July 23, 2006
Andrew Green 1:14:47
Kaeti Mackenzie 1:28:02
No. of finishers
Dartford is a small town in Kent that faces partly towards suburban London, partly out over the broadening Thames Estuary, and partly into the rolling Kent countryside.
The half-marathon, held there for the last 30 summers, has assumed each of these identities by turn in its successful efforts to maintain its place on the roads.
From birth it was ahead of its time. In 1977, marathons were thin on the ground and half-marathons were almost unheard of. In that first edition it seemed as if it might stay that way. Only 190 runners entered, 143 started and 122 finished - including five women. One of them was Steve Ovett, an upstart middle-distance runner yet to become an Olympic champion, who beat the seasoned marathon veteran Barry Watson and then declared it "Elementary!"
His was the first of many notable performances, including the Australian Dave Chettle's 1:03:28 in 1979. Keith Penny, a local road race specialist, who with his wife Glenys racked up a total of 15 wins, had taken the 1978 title and then won each edition from 1980-86. Glenys won in 1982 and 1983 and then from 1987-91, but did not surpass the British record of 1:13:09 set by Kath Binns in 1981.
The Pennys consistency belied the changes going on all around. Running was booming, and race numbers climbed steadily towards 1,500. The original two-lap course was outgrown and the Saturday afternoon scheduling was changed to Sunday morning. Several course changes were made before the 1986 race fixed on a two-lap version out towards the Thames Estuary at Crayford. The race consistently attracted over 1,000 runners, but faced increasing difficulties in organisation.
"People just lost interest," says the current race director Mike Burgoyne. "I remember we needed more than 1,000 runners in 1989 to break even, and we just managed it. Then Dartford Council stepped in."
The Council's current slogan, "If only every Council could be like Dartford", could have been coined by runners in gratitude for a heroic holding operation during the doldrums of the 1990s, as other Sunday activities took precedence elsewhere. Race entries dipped to below 400 but with consistently good organisation the race stayed on the road.
Persistence paid off. The current "one-lap course around rural Dartford" used since 1999, with the start time brought forward to 9:00am, has provided a good experience for 700 runners with remarkably little disruption to traffic.
In this year's race, as runners filed out onto the open road after two laps of the Dartford track, there were minor hold-ups for drivers over the first two miles. The next four miles took runners on a scenic tour along narrow undulating roads with occasional inspiring vistas out over the fields.
Where traffic cannot be avoided runners are offered sanctuary on the pavement, but the race steers an untroubled route back into the town, just as the event as a whole has managed over its exemplary lifetime.