We’ll Do It Anyway – The selfie relay that wasn’t, but was.

It’s fair to say that running is a bit perculiar at the moment. Yes we can still run but the COVID-19 pandemic has really put a dent in our collective passions what with club runs, parkruns and races all falling pray to the invisible enemy. The loneliness of the long distance runner had until recently been a feature of all distances due to the government guidance on exercise. First world problems yes most definitely but problems nonetheless.

Event organisers and running clubs have had to stretch their imaginations. Virtual races and challenges have cropped up to sate our competitive instincts and maintain club camaraderie. At Prestwich AC we have Louise to thank for coming up with some interesting challenges during this period. A couple of bingo runs and the P.R.E.S.T.W.I.C.H.A.C street signs hunt to name but a few. And then there was the selfie relay.

The relay was a virtual attempt to make up for the cancelled Terry Nortley Relays held locally that Prestwich AC usually compete in. Now I’ll admit that when Louise first ran the rules (4×2 mile relay with a selfie as the virtual baton) by me I was somewhat cagey but… Well I’ll just tell the story.

The journey started a few weeks back when Rob sent me a message.

“You getting involved in this relay thing?”

Within ten minutes Tony and Nigel had completed the foursome. The relay could take place anytime over the late May bank holiday weekend so we decided to go early, 6pm on the Friday. Our name had already been decided upon, The 191 Squadron, and I submitted the team. The name came from our respective ages added together.

And then it happened. A few days before the event on a routine run I got a sharp pain through my right foot. Disaster, I knew straight away my relay was over as I walked home. The next morning Neil agreed to take my place and with him coming on board the name shifted from 191 upward to 195. Rather than completely bow out I took on the role of Team Manager. Having just completed Netflix’s The Last Dance I had delusions of grandeur as being the group’s Phil Jackson (Chicago Bulls coach 1989-1998). But who would be the Michael Jordan?

The two mile routes had been devised, favouring net downhill obviously, and recced but on Thursday the disappointing news that the relay had been cancelled emerged due to lack of entrants. When asked whether to carry on with our own relay the response from the 195ers was an overwhelming affirmative however.

So Friday arrived. The run order was finalised, Neil would go first as he had a Zoom quiz to get to, Tony second, Nigel third and Rob would anchor it home. It was windy, or so the Strava meteorologists had informed us, so I hoped the routes headed eastwards affording a tailwind or were at least sheltered.

I took my team manager role seriously so fifteen minutes prior to start I dropped my ‘Centimetres’ speech on the WhatsApp group. Admittedly it was part me, part bastardisation of Tony D’Amato’s ‘Inches’ team talk from Any Given Sunday and a little of Father Ted but it seemed to do the trick. The 195ers were pumped and ready to go. Nervous energy rippled through the group chat.

“What time is it?!!!”

“GAMETIME!!!”

“Go!” Neil’s starting selfie arrived dot on 6pm and I started the clock running. His route bisected Prestwich Village and brought him down through the Clough and into Drinkwater Park. At 1813 the finish selfie arrived and Neil had clocked a 12:47 run time with a 12:59 overall time. An unbelievable transition. The 195ers were rolling. But then…

Where was Tony’s start selfie? The minutes were ticking by. His last message was that he was ready and waiting. Hmm. A technical glitch maybe? But then it came at 1818, a full five minutes after Neil’s finish. I prayed it was a transmitting delay. 1833 came and Tony’s finish selfie arrived on the group chat after six laps of his block. The veteran had clocked a fantastic 14:05 run time but a 20:00 overall time. What had happened in the first transition? No time to ask as Nigel was off.

Thankfully Nigel didn’t have any notions of running it backwards and he thundered off from Holmes Sweet Home down Bury Old Road and into Heaton Park. Rob, whilst on his warm up, managed to snap a photo of him in full flow. Nigel was hoping to take full advantage of the 3-4km downhill stretch of Heaton parkrun and that he did with a personal record 3:30 for a single km. At 1846 Nigel’s selfie appeared having clocked a 12:17 and an overall time time of 13:15.

Nigel at the beginning of the third leg.

Rob was off, the speediest runner of the group, on his route down Bury Old Road and into Heaton Park at the corner of Sheepfoot Lane. We all cheered him on the chat as if it was an Olympic final. All 195ers had come in a minute ahead of expectations and Rob was no exception finishing at 1858 with a 10:57 run time and an 11:44 overall time. Nigel greeted the last 195er, with two metres social distancing of course, as he finished. A great group effort and a cumulative time, including transitions, was a shade over 58:00.

Rob anchoring it home through Heaton Park.

But what happened with Tony I hear you enquire? When I competed in high school athletics I was on a decent 4x100m team and Bod, our coach, used to say ‘just get the bloody baton around. Be ready!’ Well Tony was too ready. He’d gotten his start selfie ready to send but in doing so did not see Neil’s incoming finish selfie on WhatsApp. Schoolboy error? Perhaps but hey he pulled out an outstanding run time so all is forgiven. We win as a team, we lose as a team, we bollocks up as a team.

