SWR & Ultra 2021 Event Directors Report: A day in the life. Race Date: Sunday 19th September 2021
Mid July is here already and I’m slightly nervous that September is looming, I haven’t sent out invites to clubs yet asking if they would like to compete in this year’s Sheffield Way Relay. I’m also in a conundrum as who to invite as I have a lot more choice this year.
In its 25th year this year and my first real year as solo Race Director I have a lot to think about and organise. The race has always been “low key” by invite only as there are logistical and parking considerations to take into account, I sit and I ponder and I think well let’s just put the invites out there and if needed I can cap maximum numbers of teams from clubs, thankfully the invites go out and the response over the next few weeks is manageable. Race On!
Now my real planning begins, I create and email out preliminary race day instruction PDFs and Excel team sheets to team captains/organisers and I leave it to them to manage their teams, on receiving team sheets back I give organisers online access to them so I don’t play email tennis for days and weeks on end updating sheets on everyone’s behalf. I stress that I don’t manage teams, organisers do.
As the team sheets come back to me I begin to build the race in RaceClocker, the system I use for timing the race, teams, wave starts and team numbers, all very important for assigning teams to their respective handicap categories and ordering the correct amount of numbers from the printer.
Next I need some volunteers to actually make race day happen, I put out a mix of social media and targeted emails over the coming weeks and I’m relieved that this brings everything together at the nth hour.
I still have a lot to do though, a report of a blocked foot bridge (that isn’t actually on the route, someone has been going the wrong way for a number of years) needs investigating and I visit absent farmers to talk about cows resulting in multiple trips and nicely written letters that could be put through letterboxes if farmers are still absent.
I then have a series of back and forth emails with team organisers with race day instructions, diversions, no go areas, route changes and .gpx files hoping that they are passed down to team members, I do it this way so that I am not managing resending of emails to late substitutions etc, remember I don’t manage the teams, organisers manage the teams. I send out similar emails to all the amazing volunteers including where to be and what time and most importantly instructions on how to use RaceClocker. Some volunteers are nervous and I reassure them. My phone pings repeatedly, late at night and early in the morning with emails and social media messages from team organisers and volunteers asking more questions that only I have the answers to (or have already answered in my PDFS and emails).
Race day is looming close now and the numbers have arrived back from the printer, not all teams have submitted their team sheets or given me addresses to send numbers to so it’s an hour enveloping up what I can send out and a trip to the post office to buy stamps and post them out, others are delivered by hand and another trip to the post office a few days later once I have chased organisers and received late addresses.
Then I receive a message 3 days before race day from a team organiser that their numbers haven’t arrived, I need to go and see Lucy Cowell who is volunteering at Rod Moor Road so I go and see her first taking a “long” lunch out of work (SWR volunteering is fully endorsed by my employer as part of my annual Professional Development Review “Corporate Responsibility” module) I explain to Lucy what Lucy needs to do (Lucy is Deaf) and then I get lost on the outskirts of Dore delivering a new set of numbers to a very nice house indeed.
In the mean time I’ve tracked down the stash of club high Viz that I need for the volunteers, some to be collected, some to be delivered, Mr. Pegg has the stash and delivers to me and offers to cycle out to deliver if I need him to on Thursday evening prior to race day. (I won’t mention that he didn’t deliver on Thursday, he went on Friday instead and drove and interrupted a Hot Tub Session, not sure if he was invited to get in or not!).
It’s now Friday and I’m pretty relaxed with nothing to do, I have teams, I have volunteers, numbers are with teams, RaceClocker has been updated with replacement team numbers, instructions are sent and hopefully read and everyone should know what they are doing on race day.
Saturday morning pre-race day and I’m at Millhouses parkrun, our very own Nick Burns is there, Nick is running the whole 46.something miles again with DRC Ben Clithero as an Ultra, Nick casually asks me if I’m going to be at the Canal basin at 06:30 to see him and Ben off, without hesitation I say yes, it was my intention to not be there until an hour later but I think about it and think it would be a great way to support two dear friends in the loneliness and dark of pre-dawn on their epic adventure.
The rest of my day on Saturday is then spent messaging volunteers, handling queries from team organisers/runners that have not read instructions and I have a sleepless night.
05:00 Sunday morning is here and it’s race day!
