Runners have put their best foot forward for a pilot event on the road to a safe return of mass participation sport amid a “brilliant atmosphere”.
The only running event in the Government’s Events Research Programme began on Saturday morning at Kempton Park in Surrey.
Runners and spectators taking part in the Reunion 5K will help to provide scientific data on Covid-19 transmission levels, with both socially-distanced and non-socially-distanced runs being trialled.
Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver said it had been “amazing” to take part.
In a video on Twitter, he said: “It was a brilliant atmosphere, everybody really enjoying themselves.”
He added: “It’s just a taster really of what normality might look like again, just amazing.
“So well done to Surrey for hosting it and well done to all the runners for participating.”
All those in attendance had to provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 lateral flow test and were asked to take a PCR test both on Saturday and five days later.
Approximately 1,000 socially-distanced runners were to set off at regular intervals in the first group of races, watched by a socially-distanced crowd of spectators.
Some 1,000 runners were then set to take part in a non-socially distanced 5K, with onlookers also not required to keep apart.
Organiser Hugh Brasher, the event director of London Marathon Events, took part in the non-socially distanced run and said it had felt “surprisingly normal”.
He told the PA news agency: “After 16 months of not being with people, to be with people felt… I thought it would feel different and it didn’t, and it was lovely to be able to do it and get inspired to run faster than I’ve run in quite a number of years.”
Mr Brasher, who completed the 5k in less than 19 minutes, said it had been “brilliant to see that it was such a diversity of abilities doing the event”, from the fastest runners to people walking.
He added: “I thought I would feel a bit of trepidation on the start line but I was surprised at how normal it felt. Everyone was just looking around, chatting as they normally would before a start.”
Mr Brasher is hoping the pilot will help see the return of all kinds of running events – ranging from park runs, the Great North Run or the London Marathon – to the sporting calendar.
He described the Government’s aim of all adults having been offered their first vaccine by the end of July as something he is “incredibly hopeful about”.
He added: “And (I’m) hopeful that events such as these can happen in the future, because for everyone’s mental, physical health and overall wellbeing it’s so important.”
Sports Minister Nigel Huddlestone said the Reunion 5k could help provide “essential data on the safe return of mass participation events”.
He added: “It’s fantastic to see so many runners and spectators getting involved in this event which will feed into policy decisions ahead of step 4 of the road map and hopefully see things like the great London Marathon return with crowds.”
However, Tom Williams, chief operating officer of Park Run, cast doubt on the return of that event if they can only hold some runs and not others.
He said some local authorities had said it “might take six months to get approval through a safety advisory group”, with some saying local R numbers would need to be taken into account.
He told BBC Radio Five Live: “If we only open a small subset of our events, then the ones that did open would be overwhelmed with participants from the events that were closed.
“In England we have three million people registered to park run and on a normal Saturday prior to Covid we had about 200,000 people taking part.
“So, unless we get the very large majority of all of our events open at the same time, we won’t be able to open any of them.”