In 1984 RAF medic Barry Garfoot was posted from Cyprus to the RAF Hospital at Ely where he met Martin Hadnett, another RAF medic and keen runner who eventually ran 2:30 in the London Marathon. Both trained at lunchtime with the RAF Hospital cross-country team and thought they should start a running club based at the Paradise Centre in Ely. In 1985, they contacted Maurice Reed (who was then Manager of the Paradise Centre) to arrange a meeting at the The King’s Arms pub in St Mary’s Street where Maurice said they could use the Paradise Centre as a base to meet and change. Thus in August 1985 was born Ely Runners.
The formation was presumably given publicity including public notices (see photo archive 1986-88) and the first 6-8 members included Barry Garfoot, Martin Hadnett, Tony Hall, Maurice Reed, Colin Bent, and Rodney Atkinson. They started entering races (and claiming the -50p affiliated fee) and trained on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings. Another benefit was an increased chance of getting place in the London Marathon. Barry was posted to the RN in Portsmouth in 1988 but continued to live in Ely and commute on a weekly basis until moving to Halton in 1989-90. Martin Hadnett moved to Chippenham in 1996.
John Turner moved to Ely on 20th August 1986 and on 25th August 1986 ran in the Ely Half Marathon, then organised by current member Maurice Reed when he was manager of the Paradise Centre. At this time John made contact with the club and joined for a sub of £1. Whilst moving to Ely, John Turner was amused to see a sign to Grunty Fen and thought it would make a good name for a half marathon race.
Tony Hall recalls that the first race as an Ely Runners team (Carole Hatfield, Rodney Atkinson, Tony Hall, Peter Ford, Barry Garfoot) outside the city was the 50-mile Fenland Relay at March on 6th September 1986. The next team race was a cross-country event at March on 30th November 1986 in which Tony Hall, Rodney Atkinson, Colin Bent and John Turner took part.
The club began to grow with other early ‘members’ such as Jon Peacock (who often trained with Martin Hadnett and had a London Marathon PB of 2:29 but never actually joined ER!), Rodney Atkinson, Carol Hatfield, Peter Marchant, Carol Taylor, Clive Hall, Barry Aldridge, Janet Clarke, David Buckingham, Maurice Reed, Peter Ford, Mick Burton, and Mike Willmott. Club Chairmen have been Tony Hall, Carol Taylor, John Allen and Peter Gipp. Club Treasurers have been Colin Bent, Lenja Sundgren, Tony Hall and Peter Harris.
The first Club Secretary was John Turner who after 24 years handed over to Steve Tovey in 2011.
The first recorded Annual General Meeting was held on 3rd January 1990. Tony Hall (Chairman), Colin Bent (Treasurer) and John Turner (Secretary) were all re-elected. Colin Bent was asked to open a club bank account and it was agreed that the club subscription should remain at £2.
The Ely Half Marathon originally used a rural route north of the city including Little Downham but after the bypass was completed in 1986, confined itself (from 1986 to the last event in 1990) to two twisting and hilly circuits around Ely. See photo archive 1986-88 for a map of the city course.
Following the demise of the Ely and Cambridge Half Marathons, the Grunty Fen Half Marathon became a reality and has since been held continuously from 1991 from Witchford Village College. It was the first open race organised by Ely Runners. This race has always attracted a substantial entry and incorporated many championships, including ARC, Road Runners Club, EVAC, Cambs AA, and Hash House Harriers. It has also been a Cambs Road Race League event for many years.
Following the last Ely Half Marathon (two difficult laps around the city organised by the Paradise Centre) in 1990, the club decided in 1991 to organise it’s own half marathon race on a new and faster course around Grunty Fen. Since then, the popular Grunty Fen Half Marathon has been held each year on the second Sunday in September from Witchford Village College. It has often incorporated other championships (CAAA, EVAC, HHH and RRC) and the CRRL. It was also a candidate for the 2005 AAA of England Championships.
The 10k Handicap and course was the idea of ex-member Chris Baker who lived in Pymoor and used the route for training. This instigated the club’s first 10k Handicap race on 29th September 1996.
It started and finished in Pymore near to Chris Baker’s house. The winner was Darren Murfitt who received the new trophy from John Turner’s mother on her 90th birthday.
Subsequently, the 10k Handicap started and finished in Little Downham.
Following a financial loss in the 1999 Grunty Fen Half Marathon, it was decided to hold an open New Year’s Eve 10k on the same course as the 10k Handicap. Fortunately, New Year’s Eve was on a Sunday in 1999 and the first event was inevitably successful.
Since then, it has always been held on 31st December, irrespective of the day, to become one of the most popular races in the region.
Repetition, interval and hill training were gradually introduced by John Turner and courses and routes developed to accommodate the increased Wednesday training activity. About 1997, Tim Elkington suggested training on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the club has since done so. Barry Garfoot originally took training but Tony Hall soon took over in the late 1980s and continued until he handed over to John Turner in about 1994.
