Hastings Half Marathon: Event’s popularity increases as Eamonn Martin appears

Carrying on our articles on the history of the Hastings Half Marathon, here race director Eric Hardwick remebers when superstar Eamonn Martin got involved.

Monday, 18th May 2020, 3:44 pm
Updated Monday, 18th May 2020, 3:46 pm

In 1993, the event was still increasing in popularity, with a good British and international field, including six from Kenya.

A certain Eamonn Martin (10,000m record holder), was a late entrant to the event when his coach asked, a week before it, if he could take part in preparation for his first London Marathon, with Hastings being his first half.

Eamonn was not originally an athlete – he was converted from playing football when a coach spotted his potential for running.

Race director Eric Hardwick MBE with Eamonn Martin

His favoured distance was 10,000m and at the age of 35 he was deciding to move into long distance racing.

With the Hastings Half nicely positioned a month before London Marathon, it was perfect preparation.

The African challenge was strong, but Martin just kept in there on the heels of the Kenyans, and they could not shake him off, until Martin unleashed his famous finishing sprint in the last 200m to pass the opposition and win in 1.02.58.

But that is not the end of the story....

After the race, I asked Eamonn if he would like to present the prizes and awards at our annual prize-giving evening on Friday, April 23, bearing in mind that this was just after the London Marathon, and he willingly said yes.

A month later in the London Marathon, Eamonn sprinted past the previous leader in the last 200m to win. Sound familiar? The double of Hastings and London was accomplished.

Martin became the hottest property in Sport overnight. Everyone wanted him.

People kept asking me if he would stil attend the prize-giving evening on the Friday after the London race.

I anxiously waited until Thursday, then telephoned the great man. As soon as he heard my voice, he said: “I suppose you are wondering if I am okay for Friday?

“Of course I am, see you for 7pm. But I do have one problem, that I have to be in Birmingham the following morning to take part in the national relays, so will not stay the night afterwards, but get away as soon as I can and drive to Birmingham overnight.”

Martin duly arrived on Friday to a tremendous crowd at Marina Pavilion, with his London Marathon trophy, took part in an interview, presented all the prizes, and posed for photo, and signed numerous autographs.

We thanked him and gave him a number of presents for his wife and children and off he went into the night to Birmingham.

To this day he is my hero, and one of the most geniune sportspeople you could ever meet. I can never speak more highly of him, and he is such a credit to the sport.

Meanwhile Reg Wild, a lifetime member of Hastings AC, agreed to sponsor the mini run. Reg was a tower of strength for HAC and coached the youngsters among many activities.

He later became president of HAC. I always recall him saying to me that coming down Old London Road in the half marathon the ‘speed camera’ clicked him going too fast.

The 1993 event was also memorable because of a near disaster.

Drawing our power from lamppost number four in Sea Road, it had never been a problem – until this year.

As daylight came, and we were ready to power up our computers and PA system, there was NO power.

We could not find the problem, we contacted Southern Electric and were trying to find a generator or other power source with an hour to the start.

Then suddenly appeared a gentleman at the lamppost who asked if we had a problem?

Obviously we had! He said he could fix it for us as he had previously been employed by HBC and one of his duties on half marathon day was to switch the power for the lamposts back on after they had automatically switched of when daylight came.

But no-one had been appointed to take over his duties, so he had just turned up in case he was needed. It certainly was!

He quickly switched the power back on and the crisis was over.

We have always been grateful to this mystery gentleman,and it taught us a lesson never to presume that everything worked. Whether it’s power, water, locks or whatever, check first – you’ll be glad you did!

We also improved our finishing arrangements in 1993, which HAC had so brilliantly handled so far, by introducing a tear-off tag from the race number, to further improve the results.

This was also the first time that the route went past The New Conquest Hospital, which had been opened by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne. The proceeds of the half marathon had helped to fit out the children’s ward.

Besides the continuing sponsorship of Hollingsworth and the Observer, we still had Ron Hill Sports, Coral Racing, Marshall Tuflex, Drinkwater Sabey, Adams & Jarrett, Plant & Tools, NIG Skandia and Stiles/Harold/Williams supporting the event,with Reg Wild still sponsoring the mini run.

Of course as well as the elite runners, there was increased popularity for characters and fancy dress. An outstanding feature in the early years was the famous ‘Broad Oak/Brede Fire Brigade, who used to push their mobile fire engine round the route.

All this time the spectators were increasing, and the atmosphere on the route got better and better.

One of the great supporters was the St Helens Care Home at the end of The Ridge, who all came out in their wheelchairs and with their zimmers and walking sticks and made an incredible sound with their pots and pans.

One year the police helicopter took to the skies for the half marathon, and the feedback was that an estimate of 50,000 people were watching the event.

The public of Hastings had showed their support,and this was also due to the leaflet drop to every household on the route by Hastings Runners in the week prior to the race.

Next time the Kenyans strike back.