With less than two weeks to go until the opening race of this year’s Chichester Corporate Challenge, entries are pouring in.
The three-night series starts on Wednesday, February 29, with further action on Wednesday, March 14 and Wednesday, March 28.
Having started on February 26, 1992, the event celebrates its 21st running this year with some 25,000 finishers having crossed the line in that time.
The first race was a seniors-only event attracting just over 200 runners, but there have been more than 600 finishers on each evening for the past couple of years.
There are now popular schools races which precede the main A and B senior races, but the format has remained much the same over the two decades.
It was always the aim of the organisers to attract not only faster club runners but novices and first-timers who would enjoy running with friends or work colleagues.
The front end of the A race has proved a competitive affair, with the course record falling first to steeplechase international Tom Buckner as early as 1992 with a 12min 53sec clocking for the 4,500m four-lap city centre circuit.
Since then the mark has fallen even further with Commonwealth Games 1,500m champion Michael East the current holder with a scorching 12min 39sec.
The most prolific winner has been Chichester’s James Baker, who was too young to run in the first few races but is the only athlete to achieve a clean sweep by winning all three races in a year, a feat he accomplished in 2009.
The first individual winners from 1992 are both expected to run this year.
Keith Toop is still representing a permanently-strong Waitrose squad who lifted the team trophy in the first two years.
In the women’s category Jane Harrop ran a speedy 14min 54sec in that first race, which still compares well with today’s winners.
Now a member of the Chichester club and well into the veteran ranks, Harrop will be looking to reproduce her fine cross-country form of late.
Local athletes will not have it all their own way as there’s sure to be a challenge from Portsmouth, Brighton and further afield.
In the women’s race the Midhurst duo of Emily Alden and the recent winner of the Sussex cross country championships, Emma MacReady, will be hard to beat if they line up, as will Worthing’s track international Rachel Ogden.
One of the attractions of the event is that fun runners can join up with club athletes to form teams, some with conventional names, others whose titles border on the eccentric. Last year IBM, Royal Mail and Chichester University Staff were doing battle with Cliffords Angels, Oddbins and the esoterically-titled Crouching Tiger Hidden Van outfit.
There will be fierce competition in the junior races – the girls’ secondary race is wide open with several of the Sussex team due to run. In the boys’ secondary event, Harry Leleu, running for Seaford College, will be all out to claim the Year 10 boys’ record to add to the Year 9 mark he set in 2011.
Getting the evenings off to a frenetic start will be the primary races with some 100 boys and girls charging round the two-lap 1,400m course. Spectators will be welcome to line the streets during the series.
Full details of how to enter and race programme are available at Chichester-corporate-challenge.org.uk or from the Chichester Runners noticeboard at Westgate Leisure, Chichester. Queries can also be made to race organiser Phil Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org