Is Chichester’s new big race a big success? Not half!

It's Barefoot Ben Wilkes pounding the half marathon course, representing Children On The Edge  Picture by Makaela Papworth
It's Barefoot Ben Wilkes pounding the half marathon course, representing Children On The Edge Picture by Makaela Papworth

A sensational performance by Chichester’s James Baker helped make the city’s half marathon a race to savour.

Baker took more than three minutes off the course record, which he created himself when the multi-terrain event was first held in its current form last year.

The 2012 revival of the race came afrer a 25-year gap since the Chichester Observe Half Marathon - and in this, its second year, it looks like the contest is growing to prove hugely-popular and be here to stay.

The weather on Sunday was not particularly kind for organisers nor spectators but the continual rain, at times very heavy, did not dampen the enthusiasm of more than 700 runners who took to the streets of Chichester and the countryside of Lavant, Goodwood and West Dean.

Click here to see our half marathon picture gallery by Makaela Papworth and see more pictures, a full report and an interview with winner James Baker in the Observer - out now

The half marathon is multi-terrain, not a road race, and for the second year running was managed by the Chichester District Council in conjunction with the locally-based charity Children on the Edge (COTE).

Such was the success of the 2012 event, this year’s race was fully subscribed with runners coming from well-known local running clubs from Brighton to Southampton, although just as many were unattached.

Sussex and Hampshire were well-represented, together with athletes from Dorset, Surrey, South and east London and Kent – and one from Wallasey AC in Cheshire. The largest club contingents came from Chichester Runners and Bognor’s Tone Zone Runners.

At 9am the runners were sent on their way from the Chichester College, whose principal Shelagh Legrave was a participant.

The race was started by Sally Taylor from BBC’s South Today. Also in the starting party were Martin Bell, who is the new chairman of Chichester District Council, and Eileen Lintill, cabinet member for leisure.

The runners looked a splendid sight as they streamed along West Street and East Street across Oaklands Park and out in to the country to take in the Trundle Hill, returning to Chichester by Centurion Way. It was a tough and challenging 13 miles but most rewarding for all involved.

The race winner, for the second year running, was popular Chichester Runners member Baker in an impressive time of 1hr 12min 25sec. He held the lead from the start and his position as race winner was never in doubt.

He broke last year’s course record by more than three minutes and was absolutely delighted with his performance.

“I just love multi-terrain events” he said happily after the event, observing that his time over this arduous course was little different from that at Barns Green, a 13-mile road-race, a couple of weeks ago.

Baker was more than three minutes ahead of his nearest challenger Toby Lambert in a time of 1.16.12 . Lambert is also a first-class runner and no stranger to Chichester, where he has previously won the Priory 10k.

Third was Ben Evans from the Guildford and Godalming club in 1.21.20. The first vet 40, as was the case last year, was Neil McAlpine from South Downs Harriers in 1.24.04. He beat his time for the previous year by one minute.

Peter Hall was second in this class and Damian Crawford was third. The first vet 50 was Hayden Waghorn (34th overall) in a creditable time of 1.32.32.

The women’s race was much closer but in the end it went to Jen Bishop in a time of 1.28.29, beating Rachael Guckenheim of Horsham Joggers by nearly three minutes. Bishop also set a new course record by just under eight minutes.

In third place, representing one of the event’s main sponsors, Montezuma’s Chocolates, was Helen Pattinson of Chichester Runners in 1.35.01, some six minutes quicker than last year. She was also the first female over-40 home followed by Maresa Pitt from Haywards Heath Harriers and Kari Mack.

Dawn Piechoczek, the Sussex AA county administrator running for Mel’s Milers Jogging Club in Horsham, was the first female over-50 home. Laura Allen from Denmead Striders, last year’s winner, although less than a minute slower than last year, could only manage sixth place - a clear indication that the 2013 event from a running perspective was of a higher standard than the previous one.

It is worth noting that there were nearly 400 finishers in the first two hours and nearly 700 finishers in two-and-a-half hours.

The men’s team award was a whitewash with Chichester Runners taking both the first and second places. Their A team of Baker, Stephen Davy, and Mathew de Lacy were the overall winners with Chichester B’s Levi Mainwaring, Pierre Wills Packer and Andrew Maynard in second place.

The women’s team race was won by Chichester’s Pattinson, Jennifer Harley and Anneliese Shaw, and they were followed home in second place by Tone Zone’s Karen Harrison, Louisa Proctor and Felicity Paton.

It was a day where praise, enjoyment and fulfilment were in abundance. For so many of the competitors it was the course which gave them so much satisfaction.

The multi-terrain race headed for the Sussex Downs which, despite the weather, still gave some good views of the Solent and Isle of Wight.

For the Chichester-based international charity Children on the Edge, it was particularly pleasing to be able to see their charitable funds swelled by the runners’ efforts and for the council, it was satisfying to have such a splendid event after so many months of hard work in the planning stage.

Pleased also were the main sponsors Montezuma’s Chocolates and Store Property who, along with other local businesses, contributed so generously to the race.

One star of the day was Ben Wilkes, UK director for Children on the Edge. He runs barefoot and came home in 1.46.24, incredible given the nature of the terrain.

Wilkes was very pleased with his efforts and said: “Our charity has a global reach and helps some of the most vulnerable children in the world, so it was amazing to see our local community come together not only for a fantastic race, but to support our projects in such a positive way.”

At the end of the race, there were many accolades about the organisation of this highly-successful event. Organisers, runners, spectators and officials went home to dry out - determined to be back in 2014 with a bigger and even more spectacular event.