JAMES BAKER is reflecting on a Chichester Half Marathon triumph that local athletics experts said was probably the best display of multi-terrain running ever seen on the south coast.
The Chichester Runners & AC star won Sunday’s big race in a time of just over 72 minutes – taking more than three minutes off the course record he set himself last year.
Incredibly, he admitted he was able to relax for the final few miles after surging so far ahead of his closest challenger – international runner Toby Lambert – that he knew he had victory sewn up.
It was the first time in a decade 36-year-old Baker had beaten Winchester-based Lambert. Now the Chichester ace reckons he still has a few more years of keeping up or improving on his high standards.
Baker came home in 1hr 12min 24sec, with Lambert second in 1.16.12. There was another five-minute gap before the third-placed runner, Surrey’s Ben Evans, crossed the line in 1.21.19.
Local spectators are used to seeing Baker winning but the manner of this victory left many amazed.
Lining up with Lambert, Baker could have been excused for aiming to come second – but after a blistering first mile, covered within five minutes, Baker matched Lambert then broke clear.
Maintaining the pace to the five-mile point at the top of Chalkpit Lane, reached in an amazing 27.30 seconds, Baker’s lead was now more than 30 seconds, a gap which went on increasing. His overall time represented five-and-a-half minutes per mile.
Baker was proud of his performance and reckoned it was among the best of an illustrious 20-year athletics career.
He told the Observer: “I went a bit quicker than I expected. To see Toby turn up was a bit of a surprise. I’d not beaten him since 2003 but felt confident this time.
“I ran a quick first mile then pulled away at two miles. When I was up towards Chalkpit Lane, I tried to think of it as a training run. I had a bad patch at eight to ten miles but at ten miles I felt good again. I couldn’t see Toby and I knew I had it won, so I could relax a bit.
“Conditions were okay –just a bit of light rain. Had it been bone dry, I could have done it maybe 20 or 30 seconds faster.”
At 36, Baker is showing no signs of slowing down. This wasn’t his half-marathon best – that was 68min 11sec in 2003 but he has broken 69 minutes five times since.
“I feel I can keep on improving until my late 30s,” he said. “Every runner is different in terms of when they peak, but I’m not slowing down yet.”
Baker praised the 13-mile course and the organisation of a race that had more than 700 finishers in this, its second year. Chichester District Council and city-based charity Children On The Edge organised it.
Baker revealed he almost didn’t enter when the race was launched last year. “I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I changed my mind late and was really impressed. I’d have preferred a flat on-road course, but now I really like the course,” he said.
There’s no rest ahead for Baker following his win. He is already back on a training schedule that sees him average ten miles a day and this weekend he is off to the 16-mile Exmoor Stagger, while half marathons in Bexhill and Gosport loom in the next few weeks.
He’ll also be running for Chichester in some of the up-coming cross-country league fixtures.
There’s more athletics locally this Saturday when Chichester Runners host a Sussex League cross-country fixture at Goodwood. The action starts at 11.30 with primary schoolchildren and continues through the age groups until mid-afternoon.
See next week’s paper for coverage.