I’m up filling up flasks of coffee, toasting bagels to have with peanut butter and jam for my brunch later in the morning (my race day treat) and filling my car with all the paraphernalia of race day equipment. I drive to the Canal basin arriving in the dark at 06:15, at 06:25 out of the darkness Nick and Ben appear and then as quickly as they arrive they’ve gone again at 06:30 with a hug and a countdown send off from me.
I’m feeling a bit emotional as I see them leave, I’m left in the stillness for an hour to enjoy the dawn and my surroundings. I go back to my car and retrieve my “Race Director” essentials that I need to get the race started, I carry it all to the canal basin and set everything up (I set my iPad up as a race day clock on a post and forget it when I leave the canal basin to go to Wheata Wood, Jane Huws finds it much later in the day still on the top of the post). I have 45 minutes to myself before the first team is due to set off. Time ticks by and as the new dawn fades I hear voices, hurrah, green vests approach and SWR Race Day officially starts at 07:45 as I set one Totley team off on a requested early start.
I then set 4 waves off at intervals of 15 minutes, some teams bear gifts of flapjack for me while other teams turn up 2 mins before their wave start without their numbers, I’m quite anxious and vocal about telling them they can’t start without their numbers, I’m disappointed by their response as it wasn’t what I wanted to hear but I let it go.
I turn around to see someone else actually scrunching their number up into a small ball, I can’t quiet comprehend this and ask them what they are doing, they explain it stops the number “flapping”, in all my years running I’ve never come across this before, apparently it’s something fell runners do but is news to me, obviously I’m not a fell runner, I am now as I know what to do with my race number!
All teams have started now so it’s time to pack up and start my day out driving on the route visiting as many marshals and timekeepers as I can, my first visit is to Dave Palmer and a big hug on Penistone road, Dave has been a stalwart here for many a year, I get to him to hear no runners have come through yet, when the first do come through I’m pleased to see how easy it is for him to use RaceClocker.
I have a quick chat with Dave about Ultras and Bob Grahams, I leave him playing road crossing warden assisting teams across a very busy Penistone Road and I drive to Wheata Wood, the first leg changeover, as I arrive parking is an issue so I’m back out of the car park and onto the road, I arrive at the changeover and there’s an amazing atmosphere (to be repeated throughout the day) with timekeeper duties handled very efficiently by Keith Bell and Caroline Brock, runners come and go and I have a quick catchup with Ollie Hart, I blame my SWR Race Director duties on Ollie as it was him who has been instrumental with setting up parkrun in Sheffield and coercing me into being a Run Director at Graves for a number of years. This has surely contributed to where I am with SWR today, thanks Ollie.
One team inform me they have forgotten their numbers so have written them “triathlon” style on their legs with black marker pen, this team coincidentally had their numbers hand delivered by me to their team organiser. I’m then on my phone messaging Leg 02 volunteers informing them we have runners without numbers and that the runners will be shouting their team numbers as they pass by.
I’m offered more cake and then I’m back in the car making my way to Hill Top to see Marshal Jo Gleig, I always seem to get lost from Wheata Wood to Hill Top but today I don’t. I arrive at Hill Top to find Jo in her “deck chair” wrapped up cosily warm offering out water, jelly babies and gels. A quick chat with a lovely local resident and Jo and then Amy Earnshaw comes tearing past with her running partner, I shout to Amy “Have you got a trophy of mine” (2019 SWR Womens Trophy), Amy’s reply “Yes, but I’m hoping to keep it”.
A short while later and I’m making my way to Wyming Brook changeover driving along country lanes hoping not to get lost, I bypass volunteer Alan Barnett who is marshalling on Manchester Road, I just don’t have time to stop and say hello to all the volunteers, I drive along Rivelin dam wall hoping there will be a parking spot for me, there’s one, just the one!
I arrive at the changeover to be greeted by our new men’s Captain Neil Schofield and Chris Ireland from Sheffield Running club who are at the RaceClocker controls, Neil and I have a discussion about what to do if a team finishes but their next leg runners haven’t arrived. I think one thing while Neil thinks another and If I’m honest I hadn’t thought this through properly (to be continued).
A big smile and hug from Fran Cummins and I’m chatting to friends old and new, then a runner tells me that they have left their numbers on the kitchen table, coincidentally this is the team organiser I had delivered team numbers to earlier in the week and the same team from the previous leg! I’m on my phone again messaging the Leg 03 volunteers informing them we have runners without numbers and that the runners will be shouting their team numbers as they pass by again.
