Updated in 2014 by Andrew Baillie - Chairman 2011-2014
Burgess Hill Runners wasn't the first running club to have been formed in the town, but none had survived, leaving local runners to find their own fun or join Haywards Heath Harriers. This club saw its first glimmerings of light on 10th September 1993, when a meeting was held to discuss the possible formation of a running club. That initial meeting was followed by another a couple of weeks later, and then a public meeting on 4 November 1993 - our official birthday - when the club was formally launched.
The aims of the club were set out:
1. To encourage all runners regardless of age, race, gender and ability to achieve their aims by offering support and coaching, and to encourage new runners to the sport.
2. To promote running and running events in Burgess Hill, and to act as a pressure group to lobby local government to provide a running track in the town.
The club just about stayed alive during 1994, supported by financial grants from the District and Town Councils. Average attendance during that first year was just eleven.
The club has moved between various venues across the town over the years. Our first venue was the now demolished Sydney West Sports Centre. This sounds quite impressive, but less so when you learn that our particular venue was the changing room showers. But with only a few members there was plenty of room. Word spread and it wasn’t long before we had outgrown the changing rooms, so we started to meet and warm up in the Sydney West bar – in many ways still our spiritual home.
By 1995 we had to move again; first to the cricket pavilion at Sydney West, and then the Mid-Sussex Christian Centre on the other side of the field, albeit that they then decided to use Wednesday evenings for something a bit more devout, so we found ourselves homeless at Christmas 1996. Our prayers were answered though and we moved to the Rugby Club in January 1997. Increasing rents forced us to bid farewell to the rugby players in January 2006 and move, briefly, to Janes Lane Recreation Ground Pavilion, until we were able to agree an altogether more salubrious venue at Burgess Hill School for Girls in May 2007.
When the club was formed we were coached by Keith Greenwood, who came to us from Haywards Heath Harriers. Keith introduced us to the joys of warming up, and showed many of us our first glimpses of disciplined training. After nearly two years Keith left to concentrate on individual coaching. Andy Brock took over in October 1995; Andy’s background was endurance running and with him came rather lengthier training sessions and a number of more technical terms for parts of the body! Andy and his family relocated to Cumbria in 2005 but not before leaving behind his legacy in the form of the ‘Back Caalf’ trophy. Stuart Condie stepped up to take over the role of chief coach, and grew the coaching staff to a sizeable level, with four level 2 coaches and several level 1 coaches in training. In 2014, Stuart stepped down as head coach. By then, the club and coaching administration had grown to the point where it was clear that having one head coach was no longer feasible. From 1995 to 2014, the number of sessions had grown from one per week, and a coaching ‘staff’ of three to cover it, to six coached sessions per week, and coaching staff of eighteen. As a result the role was split between into three – Liz Cooper Head coach, Sue Baillie deputy head coach, and Jan Lavis assistant Head Coach.
We have organised a number of races over the years. The first event we ventured into was on 1st January 1995. The 5k Resolution Run was held on an extraordinarily complicated route which wrapped the town centre in a stranglehold, confusing marshals and runners alike. Another run was held the following year, but it was then abandoned on the basis that the first of January was a silly day to hold an event that required concentration.
Another reason for ending the Resolution Run was that in July 1996 we fulfilled our responsibility as members of the West Sussex Fun Run League by staging the Batchelor’s Farm 4. This remained our annual fun run until 2007 when we changed our race location to a simpler and more scenic course at Wivelsfield and created the Wivelsfield Woodland Wobble. From 2012 we switched our WSFRL race to the Downland Dash, a race run on the fields around Downlands School in Hassocks (a race we’d helped to organize since 2006*).
We have also organised several races in support of the BBC’s bi-annual Sports Relief, as well as some ambitious club challenges, including relays along the Grand Union Canal and across the Channel to our twin towns of Abbeville and Schmallenberg.
The club has also organised our own intro-club races. The Blackcap Handicap has been run since 1995, and as its name suggests allowed all entrants a chance of winning. Indeed it's very rare for the same person to win it more than once! In recent years, we've also organised the Downs Link relay, a sort of mini South Downs Way Relay. The brainchild of Kim Gow, the idea being to open it to all members of all abilities, which is run in the autumn, from Guildford down to the sea at Shoreham along the length of the Downs Link.
While the club’s aim was to cater for all runners, it was noted that we could do more for complete beginners. At around the same time, England Athletics came up with a new initiative to get people running. Two ideas became one, and in 2009 we began our beginners group under the tutelage of Jan Lavis and Di Delderfield. The group has flourished to this day, and continues to be very well subscribed, and has seen many beginners move up the ranks to the very top level within the club.
The need for best practice has always been foremost for its members. The Clubmark status had been discussed for a number of years, but never seemed to be the right time to pursue it. However, in 2011, the time was deemed right, and the club started the process, which culminated in the club achieving Club accreditation status in April 2013. The club was the first senior club in the South East to achieve this. This paves the way for the club to achieve full Clubmark status with its junior academy in the near future.
The club has always been involved in all levels of running, including long distance races – marathons – and we've always catered for those runners wanting to join the club simply for marathon training, many of whom have stayed(!). This has grown since the inception of the Brighton Marathon in 2010 (1st lady home that day was one of our own club members, Jo Bryce!), and continues to grow to the present day. Nowadays it’s not uncommon for the club to field as many entrants to a local marathon as a local fun run league race.
The growth of the phenomenal parkrun events around the UK has not passed the club by. A few members had been attending these regularly in the general Sussex area before it occurred to one of them to set one up in the Mid-Sussex area. Whilst the area contains a number of parks, it was difficult to find one that was suitable in size, in the local area, and wasn't being used on a Saturday morning for football or cricket! The perseverance of Neil & Nick Dawson brought a Mid-Sussex parkrun to reality in the form of Clair Parkrun in Haywards Heath in July 2013. The club runs this venture jointly with Haywards Heath Harriers.
The club has over the years endeavoured to cater for junior runners in the area with varied success. The work the club has done has been overshadowed by neighbouring clubs with better facilities - Lewes with its own track, and Haywards Heath with the grass track at Whitemans Green. However, it was clear based on the popularity of these other clubs' junior sections that there was an appetite in the area for it. Bryony Monnery took up the task early in 2012 after Stuart Condie handed over the baton and, with the assistance of Dave Oldfield has grown the junior academy to a consistent level, with the juniors attending a number of WSFRL races over the years. Indeed, the victim of success has been the unavoidable introduction of a waiting list in recent months.
All of these recent developments had seen the club grow from 80 runners in 2005-2006 with members attending the one available session on Wednesday, to the present day (2014) with 200+ members, with pretty much every day of the week offering members an organised running session.
The club continues to cater for the ever-changing needs of its club members, but hasn't forgotten its roots, and still lobbies the local government to provide a running track for the public at large, as well as the club, with a legacy fund helping to achieve this.