In what is reckoned to be one of the most gruelling club events of the calendar in England, Chichester emerged triumphant with two trophies for their three teams in the 100-mile South Downs Relay.
Battling against the heat, high winds and the occasional dust storm, all 18 runners emerged with credit from a long 18-hour day which ended with them nursing blisters and sore muscles by the end of the day.
Special credit goes to the ladies’ team, who finally won the event after several near-misses in recent years including filling the runners-up spot three times.
Regular members of the team Angela Carpenter, Helen Pattinson, Katherine Bond and Sarah Fenmor Collins were joined by newcomers Nicky Upton and Jane Harrop.
With teams able to choose their starting time at Beachy Head, aiming to reach the finish at Winchester around 8pm, Harrop lined up at 7am having been given the responsibility of tackling the opening leg over the picturesque but undulating Seven Sisters.
Having previously won her over-50 age group in Portsmouth’s Promenade 5k race a few days earlier, this was a different challenge.
Next to take over the baton was Carpenter, who continued her fine form over a variety of distances in recent weeks making inroads into the other women’s teams even at such an early stage of the race.
Bond kept up the momentum despite being treated for blisters after her first stage and it was left to Pattinson and Fenmor Collins to use their experience to conserve energy in the early part of the race to be able to keep up the momentum later.
Finally Upton belied her place as novice in the team by matching the others and continuing Chichester’s march to the front. Reaching Winchester some 12 hours and 50 minutes after the start, Chichester knew they had overtaken their rivals who had started earlier – and it was an anxious wait to see if Hailsham Harriers, who’d opted for a 7.30am start, would come into view before the 30 minutes had elapsed.
There were cheers mixed with sighs of relief when, at 8.21pm, there was still no sign of Horsham and Chichester knew their ambitions had been realised.
With an average age of 56 from their sextet, Chichester’s veterans knew they would not be in the running for overall honours, as was the case some 15 years ago when most of the team were running as fast as their senior team-mates.
There was the incentive of retaining the coveted Cooper Cup for the best age- related performance of the day among the 53 teams.
Fielding all three of their multiple over-50 medal-winning team from the last decade, Dave Dorning, Dave Worcester and Rob Wiggins, the squad was further strengthened by ultra-distance runner Tom Blaylock and former Commonwealth Games marathon medallist Don Faircloth, now an over-60.
Completing the line-up was Kevin McGreal, the youngster of the team at 46.
Despite an injury scare to talisman Dave Dorning, who excels over this format, just three days before the race, the squad were on their way at 7.30 aiming for a time of between 12 and 12½ hours. Dorning got Chichester off to a flying start making inroads into their closest rivals in the veterans’ ranks. Worcester, Wiggins and McGreal kept up the momentum while the metronomic Blaylock got stronger as the race progressed.
For Faircloth it was a new challenge and he did not disappoint – although he admitted at the end the event was probably harder than many of his elite marathons in his heyday.
Having the incentive and support of the ladies when they finally overhauled their 30-minute advantage just after two-thirds of the distance, they really stepped on the pace over the final 30 miles to reach the finishing line in 12hr 5min and emerge worthy winners of the Cooper Cup for another year.
The third Chichester team had to call in Colin Harley as a last-minute replacement but he rose to the challenge to join experienced Jan Hill and Micky Lyons and newcomers Dan Turner, Mark Jennings and Terry Healy to complete the course exactly one hour after the supervets in 13hr 5min, a very creditable achievement.