It’s fair to say that running is a bit peculiar 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 prey 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?!!!”
“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.
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.
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 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 😉.