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.
But for the last two years, I’ve had a very different view of the Potters ‘Arf, through the windows of the activation car, responsible for “activating” road closures as we drive the route ahead of the runners. Compared to running, it’s a lot easier on the legs but much harder on the stress levels – will the marshals see and hear us and respond quickly enough to get the roads closed and traffic off the course before the runners come through? If we can see race numbers on vests in the rear view mirror, we’ve got a problem.
As the runners were approaching the start line this year, we were already underway, following a timing schedule and aiming to arrive at key points about 5 minutes ahead of the lead runners, whilst not losing the motorcycle out-riders who were helping with traffic management. Here’s what I saw of the Potters ‘Arf in 2016:
- In the centre of Hanley, driving past the Co-op Bank and Boots, crowds were already gathering for the start, good numbers of people despite the less-than lovely weather.
- Horn blaring, lights flashing, trying to catch the attention of the traffic management team at the top of Lichfield Street – for some reason, this one always seems to get a bit stressful and as we carried on down Lichfield we crossed our fingers, hoping that the cars would be stopped in time.
- Bryan Dale already in position on Victoria Road, waiting to capture the efforts of the runners in his brilliant photographs, sheltering under his umbrella.
- The first water station and relay handover point at the top of Victoria Road – waves from runners I recognised, a thumbs up from the marshals: “we’re ready, let them come”.
- Going under the bridge in Fenton and on to Anchor Road, a flashback to the feeling as a runner when you look up and see that “hill”.
- The scouts and their leaders in position at the water station on Beverley Drive – water at the ready, smiling faces, doing a fantastic job.
- The Potters ‘Arf walkers, sticking to the pavements, working hard to complete their challenge too – with the windows down, it was great to be able to offer encouragement and say well done. We always got a wave and smile back.
- Weaving through the cones to get onto Malthouse Road – thanks to the spectators who helped us get through and apologies if we squashed any cones!
- Boys on Leek Road with sponges – beside themselves with excitement, knowing the runners are getting closer and the “water fight” can begin.
- Realising one of the motorbikes had missed the turning into Leonard Avenue… and a sense of relief when we spotted him again, back on the right course!
- A few strange looks from other spectators, when the activation car got a very loud cheer from running friends on the course – “why are they clapping the car?”
- Another water station on Leek New Road – more waves, smiles and excitement. The waiting was almost over, there soon would be runners to help and support.
- Family members waiting anxiously for their “runner” to arrive – posters made, jelly babies ready, waiting to cheer and offer support
- On Town Road on the final stretch, Bryan Dale again… he’s covered almost as much ground as the runners to capture the effort of turning 13 miles into 13.1.
As we approach the end of the route, in a superfast half marathon time of just over an hour, we face our final challenge of the day. Can we park the car and get into position across the finish line before the first runner comes through? It was touch and go, and involved squeezing past the Hanley Economic’s mascot, but we did it!
Thanks to Andy M for driving the activation car and Ken Rushton for trusting us with the task. Hopefully, we’ll be first around the course again next year, it’s a great way to view the Potters ‘Arf.