Tales from the Back Room - the Race Secretary of the Potters 'Arf by Sue Rushton

June
It’s finally arrived the month of the race, where did all that time go? It’s the big push now, got to get everything sorted for the big day. At this point the emails are coming in at a rate of knots and hopefully they get answered with a quick response and an answer that will quell any concerns that someone may have. I have my trusty notebook to back me up which contains lots and lots of info, ticks and crosses, that might seem a little old fashioned in this technological world but it is my security blanket and very important to me. Hopefully I don’t forget anything!

Potters Trotters at the Potters 'Arf - the Perfect Combination by Liz Tideswell

We gathered on the morning of the race to offer last minute words of encouragement and share bin bags to keep us dry on the walk to the start. From the club, there were 16 runners taking part in relay teams brilliantly organised by Janet – the Bluebell Girls, the Dancing Daffodils, the Blooming Roses and the First Marigolds (with all of this team being 65 or over). One of our members completed the event with the walkers and 11 runners did half marathon distance. 

A Year as the Potters Arf Course Director - Paul Wright

In September I attend the initial planning meeting for the following year’s event. This confirms the date of the event and confirms the main sponsors.

In January (Approx. 6 months before the race) I speak to and book the contractors who supply the gantry, barriers, cones and road signs. I contact the leader of the Venture Scouts who help with marshalling on the day, I also contact and book a driver for the minibus to take the scouts around the route. I will also contact the Shropshire and Staffordshire Blood Bikes who do a very important job on race day on the course.

Between January and Early June I try to attend all meetings which also include, along with the Race Director meetings with the Traffic Management Company, the Police and City Council Highways Department.

In March I double-check any bookings I have made; I also check the route for any potential problems, for example a new housing estate, a new road layout or direction of travel.

May sees me double check the mini bus driver is still available on the day, and also check with the scout leader on how many have volunteered so far.

Approx. 10-12 Days before the Race Day I go around the course to erect 20 advance warning signs and the statutory road closure notices on the route.

Pre- Race Week

Monday sees me collect a sign written car to use all week until the following Monday, bin bags and cable ties are purchased (small items but very important).

Tuesday I ask permission from the Bucknall Police Post to place a warning sign on their railings. I attend the final Race meeting in the afternoon.

Wednesday I collect 2 vans which will be used for the race, one will be packed with road signs, bins, sponges and banners and the other van will be packed with coasters, goody bags and t-shirts. I purchase bottled water for my coning teams and the scouts. T- Shirts are bagged up to deliver to the water station leaders.

Thursday sees delivery of the t-shirts to the water station leaders and also sponges and bins are delivered to the sponge station leader. I will then mark the start line on the Potteries Way and contact the Coning Company to confirm a start time of 04:00am in Hanley on Race Day! When I arrive home I will make up 30 Marshall Packs for the Venture Scouts.

Friday I collect the banners which will be placed on the barriers around the finish area. I also collect 6 Road Closed signs from The Hanley Town Hall for use around the course. One of the vans will be delivered to the Race Directors home and I will collect any items from there which I may need for an early start on Sunday morning (e.g. the Start Banner). On arrival back at my home, I load my car with all signs to be erected plus a set of ladders.

Saturday sees me up at 03:00am and erecting signs at 04:00am (this is the best time as the roads are quiet!) I will check that my coning team have transport available and once I’m back home I will check all amber roof beacons are in working order and load the car with all the banners for the finish area.

Sunday Race Day!! Today sees me awake at 02:00am with an arrival in Hanley for 03:00am. My main helper Keith Bailey arrives with one of the vans and we start to do our tasks, we put the Start banner in place and the 6 Road Closed signs we have in the van are placed out on route ready for later. By 03:45am we are back at the finish waiting for the cone lorry to arrive, andat 04:00am we start to go around the course to drop off 14 signs and about 700 cones to be used to close roads and divert traffic. We are back at the finish by about 06:30am and by this time the finish gantry is being erected and 200 barriers are placed out. I close Town Road at 07:00am as per the T.T.R.O. and then I begin to set out all the banners which will be placed onto the barriers around the finish area. At about 09:00am I make sure that the course cars are fitted with the amber warning beacons and I check that the mini bus has arrived to transport the Venture Scouts and meet the Scout Leader. At 09:50am I organise my coning teams; I get them together and we set off to start closing roads around the route. I have my own timings worked out and therefore we finish all the coning   8-10 minutes before the leader finishes. On arrival back in Hanley I stay near to the finish and if needed I will go back out on course if any problem arise. At 2:00pm I re-open Town Road and the clean-up operation begins!

