Last weekend's World Half Marathon Championships in Cardiff was just the latest chapter in the UK's long love affair with the event. We look at the nation's rich contribution to the 13.1-mile distance.

The precise birth of the half marathon distance is shrouded in confusion, but according to Ken Young’s Analytical Distance Runner newsletter, a marathon on the Channel Island of Guernsey in 1909 identifies professional runner Charlie Gardiner as reaching the halfway mark in 1:21:05. Though the race was a marathon distance, it is one of the first where a halfway split time was recorded. Guernsey is less than 50km from the French coast, but as a British Crown Dependency, the UK is a good place to start.

Great Britain and Northern Ireland has maintained a buoyant relationship with the half marathon ever since. According to halfmarathonlist.co.uk (as the domain suggests, a British website) the country is scheduled to stage more than 250(!) half marathons this year, from Shetland in the far northern isles of Scotland to Falmouth on England’s south west coast. You can contest a half marathon in the UK any month of the year, running past royal palaces (Hampton Court), along Roman frontier walls (Hadrian’s Wall) and through National Parks (Snowdonia).

The Association of Athletics Statisticians lists Brit Brian Hill-Cottingham, member of Chelmsford Athletics Club, as the first to hold the official half marathon world record. He recorded a time of 1:07:01 to win the Romford Half Marathon in 1960. Back then, the local newspaper described the articled accountant’s training regime as “catching the train home from his job in London and then riding his bike straight from Chelmsford station to the Club HQ in Waterhouse Lane. And then, after a thorough work-out, a ride home, a shower, a meal – and then straight to bed!”

“I don’t have a special diet”, he commented to the reporter after the race, “I don’t think my programme is too strenuous – it’s just a question of routine.”

English icon Ron Hill was the first officially IAAF-recognised world record holder, running 1:05:44 to win the Freckleton Half Marathon (more of which later) in 1965. Hill later won Commonwealth and European marathon titles and started his own running clothing firm. Now aged 77, Hill is probably best known for running every day for the past 51 years, even maintaining the streak after once breaking his sternum!

Ron Hill wins the Commonwealth Marathon in 1970 ()

 Ron Hill was the first officially recognised world half marathon record holder

No country in the world has had more holders of the world half marathon record than Great Britain, with seven men in total owning the mark (including non-IAAF recognised Hill-Cottingham). The other names are: Ron Hill, Derek Graham, Pete Ravald, Tony Simmons, Nick Rose and Steve Jones.

Welshman Jones was the last Brit to hold the mark, recording 1:01:14 in Birmingham 1985 to trim 18 seconds from American Paul Cummings’ previous best. Jones told SPIKES he had no idea what the world record mark was before the race and says he had unconventional preparation, drinking “five or six pints of cider” at a friend’s wedding the day before. The record lasted just one month and four days until American Mark Curp grabbed it from Jonesy.

The small Lancashire town of Freckleton (population 6,000) may not instantly be regarded as an athletics Mecca – yet on THREE occasions the world record has been posted there. The Freckleton Half Marathon is the UK’s oldest 13.1-mile event and Ron Hill set his 1:05.44 world record at its inaugural running in 1965. The following year, Pete Ravald clipped two seconds from that mark before Hill reclaimed the record in 1969, running 1:04:45 – a time which still stands as the event record today.

Known as the world’s biggest half marathon, The Great North Run – staged on Tyneside in the north east of England – has become a global running institution. Since the first race in 1981, more than a million people have finished the annual slog from Newcastle to South Shields. Each year 57,000 people gather to tackle the iconic distance with everyone from Mo Farah to TV personalities Ant and Dec participating in the race.

Liz McColgan ()

Great Britain's Liz McColgan won the inaugural women's race on home roads in 1992

The inaugural IAAF World Half Marathon Championships was also staged on Tyneside and formed part of the 1992 Great North Run. 204 athletes lined up for the elite competition, with the late Kenyan Benson Masya winning the men’s title and, fittingly, Great Britain’s Liz McColgan taking victory in the women’s race. Britain also won team silver medals in both the men’s and women’s senior races.

Since then, no country has staged more half marathon world champs than Great Britain. Saturday’s race in Cardiff was the fourth occasion the country staged the event. Following the 1992 event in South Shields, Bristol hosted the 2001 edition and Birmingham followed in 2009. Belgium is the only other nation to have staged it more than once, Brussels having hosted the 1993 and 2002 races. (Italy has played host twice, although on one of those occasions it was over the 20km distance in Udine).

No woman in the history of the championships has won more titles than Great Britain’s Paula Radcliffe, whose three titles put her on a par with Kenya’s Tegla Louroupe and Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands. Radcliffe claimed her maiden success in the race in Veracruz, Mexico, in 2000, before successfully defending her crown on home soil in Bristol the following year in a then championship record 1:06:47. Her third and final crown came in Vilamoura, Portugal, in 2003. Of her victorious race in 2001, the full marathon world record holder recalls: “To get the chance to run in Bristol was a real privilege. I really benefitted from the home support and the runners in Cardiff will experience the same.”

She wasn’t wrong about the support. On Saturday (March 26) in terrible (though typically British) weather conditions, more than 15,000 runners joined the elites on the scenic route around the Welsh capital. The pros even got to combine sightseeing with warm-up, as they prepared for their races on the ancient grounds of Cardiff Castle.

One man in particular benefited from the home crowd: Britain’s Mo Farah won a hard-fought bronze medal in the men’s race as he, cheered on by the home crowd, outsprinted Ethiopia’s Abayneh Ayele in the final metres. He clocked a European 15km record along the way, following in the wake of Geoffrey Kamworor’s dominant winning run. Kamworor started his race with a tumble, but pushed the pace to the extreme before dropping his fellow Kenyan Bedan Karoki late on, retaining his title and delivering a classic performance that fans loved.

As evidenced by the incredible hospitality on Cardiff’s wind-ragged streets (see tweet), it’s a century-long love that shows little sign of dying.