The Catford Hill Climb is ‘the oldest continuously run bike race in the world’. This statement appeared recently in the Saturday Quiz in The Times. The adverbs continuously and continually are often confused, as are their related adjectives (continuous and continual). This confusion is often the subject of comment in style guides.
The Catford Cycling Club refer to this event as the Catford Cycling Club Annual Hill Climb, or the Catford Hill Climb Classic. The club states: ‘This prestigious event goes all the way back to 1886 and, with the exception of the war years, has been run ever since.’ http://www.catfordcc.co.uk/events/hill_climb.aspx
Was continuously the right choice here?
Continuously means ‘without interruption’, whereas continually means ‘repeatedly, but with interruptions’. Now this race clearly hasn’t been run without interruption every day (or even every second) since 1886. Nevertheless, I think continuously was, indeed, the right choice in this case, though with an interesting nuance. Here, continuous conveys the idea that the event is an uninterrupted series of annual races: the race took place every year without interruption. There was no break in the series (except in the war years). There was, of course, a (long) break every year, but the race was held every year. That sequence has not been interrupted (in peacetime).
Continually would not convey that idea. It would indicate that the race occurred at irregular intervals, and not necessarily every year.
The Catford Cycling Club uses another near relative of the continuous / continual pair. It calls the event the ‘Oldest Continuing Cycle Race in the World’. Here, continuing doesn’t convey explicitly the idea that the sequence of races continues without interruption. It indicates only that the race started to be held at some point in the past and is still being held. Continuing emphasises that the sequence of events is still continuing, rather than emphasising that there was no break in the sequence. So continuing seems the best choice of word for the club itself to use in advertising the event.