This is where I need to mention that driving behind the race is Keith Bailey with one of the vans who will collect in all the signs and mile markers, he also collects some road signs and cones which go back to the coning company. Keith will get back into the City Centre at about 3:00pm and we will empty his van of any rubbish collected and by 3:45pm the Finish area is clear and we vacate the City Centre. There are normally still around a dozen signs to collect which both Keith and I collect and on arrival back at Keith’s we empty the van of everything apart from the banners from Afford as these will go back with the van to Afford. We then take the van back to Afford around 6:00pm and I take Keith back to his home. My car is then loaded with as many signs as possible and I can drive home but my work doesn’t stop once there I will empty my car of signs and they are placed in my garage, the banners in the car will remain there until Monday when they will be returned.

Its 9:00pm and I can finally sit down and relax, 19 hours after waking up for the day!!!

Monday will see me returning banners and road signs plus any other items that have been used to their rightful owners! I will then collect my ladders and the rest of the road signs from Keith’s house and take them back to my home. At about 2:00pm I return my sign written car back to Afford.

Tuesday is the day I will go around the Race Route and check if any signs or cones have not been collected.

Approx. 10 days after the Race Day we have a debrief meeting to discuss any problems that might have occurred and also to join in with thanks on the completion of another successful event.

Three Months Later it all starts again!!!

Paul Wright
Course Director
Potters Arf

 

Potters 'Arf - Through the Rear View Mirror by Liz Tideswell

Running the Potters ‘Arf is hard work, really hard work. Even on my best of running days, it’s probably one of the toughest road races I’ve completed. But the support on the course from club mates, friends and family members also make it one of the most enjoyable – ice pops at the bottom of Anchor Road, the house with everyone in fancy dress on Leonard Avenue (which I was sure was a hallucination the first time I completed the race… did anyone else see “can can” dancers?) and the “encouraging” signs announcing the unwanted but unavoidable climb up Heartbreak Hill all add to the legend of the event. 

The Potters Arf - a race photographer's perspective - Bryan Dale

“Make sure you get my good side!”

“Can you photoshop a few pounds off?”

“Where will you be today, Bryan? Not on top of a killer hill, I hope?!”

This local race for me means a lot –

o    It’s great to be able to wander round Hanley city centre before the start, chatting to so many running pals, organisers and Radio Stoke, soaking in the atmosphere

o    I know the area and the race route so well, I know exactly what the runners will experience at every step

o    My assistant photographers don’t have to travel

The roadside support at Potters Arf is probably the very best I’ve seen – all the way around the entire course, wherever I plonk myself and my camera, there’s sure to be lots of vocal and enthusiastic cheering for every single one of the runners coming past. Fantastic support from Potteries folk. It’s OUR race and we all feel that – whether we’re runners, photographers, marshals or just locals who come out of our houses to clap and shout.

Even though it’s not a traditionally “scenic” route through pretty countryside, I still think it’s an interesting, varied route. Twists & turns, ups & downs, more ups & downs, historic, modern & interesting architecture. And there are plenty of interesting locations for my photos:

o     Start shots amid the hubbub of the city centre


o    My 2 mile mark photo location is on Vicky Road – so I get some great shots of a long string of runners stretching out to the distance


o    About half way round the course, runners are heading into Bentilee – always a super-friendly part of the city, going back to the old Potteries Marathon days

o    Next point is at 11 miles just before the dreaded Milton Road – no I wouldn’t be SO cruel as to take photos actually on the hill – and besides, I’d get my precious camera drenched by the hosepipes at the top!

o    Nearly there – last photo on Town Bridge, with the silver tree sculpture in the background. This is a great spot – even the most exhausted runners manage a smile because they can hear and smell the finish-line

 

After being involved in the local running scene for the past 25-30 years and taking photos at about 40 races a year for the past 10 years or so, I have got to know a fair few local runners!

But there are very few races where I know such a high percentage of the participants. So it’s very enjoyable and quite emotional to be able to shout encouragement from behind the lens to so many of my friends.

A bright idea... - by Peter Hooper

I’m not sure when the idea came to me: it emerged fully formed sometime towards the end of May this year (2016).  Why not do a sporting stories book about a single event? And why not pilot the idea at the Potters Arf – it’s an iconic Stoke on Trent race, a really popular half marathon, incredibly well-supported. And runners, more than most sports people it seems, love to write. It also chimed perfectly with the Sporting Stories project that Cox Bank Publishing is doing to celebrate the City being European City of Sport.

