Hastings Half Marathon: Tenth running of big race was all about the revenge of the Kenyans

The tenth running of the Half Marathon arrived in 1994.

Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 11:41 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 11:42 am

After the excitement of Eamonn Martin doing the double of Hastings and London, 1994 was always going to be about the revenge of the Kenyans.

Eamonn had tried with altitude training in the Canary Islands, but the Kenyans had arrived in force, and with six athletes taking part, they meant business.

It soon became clear the Kenyan athletes were going to work together to take the ‘sting’ out of Martin, as they were well aware of him outsprinting them in previous races.

Coverage of Sammy Bitok's win

Three of them got away from the field, and the winner was Sammy Bitok, the first of his two wins at Hastings.

Martin came fourth, with Mark Flint fifth.

It was becoming a regular visit by the wonderful Kenyan athletes, but it was also having an adverse effect on the number of top UK athletes, who were beginning to feel they could not earn any winnings because of the number of foreign athletes.

Coverage in the Hastings Observer

We had to do something, so we were the first event in the country to introduce separate prize money for UK athletes.

Martin stil enjoyed his visit to Hastings, and was particularly impressed by an interview on Radio Five Live, that lasted an astonishing 30 minutes. It was the longest interview he had done.

A regular entrant for Hastings Half was a certain Peter Sands, and he wanted to put something back into the event by supplying commemorative awards to our helpers – the ‘Unsung Heroes’. He also supplied more than 100 Easter Eggs which were given away on race day. But the weekend was nearly a disaster.

We now had Red Cross attendance and a large marquee situated in the gardens, erected the day before, but we were concerned about very strong winds forecast for the weekend.

During the evening the winds got stronger and stronger, and I was certainly worried at 10pm, when I checked the marquees out.

I was awoken at 1am by a telephone call from the security guard, saying that the marquees looked like being blown away.

Upon arriving at the site, the Red Cross marquee had been destroyed and a corner of the main large marquee was begining to flap. I went inside the marquee and held the flapping area down, concsious that if the wind got inside the marquee it would be also be blown away.

The wind was howling at a possible 50/60 miles an hour and I felt like the famous boy in Holland keeping his finger in the dyke to stop the water flooding.

I could not move and had no means of getting help. After what seemed an eternity, the wind seemed to start to die down, probably as the tide was turning. I went outside and hammered some stakes into the ground. But now what to do?

I telephoned local radio Southern FM at 4am and asked them to put out an SOS for anyone who could re-build a marquee early in the morning.

I have never been more relieved at 7am to see various people arrive and get to work re-erecting the Red Cross marquee, and stabilising the main one. They were true professionals, mainly from the local scouts, and they did a fantastic job.

The well-known Bill Bailey was taking part in his tenth Hastings Half. At 80 years of age, he was also celebrating 75 years of running.

Bill was a fundraising machine for so many charities, and he liked to finish every race he took part in, even if it meant waiting eight hours for him to finish the London Marathon.

He did come unstuck one year in the Dordrecht Marathon, when the event had a six-hour cut off time, and they bundled Bill into a vehicle resisting and shouting that “he had to finish”.

No-one knew Bill Bailey was not his right name. I found out when I visited Bill in Eastbourne Hospital and the reception told me they did not have a Bill Bailey. Upon some detective work I found him eventually, and asked him about his name. He said that slowly people had started saying ‘come on Bill’ and this turned into Bill Bailey and it then became the norm and he was stuck with it. He then entered events with his new name so as to not confuse people.

It was a great shame there were so few people at his funeral, considering how many people he had helped in his lifetime of charity work.

Reg Wild was appointed chairman of Hastings Athletic Club and continued his coaching and support of the mini run.

The 1995 event hosted the Sussex County AAA Half Marathon Championships for the first time,and also be part of the Ron Hill Race Series.

Sammy Bitok returned, with some other Kenyan company plus athletes from Ethiopia, to compete with the British challengers, led again by Martin.

Martin had suffered the flu three weeks previously and was concerned about his fitness. But he had come to WIN again.

Bitok won again, five seconds quicker than in 1994, when again the Kenyans pushed from the start and dominated the race, breaking Martin between five and six miles.

It was special to see these beautiful athletes grace the streets of Hastings, and the expectation to see them each year grew, as did the possibility of one of them beating the bonus time.

The female Kenyan athletes had not yet arrived, and we saw a great run by Debbie Percival to win the title.

Crocus War!

We had a problem this year when the parks and garden department planted lots of crocuses in the area of the medical and main marquees.

We could not understand why they did this,as we had been using this area for a number of years.

When they were asked about this, they simply said we must avoid them!

This would be impossible and a site meeting was arranged to discuss the problem. The meeting, to say the least, did not go well, as naturally the parks representative cared about their work and would not remove them. We would not be able to erect the marquees without damaging the plants.

It was an impasse, with the event in danger of having to be cancelled without these vital facilities.

The day before when the marquees were to be erected, there were a number of sites surrounded by fencing to protect the plants. The marquees were successfully erected but some fences were damaged in the operation.

But on race day with thousands of people coming in and out of the marquee, the fences disappeared and the plants were trampled upon.It was imposible to avoid where they were positioned.

We appreciated that the parks team were not happy about this, even though the crocuses did re-grow afterwards, but it just showed that they should have never been planted there. In future years they were re-planted in other areas.

Next time: The Brtish hit back!