The adage that great oak trees grow from tiny acorns is a neat analogy for how ideas propagate. And there are many truisms in the idea. For a start, like ideas, there are millions of acorns that don’t turn into anything. Those acorns that are successful generally receive some sort of benefit. And when an acorn does take hold, after some time the results can be spectacular.
Ten years ago, Ben Pochee had an idea. An acorn. And he decided to plant it at a north London athletics track owned by the Corporation of London. The Night of the 10,000m PB’s was designed to give athletes the chance to race on the track. And specifically the races were designed to give runners the chance to set personal best times. Hence the somewhat unwieldy name.
To stretch the acorn analogy to breaking point, in the beginning, oak tree saplings are unimpressive. And the Night of the 10,000 PB’s – or NOT10KPB’s as it is known – started out as a modest affair. Mainly linked to the Highgate Harriers running club, of which Ben was (and remains) a member. But the growth had started. The idea took root. And in its second year, the word had spread. Athletes from far afield started making their way to the track on Parliament Hill Fields, in the shadow of Hampstead Heath, to test themselves over 25 laps of a 400m track.
Ben knew what he wanted. Not just fast 25-lap races. But also a carnival atmosphere – perhaps to counter the reality of athletics events (with the obvious exceptions of the Olympic Games and World Championships) being pretty dour, uninspiring affairs. So Ben used his networking skills to bring DJs and acrobats and big public announcement systems to the event. He decided that the crowd would be stand on the outer three lanes of the track, limiting the athletes to the inner three lanes and bringing them within touching distance of one another. The atmosphere was always going to be a significant part of the NOT10KPB’s.
The sport of athletics – at least in the UK – seemed to realise (certainly in the past few years) that it had a problem. In comparison to the passion that team sports like football (soccer), rugby and cricket can generate, most athletics was a bit drab. And compared to sports like Formula 1 or even darts, the coverage of athletics lacked the razzamatazz that would attract non-hardcore fans. This perhaps explains why the authorities that run the sport of athletics in the UK wanted to get involved in the NOT10KPB’s. Ben’s event has incorporated the British Championships since 2014. In 2016 the Team GB trials for the Rio Olympics were included in the night. The IAAF World Championship GB trials took place here in 2017. And since 2018 Ben’s event has integrated the European 10,000m Cup.
In 2021, the Swiss running brand On became a sponsor of the NOT10KPB’s. And this year the race became part of a global series of track races called the On Track Nights, created by On to gather six similar events under one umbrella.
Sticking to its rebellious, status quo-challenging mindset, On wanted to get behind a race series that would offer: Fast times. Loud crowds. Festival vibes. As On says – it was an invitation to “Meet the rebel outlaw of track”.
The effect of On’s involvement in London was to take what Ben had started and dial it up to eleven. The racing was faster. The fireworks and flames above the finish line were bigger. The entertainment on the in-field, surrounded by the track, included live MCs, a climbing wall (reserved for children) and more chances to try out On shoes.
The Night of the 10,000m PB’s started out as one man’s idea. An acorn. The idea took hold and grew roots into the running community and it was tended by the team that Ben Pochee pulled together. And then On got involved and on a cool, still night in north London, it felt as though the idea that had been growing steadily, year after year, had suddenly been given a boost. That night felt magnificent and definitely here to stay. Pretty great, for just an acorn.