Two decades on, they’re still rising to the Challenge in Chichester

The start of one of last year's junior races at the Corporate Challenge
The start of one of last year's junior races at the Corporate Challenge
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Chichester’s popular Corporate Challenge road-race series is 20 years old next week (March 2).

The races, held over three Wednesday nights at fortnightly intervals, were first seen in the city in 1992 – and in 2011 they are proving to be bigger draws than ever.

Entries are pouring in from teams and individuals alike both locally and from across the south, especially from Hampshire, where the event has a strong following.

While in-form multi-race winner James Baker is expected to lead the local charge for honours, it remains to be seen if Portsmouth-based James Ellis or course record holder Michael East will be lining up this year to give Baker a run for his money.

In the women’s section, Fay Cripps and Katie Bird have been showing good form in recent weeks and look to give Chichester their best chance of an overall win for a number of years.

Team-wise, there have already been entries from the likes of Thomas Eggar, Spofforths and the Royal Mail among the more conventional teams although the more fancifully-named Crouching Runners Hidden Van, Bell Bottom George and the Dark Side should not be discounted.

There is also one special aspect about this year’s entries - in that both the individual and team winners of the first event in February 1992 will line up this time.

Compton resident Jane Harrop won the women’s race in a speedy time of under 15 minutes while Chichester’s Keith Toop was too good for the men’s field back in 1992 to cross the line in 13min 19sec, still one of the fastest times on record. While neither expects to match their previous times, both are still in good shape in the veteran ranks.

Toop will again be leading his Waitrose team this year. The team won the initial race in an aggregate time of 61min 53sec for their quartet of athletes, exactly three minutes ahead of their nearest challengers.

There were just 229 finishers in that first race and all were seniors as the popular junior races were not introduced to the programme until a few years later.

Last year, more than 600 runners of all ages crossed the line on each of the three evenings with roughly half of those in the junior races.

Organisers are preparing for a similar number this year – although this is probably the most the tight city-centre course can accommodate.

Racing starts next Wednesday with the primary schools races at 6.30pm. Watch out for coverage of the first race night in the Observer on March 10, including pictures and a full list of finishers and their times.

PHIL BAKER