February 4, 2007
Jermaine Mays 23:39
Natalie Harvey 26:43
No. of finishers
Alsager is a small town between Crewe and Stoke. The five-mile event that it has hosted since 1985, on the first Sunday of February each year, also started off in a small way – a “village” race sponsored by Butters, a local estate agent.
The first race, then known as the “Butters 5”, drew 300 runners. It grew slowly for the rest of the decade. By 1990 entries had reached 500 and the event was already breaking out of its mould. The start and finish were right outside the sponsor’s office, meaning that facilities were limited to a few parking spaces and a public toilet. Runners finishing the race were backing up before the line – more professional management was required.
Recognising they had outgrown capacity, the original organisers called in new management. Ken Rushton had worked with Don Shelley on the Potteries Marathon – then Britain’s second largest. He was well-practised, although not a professional race organiser – they were rarities back then.
Rushton took charge. Insisting on basic facilities, he moved the start and finish three quarters of a mile up the road to the town leisure centre. It was a bold move, as the sponsor’s response was to drop the event.
Undeterred, Rushton simply recruited a new one: the running shoe company, Etonic. Today the leisure centre still provides the base. “The staff there make it all possible,” says Rushton. “They have a can-do attitude – nothing is too much trouble. The leisure centre team is the pivotal point of the event. They do it all with a smile; I can’t praise them enough.”
The changes cleared the way for continued steady growth. ASICS took over from Etonic, and remained as main sponsor for eight years. The local Ford distributor took over next, with ASICS still supporting the event.
Entries are now capped at 1,200 runners. “It gives us a manageable race,” says Rushton. Part of the art of managing the race was reconciling increasing numbers of runners with an increasing volume of traffic. “The police worked with us and advised us of the problems. We worked it out by removing a key junction from the course.”
The course itself remains flat and fast. Records are held by Carl Udall, at 23:04, and the Russian Yolanda Burkov, at 25:58. The race has generated a good club following from all over the country – Birchfield Harriers even use it for their club championships – but it caters for all levels of ability.