On your marks! Berko Half Marathon and Fun Run is just a few days away

It was all smiles at the Berkhamstead Half Marathon 2014. Picture (c) Sussex Sport Photography.com

It was all smiles at the Berkhamstead Half Marathon 2014. Picture (c) Sussex Sport Photography.com

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There is now less than one week to go before the gun goes off to start the Berhamsted Half Marathon and Five Mile Fun Run.

At this point in the schedules, there’s not a lot that the runners can do to improve their performance other than taper their training, indulge in a bit of carbo loading and hydration, and get plenty of rest before the big day.

Rotary Club logo

Rotary Club logo

But there’s one group that will be gearing up to fever pitch this week, and that is, of course, the organisers: the Rotary Club of Berkhamsted Bulbourne.

They have been planning the race down to the minute details for the past eight months, and the days leading up to March 1 are a ‘make or break’ race against time to make sure everything goes off without a hitch.

This year’s event will be the 33rd running of the Berkhamsted Half Marathon. The first race, in 1982, was organised by Barry Devereux, a Rotary Club member and a keen runner.

The race grew gradually, reaching a total of 270 runners in 2000, and over the past 15 years it has grown more than five-fold, with some 1,500 runners taking part in 2014.

This year, with the five mile race doubling as both the Herts Vets County Championships and the Schools Challenge, the Rotary Club could find that every single one of the 1,750 medals are placed around a finisher’s neck.

Work starts on the event eight months ahead of time, with the Rotary organisers meeting in July each year to begin planning.

Peter Robertson, who has been involved with the race for 20 years and race director for the last 14 editions, reckons that more than 500 hours are devoted to the process.

On top of this, more than 180 volunteers give up their time on race day – ranging from Rotarians and their friends and family, the local Lions Club, friends of the Pepper Foundation and the Hospice of St Francis, and local ATC cadets and officers.

And every year, the race gets better; chief marshal John Simpson points out that this year’s race will have a group warm-up at the start area before the half marathon kicks off.

There will also be two extra water stations, a slight improvement to the course which will take the runners down Castle Street, and the option to buy a souvenir race T-shirt for the first time. Brownlow Road will remain closed to traffic, as in the previous two years.

John and Peter both commented on the invaluable contribution of the sponsors, which will total more than 50 this year – including major sponsors SA Law, VAH, On-Site Maintenance, Charmac Ltd and Specialist Building Contractors, Iceni Waters, Elf Ideas, Gil-lec Electrical, Knight Frank, FFEI Ltd and Berkhamsted Sports.

The sponsors are vitally important, according to John, as their donations keep administration costs down, thus allowing the Rotary Club to donate more money to charity.

The Berkhamsted races have now become a fixture on the race calendar, not just for their optimum scheduling some six weeks before the spring marathon season, but for the impeccable organisation, superb marshalling and the beauty of the wonderful - if hilly - countryside.

The event is known for varied weather, from snow to torrential rain to blazing sunshine – part and parcel of an early spring race – and there have also been some major hurdles in recent years.

Peter remembers how in 2001, the race had to be cancelled due to the Foot and Mouth outbreak, while in 2003, only a few runners showed up after a heavy snowfall. In 2006, he found out that part of the route had been dug up, only one week before race day.

Yet for Peter, the event never fails to bring satisfaction. “It gives me great pleasure every year to help organise the race for the benefit of the local community and runners alike,” he said.

“The buzz on the day to see all the smiling faces is just fantastic, let alone the end result, when we can help benefit local charities.

“I have been out in all kinds of weather but in the end we all shine through with the common goal to serve the community.

“This is the 33rd year; we are always looking to improve and we hope this year is even bigger and better than previous.”

> Sussex Sport Photography (SSP) have once again been named official photographers of the Berkhamsted races.

This year, like last year, they will be back on site with two photographers, Seb and Sally, who will spend a total of close to 10 hours at the event covering all 1,800 runners from four different vantage points, operating four different cameras.

In 2014, SSP took more than 22,000 photos in Berkhamsted, which worked out to an average of over 12 per runner, and after editing, some 19,288 of these went online.

Company director Anthony Bliss added that, in addition to the hours that the photographers spend on the course, another 25 hours were spent back at head office cataloguing the race numbers against the photos so they can be found easily online.

He said: “This is a manual process, there is no magic technology behind it, we look at each one before they go online to make sure they are all of a high quality and ready for anyone to order.”

Anthony added, “Our business model is based around making people happy; those who tend to buy our photos are the ones who achieve the most at the race on a personal level in terms of achievement, time, or a special occasion, and are emotionally engaged with the race – and that’s why we’re there – to capture that emotion.”

Explaining why the coverage is so thorough, he added; “We have set the business up to reward the photographers to capture the emotion of the moment – the photographers are on commission to do exactly that – it is a win-win for everyone involved, so I hope everyone has a really good run this year”.

Photos from this year’s Berkhamsted Half Marathon and Five Mile Fun Run (doubling as the Herts 5 Mile Veterans County Championships) will be available online after the event at www.sussexsportphotography.com

> The Berkhamsted Half Marathon and Fun Run in numbers

- 2,000 bottles of water

- 15,000 water cups

- 1,750 bananas

- 1,750 cereal bars

- 1,750 medals

- 22,000+ photos

- 2,500 baggage tags

- 5 boxes of space blankets

- 200 road signs

- 400m of orange fencing

- 200 road cones

- 30 portaloos

- 200+ toilet rolls

- 180+ volunteers

- 6 water stations

-100+ volunteers

- 500 hours of work

- more than 50 sponsors

- more than £250,000 raised for charity since 1982

> To sign up for the Berkhamsted Half Marathon or Five Mile Fun Run, please visit www.berkorun.com