How Lancashire fell in love with the fun run
Ahead of the City of Preston 10k local historian and runner Keith Johnson looks at the amazing growth of the fun run in Lancashire
Up until the 1980s marathon running was considered as a sport for the elite athletes, but all that changed in 1981 when the first London Marathon took place. Consequently, many local runners began to stride out in Lancashire to take part in long distance or fun run events. Some, including myself, were inspired to take to the roads of Bolton just a few months later in August as part of a record breaking field in the first British Pony Marathon, which concluded with a climb up Plodders Lane on a scorching sunny afternoon. With 8,753 runners taking part it became, at that time, the biggest marathon ever run in Europe, with Salford runner Stan Curran romping home in less than 2hrs 20mins. It took most of us 6,547 finishers considerably longer, but we wore our finishing medal with pride.Besides the long established Preston Harriers and Preston Athletic Club, new running clubs sprang up locally for fun runner and athlete alike. Among them were the Red Rose Running Club, which would soon have hundreds of runners in local races, sporting their familiar red vests. One of the founding members of that club was Barry Durham who was responsible for the Preston Citizen’s newspaper’s ground breaking race in late September 1981. With keen runners in their midst, they organised a race from Moor Park in Deepdale to Witton Park in Blackburn. Despite the torrential rain and stamina-sapping hills, it was a great success with 877 finishers. Durham, with his own company GB Promotions, then arranged a series of road races with such events as the Preston 5 from Fulwood Leisure Centre, the Blackburn 15 from the old Brockhalls Hospital, the South Ribble 8 from Worden Park and a Preston Grasshoppers disco dash. Longridge Striders was another running club inspired by Durham which emerged at this time and, on the first day of spring in 1982, they arranged a trip around Longridge on a chilly morning. Even the Mayor of Longridge took part in this one, clocking in under 28 minutes for the four-mile slog. While the Longridge Striders country lane ‘Disco Dash’ also became popular with a hot pot supper and disco awaiting the finishers.For many locally the Great North Western Half Marathon would become an important day in the calendar. This race took you out to Grimsargh and Haighton before returning to a Moor Park finish and proved to be popular, often attracting fund raisers who helped local charities to survive. Among the runners in 1983 was Preston Council leader Harold Parker, the future Guild Mayor, who was grateful for the many feeding stations on the route – where a slice of orange and cup of water helped to ease the pain of blisters and sunburn on a sweltering June day.In 1983 Fylde Council got in on the act with the introduction of the Windmill Half Marathon. This race beginning at Blackpool Airport and taking a coastal route to Lytham Windmill and back. For those who wanted to run a golden mile or two the introduction of a Blackpool Promenade 10K proved popular and by 1986 more than 3,000 were taking part in that event. Also introduced was a ‘Morecambe Illuminations 10 Mile’ race won firstly by Paul Kenny, of Blackpool, as he galloped along the promenade. While a 10-mile race, sponsored by Thomas Cook, became popular on the sands at Southport, beginning and ending beneath the pier before the tide swept in. There was also a Fleetwood Lifeboat 10 mile race introduced which had hundreds of folk jogging along the Cleveleys to Fleetwood coastal wall. Summer fetes and shows also got in on the act with fun runs aplenty such as the Whittingham Hospital four miler, the Great Longridge Agricultural Show seven mile slog, the Goosnargh Agricultural Show 10k and the Garstang country run.Chorley not only introduced the popular Cromwellian Half Marathon in July 1983, which was first run on a heat sapping day with more than 600 runners taking part, but was host to the popular Lancashire Fire Brigade 10, where hose pipes were available to cool down the overheated competitors. And it was a case of dancers don’t put a foot wrong at the Dancers Studio on Avenham Street in Preston, where they organised an annual fun run over a six-mile course that attracted up to 400 runners. By 1986 the popularity of road running was at its height and the Lancashire Evening Post held a ‘Centenary Road Race’ as part of their celebrations of printing the newspaper for 100 years. More than 1,300 runners and thousands of spectators along the route made it a resounding success. The 10-mile race run over a figure of eight course ended at the Deepdale home of PNE and was won by Kevin Capper, from Morecambe, in just over 49 minutes. First lady home was Maureen Hurst, from Accrington.The popularity of road races and fun runs was such that it would continue in the decades ahead. The Preston Guilds of 1992 and 2012 both providing perfect opportunities to celebrate this popular pastime. At the 1992 Guild a series of road races were held, the Preston 10K, the Preston 10 mile, the Great North Western Half Marathon and the Ribble 10k all proving popular. For those who endured all the races, including myself, there was a silver medal awaiting at the end of their marathon effort.At the Guild of 2012, despite the rain, more than 4,500 took part in an event in October which included a full Guild Marathon, an optional Half Marathon and a mini marathon. Among the entrants were a number of Red Rose Runners, the club which had helped to establish road running in the city some 40 years earlier. More than 1,950 completing the full marathon course, with Ben Fish of Blackburn Harriers winning it in 2hrs and 21mins, despite getting drenched.