NEC Birmingham – 20th & 21st January 2018
The inaugural National Running Show, the first of its kind in the UK, was held over the weekend of the 20th-21st January 2018 at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. I was fortunate enough to have signed up for a free ticket in the summer of last year as tickets for the event were priced at £10 per person once the free ticket allocation had sold out.
I decided to travel up on the Saturday morning and return on the Sunday evening in order to make the most of the event. This meant waking at 4am on Saturday in order to make it for a train at 5:18. A quick change from Victoria to London Euston and I was in Birmingham before 9am and made it to the show in time for the opening speech by local Olympic legend, Dame Kelly Holmes.
My main purpose for attending the event was to listen to the different speakers that they had on both days. There were talks from various athletes, adventureres, nutritionists and ultra distance runners which ran throughout the show on the main stage. As a club runner, my main interest was Dame Kelly Holmes, Jo Pavey, Jenny Meadows and Wendy Sly, all of whom spoke on the Saturday morning. I also had an interest when it came to the talk from Anita Bean (who, amongst other things is a registered nutritionist) due to my upcoming debut marathon attempt in London this Spring. I also enjoyed the afternoon talks by Steve Edwards (multi-marathon runner) and Luke Tyburski (endurance adventurer who wears a crazy hat), though as the afternoon went on, my interest began to wain with the amount of talk surrounding ultra running. Whether this was due to the fact that I had been up since 4am or not, I cannot comment. I therefore decided to depart the show at 4pm and make my way to the hotel.
I booked a hotel for the Saturday evening (The Arden Hotel & Leisure Club), which was just a 5 minute walk from Birmingham International Train station and the NEC – a bargain at just £90 including breakfast. I had made the sensible decision to book an evening meal in advance at the hotel’s, “Burgundy Restaurant”, which, as it turned out, was a rather sophisticated venue – I felt rather underdressed as I pitched up in my joggers, running shoes and zip top! Oh yes, I forgot to mention that on this journey I wanted to travel light and so packed very little into my 10 litre, Deuter Race bag – contents were, lunch box (containing 2 bananas, an apple, 40g almonds, 40g pistacios, 2x homemade flapjacks and 1x homemade brownie), bottle of water, 2x reading books, toiletries and a change of clothes (running leggings, thermal top & tech tee) for the Sunday. Despite my attire, I’m pleased to say that they let me in without any questions asked!
How pleased I was by this as the meal was delightful and in fact, I would say the best that I have ever had in my life. I went with the set menu and chose the Moroccan Culiflower patties for a starter, chickpea chana for the main and winter berry crumble for dessert and I couldn’t fault any of it. The service in the restaurant was impecible and who can complain with a price of £22 for 3 courses?! Now, I did make one mistake and that was to ask for a green tea at the end of the meal. I had, it is safe to say, engorged myself throughout the 3 courses and following dessert I was feeling full, but not feeling sick – it took me some time to finish the green tea, but I didn’t let it detract me from the amazing meal that I had been served up.
After a full-on day, I was in bed at 9.30pm with an alarm set for 6am in the morning, knowing that breakfast was to be served at 7am. I awoke at 5.15am (my usual waking time is 5.30am) and did some reading whilst drinking a couple of cups of tea and consuming the ginger biscuits that had been provided in the room. I was very much looking forward to the, “all-you-can-eat” breakfast and promptly made my way down in time for 7am. My breakfast consisted of 2x packets of no added sugar alpen with milk, 2x cups of tea, orange juice, porridge topped with honey, yoghurt with granola, dessicated coconut and raisins followed by scrambled eggs, mushrooms and baked beans. Whilst this probably sounds a lot and I agree, it is, I spent 90 minutes consuming this wonderful breakfast whilst reading the remainder of the free, Mens Running magazine that I had picked up on the Saturday. On my way out, I took a detour and picked up a pain au chocolat and pain au rasin for laters!
So, on to day 2 of the show and the day’s list of speakers were mostly ultra runners and adventurers, some of whom I had heard of and some I had not. I very much enjoyed the talk from Sean Conway – a man who has run, cycled and swam from Land’s End to John O’Groats (all on separate occasions) and also Jamie Rumsay, who ran 17,000km from Vancouver to Buenos Aires. Then there was Anna McNuff, a very enthusiastic, former GB rower who amongst other things, ran the length of New Zealand and Elise Downing who ran around the coast of Britain following a New Year’s resolution in January 2013 to run a half marathon! This led on to an, “Adventure Panel”, featuring the morning’s speakers and this is when I decided to take a lunch break and a quick look around the various stalls.
Now, there must have been in excess of 100 exhibitors at the show, all trying to sell the next best thing to the running public. Unfortunately for them, I for one am not someone who buys in to all these, “miracle products” and like to keep things simple in my training and nutrition. I was however interested in taking a look at the books on offer from Bloomsbury publishing, who offer a lot of great running, nutrition and sporting titles although their show discount of 30% was not quite appealing enough for me to part with any of my cash as I was aware that they were offering a 35% discount online until 1st February 2018. They also had this offer displayed on a couple of their flyers although, it seemed that people were still happy to part with their cash despite this. I did however, make two purchases – one of which was a subscription to, “Men’s Running” magazine for a bargain price of £17.99 for the year (their pre-show discounted price was £19.99). I had recently ended my subscriptions to both Runner’s World and what was previously Running Fitness (which later became, “Running” and then merged into “Outdoor Fitness) and really enjoyed the content of Men’s Running and the lack of event guides and adverts contained within. Also, given that the cover price is £4.99, I definitely felt that I got value for money. The other purchase that I made was an entry into the inaugural, Castle Run series, Hever Castle half marathon in September later this year. Normal entry for the race is £40, with advanced entry costing £30 but the show price was £25 and the race fit in with my schedule so I decided to go for it! I had looked at this race before the show and also checked out the course on their website. The race is mostly off road and meanders around Hever and Chiddingstone and I’m sure will be a wonderful event to be a part of.
The afternoon speakers were again, mostly adventurers and ultra runners, with the exception of Anita Bean, who was talking about race nutrition and Lisa Jackson – a serial marathon runner who loves to participate in marathons and spread joy amongst the running community – a true breath of fresh air! The final two speakers were Dan Keeley, who ran 1,250 miles from Rome to home (London) and Ben Smith, who completed the challenge of running 401 marathons in 401 days. Both speakers were certainly motivational, although the topics were very hard-hitting and perhaps a little full on for any of the younger audience.
The show ended with an announcement that they would be returning on the same weekend next year in a larger hall at the NEC and with the headline speaker being the current Women’s marathon record holder, Paula Radcliffe!
My overall impression of the show was a positive one. I took a lot from most of the talks and there were a lot of inspirational speakers on show. My only criticism would be that the guests were mostly ultra runners / extreme adventurers and I would personally liked to have seen more athletes and experts within the running World (e.g. coaches, researchers & health experts) who could provide more fact based knowledge, advice and assistance to the running public. I fear that a lot of the people who attended would have been easily influenced by the things that they heard and saw (both from the perspective of the exhibitors and the speakers), all of which is not necissarily condusive to a successful, enjoyable and injury free running journey. The other criticism would be (and I heard numerous others mention this) that there was absolutely nothing of interest for the younger generation. There should have been at least something to get the children involved and engaged at the show – I feel that this was an oversight and hope that they consider introducing some form of activity or participation for children at the next show.
Thank you for reading my blog and please feel free to leave any comments and I would love to hear your thoughts on the show if you also attended.
My next blog post will follow the final Kent Cross Country League race on the 10th February 2018. Until then, keep on running!