The Start/Finish Selfie Compilation

The 195 Squadron members were buzzing following the finish. The selfie relay was a great idea and though following cancellation it counted for little outside our group the team’s esprit de corps was akin to any race environment I’ve experienced. There was a palpable will to succeed at the task and more importantly to not let each other down. Nothing was won, nothing was lost but they all felt the better having participated. This is after all what team running is all about.

So who was our Michael Jordan? Well in reality all four of them were, even Tony 😉.

Tales of My Father

Big Gerry, my old man, is getting on these days. Though approaching eighty three he’s young at heart and full of joie de vivre but the body is not quite as sprightly as it once was.

He came to England from Ireland in 1956 as a fresh-faced eighteen year old and headed for Birmingham first before settling in Bolton. Initially working on the railways he then went onto work in the construction industry up until retirement in 2009.

My father is a natural story teller, my mother once said that ‘he did not kiss the Blarney Stone, he had a full blown affair with it.’ For many years I’ve listened to his stories to the extent that I nearly know them by heart but lately I’ve taken to either recording them or transcribing whilst he chatted away. It’s fair to say that I’ve spent a bit of time with him this week so I have taken three very short stories from his early days in England in the 1960s. Maybe it’s because I’m a historian but I feel it’s important to capture these tales.

Windy Arbour

In the early 1960s my father worked on opencast coal sites. He wasn’t a miner but his job was to cart away the earth above the coal seams that lay close to the surface in large dump trucks. There were quite a few such coal sites around the Bolton and Wigan area. He also worked on them in South Wales.

“In December 1961 I was working for Tarmac on an opencast coal site in Windy Arbour, between Wigan and Billinge, driving a dump truck. It was mostly young Irish lads on the job working twelve hour shifts, six days a week. Christmas time came and half the lads went home to Ireland for a fortnight. The foreman Johnny Stanton, a Mayoman, decided to make up for the others being away somewhat by putting the rest of us that stayed on 6am to midnight shifts. Eighteen hour shifts for two weeks. I’d be driving home to Bolton, having a bite to eat, a few hours sleep, and then back to work again. No opportunity for rests on those sites. All go. Great times.”

When JFK was shot and my stitches burst

My father has a large scar running vertical on the left side of his belly. It’s about 250mm (approximately 10 inches in old money) and every time someone asks about it this is his reply.

“It’s an old war wound. No, I’m joking. I got that the day President Kennedy was killed in Dallas in 1963. I’d just had my gall bladder removed and was in a convalescence home in Bolton recovering. The food was terrible and there was a painter on site that lived near my father so I passed the painter a note to give to him. The next day my father turned up with a large bread loaf, a load of thick ham, cheese, butter, a pint of milk and a big cake. I was that hungry I ate the lot.

That night I woke up with crippling pains and I looked down and my stitches had burst open. I spent the whole night with my arms around my stomach trying to keep it together. I was fearful of telling the on duty matron as she was a real nasty piece of work.

At redressing the next morning my secret was finally blown. The matron was informed and stormed over in a foul mood.

‘You Irish! You come over here expecting everything for free.’

Before she could finish I cut in.

‘Now you hang on a minute! How much did that operation cost?’

‘About £60.’ She replied.

‘£60. Well I’ve been here six years and paid into this system every week since. I’ve paid for this operation, in fact I’ve probably paid for it twice over. You probably owe me!’

She stormed off and the whole ward cheered me.”

Skeeth and the Old Morris Car

From the mid 1960s onwards my father moved on to work on the motorway and bypass projects that were cropping up all over the northwest. From 1967-72 he worked on the M53, M56, M61, M62 and the Edenfield and Haslingden bypasses. He drove a grader which was a large coat hanger-looking machine that was used to level out the stone that provided the foundation for the motorway surface. He always describes this work as ‘mighty craic’ and ‘pure devilment’ because the primary motivation was to break the heart of Ted Whittle, the site foreman. He has so many stories of this time but here’s one.

“I was working on the Manchester end of M61 and I had an old Morris car. A few days before the day in question I drove it through a large puddle and both mudguards flew out sideways like the wings of a bird. It was done for and I wanted rid of it. Now there was a dump truck driver that was a complete head case from Laois (a county in central Ireland) called Malcolm Skeeth and we arranged that I would park the car on the haul road and he would crash in to. Skeeth was jacking that day so he didn’t care if he got sacked.

I was driving a grader and Skeeth would pass me driving like a lunatic on that haul road and then this one time he passed me, gave me the thumbs up and I knew he’d go for the old Morris.

Now Ted Whittle, the site foreman, was constantly endanger of blowing his own head gasket, emotionally if you know what I mean. He came roaring over in his Land Rover and got out.

‘Have you seen what that mad bastard Skeeth has done to your car? He’s destroyed it. It’s in pieces. Get down to it quick.’

Whittle brought me down to it and sure enough Skeeth had absolutely obliterated it. Smashed it to pieces. The poor old Morris.

