Big road running event returns to the Rushmoor Arena on September 24

After a gap of eight years, the South of England Autumn relays return to the Rushmoor Arena in Aldershot, thanks to pressure from the area clubs.

The men’s six-stage first went to Rushmoor in 1988, with the veteran men’s age groups M40 and M50 following in 1989 and M60s in 1991) soon joining in to make for a feast of road running. The same two-lap 5992m course has been used throughout.

Since then, the championship has been to Bedford Autodrome and, for four years, to Crystal Palace but has now returned to its spiritual home after many clubs expressed concerns over the other venues.

The women joined in the fun at this iconic venue in 1991 and the W40 veterans in 1997, but the over-50 women have never raced at Rushmoor as their championship only began in 2019 at Crystal Palace.

Young athletes first competed at Aldershot in 1993 and did so on the second day of the weekend with the women, while all of the men’s races were on the Saturday.

Now the South of England Autumn Relay Championships will all take place on the same day, with chip timing provided by FR Systems. The local Scouts will again help with the catering with their famous bacon butties a favourite.

South of England Road Relays at Rushmoor Arena (Mark Shearman)

The championship went on furlough during the Covid pandemic and missed 2020 and 2021, but when it came back last year many southern area clubs pressed for Aldershot to again host the event but their request to the South of England AA fell on deaf ears.

This led to a rival event being held at Rushmoor hosted by the Aldershot club and it attracted many more clubs that the official championship at Crystal Palace.

The reasons behind the original decision to move away from Rushmoor Arena are varied, but both cost and availability issue were responsible for the change. Discussions were held between the Aldershot club and the SoEAA to sort out the impasse and agreements were reached for a return to what many clubs see as the ideal venue.

There is one other issue that may have contributed to the decision to return to Rushmoor. The Mayor of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) would have come into play had the event remained at Crystal Palace with clubs having to pay the £12.50 charge if their transport was non-compliant.

Speaking for the Aldershot hosts, Mike Neighbour said: “We had to give up a fair amount of autonomy but we are back and SoEAA have asked FR Systems to do the results.”

Many clubs liked to compare performances from year to year and Neighbour added: “It will be interesting to compare current times with those of the past.”

Some of the course records have lasted many years and those for men, women and the youngest veterans are here:

Men (6x5992m): Team: Southampton 1:48:25 (1997) & Andy Bristow 17:07 (1989)

M40 (4x5992m): Team: Aldershot 76:01 (1989) & Nigel Gates 17:58 (1993)

Women (4x3851m): Team: Bedford & County 50:03 (2001) & Paula Radcliffe 11:44 (2001)

W40: (4x3851m): Team: Winchester 55:51 (2010) & Lucy Elliott 13:10 (2015)

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