Kirton event kicks off yet another feast of Friday Fives

Flashback: The start of the Kirton Friday Five in 2002, including the author of this column, Carl Ma

Flashback: The start of the Kirton Friday Five in 2002, including the author of this column, Carl Marston (right, No. 210), who is already dropping off the pace! Kevin Vaughan (No. 81) finished third, while Paul Morris (No. 45) was fifth.

Until the recent rise of Parkrun, which has taken the country by storm, one of the biggest innovations on the East Anglian running season was the emergence of the Friday Five Series, back in the early 1990s.

The Friday Five Series is still going strong, and this summer’s five-race extravaganza kicks off tomorrow evening with the Kirton Friday Five.

Over the last three decades, I have taken part in my share of Friday Fives, whether they be on the roads at Kirton and Great Bentley, within the confines of Haughley Park (Stowmarket), up the steep hill to High Green from Nowton Park (Bury St Edmunds), from St Joseph’s College (Ipswich) or even through the fields near Little Clacton.

So to coincide with this year’s Series, I thought I’d stir up a few memories from past races in this popular Friday evening pastime, focusing mainly on Kirton.

My first experience of the Friday five-miler was back in 1996, with outings at Bury and Kirton.

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At Nowton Park, Newmarket Joggers’ Gordon Storrie retained his Bury title (26mins 26secs), while Lucy Owen, an unaffiliated runner from the nearby village of Hessett, won the ladies’ race in a new course record of 30:22.

Over at Kirton, 21 years ago, more familiar names were on the winners’ rostrum.

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Nigel Powley, the main subject of this column last week, won by a huge margin of 59 seconds, winning his 15th county title in the process over various distances from five miles up to 20 miles.

Powley had local knowledge – he used to live at Kirton and regularly trained on the course – but although happy with his win, he did express his frustration at the lack of competition.

In a post-race interview, he said to me: “I don’t get much pleasure from winning races by more than a minute or two, but it seems that there aren’t the younger runners coming through these days.”

To that end, Powley did start competing much more outside the region, in the colours of Belgarve Harriers.

The ladies’ winner at Kirton, back in 1996, was certainly used to running outside Suffolk, and outside England!

Sallly Eastall, who competed at all four major championships over the marathon distance, including the Barcelona Olympics of 1992, only just arrived at Kirton in the nick of time to make the start-line. Although by now well below her best, Eastall still won the race in 31:17,

It is interesting to look at the race entries from 21 years ago – at Kirton in 1996, just over 150 runners tackled the rural course around Kirton and Falkenham.

By contrast, recent fields have tended to be in the 400s, supported by good numbers in the junior race – there were no junior fun runs in those early days.

For example, in 2013 more than 500 runners took part on the night, with 434 in the Kirton Friday Five and 109 in the junior event. The main title was clinched by Ilford AC’s Malcolm Muir (26:23), a regular visitor to the Kirton event.

The following year, West Suffolk AC’s Macauley Delo led home a field of 441 in the main field, with William Page finishing first from 109 in the junior fun run.

Last year was a cracking race, between Andrew Rooke and John Millar, ending with Rooke pipping his young Ipswich Harriers rival by just two seconds.

Rooke’s triumphant time of 24:55 broke the Ipswich JAFFA club record for five miles, that had stood for 28 years.

Rooke went on to be crowned the overall Friday Five Series champion in 2016, following further wins at Bury St Edmunds, Framlingham and Great Bentley.

Likewise, Odette Robson retained her own Friday Five Series ladies’ crown last summer, the over-45 veteran from Saint Edmunds Pacers winning at Kirton in 30:21.

As for my own personal experiences of the Friday Five Series, my main claim to fame was leading the Little Clacton Five (long since deceased) for a short spell after the first 10 runners were directed off course, again during the early summer of 1996.

I recall the next section being along a narrow path across a field of wheat, with no space to overtake, so I slowed down and enjoyed my brief foray at the front, with faster runners stacking up behind me like sports cars behind a combine harvester.

The tactic only worked for so long, however.

Eventually, we emerged onto a track, the space widened, and naturally I relinquished the lead. My second wind never came.

Back to the present and this summer’s Friday Five Series should again prove popular, starting at the Kirton Recreation Ground this evening (7.30pm). The junior fun run is at 7pm.

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