I’d already had the idea of creating a bit of a flurry of stories for the event, speaking to local writing groups, writers and poets to get them engaged and had invited a well-known West Midlands poet – Spoz – to come along and support some creative writing on the day.  The great thing – well, one of many, many great things – about the Potters Arf is that it starts and finishes smack in the city centre and there is a brilliant atmosphere and big crowds.

As the idea gelled I started thinking about the stories I would need – obviously plenty from the runners themselves, but also from others associated with the race.  Fortunately, I already had had a couple of contributions to the sporting stories project from some key individuals associated with the race: Ken Rushton, one of the original founders of the Arf and still very closely involved with its organisation; and Don Shelley, one of the founders of the Potteries Marathon, from which the Arf grew.

So I contacted Ken and with his blessing dropped an email to him and David Lowndes (from the Hanley Economic Building Society, the race’s main sponsor) with an outline of the concept. They both loved the idea and offered whatever support they could to the project.  Ken invited me to the next meeting of the race organising committee, where I made my pitch.

I’ve assisted at plenty of sporting events, running and cycling, mostly as a marshal, sometimes as a lead car driver, but attending the Potters Arf Race Organising Committee was the first time I’d really seen what it’s like behind the scenes at a big event.  All the sponsors were there, the marshalling coordinator, the race director, the race founder, the car hire company, the beneficiary charities, the town centre manager – a room full of people, all dedicating significant amounts of their time to make the event work for participants, spectators and the City alike.  So when I made my pitch for the book idea – which needed all of them to contribute a bit of writing about their perspective of the race – I was slightly nervous.  I needn’t have worried – 100% buy-in!

The next bonus was the realisation that the day of the Potters Arf was on the same weekend of Stoke on Trent’s big annual literary event, the Hot Air Festival.  With a race poet lined up and hopefully some great creative writing to come, I was delighted when the Hot Air organisers approved my request for the race to be an official fringe event to the main literacy festival.  I think that might be a first – a literary half marathon!

It was all coming together.  The next step was to have somewhere where I could base the writing workshop, and here the City Council very kindly stepped in with the loan of one of their big ‘European City of Sport’ vans, complete with awning and banners. I added a table and chairs to the mix and we had a base to work from on the day.

At last 12th June, the day of the race, arrived and I headed ‘up Hanley’ bright and early with a car full of flyers, banners, table and chairs.  Once I’d dropped them in the vicinity of the race start – already a hive of activity – I headed down to Hope Street to leave my car at the office (the Dudson Centre) and to meet up with Spoz.  Bang on cue Spoz rang my mobile to say he was in the city and “just walking down to the Dudson Centre with your wife”.  This surprised me, because as far as I knew my wife was at home. Perhaps she’d decided to come and spectate at the last moment?  I wandered up Hope Street and could see Spoz in the distance strolling down towards me hand-in-hand with someone. This is worrying…  I wonder how I’m going to explain to friends and family that my wife has left me for a poet (and Birmingham City supporter). Turns out I should have gone to Specsavers for a sight and hearing test because Spoz arrives and introduces me to his wife. Not Mrs H.  Bit of a relief…

Back at the van Emma Dawson Varughese of WorldLits, another local writer, had appeared to do some survey work for me, asking spectators what had brought them to the event, who they were supporting, who they were fund-raising for etc.  She had a sheaf of forms - and an umbrella as it had just started raining.

We wandered up to the start area and I caught up with Ken and a few others, and then took Spoz along to the Hanley Economic branch to introduce him to David Webster (CEO of the Hanley) and Anthony Munday, the Lord Mayor.  By this stage the heavens had opened, so my vision of spectators and runners sat around by the van writing down their stories was not looking good.  A few runners sheltered under our awning but with the race rapidly approaching it was not a good time to distract them.

With about five minutes to go I remembered that I was supposed to be actually running the race myself so hurriedly made my way to the start, a long way back in the start pen.  The rain eased off a little bit, and seconds later we were off!  The race itself was all that I expected from what people had told me - a great course, some big hills (including the aptly named Heartbreak Hill) and fantastic crowds everywhere.  And mostly dry-ish. As we ran through the various towns and villages that make up the city there were spectators three or four deep – crowds which felt as big as those at the London Marathon!  By the end of the race I was struggling badly with a sore foot but with a big smile on my face still and within my target time of a sub-two hour finish – really pleased with that given how little time I’d had to train. And the fact that I’d spent two hours pre-race dashing around Hanley trying to get a writing workshop set up.  I should say a big thank you to Ray with the red flat cap from the Stoke FIT running club, who was the pace-maker for sub-two hour pace – great job and always a friendly word.

