BRASS MONKEY: Founder Brian Hughes on York’s mid-winter half marathon

THERE were anniversaries to be celebrated and records to be won as the 40th Brass Monkey half marathon got under way in York.

Low winter sunlight slanted into the runners’ eyes as they crouched on the starting line in Bishopthorpe Road at 10am this morning waiting for the klaxon to signal that the race had begun.

And there to see them off was Brian Hughes – who had founded the race 40 years ago.

Brian, who also founded the York Knavesmire Harriers running club which organises the annual half marathon, decided to hold the first run 40 years ago because there wasn’t anything like it near York back then.

He and some friends were training for the London marathon – and wanted a local half marathon to help build their fitness.

That first race was run in heavy snow – which is where the race gets its distinctive name.

“There was something like five inches of snow,” Brian recalled. “So we just ran through the snow. You just got on with it!”

York Press:

That first race was for Knavesmire Harriers club members only.

But in later years the race was opened up to members of the public – and now the tradition is that members of the Harriers do NOT take part. Instead, they act as Marshalls, making sure everything goes smoothly.

Which it certainly did today. About 1800 runners from across Britain – as far afield as the Isle of Skye and the Isle of Wight – registered for the race.

Among them was Kieran Walker from Durham – who won last year’s race in 1 hour, five minutes and 28 seconds – just seven seconds outside the race record.

He had vowed to come back and make another attempt on that record. In the end, he was beaten into second place by Joe Sagar – though, with some wind blowing and the ground still soggy from the recent floods, neither could quite threaten the record time.

Joe came home in one hour, six minutes and 21 seconds – exactly one minute outside the record – while Kieran followed him home six seconds later.

York Press: Winner Joe Sagar crossing the lineWinner Joe Sagar crossing the line (Image: Steve Proctor)

The women’s race was won by Georgia Malir in a time of one hour, 15 minutes and 18 seconds, with City of York Athletics Club’s Charlotte Mason coming home in third, just under two minutes behind.

Following a relaxation of the rules on running on roads, this year’s event was open to wheelchair and frame competitors – and Paralympic legend Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson was on hand to watch.

Race director Richard Yeomans said the hope was that, if there were enough wheelchair or frame entries next year, there could be a separate race category.

York Press: Tanni Grey-Thompson, left, at the prize-giving ceremonyTanni Grey-Thompson, left, at the prize-giving ceremony (Image: Steve Proctor)

Many of the runners taking part were raising money for charity – though runners are able to choose who they support..

“We don’t have one particular charity,” Brian Hughes said. “They are all individuals. Mum might have had breast cancer, Dad might have head a heart attack. So runners do it for that specific charity. That’s what it’s all about.”

Brian, who turns 70 in April, said it had been a ‘great honour’ to start the race in its anniversary year. And he paid tribute to the Harriers who acted as marshalls.

“I’m so proud of my club,” he said. “The finest club in Britain!”

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