‘Don’t worry though’ said Ted ‘I’ve been on to the Black Gang (the haulage contractors) and they’ll see you right. They’ll pay you out for it.’

I was over the moon. Skeeth got a job working for his brother-in-law driving a wagon and turned up on the same site that very afternoon which did not impress Whittle one bit. Poor Ted.”

*

Being Keano and parkrun volunteering

My 2019 Dublin Marathon did not go well, in fact it was like chalk and cheese compared to my 2018 experience. A long running foot niggle erupted sixteen miles in and I limped uncomfortably through Dublin’s southern suburbs to the finish on Merrion Square. The race weekend wasn’t without joy though as I vicariously celebrated Holmesinho’s sub three hour finish and cousin Dan’s PB (he’s getting closer to my 3:26) at Ryan’s on Camden Street, the usual post marathon watering hole.

I sillily ran at St Helens parkrun the following Saturday but haven’t ran since, thirty one days and counting. I’m ‘Being Keano.’ Now that doesn’t mean attempting to kneecap a passing Norwegian nor picking fights with a tall Senegalese-born Frenchmen nor walking a Golden Retriever to exhaustion nor absconding from a Japanese island. The term stems from Roy Keane’s infamous 2002 autobiography.

Keane sustained an ACL injury at Leeds Utd in 1997. He heeded good advice, rested then trained appropriately, didn’t do anything stupid and recovered to lead his team to the treble in 1999. This contrasted with his former Man Utd teammate Lee Sharpe who had suffered the same injury but did the opposite to Keane and was never the same player again. Whenever a running pal gets injured and has to rest up my mantra is ‘Be Keano, not Lee Sharpe.’ I’m now heeding my own advice, doubled downed by a 2:40 Tokyo marathoner, in order to deal with the annoying Morten’s Neuroma in my right foot.

The 2:40 Tokyo marathoner putting me straight.

Not running is bloody hard when it’s part of one’s routine. I’ve been relatively injury free for a good few years and the ability to put the runners on and head out for a run has been taken for granted. It’s frustrating but I just have to suck it up, I’ve got to be patient and think long term.

The benefit of having ‘a little rest’ as my late sister Sinéad would’ve said is it allows me to volunteer at my home parkrun at Heaton Park. In my first five years of parkrunning I volunteered regularly, around once every six weeks, in a variety of roles but that has slipped markedly in the past few years. All I’ve done are the odd pacing day as part of club takeovers with Prestwich AC. I felt guilty particularly when seeing the same faces each week hi-vizzed up and volunteering but I justified, if only to myself, that I’d already put my time in. I wanted to run.

So when I decided to rest up I duly sent an email to the Heaton parkrun team. I hoped for a nice clappy shouty role like marshall or funnel management to ease me back in. Timer, was the reply. Timer! Great! The whole damn run, potentially one thousand runners strong, rested on my right thumb’s ability to coordinate with passing runners. They’d confidence in me alright. One thing I failed to declare was that I had previous in not exactly getting parkrun timing right.

A happy timer

In July 2017 my much better half, the OC (my daughter) and I went to Australia. We started off in Perth and I searched for a location to sate my Saturday fix. I decided on Cottesloe between Perth and Fremantle. We were catching the ferry to Rottnest Island, home of the Quokkas, from Fremantle port at 1000 so it fit perfectly. I emailed the team and the Event Director Mark disclosed that they were low on volunteers. After consultation I offered up my travelling companions to assist.

Parkrunday arrived and we got to Cottesloe Beach early. It was a grey winters morning and viewing the Indian Ocean from Cottesloe I could’ve been mistaken for thinking I was at Blackpool looking out on to the Irish Sea. All that was missing were inebriated Caledonians and hindpart flashing Hen parties. Mark gave MMBH the finish tokens and the OC, at the time ten years old, the timer. What! I iterated, reiterated and rereiterated the OC’s age to which Mark replied ‘she’ll be fine mate’ with typical Aussie confidence. Okay pal but on your head be it if it goes tits up. Hoping for a quiet day a school cross country team turned up to swell the ranks beyond double digits. I was worried, very worried.

The run started and I headed off with the other runners. The route was 2km south along the coastal path then down on to the beach for an energy sapping 1km on soft sand before returning north on the same coastal path. I rounded the final corner and saw the OC with both hands in her pockets and feared the worst. Crossing the line I nervously asked her if everything was okay. Fine, she confidently replied. Her hands were cold and was nonchalantly clicking away at the timer inside her fleece pocket. I checked her current position with the finish tokens. The OC was bang on. No errors. Mark’s confidence in her was right. As the run wore on and her fingers grew colder I took over from her. She handed me the timer at position ninety five and what did I do? I missed one of the last six runners. Very poor. It goes to show that you should always have confidence in your offspring. Never doubt them as they can make you look a right eejit.

The OC timing at Cottesloe parkrun.

