MERSEA ROUND THE ISLAND ALL TERRAIN RUNNING RACE
(SPONSORED BY MERSEA LIFE AND BLACKWATER ESTATES)
Sun shining, sea sparkling, circa. 76 volunteer marshals/stewards in position, and Willoughby Avenue car park almost full to capacity – all before 10.30 a.m. on Sunday 22nd June. It was definitely all systems “go” for Mersea’s historic Round the Island all terrain running race.
This year a record 351 runners registered to run, and the majority were accompanied by their families and/or friends and supporters, who flocked to the beach in front of Two Sugars Café to hear final instructions given to the runners by Deputy Mayor Cllr Bev Perkins, who then gave the “off” signal, and the competitors were cheered on their way.
The race’s reputation for being one of the most gruelling events in the running calendar does not seem to detract from its popularity, with runners coming from all over the UK. This year we believe it is the first time the race has gone “international”, with three runners from the USA (two from Arizona and one from New Hampshire) and one from France. It is, however, always great to see Mersea runners, who this year included Bob Norton (the oldest competitor) and three members of the Sunnocks family. This year two members of Mersea Island Football Club – Jack Sheeran and Gavin Iliffe – competed. The youngest competitor was 17 year old Abigail Morgan of Tiptree. Second youngest, by just 3 months, was George Mcarthy of Great Dunmow. Two Army competitors, dressed in combat uniform and carrying 35lb back packs, completed the race side by side. They were cheered to the line, with extra loud applause for the petite female soldier, whose physique belied her strength and sheer determination not just to complete the course, but also to record a good time.
In addition to the normal marshalling positions, there have to be “sweepers”, who follow the runners round the entire course to ensure those who sustain an injury, or just drop out, are accounted for. This year Sue Wray from Mersea Boot Camp ran behind the runners until they came off the boardwalk at Coast Road, where Paul Davis and Sam Mussett were waiting with their cycles. This really is an “all terrain” race, and for the parts of the course which were not able to be cycled, Paul and Sam became the strong men of Mersea, hoisting their bikes aloft and carrying them to the next rideable section.
Due to erosion of parts of the sea wall during the winter, caused mainly by tidal surges, several detours had to be made this year, adding an additional mile onto the usual distance. The official race distance has changed over the years, as old GPS equipment was not 100% accurate, but this year new technology enabled a more precise reading to be taken which, including detours, registered a distance of 13.2 miles.
Despite the course taking in some of our most beautiful and unspoilt countryside, none of the runners had time to take in the views. With uneven surfaces, long grass and the inevitable rabbit holes to avoid, it was more a matter of focusing eyes on the ground all the way. However, many of the runners commented on how encouraging it had been to see so many spectators along the route – even on remote tracks – all urging them on.
To ensure the runners took on sufficient liquid there were five water stations around the course and a final one at the finish. In view of the extended distance the first runner was not expected to appear on Victoria Esplanade until at least 12 noon. It was therefore a surprise when the marshal positioned at the junction of Victoria Esplanade and Seaview Holiday Park alerted the stewards waiting at the finish line in Willoughby Avenue car park, that the first runner had just passed him. Just a few seconds later No 347 turned into the car park to cross the finish line. This was none other than Robert Reason of Harwich Runners, who recorded a time of 1:20:36. Just 3 minutes behind him was Carwyn Jones of Colchester Harriers (1:23:55) and third was Andrew Jopson of Tiptree Road Runners in 1:24:33. Carwyn had led the field for part of the race, and having come second last year was disappointed to have been placed second again. Reason must have a full set of Mersea running race trophies, having previously won the 10 miles, 5 miles, and on more than one occasion, the RTI. Carwyn expressed a determination to return in 2015 for another attempt to lift the winning trophy. (It is possible Carwyn – he can be beaten!)
The first and second ladies to cross the line were Colchester Harriers, Laura Shewbridge (1:35:40), and Alice Addison (1:37.07). The “Over 40” Female trophy went to Jane Nodder of Sepentine Running Club (1:47:36) and the winner of the trophy for “Over 45” Male was Dave Cox (1:27:37). Tiptree Road Runners won the Mens Team trophy and Colchester Harriers took the Ladies Team trophy.
An incredible amount of time and effort by many people goes into organising this event, the profits from which benefit mainly Mersea Island charities. Mersea Island Lions would particularly like to thank sponsors Mersea Life and Blackwater Estates, Ann and Geoff Pearce for the invaluable use of their summer house for “Race Control”, Paul Davis and Sam Mussett, Sue and Neil Wray of Mersea Boot Camp, Stuart Devonish for the very kind loan of a scaffolding tower, photographer Tori Andrews and all the volunteer marshals and stewards who willingly gave up their time to make this event such a resounding success. Lions would also like to thank Paul Button of Essex Outdoors, Dougal Urquhart of Cudmore Grove, Coopers Beach and Seaview Holiday Parks and WMTC/Colchester Borough Council Parking Partnership, for their much appreciated co-operation and help in staging this event. Last but not least we need to thank the competitors themselves, who actually pay to enter this gruelling race! We couldn’t hold the running race events without you all – your help really is very much appreciated. Early estimates show circa. £2,750 was raised which will be distributed by Lions to mainly MI charities.
And was there a “downside” to this amazing day, which raises so much money for local charities? Of course, every event has a negative, and this one was no exception. Perhaps it’s indicative of the society in which we live, or perhaps it’s because we don’t understand those who don’t appreciate the Mersea way of life and traditional values. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised or upset, but we would just like to say to the drivers of the vehicles who declined to heed signs or marshals requests to stop to allow the runners to cross Colchester Road – we hope you reached your destination safely and enjoyed your day on our beautiful island.
The next Mersea Island Lions (and last of this year) running race is scheduled for Sunday, 24th August. If you have a couple of hours you could spare, and would like to join our band of volunteer marshals, please contact Tim Densham (01206 386220 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org ) who will be please d to provide more details – without commitment!
Photos provided by ToriAndrews ( http://toriandrewsphotography.co.uk/?page_id=351 ) and Neil Wray (https://www.facebook.com/NeilWrayPhotography/photos_albums )