to pop up very often. Trust us though, the Harry Hawkes 10 mile is a very old-style event. Something that makes it a very special race to take part in.
The mid-summer race takes place in a small park in the picturesque village of Thames Ditton, where the atmosphere is reminiscent of a village fete from days long past. There are local food and drinks stalls, crowds lounging in the summer sun and a race commentary reminiscent of village fairs. It’s a great summer day out whether you’re running or just spectating.
The last two times we’ve done it the temperature has been hot, which makes a relatively flat race significantly tougher. The route does, however, take in some of the most impressive areas around the Kingston upon Thames area, so all the effort is rewarded.
When: June 2023
How much: TBC
Best half marathons
London Landmarks Half Marathon
The London Landmarks half seems like it has been around for decades it's become so popular. The fact that it's only two years old is a massive testament to the organization that goes behind one of the city's biggest events.
Organized by baby charity, Tommy's, the race is one of the few that has permission to allow participants the opportunity to run around central London – some of which follows the most impressive section of the London marathon, including the iconic Pall Mall.
The similarities with the London marathon don't end there as the race has become so popular you now need to either enter the ballot to take part or join one of the many partner charities associated with the event.
The 2022 event had over 12,000 people cross the finish line and London saw its streets crowded by cheering supporters. If you're looking for the feel and scale of the London Marathon but aren't quite ready for the distance (or can't get in) it's a great alternative.
When: 2 April 2023
How much: £59 (ballot now closed)
Hackney Half Marathon
There aren’t many races in London that have the sort of community atmosphere that the Hackney Half Marathon has. In just a few years it has become one of the most popular races in the city, with the 2019 event seeing over 17,000 runners make their way across the finish line.
Part of the three-day Hackney Festival of Fitness, the Hackney Half is a celebration of all that is East London with a course that takes in many of the locations the area is famous for. Expect streets lined with cheering Hackney residents, many holding tins of craft ale, from start to finish.
The route has developed over time and offers a beautiful, winding tour of the area, starting and finishing in Hackney Marshes, with entertainment throughout the 13.1 miles. It’s also relatively flat, but expect a few tricky climbs towards the latter part of the route.
When: 23 May 2023
How much: £52
Ealing Half Marathon
Since it started in 2012, the Ealing Marathon became an instant hit, winning multiple awards across the years. Why? Because it’s by far one of the best half marathons you can spend your money on.
We’ve run the race many times and are always impressed by the organisation and planning that go into it. The course covers a massive range of parks and streets around the area with thousands of cheering crowds lining the route. It’s not the flattest half marathon you can choose but the wide streets and long straights make it one of the faster options.
With only 7,000 participants, it’s a big event, but not too big. Large enough to feel like many of the larger scale races that take place but still small enough to feel like you’re taking part in a community event. It’s also perfectly placed for anyone preparing for any of the autumn marathons.
When: 24 September 2023
How much: From £40
The Palace Half Marathon
There's something very special about placing a running event in the grounds of a famous historical landmark, and there aren't as many as grandiose as Hampton Court Palace.
Positioned rather conveniently just over a month before the London Marathon, the Palace Half is a beautiful 13.1 miles around some of London's most picturesque riverside locations. The other upside of a run close to the Thames is that it's also extremely flat, which makes it a great option if you're aiming for a PB.
Previous years have seen around 3,500 runners and the fact it takes place in a weekend tourist hotspot means that there are loads of happy cheering crowds enjoying their Sunday.
If medals are your thing, previous years have released one of the biggest we've ever got from a race with a design that any bling-hunter will be desperate to get hold of. You'll also get a T-shirt and a hive five from a man dressed as Henry VIII – not your usual race perk.
When: 26 March 2023
How much: From £38
TCS London Marathon
No London race guide would be complete without mention of our city’s proudest running event. Whether your interest in the race is to tick off a line on your bucket list or you’re a seasoned athlete that’s done it multiple times, there’s no denying the magic that surrounds one of the world’s most sought-after races.
For many applicants, the ballot system for gaining entry will mean that taking part in the London Marathon could be years away – if ever – unless you run for one of the many charities associated with the event. This probably goes some way to answering the question of why the event is placed so highly amongst the running community.
The other reason is that the London Marathon is a spectacular race to be part of. The sheer scale of runners and crowds is an amazing experience, with the last two miles of the course by far one of the most important stretches of road for runners around the world. Whether you like large-scale races or not, there are few runners, and even non-runners, who wouldn’t like to have a London Marathon medal hanging in the house.
When: 23 April 2020
How much: £39 (ballot now closed)
Richmond RunFest has very quickly become one of the most prominent running events in the country. The series of races taking place across the weekend include the Kew Gardens 10K, the Sundown 5K, the Richmond Half Marathon, the Richmond Kids / Family Mile and the Richmond Marathon.
Each of the main races start in Kew Gardens, which is itself an incredible place to visit, let alone the opening location for the first few kilometres of a running event (the 10k actually takes place fully within the gardens). From leaving the grounds the marathon route follows the river past some of west London’s most famous landmarks including Hampton Court Palace, Teddington Lock and Kingston Bridge.
The route is flat but does meander a lot, so there are many sections where it’s difficult to get into a groove. As marathons go the beautiful scenery is some of the best you’re likely to find in a city race and it’s an excellent substitute for anyone hoping to run the London Marathon that, more than likely, hasn’t got in through the ballot.
When: 10 September 2023
How much: £46.50
Best ultra marathons
The Thames Path Challenge
Organisers Action Challenge have been delivering ultra-distance walking and running events for a good few years now. We’ve taken part in a few of them and the organisation and planning are always some of the best we’ve ever seen. Which is one of the main things you want when you need to run 100km.
The Thames Path Challenge is its London-based event that sees runners and walkers making their way from Putney, past Windsor and finishing in Henley-on-Thames. There are however shorter options available covering 25km and 50km routes, if you’re looking for something a bit more manageable.
The terrain is largely flat, especially for an ultra, so it’s a great option for those ramping up their long-distance miles before hitting some of the more demanding ultra routes. If you live in London it also means, unlike most ultra marathons, that you can come home straight afterwards and spend the next three days on the sofa.
When: 9-10 September 2023
How much: £198 (full distance)
Our list of events will be updated throughout the year with new races as well as tried and tested classics. If you have a race that you think we should include send us an email at [email protected].
Main image credit: Virgin London Marathon