Runners will descend on the island later this month to challenge course records held by athletes such as Jonny Mellor, Rosie Smith and James Walsh
The 59th Isle of Man Easter Festival of Running will fire into life in just a few weeks’ time and the anticipation is already building.
This famous annual event, currently supported by IQEQ, has grown from lowly beginnings into one of the best and most anticipated events on the running calendar. This year’s Festival follows the same format that has proved to be such a great success since 2006, and as usual offers a generous prize fund in the region of £5000, with special bonuses for athletes breaking any of the course records.
What has set the Easter Festival apart from other athletics events on the Isle of Man since the early 1970s is the invasion of visiting runners which continues to this day. For 50 years and more the Festival has proved to be a magnet for university running teams from all corners of the British Isles, and the traditions of the annual trip to the Isle of Man have been passed down through generations of student athletes. Many have continued to visit each year as alumni members of student teams.
Plenty of visiting club teams have contested the Festival over the years too, and some truly great names of the sport have graced the event over the decades – including several Olympians.
The opening Quine & Cubbon 10km road race takes place on the evening of Good Friday April 7, starting and finishing on Port Erin Promenade. The race begins at 6.45pm, with men and women running together. It follows a scenic route which includes part of the spectacular coastal footpath from Gansey to Port St Mary.
On Easter Saturday afternoon the Full Factory Winnerswear Peel Hill races take place, with the men going first over a distance of approximately 3.7 miles at 2.15pm. They are followed an hour later at 3.15pm by the women over a course of around 2.7 miles. The atmosphere on the hill is always fantastic and the views spectacular, with the visiting student teams providing masses of colour, noise and fun.
The racing concludes on Easter Sunday morning with the Outback 5km road races on Douglas Promenade walkway, with the women leading the way at 10.30am and the men’s race following at 11.15am. The prize presentation and party takes place in the Outback Sports Bar on Sunday evening with doors opening at 7pm, and is strictly ticket-only.
Both the 10km and 5km races have course measurement certificates in place, and so are valid for ranking and record purposes. The current course records are 30:16 (Jonny Mellor, 2007) and 34:18 (Rosie Smith, 2012) for the 10km, 20:10 (James Walsh, 2007) and 16:38 (Rachael Franklin, 2019) for the Peel Hill Race and 14:36 (Jonny Mellor, 2007) and 17:13 (Rosie Smith, 2012) for the 5km.
The Festival was born with a single event in 1963, attracting just one visiting team and some local runners. By the 1970s it had evolved into a three-day event, attracting many big visiting groups from universities and athletics clubs from around the British Isles and sometimes further afield. The Peel Hill race had become a staple, with two other road races taking several formats over the years.
Many regarded the 1970s and 1980s as being the heyday of the Festival, with numerous world-class athletes taking part in fields of several hundreds of runners, including the cream of Manx running talent.
After a few years of decline, a new organising committee took charge of the planning for the 2006 event, with the emphasis on attracting visiting groups back to the Island and also encouraging more local runners to take part. The 2006 Festival, with a new format in place that remains to this day, was a resounding success with entries more than doubling and many visiting groups returning.
Support for the Festival continued to grow and the landmark 50th running in 2012 attracted an entry of nearly 400, including legendary marathon runner Ron Hill who attended as guest of honour. Not only did he attend but he ran in all three races, part of a streak of running every day which lasted for over 50 years.
The momentum of the Festival seemed to be unstoppable, with a record 551 competitors taking part in 2017. But in 2020, the first-ever cancellation was forced on the event less than a month before Easter due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2021 event also had to be cancelled.
It was feared that it would be difficult to win back the support of the hundreds of visiting athletes, with the traditional passing-on of experience of organising the annual pilgrimage to the Isle of Man being lost – but those fears were ill-founded. A fantastic response to the 2022 Festival ensured that this great event was re-established in style, and hopes are high that the 2023 Festival will be even better.
The Festival welcomes runners of all abilities from Olympians and internationals (and there have been many over the years) to fun runners – the only proviso being a generous cut-off of 38 minutes at the 5km point of the 10km race. There is a team element to all the races and the Festival as a whole, with cash prizes up for grabs for the successful men’s and women’s teams as well as for the best individual runners in several categories.
The social side of the Festival has become as legendary as the running over the years, and every year old friendships are renewed and new ones made.
All the information on what promises to be a superb 2023 Festival, including a link to the online entry system, can be found here.