On the Run: Long lost road races in Suffolk

Runners starting out at the annual Ipswich JAFFA 5, 10 and 15-mile races, held from the Northgate St

Runners starting out at the annual Ipswich JAFFA 5, 10 and 15-mile races, held from the Northgate Stadium track. Picture: OWNEN HINES

With all competitive road running put on hold for the foreseeable future, due to COVID-19, Carl Marston recalls some popular races that have long since disappeared from the calendar

Action from the former Bildeston Half-Marathon and 10K races, in 2006. Local club Bildeston Bounders

Action from the former Bildeston Half-Marathon and 10K races, in 2006. Local club Bildeston Bounders also used to hold a 10-mile event, from the village of Kettlesbaston. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

I thought this an opportune time to reflect on a few popular road races of yesteryear, that have bitten the dust for various reasons, to bring back some happy memories, especially for the ‘more mature’ runners among us.

I began taking part in road races in East Anglia from the early 1980s, and so have had the privilege of running in many events, from 5K right through to the marathon distance, that have long since ended, particularly in Suffolk.

So here’s a run-down of a select few, with a smattering of past winners and old course descriptions.

Let’s hope it’s not too long before we can once again enjoy running, and racing, on the local road race stage.

1 Constable Country 5-mile

I was a regular visitor to Stratford St Mary, on the Suffolk/Essex border, for this testing summer five-miler which took place on a Friday evening from the local primary school.

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It was a tough course, at least early on when the infamous Gun Hill, a very steep incline, had to be conquered, although it was a fast finish back through the village.

Back in July, 1992, the pace was really hot at the front. Les Ball, of Saint Edmund Pacers, unofficially went through the first mile in 4mins 44secs, although the long-time leader was pipped at the post by Ilford’s Darren Wright, who set a new course record of 25mins 27secs.

In fact, the top three all went inside the old course record. Ball (who was later to move to Lincolnshire) was second in 25:32 and defending champion Andy Catton third in 25:35,

Springfield Striders’ Susan Coxshall smashed her own course record to win the ladies’ race in 30:02, with Ipswich JAFFA’s Kathy Walsh second.

2 Ipswich JAFFA 5, 10 & 15

Ipswich JAFFA used to host three races, over five, 10 and 15 miles, from the track at Northgate Stadium, with a bumper field assured for this late May extravaganza.

In 1994, Colchester Joggers (now Colchester Harriers) swept the board in the men’s half, with Paul Strutt winning the five-mile title (24:52), Nigel Powley leading home the 10-mile (in an eye-catching course record of 50:13) and Richard Gaine triumphing over three laps in 1:22:42.

Suffolk athletes had more joy among the women. Stowmarket Striders’ Dawn James was first over 10 miles, and Bildeston Bounders’ Nicola Tomkinson first over 15 miles.

The course was fast and flat, ideal for personal bests.

3 Bildeston 10-mile

This was a cracking 10-miler, organised by local club Bildeston Bounders from the village of Kettlesbaston.

The route followed rural lanes through the picturesque Suffolk countryside, and always attracted a number of good quality athletes.

The year 1992 was no different. Larry Doyle, of Newmarket Joggers, blasted around the undulating and twisting lanes to win in 54mins 40secs on a very hot Sunday morning, 28 years ago.

Doyle was matched stride-for-stride by Jon Davy, an experienced runner in JAFFA colours, who posted 55:02.

Local lad William Speake, who was at Leeds University at the time, finished third in 56:15, while Howard Beasley, then a member of Stour Valley Joggers (now Sudbury Joggers) was fourth in 57:34. Beasley is still running well on the local scene, for Saint Edmund Pacers.

March AC’s Frances Cooke was an easy ladies’ winner in 65:49.

4 Bury 10

Hot sunshine greeted runners at the annual Tinaderm Bury 10-miler, in June, 1993, although a field of 200 had to cope with a strong headwind for long sections of the exposed route between Bury St Edmunds and Rougham.

A one-mile fun run was also organised by Saint Edmund Pacers chairman Bert Tarpley, with each finisher given a goody bag which included a certificate signed by local Olympic Games marathon star Sally Eastall.

JAFFA had a double win over 10 miles. Jon Davy was first man in 53:34, and Val Jennings was the official female winner.

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