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Richmond Runfest apologises after cancelling marathon with 1,000 runners still on course

A runner in Bushy Park (Stock image: this image does not show Richmond Run Fest) (PA)
A runner in Bushy Park (Stock image: this image does not show Richmond Run Fest) (PA)

The organisers of a running event in Richmond have apologised after cancelling a marathon when more than 1,000 runners were still on the course in sweltering 30C conditions.

Richmond Runfest was cancelled on Sunday over safety fears after two water stations on the route were depleted during the heatwave.

Thousands of runners had attended the event for its 10k, half and full marathon. But participants were later told that the event had been cancelled and they would need to walk to the finish line as the extreme heat was causing runners to fall ill.

The race begins at the Old Botanic Gardens in Kew and finishes in the Old Deer Park in Richmond.

There were no fatalities at the event, but paramedics responded to a large number of calls after runners collapsed in the heat.

In a statement released on Monday, race director Tom Bedford said that in hindsight he “would have certainly cancelled the marathon if not the whole event” in advance.

He thanked medics for preventing a “bad situation from being worse” but admitted that medical provisions were “clearly not enough in the hot conditions we faced”.

Mr Bedford said that a separate 10k race had gone ahead on Saturday without any hospitalisations, which made the organisers feel “in control of the situation” for the following day combined with an enhanced medical presence.

But during the Sunday race, he said that control rooms had received a high number of calls from marshals regarding heat related illness.

“Heat related illness only has one fix and that is to cool the patient down. To do this safely it takes time to cool down runners before responders can move onto other calls. Despite having multiple response teams across the route and the assistance of the LAS, the number of calls throughout a short period of time lead to the tough, yet correct decision to cancel the event.

“This was undoubtedly the biggest decision made in all my 25 years of organising events.”

Temperatures in the capital surpassed 30C on Sunday amid a protracted heatwave across the UK. Highs of 33.2C were recorded at Kew Bridge on Saturday, close to where the race took place.

One runner described the race as “dangerous” on Twitter, claiming there were “incorrect signs, scarce medical provisions” and “no evacuation planning”.

Another claimed the event was “badly executed on the day”, adding: “I'm not surprised there were runners in distress. So many ambulances at the finish line. All quite avoidable.”

Mr Bedford confirmed that two water stations on the route had “briefly run out of water” and attempts to replenish them had taken “longer to implement than expected”.

“We clearly miscalculated the amount of people who needed to pick up more than 2 cups of water per aid station at these points. We calculated enough water and some for the purpose of consumption but underestimated the sheer volume needed for the purpose of cooling runners down in the humidity of the day.”

He added: “At the end of the day the amount at these stations were clearly not enough and our plan to replenish these stations did not happen in time. As many runners have pointed out we certainly did not run out at the final two waters or at the finish. However, these details do not matter and I can only apologise again to the runners affected.”

Three mist showers provided for racers “weren’t adequate enough”, he said, while dunking buckets placed on the course “were not good enough”.

Concluding his statement, Mr Bedford said: “We made many mistakes yesterday and we must do better in similar circumstances. If I had the opportunity again we would have certainly cancelled the marathon if not the whole event. On behalf of all the Runfest team we’re sorry.”

The Standard has contacted Runfest for further comment.

A London Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “At 11:08am on Sunday, we received the first of a number of 999 calls relating to people becoming unwell during the Richmond Half Marathon.

“We sent multiple resources to the scene, including 11 ambulance crews, a medic in a fast-response car, an incident response officer, and members of our Hazardous Area Response Team (HART).

“We treated 13 people at the scene, ten of whom were taken to hospital. Three people were discharged at the scene.”

RunFest’s full statement is available to read here.