Mayflower 400 Harwich Half Marathon

5th April 2020

History of the Race

Can you remember what you were doing in 1982? It was the year of Prince William’s birth and of the Falklands War. Bucks Fizz’s ‘Land of Make Believe’ and Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’ dominated the charts and Terry Wogan launched a chat show on BBC One.

Much closer to home, Sunday 4th April saw the first Harwich Half Marathon, an event organised by Harwich Round Table which brought some 1,000 runners and many more spectators to the streets of Harwich and Dovercourt. Well over 80% of the field were local runners, many taking on their first ever 13.1-mile event. With the town’s population around 14,000 at the time, if you lived here you would have surely known someone taking part.

The early 1980’s saw a phenomenal rise in the popularity of distance running and, thanks to the efforts of international decathlete Roy Snow, Harwich proved no exception.

Following his retirement from track and field athletics, Snow took part in the first London Marathon, held on 29th March 1981. “The country was alive with running mania,” he recalls. “Dave Chilver, who managed the Harwich Sports Centre at the time, and I thought it would be a really good idea if we could inspire the folks of our area to give running a go.”

So Snow and Chilver decided to arrange a half marathon: two laps of Harwich and Dovercourt, to be run two weeks before the second London Marathon.

Gradually, half-marathon fever took over the town. “More and more people of all ages and states of fitness started appearing on the streets,” said Snow. Many of the runners were carefully following a training schedule published weekly in this paper: “Roy Snow’s 13 weeks to 13 miles.”

“Dave and I thought if we could get 100 people to take part it would be a big success. On the day almost 1,000 participated and for a great many, that event changed their lifestyle for ever. I feel that day was one of the greatest achievements of my life.”

Amongst the runners on that day was a certain Harwich Runners’ founder member Elspeth Knott, taking on her first ever half marathon.

“A half marathon seemed a long way,” said Elspeth, “but I was convinced that I would be able to do it if I followed Roy’s step-by-step training plan religiously. The longest training run was 1 hour 30 minutes. I remember getting to Harwich Quay on my second lap of the race at about 90 minutes and thinking I was stepping into the unknown!”

“It was amazing to see so many people supporting the event enthusiastically. It was a much different scene from running today. There wasn’t any lycra - we all wore whatever shorts and t-shirts we had for summertime wear. There were no headphones, gels, water bottles or Garmins. Some of us ran in green flash tennis plimsolls, as there weren’t many running shoes to be found locally.”

Harwich Runners took over the organising of the half-marathon in 1985 and continued to hold it until 1991.

Sunday 5th April 2020 will see the return of the race in a joint venture between Harwich Runners and the Rotary Club of Harwich and Dovercourt. The race will be run on closed roads; covering much of the original route and taking in many of the historic sights of Harwich. The flat and fast conditions will make for great running and the two-lap course will be perfect for spectators too!

The revival of the Harwich Half Marathon forms part of a year of celebrations to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the journey of the Mayflower to America. Alongside the professionally organised race there will be a childrens’ event and various entertainment which will aim to create a festival atmosphere for everyone to enjoy. Proceeds from the event will be put back into the local community via Harwich Runners and the Rotary Club.

And 38 years later, some of the original participants will be back to take on the race once more. Others will be following in their parents’ and grandparents’ footsteps. One local family are looking forward to seeing their fourth generation represented in the race when Jodi Thomas takes to the start line. Her Dad Ashley ran several of the early races; and her Nan Janet, Grandad Russell and and great-grandma Dorothy, who was 73 at the time, all participated back in 1982. Jodi has taken up running specifically to take part in the race. “As soon as Nan heard that the half marathon was coming back, she told me I had to run it ,” she said. “I’m already looking forward to crossing the finish line.”

Harwich Runners will be building on the success of local community running initiatives such as Parkrun and the recent Couch-to-5k programme to provide training support via a dedicated training guide.

To quote Roy Snow’s original training plan, the race promised “better sleep, a general feeling of well-being and a gain in self-esteem and self-confidence through a real personal achievement”. These were great goals 37 years ago and remain great goals today. So sign up and join in to make the day as memorable as 1982.

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Elspeth in 1982:

Roy Snow's training plan

Janet Thomas (and dog!)