Bring Back…

The Rochester 5, a road race for true rac­ers

Runner's World (UK) - - In This Issue -


Ac­cord­ing to Am­a­teur Athletics As­so­ci­a­tion records, dur­ing the 1920s about 100 new run­ning clubs were set up in Bri­tain each year. ‘Olympic Fever’ had swept the coun­try af­ter our ath­letes re­turned from both An­twerp (1920) and Paris (1924), with a hefty haul of medals. Against this back­drop, Rochester’s then run­ning club es­tab­lished a five-mile race in 1923. The race be­gan out­side the Short Broth­ers fac­tory, where sea­planes were made, and also went through the grounds of Borstal Prison, the orig­i­nal youth de­ten­tion cen­tre. The steep Cookham Hill climb was a test for even the tough­est of sea­soned club run­ners, who mostly made up the race field.


Un­til the mid 1980s, its roll call of win­ners was lit­tered with the home­grown tal­ent of the day. Bruce Tul­loh, Ea­monn Martin, Mike Grat­ton and Rob Den­mark are all for­mer win­ners. In 1973, Tony Sim­mons set a time of 23:40, which was never bet­tered. (He took sil­ver in the 10,000m at the Euro­pean Athletics Cham­pi­onships a year later.) Sarah Row­ell, a GB marathon Olympian in 1984, set the women’s record, with a time of 27:23.


In its fi­nal decade, the qual­ity of the en­trants for this clas­sic race de­clined, which was re­flected in the slower win­ning times, and even­tu­ally the over­all cost of or­gan­is­ing the race – es­pe­cially clos­ing roads on a week­end close to Christ­mas – be­came too much; the race was last held in 1993, 70 years af­ter it be­gan.


Grat­ton, who won the race in 1986 and 1988 (and the Lon­don Marathon in 1983, in a time of 2:09:43), has fond mem­o­ries of run­ning the Rochester 5. ‘It was a gritty race over dis­tance,’ he says. ‘It had a long up­hill sec­tion from Rochester Cas­tle, and then a long run by the River Med­way to the fin­ish. It was al­ways well sup­ported by the best road run­ners, so even get­ting in the top 10 was dif­fi­cult. It was a true racer’s race, but per­haps lack­ing in the glam­our re­quired these days to make it ap­peal­ing to recre­ational run­ners. But it was a great event in its day and it was a shame that it ended.’

Have you got a favourite event that has dropped off the race cal­en­dar? If so, drop us a line at ed­i­tor@run­ner­

ROAD WAR­RIORS The 1986 Rochester 5

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