There was a sense of nostalgia settling comfortably over Aldersley Stadium, that and a covering of damp mist, on Sunday morning as runners assembled for the Winter Warmer 5 mile race, or as someone called it The Turkeyless Trot. It had been two years since the event had been held in a non-virtual format, and the rumours of a poultry shortage in supermarkets, issues with lorry drivers and the question over a vegetarian option had prompted the organisers to go for a different, non-poultry based theme. But as the cold damp mist settled into the bones there was a sense that a scarf and gloves would have been more welcome that a festive bird or t shirt and medal.
Arriving just over an hour before the start the car park was already half full up but there was no sign of people, the only sign of life being the chatter of magpies and the rasping croak of a crow echoing through the mist. Inside, the stadium was a hive of activity as marshals were sent to positions, start and finish lines were assembled and little by little runners arrived and then departed again to pursue elaborate warm up routines, or to just sit in the car with the heater on. People who hadn’t seen each other for almost two years, greeted, bumped fists and more or less carried on conversations where they had left off, there was that kind of “we’ve all been here before” feel to proceedings.
And in the same way the course was familiar too, with or without turkeys the route was the same as previous trots. Runners assembled on the track for one and a half laps in an unfamiliar clockwise direction before leaving via the velodrome banking and out of the stadium itself and onto the roads. A slight uphill to start before a sweeping downhill, under the railway bridge and along Blaydon Road, accompanied by the sirens and blue lights of an unmarked Police car. This was nothing to do with us, but they may have flagged down the leader, Phil Nicholls, for speeding. The Tipton Harrier led out of the stadium and extended the lead, looking comfortable and easy after five weeks of training, the machine working fluidly the legs skipping along with a majestic stride while pursuers fell away. However long he has been out of the game it is absolutely clear he’s still got the talent and the engine as he dominated in regal fashion.
Behind, a gaggle of Wolverhampton & Bilston athletes trailed in his wake, like the tail of debris from a comet. They traded places as the field turned left along The Droveway, took a slight detour around Leybourne Crescent and then the route started to climb. Up until this point everything had been going well, pretty much flat, and runners at the sharp end were able to sit at a pace just the right side of uncomfortable, however the fourth mile tipped virtually everyone the wrong side of that comfortable line. The incline past Aldersley High School along Pendeford Lane bit and bit hard. It was a blessed relief to reach Blackburn Avenue, a mile to the finish and much of it downhill, time to put the hammer down, before coming into the car park, and finding your way onto a 250 metre finish on the track.
Nicholls was unchallenged and claimed victory in 25.38. Jack Bonser led home a phalanx of W&B athletes in 2nd place in 26.22, Jonny Harris taking 3rd in 26.24, Jamie Ward 4th in 26.43, Louie Lambeth 5th and 1st junior in 27.05 and Dan Turner 6th in 27.09. Amelia Samuels took 7th overall and 1st in the ladies race crossing the line in 27.15, this places her 1st in the UK at U23 level over 5 miles and also 5th in the Senior UK rankings over the distance for the year. Lauren Cooper of Shrewsbury AC claimed 2nd in 28.52 and former club member Lauren Evans just pipping Wolves own Sabrina Thomas for 3rd place, Lauren finishing in 32.53 and Sabrina only 10 seconds adrift.
Pravesh Patel added the swift 5 miles into the middle of a 20 mile day coming home in 11th place in 29.15, Dylan Illidge was 14th in 29.29, Dave Smith made the journey from Worcester worthwhile by claiming 1st M50 in 15th place in 29.45, Rich Amor-Wilkes was 16th in 30.03, Greg Asbury 17th and 1st M45 in 30.08. Dave Norman finished in 30.38 in 19th, Ben Rawlings was 20th in 30.49, Shaun Bennett 24th in 31.32, Dave Newport came home in 32.16, Andy Dyall in 32.50, Beth Dyall claimed 1st junior in 33.12, Lucy Calrow in 33.13, Fran Villacampa Diaz in 33.30, Pete Hood took 1st M60 in 33.53, holding off Simon Calrow who was a place behind in 34.06, Beth Tabor returned from injury with 34.34, Rob Edwards finished in 34.35, the other Rob Edwards just behind in 35.00, with Stephen Green finishing with the same time. Abi Wells-Day finished in 35.25, Lee Partridge in 36.6, Mark Illidge in 36.45, Maria Calleia in 37.05, Lionel Spittle, the only one to have his name in capitals in the results as truly befits a club legend finished in 38.11, Craig Buggins in 38.15, Vanessa Landreau Barnes in 39.55 to claim 1st in her age group, Danni Braine crossed the line in 40.26, Rob Carrington in 40.31, Emily Simmonds in 40.59, Liz Walker in 42.53, Imogen Harley in 45.32, Mary Solomon in 45.32 and 1st in her age group, Dominic Kemp finished in 49.33, Lesley Stamps in 46.39, Nina White and Liz Moran both clocked 57.09 and the Julia’s crossed the line together with Cooper claiming 57.37 to Condon’s 57.39.
A cool down done, the marshals reappearing from far flung fields and the start and finish areas rapidly being dismantled and it was back to the car. The magpies and crows had disappeared to do whatever it is magpies and crows do but the mist still enveloped proceedings like a dirty handkerchief. A lady appeared out of the mist and asked, “what’s this then, a fun run?” We explained, possibly in rather sharp tones that it was a race but then she explained she had seen elves and thought she was hallucinating, so maybe she had a point. As an event it ticked both boxes, it was a run and it was fun (apart from that uphill 4th mile), so whether you were chasing the elite, waving at cars in a Santa hat or anywhere in between it was fun. It was proper, old fashioned racing with a festive feel with a nice little present at the end of it, and who said you need a turkey to make a Christmas anyway.
Elsewhere, soon to be coming to a marathon near you, was Wolverhampton & Bilston’s own Duracell bunny who just keeps going and going. If you asked him how old he is he’d probably answer 26.2, shoes size? 26.2. Inside leg measurement? 26.2. He was on marathon number 176 before the weekend and Sunday’s event, the Portsmouth Coastal Waterside Marathon, took him another step closer to his aim of 200. With another consistent performance Dave was able to finish 28th and 1st in his age group crossing the line in 3.14.36. His partner in marathon miles, Gillian Mitchell, put in another solid performance crossing the line in 5.51.42 to finish 556th overall. As she appears to turn out for most of Dave’s marathons it would be interesting to know what number she’s on, and how many they have clocked up together.