Sunday 24th October 2021.
I ran this race for old time’s sake last month. The Abbey Dash was founded by Abbey Runners and more specifically Colin and Hetta Morath. Hetta has remained an inspiration to female runners and continued racing into her 70s. Colin very sadly died from a brain tumour a few years ago, still a fit and relatively young man. I have co-written this article with Hetta.
Lisa: This 10K occurs earlier and earlier now (due to Leeds CC I believe) and is no longer on wintery December or November days. It is known as a flat 10K. This year’s field was a reduced number of around 3000 and started and finished outside the town hall in Leeds. For you dedicated fell runners who have no idea, the course is an out and back to Kirkstall Abbey. There were some friendly faces from NLFR helping at the start and finish. The race was nostalgic for me and I was the only NLFR running and was accompanied by my sister Hannah from North Wales Road Runners. I finished in 46.59, 11 out of 123 VF50 and 146 out of 1161 women. The winner was Kadar Omar from Birchfield Harriers in 28.46 and first lady was Jessica Piasecki in 31.19, 56th place overall.
Hetta: My late husband, Colin, one of the founders of Abbey Runners, and long term president of the club, had long wanted to organise a Christmas race in the centre of Leeds. Richard Witt, a member of Abbey Runners, and then working for Mind, but later Help the Aged which became Age UK, had the same idea, so they teamed up to organise a Christmas race from the centre of Leeds and back again.
It was a good fast course and always intended to be a race, though of course still suitable for runners of all abilities. Colin was a registered course measurer and was meticulous about accuracy. Many were the trips he made at break of day on a Sunday morning when traffic was at its lightest, to measure the shortest and most accurate route, and to ensure the kilometre signs were in the correct places. Subsequently the race has always attracted a field of elite runners. This year, up to the start of the race 32 men had run sub 30 for 10K. In the Dash, there were 27 men under 30 minutes. After them came nearly 3000 runners, which demonstrates the race’s enduring popularity and over the years must have enabled it to raise thousands if not millions of pounds for charity.
The first race was run in 1986, entirely organised and managed by the club, many of whose members were also helping this year. For many years, Colin was race director, until Alex Grant took over. The first field was around 600. Before chip timing the results were done manually, and I remember a feeling that this was about the limit for us to handle. It was started as a Christmas event as, at that time, there were very few quality races in the winter. Many enjoyable post-race get-togethers were held in local pubs or, when it started, the German Christmas Market. For various reasons the race has moved earlier in the year but is hopefully still going from strength to strength.
Some changes have had to be made to the course over the years. The start has moved from Wellington Street, and the loop around Kirkstall Abbey has gone, though the link with the abbey remains in the race title and the U-turn immediately outside. Fast and flat, it passes several places of interest for those who have energy to spare for looking. From the magnificent Leeds Town Hall, along the Headrow, which used to be the northern boundary of the medieval city, past the Yorkshire Post Building, the YTV Studios, Kirkstall Viaduct and the Cardigan Arms pub, where it is said William “Buffalo Bill” Cody stayed in 1904 when he was appearing in a show.
I hope the race will continue for many years and that plenty of Abbey Runners will continue to enjoy it and maybe find it is good for a 10K PB.
Lisa Rudkin & Hetta Morath