60th Isle of Wight Marathon – Race Report by Steve Lee

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Many thanks to Steve for these words on our 60th edition of the IW Marathon.

I ran in the 50th Marathon in 2006, when we still used the “classic” course which went out to Godshill, and when it was still held on the third Sunday in May, though luckily the weather was damp and not too warm.  Thereafter my running ability and motivation declined and I certainly didn’t contemplate another marathon.  I had begun to be really interested in race organisation, and especially in the mechanics of the courses themselves –  how they were measured and how road courses needed to take more and more account of traffic conditions.  It was obvious that our Marathon course was rapidly becoming unfit for modern traffic, and that sooner or later the police or the roads authorities (still the County Council at that time) would tell us we could not hold the event.

The 2007 race went ahead on the old course, and I remember marshalling at the Fairlee/ Staplers junction, where the runners either took their lives in their hands and hoped the cars would avoid them, or stopped and waited for a gap in the traffic.  It was the same at the Blackwater right turn across two streams of fast-moving traffic, and at the Lake traffic lights.

I was unable to convince anyone else in the club of how serious the problem was, or if they were convinced they just shrugged and accepted that the Marathon would soon cease to be.  I therefore set about finding an alternative, and came up with the Staplers, Pan estate, Pan Lane route to avoid Coppins Bridge, and to cut out the Godshill section and put in a 3 mile loop to make up the distance.  This was only a partial solution because traffic conditions continued to worsen and the race was attracting fewer and fewer entries, ending up with less than 100 in 2012 (and we needed almost as many helpers!)

Rather to my surprise I was able to convince the committee to transfer the whole thing to the much quieter roads in west Wight.  This was made easier by the discovery of the perfect venue for the Start and Finish in the IoW Community Club in Cowes.  The new course was first used in 2013, found enthusiastic acceptance from runners, and numbers have gone up each year since.  The 60th anniversary milestone therefore was taken to heart by the Island running community, and for the first time in 10 years a real buzz got going in the preceding months.

Tom Blackwell suggested a target of 60 Ryde Harriers to run the 60th Marathon, and although this was always wildly over-optimistic, it resulted in a good group of committed runners putting in the hard miles over the summer.  In the end 24 Harriers ran, the largest club entry for well over a decade.    Once the Isle of Wight Road Runners learned of this, they made determined efforts to get even more of their members to enter, and this resulted in 36 running.  Together with 4 from West Wight R.R. and 38 Unattached, this made a total of 102 Islanders who completed the course, a record by a huge margin.  Love Running have always been enthusiastic supporters of our Marathon, and this year they mounted a great window display about the event, highlighting its historic importance to women’s marathon running in particular – and both proprietors ran the race!

We always manage to attract entries from abroad, and this year we had runners from Spain, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the U.S.A. (Douglas Neveu from Texas phoned me on the Friday evening before to check that he could run).  Not forgetting the two who came all the way from Wales.  We had several of our long-standing stalwarts running for the umpteenth time: including Adam and Nick Holmes, while  James Parker and Malcolm Knight are now well into their 70s.  Also in the M70 category were Ian Jolliffe and Richard Pearson, both with a proud record of sub-3 hour times on the old course with its endless hills, and now running on nostalgia as neither has done a marathon for many years.

On the day itself we were blessed with excellent weather – sunny but not too hot  – and with 60% more entries than last year, we had many more spectators gathering at good vantage points on the course to produce the sort of atmosphere that runners really appreciate; and increasing business at the pubs and restaurants on the course!  I was specially heartened to see that our marshals, and the teams at the drinks and sponge stations, are not only supremely reliable but also very enthusiastic in their support for the competitors.  They are drawn from the whole Island running community, and their willingness to support this event makes the organisers’ task a very pleasant one.  There were 240 finishers, the most since the 263 we had in 2004 (which was itself the most since 1984!).

There were some unusual features in this event.  The Ryde Harriers relay team, consisting of two runners on each of five legs, was organised by Philippa Daley so that the participants did some work at the drinks and sponge stations as well as running.  This gave more people a chance to run, and meant that they felt themselves to be a truly important part of the proceedings.  Then there were the two runners who missed the ferry but were enabled to start over 30 minutes late, and accompanied by the ever-willing Rod Parker to the halfway point, by which time they had caught and passed many of the slower runners.

