Not the Roman 9 (NTRIX) – The End of an Era
Little did Richard Morris and his pals realise when they organised the first of what became known as the Roman 9 and subsequently Not the Roman 9, back in November 1967, that this race would go on to be named one of the Top 25 races in the country, have its capacity capped due to its popularity and still be being run 55 year later, however that is exactly what happened.
In 1967, Morris together with a few members of the original Stratford Athletic Club got together to hold a Sunday morning race starting and finishing at Stratford Rugby Club.
There were just 12 of them, including somewhat controversially two ladies from Stratford AC, even though at the time the AAA didn’t allow mixed races.
The first winner was Roger Wolaston from Nuneaton, with Stratford member Tony Carr in 2nd place. Carr went on to win the race in 1968.
Sadly soon after this the original Stratford AC collapsed with many of the original members going to run for Leamington.
In 1975 Morris and brother Chris started the race again. They also wanted to see the return of Stratford AC due to a revived interest in running and also there were now many youngsters wanting to join a local club.
By 1977 the race had become so popular that the brothers, along with Phil Bennett, could no longer cope with organisation, so in 1978 with the reformed Stratford AC growing into a large and progressive club they were happy to hand over the race organisation to them.
Around this time the race was sponsored by Ray Ziel of local garage Roman Motors, hence the race’s name.
The race was now bringing in much needed funds for the club, which was now based at the Home Guard Club in Tiddington and it was decided to move it to the club’s new HQ which had a lot more space than the Rugby Club.
During the 1980’s the reputation of the race grew nationwide with it regularly being voted as one of the best road races in the country. Indeed, The Herald reported in February 1991 that 3 years after being named as one of the Top 100 races in the UK, it had been voted into the Top 25 by readers of Today’s Runners magazine. Club chairman John Dell commented at the time that it was a great honour for the club, to all of the members who made it a great event and also to the sponsorship of Ray Ziel of Roman Motors.
When the athletic club moved from it’s base at the Home Guard Club to it’s current HQ at the Sports Club in the town centre, the problem was then to find a suitable alternative venue for the race
With club’s chairman and secretary Paul Hawkins and Tony Jackson both being employed by NFU Mutual in Tiddington, NFUM became the race HQ and greater usage of their facilities ensued.
However, this change of venue meant a re-design of the race route, which in turn meant a change in the race distance.
The club still wanted to retain the good reputation and links to the original Roman 9 so it was re-named Not the Roman 9, or as it became better known, NTRIX. Current Club Secretary Tony Jackson having come up with this new name.
When redesigning the course, one of the problems was that with the start in Pimlico Lane, competitors had to cross the Loxley Road to reach Boundry Lane and beyond. This meant stopping the traffic in both directions until all runners had crossed. This was overcome by making the start on the other side of Loxley Road, with runners having to walk/jog up Knights Lane and cross over the Loxley Road to reach the starting area.
As well as using the NFU Mutual Sports Club pavilion as the race HQ, much of the parking was in their grounds and also in the Bowls Club opposite. In addition, Alveston Primary School on Knights Lane allowed the club to use their facilities for some changing and also parking for helpers and officials.
With Health & Safety becoming more important in obtaining a race permit, the club’s race director at the time, Ashley Sherren, undertook a detailed risk assessment exercise for the whole course, so that all helpers, in particular marshals, would have much more information as to their role, depending on whereabouts on the course they were officiating.
With the race becoming increasingly popular a limit of 700 had to be imposed taking into account the parking and the traffic on the narrow country roads. Fortunately the club had a good relationship with the local police, who were kept informed at all times and who would help with safety each year by holding the traffic for the left turn out of Boundry Lane onto the Banbury Road.
As well as Roman Motors sponsorship, Warwick Sports had a stall on race day selling shoes and kit. There was also a small amount of sponsorship from DLF Trifolium Seeds & Sciences. However, later on, the main sponsorship came from local company SimplyRun, with the finishing memento at the time being a souvenir coaster with “SimplyRun Not the Roman IX” printed on it.
One innovation introduced by Sherren was that the souvenir T-shirts and sweatshirts had the names of the runners printed on them. Once the race entry deadline was past, he would send the list of names to the manufacturers to get them printed in time for race day. This was originally a list from the previous year but with improvements in turnaround time it became a list of the entries for the current year, which no doubt helped the sales.
With it being held so early in the year, the race used to advertise a reserve date in case bad weather caused postponement. There was just one cancellation due to snow and ice and one year the start had to be delayed due to thick fog.
Unfortunately a change of senior management at NFUM meant that they no longer allowed their facilities to be used. The club then managed to use the school as their base with some limited parking at the Caravan Park opposite. This meant a reduced race capacity and lower income from 2019 onwards.
Traffic and runner safety was always a concern and the race going along the Banbury Road was never ideal. With additional housing being built on Knights Lane it got to the point where providing a ‘safe’ route was an increasing challenge.
The costs involved in the closure of the Banbury Road, a situation Chairman Paul Hawkins totally understands, has unfortunately led to the club making the regrettable decision that the 2023 race would be the last time this iconic race of national standing would be run.
The club, while recognising that these costs ultimately led to their decision to end the race, are also of the opinion that the decision by NFU Mutual to withdraw their generous support was by far a bigger reason for the race’s demise. This decision has never really been explained and it is a decision that would appear to run counter to other community initiatives they support. Had their facilities, including the use of their car park still been available, far more participants would have been able to compete, generating more than enough income to meet any road closure costs.
Alveston School are also affected by the club’s decision, as they benefited from the hire of their own facilities.
Stratford Athletic Club will need to replace the income generated by NTRIX, so the race is on (pun intended!) to organise an alternative and hopefully that may well go on for another 50 years.