The Early History of
AVON VALLEY RUNNERS
by Tim Northwood (Co-founder member)
It’s impossible to offer a true account of the foundation of Avon Valley Runners without referring to our last year with Trowbridge Athletic Club, to which most AVR founder members belonged. Trowbridge AC was a fairly large and busy club with a full range of age groups participating in a comprehensive spread of athletic sub-sports : long- and middle-distance running, track and field athletics, and race-walking (with the small band engaged in the last activity enjoying particular success, especially in the person of the international Judy Farr).
The large number of child members gave club excursions to track and cross-country league meetings a feeling of youthful enthusiasm and camaraderie. It was natural that parents took a close interest in the wellbeing and success of their children, and it followed as a matter of course that some parents carried their interest into the organization of the club.
However, this caused the distance runners to become a minority group on the committee. When in late 1985 it was proposed that club training on Tuesday evenings be moved from Clarendon School in Trowbridge, where the surrounding area gave us a wide choice of interesting runs and we’d paid only 20p each for the use of the change-rooms and showers, to the Christie-Miller Centre in Melksham, where there was a new Tartan track but the road runs in the area didn’t appeal to us and we’d be paying 70p each for the dubious privilege, our objections were overruled.
We had little choice but to resign en bloc and form our own club, and, not without regret, we gave Trowbridge AC secretary Vernon Cox notice of our intention in September of that year. Five of us marked the occasion after training on Tuesday 29 October with a drink in the nearby Anchor & Hope. From then till the end of the year our “out-of-club” runs took place from Stan and Judy Farr’s house in Victoria Gardens, while we discussed the practical and other details necessary for forming a new club.
None of us was in the first flush of youth; in fact, I’ve calculated that the average age on 1 January 1986 of the ten founders with unbroken membership remaining today was 40·4 years. All the same, in our former club we were used to training hard and running well, learning from our own and one another’s experience — the best coach for distance running — along with the simple instruction, “Try harder!” And it worked: for men, six-minute-mile pace up to and including the half-marathon was considered no better than good enough, and three hours was the unofficial club-standard line for the marathon.
Our main intention was clear : to keep things as informal as possible. As enthusiastic distance runners, we would avoid the complications of multi-activity track and field athletics, and this was to be reflected in our name: not “harriers” or “athletic club”, but simply “runners”. Our name therefore reflected our modest aspirations : a friendly, uncomplicated association of distance runners whose favourite stamping-ground was and would be the scenic and testing valley of the River Avon : Avon Valley Runners.
It’s no exaggeration to say that the late Stan Farr was the founding father of the new club. His experience and selfless work as our secretary for twenty years, with the help of Judy, led us through all the formalities of dealing with the AAA. We were also fortunate to have the support of Mike Holland, who had been treasurer with Trowbridge, and showed his son Miles the ropes in keeping the finances of the new club in order. Mike was our first president, and in the beginning and for the next twenty years was a reliable adviser in constitutional matters on the rare occasions when we needed such advice. It’s worth recording here that our first chairman, Paul Morgan, owned a chair factory: it seemed a good idea to find the most appropriate person for any position. (Unfortunately Paul had to give up running for medical reasons, but went on to distinguish himself in local opera and drama.)
We started the new year as we meant to continue, when a few of us competed as AVR for the first time on Sunday 1 January 1986 in the annual Melksham 15-kilometre road race. Word got about, and in no time at all our numbers rose from the initial dozen or score to several score by the end of the first year, and nearly a hundred at the end of the third year. It was obvious that there had always been a hidden army of enthusiasts who simply wanted to run but had been intimidated by the feeling that they weren’t “athletes”.
From the start we continued much as before, with minor differences. Stan arranged an alternative Tuesday meeting-place for the first few years at the judo club in Innox Road, Trowbridge, from where we went either on speed sessions under street-lights in Southway Park, or the hilly Wingfield/Tellisford circuit in summer, until we returned to Clarendon, by then a “sports centre”; on Thursday evenings for a couple of years we shared Culver Close in a friendly spirit with our former Trowbridge AC clubmates until they ceased to use it; and of course Sunday-morning runs from Pound Lane were and still are a friendly and sociable fixture.
Another activity of Trowbridge AC which we carried over into AVR was affiliation to the Wessex and Avalon cross-country leagues; after 1990 we left the former. In spite of the pleasure we’d derived from this healthy branch of the sport in our former club it was difficult to arouse enthusiasm in new members, and often only four or five of us would make the journey to one of an interesting variety of courses.
