BARNSLEY Harriers, one of the clubs in my local area, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
Throughout 2016, the club is holding a number of events, which will include running, socialising, or a combination of both.
The first event, the BaHa 25km race, was a solo or relay race at Silkstone, Barnsley. It was a five-and-a-bit mile, off-road and hilly route, with about 800 feet of climbing on each lap.
Since joining the Barnsley running community, I’ve made some lovely friends at Barnsley Harriers. The club also organises my favourite race, the Silkstone Shuffle, so I was keen to support their birthday celebrations.
Sarah, my Barnsley Harrier friend, and I decided that instead of battling it out against each other we would join forces and run on the same team. The only problem was that we were a man down. Two runners. Three laps.
One of us would need to run twice. That would involve 1600 feet of climbing over 10 and a half miles. I wasn’t sure I was up to that kind of challenge, especially as my hill training has been a bit slapdash of late.
‘Perhaps we could find another runner?’ I said.
Sarah shook her head. ‘The entry deadline’s tomorrow. I don’t mind doing two laps.’
‘As long as you’re sure?’
Sarah seemed quite happy to do two laps. I wondered if she knew what a beast of a course it was, but I didn’t want to dwell on it too much in case she changed her mind.
I did feel a bit guilty, which is why I suggested paying the entry fee. Sarah was doing the hard work, so I’d pay the extra few quid. It was only fair.
On the morning of the race, I was late. Sarah was ready and waiting with my number and safety pins, as organised as ever. Then, as I began the pre-race faffing and warm up, she was off on the first leg.
She had a good run, and looked strong at the changeover.
As soon as I set off it was hard work. I was struggling with one lap. I kept thinking about Sarah, having to go round twice. It was uphill most of the way. It was muddy. It was hard. I couldn’t let her down.
On the big climb, I caught up with David Lee from Kingstone, and then Martyn from Penistone Footpath Runners. Martyn is an old friend of mine. I met him years ago at the Penistone 10k. I remember finishing well over the hour. Martyn waited for me at the finish, encouraged me, told me I could be a better runner. ‘It just takes confidence,’ he said. ‘Anything can be achieved.’ Martyn’s words have always stayed with me.
It was fantastic to be running with him at the BaHa 25. I was much stronger on the hills, but Martyn is an experienced fell runner, so on the downhill he whizzed past me. Back on another shorter climb, and I passed him again. That’s when I spotted the lady from Penistone. If we were going to have any chance of a top three finish, I needed to get past her.
We were at the top of the hill, about to begin the steep descent, when she veered to the right, looking lost.
‘It’s left,’ I shouted. ‘That way.’ I pointed to where she needed to go.
On the downhill, Martyn came flying past, but his words of encouragement kept me pushing on. I passed the Penistone lady. ‘Thanks for the directions,’ she said.
‘That’s okay.’ I wondered why she was thanking me. As though I’d let her go the wrong way.
We had a slippy downhill, and then the final climb. My legs were screaming. I kept thinking of Sarah. Keep going. Don’t let her down.
On the road before the final descent, I was ahead of Martyn. I didn’t want him to catch me. I am terrified of downhill running, but I needed to let myself go. Over the fence I climbed, and I went for it. Aaaahhhh! I got to the bottom and Martyn hadn’t caught me. I was pushing on. The end was near.
And then. The gate!
A kissing gate to be precise.
All I needed to do was unlock the gate. It was the last hurdle, then I was clear for a 400m dash to the line. Simples!
I pushed the gate up. I pulled it down. It didn’t budge. I rattled it. I rattled it more. Martyn was coming. The lock wouldn’t go up. It wouldn’t go down. I screamed! Bloody stupid thing. I took a deep breath. I moved it to the right, and sure enough, it opened.
When you are racing, and the adrenaline is flowing and your brain is a bit oxygen-starved it’s hard to tackle things like gates. Having eventually mastered this particular gate, I was clear for the finish. I went for it up the tiny hill. I could see the finish. Every second was going to count. Sarah was waving and jumping at the changeover. I didn’t want to let her down. I didn’t want Martyn coming past me.
I sprinted. Then Sarah was away on the third lap.
While I was warming down, I kept thinking of Sarah. She’d be climbing up the gallops, climbing up the field, climbing the main climb, coming down the steep drop, turning right, going up again, going down the muddy field and then doing the last climb. I thought of how my legs had started burning. Her legs must be seriously hurting. Then she’d be on the road, coming down the final hill. She’d be at the gate. I’m sure she’d be able to open a gate.
I stood with some friends at the top of the last hill. We could see her coming. We shouted and cheered! Even though it was just the two of us, we were the second ladies team. SECOND! It felt like we’d won.
And then came the realisation. If I’d not given the Penistone lady directions she would be half way to Sheffield by now. We would have won. The lovely, shiny trophies would have been ours.
‘You did the right thing,’ Sarah said.
What a lovely thing to say. Especially, as there were no prizes for coming second. Nothing. Not even a Mars Bar.
‘I’ll buy you a trophy,’ I said.
‘I’d prefer chocolate.’
I’m delighted to say that thanks to Thorntons, I can do both!