26th November 1909
Guernsey held its first full marathon
On 26 November 1909, Guernsey held its first full marathon. Previous “marathons”, of which there had been two, both held in September, were only 15 miles 604 yards long. These shorter races had used a course that ran from Queen’s Road in St Peter Port, to Vazon, up to Grande Rocque, across to Bordeaux Harbour, and then back down to White Rock for the finish.
In contrast, the first “full” marathon stretched for 26.25 miles. It started at 1.12pm at the Gouffre Hotel, where it was also expected to end at around half past four.
A return race
The 1909 race was the result of a grudge between W Mahy, winner of that year’s shorter September Marathon (in one hour, 33 minutes and 55 seconds), and H Becker, who had taken part in the previous races but not done as well as had been expected.
Becker claimed that this was because he was a skilled cross-country runner and was therefore not used to running as part of a pack. When given the freedom to run unhindered, with more space to swing his arms and no need to think about overtaking, he might be expected to do better.
To make things more interesting, the two men were joined by another pair of runners: a Belgian waiter called G Babbé, and Mr E Le Moigne.
Babbé had taken an early lead but, according to a report in The Jersey Times, Becker passed him within the first few miles and maintained his position until the finish line.
Becker crossed with a time of three hours and three minutes, perhaps justifying his request that the race take place at all, and proving that he was, indeed, a better runner than his result in the autumn would have suggested.
Babbé was 32 minutes behind him, but Mahy, who had won the shorter marathon in September, failed to complete the course, dropping out at Albecq.
The Poly Marathon
Guernsey Marathon wasn’t the only long-distance race to first be held in 1909. London’s Polytechnic Marathon, which was a precursor to the modern-day London Marathon, was also held for the first time that same year.
It was won by Henry Barrett with a time of two hours, 42 minutes and 31 seconds. This was 21 minutes quicker than the time in which Becker had completed the Guernsey Marathon but, being held on flat paved streets, it’s arguable that Becker’s time was at least as good.
Barrett and his rivals, after all, didn’t need to face the steep hill at the Gouffre.