Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon is for young, old – and one man on mission

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LEADING LIGHT: 62-year-old Stella Richardson is a pace-setter

The 36th edition of the popular race, organised by Tunbridge Wells Harriers, will be contributing proceeds to three headline worthy causes: Tunbridge Wells Counselling Centre, The Bridge Trust homeless charity and Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, which provides mentors for disadvantaged young people.

Other local charities will benefit, including Citizens Advice, Hospice in the Weald, Compaid and the Pickering Cancer Drop-in Centre.

The event is well known on the racing calendar for its scenic and challenging route through the west Kent countryside, including the infamous 300ft climb up Spring Hill in Fordcombe.

The course starts and finishes in Southborough, passing through Bidborough, Penshurst, Fordcombe, Langton Green and Tunbridge Wells.

Last year’s winner was 24-year-old Simon Goldsworthy, a former Bennett Memorial pupil – and he is already showing good form this year.

He set a new personal best time in winning the Farnborough Half Marathon last month.

Simon said: “I won’t be beating my best time at Tunbridge Wells though, as it’s a pretty hilly course and Farnborough was quite flat.”

RAPID PROGRESS: Billy Hobbs was the youngest runner last year, and came second

Ex-Skinners’ School student Billy Hobbs had only been with the Harriers for a year when he came in second in last year’s race – and was the youngest competitor at 17 years of age.

Now studying bio-chemistry at Sheffield University, Billy admitted: “I’m not really sure if I can beat last year’s time,

“It will be interesting to see if I can get close to it. I’m not sure if I’m as fit as I was this time last year, but I’ll have a go.”

‘I was inspired by a man who is doing a marathon in every country in the world’

Simon Vaisey only took up running seriously in 2016 but he has set himself the goal of 50 long-distance events in 50 weeks – 30 full marathons and 20 half-marathons.

He had only previously run three half marathons and one of the full distance when he started the challenge last September, and Tunbridge Wells will be the 21st event in his schedule.

“My first marathon was in Bournemouth,” says Simon, “and after that I just wanted to do more. I was inspired by a man I read about who is doing a marathon in every country in the world.”

His aim is to raise £5,000 for the emotional support charity Samaritans UK. “I was really impressed with the work they were doing when I was at university,” he said.

“I had a couple of friends who needed their help and I went to visit their head offices after raising some initial funds. They were just doing such great work.”

LONG WAY TO GO: Simon Vaisey is running 50 events in as many weeks

The 24-year-old, who is a PE teacher in Oxford, said of his monumental challenge: “Sometimes I’m travelling to places that are two or three hours from home, and then back again straight after the event. That’s probably more tiring than the actual running!”

He will be taking part in Tunbridge Wells for the first time, and added: “I have friends here and without the support of friends, running clubs and events, I probably wouldn’t have been able to afford to take on this challenge.”

The oldest Harriers runner is 62-year-old Stella Richardson, who will act as a pacer with the group aiming for a time of two hours 20 minutes.

She explained. “We’re there to make sure everybody is okay and if they fall behind, they’ll drop into the group being marshalled by pacers running a slightly slower time.”

‘We go faster at the beginning so we have plenty of time in hand when we are on the hills, then pick up the pace again’

Another of her roles is to describe the route, and she said: “Tunbridge Wells is quite undulating, so there are some places where the pace will be a little slower.

“But we go faster at the beginning so we have plenty of time in hand when we are on the hills, then pick up the pace again towards the finish.”

Stella started competitive running at the age of 48 with the intention of running the London Marathon at the age of 50 – she has now completed it six times.

She has been a Harrier for a decade and said: “It has the most tremendous coaches and support, the club is absolutely second to none.

“It’s there to help you with anything you need to know – programmes, pacing charts. We have track sessions, speed sessions, hill-training.

“We run cross-country races to help with endurance training for marathon running, and you do need help if you hope to be able to run regularly without injury.”

Entry for the race, which begins at 9am, costs £28. Race numbers can be picked up from Thursday [February 14] in the foyer of the Fusion Sports Centre on St John’s Road [TN4 9TX], and from 7am on race day in the centre’s sports hall.

Secure baggage facilities are available, and competitors will receive a long-sleeved running T-shirt, bespoke medal and accurate chip timing. There is no parking on site.

For more information, visit twharriers.org.uk

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