The Horsforth Marathon Story

(Reflections from a Valley Strider who has never run in her life!)

by Janet Kitchen

first published in Valley Striders News 2002

updated February 2004

part1 / part2 / part3 / part4 / part5 / part6 / part7 / postscript (2003)

Part 1 - 1981

In 1980 I went to work (9 hours per week) for Gerry Breakell, Community Education Officer based in Horsforth School. He said " You can help me with the organisation of the marathon". I said "What is a marathon?" (honestly, I had no idea what a marathon was). He explained that it was a run of 26 miles 385 yards and that he had just completed that distance with 3 other runners - Hilary McEwan, John Benson and A.N.Other - from the Airedale and Wharfedale College to somewhere near Ilkley. He proposed to organise an official event - a Marathon to start and finish at Horsforth School in 1981.

From that innocent beginning I took to it like a duck to water. We made an appointment to see Jim Exley, AAA Referee, who explained how to organise and record, and from then on I was completely ‘hooked’, I found it all so enjoyable and easy to understand. The work certainly filled my 9 hours, plus many more (unpaid) as the event drew near. We were proud of the fact that we had started our preparations before the London Marathon was first announced, although the London event was actually run before the Horsforth Marathon.

The May Day Metro Marathon was held on 4th May 1981 and was sponsored by Arnold G. Wilson (Horsforth Ltd.) who loaned new Metro cars to all officials to tour the course on the day (this was for advertising purposes of course). There were 388 applications with 234 runners on the day. 189 finished within 5 hours. The overall winner was Malcolm Martin from Sheffield in 2.29.12. The first woman home was Elizabeth Murtha position 104 in a time of 3.38.35. (only 4 women ran).

This was Malcolm Martin’s first marathon and after the event he said that he would like to present us with a special trophy. So he gave us a cup for ‘First Man Home Running His First Marathon’. A great idea! Unfortunately, it caused extra administration work - the following year we had to list all ‘first marathoners’ as well as all Horsforth Residents for the 2 special prizes. Still - all good fun! The prize for first Horsforth Resident was a ‘meal for two’ at Stuart’s Wine Bar and this attracted a good number of Horsforth runners each year.

Part 2 - 1982

In 1982, Gerry Breakell left Horsforth School to take up a new job in Birmingham. I was now a member of the Horsforth Sports Council (H.S.C.) who were very supportive of the Horsforth Marathon (I had been introduced by Gerry Breakell in 1981). I gave progress reports at their monthly meetings and there was a lot of help and enthusiasm from the other members. Pat Allanach dealt with Marathon applications and passed on queries and correspondence to me. I was given the grand title of General Secretary / Event Co-ordinator and my name was printed as Race Director in the Marathon Guide - was I proud!!!

The Second Annual Horsforth Metro Marathon took place on Sunday 28th March 1982, and again the main sponsor was Arnold G. Wilson. Marathon running had really ‘taken off’ at this time and out of 712 applications we had 488 runners on the day with a completion rate of 88%. Sometime before ‘the day’, I let Stuart St.John have a sneak preview of the Registration List - I think he wanted to assess the opposition! Anyway, his prediction of the winner was correct! Brian Scobie was the overall winner in a time of 2.29.09. First woman home was Eleanor Adams, position 53 in 2.57.46.

The weather was exceptional for the time of the year - starting dull and becoming warm and sunny later. Wonderful for spectators and course officials but a little too warm for runners in the later stages of the race! Fortunately we had plenty of drinks and sponging stations round the course. I also needed Registration Clerks, Marshals, Recorders, Finish Stewards and Typists for the results - all manned by my family, friends, members of H.S.C., volunteers from Horsforth School, Scout groups and several other local organisations. I was so grateful to everyone for their support. All in all it was a wonderful day.

Because there had been so few entries from women in 1981, the Horsforth Sports Council decided to introduce a Half Marathon for Women in 1982 which was one lap only of the full course with the finish in Horsforth Hall Park. The winner was Carole Wood in a time of 1.23.00.

There were other added ‘attractions’ in 1982. Photographs of the start, finish, and round the course were taken by members of an ‘O’ level photography evening class. Pudsey F.M.C.B. Radio Club were also full of enthusiasm for using the event for experience (they had never covered such a large event before). They relayed a commentary back to Horsforth School and kept spectators in touch with the progress of the race. A video film was made and I was invited to watch this with a group of Valley Striders at the home of Keith Atherton, an early Strider. It was a hilarious evening but we were all feeling slightly queasy towards the end because the video had been taken from a car!

Part 3 - 1983

The Third Annual Horsforth Metro Marathon - Sunday 27th March 1983.

