MERSEA ISLAND LIONS – 5 MILES AND 10 MILES ROAD RUNNING RACES HISTORY AND BRIEF DESCRIPTION
The origins of Mersea’s 5 and 10 mile road running races stretch back circa. 35 years, to the time when Mersea Island Lions were first formed. Increased vehicle traffic and associated road safety factors have resulted in both course and distance changes over the years, but to this day the race(s) remains synonymous with Mersea Island Lions.
There does not appear to have been an accurate distance recorded for the original course, which had competitors starting at Abbotts Road, Colchester, running along the B1025 to Mersea, and finishing outside of what is now the MICA. In the early years the race was run on the same day as the Lions Festival, which was then held in the High Street, and the centre of Mersea was therefore closed to traffic for most of the day. The race winner was estimated to cross the finishing line just as the Festival opened at 2.00 p.m. This dual event attracted huge crowds of people, who stayed on after the race to enjoy the entertainment provided by the Festival. This must have been a logistical nightmare for the organisers, as not only did they have two major events taking place on the same day, but with the race being “one way” onto the Island, they also had to provide coaches to transport the runners back to Colchester at the end of the festivities, and once the runners had been dispatched, and Festival goers had eventually drifted home, stalls and equipment had to be packed away and rubbish cleared up. There were no motorised road sweepers available, and sales of brooms must have rocketed, as the entire length of High Street had to be swept by hand!
As both race and Festival became more popular, it became clear that the events would need to be split, and the first major change to the race route occurred around 1982 when Geoff Sexton took on the role of Race Director. What had previously been known as the Colchester to Mersea race became the Mersea Half Marathon, and the figure of 8 course took runners from Willoughby Avenue car park via Chapmans Lane, East Mersea Road and across The Strood into Peldon. From Peldon Church the route looped out to the Abberton Lion and back along the B1025 to Mersea.
Around this time Mersea Island’s popularity for attracting day visitors grew rapidly, as did the volume of traffic, and runners soon found themselves competing for road space with impatient motorists – all eager to arrive on the Island in the least possible time!
By now the race had become a firm fixture in the programme for many athletics clubs, and with increasing numbers of runners registering to enter it was decided that for safety reasons the course should be changed to run entirely around the roads of West Mersea. This is when the Mersea Half Marathon morphed into what we now know as the “Mersea 5 and 10”. Rather than diminishing, the number of entries continued to grow, and this year it is estimated there will be around 225 competitors setting off from Willoughby Avenue car park at 10.30 a.m.. The route, which is anti-clockwise around West Mersea, is via Victoria Esplanade, Seaview Avenue, East Road, Chapmans Lane, East Mersea Road to The Strood, Colchester Road, High Street North, High Street, Yorick Road, Prince Albert Road, Broomhills and then along the Esplanade to Willoughby Avenue car park. One lap of the course = 5 miles and two complete laps = 10 miles, with competitors wearing different coloured numbers to distinguish which race they are competing in. There are many spectator vantage points around the course, but especially as runners approach the finish from 11.00 a.m. onwards. Every competitor that completes the course receives a medal and there are trophies for the winners of various classes. Whilst both races are open to all abilities, the 5 mile circuit is often referred to as a “fun run”. Minimum age of entry is 15 years for the 5 mile race and 17 years for the 10 miles.
With several athletics clubs now including the race(s) as part of their championships, it is imperative that times are recorded accurately. Ron Green recalls that in the early days of the race he was the proud owner of a Cabstar truck, and he was persuaded to have a clock fixed to the roof. The runners followed Ron all the way round the course to the finish, but contrary to expectations they were not interested in checking their times on his clock – instead they all recorded their own times with the aid of personal stop watches!
In 2002 local man, Adrian Mussett, set what remains the course record for the 10 mile race in a time of 51.17.
With ever increasing numbers of visitors to the Island, road traffic is now at an all time high, and although road closures are no longer enforced, Mersea Island Lions appreciate that the presence of runners on a Sunday morning competing with holiday and car boot traffic might be considered a nuisance. However, by apologising in advance for any road disruption on the morning of the race, they sincerely hope residents will continue to be tolerant and support these races as they have in the past, as the income generated from entry fees forms a very large part of the annual funds Mersea Island Lions raise for local charities.
Today some 55 volunteer marshals are required to ensure the safe running of the race. The task is not at all onerous – it just means giving up a couple of hours of your time on a Sunday morning. If you can help, or if you would like more information before committing, please contact Roy Chamberlain on e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org