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There was an engrossing battle between the six fastest IoW Club runners – Pete Wilmott, Steve Rumsey and Simon Randall (IoW Road Runners), and Stuart Backhouse, Les Cupis and Andy McEwen (Ryde Harriers) – all covered by less than a minute at halfway. The order at half distance was:

Les Cupis 1:30:01

Steve Rumsey 1:30:02

Pete Wilmott 1:30:05

Stuart Backhouse 1:30:27

Simon Randall 1:30:30

Mike Morris 1:30:50 (Unattached, but I remember him years ago as a Harrier)

Andy McEwen 1:30:54

In the end Pete Wilmott emerged first in the great time of 3 hours 3 mins, while Ryde Harriers took the team prize by a narrow margin.

Of the other Ryde Harriers taking part, Trevor McAllister and Jonathan Norton started much too quickly, in spite of agreeing to 9 min/mile pace beforehand!  Jonathan clung on to win the M70 category however.  Graham Gardner was another fast starter who suffered later.

The best of the newcomers was Nigel Eldridge, who certainly has a future as a distance runner after a youth mis-spent as a sprinter, while Elaine Parry and Ken Beak impressed, both not much over 4 hours, and pacing themselves very well.  Sam Fancourt ran most of the way with them and finished not far behind.  Richard Melville had the misfortune to tear a knee ligament, but limped on to the bitter end, a greater tribute to his perseverance than his common sense!  Bridget Lewis put in her usual great performance, accompanied by husband Andy in spite of breaking his finger in a fall the previous Tuesday, and by Karen Collett in another well-judged run.  Judy McCabe and Julie King did as well as we have come to expect from them (and we expect a lot because they always perform well).

The full Ryde Harriers results were:

Stuart Backhouse. 3:04:31. 2nd M45

Andy McEwen 3:09:23 1st M55  (New Record)

Les Cupis 3:09:57 1st M50  (New Record – by 5 seconds!)

Tom Blackwell 3:33:12

Nigel Eldridge 3:37:47

Judy McCabe 3:41:06 1st F35

Julie King 3:57:33 2nd F50

Elaine Parry 4:07:04 5th F45

Jonathan Norton 4:07:07 1st M70

Ken Beak4:08:58

Pete Carr 4:10:45

Sam Fancourt 4:12:15 2nd F40

Graham Gardner 4:12:31

Bridget Lewis 4:15:01 2nd F55

Andy Lewis 4:15:01

Karen Collett 4:15:02 4th F50

Trevor McAlister4:20:55

Rosie Eldridge 4:29:54 4th F35

Pete White 4:30:17 4th M60

Mark Wright 4:45:33

Brian Warren4:49:03

Richard Melville 4:50:08

Cheryl Frampton 5:07:28 3rd F55

David Lawn 5:07:28

First Men’s Team:  Stuart, Andy, Les.

First Women’s Team:   Judy, Julie, Elaine.

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While writing this report, Ian Jolliffe loaned me his Programme for the 1968 Marathon (his first).  The contrasts are revealing.  There were 146 entries in 1968 (all pre-entered so the names could be printed in the programme): of which only 89 made it to the finish.  As well as the usual no-shows and retirements, it looks as if the complete teams from Portsmouth A.C. (22 runners) and Reading A.C. (9) scratched before the start, obviously these were club decisions.  There were only 3 unattached runners, and nearly all the rest were from long-established Harriers or A.C. clubs – no road runners, striders, or joggers!)

Of the 89 finishers, 48 were under 3 hours, and only 4 took more than 4 hours.  Only 8 were Vets (40 and over, no separate classes for older runners).  And of course they were all men!

The first refreshment station was at Godshill (14 miles) where Robinsons Lemon Barley Water (free supply from the makers) was on offer as well as water.  Other refreshment stations were at 19, 22, and 25 miles.

First Prize was a gift to the value of 7 guineas, and the Cup of course, first presented in 1957 and still used today.  The prizes would have been real things, not vouchers, (and certainly not money which would have compromised amateur status).

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