No, we haven't photo shopped the image above! The sky really was that blue for the start of the 30th anniversary Benfleet 15 at Hadleigh Country Park, where there was a record entry and 857 finishers on a glorious Sunday morning in Essex (19 January).
The only way was Essex in the men's race as the top five finishers hailed from five different clubs based in the county. Ramadan Osman (Colchester Harriers, #631) can be seen above, clearing off into the blue yonder soon after the start.
The Eritrean athlete was to build a comfortable margin of victory in 1:32:56 over Aaron Graves (Tiptree RR, 1:34:33) and Kurtis Swan (Braintree & District, 1:35:08). The leading quintet was completed by Benfleet Running Club's Lee Baynton (1:35:18) and Rhys Gillard (Southend on Sea AC, 1:36:11).
The women's race went down to the wire, with Vegan Runners' Lindsey Coleman (1:49:15) prevailing from W40 Nikki Woodyard (Springfield Striders, 1:50:29) and Jennifer Ansell (1:50:34).
Not far behind the top women was Benfleet's Richard Jones (2:04:37) who can be seen below, cresting the main hill in style before going on to finish in 132nd place. The brilliant sunshine belies the true nature of this course, which had taken a sodden battering by Storm Brendan in the days leading up to the race, putting the organising team from Benfleet RC on edge.
The mud underfoot merely added to the sense of achievement of the record field and the impeccable organisation and 100-plus volunteer marshals resulted in a media storm of positivity after the race. We have selected Sharon Slade's comments (who ran bang on 2:30:00) as typical:
“What a race! Nothing else like it and I cant wait to come back in 2021! To echo other comments...brutal, beautiful, like a marathon, you had to be there...thank you to team Benfleet 15 for organising this amazing race, high five from us runners”.