Runners in the Chichester area are fortunate to have a wide choice of events they can take part in – from the shorter distance of the Corporate Challenge to the Midsummer 5, the Chichester Priory 10 K and the recently re-vamped Half Marathon. The roots of all these events stem from the meeting of minds of three gentlemen from completely different backgrounds but similar interests back in the mid 1980’s. Graham Brooks, Editor of the Chichester Observer ,was looking for a major sporting event to celebrate the centenary of the local paper: Phil Baker, the Secretary of Chichester Runners, was seeking to enhance the reputation of the newly formed club by association with a quality endurance race and Graham Jessop, of Chichester Round Table was hoping to raise funds for different community projects. Their combined thinking resulted in the first Chichester Half-Marathon in 1987 and the rest on that event is now history. 

The great success of the Chichester Half Marathon also was possibly its death knell – the event became so successful and so large that it had no one who was prepared to spear head it. After four years the Half Marathon disappeared from the racing calendar. However one of the instigators of the first half marathon was by 1990 a member of the Rotary Club of Chichester Priory and recognised the gap in the running programme. When the incoming President Colin Thorne approached Graham Jessop for some ideas on fund raising, he had no hesitation in suggesting a road race. Graham’s ideas were to promote a 10 K road race and so the Chichester Priory 10 K was inaugurated in February 1991.

The first course consisted of 2 laps of the Northern quadrants of the city, starting and finishing in North Street. Compared to today’s event it was a modest affair, with 600 runners and fewer than 30 helpers. The race continued to take place around the city centre for 3 years until the Chichester floods necessitated a movement out of the city to accommodate the operational requirements of the emergency services. The new course was again 2 laps starting in the Festival Theatre car park, winding its way up through Graylingwell and into Summersdale and back to the City. This course was maintained for a few years until   a single lap course in the North East of the city was devised  in 1997 and with some minor modifications this has been the course which has stood the test of time up to and including the February 2015 event.

From a modest beginning the race gained progressively in popularity and status and in 1997 received its first major recognition, being awarded the Sussex County Championships. Its reputation grew over the next 10 years as it hosted the South of England Championships, the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) of England National championships culminating in the ‘biggie’ in 2007 – this included the UK Championships, the England Championships, the inter- counties and the inter-area teams , including Wales and Scotland. Simultaneously it has also hosted the Sussex Grand Prix and the Hampshire Road Race league as well as being used by clubs for their Championships.

From the initial 600 runners the interest in the event has increased over the years and, although stabilising for a while around 1500 entrants, for the last 4 years we have  been fortunate in being able to close the race with its full complement of 2,000 entries. With this increase in numbers we have seen an increase in the standard of the competition, culminating in the course records around the time of the UK Championships. The 6th race with 700 runners put the Chichester 10k on the athletics map as 4 runners that year were under the magical 30 minute mark and one female under 34 minutes. The 1000 runners mark was reached at the 9 th event and by the 15 th year there were 1400 runners. The current male course record was set in 2006 by Peter Riley running for Leigh Harriers and the North of England in a time of 29.02. The women’s record was set the following year by Kate Reed of Bristol and West AC in a time of 32.09. 

There have only been 2 occasions when the race came close to being called off and the organisers watched anxiously to see if this would happen. The first was during the floods at Lavant and the second when snow disrupted travel for many of the runners from further afield. However, in spite of some wet and windy years, generally the weather has been very kind to Chichester and the race has been run in cold but sunny conditions, enabling many runners to achieve their personal bests.

The first Committee consisted of 6 Priory Rotarians who worked together tirelessly for   years. The first change  took place  when  Henry Adams together with his wife Pat became Race Director and Race Secretary.  5 years later another change ushered in the new race Secretary Tony Kerly who continued in the role until 2014, combining it for some of that time with the role of Chairman of the Committee. In addition to Tony Kerly the committee has been chaired by Colin Thorne, Brian Taylor, Colin Kaye and for the last 4 years by Bob Syme. There have been 2 ever present Committee members - Maurice Hall who from the outset has been responsible for the course including measurement and erection of signs on the day and Graham Jessop who has held many positions including Race Director, Consultant and organiser.

Initially the support for the race in terms of marshals and stewards came from members and wives of the Rotary Club of Chichester Priory, who fielded some 30 personnel. This is no longer the case and the 2018 event will require 170 volunteers, plus support from  St John Ambulance and a traffic management company.

The organisers have been very fortunate in finding sponsors for the event. In the early days it was mainly Rotarians, including Thomas Eggar Verrall Bowles, Henry Adams, Chichester Haulage, and Price Grant . The first outside sponsor was the Oldham Seals Group, who for 3 years were staunch supporters of the event. The next sponsors were the Chichester Nuffield Hospital for 2 years and then we secured the support of the Peter Cooper Volkswagen group and Brooks, the International Sports clothing company. These 2 were major joint sponsors for 7 years and contributed handsomely to the finances of the event. For 2018 we have Wannops LLP, The Run Company, Henry Adams and we have 3 other companies still in discussion.

The first event saw all the entries arrive by post with payment in the form of cheques, postal orders and cash. As the banking world developed and the volume of entries increases it was necessary to go to online banking and credit card payments and today more than 95% of entries are on line. The next change making use of the technology was ‘chip timing’. Initially all the individuals details were manually fed in and the results, both positions and times, prepared manually. Today most of the runners feed in their own details and the computer does the rest in terms of taking account of when the runner starts and at what time he/she finishes and then producing the finishing listings and the prize lists.

February 2016 saw the 25th edition of this race . For organisational and practical reasons it was reluctantly decided to abandon the City course and for 2017 to move the race to a route based on the Goodwood Motor Circuit and utilising as much of the old course as possible. The race title was changed at the same time to 'Chichester Priory 10k Race at Goodwood'. The route is repeated for 2018 although there will be significantly improved access arrangements for the Motor Circuit.

For the first event very few road closures were necessary and those that were, were awarded by the Chichester District Council, using The Town Closures Act of some 200 years ago. Today the event needs some 12 road closures granted by West Sussex County Council, including considerable lengths of road on a rolling programme of up to two hours in duration. As traffic flows in Chichester have increased as well as the road usage resulting from Sunday Openings more attention has been paid to the requirements of traffic management. So much so the organisers employed a specialist firm of Traffic Management Consultants which will still be the case for 2018. We are no longer able to get police support to help us manage the traffic, so the importance of the traffic management company is increased.

Whilst promoting a road race of the highest quality, the Rotary Club of Chichester Priory have used the event as their major source of charitable revenue. In the early days the money raised was more modest but in the last, four years the race, with the help of the sponsors, nets some £18,000 per year. It is estimated that the event has earned over 1/3 of a million pounds to date and all this money has been distributed to very worthy causes both in Chichester and further afield. For the last several years we have included a 'headline charity' to which we give a significant share of the charitable revenue. In 2018 the 'headline Charity' will once again be Chestnut Tree House. 

The organisers are most grateful to all those who have run in the event over the years, to the large body of volunteers who have given their services freely, to the numerous public and statutory authorities for their advice and assistance, to the significant contribution from our sponsors, and to the people of Chichester for supporting the event in so many different ways.