Then I’m back to the car leaving Wyming Brook in very capable hands, at least I thought I was leaving but as I run to my car I give myself time to process my conversation with Neil, he was right so I run back to him, tell him this and then run back to the car again.
A quick drive over to Burbage Bridge North car park to see marshal Tracey Louise in her big woolly hat finds me arriving at the car park in sweltering sunshine, bypassing marshal Matt Broadhead at Stanage Pole and marshal Chris Walker at Hook’s Car, it’s impossible for me to get to all marshalling positions because of the remoteness of them, cheers chaps.
I cheer a few pairs through with Tracey and point them in the right direction along Burbage Edge past the ice cream van then I’m off to Totley Pavilion bypassing my wife marshalling at Burbage Rocks (thank you my darling Bea Marshall x). I arrive at Totley and check my phone to read confusion about team 20 being lost (or was it 21) or is that 20 teams are lost, volunteers take it upon themselves to go and find the lost team and they are set back on track (thanks Chris Ireland).
I arrive at Totley Changeover and I’m hungry, I park up in the furthest corner of the pub car park and look for my bagels in the boot of my car, nowhere to be seen!
I’m greeted by Joe Buckman and his expecting partner Jo (soon now Joe and Jo) at the RaceClocker controls, Totley AC have very kindly opened the pavilion for SWR and Ultra use so there’s tea and coffee and toilets for everyone if they need them. A Leg 03 runner has had a slight mishap so there’s a bit of blood, I go back to my car and retrieve my first aid kit and wounds are patched (not by me, I don’t like blood). On the way back I check my phone, a message from Nick through a volunteer makes me smile.
While I’m there I’m fortunate to see the Ultra runners pass through looking very strong if not very hot, first thing Nick asks me when he sees me is “did you get my message”, message is “Two pints of Lager Shandy required at Ford”!
The weather at Totley is amazing and I’m reluctant to leave but I need to keep going, next stop Lucy at Rod Moor Road, I’m worried as Lucy has messaged to say she is not comfortable with her marshalling position at all asks if she can move, on reflection Lucy I’m really sorry as that was not a good choice at all for you, I’m going to totally move that spot next year so it is much safer for everyone, I’m not entirely sure why it is there at all in the first place as I can think of somewhere much better!
I get to Lucy to find Lucy has moved but neither of us are comfortable with her new location, I communicate with Lucy in my worst BSL (none) and we sort of agree that she only needs to stay as long as she feels able to.
I’m back in the car on my way to Toby Carvery marshal and leave Lucy but I’m very unsettled, as soon as I arrive at the Carvery I contact Lucy and tell her to go home, I then contact all the other volunteers letting them know there is no marshal at Rod Moor Road and ask if they can let runners know too.
A quick chat with marshal David Bownes informs me he pointed the ultra-runners in the right direction along the right path as they were going the wrong way and then I’m back in the car to see marshal Richard Binks at the Coal Aston diversion, this is in place this year due to forestry work in nearby woods along the route (communicated out to team organisers many times in emails with .gpx and maps attached, social media etc but still some confusion right up to race day).
I meet up with Richard who in between marshalling is doing his very own sprint reps, Richard visited my house the week before to pick up his volunteering paraphernalia but then I bumped into him Saturday morning at Millhouses parkrun, thanks Richard we could have handed everything over at parkrun!
And then I am Ford Changeover, I arrive at 13:40 and manage to find a parking spot in the middle of a very busy fish pond car park, I’m straight into the pub and order “two pints of lager shandy”, they take a long time to be served and I’m getting nervous as I’m there to do the Leg 05 14:00 mass start.
Pints are served (none for me though) and I’m back at the changeover with quick greetings to Timekeepers Emma Portus and Clare Trevitt Gilmer, it’s difficult to find them with so many runners there, the atmosphere at Ford is pretty amazing with lots of people around the leg finish/start. I turn around to see Nick and Ben approaching at 13:50 and shout out to everyone who they are and for everyone to give them a big clap and a cheer, I grab the pints and they take them off me as they cross the leg 04 finish line. They pretty much down them in one and then they are off again to claps and cheers from everyone for the last 9 miles.