As a new club we were keen to do our bit in contributing to the local calendar of races, and this began in 1998 with founder member Tom Roberts’s series of handicaps over the testing Jones Hill/Avoncliff course of about three miles, held on the last Thursdays of May, June and July, which lasted until 2000 and seems to have been revived recently. Our next venture was the AVR 10K road race in Trowbridge, which was popular and successful from 1991 until 1998. From 1997 we’d begun putting resources into a multi-terrain race which invited athletes from other areas to compete in the Avon and Frome valleys which we’d been enjoying for years; and the Over the Hills race, conceived by Bernie Hobbs and Colin Williamson, continues to attract capacity entries to the present day. The same two members also came up with the 3 × 1·36-mile BernCol Relay which took place every year from 1993 to 2001. A newer member, Paul Clark, was responsible in 2005 for devising the forbiddingly-named Conkwell Killer, in which the only tough part of the varied eight-mile course was a climb up the old miners’ track from Dundas to Conkwell; this event also continued till a year or two ago.
I value the memory of my working relationship with Stan Farr over the first twenty years of the club’s existence. During the years when I maintained a membership list (updated quarterly in consultation with Stan, who judiciously struck out those who dropped out from time to time, to keep the number below the 100 which would have put us in a costlier bracket in terms of AAA affiliation), the ratio of men to women was fairly steady at around 60 : 40, and that of seniors to veterans was much the same.
When in 1990 I acquired a wordprocessor (later replaced by a “proper” computer), I offered to relieve him of one of his many tasks : compiling the simple but invaluable newsletter which he’d typed out from the beginning, and to extend its content with the addition of accurate results, member profiles and other features. On a Sunday afternoon or evening Stan or Judy would call round with the weekend’s results for my press reports ; and I’d keep these bits of paper for inclusion of every member’s performances in the quarterly Valley News. Although it was necessary sometimes to draw on “Memory Lane” to fill four A4 pages, I greatly appreciated the contributions of members in the form of race reports from far-flung places, humorous efforts and poems, especially from Tony Bartlett, Joyce Field, and the indomitable Viv Toms, who found time both to travel the world looking for challenging races and to condense her pithy comments into catchy verse.
Forgive me for introducing a sober note, but during the past twenty-five years we’ve seen many members come and go, and we owe it to them to remember a few who made the ultimate departure. Frank Allen, who died after a run from Culver Close in 1990, and whose name lives on in the trophy for the outstanding over-50 member; Vic Bull, 1992, after whom the over-50 marathon trophy is named; the irrepressible Alan Jonas, aged only 35, in a mountaineering accident in the Italian Alps in 1993; Brian Merrill, only 50, in 1997 ; Glaswegian Bill Howsego’s full life of running, swimming, sailing and classical guitar ended aged 76 in 2001; Pauline Sanger, one of our Warminster intake, succumbed to cancer aged only 52 in 2002; she wasn’t a member, but Cynthia Holland, wife of our longtime president Mike, died on 2 October 2006 — only a day before Ian Stanley Farr, who following a sudden collapse while accompanying the Sunday-morning pack on his bike from Culver Close, died in hospital two days later.
Changing Times – by Darren Wrintmore
As the world moved into the 21st century there was a need for the club to move with it and after discussions with Stan and other committee members I was given the task of creating a website for the club. Using the free Geocities web hosting service provided by Yahoo, the site was an immediate hit presenting club results and news to a global audience. Another area identified for improvement was the Valley News, however the moves to modernise this met with fierce resistance and it continued to be produced on an early 1990’s word processor. I did however come up with a full colour supplement to the club newsletter with “Captains Corner” and this ran from 2004 until 2007 at which time I took on the editorship of the Valley News and then the whole newsletter became full colour and distributed electronically.
The untimely death of Stan in 2006 hit the club hard as he had led the club right from its founding and had also mentored me when I was approached to organise a Sport Relief mile in Bradford on Avon in 2004 and in 2005 the Shaw & Whitley Stampede multi-terrain race near Melksham. The Sport Relief mile when repeated in 2006 spawned the Avon Valley Mile which is still going strong, whilst the Stampede race ran until 2013.