The aftermath

Back at the finish, Spoz had turned the workshop into a poetry takeaway, which given the weather (it started pouring again at the end of the race) was an inspired choice – so rather than getting people to write, he chatted to them and then ‘cooked up’ a poem for them.  We ended up with some lovely pieces which people really cherished.

And then the real work began – of getting as many contributions for the book as possible, as quickly as possible, in order to create race book for the autumn.

 

A tribute to the Potters Arf - Stan Winterton

I am fortunate enough to be able to say that I have a long association with the Potts Arf Marathon, having run the inaugural event in 2005. I have loved the race so much, that I have only missed running it once in the intervening years and that was in 2008, when I was totally laid up with a heavy cold. As everyone who has run this race will know, what makes it so special, is the wonderful support and atmosphere generated by the crowds of north Staffordshire folk, who turn out in great numbers every year to cheer all the runners along. The offers of snacks, sweets and oranges, the impromptu water stations and garden hoses to cool us down, together with all of the clapping and cheering help to make it such a memorable event for all of the competitors. 

Without doubt, the course can only be described as tough, but this ensures that once the finish is reached in Hanley’s city centre, all of the hard work, effort and determination, required to get there, are at once forgotten. The huge and shared sense of achievement and satisfaction at having mastered such a hard race, together with all the warm congratulations and the generous goody bag, can even put a smile on the face of a grizzled old farmer!

As with any long love affair, there has been a little blip along the way and for me this came in 2011. The weather conditions for the race that year can only described as atrocious, more akin to a bad day in February rather than flaming June. Unsurprisingly, I had a miserable race that day, although many others relished the conditions and described it as a good day for racing. Never was I more in need of a hot bath than when I returned home cold and shivering. 

My quickest time at the Potts Arf was back in 2005 when I had recently turned 60. I was pleased with 1.25.43 and managed 1.27.50 two years later. My slowest time of 1.41.34 was this year, 2016, as an increasing maturity (it sounds better than senility), gradually and inevitably slows me down. However, my enthusiasm for the race and the inclusive sport of running, remains undimmed. A major reason for this is the happy friendship I share with my fellow members at Trentham Running Club, together with all the encouragement I receive from members of all the clubs within North Staffs Road Runners Association. 

The Potts Arf is a massive organisational undertaking and all of us who enjoy its success, owe a vote of thanks to its originator, Don Shelley. Of course, we must now especially thank Ken Rushton, his wife Sue and their large and reliable team of volunteers and helpers who ensure this event always runs smoothly. I don’t know how, but the race just seems to become more enjoyable every year. 

If I could offer one piece of advice to anyone new to the sport and hoping to take on the Potts, it would be to join a running club. You will be made very welcome, make many friends and find a group to train with, whatever your standard. Quite possibly, you will surprise yourself at how quickly you progress and like most new members, wish you had joined up sooner. 

Along with aiding many charities, the Potts Arf is a major and special sporting celebration for the good people of Stoke-on-Trent and surrounding areas to savour and enjoy. Its great popularity is well deserved and long may this fantastic event continue. 

Stan Winterton

The New Balance story - Sam Hodgkinson

At New Balance UK we feel it is our duty to try to support and encourage all runners. New Balance have again this year sponsored  the race including race prizes and discount vouchers at a local retailer for all participants. The fun run was at the heart of this years potters arf and will hopefully inspire the children of Stoke On Trent for many years. Kids in sport is one of the biggest aims for New Balance as a brand and we are proud to be part of this great event.
 
(this one more from me) Being a stokie myself and having ran the half many years I was utterly astounded at how well organised and well supported the event was, and vowed to come back again. Three knee operations and two children later I finally did and enjoyed every single second. It was just as I remembered, really tough course, excellent organisation and most importantly the most incredible support from the locals.
 
The most important part of this year’s addition has to be the kids fun run. My three year old also took part in the fun run which made it extra special when we could compare medals and find the perfect spot to house one of the many I hope we’ll share in years to come. Inspiring children for the future.

 

The Arf of two Arfs - Nicola Lingley-Heath

Running has never come naturally to me, despite my will to try. My attempts started as a kid during Primary School, where I had a go at joining the after school cross country club. I turned up, nervous, in my little black pumps, shiny blue shorts and White t shirt. I felt ready. Cross country was slower than sprinting, so surely I'd be ok at this. How wrong could I be?!