Running in Kent

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HOW THE GARDEN HAS GROWN

Maidstone Harriers

Known as the ‘Garden of England’, Kent is as good a place as any to be part of the rapidly growing running community, as runABC South has been finding out.

Figures obtained from Run Kent Activator, Lucy Tomlinson, indicate the green shoots of enthusiasm for running have been firmly planted in approximately 7,000 men and women over four years – well ahead of Run England targets for new runners’ registrations, resulting in the England Athletics Run England Project of the Year Award for 2013-14.

History and mystery form part of the folklore in this county of more than 30 ancient castles, secret underground bunkers and the Cinque Ports that were originally grouped together for defence purposes almost 1,000 years ago.

28% of the county forms part of two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: the North Downs and The Weald of Kent. France can often be seen on a clear day from the cliffs at Folkestone and Dover. The 350 miles of glorious coastline features in a number of running events with no shortage of off-road challenges available in nine large country parks, several of which host popular 5k parkruns.

With 1.4 million residents and an estimated one million tourist visits annually it can get congested on the roads, especially on arterial routes to the ports, but there is still plenty of space and fresh air available for the dedicated runner.

The county has its own history of success in mainstream athletics. There are around 50 clubs catering for all events from triathlon to decathlon affiliated to Kent County AA. The oldest clubs are Blackheath Harriers, founded in 1869, and Cambridge Harriers, formed in 1890 – both are still large and thriving clubs that have produced many international athletes.

KCAA was formed and the first county championships held at Eltham in 1920 and current events are hosted at the high quality Julie Rose Stadium, Ashford. The County has won National Inter-Counties team titles in track and field and cross-country, most recently claiming the Gemini Trophy for UK men’s and women’s athletics in 2010 and Bedford Shield won by the women’s track and field team in 2013.

Kent’s most famous runners include the ‘Mighty Atom’ Sydney Wooderson (Blackheath Harriers), who held the world mile record (4min 6.4sec) for nearly five years from 1937.

Double Olympian long-distance legend, Frank Sando (Aylesford Paper Mills), competed in the International Cross Country nine times from 1952 to 1960 and was champion in ‘55 and ‘57. Frank also won the Kent cross-country title eight times, a feat equalled by Medway AC’s Barry Royden in 2003.

One year later, in the cauldron of the Athens Olympic Stadium, it was the wide-eyed disbelief on the face of Dame Kelly Holmes that will be etched on the memory forever as she achieved double gold at 800m and 1500m.

The World and European Masters Athlete of the Year 2015 is David Heath (Blackheath and Bromley Harriers) who won World M50 gold at 800m and 1500m and set world bests at both distances before winning the exhibition M50 800m at the Beijing World Championships – despite suffering a heart attack in 2002 aged 37 years.

No review of Kent athletics could be complete without reference to the continuing success of Tonbridge AC, with a production line of talented young athletes who are now bringing home awards at senior level. In the National Road Relays in Birmingham this year the club won their first senior men’s trophy and added the under-17 men’s award for good measure.

Perhaps it is this stellar running history, combined with the inspiring landscape that has motivated so many men, women and children to get active in Kent but whatever the secret, this is the fastest growing area in the south of England and there are no signs of any slowing down at the front, middle or back of the pack.

Lucy Tomlinson offers this advice: “With the right frame of mind and some help from your local running group, anyone can give running a go. So grab those trainers, join a group or go along to your nearest parkrun and find out for yourself why so many people are taking up running in Kent.”

Maidstone Harriers

 

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