Largest ever!

Report on the 2009 Wilmslow Half Marathon by Malcolm Fowler.

This years Asics Wilmslow Half Marathon, incorporating the England Half Marathon Championships, was by far the largest in its 25 year history with 3905 runners completing the 13.1 mile course, 455 more than the previous record number of finishers in 2007.

A very cold night meant icy conditions for the organisers as they first arrived at the venue, but the temperature rose significantly as the start time approached and by 10.30am the general weather conditions, calm, dry, sunny, but not too warm, were pretty much ideal for distance running.

Chip timing had been introduced for the first time and this appeared to result in a much smoother start than in previous years, with fewer slow runners starting too close to the front. A few runners arriving at the last minute had forgotten about the start of British Summer Time!

There was the usual mix of runners taking part, elite runners looking for a fast time and other runners who were happy just to complete the course and raise as much as they could for charity.

With a high quality field and the previous three winners of the race taking part, it was always going to be a competitive race. Gareth Raven winner in 2008, Tomas Abyu, winner in 2007 and the 2006 winner Andy Norman were all expected to feature amongst the leaders. Andi Jones 2nd in 2007 was also heavily tipped to do well.

The race started on time and after the first mile, Salford Harriers team mates Andi Jones and Tomas Abyu and Belgrave Harrier Mark Miles had already open up a 50 metre gap on the rest of the field, blitzing the first mile in under 4m 40s. Meanwhile the back markers had just about cleared the start line!

The pace at the front then settled down to around 4m 50s a mile with Andi Jones in the lead and Tomas and Mark on his shoulder. No other runner was prepared to go out so hard over the first few miles and the lead over the rest of the field was growing all the time. By the six mile mark these three athletes had a lead of around 300 metres over the 4th runner and it was looking likely that unless these three had seriously misjudged their pace they would be the medal winners. It was just the colour of medal that still had to be decided!

Meanwhile Michelle Ross-Cope, female winner for the past 2 years and joint female record holder was going for her hat-trick and had already established a lead over her rivals.

The leading three runners were still locked together as they ran through Mobberley with Andi Jones leading the way and Tomas Abyu and Mark Miles just a stride behind. The pace which had hardly varied from 4m 50s a mile slowed to just over 5 minute miling through Mobberley and the long steady climb past the church towards the 10 mile point.

As the runners pass the 10 mile point the course flattens out again and the runners retrace the outbound route. Many runners still heading out in the opposite direction, yet to complete 5 miles, could only marvel at their speed.

In the ladies race Michelle Ross-Cope was going all out to break the ladies record of 72m 44s she held jointly with Russian athlete Yelena Burykina. Last year she had missed the record by 6 seconds, could she do it this year?

As the men approached the 12 mile mark the pace had quickened again and it was still impossible to tell who was going to win. Andi Jones who had finished 2nd to Tomas Abyu in 2007 continued to do all the work at the front with Tomas content to sit on his shoulder and Mark lurking dangerously just behind.

With a mile to go it all started to change, Tomas began to drop a few strides back, which quickly grew to several metres and then in no time he was 30 metres off the pace and would have to settle for bronze. Meanwhile Andi and Mark were still locked together as they entered Morley Green. Would Andi have to settle for 2nd again or could he record his first win. Just before they entered the 200 metre finishing straight Mark who had been a couple of strides behind Andi for the whole race eased alongside him and then kicked for home. Andi tried to respond but the gap grew and Mark Miles from Belgrave Harriers, who had judged his race to perfection, claimed the England Half Marathon Championships in 64m 11s, 11 seconds ahead of Andi Jones with Tomas a further 15 seconds behind.

Matthew Pierson from Holmfirth was next to finish, just ahead of last years winner Gareth Raven (Sale) and Martin Williams who was the first of a very strong team from Tipton Harriers.

Attention then turned to whether Michelle Ross-Cope could set a new ladies course record. She had been just inside the course record with a few miles to go, but it would be close. Could she maintain record breaking pace for the last few miles. The answer was an emphatic YES. Looking strong as she sprinted the finishing straight she managed to knock 9 seconds of the ladies record finishing in 72m 35s to claim her 3rd consecutive win.

In the mens team race Tipton Harriers just managed to pip Salford Harriers to the title with Leeds City finishing 3rd, but Leeds did have the consolation that their female athletes easily won the Ladies team title ahead of Stainland Lions. Special mention must go to the Wilmslow Ladies team for finishing in the bronze team position. The host club also recorded two veteran category wins with Rob Downs 1st V45 and Tom McGaff 1st V50. All fantastic achievements!

Sid Bailey from Deestriders kept up his record of finishing all 25 Wilmslow Half marathons.

It is too early to say how much has been raised for charity, runners will now be busy collecting in their sponsorship money. Around 700 runners were running for our nominated race charities ‘Macmillan Cancer Research’ and ‘David Lewis Centre’ but other runners were raising money for their own favourite charities.

The date of next years race has yet to be announced. It is hoped we will be able to confirm the date in the next few weeks

Malcolm Fowler