IN LESS than two months, the streets of Chichester will be packed with runners of all ages for the 23rd Corporate Challenge road-racing series.
The event, which started in 1992, has seen nearly 30,000 runners cross the line - ranging from Great Britain internationals to local fun runners and near beginners.
The four-lap senior course has remained virtually unchanged throughout, the only diversion being when the Shippam’s site at East Walls was being redeveloped.
The course is now back to its original route with the start and finish at the Assembly Rooms in North Street and taking in East Street, East Walls and Priory Road. This year’s races take place on February 26, March 12 and March 26.
At the front of the senior A race, all eyes will be on the leading pack to see if local favourite James Baker can add to his huge total of race wins - but competition is sure to be fierce with previous winner Harry Carter intending to return after missing last year’s series.
With other county runners from along the south coast expected, there will be further local interest in seeing if Chichester’s crop of talented junior can make their mark in the senior ranks, with both Harry Leleu and James McKenzie likely to feature.
While not out of reach, the men’s course record of 12min 39sec for the 4,500m set in 2008 by Commonwealth champion Michael East is one of the best marks set in Sussex over any distance.
Likewise the women’s record of 14min 15sec is still held by ex-Great Britain international Zara Hyde Peters, set way back in 1996.
This year may see the first appearance of the Sussex cross-country champion, Worthing-based Emma Mcready, but she will have to contend with a fine crop of Hampshire athletes as well as Chichester’s own group of talented female athletes, where veterans Jane Harrop and Fay Cripps will be challenged over the shorter distance by the club’s juniors led by Rose Ellis.
While there is always interest at the head of the race, probably of more consequence to most of the runners is how their times can improve their team standings both in the sports team category and in the corporate rankings where teachers, doctors and lawyers do battle with teams as varied as those from the construction industry, council workers, financial experts and landscape gardeners.
With the senior event split into two races to avoid lapping, the A race is for those expected to finish inside 18 minutes while the B race caters for the rest.
It is usually the backmarkers who get the biggest cheer of the night and have the most satisfaction having completed a competitive race, some for the first time – indeed many have gone on to greater things in running, having started here.
No less competitive will be the junior races with each evening starting with a cavalry charge from the primary schoolboys’ race. Restricted to school Years 5 and 6, the primary boys and girls run two laps of the 700m junior circuit, run mainly in the precinct.
Many have started their running careers in this race - notably Charlotte Browning from Sidlesham Primary, who went on to international fame as a junior and has continued her running career both in Britain and America.
There has recently been a new name on the block in the form of Portsmouth-based Josie Czura, who will be challenging all Browning’s marks as she moved through the secondary ranks.
Another ex-junior girl is Linda Spencer, who holds all Chichester’s senior middle-distance records and has been making her mark in Perth, Western Australia, in recent years and is the current Australia 10,000m champion. With the secondary races over 2,100m or 2,800m for the older boys, the new crop of juniors such as Ben Collins and Leo Stallard will be challenging the previous times of McKenzie and Leleu.
* Entry forms are available from the Corporate Challenge website - Chichester-corporate-challenge.org.uk - or by following the links from the main Chichester Runners website.
Paper copies of the form can be found on the Chichester Runners noticeboard at Westgate Leisure and enquiries can be directed to race rirector Phil Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org