Some say, he’s got legs made of Titanium, and that at some point between the Big Bang and the present, his line of evolution ceased to be ‘Normal’, and somehow became ‘Super’. All we know is, he’s called 6 Towns Runner.
On Friday last, a bunch of runner types including myself, joined our friend Phil Thomas (the 6 Towns Runner), for his tenth half marathon in ten days. His mission to run twelve half marathons in twelve days was nearing it’s end. With 117.9 miles already under his belt, Phil had been to see the physio the night before, and had been declared fit to run. Indeed, Brian Cole had commented on how well he appeared to be doing! Never the less, he turned up characteristically late at our meeting point at the Potteries Shopping Centre. After the customary photo’s, we made our way to the start of the Potters ‘Arf Marathon route on the ring road.
I had never run this route before. Much had been heard about the infamous hills, and I was afraid. I was very afraid. But I couldn’t let it show. We were here to support Crazy Phil in his quest to raise £thousands for the Donna Louise Trust Children’s Hospice, so off we belted. There was a carnival atmosphere in the air, a kind of camaraderie familiar to runners, and I suspect sadly lacking from the lives of the lazy. We legged it, off across the city center, and down the hill towards Victoria Road and the gradual climb up to Fenton. We arrived at the first water station location in a faster time than if we’d driven (locals will know what I mean here) and stopped to make a call or two, and tweet out location. Social Media would become a feature of this run.
We agreed to meet Jill from Trentham Running Club at the bottom of Anchor Road, the first of the horrendous hills. She had proposed to park at the top, run down to meet us, then run back up, for fun! Jill is amazing, but slightly odd in this respect I figured! I was ready to collapse by the time she bounded into view, with Molly the dog in tow… up we battled, past families of bemused looking locals, puffing away on cigarettes and swigging from cans of Tennants Super, and reached the brow of the hill in good time. One down, several to go. At Park Hall Service Station, we stopped for more pictures, and a Mars Bar break, then we set off for Dividy Road and Bentilee.
The next of the hills lay in wait, the infamous Beverly Drive, but having run up Anchor Road I barely noticed the incline until it had leveled out. I was feeling good and was in my stride. We were ejected at the far side of suburbia next to the Police Post. I had my bearings, but then again… One of the things about Stoke-on-Trent, is that much of it looks identical. The same ex-industrial green spaces, disused rail lines, 1960’s housing… Winding our way through the city, we were suddenly on the far side of Abbey Hulton… I had no idea how we’d arrived there, but there we were, being cheered on by our travelling Supporters Club. Kayz’ Mum and Paul were following us about and being absolute stars, hiding round corners, yelling support at us across quiet residential streets. It was all very lovely and rather surreal.
I should mention, that at this point, I was once again starting to get the upper-leg wobble, and wished I’d eaten more porridge for breakfast. But Phil, with his super-human evolutionary traits, seemed fit as a fiddle! Fresh as a buttercup… Bright as a button… In fact, everyone (the group had swelled to twelve or so by this point) was looking great and I was suddenly starting to feel quite inadequate. Time to knuckle down, dig deep and finish my ‘single half marathon in one day’ in style. But between here and glory lay Milton Road… Heartbreak Hill. I was going to die.
At the base, Mum & Paul were once again there to cheer us on, and we stopped to tweet/photograph/panic, and gather our senses before the last final push. Tim, of ‘Stone Master Marathoners’, had been overcome by ambition it would seem, and we saw him disappear into the distance, and over brow of the hill. Off we set, and started to climb. At this point, Phil decided it was time to have a chat with his old pal Dan. I’m sorry buddy, I wasn’t ignoring you, but it was either breath and run, or talk and stop. Heartbreak Hill was not going to get the better of me… or was it? Just before the top, the vomity feeling arrived and I was forced to ease back, but not before back of the climb had been broken. The last hill was in the bag. Time to head back into town. Glory awaited!
What can I say. Hanley was busy, the Bible thumpers were out in force evangelising, a busker was singing Chris de-Burgh numbers very loud, and the Big Issue chap was plying his trade as usual. Enter us, broadcasting loudly to all who would listen, and asking people (quite bluntly) for cash. Well, the generosity of the Stokie people was forthcoming, and the pennies started to pour in. We had to make a lap of the center to get the distance in (we must have cut a few corners somewhere on-route) and wound up where we began, outside the Potteries Shopping Center. The run had taken us 2 hours and 21 mins if I remember rightly. Ten down, two to go… but not for me. I was tired, and ready to drop, which just served to highlight the monumental effort Crazy Phil was going to.
The day had been a rousing success, and we were all very pleased. Even getting thrown out of the Potteries Shopping Centre (presumably, for being fitter than the wannabe Policemen they have as security guards) couldn’t dampen our spirits. We were apparently doing something ‘not allowed’ by the jobsworth management. Caring for disadvantaged children doesn’t appear to be their thing, so we left, with our heads held high. Phil, you are an inspiration to so many, and I salute you. Well done Champ. Here’s to your next challenge!
If you have a few quid to spare, please sponsor Phil. Look at this photo, he’s so tired, he’s having to crawl!