Gosport Half Marathon celebrates its 30th anniversary next week and race director Dave Little gives a history of the event
I don’t imagine that, on Monday November 17th 1986, the organisers of the first Gosport Half Marathon that took place the day before would predict that 30 years on the race would still be taking place.
Many a race along the south coast has fallen by the wayside so we are immensely proud that we’re one of the survivors.
Back in 1986 putting on a race was a very different beast. No such thing as computerised entries and results. Chip timing probably wasn’t in anyone’s thoughts!
Sunday trading was but a retailer’s dream which meant far fewer restrictions when it came to designing a course. That first event (started by Roger Black) headed through Gosport town centre before heading out to Stubbington via Military Road. Once there it headed back to Bay House School along Lee-on-the-Solent seafront. For a debut, an entry of 1,383 runners with 1,189 finishers probably exceeded expectations.
Over the years many things have had to change. This year’s route is the ninth iteration for example.
Heading through or near Gosport town centre is no longer feasible. Crossing Haslar bridge became too high a risk. We restructured the event to two laps which for a few years allowed us to operate in south Gosport but eventually traffic volumes made us focus the race more towards Lee-on-the-
Solent and Stubbington.
We had five successful years utilising the traffic free roads of Daedalus airfield until development activities meant we couldn’t meet health and safety requirements. And so now our focus is very much the Lee-on-the Solent seafront area.
There was a period in the early part of the millennium when we were really worried about the race surviving. The running bubble seemed to have burst and entry numbers seriously tumbled. 2001 attracted our lowest entry of 373. Thankfully we weathered the storm and we’ve gradually driven the race back towards its 2000 max.
In fact this year is the fourth consecutive where we’ve reached the 2000 limit and closed the entry early. We put that down to the way we deliver value for money to the runner and keeping our operating costs under control.
Every competitor is treated and encouraged the same way no matter which part of the field you’re in – front or back.
Each year the race attracts runners from clubs all along the south coast as well as the unattached runner who now make up 50 per cent of the field.
None of this happens by magic of course and we have received tremendous support over the 30 years. We have an incredible working relationship with Gosport Borough Council and, when they were involved, Gosport and Fareham police.
Local groups such as 1st Alverstoke Guides, 6th Gosport Scouts, 16th Gosport Scouts and 1098 Gosport Cadets have turned up in all weathers on the day to provide invaluable help and manpower.
Latterly Loud and Proud has joined us and we’re very grateful for the help they all offer.
Without a doubt however it’s the members, friends and family of the Gosport Road Runners who deserve the biggest accolade.
They never fail to get behind the event and put in a staggering number of hours effort.
We adopted the phrase ‘by runners for runners’ and it’s something our competitors tell us makes a difference in the way they enjoy their day with us.
The race has seen some characters that sadly are no longer with us. The likes of Fred Piper, Brenda Wilshire and Gordon Knight are synonymous with the Gosport Half and I know many of us ‘old timers’ bring them to mind over race weekend and we hope we continue to do them proud.
The success of the race over the thirty years has meant we’ve been able to support many local good causes. Although exact figures are difficult to establish, I estimate it close to £100k. No mean feat for our humble little run.