Thirty years of the Barns Green Half Marathon

PUBLISHED: 11:47 18 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:53 20 February 2013

Pictured on the Green in Barns Green are the six members of the Barns Green Half Marathon Committee who ran in the inaugural race back in 1982 with their running numbers from that race, Chris Simpson, Den Critchley, Julian Francis, Mark Jennings, Mark Tidey and Paul Toms

Pictured on the Green in Barns Green are the six members of the Barns Green Half Marathon Committee who ran in the inaugural race back in 1982 with their running numbers from that race, Chris Simpson, Den Critchley, Julian Francis, Mark Jennings, Mark Tidey and Paul Toms

Barns Green lies between Horsham and Billingshurst, in West Sussex. The village's biggest single event, the Barns Green Half Marathon, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year

Barns Green has a population of around 1,400 and thrives because of the friendship and cooperation between the villagers and the range of community activities available. There is no better example of this community activity and spirit than the villages biggest single event, the Barns Green Half Marathon, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary. This unique race, which this year takes place on 30 September, follows a route through the lanes of Barns Green, Brooks Green, Itchingfield, Christs Hospital and close to Southwater through some of the most scenic countryside in West Sussex. The event regularly
attracts close to 2,000 athletes of all ages and ability.

The race was born in winter 1981 when members of Barns Green Football Club asked Alan Train, the newly-appointed Head of Muntham House School, if they could use the schools floodlit tennis courts for training. Mr. Train agreed and, in the interests of promoting good relations with the local community, allowed the football club to use the facilities at no cost. To show their appreciation, the footballers asked if there was anything that they could do in return for the school. The Head said that the school was always in need of various items of equipment and that at the time it wanted to raise money to buy a camcorder which would cost around 350.

On a Sunday morning a few weeks later, 13 members of the football team, the Headmaster and his two sons took part in a 10 mile sponsored run which raised the necessary money for the camcorder. After the race the runners celebrated over a few beers in the Village Club, and hatched a plan to set up a village half marathon for some time in the next year.

An organising committee was put together and after months of hard work the first race was held at 11am on Sunday 24 October 1982. Amazingly, it attracted around 1,000 runners. Never having organised a race of this size before, the organisers (all volunteers), struggled to get the race underway on time, but despite all the obstacles and logistical problems the race was a huge success.

Alan Train, whose personal motto Vincit Qui Patitur! he who endures conquers was adopted by the race, was certainly a man of vision. In the programme notes for that very first race, he wrote: We hope that you will enjoy your experience today whether you are a competitor or a spectator, and that on this day and in the years to come, we can together continue to kindle a spirit of personal endeavour, enriching all with the knowledge that this is in essence a most charitable event.

The Barns Green Half Marathon was established and the race has been run every year with the exception of 1987, when the Great Storm devastated the area and trees blocked the race route.

The initial sponsored run which preceded the first Barns Green Half Marathon raised 350. In the 30 years since, it has become a huge fundraiser last year, the race raised around 12,500 for various charities, local organisations and youth groups. Local sports clubs receive donations for their help and support as do groups such as the local playgroup, Scouts and Guides who help man the car parks and drinks stations as well as helping with marshalling on the day.

Vernon Jennings is the Race Director and he is passionate about what the Barns Green Half Marathon has achieved: At a time when many more road races and events are being created all around the country which very often enjoy substantial financial help and support from major Councils and local authorities, it is to the great credit of the people of Barns Green that they have been able to keep our race going and developing over so many years.

A small army of volunteers from in and around the village give their time to cover all aspects of the planning to create an event of which Barns Greens residents can be very proud. Last year, on the Thursday evening before the race, the Barns Green Youth Club packed up over 1,750 goody bags in the Village Hall for the competitors! I was thrilled to be able to present our Youth Club with a cheque for 1,000 a few weeks later, said Vernon Jennings. This money has helped to save our Youth Club after local authority budget cuts threatened its existence. To me it was a perfect example of how village life should work.

Of course, the race itself is very important to the runners. Most who take part come from the surrounding area and Horsham Joggers have been key supporters over the years. One of their runners, John Booker, ran in the very first race and will have the honour of wearing the number 1 on his bib when he once again competes in the 2012 event. However, competitors also come from other parts of the country and there are groups of runners who regularly come over from Holland and Germany to take part in the race.

Thousands of athletes have run in the Barns Green Half Marathon over the last 30 years. Many are fun runners who use the event to enable them to raise money for charity and fulfil personal goals. But the race has always attracted top quality athletes too. The first winners in 1982 were John Leversedge who won the mens race in a 1hr 08mins 40 seconds and Tracey Howard, who won the womens race in 1hr 19 min 55 seconds. Since then there have been many outstanding performances in all the various age group races. In 2010 the course record was smashed by the outstanding 20-year-old Kenyan athlete Edwin Kipyego. He completed the 13.1 mile course in 1 hour 4 minutes 28 seconds, 21 seconds faster than the previous record which had stood for 24 years. He was so fast that at one point on the course when the car leading the runners was held up by backmarker runners in the middle of the figure of eight circuit, Kipyego overtook it!

At Runners Worlds recent Annual Personal Best Awards Night 2012, the Barns Green Half Marathon received the award for Most Improved Event in the UK. This award was particularly significant because it was decided by public vote.

It is a timely boost to an event which has become an institution. To celebrate the 30th anniversary, this years challenge will include a Barns Green Junior Race to enthuse and inspire youngsters and continue the great traditions of the race for the benefit of future generations.

This years Half Marathon will take place on Sunday 30 September, and as it did 30 years ago, it will start at 11am. Local MP Francis Maude will officially start the race and, in another first, Christs Hospital Schools magnificent marching band will play as the runners go through the schools grounds. An uplifting tribute to the competitors, and a fitting way to celebrate 30 years of running in Barns Green.

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