Last Sunday was the Wilmslow Festive 10k and also the final race of my running year. Apart from parkruns and a crazy retro mile around Cadishead RLFC on 30th December I’m going to rest a bit.
Catching a lift down to Wilmslow with two clubmates aiming for sub 34 and 35 minute 10ks was an invaluable boost. The chat and advice really gave me confidence to go for my target (sub 42) with gusto.
Wilmslow was buzzing on what was a cold November morning and as I approached the packed starting area following a warm up my attention was diverted by women in purple running vests. The vibrant colour didn’t strike me as much as the motif upon it, PSPA (Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Awareness). Before January 2nd 2017 I was blissfully unaware of PSP however l found out that day when somebody close to me was diagnosed with it. PSP is a neurological condition with symptoms similar to Parkinson’s. It’s progressive so gradually gets worse over time and there is no cure. Not a nice condition whatsoever. We exchanged stories but the start warning interrupted further chat so we wished each other well and headed off.
The course was a nice route through the Cheshire countryside taking in villages south and west of Wilmslow. It was a course of two 5ks, the first flattish and second more undulating with a nasty little uphill tester at 8k. I felt prepped, especially after a ‘Batman’ 8x200m interval session with Rob a few days prior, and was confident of achieving my target. I went out hard for the first half (my 6th fastest recorded 5k) as advised and then held/hurt on in to achieve a 41:19 finish, a 1:40 improvement on my last 10k PB at Salford on Good Friday. Paul and Rob, the speedsters I was in the car with, achieved their targets also with a 33:54 and a 34:59.8 respectively.
In the finish area I noticed a very distinct but familiar individual rising a full head above everybody else. It was Rob, a former employee, so I went over for a catch up.
For my sins I used to be in the temporary recruitment business supplying HGV drivers. One afternoon in November 2011 I was stood at my work desk taking a phone call when the office door facing me suddenly opened and in walked a 6’ 6” gentleman covered in tattoos. When I say covered, I mean covered. There appeared no visible skin uninked. Face, head, neck, hands, arms, everything. My phone conversation paused abruptly.
I quickly got over my initial shock, told the caller I’d ring them back and ushered him in. As we went through the interview process my mind was conflicted. Rob ticked all boxes from licence, experience, references, knowledge and manner but what client would take him completely covered in tattoos. All the companies we worked with were customer facing and image was everything but I was determined to ‘get him out (to work)’ in temp recruitment parlance.
We did have one client though, a supplier of metal tubes and fittings, that had a pretty relaxed transport manager (a rarity) so I tried him out.
“Tony, a great driver has just registered with us but he’s got, erm, a few, er, tattoos (cough).”
“That’s fine Mike. My wife and I run a pub frequented by bikers so we’re used to lads with tattoos. Send him in to us.”
Five minutes after his start time the following day the phone rang. I answered, it was Tony.
“F*****g hell Mike! A few tattoos!!!”
Thankfully all went well and Rob went on to be one of the finest people I ever employed. Every client took to him. His individuality and friendly nature endeared him to people but his professionalism led Rob to become the preferred driver of many clients.
Rob was a big football fan and watched England home and away. In 2012 he followed the Three Lions to the Euros in Ukraine. I heard that he’d been photographed in the Daily Mail so I looked online and sure enough there he was enjoying a beer outside the Donbass Arena in Donetsk before the England v France game. I then read the comments underneath the article. Each one slated his appearance and called him a ‘thug’ or worse and a good few questioned who would ever employ him
I despise the Daily Mail but my blood boiled sufficiently to register with the rag in order to reply. I launched into a vehement defence of Rob informing the keyboard warriors that one couldn’t meet a nicer guy and that I was very proud to be his employer.
Prior to meeting Rob I had a negative view of tattoos, I didn’t like them and could not understand why people got them. If I’m honest I probably had an attitude not too dissimilar to the Daily Mail commenters. Since meeting him though it highlighted to me the old adage that you should never judge a book by its cover nor a 6’ 6” fella by his completely tattooed face. He changed me. I thought I’d entered a dystopian nightmare when he opened my office door in November 2011 but I believe I’m all the better person for him doing so. Tattoos are still not for me personally but I’m very much each to their own now. Sure if we were all the same then the world would be a very boring place indeed.
As we departed Wilmslow I again bumped into the purple vested PSPA women. Though cold they were ecstatic to have completed the race and also raise over £2000 for more research into the condition. Heroes in my eyes. The race itself was fantastic but seeing Rob again and meeting the wonderful PSPA fundraisers made the event more memorable.
Running is all about the people.