By this time there were many more marathons to choose from, so our numbers were down to 388 applications with 280 runners on the day (273 men and 7 women). Overall winner was Stephen Bailey from Hartlepool who finished in a time of 2.30.23. Stuart was unable to predict this because it was Steven’s FIRST marathon! (it was interesting to note that 39 others were also running their first marathons). Winner in the women’s section was again Eleanor Adams, position 50, time - 2.59.56 (2 mins.slower than last year, probably because of weather conditions).

The Northern Counties Marathon Championship was held in conjunction with our event and the results were 1) Stephen Bailey, 2) Martyn Hopson, 3) Malcolm Martin. The winning team was Bingley Harriers (22 points) with Valley Striders second with 42 points - Martyn Hopson (2nd) Jeremy Wilkinson (17th) and Stuart St.John (23rd)

The weather was cold, wet and windy - a big contrast to the previous year. Photographs of the start were taken by George Woodford of the Yorkshire Evening Post, and photographs round the course and the finish were taken by Barbara Thompson of Rawdon. These were displayed in Worthington Sports (Horsforth) after the event and also at Horsforth Sports Council’s ‘Exhibition of Sport and Leisure’ held at Airedale and Wharfedale College on 30th April 1983. Pudsey F.M.C.B. Radio Club provided radio communication round the course again.

Here are 2 stories about 2 of this year’s runners - 1) Sonia Dear, 2) Mike Kitchen.

1) I think it was this year (or late 1982) that I had several conversations with Sonia Dear. She had started to run but, due to having young children, was unable to train seriously. All she could manage was to ‘run round the block’ whilst the children were occupied. She was sorry we were not having a Half Marathon again, but thought she would like to enter the full Marathon and possibly drop out half way. I reassured her that St.John’sAmbulance were on duty, also a Doctor, as well as ‘pick-up’ cars for anyone needing to drop out. Sonia didn’t need any of these services and I think all runners will be impressed to read that Sonia finished the full course in 3.32.17. - position 137, first woman veteran and winner of the Woodside Tavern Shield (presented by Steve Whitehead, manager of the Woodside Tavern, Ring Road, Horsforth and recent member of the H.S.C.) I believe that Sonia later became a Valley Strider.

2) When the 2 previous Marathons had been run, my husband Mike had been playing cricket. I suggested that this year (1983) he might like to HELP in some way and find out what it was all about. So - he decided to RUN! This was not quite what I had in mind because now, not only was he working long hours and playing cricket, he had to fit training into an already busy life. He used the Training Schedule produced by H.S.C. which was sent out to all runners with the application forms. He began running in October 1982 in preparation for 27th March 1983. The schedule obviously provided good advice because I am very proud to report that he completed the Marathon in position 175 and a time of 3.43.19 - he was cheered round the course by family and friends. We had a big celebration at the ‘Outside Inn’ (Horsforth) where Mike dealt with his dehydration!! Sadly, although he had enjoyed it, he has never run since! He said he only ran to see if he could ‘do it’ and when that question had been answered, the incentive disappeared.

Part 4 - 1984

This year (1984) we lost our main sponsors Arnold G.Wilson who went into liquidation. We were approached by the Horsforth Garage Ltd.(Renault Main Dealers) who were very good but there was not so much money available The Woodside Cavalier Restaurant (manager Steve Whitehead) provided the medals. Other prizes were donated by Mars Confectionery Ltd., Madeley Homecare and several other local businesses. I always had to work quite hard to acquire the prizes because the Horsforth Sports Council wanted to be able to give the maximum amount of money to local charities after the event.

The booking of Horsforth School was difficult this year. The School needed the Hall for an event of their own so we had to ‘make do’ with the Gym. Not as good for the prize giving but nevertheless adequate, and certainly better for the runners than having to change in a draughty field! We also had to pay the caretaking expenses for the booking which had previously been free.

The Fourth Annual Horsforth Metro Marathon - Sunday 25th March 1984.

Out of 252 applications we had 196 runners on the day (190 men and 6 women). A new record for the course was created by overall winner Brian Scobie - 2.27.06. He had held the previous record since 1982 but managed to better this by over 2 minutes. Overall winner in the women’s race was Valley Strider Yvonne Bissitt, 72nd in a time of 3.17.40. Valley Striders were first team with Martyn Hopson 3rd, Jeremy Wilkinson 10th and Anthony Hartigan 17th (30 points)

Since 1981 we had been noticing Martyn Hopson’s marathon performances. Even though he was 3rd this year, he was only 5 seconds behind the Richard Lamb (Bingley Harriers) and over 2 minutes faster than the previous year when he was 2nd. We would be watching the 1985 event with interest!

