Chichester Runners & AC celebrated their 35th annual meeting on Monday and marked the occasion by inviting previous chairmen with an opportunity to see how the club has developed over the time.
With overall membership approaching 600 split between seniors, juniors and trail runners, the range of activities on offer in 2019 is a far cry from the modest beginnings in 1984.
In the early years it was a small but committed group of distance runners who were the mainstay of the club’s activities and it is probably fair to say that the sport of athletics in general was not as inclusive as it is today.
Fields in road races were much smaller and it was mainly due to the knock-on effects of the London Marathon in the early 80s which was responsible for attracting a new type of runner to the sport.
Some of the older members of the club remember when a field of more than 100 runners in any apart from major championships was a cause for celebration whereas now even provincial 10ks look to have 1,000 finishers and races such as the Great South are in the tens of thousands.
Coupled with this increase in numbers is the range of abilities and experience of the athletes which Chichester Runners, among other clubs in the area, have tapped in to with a range of beginners and improvers classes being offered to potential new members.
Often those who were put off by the formal structure of school sport have found a talent in their adult years.
As well as the training for 10ks as well as full and half marathons, Chichester now provides a full track and field programme for all age groups with success at junior level feeding into the senior ranks – in fact all distance from 100m upwards on the track are currently held by either present day or ex- juniors.
The most recent example was a win in the Sussex Cross Country League just two weeks ago by one of the club’s promising under-20s.
Going alongside the increased range of members is the coaching structure which has developed from a couple of middle distance coaches taking out large groups to a wide range of specialist coaches for sprints, jumps and throws as well running leaders to help nurture the increasing number of people who see exercise and particularly running as a major factor to improve both physical and mental health.
Alongside the club’s internal structure is the involvement of its members in putting on a variety of races for both local runners and those from further afield.
It was in 1987 when the then editor of the Chichester Observer got in touch with the club and other organisations to put on a half marathon to help celebrate the paper’s centenary.
Since that successful event which helped put Chichester on the map in terms of athletics, the club has been involved in a wide variety of local initiatives and events.
The half marathon itself was brought back in 2012 in a different off-road format and is going from strength to strength. The Chichester 10k, while not a club promotion, has brought many high-class athletes to the area including national champions and Olympians.
Probably the best-known club-promoted series is the Chichester Corporate Challenge which will be in its 29th year in 2020 and attracts around 800 runners of all ages to speed round the city streets on three Wednesday evenings each spring.
Added to the mix have been the Trundle Hill Race and the popular Midsummer 5, both starting from Lavant and both trialling new courses in 2019.
From Goodwood cross country races to evening summer trail runs over this lovely part of the countryside there is plenty to keep local runners fit and active in a wide variety of activities.
Planning is already going head for the 2020 programme – and exciting times are ahead.
History of Chichester Runners & AC
Oct 1984 – Club founded with eight members
Dec 1984 – First race, Brickwood 5 (now Victory 5) – eight of 12 members took part
Jan 1985 – First club championship entry – Sussex cross country championships
Mar 1986 – First club entry in national cross country championships, in Notts
Mar 1987 – Inaugural Chichester Half Marathon
Jun 1988 – First club promotion – Lavant five-miler with fewer than 100 runners
Jan 1990 – Membership exceeds 100 for first time
Feb 1992 – First Corporate Challenge in Chichester, senior races only
May 1994 – First entry into track and field, in Southern Men’s League division eight
May 1998 – First junior track and field team, at Crawley with eight athletes.
Apr 1999 – First women’s team in Southern League, almost winning first match.
Sep 1999 – First cross country match at Goodwood in Sussex League
Jul 1999 – Promotion for Chichester junior boys in Young Athletes League
Jul 2000 - Promotion for men’s track and field team to division two
Sep 2000 – Chichester under-13 boys and girls win inaugural Sussex grand team final.
Nov 2002 – First Sportshall indoor athletics match in Sussex League
2007-2008 – Support for all-weather track at University of Chichester, culminating in a J-track for training
Apr 2011 – Chichester enter inaugural joint Southern League for senior men and women
2015 – Support for club room at Chichester College, new winter headquarters.
Dec 2018 – Membership exceeds 500 for first time
Nov 2019 – Club elect 11th chairman with membership of 600-plus