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A Reflection on Run Fest Run

By Tobias Mews

It’s Saturday night and as the sun makes its final curtain call of second day of the inaugural RunFestRun I began to have one of those out of body moments. I can’t remember the last time I’d been to a music festival, but there I was, aged 41, dressed head to toe in my Aussie Grit Apparel kit and surrounded by thousands of runners and their children, all of whom were similarly jumping up and down with wanton aplomb as the former X-Factor contestant, Olly Murs sings a rendition of Kriss Kross’s ‘Jump’. It was simply too bizarre!

‘Have you ever been to anything like this before?’ asks a runner next to me, still dressed in lycra from taking part in a 10k earlier that day. We’d coincidentally met after breakfast at a talk given by Danny Bent, where the irrepressible adventurer and founder of Project Awesome, asked the audience to hug whoever was standing next to them. Gill, as I later discovered her name to be, was my hugging partner for those brief and slightly awkward few seconds.

We then met again at the Aussie Grit Apparel stand later that day, and now we were serendipitously knocking shoulders in our matching kit. All very surreal and only made possible by the intimate nature of the event for runners.

As I looked around us that evening, from the enormous stage where the headline act, Olly Murs, was now doing some funky moves with his backing crew, to the sea of runners – of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities – dancing away as though it was their last night on earth, I had to admit that ‘this’, being the inaugural edition of Britain’s newest and probably biggest running festival, was totally new to me. And by the sounds of it, to plenty of others too.

If this is the first time you’ve heard of RunFestRun, I’ll give you a quick lowdown: RunFestRun is a 3-day running and musical festival and the brainchild brainchild of Virgin Radio breakfast show hosts, Chris Evans and Vassos Alexander.

Chris, if you weren’t aware, is a bit of a petrol head. So much so, that a while back in 2012 he created something called CarFest – an annual family music and motoring festival. It’s grown to be huge and draws in thousands of people to talk cars and music.

But in what he called ‘an act of God’ whilst driving home from work, Chris got out of his car and started running. Six marathons and a plethora of half marathons later, Chris is very much a self-confessed running addict. And so is his radio side-kick, Vassos Alexander.

A veteran of some of the world’s toughest races, including the infamous Spartathlon, author of two bestselling running books and a host of a podcast about Parkrun, you could say Vassos has well and truly bitten the running bug.

So who better than these two, a famous radio DJ and a sports reporter, to combine their passions with their enviable address book of the great and famous with their audience of millions, as they attempt to replicate the CarFest formula for runners.

In fact, it turns out the formula is simple. Remove the cars and replace them with various trail running races. Then sprinkle some famous music bands like Razorlight, Faithless DJ Set and Olly Murs, add a dash of Olympic heroes such as Paula Radcliffe, Colin Jackson, Steve Cram and Christine Ohuruogu and put them in the grounds of an enormous stately home together with dreamy trails to run along. And finally, invite thousands of runners and their families to join you and you’ve got what Chris and Vassos refer to as ‘Britain’s big new running party’. And a party, it certainly was.

Spread throughout Saturday morning were races of all distances from 2.5k up to a half marathon, with a ‘Bug Run’ on Sunday. The grounds were stunning – pure trail running nirvana with some cheeky hills chucked in to remind us that ‘flat is boring’. At the finish, competitors would sit in the sunshine, gorge themselves at one of the vast array of suspiciously healthy food stalls, or sip on a gin and tonic as they listen to an inspirational talk.

I had the pleasure of interviewing on stage some fascinating folk – like Ben Smith who ran 401 marathons in 401 days and next year will run a marathon in every US state. Then there were was Fiona Oakes, who’s set four Guiness World Records and completed some of the world’s toughest challenges to promote the vegan lifestyle, all whilst looking after and feeding 500 plus animals at her sanctuary.

Although there were a quite a few locals who popped in for the day, the vast majority of us embraced the festival spirit and camped in the grounds. That’s where the fun happens: seeing bleary eyed ladies stand in the coffee queue, dressed in their favourite pyjamas. Or a few naughty kids hiding their parents running trainers in the precious moments before one of the races. Or having a quiet moment sitting outside your tent, chatting with your neighbours over a beer.

It also reminded me that lots of children love camping. And music. And sport, especially running. So, a running music festival is a bit of a win, win, win. One minute the little folk are running a 5k, the next moment their sitting on their dad’s shoulders, sporting special ear defenders as they watch Olly strut his stuff, before being falling asleep and being dragged away to the tent for a slightly later than usual bedtime routine. It made me wish I’d brought my own young family. Next year, I told myself.

In fact, the whole weekend was bloody awesome. And although I would be the first to admit that I got a little too excited when Sister Bliss, a founding member of the 90s group Faithless and now what’s called Faithless DJ Set, started mixing the infamous ‘God is a DJ’ track, I couldn’t help but think what an amazingly good idea RunFestRun was.

I remember reading in the press a comment that Vassos had said, ’It’s basically my dream event. Chris and I developed the idea because we just wanted people to run, have fun and have a party. Three shiny happy days with everyone going home with a great big grin on their face.’

Well I think anyone who went to RunFestRun would agree that Vassos got what he wanted, because at the clock struck 2 and the festival officially came to a close, the first drops of rain were felt – a reminder that it was time to pack up and head home. And another reminder to put RunFestRun in the diary for next year.

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