There are record entries for this weekend’s series of races as popular event reaches notable milestone

The 60th IQEQ Isle of Man Easter Festival of Running is all set to celebrate its big landmark in style. When advance entries closed last Saturday, a remarkable entry of 634 had been received (354 men, 280 women), exceeding last year’s record advance entry by nearly 60. With entries also available on the days of the races, the three races will produce spectacular and colourful sights in Port Erin, Peel and Douglas.

The biggest race in terms of numbers is the opening IQEQ 10km road race on Good Friday evening, with men and women starting together. Due to Easter falling early this year, the start time is earlier than usual at 5.30pm on Port Erin Promenade in the south of the Island. It is a fast and very scenic course, which last year saw the first two sub 30-minute times ever run for 10km on Manx tarmac.

A slight change to the route last year has undoubtedly made the course slightly faster than before. A total of 50% of the top 100 finishers last year ran personal best times, and course records were set for both men and women. Scott Stirling with 29:38 and Alice Goodall with 33:05 are the course record-holders, but they will miss the event this year as they are both representing Great Britain in the World Cross-Country Championships in Belgrade on Saturday (March 30).

The Full Factory Winnerswear Peel Hill Races take place in the west of the Island on Easter Saturday afternoon, with the men’s race off at 2.15pm and the women’s race following one hour later at 3.15pm. The separate races allow those not in the race in progress to go onto the lower slopes of the hill to support, and the visiting university teams always produce an incredible atmosphere as they cheer all the competitors up the steep part of the ascent, and then provide a colourful guard of honour for the leading athletes on the return.

Peel Hill (IOM Festival)

The final racing action is the Outback 5km road race which takes place on a pan-flat course on Douglas Promenade walkway on Easter Sunday morning. The women go first at 10.30am followed by the men at 11.15am. Competitors should note that the clocks change overnight, giving them one hour less sleep on Saturday night!

The fourth event is the prize presentation and party which takes place at the Outback Sports Bar in Douglas on Easter Sunday evening, and is strictly ticket-only.

The Festival has always attracted top athletes from around the British Isles and sometimes beyond, and 2024 is no different. The clear favourite for the women’s title looks to be local athlete Rachael Franklin (Manx Harriers) who is approaching legendary status in the history of the event and of Isle of Man athletics in general.

Having previously won the women’s title in 2014, 2018 and 2019, the 2022 Commonwealth Games 5000 metres representative is already the only local runner, male or female, to win three Festival titles. Franklin thrives on all surfaces, being a fine cross-country runner in addition to her displays on road and track. She lost her Peel Hill course record to Goodall last year, but only by five seconds, and she looks to be the outstanding female competitor this year.

10km start (IOM Festival)

There is plenty more quality in the women’s lineup, with event regular Katie Lowery (Leeds Uni) returning after an excellent performance in 2023. Her team-mate Sammy Mason should also go well. Louise Mitchell (Durham Uni) also impressed last year and should be among the challengers. Beth Ansell (Manchester Uni) is a specialist middle-distance runner who has also shown in previous Festivals that she is strong over longer distances too. Isla Calvert (Edinburgh Uni) is also a speedy middle-distance exponent, and others to look out for are Naomi Kingston (Oxford Uni) and Elizabeth Barlow (Sheffield Uni).

The men’s title is a harder one to predict, with an excellent depth of quality and little to choose between them. 2016 champion Oliver Fox returns once again, and the former Great Britain cross-country international is the only man in the field with a sub-30 10km to his credit although he last achieved that in 2022.

The Easter Festival has regularly catapulted promising young runners to stardom over the years, and Matt Knowles (Edinburgh Uni) could be the latest to achieve that. With an impressive Festival performance in 2023 behind him, his 5km PB of 14:03 is well clear of anyone else in the field. He was impressive in the Peel Hill race last year, and with an improvement in his 10km time he could well taste success in 2024.

Hill race start (Paul Freary)

Cambridge Uni look to have a strong team with the likes of Patrick Roddy, Tom Spencer and Max Walk supporting Fox. Leeds Uni, who have entered an incredible 96 runners in the Festival, have quality in the men’s races too, with Alex Dunn, Ritchie Gardiner, James Tucker and Ewan Wheelwright likely to be at the sharp end. Junior athlete Freddie Roden (Manchester Uni) is a promising runner as is fellow junior Luca Messenger-Jones (Edinburgh Uni), while others to look out for in the men’s races are Thomas Renshaw (Oxford Uni) and George Gathercole (Thames Hare & Hounds).

A number of former champions have returned for the 60th Festival, among them the special guest for the 2024 Festival Mara Yamauchi who was the women’s champion in 1998 when she won all three races representing Oxford University. Mara, who finished sixth for Great Britain in the 2008 women’s Olympic Marathon in Beijing, intends to run all three races – her focus this time being on enjoyment rather than winning.

Throughout its history the Easter Festival has showcased the very best that running has to offer with its mix of serious competition, fun and friendship. Its popularity grows year on year, and 2024 is sure to another memorable occasion as the Festival celebrates its 60th edition!