ORGANISERS of the Chichester Half Marathon are pinning their hopes on a big battle for top spot – and a new course record.
The popular race – which will be run on Sunday – is in its third year in its present guise and looks like attracting its maximum field of 1,000.
Among them will be James Baker, winner in each of the past two years, who will be out to beat his own Chi half record set last year – 1hr 12min 24sec. But he could face fierce competition from James Ellis, who is new to Chichester and is about to open an i Run shop in the city.
Ellis, previously of Newham and Essex Beagles and now with Aldershot, Farnham and District, looks like the only entrant capable of being a serious rival for James Baker. Ellis’ 10k PB is quicker than Baker’s.
Baker has been first local man home in the Chichester Priory 10k for many years as well as in many other local races and organisers are delighted to see him taking on the half marathon course again.
The race starts at 9am, with BBC South Today presenter Sally Taylor getting the runners under way from the race village at Chichester College ahead of the tough challenge of a multi-terrain contest.
In 2012, 25 years after the first Chichester Observer Centenary Half Marathon, the half marathon returned but with a different course and under new management.
The new race is managed by Chichester District Council in conjunction with city-based charity Children on the Edge (COTE), who help some of the most vulnerable children in the world.
Cllr Eileen Lintill, cabinet member for leisure, wellbeing and community Services at the council, said: “We’re very pleased a wide spectrum of the community will be taking part, not just elite runners but people taking part in their first half marathon too.
“Chichester District Council is delighted to be delivering this event in partnership with Children on the Edge. This is a truly inspiring cause to be running for and by entering and taking part runners will be helping a charity where a little really can go a long way.
Ben Wilkes, UK director of Children on the Edge, said “It’s a privilege to organise the event alongside the council in the knowledge that it benefits our local community and some of the most forgotten children across the globe.
Runners start in Westgate and travel easterly along West and East Street to Eastgate Square, where the route follows the city walls to Jubilee Park, before the runners make their way across Oaklands Park, towards the rugby club and then out through Summersdale and Fordwater into East Lavant.
Stunning downland scenery provides the backdrop for the runners to tackle Chalkpit Lane before climbing up to the Trundle from Seven Ways. At the top, runners complete a circuit of the summit where they will experience stunning views.
Running back to Seven Ways they will then cross over for a steady downhill two-mile descent into West Dean from where the route picks up the Lavant Valley, returning to Chichester along the Centurion Way cycle route, finishing in the rear college car park – a distance of just over 13 miles.
The race limit of 1,000 runners has virtually been reached and it is unlikely it will possible to enter on the day. The limit cannot be exceeded.
One significant demographic change from the previous event is the number of female runners. In 1987 the ratio of male to female entrants was 80 per cent to 20 per cent but in 2014 it is 55 to 45.
Many runners are from well-known clubs from Brighton through to Southampton but just as many are unattached. Sussex and Hampshire are well represented and there are entrants from Dorset, Surrey, London and Kent – and even Cheshire, Sheffield and Cornwall.
The largest club contingents come from Chichester Runners and the Bognor Tone Zone Runners, who each have 30-plus entrants.
Foreign nationals or non UK-based runners are coming from Holland and Australia.
The women’s event looks very competitive but is likely to have a new winner as neither winner from the previous years looks like entering. The women’s course record is 1.28.34.
A new initiative is the Works Trophy – an opportunity for employees of different workplaces to pit themselves against each other. So far there have been entries from companies including Montezuma’s Chocolates, Covers, Thesis, EDF, the Park Tavern, the Body Shop, Wiggle Cycles and Chichester District Council.
The race is sponsored by Montezuma’s and Store Property, and they, as well as Children on the Edge, are represented in the race.
You can view more at www.chichesterhalfmarathon.co.uk, where the latest training advice is available.
Full coverage, including a list of finishers and their times, will be in next Thursday’s Observer.