England Athletics Chief Executive Chris Jones and Chair Peter King headed to Brighton & Hove City Athletics Club.
The club has its origins in three clubs - Hove AC, Brighton AC and Brighton Ladies AC - which joined together in two stages in the mid-1960s to become the current Brighton & Hove City AC based at Withdean Stadium.
Among those to meet Chris and Peter at Withdean was Chris Carter, a familiar name and face to many people in the sport. As an athlete, Chris was joint holder of the British 800m record and, after his international athletics career was over, remained heavily involved in the sport, including roles as Chair of the South of England AA, Race Director of the successful Brighton 10K - which raises valued funds for the club - and currently President of the AAAs of England.
There were several different groups training at the track during the visit, supported by a number of specialist coaches. Former international athlete and Head of Junior Coaching, Richard Carter, was working with a group of young athletes on Athletics 365 activities on the home straight, having already led an indoor session earlier that evening with his “Withdean Athletics Academy” for Under 10’s. Richard is passionate about the development of young athletes and says: “I started running myself from a young age and was guided properly and worked with some superb coaches. At Brighton now, we are striving to see this continue by giving our young athletes the best possible advice, making it fun, and seeing the pipeline of talent move progressively through the network of coaches who work here”.
The club was involved in Athletics 365 from its earliest days, with coaches John Clements and Trevor Simcox among those involved in the pilot. It holds Athletics 365 based sessions in addition to the club night activities that Chris and Peter saw. In some of the event focussed groups for older athletes some of the Athletics 365 elements are also included as part of their sessions.
This development pipeline has produced many talented young athletes over several decades, including, most recently, English Schools AA medallists and junior internationals, such as Amber Anning, Tom Eames, Stephen Ferroni, Tom French, Katie Garland, Will Gray, Anna Short, Lottie Hoare, Holly and George Turner, and many others.
But it is not just the young athletes that are catered for. The club is enjoying growing success on the roads in recent years. In the autumn ERRA six stage road relays, the senior men’s team finished 12th despite missing a couple of their top athletes. One of those missing was Allison Benton-coached athlete, Kevin Rojas, who ran 2:18:44 at the Berlin Marathon the week before the road relays.
Kevin clocked 2:48 in the 2011 Brighton Marathon when he was 29 and has since made the transition from being someone involved in mass participation events to his current level. He is hoping he can move towards 2:15. He recalled, “I ran 2:48 at Brighton off 40 miles per week. At that point I had no idea of what was going to happen. I was just running – one hour at 12K per hour on the treadmill. My brother started training so I decided to do that.” Kevin started working with Allison that year, initially shifting focus to 5/10k, and his marathon PB dropped to sub 2:20 by 2014.
Kevin’s story reflects what Allison has seen with other endurance athletes, many of whom come to the sport late. Among Allison’s group, are some talented Masters athletes, including Howard Bristow who ran 8:38.71 this year for 3000m to rank number 1 in the UK as an over 40. Allison’s training group includes endurance runners from all over Sussex, not only Brighton & Hove AC, and the Brighton club welcomes this broader group as a way of improving standards all round.
Another coach who was working with his group that evening was throws coach Bob Willows. Bob was dealing with the challenges caused by the track being re-laid then being followed by work being done on the grass on the in-field which meant his athletes were not able to being throwing out into the sector. This meant that some of his athletes were using a rubber discus and throwing into the nets. He has also made use of the steps that run up the outside of the track to do some conditioning work with his athletes.
Bob has been member of the club since 1968. He explained that he works with athletes aged 11 and upwards. Youngsters get a taste of the throws through the Athletics 365 work done which sees them throwing the howlers among other activities. For some of his coaching with higher level athletes he links up with Mike Winch and Judy Oakes and they head across to Lewes for indoor training.
Round on the back straight, Trevor Simcox was working with his hurdles group. His squad are from a number of clubs, but mostly members of Brighton & Hove.
He has been with the club for 10 years. As a former decathlete at that time he was involved in coaching football. But he had a familiar route back into athletics – his son took up the sport. That saw Trevor come into being involved again and making hurdles his specialisation, including being part of the England Athletics National Coach Development Programme. “I’ll take them when they are an Under 17. This lot all specialise in hurdles. I do coach the younger ones as a separate activity.”
That coaching of younger athletes is part of the clubs Athletics 365 work. And it is a busy coaching schedule for Trevor. As well as the sessions at Withdean for his older athletes he also heads across to Brighton College. “The sports master lets us use the weights room there. The college is really helpful to us.”
While the activities were going on at the clubs main base as part of the “normal club night” it was clear that there was plenty of other activity that is delivered by the club on other nights and at other venues.
Chris commented, “It was impressive to not only see everything that was going on at Withdean stadium on a Thursday night, but also to be able to hear about how the club and coaches who work with it coordinate other activities running on a daily basis and at other venues as well. I’d like to thank all those involved in arranging the visit for us and those who took the time to speak to us during our visit.
“It was great that this club visit also meant we had the opportunity to meet up with Chris Carter at his home club, see how he has such enthusiasm for it and hear something of the rich history that the club has, as well as how the current situation is building for the future.”