Elite runners could make Chichester 10k the best yet

Runners soon after the start of last year's Chi Priory 10k / Picture by Kate Shemilt

Runners soon after the start of last year's Chi Priory 10k / Picture by Kate Shemilt

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ORGANISERS are confident this Sunday’s Chichester Priory 10k will be one to remember.

The popular race is celebrating its 25th anniversary and has attracted a high-quality field.

In 1991, some 500 runners took part in the inaugural event, organised by the Chichester Priory Rotary Club, setting off a race which has become not just a prestigious athletic event but also a vehicle for raising considerable funds for many deserving charitable causes.

The 10k – which will begin at 10am in College Lane – is one of the major road races in the English road-running calendar and the success of the 24 previous years’ events has ensured runners from all over England will be on the start line.

The race follows a well-established route which is a real favourite with runners – recognised as a fast course where they can achieve personal bests.

Further improved traffic management on the A286 will be introduced to enhance safety. Now that the refurbishment of the Chichester Festival Theatre has been completed, runners will once again be able to run past the theatre just before the end, with large crowds expected to cheer them on.

In an Olympic year, organisers have heard from a number of runners wishing to test their fitness in readiness for Olympic trials and qualifying times.

The field will be led out from Northgate car park into College Lane for the start. They will head north until they meet the junction with Wellington Road, where they will turn right into Graylingwell Park.

After running through the Park, runners will arrive at the top of Kingsmead Avenue and after a gentle downhill slope, they will return to the old course at 2km which was used up to five years ago.

From then on it is business as usual around the Goodwood airfield, into East Lavant and back down the Broyle Road to the finishing line in the car park.

The 2016 race shows continued interest from clubs all over the south and there is added interest for the Sussex runners as the race again features the Harvey Curtis Sussex Road Race Challenge.

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In an Olympic year, organisers have heard from a number of runners wishing to test their fitness in readiness for Olympic trials and qualifying times.

This year there are about 30 runners who have run or are targeting a time around the 30-minute mark which will make for a very competitive race.

Many of them have very high rankings in the UKA Power of 10 for the 10k distance last year and a number have achieved good performances in cross-country events this year while others are returning from altitude training in Africa.

Among those likely to be among the frontrunners are Paul Pollock (Kent AC) and Kevin Seaward (St Malachy’s AC), who train together and have run well in Ireland recently.

John Beattie and Lee Merrien, both of Newham and Essex Beagles, will be running immediately after completing an altitude training camp in Kenya and should be capable of running faster than the magical 30 minutes.

Beattie was the fastest Englishman on the road over this distance in 2015. Merrien represented GB at the 2012 London Olympics in the marathon. Scott Overall, another marathon runner from the London Olympics, is also due to run.

In addition, both John Gilbert of Kent AC, recent winner of the South of the Thames Cross Country Championships, and Luke Caldwell of Dorking and Mole Valley are capable of a sub 30-minute 10k given the right conditions, as is Phil Wylie, a past winner at Chichester. Caldwell was ninth in a recent international cross-country event in County Antrim, where he was beaten by Chichester-based Chris Zablocki, who subsequently had a fine second place in Cardiff.

Zablocki is making his debut in the Chichester event and it could mean James Baker for once not being the first Chi man home.

Ten more male athletes will be close to the 30-minute mark including Paul Whittaker, a previous placed runner from Southend AC, Kevin Rojas (Brighton & Hove AC), Dan Thorne (Reading AC), Kevin Quinn (South London Harriers) and Neil Boniface (Horsham Joggers), who have featured in the top ten at previous events.

In the team event Kent AC will take some beating as they appear to be fielding a very strong field.

Current indications are that English international Louise Damen of Winchester AC will be the woman to beat. Another leading female athlete is Rebecca Moore from Worthing, who was a podium finisher last year and in 2014 was bronze medallist at the England National ten-mile road championships held in conjunction with the Great South Run at Portsmouth.

Her main rivals will be Megan Thomas of Lewes AC, Ellie Monks of Southampton AC and Emma MacCready, also of Worthing.

Clare Elms of Dulwich Runners AC, a regular visitor to Chichester, will take some beating in the veteran categories.

But she will face stiff competition from other regulars to Chichester including Kath Bailey (Winchester), Caroline Hoyte and Julie Briggs, both of Arena.

Winchester, Worthing and Arena 80 from Brighton will be the leading contenders in the women’s team event.

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The event may have more than trebled in size of entries from the inaugural race but it remains very varied in terms of competitors.

There will be runners representing their clubs, running for charity, looking for personal bests or turning out for the first time. Many use it as a pre-London Marathon warm-up or as a gauge of early-season fitness after Christmas.

Although most entrants run for pure enjoyment there is a comprehensive prize list for the different categories.

There is a special prize available again this year for the male and female runners who break the course record of 29.02 for men and 32.07 for women.

There are two special prizes for local runners. The Chichester Observer will be put up the Ben Steppel Memorial Prize to the first under-23 local man home and organisers will be presenting the Colin Thorne Memorial Prize to the first under-23 local woman finisher.

There are a number of special activities planned to mark 25 years. Organisers would like to hear from anyone who has run 20 or more of the races. If you have more than 20 of the mugs given to finishers, let the organisers know and supply a photo of your mugs.

Prizes are being awarded to the women and men who can demonstrate they have completed the most number of Chichester 10k races, to the fastest runners over the past few years and to the oldest competitor who has been involved in a number of races. Full details are on the 10k website.

The Portfield Motor Group will sponsor the anniversary prizes and provide the lead car.

As for the race itself, for the tenth year running, the event has the same sponsors – Brooks, the international shoe company. In addition, Wannops LLP solicitors and Henry Adams estate agents are also sponsoring it.

The course lends itself to an exciting race and 2016 should be no different. Indeed on paper this year looks as good as 2006 when a handful of runners beat the magical 30-minute barrier.

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Spectators are welcome to come and watch the race. The start and finish are centred in the Northgate car park and the route consists of one lap of the north-east segment of the city and beyond out to Westhampnett roundabout, round the Goodwood airfield to Pook Lane, and back down the Lavant Road.

The organisers apologise in advance to motorists for any traffic delays but hopethe public will appreciate the race only takes place once a year and is a very worthwhile event.

Motorists are advised to avoid these areas between 10am and 11.30am.

Entries to the race closed well before the deadline and organisers insist there will be no entries on the day.

Organisers wish all participants an enjoyable and successful run.

See reports, photographs and list of finishers in next week’s Observer – plus plenty of video coverage on the day and throughout the week at this www.chichester.co.uk

GRAHAM JESSOP

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