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 â and when many can cost upwards of ÂŁ40, not counting things like travel and accommodation costs, you want to know youâve 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 wouldnât consider that well-planned training though).
Thereâs 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.
Weâve 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 youâre a beginner looking for your first race or someone searching for the biggest challenges the city has to offer.
Best for beginners
The Vitality Westminster Mile
There arenât many large-scale mile events in London, which is a shame as the distance is an extremely interesting one to tackle. Itâs 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.
Itâs not just for beginners though as the mile is by far one of the most difficult distances to go all out on. You canât sprint the whole thing, you canât take it too steady and itâs 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 itâs one of the cheapest races youâll find across the capital.
When: 24 May 2020
How much: ÂŁ8
The Big Fun Run 5k
If youâre looking for a relaxed and fun event where the focus is on community, charity and enjoyment, without worrying about timing chips or winners' podiums, the Big Fun Run is a great event to take part in. The series takes place across the UK all year round and supports a range of charities.
The distance is always 5k and they encourage families to take part together. The London event is held at Victoria Park, a beautiful and flat tree-lined course. Expect people dressed up in costumes, entertainment, lots of cheering and a noticeable lack of serious runners trying to get PBs.
When: 20 October 2019
How much: ÂŁ16.25
Best 5k races
RunThrough Olympic Park 5k and 10k
If youâre on the hunt for a 5k then the chances are youâre either building up your race distance or youâre 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 youâre 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. Starting at the Pavilion cafe, the route takes in the Arcelormittal Orbit, the London Stadium, the Aquatic Centre and the various legacy landmarks dotted around the park. 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: ÂŁ22
Best 10k races
Regent's Park 10k
The Regent's Park race series takes place throughout the year and offers one of the fastest and most visually enjoyable races across the capital. Hosted by the Race Organizer, a company thatâs been holding the event for many years, the race has become a staple fixture for the London running community.
Setting off from Regentâs Parkâs Hub sports facility, the route takes in lakeside views, long tree-lined paths, large open grassland and a distracting view into London Zoo. The route is largely flat with some long stretches to pick up a good pace and the bustling park crowds, especially during the summer months, mean a nice level of support as you head around the course.
When: Throughout the year
How much: ÂŁ19
Asics British 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, Regentâs 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 cityâs wide roads, means that the course is perfect whether youâre 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 the there's a long walk around the bag drop and the starting pens.
When: July 2020
How much: TBC (pre registration is available)
Best 10-mile races
Harry Hawkes 10 Mile
There arenât many 10-mile events around the capital â itâs an old-style distance that doesnât 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. Itâs a great summer day out whether youâre running or just spectating.
The last two times weâve 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 2020
How much: TBC
Best half marathons
Virgin Sport Hackney Half Marathon
There arenât 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. Itâs also relatively flat, but expect a few tricky climbs towards the latter part of the route.
Tip: The festival normally holds a free 5k race on the Saturday where you've even received a t-shirt and medal in previous years. So keep an eye out for that on the website.
When: May 2020
How much: TBC (preregistration is available)
Ealing Half Marathon
Since it started in 2012, the Ealing Marathon became an instant hit, winning multiple awards across the years. Why? Because itâs by far one of the best half marathons you can spend your money on.
Weâve 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. Itâs 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, itâs 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 youâre taking part in a community event. Itâs also perfectly placed for anyone preparing for any of the autumn marathons.
When: 29 September 2019
How much: ÂŁ50
Virgin London Marathon
No London race guide would be complete without mention of our cityâs proudest running event. Whether your interest in the race is to tick off a line on your bucket list or youâre a seasoned athlete thatâs done it multiple times, thereâs no denying the magic that surrounds one of the worldâs 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 â if ever â unless you run for one of the many charities associated with the event. Which 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 wouldnât like to have a London Marathon medal hanging in the house.
When: 26 April 2020
How much: ÂŁ39 (ballot now closed)
RunFest Richmond Marathon
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 Londonâs 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 itâs difficult to get into a groove. As marathons go the beautiful scenery is some of the best youâre likely to find in a city race and itâs an excellent substitute for anyone hoping to run the London Marathon that, more than likely, hasnât got in through the ballot.
When: 15 September 2019
How much: Entry closed for 2019 (charity options available)
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. Weâve taken part in a few of them and the organisation and planning are always some of the best weâve 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 youâre looking for something a bit more manageable.
The terrain is largely flat, especially for an ultra, so itâs 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: 7 September 2019
How much: ÂŁ198 (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