Gary Foster came agonisingly close to becoming the first local winner of the Hastings Half Marathon for 32 years this morning (Sunday).
The Hastings Athletic Club talent led for the first eight miles of the Lions Club of Hastings-organised event before being caught and eventually overhauled by winner Josseli Polini.
Polini, of the Victoria Park Harriers club in London, crossed the line in one hour, 10 minutes and 56 seconds, with Foster coming in just 21 seconds behind.
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Hastings AC also claimed third, fourth and sixth places via Rhys Boorman, Jeff Pyrah and Daniel Anderson respectively.
It was a similar story in the women’s race. Hastings AC’s in-form Rachael Mulvey led for much of the way only to be passed in the latter stages by winner Heather Noone.
Noone finished an impressive 15th overall in 1:21.44, with Mulvey 21st overall in 1:22.15. Megan Taylor (Lewes AC) was third lady in 1:27.07.
Foster, fresh off a new personal best at the Vitality Big Half in London two weeks ago, started to pull clear from the pack in the first half-a-mile and gradually built what seemed a commanding advantage over the first few miles.
Although still well clear after six miles, the gap back to Polini had noticeably decreased by the seven-mile mark and Polini was right on Foster’s tail at eight miles.
Polini caught Foster heading up Winchelsea Road in the ninth mile, but initially at least, didn’t pull away and the pair were pretty much neck-and-neck on the downhill stretch through nine and 10 miles.
It was still very close as they headed out onto the seafront in the 11th mile, but Polini started to pull away approaching the 11-mile mark and by the 12-mile mark had opened up a decisive advantage.
Foster received tremendous support from the huge crowds which lined the route in glorious spring sunshine and light winds - a pleasantly stark contrast to the bitterly cold conditions of last year’s race.
In all, more than 2,400 runners completed the challenging 13.1-mile course in an event which again showcased Hastings at its finest. Many of them were raising money for a charity or needy cause close to their heart and a number donned fancy dress.
Hastings Half Marathon provisional results (gun times) - top 10 men: 1 Josseli Polini (Victoria Park Harriers) 1:10.56, 2 Gary Foster (Hastings AC) 1:11.17, 3 Rhys Boorman (Hastings AC) 1:13.45, 4 Jeff Pyrah (Hastings AC) 1:14.43, 5 Robert Latala (Ashford & District RRC) 1:14.49, 6 Daniel Anderson (Hastings AC) 1:16.13, 7 Ian Blackham (Crawley Saints & Sinners Running Club) 1:16.41, 8 Max Thomas 1:17.58, 9 Chris Gilbert (Lewes AC) 1:19.00, 10 Patrick Davis (Highgate Harriers) 1:19.47.
Top 5 women: 1 Heather Noone 1:21.44, 2 Rachael Mulvey 1:22.15, 3 Megan Taylor (Lewes AC) 1:27.10, 4 Laura Temple 1:27.45, 5 Linda Schofield 1:27.59.
Nearly 160 young runners aged 7-16 completed the Buckswood School Mini Run along the seafront during the main race.
St Leonards Academy pupils filled the first three places, with Jonah Davies first, Lewis Courtnage second and Reece Lincoln third.
Shannon Hopkins-Parry, of Robertsbridge Community College, was the first girl, with Amalie Primdal second and Rae Le Fay third.