Marshall Ritchie, from Torbay Sports Council, addresses the school groups who each get a certificate from running the course on the first day - Credit: Roger Mann

Retro Sport: Give the Paignton Green Mile a try!

Joseph Bulmer

Retro Sport with Roger Mann:
Those of my readers, who follow athletics, will be well aware of The Emsley Carr Mile, The Fifth Avenue Mile, and even the Wanamaker Mile, but how many of them have heard of the Paignton Green Mile?
To be fair, in 2009, when I was nearing the end of my 30-odd years as chairman of Torbay Sports Council, I hadn’t heard of it either!
The story began when I was chatting with Torbay Council’s legendary former parks officer, Bob Sweet.
I was telling him some stories about the days when I used to play South Devon League soccer on Paignton Green, when, suddenly, he came up with a question.
“Did you know that Paignton Green, from the harbour end, to the Redcliffe Hotel end, is exactly a mile in circumference?”
I didn’t know, and asked him how he had found that out.
He explained that, during his time with the council, he had to provide figures for a survey which needed to know the area of green space in Torbay, and was amazed to find that this particular area measured exactly one mile, to within just a few inches!
At our next Sports Council meeting, I told the story to our committee and, unanimously, the members felt that we should adopt the “Paignton Green Mile” as one of our development projects for 2010.
After all, in seaside resorts all around the world, visitors welcome the chance to go for a jog, or a run, before breakfast, so why not in Torbay?
I was asked to lead the project with Jason Trevarthen, director of sport at Paignton Community and Sports College, so we met to make our plans.
Almost immediately, we decided that we should divide the mile into eight separate lengths of 220 yards each.
This would allow users to choose whether to use the whole course, or run/jog for say half a mile, or to opt for just 220 yards.
They might choose to jog for one section, then sprint, and then walk, or mix up those options.
To do this, we would need eight stations, marked with posts, and a main sign board, at the harbour end of the green, to explain where to find the posts, and how to use the interval distances.
Convinced that Torbay needed this facility, we set out to find sponsors to fund each post, and to approach Torbay Council for its support and, before long, we had both!
Europlas, Torbay NHS, Lions International, the Sports College, the Herald Express, Robert Excell Photography, Pro-Direct, and Treasure Trails all put money into the project, and Torbay Council manufactured the posts for us.
Finally, we decided to set the newly sponsored posts into the grass, around the perimeter of the Green, so that users had the option of running on the road, or on the grass itself.
Gradually, the work was completed, and we planned an opening day during which local schools could send teams to try out the course.
We printed, and delivered, an invitation to every hotel facing on to the Green, and even sent a batch of fliers, to each one of them, to make available for guests who might like some early morning exercise.
The opening day was well attended, and, for a few weeks, runners were reported to be using the course… but it didn’t last for long!
Now, 12 years later, I speak to lots of local people who have no idea that the course exists!
Did we waste our time? I hope not!
Torbay is full of older people who love to keep fit, but perhaps they, too, have never heard of the Paignton Green Mile.
I know that the Green is a busy place these days, but it still takes some beating as an early morning venue!
Surely, too, this should be an extra attraction for the seafront hotels to advertise.
Even though, all sorts of obstructions have been added to the Green, the course still exists.
The sign board and the little lollipop-shaped marker posts are still in situ, so why not give it a try one of these summer mornings?
I would hate to think that we went to all that trouble just for the travellers and their families!