Never mind the weather – it’s all about the race. The wintry conditions sweeping the country had Chichester Priory 10k organisers keeping an eye and an ear on the weather forecast throughout Saturday – even fearing having to cancel the event if the city was left covered in snow or a heavy frost.
As it turned out, they had nothing to worry about as the worst the weather gods could do was a few puddles, a light dusting on snow on more remote parts of the course, and some chilly temperatures.
The day of the race dawned very cold, but nothing to stop the race going ahead – although 100-or-so runners were disappointed they were unable to travel to Chichester because of adverse conditions elsewhere.
All in all, the 21st Chichester Priory 10k was a resounding success. It’s one of the major road races in the English road running calendar and is recognised nationwide as a top-quality race.
The high standard and depth of the race resulted in a turnout of nearly 1,500 runners who enjoyed one of the most popular events in the south. Many athletes - whether elite, club runners or recreational runners – were delighted to achieve their personal bests despite the cold. And some running for the first time commented on how much they had enjoyed the course and the scenery.
There was a new starting position and a revised route for the first two kilometres. The field began in College Lane and went northwards before turning into Graylingwell Park and joining the previous route at Barnfield Drive.
The runners were an impressive sight as they streamed up College Lane and it was quite a spectacle as they wound their way along Connolly Road and into Graylingwell Park.
The race featured a number of runners likely to come in under or close to the 30-minute mark.
It got off to a cracking pace and after 5k there was a breakaway group of nine.
They went through 5k in 15.10 and set the pattern for the rest of the run home, with little changing in places. The leading group comprised Benedict Whitby of Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow, Chris Powner of Winchester AC, Paul Whittaker of Chelmsford AC, Neil Gamester of Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers, Jermaine Mays of Kent AC, Todd Leckie of Hailsham Harriers, Jon Pepper of Enfield and Haringay AC, Chris Busaileh of Herne Hill Harriers and Matt Dumigan of Swansea AC.
At 6k Whitby accelerated and took only Powner, Whittaker and Gamester with him. By the top of Pook Lane he had a further gap, leaving those following three runners to fight for second place. They closed on Whitby in the final stages but he held on to win in 29.37 with the next three also breaking the magical 30-minute barrier.
Mays led home six men in times under 31 minutes, with 21 others achieving below 32 minutes - an incredible achievement particularly in the cold weather and the sign of a quality race.
The male 40-plus vets’ title went to Zippy Grice of City of Portsmouth AC, followed by Charlton Rudwick of Arena 80 and third was Bryan Camfield of Horsham Joggers. The first men’s 50-plus home was Richard Drage of Tavistock AC, while the top over-60 was Terry Avey of Pheonix AC and first over-70 Anthony Boxall of Fittleworth Flyers.
It was good to see James Baker of Chichester Runners in 27th place in a good time of 32.19.
The Chichester Observer-sponsored Ben Steppel memorial prize – named in honour of our former sports editor, who died in 2007 – goes to the first local under-23 man home, on this occasion Ashley Thompson.
The men’s team event was won by Winchester & District AC, consisting of Powner, Thomas Payn and Matthew West with a combined time of 1.33.28. Herne Hill Harriers were second in 1.34.16 followed by Southampton AC with 1.34.34.
In 12th place were Chichester Runners, who, in addition to Baker, had Chris Jack and Lee Neumann in the scoring team.
The women’s race was also of a high standard, if rather a one-woman race with GB international Charlotte Purdue of Aldershot & District AC leading from start to finish with a comfortable victory in 33.19.
The 20-year-old had missed the Kenya camp through injury but showed her recent injury worries were a thing of the past and she looks set to achieve a place in the GB team for the London Olympics.
She enjoyed the course and finished more than two minutes clear of her nearest rival, Rebecca Moore of Worthing, also 20.
The race represented a breakthrough for Moore as she knocked nearly two minutes from her previous best with 35.44. Louise Vallier of Arena 80 AC was in third place and first women’s veteran.
In the team stakes, the girls from Arena 80 – Louise Vallier, Caroline Wood and Emily Proto – totally dominated with a time of 1.57.48. Chichester Runners’ team of Angela Carpenter, Annaliese Dziubak and Lucy Thraves were second in 2.06.41 and were the winners of the inaugural Nuffield Health prize, awarded to the first local team.
They were followed by the Worthing & District Harriers team of Rebecca, Emily and Clare Moore in a time of 2.08.02.
The Colin Thorne memorial prize for the first local under-23 woman finisher went to Lucy Thraves of Chichester Runners.
The race was again organised splendidly by the Rotary Club of Chichester Priory. The starting party and presentation party at the prizegiving at Chichester Hockey Club included representatives of the two sponsors, Volkswagen dealers Peter Cooper and Brooks Sports, international suppliers of sports clothing and the president of the Rotary Club, Bob Syme.
There were many accolades dished out about the organisation of the event before the athletes, Rotarians, spectators and officials went home to warm up.