How Chichester's 10k started from a half marathon that outgrew itself

In the first in a series of three articles looking at the history of Chichester's biggest annual athletics events, Graham Jessop recalls the history of the Chichester Priory 10k - remembering how it began and examining hoe it has prospered since.

Saturday, 13th June 2020, 8:30 am

Runners in the Chichester area are fortunate to have a wide choice of events they can take part in – from the shorter-distance Corporate Challenge to the Midsummer five-miler, the Chichester Priory 10k and the revamped Half Marathon.

The roots of the top events stem from a meeting of minds of three gentlemen from different backgrounds but with similar interests back in the mid-1980s.

Graham Brooks, then editor of the Chichester Observer, was looking for a major sporting event to celebrate the centenary of the paper; Phil Baker, secretary of Chichester Runners, was seeking to enhance the reputation of the newly formed club by association with a quality endurance race, and Graham Jessop, of Chichester Round Table, was hoping to raise funds for community projects.

Peter Riley, centre, in 2006 - his win gave him the record time of 29.02 on the city course

Their combined thinking resulted in the first Chichester Half-Marathon in 1987.

The great success of the Half Marathon also was possibly its death knell – the event became so successful and so large no-one was prepared to spearhead it.

After four years it disappeared from the calendar. But one of the instigators of the half marathon was, by 1990, a member of the Rotary Club of Chichester Priory and saw a gap in the programme.

When incoming president Colin Thorne approached Jessop for fundraising ideas, he suggested a road race. He wanted to promote a 10k and the Chichester Priory 10k was launched in February 1991.

The top three women this year

The fact it is still going strong and next Feburary’s will be the 30th tells its own story.

The 10k’s original course comprised two laps of the northern quadrants of the city, starting and finishing in North Street. Compared to today’s Goodwood-based 10k it was modest, with 600 runners and 25 or so helpers.

The race stayed in the city centre for three years until the Chichester floods necessitated a movement out of the city to accommodate the operational requirements of the emergency services.

The new course was again two laps, starting in the Festival Theatre car park, winding its way up through Graylingwell and into Summersdale and back to the city. This was used for a few years until a single lap course in the north-east of the city was devised in 1997, and with some minor modifications this was the course which remained in place until 2016.

Nick Goolab's 29.01 this year was a new record for either course / Picture: Derek Martin

From a modest beginning the race grew steadily in popularity and status and in 1997 received its first major recognition, being awarded the Sussex County Championships. Its reputation grew over the next ten years as it hosted the South of England Championships, the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) of England National championships.

Then came the ‘biggie’ in 2007 – when it included the UK Championships, the England Championships, the inter-counties and the inter-area teams, including Wales and Scotland. It has also hosted the Sussex Grand Prix and the Hampshire Road Race League and been used by clubs for their own championships.

From the initial 600 runners, interest has increased over the years and, although stabilising for a while around 1,500 entrants, in recent years organisers have closed the race with its full complement of entries.

An increase in numbers brought an increase in the standard of competition, culminating in the course records around the time of the UK championships.

Organisers and the starting party take shelter in 2001

The sixth race, with 700 runners, put the Chichester 10k on the athletics map as four runners that year were under the magical 30-minute mark and one female was under 34 minutes.

The 1,000-runner mark was reached at the ninth event and by the 15th year there were 1,400 runners. The men’s course record was set in 2006 by Peter Riley running for Leigh Harriers and the North of England in 29.02. The women’s record was set the following year by Kate Reed of Bristol and West AC in 32.09.

The race moved to Goodwood in 2017 and new course records had to be established.

For the men this came earlier this year when Nick Goolab of Belgrave Harriers won the race in 29.01 seconds, the fastest time witnessed in a 10k in Chichester.

Stephanie Twell, running for Aldershot Farnham & District, holds the women’s record on the new course, 33.17. Reed’s run in 2007 puts her in fifth place in the all-England rankings.

There have been just two occasions when the race came close to being called off – once because of the floods at Lavant and then when snow disrupted travel for runners from further afield.

However, despite some wet and windy days, generally the weather has been kind to the race and it has often been run in cold but sunny conditions, enabling many to get PBs.

The first committee consisted of six Priory Rotarians who worked together tirelessly for years.

The first change came when Henry Adams and his wife Pat became race director and race secretary. Five years later Tony Kerly took over as race secretary, continuing until 2014, combining it for some of the time with the role of chairman of the committee.

The committee has also been chaired by Colin Thorne, Brian Taylor, Colin Kaye and, since 2013, Bob Syme.

There have been three ever-present committee members – Maurice Hall, who from the outset has been responsible for the course, including measurement and the putting-up of signs on the day; Richard Doman, who for many years was chief marshal and now looks after the water stations, and Jessop, who has held positions including race director, consultant and organiser. For the 30th running of the event next February he will again be race director.

Initially support for the race in the form of marshals and stewards came from members and wives of the Rotary Club of Chichester Priory, who fielded some 30 personnel.

Now, the event requires about 200 volunteers, with support from St John Ambulance, a chip timing company and a traffic management company.

Organisers have been very fortunate in finding sponsors.

In the early days it was mainly through Rotarians, including Thomas Eggar, Verrall Bowles, Henry Adams, Chichester Haulage and Price Grant. The first outside sponsor was the Oldham Seals Group, who for three years were staunch supporters.

The Chichester Nuffield Hospital sponsored or two years and then the Peter Cooper Volkswagen group and Brooks, the International Sports clothing company, got involved. These two were major joint sponsors for seven years and contributed handsomely to the event’s finances. Recent sponsors include Wannops LLP, The Run Company and Henry Adams.

For the first event all entries arrive by post with payment by cheque, postal order or cash. As technology and the banking world developed and the volume of entries increased it was necessary to go to online banking and credit card payments. Today almost all entries are online.

The next change through technology was chip timing. Initially individuals’ details were manually fed in and the results, positions and times were prepared manually.

Today most of the runners feed in their own details and the computer does the rest in terms of taking account of when the runner starts and finishes, producing the final placings and the prize lists.

In 2017, for organisational and practical reasons, the race was moved to a route based around the Goodwood motor circuit, while still using some of the old course.

The name was changed to the Chichester Priory 10k Race at Goodwood. Problems with parking and congestion were soon beaten by significant improvements to access at the circuit.

For the first 10k back in 1991, very few road closures were necessary and those that were needed were approved by Chichester District Council, using The Town Closures Act of some 200 years ago.

Today the event needs 12 road closures granted by the county council, including considerable lengths of road on a rolling programme of up to two hours in duration.

As traffic has increased, more attention has been paid to traffic management. A specialist company is now employed as organisers can no longer get police support to help manage the traffic.

Promoting a road race of the highest quality, the Rotary Club of Chichester Priory have used the event as their major source of charitable revenue.

In the early days the amount raised was more modest but in recent years, with the help of the sponsors, it has netted some £10,000-15,000 per year.

It is estimated the event has earned well over £300,000 to date, which been distributed to very worthy causes in Chichester and further afield.

For the past few years a ‘headline charity’ has been nominated each year, receiving a significant share.

Organisers are grateful to many: all those who ever have run; the body of volunteers who have given their services freely; the public and statutory authorities who have given advice and assistance; the significant contribution from sponsors, and the people of Chichester for supporting the event in many different ways.

The 10k is always looking for sponsors. To help, email [email protected]

Next week: The Chichester Corporate Challenge in focus.