Birkenhead Park celebrates 50th anniversary of 5-mile race

In 1972, the sport of running was not as common or popular as it is today. Whilst you may have seen school kids taking part in a cross-country run as a part of their sports lesson, or a group of runners from a local athletics club on a training run, it was rare to see joggers on the streets.

Fast forward 50 years and joggers are a ubiquitous sight and parkrun at Birkenhead Park regularly sees up to 500 participants take part in a 5k run on Saturday mornings.

But, before parkrun was established at Birkenhead Park, there was the annual 5-mile race that takes place there each July.

Oxton man, Peter Humphreys, established the Birkenhead Park 5-mile event in 1972 when he was Secretary of Wirral Athletic Club.

Peter Humphreys, who organised the first Birkenhead Park 5-mile race in 1972

birkenhead.news spoke to Peter on the 50th anniversary of the first race; “[The 1972 race] was very competitive! It was an all-male field and in the main, mostly aged under 40,” he said

“Compare that with today and it’s really quite different. It’s a bigger demographic and now women also compete, and also a wide age range take part, which I think is great.”

At the inaugural race in 1972, 60 runners took part. The 2022 race, that took place yesterday (Tuesday, 19 July), saw 339 participants cross the finish line.

Today’s participants register through the Wirral AC website, but for the first event, runners had to register using snail mail. Peter explained, “In 1972, there was no email, no internet, so entries were by post, responding to an advertisement in Athletics Weekly.

“People registered by sending letters by post, including a cheque or a postal order. Nowadays, of course, it’s really quite different.”

Technology has also helped in other areas. In 1972, runners’ times were measured using stopwatches and the times were handwritten to record them at the finishing line. “In those days, you had timekeepers and they would stand on the finish line and just click every time somebody goes past,” Peter said.

Peter added, “I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to participate in the proceedings by presenting the prize to Emily Kearney for her new course record time.”

Concluding, Peter said, “I never imagined for one moment that the Birkenhead Park 5-mile run would still be in existence 50 years on! Even less, at the age of 81, I didn’t have any great expectation that I might be around to witness it.”

Ready to go at the start
And they’re off! Eventual winners Emily Kearney (142) and Tj Jones (309) alongside each other at the start
Spectators encourage the runners
Emily Kearney on her way to setting the women’s course record
(L-R) Sean Truett of Buckley RC, David Pastor of UTS Running Club, and Jack Heap of Wirral AC
Tj Jones leads the race
Stan Cottier (202) of Liverpool Running Club ran in the first race in 1972 and also in the 50th anniversary race. He said, “I’ve done the race a few times since competing in 1972 when it was a slightly different course. It was four laps and it was quite an interesting course.”
Bob Brimage (115), of Wallasey Athletic Club, competed in the very first Birkenhead Park 5-mile race in 1972
The face of determination, Richard Costain of Penny Lane Striders
Ian Chalmers, of Pensby Runners
Winner of the men’s race, Tj Jones of Wirral AC, crosses the line in 26m 44s
Winner of the women’s race, Emily Kearney of Wirral AC, crosses the line in 27m 23s, setting a new women’s course record
Peter Humphreys is presented with a commemorative plaque in recognition of being the organiser of the first Birkenhead Park 5-mile race
Race founder, Peter Humphreys presents Emily Kearney with her prize for setting a new course record time
Two runners competed in both the first Birkenhead Park 5-mile race and the 50th anniversary race – Bob Brimage (red vest) and Stan Cottier (blue vest) are presented with a commemorative plaque to mark the achievement
(L-R) Bob Brimage, Peter Humphreys, and Stan Cottier show off their commemorative plaques

Images: www.fotopiaimages.com

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