Thankfully my timing stint at Heaton went grand. The early November icy wind froze my fingers and I did miss one runner out of the 711 but I knew exactly where the error was made so it was easily rectified in results processing. It’s not an easy job particularly in the really busy period between twenty three and thirty minutes where it feels you are like pushing down on the button every nanosecond but it’s really a fulfilling role. You see the ecstatic elation of those runners busting an absolute gut to achieve a PB and the simple enjoyment of those finishing a nice saunter around the park of a Saturday morning.

Heaton startline ‘Green One to start Geoff?’

I’ve been timer at Heaton for three out of the last four Saturdays (would’ve been 4/4 but for an icy cancellation last Saturday). Volunteering gives one a different perspective and ‘Being Keano’ has allowed me to rediscover my enjoyment in parkrun volunteering. I do however want to allocate a few dates when I’m back running to hi-viz up and volunteer. There’s no obligation to but give it a try if you haven’t already, I’m pretty sure they won’t stick you on timer straight away but I’m positive that you’ll enjoy it.

Dégustation – My Médoc

The last time I mixed alcohol with athleticism it almost landed me a £2000 fine. Following a night out with my best man and unwilling to wait twelve minutes I raced a departing Metrolink tram from Shudehill to Victoria Station. I emerged victorious but wasn’t permitted to board said beaten tram because apparently you can’t go through the tram entrance to the station. So to paraphrase Kipling “Oh alcohol is alcohol, and running is running, and never the twain shall meet.”

Yet one chilly February evening I sat in the Same Yet Inn listening to three Marathon Des Châteaux du Médoc veterans, T-Dog, Massage Hands and Be Nice, harp on about their annual running jaunt around the Bordeaux vineyards. The ‘Wine Marathon’ starts in Pauillac and the course meanders in and around the Médoc vineyards along the left bank of the Gironde Estuary near Bordeaux. It is the standard 26.2 miles (42.2km) in length but with twenty plus wine stops! Furthermore it is ran in themed fancy dress. Initially sceptical I was eventually drawn in and by night’s end my flights to Bordeaux were booked.

It would be my first Médoc but T-Dog’s 5th, Massage Hands’ 4th and Be Nice’s 3rd trips and every year they always dressed the same irrespective of theme. They wore mid 1990s France or Man Utd replica football jerseys together with Eric Cantona face masks. The Three Cantonas of Médoc. In 2019 Superheroes was the theme so I, with my 1992-94 Newton Heath inspired shirt, would join them as Le Quatrième Cantona. Eric, the superhero for the red half of Manchester.

Following a couple of eventful days in the beautiful city of Bordeaux race day finally arrived. We were up bright (well dark actually) and early for the 0630 shuttle bus to Pauillac. The weather did not bode well as it poured down nearly all journey. I, being the newbie, was immediately classed a jinx and christened ‘Rain Man’. Fortunately the rain cleared up and the sun came out just as we arrived in Pauillac.

The start area was thronged with excited athletic wine aficionados in Super Mario, Spiderman, Captain America, Wonderwoman and more costumes. We were treated to an aerial performance on high wires suspended above us then just before the starting gun two French Air Force Alphajets screeched overhead. We were a Cantona down as Massage Hands was ‘otherwise engaged’ so T-Dog, Be Nice and I set off with the principle objective of just beating the 6:30 sweeper cart. If we failed in that there’d be no medal or bottle of wine at the end.

Be Nice’s race strategy was clear, bypass the winestops up until half way then imbibe thereafter. The remaining three Cantonas would adopt the Jonathan Swift ‘better the belly burst than good liquor be lost‘ strategy and hit them all from the first at Château Haut-Batailley until the last at Château Montrose.

The first 6km was just like any old marathon. T-Dog restrained my natural instincts to settle into my usual marathon pace. ‘It’s not about time Mike, relax’. It all changed upon reaching Château Haut-Batailley when a fine Bordeaux was thrusted into our welcoming hands. Be Nice clattered on whilst we savoured the glorious Claret.

Standing waiting for Massage Hands provided time to observe the passing mass of dressed up runners. It was obvious some had preloaded given their already tottering gaits. T-Dog greeted those dressed in highly restrictive costumes with a ‘they clearly haven’t thought that through’ and those dressed in standard running gear with ‘they obviously didn’t get the email’.

Massage Hands finally caught up to us 10km in whilst at Château Gruaud-Larose. It was the third stop and the first to serve in wine glasses rather than plastic cups. Jesus it tasted divine and waiting around was no problem as we enjoyed a second and third glass. I had finally settled into Médoc pace.

The chateau wine stops rattled by on average every three kilometres. From the grandioseness of Châteaux Pichon-Baron and Lafite-Rothschild to the little one by the side of the road in Pauillac each one had their uniqueness and the quality of the wines was outstanding. Running through the dusty roads amongst the rolling vineyards was majestic however the amount of people seeking urinary relief amongst the vines was a tad off putting. I was advised to venture at least 30 metres in if I wanted to pinch a grape (btw that is not a euphemism).

