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Ipswich JAFFA Running Club announces reunion plan as it celebrates 40th birthday

PUBLISHED: 11:46 16 March 2017 | UPDATED: 11:46 16 March 2017

The start of the Ipswich Half Marathon in Christchurch Park in 2015. This year, the race has been replaced by the inaugural Great East Run.

The start of the Ipswich Half Marathon in Christchurch Park in 2015. This year, the race has been replaced by the inaugural Great East Run.

Forty years after it was formed in a local pub, Ipswich JAFFA Running Club is celebrating a special birthday this year with a reunion of former members.

Runners pictured at the club in 1990Runners pictured at the club in 1990

The running scene has rarely looked healthier in Ipswich. Not just in terms of the number of people taking part, but the town is now on the national map as staging top-class races.

This is largely thanks to Ipswich JAFFA Running Club, which is today announcing plans to celebrate its 40th anniversary this year with a series of events - including a major reunion of former members.

Ipswich JAFFA was formed in a local pub on September 26, 1977. But from humble beginnings, it has grown into a huge Suffolk success story.

Ipswich JAFFA celebrates its 40th birthday this year. Pictured are runners from the club who completed marathons in spring 2016.Ipswich JAFFA celebrates its 40th birthday this year. Pictured are runners from the club who completed marathons in spring 2016.

In fact, the club’s 40th anniversary comes as it reaches a new high - this year, it will be at the forefront of organising the inaugural Great East Run in Ipswich on Sunday, September 24.

The half marathon will be brought to Suffolk by the Great Run Company, which also organises the world famous Great North Run.

But the decision to choose Ipswich as the location is surely influenced by JAFFA’s ambition to stage big races in recent years.

Runners set off on the track at Northgate in a Jaffa-organised race in May 1989.Runners set off on the track at Northgate in a Jaffa-organised race in May 1989.

The Twilight races held in August, for example, have already attracted some of the country’s top elite runners - a remarkable achievement for an event only two years old.

JAFFA’s vice president Clive Sparkes says the club has never been in such good shape.

“It is better now than it has ever been,” said Clive, who coaches many of the club’s top runners, including GB international Helen Davies.

Helen Davies, pictured here winning the Ipswich Half Marathon in 2015, has rewritten JAFFA's record books in the last 10 years, and won a bronze medal at the European Championships in Barcelona in 2010 as part of GB's women's marathon team.Helen Davies, pictured here winning the Ipswich Half Marathon in 2015, has rewritten JAFFA's record books in the last 10 years, and won a bronze medal at the European Championships in Barcelona in 2010 as part of GB's women's marathon team.

And of the club races, which include the Ekiden relays and one of the Friday Five series, he added: “We have always organised good races but things have been taken to another level.”

While it has strength in depth in terms of top runners, the club is proud of the support and welcoming approach it gives to runners of all abilities - including complete novices. Its regular 10-week beginner courses have been hugely popular.

Club president David Smith said: “It is not just about elite runners. We really do encourage people who have never run in their lives to start off with us. We now have three or four partially sighted runners who run with JAFFA guides.”

Ipswich JAFFA runners pictured on the Northgate track in July 1989Ipswich JAFFA runners pictured on the Northgate track in July 1989

Now the club is inviting members past and present to a special event on October 21 to mark the 40th birthday.

The reunion will be held at Greshams in Tuddenham Road, and people are being urged to make contact if they’d like to attend.

The club has hundreds of members and a flourishing junior section, but a roll call from the last 40 years would run into many thousands of people.

Runners take part in the Larking Gowen Ipswich Half Marathon, organised by JAFFA, in 2014Runners take part in the Larking Gowen Ipswich Half Marathon, organised by JAFFA, in 2014

It was Terry Gould who laid the foundations for JAFFA, an acronym of “Jogging and Fitness for All”. He had initially fronted a course for joggers in the town, prompted by Ipswich Borough Council, during summer 1977 at Chantry Park.

Once this had finished, several runners expressed an interest in carrying on with their training, and Gould suggested they should form a club. Ipswich JAFFA was the agreed name and Gould was appointed chairman. It cost just £2 a year to subscribe.

Initially, the club met at Chantry Park in the summer and at Chantry High School in the winter. But as its popularity grew, fuelled by the marathon boom of the 80s, it moved to Northgate Sports Centre in 1981. It meets there on Monday evenings, with all-ability track sessions and group runs at a variety of paces to suit everyone.

The club has a consistently strong presence in the London Marathon. Pictured here is Gavin Davies in Birdcage Walk.The club has a consistently strong presence in the London Marathon. Pictured here is Gavin Davies in Birdcage Walk.

There are also club events every Wednesday (longer run), Thursday (coached hill session) and Saturday (coached park session), as well as regular social events.

For many, being a member has been life-changing. The benefits of exercise on mind and body are well known - but combine that with feelings of progress, beating personal goals and building self-belief, it’s no surprise its members feel so passionately about the club.

Clive said: “There are so many people who say ‘If only I had joined earlier’.”

JAFFA runners pictured ahead of running the Berlin marathon in 1990.JAFFA runners pictured ahead of running the Berlin marathon in 1990.

But what does the future hold for JAFFA? As the club reflects on the last 40 years, there is no lack of ambition.

“One of the avenues we would use the 40th anniversary for is to seriously investigate upgrading the facilities,” David said.

Other events planned this year include a 40-lap relay race on the track at Northgate, and plans to travel to a cross country race in a double decker bus - replicating what the club did regularly in the late 80s and early 90s.

If you’re an ex-member and want to attend the reunion on October 21, email david@dsmith.eu

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