Race History

Last updated: Saturday, 11 February, 2023 at 01:07pm

The Abingdon Marathon was originally conceived in the summer of 1981, with Larry Blackwell (Race Co–ordinator) initially having jested that it could be “Abingdon’s answer to the London Marathon”. The three primary objectives were to provide a local marathon for runner irrespective of age, gender or ability, to involve the whole community and to raise money for charitable organisations. Those objectives remain as true to the race today as they did then, albeit a 5–hour cut–off time had to be introduced in 2013 to allow the race to continue to go ahead.

After a year of planning and organisation, the first Abingdon Marathon went ahead on Sunday, 3rd May in 1982 organised by the Radley Ladies Athletic Club and Abingdon Lions Club. The race was titled as the Abingdon People’s Marathon for the first four years of its existence. That first race was started by the renowned Scottish athlete Ian Stewart (MBE) who had represented GB at European, Commonwealth, World and Olympic level collecting medals along the way. In 1984 the TV presenter, Dickie Davies, would be on hand to support the race, and another British athlete of international distinction, David Bedford (OBE), would also start the race in 1990.

TV Presenter, Dickie Davies, lends his support to the Abingdon Marathon in 1984.

With just under 1800 entrants the race was able to accommodate a significantly larger field than the race is able to today. The race started and finished below Abingdon Bridge on Rye Farm Meadow beside the River Thames, just a short distance from the town centre. The inaugural winner of the Abingdon Marathon was Dave Parsons of Carterton recording a time of 2 hours 22 minutes and 4 seconds to finish just under a minute clear of his closest rival with the first lady, Miss V. Lees of Oxford, crossing the line in a time of 3 hours 22 minutes and 33 seconds. The first two races each saw over a thousand runners crossing the finish line.

Past Abingdon Marathon race programmes.As can be seen from the examples displayed the publicity of the race has evolved over the years not least due to the advent of personal computers and the Internet. Certainly the Internet provides far greater exposure for the race than it had in the early days. However it is to the great credit of the original organisers of the race that they were able to attract such sizeable fields.

Over the years the race has attracted significant sponsors with Morland Brewery (10 years) and AkzoNobel (9 years) standing out in terms of the longevity of their support for the race. After the initial flush of success of the first few years of the race the number of entries declined almost certainly due to the number of other events also scheduled for May. As a result the decision was taken to reschedule the race to take place in October. The change to autumn did not initially prove successful as entries fell sharply, but in subsequent years the race regained its popularity.

1991 poster advertising the race sponsored by Morland Brewery.In 1988 the race incorporated the Oxfordshire Marathon Championships for the first time with Paul Cousins (Kidlington RC) and Lillian Trimboli (Abingdon Amblers) securing the men’s and women’s individual titles respectively. Over the course of the years the Abingdon Marathon has incorporated the marathon championships of Berkshire, Middlesex, Oxfordshire and the Army.

After seven years of custodianship by the Radley Ladies Athletic Club and Abingdon Lions Club the race organisation was taken over by Abingdon Amblers AC (as Abingdon AC was named at that time). Since that time with the help of its club member and other volunteers, the race has grown from strength to strength.

From early on Abingdon’s twin town association with Argentan, a town located in the department of Orme in northern France that also hosted its own marathon, generated sufficient interest to give birth to the twin town competition. A team of athletes would make the annual pilgrimage to represent their town in the twin town competition at the host town’s race. In 1987 Jean–Pierre Beunard became Argentan’s first and only representative so far to win the Abingdon Marathon. Two years later Derek Green reciprocated by becoming the only athlete from Abingdon to win the Argentan Marathon, a success he repeated the following year in 1999. In addition, Derek is the only athlete ever to have scored a hat–trick of successive wins in the Abingdon Marathon with his successive victories in the race from 1992 to 1994.

In 1999 Woodstock Harriers AC became the first and only club to fill all three podium places in the men’s race. Simon Lund led the way home with club teammates Richard Shipway and Greg Dell both finishing within 6 minutes of the winner to complete the rout. Not surprisingly, there was little doubt who would win the men’s team title and teammate, Tom Glare, provided the confirmation by finishing in 30th place overall.

Dave Warren on his way to victory in 1984.Although occasional minor modifications to the race route have been necessary for one reason or another, four different routes have been used over the course of the history of the race: 1982–1987, 1988–1993, 1994–2001, 2002–2015 and 2016 to date. Technically that means there are five separate course records for both the men and the women. That having been said, the fastest times recorded over the measured marathon distance for the race have been David Warren (Wolverhampton & Bilson AC) who recorded a time of 2 hours 19 minutes and 7 seconds in 1986 and Samantha Amend (Handy Cross Runners) with a time of 2 hours 45 minutes and 38 seconds in 2009.

As the race has grown again in popularity it has now become widely regarded as one of the friendliest and best-organised marathon races in the UK with regular coverage in the local and national athletics press. Combined with the attraction of a fast and reasonably flat course through the picturesque Oxfordshire countryside the race provides an opportunity for a personal best that athletes find difficult to resist. The popularity of the race has helped it continue to support local charities in keeping with the race’s original mandate.

Unfortunately the race has suffered cancellations on a couple of occasions. In the first instance in 2007 a lack of volunteers prevented the race from going ahead and the races in 2020 and 2021 were inevitably lost due to the lengthy COVID–19 pandemic. It will be a relief to resume some kind of “normality” after all the disruption. Here’s looking forward to the next edition of the Abingdon Marathon. Bring it on!


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