I took on the position of Honorary Secretary at the club AGM in 2007 and set about building a development plan for the club. One of the key objectives of this plan was "Facilitating members to achieve their running goals through training and mentoring", my personal goal was to win stuff, and this goal was shared by new Club Chairman Chris Atkinson and new Club Captain Carl Davis. So, the three of us met with Alan Hayes at the Reefa Tandoori restaurant in Melksham to discuss how we could achieve this goal. I had met Alan shortly after becoming Honorary Secretary, as I thought it prudent to build a relationship with the county Athletic Association and he was the Secretary of Wiltshire Athletic Association (WAA). During our meetings at WAA I discovered that Alan was not only an experienced Level-2 endurance coach but also lived in Trowbridge and it took very little persuasion to get Alan to accept position as our Head Coach and in 2008 the first coach led sessions were held in Trowbridge Park. The fruits of this were soon realised as our Ladies team were crowned Wiltshire XC Champions in 2009 and the following year our Men’s team joined them on the podium.
The club also got more involved in relays, making a debut at the 2006 Cotswold Way Relay where our Veteran Men’s team finished third, further successes were met at the Wiltshire Road Relays held at Castle Combe and at the Uphill to Wells Relay where both Men and Ladies teams graced the podium on several occasions. This led to the launching of our own relay event in 2010 with the Avon Valley Relay attracting just 10-teams but soon growing to the current levels of 40+ teams enjoying the delights of running through the beautiful Avon Valley.
Another initiative that met with success was the introduction of a club Race Series in 2007, which would encourage a strong AVR presence at key events in the region and hopefully collect a good share of the prizes on offer. This was then aligned to the Wiltshire Road Race League which launched in 2012 and saw Avon Valley Runners crowned as county champions.
By the time that I took the decision to stand down as the clubs Honorary Secretary in 2012 to concentrate on a role within Wiltshire Athletic Association the club had been transformed into the most successful club in the county.
Changing Places and so much more – By Fiona Price (Honorary Secretary) and Sean Price (Assistant Secretary)
2011 was a transition year for the role of Secretary, Darren Wrintmore wound down his involvement as Fiona and Sean Price stepped up. The single biggest expense of the year (£1000) was a donation to start Southwick Country parkrun and a great investment that turned out to be.
2012 saw the club expand rapidly as the new membership rate more than doubled. We added new Races to the calendar including Southwick Country parkrun Handicap, Sport Relief Mile, Track championship at Bath University Sports Village and the now well established AVR Wiltshire Half Marathon. The biggest purchase of the year was the AVR start/Finish archway which arrived just in time for the Half Marathon. Junior AVR was born and training established in Bath, the JAVR 2k and Dash was organised for the first time in Southwick Country park. The first major survey of members took place and all session start times were synchronised at 7pm as a result of club members opinion.
2013 saw the club relocate its main base to Trowbridge Rugby Football Club (TRFC). Membership at record levels. AVR kit introduced Polo shirts. Coaching became structured with Head Coach. AVR won off-road, Road and XC (men & Women) championships. The committee meetings moved from a Men only club in Bradford On Avon to the new TRFC facility. “How Farr for AVR” competition was introduced in Memory of the club founder Stan Farr. Online membership was introduced and so were membership cards. Working groups were introduced as the club’s expansion meant that the committee were unable to deal with every decision and more volunteers were recruited to take on specific projects. Busy year saw the birth of Avon Valley Triathletes too.
2014 saw the first running of the Imber Ultra headed up by Richard Hudson in cooperation with the Rotary Club of Westbury. The AVR club membership went from 262 in 2013 to 447 in this year. AVR had now established itself as the biggest club in Wiltshire. Roll of honour plaques were erected in Bradford on Avon and TRFC to honour club members who had helped establish AVR. A gazebo was purchased to help with changing at events and establishing a presence for other members to meet at road races. As part of the Trowbridge Sports forum AVR initiated the purchase of a minibus for the of clubs in the area and AVR ensured it was yellow and purchased magnetic signs to adorn it. An AVR sign went up at Pound Lane in Bradford on Avon to welcome members and TRFC also put up a sign at the entrance to the facility in Hilperton.
2015 saw the club organise a trip to Trowbridge twin town Leer where 17 intrepid members boarded the minibus for the long trip and entered their local Half marathon (8 laps around the town). The floodlit track at TRFC was conceived and negotiated with the rugby club. Crop tops in AVR colours were introduced.
2016 was the 30th Anniversary of the club and as part of the celebrations all club record holders were awarded a “Star Vest” to reward their endeavours. All subsequent record holders are also awarded the “Star Vest” which has a green star just above the AVR Logo.