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30th Anniversary for The Lifestyle Renault Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon

by Editor
Thursday 6th December 2012

Race feature: Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon - Sunday February 24, 2013

Tunbridge Wells Harriers has been organising the Tunbridge Wells half marathon since 1983. Thirty years on, the race is one of the most popular in the South East and has grown from a modest club event with a handful of runners, to become one of the ‘must do’ races in the UK, attracting 2800 entrants.

30th Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon - Sunday February 24, 2013

Back in 1983 things were very different. The first event saw 53 runners (including only 6 women – identified by either the word ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’ next to their name on the start list) line up to take part in the inaugural event. It was won by Andrew Brown from Tonbridge AC in 77:29, with the first lady, Andrew’s sister Nicola Brown of Tunbridge Wells Runners – the forerunners of the Harriers - coming 13th in an impressive 79:01. Two runners in that inaugural race, Eric Schofield and Graham Brooks, still take part to this day and are current members of Tunbridge Wells Harriers. Graham Brooks is now the oldest competitor in the race at the age of 81 years and will be taking part in the 30th anniversary event on 24th February.

By 1985 – only 2 years later - the race had grown rapidly thanks to the running boom of the eighties and the popularity of the London Marathon. An incredible 500 runners turned out to take part in the third event on the scenic single loop course, which remains virtually unchanged to this day and still includes the now infamous ‘Spring Hill’. A year later in 1986, numbers had doubled again with over 1000 runners taking part.

Back then, the course was graded by the ‘Road Runners of Great Britain’ and given a ‘handicap’ of one minute, which meant it was considered ‘a true test of a runner’s stamina’. The challenging course still seems to produce some fast times however and in 1985 the race was won by Cain Bradley of Tonbridge AC, in 71:53, not quite breaking the course record of 69:22 set by Mike Knapp the previous year.

In 1999, a blistering course record of 65:33 was set by local runner Barry Royden. That record went unbeaten for 13 years until 2012, when Ethopian, Yared Hagos, ran 64:14 and went home with a course record bonus of £1000 thanks to title sponsor Lifestyle Renault – possibly a new record set to stand for many years to come. Following in his father’s footsteps, quite literally, the 2012 results also show a certain Dan Bradley from Tonbridge AC in 6th place.. the son of winner Cain Bradley from 1985.

30th Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon - Sunday February 24, 2013

Even though the race is now 30 years old, the strong ethos remains the same as it was in 1983. The event is organised ‘by runners, for runners’ and has a strong community spirit. The focus is on pulling the community together with local sponsors, voluntary groups and businesses involved at every level. Everyone on the organising committee is still a volunteer and all profits are donated to charity.

Over the last 6 years the race has donated over £90,000 to charity directly from profits. Some of the many charities to benefit over this time have been Hospice in the Weald, Demezla House Children’s Hospice, Ickle Pickles, Tunbridge Wells Mental Health, Cardiomyopathy Association and The Dame Kelly Holmes Legacy Trust, with many other organisations and charities having benefitted from race proceeds during the event’s history.

In 2008 the race was lucky enough to sign a sponsorship contract with local firm The Children’s Mutual as title sponsor, and organisation took on a rather more commercial approach, working with numerous sponsors and increasing promotion. This in turn saw an increase in runner numbers and profile and by then the race was attracting close to 1800 entrants. Since then the race has continued to grow and in 2013 organisers are expecting 2800 entrants for the event, now sponsored by local car dealership Lifestyle Renault.

As volunteer organisers however, there is a constant juggling act to keep the race manageable in size, whilst maintaining a balance between runners, volunteers, sponsors, businesses and the local community. This approach has proven to be highly successful, as in 2009 the event won the Runners World ‘Most Improved Event Award’ and was voted the Number 2 Half Marathon in the UK in 2011.

30th Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon - Sunday February 24, 2013

But there have also been many challenges over the years. In 2005 the race was cancelled due to a moderate but localised snowfall at race start time that caught both organisers and runners unawares. Approximately 500 runners had turned up hoping to run, but it was deemed unsafe and police and medics advised cancellation. It was a huge blow after months of hard work and there were a lot of disappointed runners.

2010 then saw the worst weather conditions in the history of the race with a severe depression named ‘Xynthia’ bringing extensive flooding and gale force winds, which lashed the course and competitors all morning, miraculously ending as the last runner crossed the line. Despite discussions at 6am about cancellation, the race went ahead with some heroic efforts from both runners and marshals alike, not to mention race ambassador Dame Kelly Holmes who stood on the finish line for hours handing out medals. 2008 also saw a new requirement from the local authority to implement road closures and traffic management, increasing costs and workload markedly.

Then in 2011 all Police support was withdrawn, in line with a national policy, again increasing costs, workload and responsibility.

Organisational costs have increased year on year, with the 2012 event costing a staggering £48,000. This is a sharp rise since 2006 when costs were a mere £7,000. The race also requires over 400 volunteers on the day including marshals, volunteers on water stations and at the start and finish, in HQ and even marshalling the portaloos and ensuring runners don’t ‘water’ resident’s gardens.

Over the years, the race has been honoured to welcome double Olympic Champion Dame Kelly Holmes as race ambassador, Olympians Liz Yelling and Andy Graffin, World Record holder Mimi Anderson, Paralympic Champion Richard Whitehead and celebrity Gladiator ‘Cyclone’. In the earlier years of the event, Spike Milligan and Fatima Whitbread attended as guest race starters.

30th Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon - Sunday February 24, 2013

Back in 1983, there were no road closures, fancy dress runners, panto horses, rhinos, goody bags, bottled water, electronic timing chips or technical t-shirts. It cost £3.50 to enter, everyone belonged to a club and sponges were given out on the course. Today only 22% of the field is ‘affiliated’, it costs £24 and runners have to enter months in advance to snag a place. There is even a prize for the best fancy dress runner... And there are no sponges anymore! How times change.

Organisers have exciting plans for the 30th anniversary event and hope it will be the biggest and best yet. Paralympic Champion Richard Whitehead is confirmed as race ambassador who will be there to start the race, and all runners will go home with a special 30th anniversary medal and t-shirt. The race is usually sold out by January, so early entry is recommended.

30th Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon - Sunday February 24, 2013

The race takes place on Sunday 24th February 2013 10am.

Find out more about the Lifestyle Renault Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon and enter online at www.twharriers.org.uk


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