They say that the devil makes work for idle hands. It also makes work for injured runners cooped up inside. It was 18 months ago when a running buddy of mine, injured and frustrated, first mooted the prospect of bringing back the Potteries Marathon. The ‘likes’ quickly mounted up, a facebook group was created and the BIB (Bring It Back) movement was born. Despite the Potteries fearsome reputation as the toughest road-based marathon in the UK and held at the height of summer, this was an event I simply had to be a part of.
Falling numbers and increasing costs put an end to old The Potteries Marathon’s 22-year reign in 2004. Despite the race starting and finishing (quite literally) on my doorstep, the last event and it’s subsequent demised passed me by unnoticed. Back then I was unhealthy and had no interest in running. Ten years later having become an addicted runner, I was aware of a quiet but restless appetite among local runners for something new. The movement gathered pace and with increasing momentum the monster was awakened.
Unless you are a person whose physical and mental character is predisposed to marathon running, 26.2 miles is never something that should be taken on lightly. A particular kind of madness is required. And so it was, I found myself surrounded by 1,300 other runners whose madness is mutually compatible with my own, about to start the 2015 Potteries Marathon. It was 9am on Sunday 5th July and I was in the starting pen at the Britannia Stadium (home of the mighty Stoke City) surrounded by friends and well and truly in the thick of it. The BIB team had done it, the race was back.
The first couple of miles were familiar territory and the roadsides were scattered with well-wishers and supporters. The field was a mix of club runners proudly wearing their team vests, hundreds of unattached runners and the odd Minion and mermaid. I was with a group of six Trentham Running Club members. We train together and knew we were evenly paced. Slow and steady would be the order of the day if we were to finish the race. The route quickly lead us away from our comfort zone as we made our way into the heart of the city.
The BIB team had gone to great lengths to keep the route away from major roads. We twisted and turned through quiet but unfamiliar residential streets, through the remnants of our industrial heritage, over footbridges, up alleyways and down subways. By the time we were nearing half-way our club-mate Catie had confidently left us for dust, but as it approached 22 degrees, two of our number began to suffer. Jen and Simon had decided to hang back and insisted that me, Emma (Running Wife) and Julia go ahead run our race.
Now in the north of the Stoke-on-Trent we took every opportunity to high-five kids, eat jelly babies and suck on orange quarters. This race was marketed as a community marathon and the community was out in force. Residents set up hosepipes to spray us from their gates, a child held up a sign that simply read “You’re Awesome!”, kids offered to cool us down with super-soakers and motorists honked their horns as they passed. By the time we hit Newcastle town centre we had been moving for three and a half hours. The sun was high and the heat of the day was taking it’s toll.
We plodded on and made a stop at a makeshift water station hosted by a landlord outside a pub. We drank thirstily, gave sweaty hugs to our supporting club mates and looked on enviously at the supporters enjoying drinks in the searing heat. We were nearing the 20 mile mark and hoped that our discipline in the first six miles would repay us in the final six. But there were many more hills to come and the finish was still a long way off. At mile 21 Mrs Trenthamfolk and Junior cheered and handed us ice-pops. We sucked on the sugary contents eagerly before heading off for the final hurdle, Penkhull.
We arrived at the top of Penkhull in a somewhat delirious state. The haul to the top had sapped what little energy we had left and as we cleared the brow of the hill, ‘The Brit’ came into view a mile and a half away. Out relative altitude gave the impression of a downhill finish, but this was, sadly, not to be. One of the drawbacks of the race being hosted by the Premiership club was a short, sharp uphill finish. As we rounded the last bend I grabbed my running partners’ hands and we hauled ourselves up and over the finish line in a little over five hours. We were exhausted and could scarcely believe it was over.
The Potteries Marathon had been a killer. It wasn’t so much the gradient that got us, moreover the sheer number of hills strung together coupled with the suffocating summer heat. The Potteries Marathon of old was never able to draw top runners as most were afraid of it’s reputation. A PB will never be on the cards here, especially as this new route is officially the hilliest road-based marathon in the UK and the 8th hilliest IN THE WORLD. We weren’t in it for the glory, but after a five hour effort, we feel we have earnt serious bragging rights.
I joked whilst we were out on-route that this race was taken away for a reason. It’s surprising how a small-town city like Stoke-on-Trent can be home to such a
creature. We’re a quiet and fairly backwater community and nothing outwardly gives rise to the monster of a race that sleeps within. We now know that the Potteries Marathon is here to stay, so why not come and have a go in 2016? Entries are now open if you think you’re hard enough… 🙂