The support along the route was incredible. Obviously given our get up we got many ‘oh ah Cantona’ and ‘allez Canto’ chants throughout from spectators and runners. One runner sidled up beside me and recited the famous ‘when the seagulls follow the trawler’ quote. Fair play to the lad. I only noticed one other runner dressed as their footballing icon, a Finnish FKW in a Norwich City away kit with Fantasy Football’s man of the moment Teemu Pukki on the back.

Whilst in the grounds of Château le Haye, bedecked in large multicoloured helium balloons, at 32km I got myself into and out of a little bind. My daughter was born in the late 2000s and she enjoyed an Icelandic show popular on CBBC called Lazy Town. I bumped into a group of Icelanders dressed as the lead character.

“You’re dressed as Sportacus aren’t you? From Lazy Town. Such a shame the lad died recently.”

“No he didn’t.”

“Yes he did. I saw it on the news.”

“No he didn’t. The guy’s a personal friend of ours. We saw him last week.”

“Are you sure? Really? Ah yes you’re right. It was the guy that played Robbie Rotten.”

Thankfully they laughed and we parted in good form.

Like all marathons the last 10km are the real tester. My feet were aching and my right abductor muscle was giving me some jip. The mind started at me and the nagging doubt about finishing tried to sow its ugly seed however the camaraderie eased me through it.

The last 5km was a long straight road back into Pauillac that could have been mind numbingly boring but for the pièce de résistance. As if the race had not given enough en route what with the fine wine and delectable aid stations we were treated to oysters, cheese, entrecôte steak and ice cream. How my stomach stood it all I’ll never know.

The finish arrived not long after the ice cream and as we approached the Three Cantonas spread out, clasped hands in the air, put our Eric masks back on, turned up our collars and sang ‘oh ah Cantona’ to the tune of La Marseillaise. 6:12:47, a marathon personal worst by multiple hours but as a wise man said ‘it’s not about time.’ We were handed our finishers medals and bottle of wine and then hobbled to the free bar, yes free bar, to rendezvous with Be Nice.

It’s hard to pick a favourite wine from the twenty but if I had to it would be the 2015 Frank Phélan at Château Phélan-Segur. An Irish name, his ancestor was a Wild Goose, but very much a delightful Bordeaux wine. My least favourite? A bullshit dessert wine I was tricked into drinking somewhere near halfway.

Médoc was terrific fun with so many hazy memories banked for the rest of my life. Although it is an epic moving piss up it is also a wonderful showcase of all that Médoc and then Bordeaux region has to offer. As Be Nice said “they know what they’re doing, they’re no fools.” Marathon des Châteaux du Médoc ensures that those that participate go forth and become vocal ambassadors for the region and its produce. No more will I ask for an Argentine Malbec or a Californian Pinot Noir in bars or restaurants. I’m an old world wine convert and from now on it’ll be ‘what do you have from Bordeaux?’

(L-R) Be Nice, Massage Hands, yours truly, T-Dog

Full Tour Runner

“Hello part-timer.”

The reaction of fellow PACs when I rocked up to Hell on the Fell 2018. They were doing all four stages in the annual Tour of Tameside series whereas I was only running the two on our club championship list. An air of athletic superiority exuded from those with ‘Full Tour Runner’ written upon their race numbers, I resented the ‘part-timer’ slight but also had severe run envy. Fast forward twelve months and I was about to embark on my Full Tour.

The Tour of Tameside was the idea of iconic marathon runner and running kit designer Ron Hill. Originally 6 events over 7 days it has since been whittled down to a more manageable four over four, or four over 62/63 hours to be precise-ish.

First up was the X-Trail 10k on Thursday evening. I arrived at Oldham RUFC, race HQ, in forgetful mood having left my watch back at home so I’d have to go at this one naked. The race itself was set amongst the grounds of Daisy Nook and Park Bridge Country Parks. It started off with a few nasty inclines and declines but then settled into a flatish out and back until a final 1km of slaloming and rollercoastering through a tight wooded trail. I crossed the finish line situated in an Endor-like setting in just under 45 minutes, a full 2.5 minutes under target pace but running by feel felt good.

Is it Endor or is it Daisy Nook?

Next up was Hell on the Fell 6 mile race in Stalybridge, or Staly Vegas as the locals call it, on Friday evening. Having ran without a watch the evening before I opted for a half way house and put a bit of electrician’s insulation tape over the watch face. I’m a notorious watch lookeraterer but my discipline held for the entire series.

Following a fast downhill start we turned on to Stocks Lane and after exchanging greetings with a spectating Tamesider whom I hadn’t seen for a while we commenced a four mile ascent. It was very hard going. At three miles we turned off Mottram Moor Rd and were met by two fantastically placed PAC marshals in Louise and Rob. It was then along country roads, up a grassy field that had it been wheat would’ve sent Theresa May into orgasmic convulsions and then it was onto the Fell. In 2018 I got to the top of the Fell within touching distance of Duncan, the Heaton parkrun scribe, but my fell descent was so abysmal I ultimately finished two minutes behind him. This year I threw caution to the West Pennine winds and attacked the one mile sharp descent like a Little House on the Priareer overdosed on EPO. Unlike last year not one person passed me and I overtook numerous runners on the way down. Exhilarating!

