Perfect running conditions greeted 650 runners in the first of this year’s Corporate Challenge races around Chichester city centre.
The occasion marked 20 years since the first race in February 1992 and nearly 25,000 runners of all ages have crossed the line over the years.
It was fitting that both the men’s and women’s winner from that first race were on the start line this time – both still in the A race for faster athletes.
Keith Toop, who also led his Waitrose team to success in the team event, recorded a speedy 13min 19sec for the 4,500m four-lap course while Jane Harrop was a brilliant 24th overall at 14.54, a time which has rarely been beaten in the intervening years.
Commonwealth Games 1,500m champion Michael East’s 12.39 clocking from 2008 still stands as the fastest run in the event. For the women, the 14.15 of Zara Hyde Peters set in 1996 has stood the test of time.
This year Portsmouth-based athlete and previous winner Harry Carter crossed the line first with a fast 13.10, with consistent James Baker runner-up in 13.28, keeping up his enviable record of a top-three placing for the 28th time in succession, all inside 14 minutes.
For the women, one of Chichester’s high-flying under-17s, Beth Garland, stormed through the final lap to get the better of Lauren Bourne from Worthing, who was followed in quick succession by two Portsmouth-based athletes, with Harrop a further second adrift. All five women were covered by a mere seven seconds between 16.28 and 16.35.
Teamwise, title holders DSTL Naval Systems again came out on top in the corporate category followed by Midhurst Rother Staff and Cawley Crawlers, while Portsmouth-based Absolute Running had the edge on Havant Heroes and Worthing Hares in the sports section.
Team North made it a double for Portsmouth in the women’s sports category in front of Chichester’s under-17s, exotically named as Lipbalm Ladies for the occasion, while Cawley Crawlers trailed the Portsmouth County Council team in the corporate section.
Preceeding the senior race were the exciting schools races which produced two course records. Harry Leleu, running for Seaford College, produced the first sub-8.30 time with a 8.28 to knock six seconds from the secondary boys’ Year 10 four-lap record, with Josh James just getting the better of Dan Eeles for second.
Josh Eeles from Midhurst Rother won the Year 7 race, Tom Verney from Churchers took Year 8 and Casey Keates from Felpham Year 9.
Bishop Luffa hold the lead in two of the team categories while Felpham and Seaford share the other two.
There was only one local winner in the girls’ races with Saskia Gardam from Bishop Luffa continuing her rich form in the Year 8 while the Year 7 race was won by Hannah Binstead from West Park, Year 9 by Evie Grice from Cams Hill and Year 10 by Leah Harris from Davison High in Worthing.
Three of the four team races were won by Chichester Girls’ High School with only the Bishop Luffa Year 8 squad preventing a clean sweep.
The two primary-school races started proceedings with the 115 boys charging off at a furious pace. Ben Collins gave his East Wittering school the best start with a fine 4.38 clocking for the two-lap 1,400m course, two seconds outside the course record, with runner-up William Broom leading his Central team to a narrow lead over Plaistow & Kirdford.
Hampshire athlete Josie Czura produced a stunning display in the primary girls’ race by knocking a full 14 seconds off the old mark of 14.55, first set by Charlotte Browning, who went on to become a junior and senior international.
In the team event, The March school has a lead of more than 30 seconds over East Wittering, with Central third.
Organisers hope for another good turnout of runners and spectators for the second races in the series next Wednesday, with the first race at 6.30pm.