The club’s now traditional ‘Pre-Christmas Long Run’ from Wooditton to Ely (about 18.5 miles/nearly 30 km) is usually held on the last Sunday before Christmas. The course (pioneered by John Turner when he ‘escaped’ from a misty January 1991 shopping trip to Newmarket) follows the Devil’s Ditch to Reach and then along the Reach Lode bank to Upware to finish along the Cam and Ouse banks to Ely.
Until 2005, it was almost entirely off-road until Ely High Bridge and, depending on the weather, a real mid winter challenge. The last 1.75m of the east river bank path was made into a tarmac cycle route in the summer of 2005, thereby reducing the off-road content of the run.
In the late 1990s, Eric Drury thought the club should have some permanent awards and purchased/obtained coveted trophies for the Most Improved Runner (continuous improvement for at least a year), Best Marathon (not necessarily the fastest), and Best Half Marathon.
From 2004, the Most Improved Runner shield became the Most Improved New Member shield and two new elegant silver plate cups were purchased for the Most Improved Male Runner and the Most Improved Female Runner.
These trophies (plus any Special Achievement and Appreciation Awards) are awarded annually at the AGM, which is now held on the first Monday in February in the upstairs bar meeting room at the Paradise Centre.
In March 2005, newly appointed Membership and Trophies Committee Member Charlie Barker finished making and installed a polished wood and glass trophy cabinet above the club’s notice board in the foyer of the Paradise Centre. This was soon filled with trophies won by/awarded to members so in 2009, Charlie Barker made and installed a second and larger trophy cabinet in the Paradise Centre foyer. In July 2011 Charlie Barker retired from his wood and metal work teaching career and became the club’s first Welfare Officer
In 1999/00, there was not enough club support to join the Frostbite Friendly League of 6 winter races, which then required 10 scoring members including at least 2 ladies.
However, membership gradually increased and Ely Runners joined the league for the 2001-02 season to finish 9th.
Then, in 2002/03 the club improved to 2nd team, and in 2003/04 was 1st team by a narrow margin over Riverside Runners. Reduced turnouts in the 2004/05 series resulted in 4th place overall.
In the 2005/06 series, the club was 7th in the 1st race but gradually overhauled Cambridge & Coleridge AC to win the last 3 races and the league by 1 point.
Since then, the club has often been within the first four teams.
In 2002, Ian Blatchford initiated and designed the club’s first web site. Next, in 2003/4, Rod Baron created the Grunty Fen Half Marathon web site and the Ely New Year’s Eve 10k Road Race web site. Rod Baron then went on to become the club’s Web Master to develop and maintain the club’s web sites and electronic administration including handling the entries and results for the club’s open and private races.
On 29th November 1998, the club (invited by organisers March AC) ran in the first experimental Hereward 4 Stage Relay from Peterborough to Ely Cathedral using the 38.4 miles of roads, tracks and droves of the Hereward Way. This trial event was a great success. Ely Runners were 2nd but the 1st complete club team to finish.
Since then this challenging and increasingly popular relay has been held each year with 110 teams starting in 2004. Ely Runners usually enter several teams and in 2003 were the 1st Vets (5th overall) team to finish. In 2004, Ely Runners Men’s ‘A’ team finished 4th in 4:09:24, the club’s fastest ever time and nearly 14 minutes faster than the winning time in 1998! Until the finish was changed from Palace Green to Ely Football Club in 2007, the club was responsible for the difficult Ely A10 bypass crossing and route to the finish by the cannon on Palace Green.
Since then, Ely Runners have marshalled the muddy Bishop’s Drove route from Little Downham to the finish at the Football Club. It has always been responsible for organising the finish area.
On 18/19th September 2004, the club competed in the 17 stage (189 miles) Round Norfolk Relay for the first time to finish 9th of 36 teams and win the Newcomer’s trophy. In 2006, the club received a trophy for being 3rd of 20 teams in the high standard Open Class. Since then the club’s teams (organised by Alan Rutterford) have achieved several awards in this event including 1st Open Class 2008 and 1st ARC Long Distance Relay team in 2007 and 2008. In 2008, Rachel Roberts initiated and managed the club’s first all ladies joint team with Cambridge & Coleridge AC.
In both 2009 and 2010, the club entered two complete teams of 17 runners each into the 193 miles Round Norfolk Relay. Alan Rutterford managed the Open class teams and Simon Jackson the Club class teams. The Open class teams were 2nd overall in both years, emphasising the club’s strength in depth.
A One Mile Handicap was introduced in 2004 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Roger Bannister breaking 4 minutes for the mile. It was run on The King’s School grass track and won by Karen Foreman, who also won the 10k Handicap in 2004! In 2005, a track could not be obtained so the race became the Straight Mile Handicap on Quanea Drove. Although difficult to judge pace, this hotly contested race had 26 members competing and will become an annual club event with perpetual trophies made by Charlie Barker for the M/F Handicap Winners, M/F Fastest Times, and M/F Age Graded Winners. In 2010, due to the increasingly undulating surface and narrowness of Quanea Drove, the race reverted to the King’s School grass track on Amherst Field and in 2011 to the smoother Campus Field. To mark the progress being made by the Junior Section, two new Junior Handicap shields (1st boy and 1st girl) were purchased.
