The Birth of the Potteries Marathon - Don Shelley

Don Shelley's running career in North Staffordshire is worthy of a book in itself, starting as it did in 1954 when he won an inter-schools cross-country race and ending in 2010 when he finally retired from active sports administration.  In between Don ran for the RAF, was secretary for the Michelin Sports & Social Club, founded the British Marathon Runners Club and the North Staffs Road Runners Association. In 1980 he became the first National Marathon Coach.  

His PBs of 49 minutes 11 seconds for 10 miles and 2 hours 21 minutes 38 seconds for the marathon - both set fifty years ago in 1966 - demonstrate what an outstanding runner he was, with many race titles to his name.

Don Shelley (right) in his Michelin cross-country days (photograph courtesy of Don Shelley)

Don Shelley (right) in his Michelin cross-country days (photograph courtesy of Don Shelley)

Don's story:

In 1981, at the time of the first London marathon, the directors of my work place, which was based in Hanley, Kevin Donovan and Graham Bagnall, decided to stage a similar marathon in Stoke with the help of Peter Glanfield, from Keele University, and John Close, from Northwood Stadium. 

I was appointed as the race director having already organised many races; including the AAA marathon in Stoke in 1975. All along, we had three main objectives in mind; to raise money for charity; to encourage more people to get fit; to provide a day out for the residents of north Staffordshire. 

We worked closely with the local police and had their full support throughout the event (even in setting out and collecting the cones). And so, together we established that the race will start in Burslem and finish on Trubshaw cross playing fields.

Similarly we fully supported the runners and helped them to prepare by holding regular meetings with various guest speakers including Ron Hill, an English runner, and also providing advice from doctors and physiotherapists.

The race was held in June, just before the holiday fortnight, giving the participants enough time in order to recover before going back to work. The race day itself, saw around 1500 runners at the start line on Moorland Road, with the early leader being Mark Roberts, who unfortunately had to retire but in the later years went on to win this race seven times.

The winner of the first Potteries Marathon, was a local runner, Martin Bishop, with another local, Jayne Barre, accompanying him with being the first Lady. However, everyone who completed the race received a pottery medal and also a collection of pottery plates, which have been awarded every year since the race has started.

In the following year, the race was further developed and moved to the Trentham Gardens which provided a great finishing site for many years to come. In terms of health and safety, Peter Carson, a cardiologists from the local hospital along with his colleagues teamed up with the members of St. John’s Ambulance in order to provide excellent first aid for all attendants.

The year of change also welcomed Sir Stan Matthews, first football player to be knighted whilst still playing, as the patron of the race as he always attended the race and was simple amazed that “People could run so far”. With his influence, the race was televised and voted as ‘The Best Race In Britain’ three times in a row from 1985 to ’87, by the readers of the ‘Today’s Runner’ magazine. 

Don in race-winning mode at the Mitcham 25k

Don in race-winning mode at the Mitcham 25k

The runners who participated in the race, responded to the award by helping to raise thousands of pounds for local charities – at the same time completing one of the objectives we had set out beforehand.

On the same note, the race also encouraged more people to get fit as many new running clubs were established across the area, completing another of our objectives. 

“The Potteries Marathon had changed lives and saved lives” as described by Keith Wales, sports editor of the Sentinel, and was the reason why I, Don Shelley was rewarded with the Editor’s Award for ‘Help our Heroes’.