The quiet village of Hadfield, aka Royston Vasey, was the venue for the third stage on Saturday morning, the Hero Half Marathon. The race commenced following a charity run in memory of Nicola Hughes, one of the police officers murdered by Dale Creggan in nearby Hattersley in 2012. After a one mile loop around Hadfield it was on to the Longdendale Trail for nearly twelve miles. I love half marathons, they’re my ideal distance generally, but this out and backer on top of a hard race the night before was going to be a headfecker alright.

The trail had a mixture of densely wooded sections broken up by open areas with dramatic backdrops. The West Pennine Moors accompanied us to either side together with Bottoms, Torside and Woodhead Reservoirs. The unmistakable sound of gunfire after about five miles may have alarmed some however I knew it was from the Boar Clay shooting range, a place that I once frequented.

Up the Longdendale Trail

On the way back down the trail I got involved in a wee stramash with another runner. If there’s one thing that gets my goat it’s littering so when the runner in front of me took a gel pack from his gaping pocket, consumed the contents and then whizzed the empty packet into the grass verge I couldn’t remain silent. After a heated exchange I was bluntly told to ‘fuck off!’ My blood boiled but I kept focused and a mile later I eased past him so I suppose there’s my justice but there’s still a discarded gel packet out on that trail.

Just before the thirteen mile marker we were motioned off the trail to the right and up a nasty little incline and then downhill to a storming finish. It was an arduous race that practically nobody enjoyed but my 1:40 target was bang on and so it was on to fourth and final stage on Sunday morning.

Hyde was the location for the Dr Ron Hill 7 mile race and the centre of town was alive with runners early on Sunday morning. Male and female tour leaders Mohammed Abdurezeq and Kirstie Longley looked fresh as daisies warming up and full tourers were excited about getting a hold of the fourth medal and finishers tee however a tough road race lay ahead first. Starting opposite the Town Hall the route led uphill toward Hattersley followed by a bit of a mooch around the estate then a long mostly down hill run back to Hyde finishing where we had started. My legs were tired as we started off but after about a kilometre they came to life. I remembered most of the route from last year but the uphill section on Hattersley Road West took me by surprise, it seemed never ending. The one mile dash down Mottram Rd was very welcome and following a short but sapping uphill section we were brought around to the fantastic, support-filled finish straight down Market St (closed since 0600).

Seconds to go in the Tour and leaving nothing behind in Tameside

Crossing the line my first feeling was relief that it was over closely followed by a sense of accomplishment of completing a tough 32.3 mile race series. Receiving the final medal and full tour finishers tee felt fantastic.

I loved every part of the Tour of Tameside. It was superbly organised and marshalled and the support out on the testing race routes was wonderful. The best thing about it though was the camaraderie.

There was quite a PAC contingent of Full Tourers so we organised ourselves into car sharing groups for the daily commutes down the M60/M67 to Tameside. I got in with the Nutts, Mike G and Dr Jenn and the journeys certainly took on a life of their own. The topics of conversation (some unrepeatable) varied as much as our individual musical tastes picked from Spotify (there’s nothing wrong with Belgian rap!).

Meeting up with a our club mates, plus other runners, at the various locations set in motion an almost gallows-like humour about the activity that we were involved in. There was definitely a ‘once more unto the breach’ atmosphere amongst us. Thankfully Hayley kept us nourished with rich baked treats, me more than most as to paraphrase the song from Oklahoma ‘I’m just a guy who can’t say no’ when offered cakey buns.

PAC Tourers.

I have to give special mention to a number of PAC Full Tourers. Firstly Steph that recorded back to back category (F65+) wins, Matt for being first PAC home and to Stu and Dr Jenn that completed the Norden Race Series and Tour of Tameside over successive weekends. Also recognition of a non-PAC in Rob F with his tenth position overall finish.

I think now looking back we did not race others, we raced ourselves and the battle was within us. The Tour of Tameside is over for me now but it will always be there for the rest of my days… Shut up Mike, you shouldn’t have rewatched Platoon last night.

Danny’s Epic PB and MC’s Atonement

Sunday 19th May 2019. Portland Street. 0850. Ten minutes until the Great Manchester Half Marathon. Shoelaces checked. Shoelace that linked us checked. We were ready.

“Mike, I could do with a piss.”

“Again?! Bloody hell Danny! You went in Costa twenty minutes ago!”

“I know mate but can’t help it when I’m nervous.”

It was almost two years since my lowest ebb in running. In a previous blog I described how I’d been guide runner to Danny, a VI (visually impaired) runner, at the 2017 Great Manchester 10k. I had performed terribly and stopped him from fulfilling his potential. Though I later found out that chronic iron deficiency was the reason behind my poor performance it still haunted me. I had guided Danny numerous times prior to the ill-fated 10k and though my form had returned the bad memories still lingered. It led me to shy away from guiding running altogether.

