Hastings Half Marathon: Prize money is reduced, but a big cash bonus comes into play

With the further reduction in support by the council as local authorities had to cut their budgets, the Hastings Half Marathon’s prize money was again reduced in the late 1990s.

Tuesday, 9th June 2020, 9:39 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th June 2020, 9:42 am

But we were grateful to JR Licenced Properties Ltd, who felt that the event needed a big bonus prize to attract attention.

So the offer was £10,000 for the first athlete on the day to break 62 minutes and £5,000 for the first female athlete to break 71 minutes.

In 1998 some of the best athletes in the world, especially from Kenya, came to Hastings to win the big money.

Observer Sport coverage

Stephen Kiogora (Kenya) broke away on his own at four miles to go for the time, but it was impossible on his own against the wind, and he finished in 1.02.48.

Birhan Dagne (Ethiopia) easily won the female title, the first time that a non-UK athlete had won the event,but she did not threaten the 71-minute mark.

This was also to be Bill Bailey’s last Hastings Half as he had suffered a stroke and would not run again. But his determination showed as he arranged for a team to push him around on the day, raising money for the Red Cross. A true trooper.

This was also the first year that we introduced ‘Horse Brasses’ instead of medals.

How the Observer covered the race

We had been concerned that medals were getting too common and were not afraid to invest in real brass awards, costing a lot more. They felt good.

Each year we are able to produce a brass depicting something about Hastings, and they have become collectors’ items and so well displayed on leather martingales.

With the temptation of the £10,000 bonus still there for 1999, an even stronger field entered.

Observer race coverage

In particular we welcomed Hendrick Ramaala (South Africa), a top international athlete, known for winning half marathons in times below 62 minutes, including two World Half Marathon Championships, and the New York Marathon.

He had an agent, John Bicourt, an ex-GB Olympic steeplechase athlete, and also a coach, who was committed to getting Ramaala to win the Money.

He put the split times for each mile on the back of Ramaala’s hand, so he knew what he had to do to break the 62-minute mark. He also on the day had his bike to get around the route at certain spots to check on his progress.

On the race day a certain Samuel Otieno (Kenya) exploded from the start gun, and opened up a commanding early lead, well within the target time. Ramaala in the meantime kept to his schedule as printed on his hand, encouraged at times by Bicourt.

Entering the last three miles along the seafront, Otieno still had a big lead, but the strain was beginning to tell having been on his own since the start, and he began to slow. Ramaala had him in his sights, but was stil keeping to his schedule.

Entering the last mile, it just needed Ramaala to speed up more, but it was too late as Otieno hung on to win in 61.37 and win the £10,000 bonus. Ramaala was only a few seconds behind, and stil finished under the 62 minutes, having run the race exactly as planned by Bicourt to win the prize.

Second place and no bonus.Bicourt was not very happy about this, and even asked if they could still claim the prize as finishing under the time.

But it had been made clear that the bonus was only for the first athlete on the day to beat the time.

Bronwen Cardy-Wise (Bromsgrove), the wife of the ‘Clock Man Terry’, won the wome’s race in 1.22.01, and subsequently emigrated to Australia. Interestingly Bronwen was a prison officer, which leads me to another story...

In the early days we always had some prison officers, with some inmates, take part from Maidstone Prison, until one year, two of the inmates just kept running after the finish, and the warders were waiting needlessly for them. One of them actually got home to Birmingham, before he was picked up. The shame was that they never came again. One spoiling it for them all!

It soon became clear that every piece of space in the area would be needed. We arranged for AA signs to direct vehicles to the parking areas, until SatNavs arrived, and they were not needed any more.

We had used the convent at the corner of St Savours Road/Filsham Road for many years untiil it closed. Then we used the ABC Colemans site in Bexhill Road, and the West St Leonards Residents’ Association facility at bottom of Filsham Road.

But we needed more, and were allowed to use the area amongst the beach huts at West Marina.

The beach hut residents were not happy about this, although not many used their huts at this time of the year, and eventually we were banned from using the area .

We did try one year parking at the bottom of Filsham Road in the field, but after a wet period before the race, the first few vehicles sank in the ground, and needed a tow truck to get them out.

We started a very successful park and ride scheme based at The Grove School, using three busses to carry out round trips from 8am onwards, courtesy of Stagecoach. This great operation, organised by Colin Burling and his team, was a fantastic success. Although one year the police stopped the last bus to the start as the road had been closed by then. But they soon realised that it was full of runners.

When the Grove School closed, we moved to St Leonards Academy, where we operated a park and walk scheme instead, as it was only an eight-minute walk through Filsham Valley to the start.

This is still working very well today.

We also worked with the railways to arrange for a train to leave Charing Cross on race morning and arrive in time at West St Leonards Station for 10am. This also worked extremely well, with South Eastern Railways arranging for programmes to be given out on the train.

We always knew when the train had arrived because of the sudden surge in the crowds arrivng at the start area soon after 10am.

The only problem we had over the years was with line works on a Sunday, and some stations having to supply buses in between them, causing obvious delays.

But Network Rail responded by allowing the half marathon train to pass before starting the work.

It was, unfortunately, buses on the way back.

It looked like we would lose the Old Bathing Pool site which we used, and were not certain as yet what we could do.