A HAMPSHIRE marathon event has been axed having been a fixture on the sporting calendar for more than 30 years.

This year’s New Forest Marathon has been cancelled in a move that has shocked charities and runners, some of whom fear the popular event will never be held again.

Organisers are blaming a huge rise in costs and a drop in entries caused by rival races held at the same time of year.

The New Milton-based event has raised more than £1.5m for local good causes since it was first held in 1982 but last year attracted just 1,500 runners – half the number who took part in the 2012 event.

Hundreds of entrants are thought to have deserted the spectacle and switched their allegiance to the Bournemouth marathon, which was held just two weeks later.

This year’s New Forest race was due to take place in September but has now been cancelled.

Athletes left reeling from the decision include Bruce Davidson, 93, of Bransgore, who fears he may have run his last marathon.

“I’m afraid it’s about time to bow out,” he said. “A lot of other elderly runners will be thinking the same way.”

Fellow runner John Weston, formerly of New Milton, added: “This is one of the very few non-‘big city’ marathons left. It’s a real shame that it appears to be at an end.”

Charities that have benefited from the marathon over the years include Oakhaven Hospice in Lymington, which said it was “disappointed” at the decision to axe this year’s race.

An Oakhaven spokesman said: “It’s a great shame that this popular event has been cancelled but I can see the organisers’ point of view and the rationale behind the decision.

“As event organisers ourselves, we know how difficult and expensive it can be to organise events like this.

“Many local charities, including ourselves, have benefited hugely from the New Forest Marathon both directly in the past and indirectly through local runners generating sponsorship.”

The race attracted thousands of spectators to New Milton, providing vital spin-off trade for shops in the town centre.

Town clerk Graham Flexman said: “The race created a carnival atmosphere, especially in good weather, and helped put New Milton on the map.

“All good things come to an end but it does seem a shame.”

A statement on the New Forest Marathon website says: “Over the past few years fewer runners have been signing up to take part and the loss of entry fees – our main source of income – has been considerable.

“While entries have declined, expenses have risen sharply to the point where the 2013 event just managed to pay the bills.”