Norwich Half Marathon is Norfolk’s race to be proud of

Action from the 2013 Norwich Half Marathon which started and finished at the Norfolk Show-ground. Me

Action from the 2013 Norwich Half Marathon which started and finished at the Norfolk Show-ground. Men's race winner Ben Russell.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: Archant Norfolk

The City of Norwich Half Marathon is without a doubt one of the biggest races in East Anglia, with the first official race taking place in 1985.

I took part in the race and I remember it like yesterday. I can recall the nerves beforehand, watching so many athletes line up in a race which at the time was organised by Mike Wilkinson and Duke Street Runners.

In the end I got pipped on the line for third place by British international Andy Girling from Colchester who had been leaning on me all the way round.

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Whilst this was the first official City of Norwich Half Marathon, Mike had actually organised a Half Marathon in 1980, with his then club Norfolk Olympiads, known as The Norwich Brewery Half Marathon which started and finished in Trowse. Make no bones about it, this really was the first Norwich Half Marathon which at the time was reported in the press as having attracted a large field of 176 runners and was won by Mick Hurd from RAF Wattisham in 65:38.

When Mike left Olympiads for Duke St Runners in 1984 on a full-time basis he set about organising the City of Norwich Half Marathon as we know it today. Mike continued as race director right through to 1992 when he handed over to Granville Courtnell. Granville, known for his superb organisational skills, made the bold move in 1993 to take the race away from the city to the Norfolk Showground.

Whilst the race always attracted around 1,000 entries the biggest issue was the hot June weather which suddenly attracted a number of top class Kenyan athletes – course record holder, Neo Malema, won the 2005 race in 63:59.

After 14 years dedicated service, Granville handed over to present race director Hugh McGill for the 2006 race, and what a baptism of fire as temperatures soared to above 25C. With over 100 dropouts, this led to a big rethink and it was decided to move the race late November.

At the time many thought this would be a bad move for the race, but it has undoubtedly proved to be a masterstroke with the numbers increasing threefold.

Richard Polley also deserves great credit for helping the event run so smoothly and truly putting Norfolk on the road running map.

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