For around three decades, top runners from across the South of England and beyond have enjoyed the challenge of a 13.3mile race across the rural lanes around Wokingham.
Wokingham is a historic market town in the Loddon Valley of Berkshire. In early Spring, it has proudly hosted one of the region's first half marathon events of the year since 1984.
The traditional base of the event was the multi-purpose Cantley Park, which is home to a number of sporting clubs as well as a hotel and theatre.
The merits of the Wokingham Half Marathon were numerous, but primarily the chance to stretch out and run across some of the most scenic roads in this part of the UK. It also took participants past the lush greenery of the Billingbear Golf Course.
Always a well run and attractive event
Such was the appeal and prestige of this event, it has been known to draw around 2,500 runners. The fact that Wokingham is so close to West London, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire has meant that many running clubs in the region were delighted to send their members along.
The UKA-backed Wokingham Half Marathon was also a highly inclusive running event. The course - and the way it was organised - ensured that participants of all ages and abilities were happy to take part. Not least as it incorporated fully closed roads, a well-run race village and lower than average entry fees.
The event's Cantley Park home base ideally provided showers and plenty of secure storage for kit, as well as changing facilities.
The event featured a single loop course, on largely flat ground with enough slopes to give participants opportunities to change tactics, strides and speed. The sort of thing that can make a half marathon extra interesting!
The course was pleasurable enough to appeal to novices doing half marathons for the first time. Though the event had sufficient challenges - and was backed by the organisational prowess - to attract experienced long-distance runners too.
Modern technology has featured in recent years with bib-tag racing timing.
The Wokingham Half Marathon was always a good-natured, community-orientated event, which offered opportunities to meet up with old friends and to chat with strangers. Water stations were always well spread at strategic points too, and the pre-race information was considered to be of a high standard. Of course, both marshalls and medical personnel were on hand to make this particular half marathon a pleasurable and safe experience for the runners.
Record breaking event 2019
The 2019 Wokingham Half Marathon was based at the event's traditional start point - Cantley Park and ground's playing fields. It attracted many hundreds of runners, some of whom clocked up record-breaking PBs.
In fact, the finishing time for the leader of the men's race shaved a significant amount off the 2018 record.
In 2019, the top three male competitors in the Wokingham Half Marathon were:
- Matt Clowes (Cardiff AAC) with a time of 01:04:06
- Richard Allen (Aldershot Farnham & District AC) with 01:05:15
- Scott Overall (Blackheath & Bromley Harriers AC) with 01:05:2 and 5
The female runners who led across the finish line in 2019 were:
- Hayley Munn (Northampton Road Runners) with 01:16:51
- Naomi Mitchell (Reading AC) with 01:17:17
- Lesley Locks (Hart Road Runners) with 01:19:04.
Interestingly, the 2019 third-place man - Scott Overall - won the event in 2018, and the second place female - Noami Mitchell - crossed the finishing line first in 2018 too.
A community and charitable affair
One of the many wonderful aspects of the Wokingham Half Marathon was the way in which it united the local community, as well as bringing large numbers of visitors to the town.
Various Wokingham charities and voluntary organisations played a role in organising and delivering this popular sporting fixture. That includes providing the vital personnel needed for race support - marshalling and water stations for example. In fact, volunteer effort was needed throughout the Race Village, providing many ways to get involved without putting on a pair of running shoes!
Another important aspect of this half marathon - in common with many other UK race events - was the opportunity it presented for participants to raise cash for causes close to their heart.
Interesting facts and features
As you might expect from a community-based sports fixture that lasted over 30 years, the Wokingham Half Marathon had some interesting milestones.
A general fact of note is why the race was sometimes referred to as a 'lollipop'. The start and finish of the race were the relatively straight roads leading to and from Wokingham's Cantley Park and this was topped by a circular route, resembling a lollipop outline!
The event has had occasional woes in the past. For example, a complete cancellation in 2014 due to flooding on the course. The only other times the Wokingham Half Marathon missed its annual slot were in 1991 and 2002, though on those occasions it was snow that prevented it going ahead.
What's the fastest time anyone has completed the course? That record was set by Phil Wicks in 2012 when he clocked up a very impressive time of 1:03:14. The fastest ever female competitor was Liz Yelling, who did the course in 1.11.09 in 2008.
Who were the first-ever victors in the Wokingham Half Marathon? Going back to the event's inaugural year in 1984, the fastest man was Mike Hurd and the women competitors were led by Jane Davies.
As with many popular sporting fixtures, the survival and success of the Wokingham Half Marathon owes much to the hard work of its organisers and volunteers, which for many years were headed by local couple Peter and Barbara Evans. They stepped aside in 2018, and since then the event has been spearheaded by the Wokingham Half Marathon company.