The streets of Chichester were full to bursting with nearly 1,000 runners for the first races in the 2014 Corporate Challenge series.
A total of 958 finishers from the seven races during a frenetic evening’s competition was 300 more than had ever been seen on a single evening in the 22 years of the event.
Race officials, timekeepers, recorders and marshals were kept on their toes throughout two hours of racing and managed to produce incredibly-accurate results amid the mad dash for the line.
Such has been the popularity of the primary-school age group in recent years that the race organisers decided the 200-plus entrants in the boys’ race should take part in two separate contests for the first time.
Primary school races
The Year 6 boys went first with Ben Woolnough winning in a fast time of 4min 44sec for the two-lap course of nearly 1,400m with Westbourne Primary duo Stanley Kingshot and Liam Dunne close behind.
Josh Fawcett from Oakwood was first over the line in the Year 5 race in 5.03, putting him sixth overall.
The Year 5 and 6 girls ran together and Charlotte Bullard from Central School was a clear winner in another record field of 127 finishers. She clocked 5.03 with a ten-second margin over Hampshire-based duo Eloise O’Neill from Locks Heath and Yazmin Knight from Hook-with-Warsash.
Team-wise Jessie Younghusband lead St Richards and Central in the girls’ standings with two more race nights to come while newcomers Westbourne Primary are ahead of Jessie Younghusband and Oakwood in the boys’ race.
Secondary school races
With all the secondary boys starting at the same time, there was a battle at the front of the field between the Year 9 and 10 pupils running four laps and their Year 7 and 8 counterparts doing three laps.
The older group saw impressive Hampshire athletes Ted Yeates from Churchers and Harry Blay from Portsmouth-based Priory winning the Year 9 and 10 races respectively in front of local runners-up Brodie Keates from Felpham CC and Sam Pink from Binderton.
There were three runners under the seven-minute barrier in the Year 8 race won by Ben Collins of The Academy, Selsey, in a fine 6.49 while the Year 7 runners were headed by Adam Kimber from Swanmore.
In the team standings, Felpham have an early lead in Year 7 while Chichester High school are in front in Year 8.
In the secondary girls’ race there was an intriguing battle in the leading pack with all four years running the same 2,100m distance. Petersfield’s Elizabeth Hedley emerged as a comfortable winner in 7.04, leading a trio of Year 9 runners home followed in quick succession by Anya Pigden from Churchers to win the Year 8 race.
A mere two seconds later came Olivia Wiseman from Bishop Luffa setting one of the fastest ever Year 7 times - 7.21.
There was a Bishop Luffa double with Saskia Gardam winning the Year 10 race as well as the school taking Year 7 team race but they had to give way to Midhurst Rother College in the Year 8 team category.
A and B adult races
There were further records set in the senior Corporate Challenge A and B races with more 450 finishers across the two.
There is always a smaller field for the ‘elite’ A race but more than 100 raced round the tight senior circuit of just over 1,100 metres on the first of their four laps, with a select bunch of half a dozen at the head of proceedings after the first lap in 3.15 seconds - speed at which only two athletes in the history of the event, both Olympians, have ever maintained to the finish.
At halfway, the Worthing-based duo of Darryl Hards and Kev Mason were just ahead of one of Chichester’s rising stars, Harry Leleu, with the top two recording fast times of 13.29 and 13.31 at the finishing with Leleu safe in third and saving some energy for an important cross-country league race at the weekend.
There was a similar high-quality battle in the women’s race with another Worthing athlete, Emma Macready, a former Sussex champion, just too fast for Emma Montiel from Portsmouth and Polly Keen from Havant, who have both been making their mark on the county and national stages over the winter.
In the teams, two Worthing-based sports teams lead Chichester youngsters running as the High Flyers, while multiple winners DSTL Portsdown West are again leading the corporate teams ahead of Chichester College staff team and surprise package Chichester Cathedral.
For the women, Chichester’s all-conquering under-17s look too strong for the rest of the sports teams with a huge lead of seven minutes after the first race, while All The Gear have a narrow lead over Crawley Crawlers and Oakwood Ladies in the corporate category.
For the second race of the series next Wednesday (March 12), organisers say they regret they can accept no new entries in the primary races or the senior B race.
Newcomers can still be accepted in either of the two secondary school races or for the senior A race for runners who can cover the 4,500m in less than 18 minutes.