The race that wasn’t: Helsby Half 2015

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Nor to know that it was blooming cold in the Cheshire village of Helsby at 10am this morning.

Despite the cars not even being frosty when we set off from Altrincham (40 mins away), it wasn’t long before the roads were covered in sleet and snow, and stretches of black ice covered the ungritted side streets. Stepping out of the car (which told us to expect -1C outside) confirmed our fears as we stepped straight onto an ice rink of a carpark.

Still, the roads were clear and if – as Twitter suggested – they had gritted the whole course, there shouldn’t be much problem.

We – Andy Oates had driven us down – piled into the clubhouse and took advantage of both the shelter and the cups of tea just to stay warm. We soon found Andrew Fletcher and then Tracey Jones. Not knowing that Mike Wells and Sarah Chapman didn’t have their phones with them, we texted and tweeted rather than step away from our treasured warm seats.

By the time we found them, the start had already been delayed by 45 mins and the rumours about icy roads really took off. “Just one dodgy patch,” we heard. “If the police say no, the police say no,” said another. We were midway through a purely hypothetical conversation about what to do if the race was cancelled when the announcement was made: In the interests of safety, the race would not be going ahead.

Mike and Sarah were, understandably, visibly gutted. Having driven from Nottingham and what was going to be a 210-mile round trip, to turn around and go home with no race and no medal was more than a little disappointing. But that’s what they would have to do.

It didn’t take long for the rest of us – Andy, Andrew and I – to decide. Tracey was heading back to the warmer, clearer roads of Altrincham to run, but the three of us had no doubts – we would run the course anyway.

Having sorted out our bags, we came back to the clubhouse and joined a group of 20 or so runners from South Cheshire who had come to the same conclusion. I say joined, but they had soon stretched off into the distance.

But even as they did, it was clear that they, we, weren’t the only ones. In fact, throughout the 13.1mile course, there were always other runners in sight both ahead of and behind us. Occasionally, those in front dropped out of sight and meant we had to hang back to ask directions from those behind, but that only heightened the sense of togetherness among us all.

It was icy. There was snow underfoot in parts. One particular corner was hazardous. Although passable to runners, it would have been carnage to race. The right decision had been made by the team of volunteers who put this race on every year – despite the risk of cancellation each January.

And what a team of volunteers they were. When we finally rounded the corner to see the finish, I couldn’t have been more surprised to see part of that team lining the finishing straight, giving away finishers’ goody bags to those who had gone out and done the course of their own accord. A touch of class.

They weren’t the only ones to have hung around. Tea and coffee was being served around the corner, complete with chocolate biscuits. As the cold started to kick in again now we’d stopped running, that tea tasted as good as any cup I’ve ever had.

By the time we got home, an email awaited from the organisers: very sorry to have cancelled, no option given the advice from police and local authorities, big decisions to be made. Given that it has always been a race organised by runners for runners, a survey would follow so we can help them decide whether to press on with a January race, or move to warmer – but more crowded – times in the running calendar. One to ponder, and I’m not sure which way I’ll recommend they go.

So it’s a non-race to revive the blog as we step into 2015, but a great day nonetheless. Well done to the organisers for preparing for a great event (we couldn’t have followed the route without all the signs, for example), and for supporting those who ran anyway with medals and hot drinks.

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Collector's item? Medal from the race that never was

A post shared by Chris Marritt (@chrismarritt) on

Well done most of all, however, for having the courage to cancel the race when 2,000 (guessing) had already made it to the start, including people like Mike and Sarah who had travelled a long way to be there.  When walking, the greatest skill is to turn round when it is no longer safe to proceed. Not many have that skill and it can be hard to do the right thing, so well done Gareth and team.

Aside from the race, this was only ever an organised training run for me. No tapering was done and the focus, once again, is on Manchester Marathon. There may be other races before then, however, so until then…


5 thoughts on “The race that wasn’t: Helsby Half 2015

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