A record number of runners will be lining up for one of the most popular half marathons in the UK – and hopes are high that the course record will also be broken.
With five weeks to go, more than 2,200 competitors have already signed up for this year’s Village Bakery Half Marathon which takes place in Wrexham on Sunday, February 17.
That’s 200 up on the previous record from last year and organisers are expecting at least another 600 to enter before the big day.
But the 2019 event was facing a major stumbling block until the race sponsors, the Village Bakery, came to the rescue.
Traditionally, the on-day race headquarters was housed in the old Pirelli Social Club on Wrexham Industrial Estate but that’s now closed and is not available this year.
Everything is now back on track thanks to the Village Bakery who have offered the use of the offices at their new gluten-free bakery as the nerve centre for the event.
The event has been sponsored by the bakery since it started back in 1995.
All the finishers will receive a medal emblazoned with a Welsh dragon and packet of the family firm’s best-selling crumpets or Welsh Cakes.
Race organiser Mike Harrington, from Cute Fruit Events, who manages the race in partnership with Wrexham Athletics Club, is delighted with the increasing popularity of the event.
He said: “The loss of the race HQ would have been a massive blow if the Village Bakery hadn’t come to the rescue. We don’t know where we would be without them – they’ve done a stellar job yet again.
"As a result, the Village Bakery Half Marathon is going from strength to strength again.
“Last year we had a record entry of over 2,200 and we’ve already beaten that with five weeks to go.
"We've got a few runners this year who are looking to break the long-standing record of 64 minutes so that could go. I'm quite hopeful this time.
“Among the favourites to break the record is an Ethiopian runner, Dejene Gezimu, who runs for Liverpool Harriers and is hoping to do it in 62 or 63 minutes.
“One of the reasons it’s such a popular event is that all the finishers received a pack of sourdough crumpets or Welsh Cakes.
“No other race has that kind of thing and this year’s race is shaping up to be the biggest and best ever.
“It was originally set up by Peter Norman who used to work as a maintenance engineer at the Village Bakery until he retired.
“He will be involved on the day, setting up the course in the morning and putting the markers out.”
Five current members of staff from the Village Bakery will be competing this year.
Among them is Floss Roberts, 27, who works in the new product development department, and is taking part for the fourth year running.
She said: “I had a couple of weeks off training over Christmas and I've ramped it up again now.
“I’d like to beat my personal best time of 1 hr 34 mins, fingers crossed.”
It’s the first time for workmate, Jasmine Robinson, 23, who said: “I do a lot of running in my spare time and I really enjoy it.
“This will be my first ever half marathon run so after this I'll hopefully maybe get into some competitive running and take it a little bit more seriously.”
Colleague Simon Thorpe, 44, is also looking forward to it.
He said: "This is my second time. It was pretty tough the first time but I enjoyed myself last year and it was lovely weather, really good conditions.
“I think a personal best time probably unlikely this time if I'm honest, but we'll see where we get to. If I can get under two hours I'll be really happy.”
Village Bakery Managing Director Robin Jones: “We have sponsored the half marathon since the very beginning.
“It’s a fantastic event and it’s great to see that it’s getting better and better every year.
“I think we're going to have to up our production this year because we had complaints from the runners last year that only the fast runners received the Welsh Cakes, so I think we're going to have to put in more Welsh Cakes this year.
"The Village Bakery Half Marathon and the Village Bakery have grown side by side because we're more successful now than we ever were.
“The event has been built on great foundations and we really are very proud to be associated with it.
“When we heard about the loss of the club house, we immediately stepped in. I know my team will pull out all the stops to make sure that on the day it's a very good race headquarters."
Entries are still available via www.cutefruitevents.com