Guiding running with Danny at Heaton parkrun, 2016

This position held until a few weeks ago when Danny issued a call on the guide running messenger group I’m part of. He wanted to run the Half Marathon and was after a guide. I volunteered. I wanted to make good, to atone.

Following Danny’s last moment piss call we lined up at the rear of the red wave behind the 2:00 pacer. Danny’s half marathon PB was 1:49 however we’d settled on 1:46 as an achievable target. For a sighted runner the human traffic ahead of us would be a hassle but for a guided VI runner, for whom space is king, it would be very difficult. A tough first few miles lay ahead to even reach runners of a similar pace.

Danny’s visual impairment is known as X-linked Retinitis Pigmentosa. It’s a progressive condition that starts with night blindness moving on to tunnel vision and, like in Danny’s case, can lead to almost complete loss of sight. Danny describes his vision as being able to see objects as shadows in front of light sources but that’s about it.

The starting gun fired. After a few minutes shuffling along we passed the start and headed down Portland Street and on to Great Bridgewater Street. The route was basically a trip to two football grounds. Firstly out toward the Emptihad, sorry Etihad, Stadium via the Mancunian Way and Ashton Old Road then returning to join the 10k route to Old Trafford and back along Chester Road with the finish on Deansgate.

Those that have guided a VI runner in a busy race will know that it’s a complete headmash. Potholes, kerbs, speedbumps, bollards, cat’s eyes, discarded bottles and other runners cutting you up are all easily anticipated for a sighted runner but when guiding are all potential hazards. Your mind is in overdrive making decisions every few seconds for the person being guided. Clear communication is key and any misjudgement can lead to a fall and potential injury.

We made our way on to the traffic free Mancunian Way but there was very little space along it’s length. I tried to keep us to the right near the central reservation and at times had to mount the kerb but also shoulder into Danny to keep him on the road. The ‘visually impaired runner coming through to the left/right thank you!’ shout became almost constant. Thankfully it was heeded and other runners that shouted ahead helped also as did those that retrieved drinks at all the water stations.

The Ashton Old Road/Alan Turing Way sections were less congested and we settled into a comfortable pace but then came the Etihad Stadium, a minefield of potential hazards. Danny and I are both Reds so it isn’t our favourite place anyway, we both did an Ander Herrera, but it threw everything at us. The route narrowed significantly, there were large speed bumps every fifty metres and a tight 180 degree turnaround where I had to link arms with Danny to swing him around it Irish ceilidh style. To top it off there was a set of bollards to navigate through leading up to a pedestrian footbridge. Unlike Man Utd in recent times though we escaped the stadium unscathed and with our dignity intact.

As we approached the join up with the 10k route at Chester Rd we were ahead of his target pace (4:50 minute kms). Danny was running comfortably and his breathing was steady. I didn’t let him know our progress, I just kept reiterating that we were ahead of his PB.

Clint Boon’s stand belting out classic Manchester tracks at mile 9 gave Danny an extra spring in his step and was cheered when told that the former Inspiral Carpets man gave him a big double thumbs up as we passed.

Passing the Theatre of Dreams (nightmares at the moment).

Old Trafford, our Mecca, came and went and pretty soon after we were back on Chester Rd with only a couple of miles left. This is where Danny really dug deep. I could see that he was feeling it but he kept to pace, in fact he increased pace. I did the calculations and knew that if we kept going he was going to PB big time.

12 mile sign.

“How long’s left Mike?”

“Not far Dan.”

400 metre to go sign.

“Much further mate?”

“Nearly there Dan.”

I got ready for the anticipated Danny surge at the end like he had done in previous races. It’s so strong that I’ve often compared it to being like a water skier dragged along by an out of control boat.

200 metre to go sign.

“Right Dan let’s go. Sprint finish for the cameras.”

“No! I can’t Mike. I’ve nothing left. I’m knackered.”

We went under the Victorian railway bridge and crossed the line in 1:41:12, a whopping 8 minute PB. He’d given absolutely everything, pushed himself well beyond his comfort zone and had left nothing out there on 13.1 miles of Manchester tarmac. Danny had produced an epic personal performance.

Danny’s Strava splits, not too shabby.

It’s easy to be cliched about Danny. Many people along the route shouted out that he was an ‘inspiration’ however it’s important not to go overboard and sound patronising. When one guy said it I answered back:

“Yeah he may be an inspiration but he’s also an arsehole.”

This was said in jest and it got a few laughs but it also sought to underline the fact that he’s an individual that shouldn’t be treated as a special case. He doesn’t seek that. Danny doesn’t allow his visual impairment to hold him back, in fact he uses it to burst forward and achieve his goals whether that be running marathons, parachuting or playing football. In that sense then yes I suppose he is an inspiration but if I said that to him he’d probably respond “nah Mike, you’re just talking shit there mate.”

Finished

https://www.englandathletics.org/athletics-and-running/our-programmes/find-a-guide/become-a-guide-runner/

The Glasnevin Schillaci

Salvatore ‘Totò’ Schillaci. People of a certain vintage will recall that name. Whilst England was consumed with Gazza hype it was the diminutive Sicilian striker and his six goals who really took Italia ’90 by storm.

