Race Date: Sunday 22nd September
Report from Jon Cooper
It was towards the back-end of the school holiday when a familiar-looking A5 envelope landed on my doormat. Oh, I thought to myself, turning it over and over in my hands as though inspecting an artefact of notable archaeological significance. Looks like I did enter the Sheffield 10k, after all. Spared the arduous task of poking around in my email inbox for confirmation either way, I opened the envelope and was advised, through the familiar blatherings of the Run For All race gumpf, not to worry if my race pack (for that it was it was) felt a little light. I wasn’t about to, but appreciated the sentiment all the same. We’ve all got our personal millstones around our necks, and like Dire Straits once sang, these things have always been the same/so why worry now?
Following a summer of largely enjoyable but holiday schedule-dictating mileage ahead of the York marathon in October, I was feeling pretty confident of giving my PB the kind of spanking that it might get if it were to attend a certain kind of dinner party and put its car keys in the special bowl. I’d spent the days leading up to the race feeling a little under the weather thanks to the grottiness of my class and their tendency to incubate new strains of bothersome pathogen, and the day before saw me taken out by a particularly nasty bout of parenting, but on race day I woke feeling positive. A relaxed jog into town saw me arrive in time to watch the assembly of the Striders pacing team (a special mention and ‘well done’ to them in appreciation of their excellent work), and the sudden blackening of the September sky. Not being a total numpty, I had checked the weather forecast, and I’d heard on the grapevine that it was ‘throwing it down’ in Chesterfield, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the deluge that ensued. Ahead of the traditional pre-race photo, numerous Striders could be seen taking shelter behind the pillars at the top of the Town Hall steps like a troop of chronically depressed macaques waiting out a monsoon. At that point, I don’t mind telling you, I was feeling about as much enthusiasm for the race as I would for the prospect of having my appendix removed by a nine year-old who has just learned about the procedure from Operation Ouch and fancies their chances with a teaspoon.
After getting my feet thoroughly soaked in a layer of surface water almost deep enough for a toddler to paddle in, I headed to the start line before the entertaining/tolerable/irksome/pointless (delete as appropriate) warm-up began. In the ‘sub 40 mins’ pen, familiar faces abounded; cursory nods and grunts of ‘alright’ were mustered with about as much enthusiasm as Jacob Rees-Mogg giving out sweets to toddlers on a council estate; trainers were coveted (although not by me; I recently got some pretty sexy new Asics from a well-known online source thanks to my Striders discount code), and big noises from the usual running clubs exchanged their summaries of the past few weeks’ training and racing. Standard pre-race, tension-laden banter – unless you were talking to Strider X, that is, whose identity is being withheld for embarrassment prevention purposes.
‘Last time I ran in rain like this,’ began Strider X, ‘my shorts clung to my penis so that it was showing [in outline only, I assumed] on all the race photographs.’
I laughed in such a way as to communicate a cocktail – no pun intended – of amusement, relief at not having experienced this myself, and mild concern that I could suffer the same fate given the prevailing meteorological conditions. Maybe I should’ve saved that banana instead of eating it; then I could’ve stashed it…. But my ponderings were interrupted by the countdown to the gun. The hardy but bedraggled souls lining Arundel Gate applauded as we began to move up through the gears (and probably then headed for cover in a coffee shop for half an hour, I’d like to think).
The crowd thinned out as we trundled off down Charter Row and across Waitrose Roundabout, which probably has a proper name but I can’t be bothered to look it up. Pretty soon, however, we were serenaded by some enthusiastic Samba drumming, joyfully incongruous in the midst of such leaden torrents. I settled into a steady rhythm alongside fellow Strider Stephen Schubeler, whose running always seems effortlessly poised and graceful, and we passed a number of home-made banners advising us that we should ‘Keep Going’ – advice that we duly took. Passing Hunter’s Bar roundabout (I know that one….) and turning onto Rustlings Road, I noticed that the rain had suddenly stopped, and we were starting to climb into a wispy, almost empyrean fog. Here, the fan base again thinned out into a smattering of locals – a mixture of retired lecturers, hi-five-seeking kids (I think I managed four in a row at one point) and their parents, and the odd bemused local just trying to get into Endcliffe Park.
Ignoring the innate desire to hang a sharp right at the mini-roundabout with Oakbrook Road, I dug in for the less appealing but frustratingly necessary climb up to Hangingwater crossroads and the westernmost point of the course. The level of support was commensurate with the strategic importance of the location, and I later found myself appearing on several photos taken by Striders who I have little or no memory of seeing or hearing due to the fact that I was beginning to feel the effects of the brisk pace. Stephen Schubeler was starting to inch away, and I didn’t have the leg speed to catch him, but I pushed through the 5k point in a time that I would’ve considered a good performance for a Parkrun, passing through the crowd of enthusiastic water-hander-outers with the same eyes-ahead aloofness one might employ in trying to get down Fargate without being accosted by someone after your money or your soul. Beginning to feel confident that a PB might be do-able, I amused myself through the unpleasant uphill spike of Riverdale Road by engaging in a bit of mathematical hoopla, and the crunched numbers were encouraging. Turning downhill onto Brocco Bank, I pushed on.
My memory of kilometres 8 and 9 is a blur. I remember seeing several Striders heading the other way and hearing their encouragement. I remember seeing Sheffield Legend John ‘The Man with the Pram’ Burkhill doing a sterling job in bringing up the rear (and no doubt raising about a gazillion pounds for Macmillan Cancer Support in the process). I remember not remembering to look right for a glimpse of my favourite piece of street art (Phlegm’s piece near KFC). All of a sudden I was back at Waitrose Roundabout. It turned out that in the intervening 25-or-so minutes someone had rather rudely raised the gradient of Charter Row by a few degrees. I was far from appreciative as I slogged upwards, before bearing right past Debenhams and the left back onto Arundel Gate for what I was hoping would be a sprint finish, but which turned out to be just another 400-odd metres at the same pace, only with a pained expression on my face (the official race photographs later revealed). I crossed the line in a PB time, but like the Eeyore that I am, chose to fixate on the fact that the clock had ticked over 37 minutes just a few seconds too soon. Bugger. Hooray for the PB, but mainly Bugger.
Many Striders ran. Well done to all. The race was won by Andrew Heyes of Hallamshire Harriers in a course record run of 30:44. The first lady was Elaine Livera (unattached, according to the results), who finished in 37:39 and 29th place overall. First Strider home was Liam Turner, who managed a superb 8th place in 34:52. The much-coveted 21st place, however, was reserved for yours truly. Next year, I will be 39 years and 364 days on race day; surely there must be a prize for oldest person in the senior age category? I’ll leave that thought with the organisers. I’ll settle for a chocolate orange……