Hastings Half Marathon: Getting Bensons mixed up led to embarrassing call

In 1996, the Sussex Half Marathon Championships returned for a second year at Hastings, a signal that it was such a well-run event.

Tuesday, 2nd June 2020, 6:38 am

It was also Mothering Sunday, which did not go down well with families and restaurants.

We promised after that year to always in future avoid Mothers’ Day, which is why subsequently the date would be moved.

Sammy Bitok (Kenya) was back to try to win the event for the third time in a row, along with his fellow countrymen, and especially world half marathon champion Benson Masya.

Coverage in the Hastings Observer

An interesting story about Benson was that there was a certain Daily Mail reporter called Ross Benson, who had written a very nasty report on Hastings, absolutely castigating everything about the town, and saying nothing good about our town.

I wrote to Ross Benson about this, mentioning many great things about Hastings, including the half marathon, and inviting him to the event.

Soon after, we had a telephone call at home which my wife took, and she shouted out to me that someone called Benson was on the phone for me.

I quickly grabbed the telephone, and thanked him for telephoning, and hoped he was coming to Hastings, and how annoyed we all were about his article. When I let him get a word in, the reply was ‘I do not understand.. I am Benson Maysa, world half marathon champion’.

Embarrassment for me and apologies for getting the wrong person! Benson had rung to ask if he could take part this year, and I naturally said yes, but said he had to enter like everybody else.

Benson Masya was not part of the normal group that came over from Kenya, and he lived a lot of the time in the UK .

Mark Flint, who was an officer in the RAF, had also entered and had taken part previously in 1994.

He knew the route and how the Kenyans would run.

The Kenyan athletes were now very confident that they could beat any UK challenge, perhaps even over confident?

Flint set out at a very fast pace and took the Kenyans by surprise, but they fully expected to catch him up in good time. But was not to be, as Flint did not ‘blow up’ and kept a commanding lead all the way to the finish line, with the Kenyan challenge not able to respond.

Flint’s time was another great sub 1.03 time.

Debbie Percival became the second female athlete to win the event twice as she retained her crown.

Ron Hill Sports ended their stint as shoe sponsor, with the great Ron Hill himself taking part and wearing race No 1.

As money was beginning to get tight at council level, it had been agreed to reduce HBC investment, so we had brought in Coral Racing and Manor Insurance to cover the bonus prizes.

On to 1997, we saw Saucony become the event shoe sponsor, with Hollingsworths/Ford taking on the main event sponsorhip, with other new sponsors.

The event again acted as the Sussex Half Marathon Championships.

There had been a problem in Kenya, so for the first time in ten years none of them arrived to take part.

Ian Cornford (Shaftsbury/Barnet) won in 1.05.44 in comfortable style.

But the most notable win was the evergreen Caroline Horne (Crawley), who after being the first female winner in 1985, returned after 12 years to take the title again .

This meant that we had three female athletes who had won Hastings twice. The event was also awarded the Southern FM Top Contribution to Sussex Sport Accolade.

Over the years there have been two changes to the route, not that we wanted them, but both because of road humps.

The first one was when highways decided to put in road humps at the bottom of Harold Road, about the 10-mile point.

We tried hard to stop this but to no avail, as we could not concede that runners at this stage would have to go over obstacles, especially when getting tired.

So we had to re-route via Dudley Road into Old London Road, then back into All Saints Street.

But HBC did agree to let us have some staff to marshall this new area each year in future.

The other change was when road humps were proposed for Rock a Nore Road, where the runners went out and back.

The reason they were asked for was that a musical composer lived in the road, and he was continually disturbed by ‘boy racers’ going up and down the road at night time.

Although I disagreed with him, I did understand.

In fact Polo Piatti turned out to be a good friend in the end and a great asset to Hastings, becoming a giant of classical music in the area.

We have since enjoyed his performances many times.

It was eventually agreed that the humps would be removed each year for the half marathon.

This happened only once, because it was an extremely difficult job.

So we had to measure out another route change, taking in Rye Road, so that the runners, when they exited All Saints Street, turned immediately right to go along seafront.