The club’s Cross-Country Championships were introduced for the 2006-07 season. The first two races were incorporated into the Frostbite League race at Bourne Woods in February 2007 and 2008. Four ‘Tudor’ perpetual shields were purchased for the 1st Man, 1st Woman, 1st Age Related Man, and 1st Age Related Woman. In 2007, a 4.8m course which started and finished on Ely Common, was devised by John Turner and tested/adjusted by members. It was first used for the club’s third championship on 18th January 2009.
In March 2007, the club held its first open Turing Trail Relay in 6 stages from Ely to Cambridge (Jesus Green) and back in a ‘fen blow’ wind along the riverbanks. This ambitious project had long been a race that John Turner had dreamt about but it needed Rod Baron’s website and results systems skills to make it become a reality.
The race was named after World War 2 Bletchley Park code breaker Alan Turing who trained for marathons on the riverbanks whilst at King’s College, Cambridge. The Turing Trail Relay is always held on the third Sunday in March when the riverbanks are in prime condition for running although weather conditions can sometimes be difficult.
The start and finish for the 2007 and 2008 events were on Amherst sports field adjacent to the railway station but in 2009, the start and finish were moved to Minster Place next to Ely Cathedral. The original changeovers were Dimmock’s Cote, Waterbeach, Jesus Green, Waterbeach and Chalkpit. The Chalkpit changeover was changed to Upware car park in 2009.
The year 2009 also saw the formation of a Junior Section developed, represented on the Committee by Alan Rutterford as i/c Juniors and also in 2010 by Lesley Wright as Junior Secretary. The Juniors first cut their race teeth in the 2009/10 Frostbite League finishing 9th of 13 clubs. In 2010/11, Ashley Pettit won the first Frostbite Junior race at St Neots.
In 2011/12, Emily Knight introduced the club’s smart new racing strip to replace the black vest and florescent yellow shorts introduced by John Turner about 20 years earlier. The new strip comprised a black vest and shorts, both with yellow side-strips, thereby maintaining the traditional ‘Fen Tigers’ colours. Both the old and new strips have ‘ELY RUNNERS’ in bold yellow letters on the back. The front of the new strip has a schematic Ely Cathedral logo (designed by Emily) on the front to replace the pictorial outline previously used. The club’s first strip in 1985 comprised a black cotton vest with white edge piping and amber-yellow shorts.
In the summer of 2012, Club Secretary Steve Tovey instigated the first Beginner’s Course, which was a great success, with many candidates becoming competent and enthusiastic members. More courses followed in autumn 2012 and spring 2013. Several experienced members, including Steve, qualified as coaches to enthusiastically help the beginners. More recently, Lionel Smith has been supervising these courses.
On 17th February 2011, former member Diana Gipp and wife of former Chairman Peter Gipp died at the early age of 54 years after a typically determined fight with cancer. Diana achieved great success as a veteran runner including three successive women’s overall Cambs Road Race wins and four Frostbite League race wins.
At the time of her death, she still held eleven veteran women’s club records achieved between 2001-2004 for distances from 5 km to Marathon with age grades of 78-83%. From 2000-2002, Diana dominated women’s running in the area with numerous outright, category and stage wins – see ‘Club Achievements’.
Until shortly before her death, Diana was a Senior Care Worker for STRADA stroke patients in Ely and Cambridge. Several long-standing members attended her funeral at which John Turner gave a eulogy of her many achievements.
On 17th December 2012, Founder and Honorary Member Tony Hall died, aged 78. Cancer had been diagnosed only a few months earlier and soon after helping at the September 2012 Grunty Fen Half-Marathon, his health declined quickly.
Tony’s funeral was held at Ely Methodist Church and attended by several members, including the club’s officers. John Turner, who’d known Tony as a member since 1986, read one of the lessons.
After being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer eighteen years earlier, Tony recovered and joined the Cambridgeshire Prostate Support Cancer Association as Vice-Chairman and also did much fund raising. Tony had been a member of Ely Runners continuously since the club’s foundation in 1985 during which time he was Club Chairman, Club Treasurer and took training in the club’s early years. He raced regularly and, whenever he could, provided friendly and experienced involvement in club events and league races. Tony was also an appointed Life Member of Eastern Veterans AC.
A true Fenman and local historian, he died at his home in Osier Close, close to the house on Ely’s Waterside where he was born. Tony was married to Alwen and formerly to Margaret, who had also died from cancer about 25 years earlier.
Tony attended Soham Grammar School where he won the cross-country cup. During his National Service in the 1950s, Tony was based in Cornwall with the RAF and when coming home by train to Ely on leave brought a couple of Muskovy ducks for his father’s birthday present. His father was not impressed and decided to release them, hence the population that has waddled around the Waterside area ever since. However, Tony’s gesture was not in vain because he noted where they laid their eggs and regularly gathered these for consumption.
Tony trained as a blacksmith and prior to his retirement had a business in Soham that specialised in sheet stainless work, particularly flue liners. When still an active veteran runner, the Ely Standard asked him why he was a runner and Tony replied that if he looked at the horizon he liked to know that he could run there.