The Rochester 5, a road race for true racers
IN THE BEGINNING
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.
WHO RAN IT?
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.
WHY DID IT END?
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.
WHY WAS IT SO GOOD?
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.’
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ROAD WARRIORS The 1986 Rochester 5