Thursday, 24 October 2019

The day we crossed the virgin Orwell Bridge

The Evening Star team ready to cross Ipswich's Orwell Bridge: From left - Max Stocker, Bruce Wade, Rob Hadgraft, Colin Hayward and Bryn Webber.

THEY started building it exactly 40 years ago, hence tomorrow (Friday) is being declared ‘Orwell Bridge Day’. Celebrations include a BBC Radio Suffolk documentary featuring various people with bridge-related memories. The line-up includes your very own Clapped-Out Runner!

Some of you may recall that shortly before this magnificent edifice was opened to traffic, a half-marathon was staged allowing more than 1,000 runners to stream across the virgin Bridge, before a U-turn took them back across it along the opposite carriageway. 

One of the foot soldiers in that unique event was Yours Truly and, notwithstanding the fierce winds and relentless hills, it felt like a real privilege to be among the first ‘civilians’ to cross the River Orwell in this way. Proper pioneers! 

In those days I was a running novice who didn’t even possess the proper kit, but I wasn’t the only one. The event was sponsored by my employers at the local paper, and we fielded a small but enthusiastic team of chaps who didn’t normally run great distances but were up for a challenge. A few weeks earlier I’d tried the Sunday Times Fun Run in London's Hyde Park and was in the early stages of addiction to the running game. Having recently got married and bought a house, it seemed like a more suitable leisure pursuit than Sunday morning football!

Just over 1,000 of us charged across the Bridge on that chilly day in November 1982 to complete 13.1 tough miles. The winner of the women’s race was Carol Gould, an Ipswich-based international with a 2:35 marathon to her name.

Carol and myself were invited into the BBC Suffolk studios recently to record material for tomorrow’s documentary and it proved an enjoyable re-union as we’re both former members of Ipswich JAFFA and hadn’t had a good chin-wag for 25 years or more.

The Bridge half-marathon stands out in my memory as my first proper road race, in which I managed a time of 1hr 30mins despite scant experience or proper training. I also recall the start being delayed at least 15 minutes because Ipswich mayor Beryl James was stuck in traffic!

It was 1982 and the citizen running boom was just taking off in East Anglia. There were hundreds like me that day getting their first proper taste of the sport. A sign of the times was the oldest finisher of the 1,046 being only 59 years old!  And when it was announced a few weeks later that Ipswich’s very first full marathon would take place in the same area, around 900 quickly signed up – but only 24 of them were women.

* BBC Radio Suffolk’s ‘Orwell Bridge Day’ (Friday Oct 25) includes Matt Marvell’s documentary to be broadcast at 9am on the breakfast show, and showings throughout the afternoon in the Suffolk Food Hall of a 40-minute film of the bridge being built. 

( * Views expressed in this blog are purely my own and not necessarily those of the two long-established East Anglian running clubs I am privileged to have Life Membership of).     

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