Jimmy Savile and his team enjoyed the run and gave a vote of thanks to all the helpers for their hard work in providing such a well-organised event. We always received many letters of congratulations and thanks after each marathon and it made the hard work all worth while. Jimmy completed the course in 137th position and a time of 3.49.17 - 5 minutes faster than his last run in 1982.

On a personal note, in June 1984 I developed breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy and radiotherapy. It was a big shock but I got over it quite well. Word must have got around, because in about September, I had a telephone call from Keith Atherton wanting to come and see me. He presented me with a large bouquet of flowers from Valley Striders. It was a lovely thought and I was so grateful - thank you.

Part 5 - 1985

Because of booking problems last year I made an early approach to the Leeds Education Committee on 15th May 1984 with a plea for free accommodation in Horsforth School. I received a reply on 22nd November (things take time!!) after several requests for a response. The reply stated that we would be charged the fully economic cost of opening the building (£360) plus caretaking costs. Quite a bombshell as our planning and advertising had begun in September and our entry fees were to remain the same. The previous year the Horsforth Sports Council were able to give £250 to local charities so it was obvious that we could be facing a big loss this year.

More pleading letters were written to no avail until 13th December when our local Councillor Val Stevens approached the Education Committee on our behalf and it was decided to award the H.S.C. a grant of £200 to help towards expenses for the Marathon. This was a great relief - but what about next year we wondered - - - !

You might have noticed the word ‘Metro’ back in the title. Renault could no longer help with sponsorship but the Carnell Motor Group (Horsforth) Ltd. stepped into the breach. We also had sponsorship from Sandoz Products Ltd. who provided the medals, and team prizes were from Bartlett Insurance Group (Horsforth) and Hudson and Thompson Builders (Horsforth).

Before the event, Stuart made his annual visit to look at the Registration Sheets and assess the opposition! He also requested special drinks for his Valley Striders, which he would organise and distribute round the course to the Refreshment Stations. Perhaps this was a good idea in view of the race results!

The Fifth Annual Horsforth Metro Marathon - Sunday 30th March 1985.

The overall winner was - you have had to wait for it - Martyn Hopson of Valley Striders in a time of 2.28.10. A wonderful achievement and a good time in spite of the strong winds. This was Martyn’s second win of the year - he was first in the Spen 20 only 3 weeks before. The winning team was - of course - Valley Striders with 9 points - Martyn Hopson 1st, Steve O’Callaghan 2nd and Nick Pickard 6th. Winner of the women’s section was Karen Gemmell, position 71, time 3.23.22. Third to finish in 2.33.01 was Michael Bowering of Swindon AC who had led the field for most of the distance. He was winner of the National Civil Service Championships which was incorporated into our event. The standard of the Civil Service runners was high with the men finishing 3rd, 5th, and 9th and the women 71st (1st woman home) and 99th.

Part 6 - 1986

At the meeting of the Horsforth Sports Council after the Fifth Horsforth Metro Marathon we had to make some difficult decisions.. Nothing would have given us greater pleasure than to have been able to confidently promote a Sixth Horsforth Marathon, but declining numbers (488 in 1982 down to 206 in 1985) meant that we had to seriously look at the race’s viability and future. We could no longer expect any favours from the Leeds Education Committee for the booking of Horsforth School and we could not afford to pay for this facility without raising entry fees. So - what were we to do?

It was Steve Whitehead’s suggestion to make our event a Half Marathon.. Rosie Connell, a lecturer at Trinity and All Saints College (T.A.S.C.), Horsforth, had become a member of the Horsforth Sports Council in 1985. (She had entered the Half Marathon in 1982 and finished in 6th place). Rosie was also in favour of a half marathon and was able to offer T.A.S.C. with it’s excellent facilities as a venue for the event. And so the future was decided.

In February 1986, I had a second mastectomy but was back on my feet again to help organise the Half Marathon in April. Stuart visited, but not to look at the registration lists - these were being done on computers at T.A.S.C. He asked if I would accept Honorary Membership of Valley Striders. I can’t tell you how much this honour meant to me - I was ‘over the moon’. Since then I have avidly read the V.S. Newsletters and followed the progress of all V.S. runners with great interest.

Horsforth Half Marathon - Sunday 27th April 1986.

