Running on empty in Manchester.

BUPA Great North Run. May. 04.

As a keen runner, no honestly, I am always keen to test my resilience and endurance. I regularly run 3K to 10K races but with most high profile events like The Great North Run filling up almost a year before it can be hard to gain entry to the bigger races. The BUPA Manchester Great North Run is a fairly new event, only in its second year, so applications are a little easier to obtain. With the race growing year on year it offered me a rare opportunity to sample the excitement of a mass participation event. It also gave me a good excuse to return to my home city.

It wasn’t until I found myself stood on a Metrolink tram station at 8:30am on a sunny Sunday morning in Stretford that I realised the enormity of the phenomena that is the modern charity fun run. Although it was early I found myself sharing a platform with a huge crowd of runners and their companions. I knew they were runners by the way they were dressed, skimpy shorts and garishly coloured running jackets. I knew they were runners as Manchester never gets that many German Tourists! As the tram pulled to a stop and the doors opened we were confronted by a ridiculously overcrowded carriage. An old gentleman in a flat cap, looked straight at me and stated bluntly “you’re not bloody well getting on here, there’s no bloody room!” After my initial shock at once again dealing with Northern bluntness, I assured him that as the race that I and everybody else on the tram were competing in started in 30 minutes, I definitely was getting on. To his dismay I and twenty other runners rushed him. Although he was the wrong side of seventy he still found the energy to threaten to do me harm for my intrusion. He then informed me that my breath smelt of garlic, which I think was his worst insult. God it was good to be back home. As they say, you know where you stand with a northerner and in this case, it was far too close!

The Manchester run is a new entry on the crowded fun run calendar attracting 10 000 runners in its first year. Entry has been expanded by 6 000 to cope with demand and I found myself stood at the start in a crowd of 16 000 runners. As the muffled voice of a local celebrity shouted `Go! `, the mass start took on the look of an evacuation from a burning nightclub. People barged past me as if the flames were licking at their heels and their life depended on making it over the next 100 yards. Men and women were weaving around each other like a dinner dance at a lunatic asylum. I attempted to stick to my own rhythm but it was impossible not to go with the flow. I found myself keeping pace with a demented runner dressed as Bob the Builder who was not only running like the wind but was managing to sing his own theme tune whilst whacking spectators around the head with an inflatable hammer. I wondered if mania was as good a stimulant as say, Epinephrine or maybe it was all down to his running buddy, Superman. As the field started to stretch out, the race left the narrow back streets around Granada studios and took us onto the wider dual carriageway that used to be Chester Road. I was able to wonder and reflect on what made this race different from other ‘fun runs’ around the country. I edged my way to the curb and hopped onto the grass verge to give my ankles some restbite and smiled as some generous spectators clapped my progress. I noticed they were not shouting the usual encouragement I was used to hearing on charity runs. As I passed by they leant in and implored me to, ” Give it up mate, you look f*****g appalling”. “Come on mate, go home without St John [‘s Ambulance] for once”. Ah, that unique northern humour. This quintessentially northern attitude to charity work had also spread to some of the competitors and as we took the long turn into the final 3 kilometres a man I had been following for some time suddenly stopped in his tracks causing me to stumble to a halt. As I looked up to question why, I found him launching in to a verbal assault on a spectator who had been vocally encouraging him from the roadside. “It’s alright for you” he yelled, “all you have to do is f*****g clap, it’s me who has to run the f*****g thing!”

The final kilometre climbed gradually to the finish line at the end of Deansgate. The finish line was overshadowed by the victorian facades that reminded of Manchesters past. Out on the course the sun was out and the temperature was beginning to mirror the incline of the route. As sunshine is something of a rare occurence in Manchester, runners began to fall as their body temperature rose above 58 degrees. Bodies lay quivering by the roadside as Ambulance staff crouched over them. They reassured the fallen that they weren’t going to die, it was merely heat stroke but maybe they should consider giving up the cigarettes and taking up jogging. Although the lunacy of many a fun runners training preparations was undoubtedly to blame for there being so many roadside casualties, the organisers should shoulder some of the responsibility as they curiously failed to provide water stations until the eight kilometer mark. I was offered cans of lager and packets of crisps by one group of helpful spectators, but I do generally prefer to stick to water.

I managed to finish the race in fairly good shape and in the top 10 000. Sonia O’Sullivan ran 32.12 to win just ahead of me. At the end of the race the organisers very generously provided me with a medal and a Goodie bag, which for some inexplicable reason along with the usual T-shirt and power bar contained a sponge pudding. Maybe this was also part of that unique northern humour, but if I’d have known this at the start I might have put that little bit more effort in and won. Maybe Sonia keeps herself motivated by dreaming of another sponge pudding to add to her collection.

Now I’ve got the bug and I’m desperately trying to find a charity with a designated place for my next challenge, The Great North Run on Tyneside. Maybe this time I can go that one step further and run the race as a waiter? Superman? A fridge? A fairy…………….After all I’d do anything for a sponge pudding!

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