Schillaci came from almost nowhere to be a household name. Yes he played for Juventus, the old lady of Italian football, but up until 1989 he was still plying his trade at lowly Messina. The Palermo native was a surprise inclusion in Italy’s World Cup squad and was the runt of the Azzurri forward litter. He lagged behind more recognisable names like Vialli, Baggio and Mancini and was there seemingly just for the ride. However by the end Schillaci with his satanically wild eyes and emotion-riven goal celebrations would almost drive Italy to World Cup glory on home soil.

As an Ireland supporter Schillaci broke our hearts. His quick reaction to Packie Bonner’s paltry block was all Italy needed to blast them past The Boys in Green and into the semi finals. Jimmy Rabbitte’s ‘Fuck Schillaci’ t-shirt in Roddy Doyle’s The Van spoke to many of us but fair play to Schillaci, he took his opportunity and made sure his hitherto unknown name went down in football history. A true Italian dark horse.

Jimmy Rabbitte.

The story of the dark horse brings me neatly on to last weekend. I was over in Ireland again with a fellow parkrun tourist Adrian. Originally we’d planned to run the parkrun out west in my dad’s hometown of Castlerea in Roscommon but plans had been changed by James and Dan, two Dublin-based cousins. And so it was to Bushy parkrun in Rathfarnham we would be headed. I’d already done Bushy parkrun in London, the so-called Bushy pilgrimage, on New Year’s Day so I was on for a 2019 Bushy double (don’t snigger).

Dan and myself are the runners but I was staying with James in North Dublin and he was coming along to parkrun ‘just for the craic.’ I knew he’d run the New York Marathon in the past but he never spoke of it. We assumed it had gone all wrong so we never asked questions. Maybe it was his running equivalent to Vietnam so to speak. We didn’t go there, no need to stir up bad memories.

Being in Ireland we spent the Friday night in a pub, John Kavanagh’s ‘The Gravediggers Inn’ by Glasnevin Cemetary. The pints of Guinness flowed and I started to get a handle of what I thought was going on. James was getting me ‘locked’ so Dan, sound asleep in his bed in Wicklow, could beat me in the morning. Unfortunately as Oscar Wilde said ‘I can resist everything but temptation’. James’s sister Claire turned up with fiancée Joe later in the night and we finally departed just after midnight.

Lining up at The Gravediggers Inn

With heavy heads we made our way over to Rathfarnham on Saturday morning. In the nearby Tesco carpark we met up with Dan, fresh as a daisy, and his sister Aoife and headed to the start. Luckily enough the park is quite sheltered and had survived the cancellations that affected other parkruns due to Storm Hannah but numbers were swollen with exiles.

The parkrun route follows the River Dodder for nearly 1km then enters Bushy Park for a couple of figure of 8 loops around duck ponds and along wooded trails then back down the path we ran out on to the finish. The pathway was narrow so to get a good time it was integral to get up near the front which Dan and I duly did. James was happy to stay in the middle of the pack.

We started and I headed off quickly in order to lose Dan. At 1km I briefly looked back and didn’t see him. Job done, so I thought, but don’t let up. Life, however, has a funny way of knocking one down a peg or two and sure enough after 2km it happened. I got caught, but not by Dan.

I was running along reasonably well considering the libations of the night previous and all of a sudden a looming moving object appeared by my right shoulder.

“Hi Mike, howya gettin’ on?”

It was James. James! He was here ‘just for the craic’! What the bloody hell was going on?

I fathomed that he had got all excited and set off too quick. He’d falter, they always do, but nice one for having a go though mate. However over the next 1km he stuck to me. Every time I injected a bit of pace, James stayed right by me. I was breathing heavily whilst he was almost Kipchoge-like in his ease of breath. I tried to shake him but just couldn’t. He was so relaxed and was even helpful to a lad running alongside of us.

“Hey young lad! Watch out there, you’re shoelace is loose. Sure you’ll be okay?”

At 3km James made his move and passed me without much effort. Even still I had notions of catching him as his engine was surely going to give out. I’d reel him in on the long finish stretch. Not a bit of it. He put twenty seconds on me and that did not change. James finally crossed the finish line in 20:24 with his English cousin trailing in behind.

What a mighty performance in his first parkrun. It took me six years to get that time, albeit the anaemia didn’t help, and he rocks up ‘just for the craic’ and lays down a great marker. Apparently he even went the wrong way on exiting the figure 8 bit to further rub salt into the wounds. Fecker!

Dan finished in 23:00 and won the ‘closest to the PB’ challenge we’d set ourselves as I was 1:23 outside mine and he bagged a PB however the day was all about James, the Glasnevin Schillaci. I’m now seriously thinking of getting a Jimmy Rabbitte-style t-shirt made up in his honour.

Dan, The Glasnevin Schillaci and MC

P.S. Dan’s daughter came up with the below after reading. Absolutely marvellous.