WHITE HORSE HALF MARATHON – Full History
The first White Horse Half Marathon took place on Sunday, 10th April 1983. The race was staged by White Horse Harriers AC as a fund raising event for the Richard Conduit Fund for Sick Children. Richard Conduit was a talented, local young athlete who died from a brain tumour when only fourteen. The fund was set up to help provide equipment for the Children’s Ward at the Radcliffe Infirmary. The main force behind the idea of the race was Geoff Harrison.
The White Horse Half Marathon takes its name from the Vale of the White Horse, through which the course winds. The Vale in turn is named after the ancient horse figure, 374 feet long, cut into the chalk hillside of the Ridgeway near the village of Uffington some eight miles from Grove. The Uffington White Horse is Britain’s oldest and most famous hill figure being about 3000 years old, putting it in the Bronze Age. Although the horse cannot be seen from the course, those arriving from the west may have caught sight of it.
In the second year the race raised funds for The 14 Club for people with learning difficulties at Fitzwaryn School in Wantage. The race again supported the 14 club in 2013. From 2005 to 2009 the race supported Helen and Douglas House in Oxford, who provide hospice care for children and young adults. In 2010 it supported The Prostate Cancer Charity in memory of Barrie Strange, founder member of the club and an official at every race since its inception in 1983 until illness intervened. In 2011 it supported The October Club a day centre for those suffering from Dementia and Alzheimer’s living in our local community. In 2012 it supported the English Federation of Disability Sport responsible for developing opportunies and building awareness for disabled people in sport. In 2013 it supported the The Fourteen Club. In 2014 the race supported Air Ambulance Berks | Oxon | Bucks. In 2015 it supported Grove Day Centre for the Elderly. In 2016 the race supported Flexicare.
From 1983 until about 1994 the race was accompanied by a fun run of about 4½ miles which followed the route of the half marathon as far as Denchworth Cross before returning to the finish.
The race has included the Oxfordshire county championships since 1984.
There has always been an award made to every finisher. Until about 1991 this was a certificate bearing the runners name and time. For a few years the award was a medal. Since about 1995 the award has been a commemorative mug.
Over the years the race has followed three different courses:
- from 1983 to 1991 – start in Grove half way up Newlands Drive, via Denchworth, West Hanney, Winter Lane, Charney Bassett, nearly to Goosey, Denchworth, Brereton Drive, finish in Grove Recreation Ground field.
- from 1992 to 1994 – start in Grove half way up Brereton Drive, via the villages as before, finish on the green in Brereton Drive after short loop up to the phone box and back.
- from 1995 to date – start in Grove in Cane Lane, via Denchworth, Lyford, Winter Lane, Charney Bassett, nearly to Goosey, Denchworth, finish in Grove on the green near Churchward Close.
From 1983 until 1991 the race HQ was in the Grove Recreation Ground. From 1992 to about 1995 it was in Old Mill Hall, and from about 1996 to 2006 it was in Millbrook School. Since 2007 both Old Mill Hall and Millbrook School have been used together.
Before the days of mobile phones we were grateful to the local CB (Citizen Band) radio people who provided on course communication with four stations around the course and in the sweep car. We continue to be grateful to the scouts who have manned a drinks station at the race for many years, probably since the start. One of the race trophies, the Coachman Memorial Trophy (- first female White Horse Harrier), was donated by the CB person whose CB nickname was Coachman.
The trophies for the open race winner (Jim Thorpe Memorial Trophy – in memory of the 1912 Olympic Gold Medalist) and the men’s open team champions (White Horse Shield) were donated by Dave Martin – a founder member and former charman of the club. The trophies for the ladies open race winner (Ladies Silver Salver) and the ladies open team champions (Ladies Team Silver Salver) were donated anonymously and by White Horse Harriers AC respectively.
The trophy for the Oxfordshire Male Champion (– which went missing in someone’s loft for a number of years!) was also donated anonymously, while the Kit Trophy (– first male White Horse Harrier) was donated by Graham Bellis and Ozzie of Kit Sports, a sports shop in Wantage in the 1980’s.
Despite our most careful planning, something unexpected is always happening. A few of the more notable examples being:
- in 1984 the lead police car went the wrong way near the end and led the first two runners up Newlands Drive instead of up Brereton Drive. When the error was realised the person who crossed the line first kindly volunteered to have the results adjusted to account for this, which explains why the results show an (E) against the times of the first two runners to indicate that it is an estimated time.
- one year the police were called to an incident when a runner thumped a spectator at about 6 miles.
- one year a passing car kindly picked up a runner was in a wobbly state. Unfortunately she was sick in his car.
- the 13 mile marker went missing for a few years due to a club runner who was superstitious.
- one year we found there was no water in the race HQ. When later it was turned on, the toilets flooded.
- one year we had an unexpectedly large turnout and we ran out of finishers mugs.
- one year the runners had to negotiate a traction engine travelling on the course.
- in 2001 foot and mouth disease caused the race to be postponed by 6 months.
- in 2005 a long stretch of roadworks with traffic lights appeared overnight on the course (by the bridge in Winter Lane).
- in 2006 the tail car got a flat tyre and then got stuck in mud trying to change it.
- In 2008 we woke on the morning of the race to find heavy snow.
Thankfully our biggest fear has not happened, i.e. that a farmer will be moving his cows on the narrow country lanes of the course while the race is on, with the potential consequence of the first finisher being a cow!
A memorable sight in 1993/94/95 was the sight of about a dozen runners from Bucks Fire and Rescue in full uniform running the course side by side.
Most runners tell us that they have enjoyed the race but there have been one or two unusual complaints over the years
- a runner once complained that there were not many spectators on course to put money in his charity bucket; he gave up at the 3 mile marker and needed a lift back.
- a runner once complained that we should not describe the course as “flat and fast” because it crosses a railway bridge.
- a runner once asked us for a refund as there was no welcome at the end.
The 2020 and 2021 events did not take place owing to the Covid-19 pandemic although White Horse Harriers did stage a trail event over a similar distance (the Uffington White Horse Gallop) in July 2021. The 2020 race was cancelled shortly before it was due to take place. Race entrants were contacted and offered either a full refund or to donate their entry fee to reimburse unrecoverable losses made by White Horse Harriers AC in preparing the race with any surplus being donated to the local Coronavirus Support Group. Thanks to a very generous response from the race entrants we both covered our losses and donated £4,683 to the Wantage and Surrounding Area Coronavirus Support Group on your behalf.