Now it’s down to business as the time is approaching 14:00, I shout in my loud bossy voice (what me, loud and bossy!) for all non-runners to stand in one place out of the way while I organise all the 14:00 mass start runners into pairs in an orderly queue (the mass start is so that the race finishes in a reasonable time so the volunteers can go home and the results can be processed).
14:00 is here and I set them off one by one in pairs using RaceClocker, one pair set off too soon right behind the team in front, I call them back as they shout “we’re following them”. All remaining Leg 05 teams are now on their way while some Leg 04 teams have yet to finish.
Staying a little longer I’m told about a pub gathering later in the day that I am invited to, I’d love to be there but there is still much to do, on a beer related note I’m also cryptically told “there’s beer under the bench”.
I leave Ford to go back to the Canal Basin for the finish, Jane Huws is already there with her finger on the RaceClocker button (and nice to see marshal Jo Gleig there too), a pleasant surprise is that John Crossland is present in his standard issue sun hat, John was the SWR Race Director for many years, I picked up the “virtual” baton from John in 2019.
I take over from Jane as more runners come in and finish in pairs with big smiles on their faces to clapping and shouts of encouragement. The final team come in some time later and both Ultra Runners finish in 9 hours and 13 minutes together. Jane informs me she has found an iPad on top of a post!
It’s time to pack up and go home at about 16:00 but there are results that still need to be processed (merging the mass start into the main results with some minus plus minus calculations or is it plus minus plus, I can’t remember) while my phone pings with messages from eager teams asking when the results will be ready.
Finally, results are processed, results emails are sent out, social media announcements done and a very long day later it’s time for a large glass of full bodied red!
The winners of this years “Roy Kitson Founders Trophy” with a new Women Category record are:
Hillsborough & Rivelin Running Club Womens A team with a time of: 06:29:19.4.
The winners of this years “Janet Price Trophy” (Mixed Category) are:
Dronfield Running Club Mixed Team with a time of: 06:44:45.0.
The winners of this years “The Plate” Trophy (Open Category) are:
Totley AC Mens A Team with a time of 05:47:49.7.
A handicap is applied to both the Mixed (15 minutes) and Open (30 minutes) Category split over all legs to give an overall winner on the day.
The winners of this years “The Sheffield Way Relay Prize” are:
Totley AC Mens A Team with a time of 06:17:49.7.
I’ve probably forgotten some stuff but:
I never made it to the pub.
I totally forget about the “beer under the bench”.
58 miles were covered in the car.
Amy kept her trophy (with a different club).
I found my Bagels on the kitchen table and had them for brunch the next day.
I had to remerge and recalculate the results again the next day (due to a small error affecting one team but affected category and overall positions).
25 Volunteers made the event happen.
There were 21 teams.
There were 210 happy runners.
There were 2 happy ultra runners.
All teams finished.
The beige buffet will return.
Batons will return.
I’d love to have a crack at the Ultra!
SWR & Ultra 2022 18.09.22. (save the date!!!!!!!!)
SWR Event Director
|1||Nick Burns||MV 50||09.13.34|
Men’s A Team
|Leg 1||Ben Jones/Seth Kirby||1.12.43|
|Leg 2||Ian Stinson/Chris Boland||1.25.10|
|Leg 3||Louis Wood/Matt Williams||1.23.18|
|Leg 4||Matt Rimmer/Dimitrios Mamalopoulos||1.20.08|
|Leg 5||Matthew Bradbury/Nick Booker||1.58.22|
Men’s B Team
|Leg 1||Andy Rowland/Lee Mills||1.32.10|
|Leg 2||Peter McCoy/Richard Pegg||1.29.24|
|Leg 3||Stuart Jones/Chris Reece||1.44.30|
|Leg 4||Adam McAuley/Ed Startup||1.25.51|
|Leg 5||Richard Clamp/Roger Watson||1.42.37|
|Leg 1||Nancy Stuart/Harriet Davies||2.13.58|
|Leg 2||Zoe Dickinson/Catherine McKeown||1.46.40|
|Leg 3||Alison Barrett/Rachel Thorley||1.19.08|
|Leg 4||Caroline Brock/Frances Roberts||1.15.04|
|Leg 5||Emerald Hutton/Emily Jones||1.41.37|