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Cancellation of Essar Four Villages Half Marathon sparks date debate

Helsby Half called off due to ice underfoot, but some runners completed the course anyway

Some race entrants ran the course in spite of the cancellation(Image: Chris Marritt)

Bad weather forced the cancellation of the Essar Four Villages Half Marathon yesterday (Sunday, January 18) for the second time in three years, prompting the question as to whether the race should continue to be held in January.

The 13.1 mile road race was called off after the police and members of the Cheshire West and Chester Council highways team inspected the icy course and told organisers Helsby Running Club it was not safe to proceed.

Around 2,000 runners were expected to descend on Helsby for the annual event, which starts and finishes in the village and passes through Manley, Mouldsworth and Dunham on the Hill.

 

Steve Riley, one of the organisers, told the Chronicle that having to cancel was ‘a bad situation but people have been very good about it’.

“We were keeping a close eye on the weather forecasts and it was all looking good.

“But the temperatures dropped on Saturday night.

“We spent close to £1,000 on a Cheshire West and Chester Council gritter that we had booked but the gritting operation just was not successful.

“In the end, it was not our decision – the police and highways said they could not support it.

“Naturally, we were very disappointed but in actual fact it was the right decision.

“All the reports said it was not safe.”

 

But Steve said they have received a lot of support from would-be racers.

“Our announcer told everyone it was off and apologised, and there was not a single boo.

“We emailed everyone yesterday explaining the decision and around 95% of responses were utterly supportive.

“Our accountant will have to go through everything and work out what is left over and at that point we will be able to offer a partial refund.”

Heavy snow meant the 2013 half marathon had to be cancelled just 24 hours before the starting gun was due to be fired – the first time in its history.

Now Helsby Running Club intends to ask everyone who entered this year’s race whether they think the race should remain in January.

“It is almost our unique selling point because there are so few races at the start of the year season so we are in two minds whether to stick with the date,” Steve said.

Andrew Fletcher, from Knutsford, and Andy Oates, from Altrincham, decided to run the Essar Four Villages Half Marathon route even though it was called off(Image: Chris Marritt)
 

Chris Marritt, 37, from Altrincham, was one of a number of race entrants who ran the course anyway but said organisers were ‘right’ to cancel it.

He said: “I’ve run the race three or four times now: it’s a beautiful course, always well-organised and with a great atmosphere.

“There’s a massive difference between running around the course chatting with friends and racing and, while the course was okay for us to get around, there were parts that would have been treacherous in race conditions. Safety has to come first and there’s no doubt in my mind that the decision to cancel was the right one.”

Chris praised the volunteers who stayed to cheer on the runners and handed out medals, goodie bags and cups of tea.

He added that he hopes the race ‘lives on in January’.

“It’s a great race and part of its appeal is definitely being able to run and race so early in the year.”

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