Overall winner was Brian Eden (Valley Sriders) in 1.08.16. First vet was John Benson (Valley Striders) in 1.19.28. (Note that John was one of the ‘original’ (unofficial) Marathon runners in 1980 with Gerry Breakell). Overall winner in the women’s race was Karen Sowden (Skyrac) in 1.36.21 - position 277. First vet was Margaret Wilson (Horsforth Harriers) in 1.37.29 - position 297. First Team was Skyrac with 23 points with Valley Striders second with counters Brian Eden 1st, John Convery 3rd and John Benson 21st - 25 points.

There were 637 finishers with the last runner coming in at 2.37.10. Computers were used for the first time which enabled us to get results out quickly.

Part 7 - 1987

At a meeting of the Horsforth Sports Council early in 1987, it was agreed that we would like to recognise the achievements of Martyn Hopson in the Horsforth Marathons 1981 - 1985. He ran in all 5 with improved times each year.

Year Position Time
1981 16th 2.55.55
1982 13th 2.42.46
1983 2nd 2.31.46
1984 3rd 2.29.52
1985 1st 2.28.10

We presented Martyn with a replica of the Horsforth Marathon Cup at a special ceremony on 17th February 1987.

Horsforth Half Marathon - Sunday 10th May 1987.

Overall winner was Dave Wilkinson (ASVAC) who completed the course in 1.08.12. First vet was Michael Walker (Gosforth H. & AC.) who finished 8th in a time of 1.14.45. Overall winner in the women’s race was Sonia Dear (Abbey Runners) who finished in 101st position in a time of 1.28.34. First vet was Margaret Wilson (Horsforth Harriers) in a time of 1.33.06, position 147 - 4.23 mins. and 150 places better than last year - a great improvement, she was very pleased. Team Trophies were awarded to Leeds City with 24 points, Skyrac with 35 points and third, Valley Striders with 36 points and counters Martyn Hopson 5th, Angelo Feliciello 13th, and Tony Haygarth 18th. 414 runners completed the course and coasters were presented to all finishers.

In September 1987 my husband Mike, started a new job with British Gas (Scotland) based in Edinburgh. We had lived all our lives in Leeds (50 years) and we left behind our two lovely daughters, parents, the rest of our families, lots of friends and many happy memories. It was a big wrench but perhaps the time was right. The ‘Marathon Years’ were over, Trinity and All Saints College had taken over the organisation of the half marathon, and the Horsforth Sports Council folded in 1988. I wanted to leave something for Valley Striders to remember me by. I decided to give a trophy which I named ‘The Horsforth Cup’ to be presented each year to a runner with a ‘special achievement in a marathon’ (not necessarily a winner). I very much enjoy receiving letters from the runners who win the Cup telling me the circumstances of their achievement. Thank you for these. I hope to follow the activities of Valley Striders for many more years to come.


Postscript - written for V S News June 2003

We had a few amusing incidents on the organisational side of the Horsforth Marathon.

All these hiccups caused panic at the time but it was good to be able to laugh about them afterwards.

A personal note from Janet Kitchen.

Some of you may have been puzzled by my references to the two mastectomy operations caused by breast cancer in June 1984 and February 1986. I have also had a hysterectomy and a rectopexy since then - both involving major surgery. Valley Striders who have seen me in recent years - the visit to 'off-load' the Marathon photographs, and at Stuart's Birthday Party will have noticed (I hope) that I look quite fit and healthy. I will be 67 years old in May and the cancer was 19 and 17 years ago. So there CAN BE 'life'after cancer.

After the first mastectomy I suffered from depression for a while and my GP could only offer anti-depressants. By chance, I met someone who told me about a Nature Cure Practitioner (Naturopath) who introduced me to a whole new way of life. The principle is that, given the right conditions, the body will heal itself. I have never looked back, and I owe my present state of health to Nature Cure.

Twice a year for the last 5 years I have joined like-minded people for a 1 or 2 week holiday at Boat of Garten (near Aviemore). Under the guidance of Naturopathic Practitioners we learn more about this healthy way of life. We do lots of walking in this beautiful part of Scotland; the air is crisp and clear and the food is wholesome and delicious. There is also a daily massage, and exercise session.

There is a Practitioner in Leeds and one in York. If anyone would like more information on this subject, I would be very pleased if they got in touch with me because I would be delighted to help. Your editor will supply my address and telephone number.

A final word - life in Scotland is good. We live in the small village of Aberlady on the edge of the Forth Estuary, 17 miles outside Edinburgh. The countryside is rich agricultural land, the beaches are sandy and beautiful, the roads are quiet, and we are near enough to Edinburgh for entertainment - what more could anyone want!! Mike retired 6 years ago but, as yet, we have not returned to Leeds where our two daughters and 5 grandchildren live, although we visit often.