London's Greatest Races

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 14 months ago
London's Greatest Races

Some of London's biggest races of the year — including the Marathon and the Boat Race — are just around the corner. From the classic to the wacky, here's our pick of the capital's best annual sprints, chases, clock-beaters and obstacle courses. The list isn't comprehensive, so if you've got a favourite race we haven't mentioned, feel free to be first off the starting blocks in the comments.

Someone's had his Weetabix. Photo by Charlie Gilbert in the Londonist Flickr pool.


That annual classic, the London Marathon, takes place at the end of next month. The mixed bag of pro runners and fancy dress fundraisers have an average completion time of four and a half hours — making it the Lord of the Rings of London's running competitions. You can improve your odds of completing by doing the North London Half Marathon (although this year's has already whizzed by), or sign up for the Brixton Bolt — a 100m dash along Pope's Road, inspired by some fella called Usain.

Commuters compete in the London Nocturne. Photo by Sabine Thole in the Londonist Flickr pool.


When the Tour de France isn't tearing past Buckingham Palace, you can get your cycling kicks from RideLondon — an August weekend of pedal-powered revelry featuring the London-Surrey Classic, where pro cyclists tackle a course based on the London 2012 Olympic Road Cycling Race route. There are also events where you and the family can hop on your bike and get stuck in.

A kookier take on the traditional cycling race is the London Nocturne — a series of dashes around Smithfield Market, including one where competitors kitted out as commuters must unfold a Brompton before climbing aboard, and another race that's strictly penny farthings only. There's more vintage bike action at the Chap Olympiad in Bloomsbury (this also features a pipe smoking relay), and The London Tweed Run (surely not the most breathable fabric for a cyclist?).

The Great River Race: some teams take longer than others to finish. Photo by Ian Wylie in the Londonist Flickr pool.


Come on you (insert shade here) blues! The Boat Race its not far off (11 April), and as ever Oxford and Cambridge will tussle it out to decide who's the daddy of posh unis for another 365 days. 2015 is a landmark year for the Boat Race, as it becomes the Boat Races (the women's race has been going since 1927, but this will be the first time it's held on the same day as the men's). If you've an allergy to gilets and Pimm's, hold off to watch the Great River Race — essentially the London Marathon with added water (a dizzying combination of pros and fancy dressers). And Doggett's Coat and Badge Race — a four-mile-and-seven-furlong dash between London Bridge and Chelsea — is another annual boat bash well worth lining the banks of the Thames for.

If you're up for wriggling into a wet suit and getting a bellyful of Old Father Thames, enrol for the Great Newham London Swim (a mile or half-mile front crawl across the Royal Victoria Dock) in July. For extreme chills and spills, there's the legendary Peter Pan Cup in the Serpentine on Christmas Day, and the Christmas and New Year cups at Tooting Lido.

Greyhound racing: a great way to have a flutter without... Photo by Jane Hoskyn in the Londonist Flickr pool.


Grand National be damned: for down-to-earth four-legged racing, visit the dog track at Wimbledon's Plough Lane stadium. Although racing is on throughout the year, the summer Greyhound Derby is the big bonanza. Among 2015's favourites are Laughil Blake and Droopys Nidge (the latter sounding like a particularly embarrassing medical condition). It's cheap, good fun (as long as you reign in your gambling habit), and unlike Aintree, it's unlikely someone in a fascinater will obscure your view of the track.

On the same day as the Boat Race comes the Goat Race — a pun-tastic sprint between two cute 'n' cuddly residents of Spitalfields City Farm, who are 'encouraged' to run with a box of feed. Makeshift betting kiosks are set up, and last year the event raised over £9,000 for the farm. As for the Great Gorilla Run — we're not sure this constitutes actual animal racing, but it is for a good cause. Same goes for the London Pantomime Horse Race, although be warned — they sometimes let John McCririck loose.

We've double checked, and we're pretty sure this man is indeed dressed as a turkey. Photo by Andrew Smith in the Londonist Flickr pool.


You've already missed this year's Great Spitalfields Pancake Race (batter luck next time), but you can now register for the 2015 Christmas Pudding Race — which crosses everyone's favourite/least favourite Christmas dessert with It's A Knockout. The application for the Soho Waiters Race is pretty select (you have to be a waiter in Soho) but it's good fun watching on as snappily-dressed men of all shapes and sizes edge towards the finish line, while trying not to spill a tray of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (or more likely Hardy's) everywhere.

Training for some races by getting out of shape: such is the case for Croydon's Fat Boys Cafe’s Breakfast Blowout Challenge, in which you must stuff 5lb of Full English down your gullet, inside an hour. The prize? You don't have to pay for it.

The Red Bull Soap Box Race apparently comes with Boris's seal of approval. Photo by niknkimnollienelise in the Londonist Flickr pool.


There's been speculation about a London Grand Prix for yonks, but in the meantime, you'll have to settle for the Red Bull Soapbox Race — a Wacky Races-style competition in which fearless drivers race madcap homemade vehicles, and pray to the gods they don't fall apart before crossing the finish line. The next one's at Alexandra Palace in July.

The London to Brighton Veteran Car Run sets off from the capital on 1 November this year — a chance to see some truly unique vehicles compete in what is the world's longest running motoring event. Speaking of vintage motors, one of London's stranger races is the Miglia Quadrato — in which teams combine horsepower with brain power, as they dash around the City of London (some of them in old fashioned fire engines) through the middle of the night, searching for clues. The 55th Miglia Quadrato is this May.

Last Updated 30 October 2017