The Potters 'Arf: A Sting in the Tale - by Paul Buttery

We're collecting stories for a 2017 Anniversary Book of the Potters 'Arf, and sharing some here as Sporting Stories - we hope you'll agree they're worth the share! Paul's story is a great read, of an unwanted Potters 'Arf first...

My Potters Arf story starts back in April, although I didn’t know it at the time. I’d spent my two week Easter holiday in Kenya where I’m a frequent visitor to help out at Kings Children’s Home… more on that later.

Paul and friends - at Kings Children's Home for orphans in Kenya. Photo courtesy Bruce Dyer

Paul and friends - at Kings Children's Home for orphans in Kenya. Photo courtesy Bruce Dyer

On 30th April I received the heart-breaking news that one of my former pupils, Matt Hollinshead, had sadly passed away. I’m a teacher in Stoke and had been Matt’s Head of Year for his five years of high school, from 2011 until 2016. Matt was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma just after he left Endon High and he fought bravely throughout his illness. He is deeply and sadly missed.

I wanted to do something in memory of Matt and also to try and raise some funds for the Donna Louise who were an exceptional support to him and his family. I decided to take on the challenge of running the Potters ‘Arf and quickly got in training. I must say a huge thank you to Stoke FIT who helped me get in shape and encouraged me along the way. I’d never ran a half marathon before, or any other type of running race for that matter, so I had no idea how to train or how quickly I could complete it. With the support of the running club I’d soon set myself a 2 hour target and with a week to go I was feeling ready. 

It was the Thursday evening before the race that I first started to feel unwell. I suddenly got very tired, had a fever and was shivering, shaking, and sweating. I had no idea what was wrong with me but just thought I’d be able to sleep it off. Friday was marginally better and by Saturday I was feeling fatigued, but without the symptoms of the previous two days. Common sense would tell most people not to run and head to the doctors instead, but I was determined to run the race for Matt. I deliberately didn’t tell anyone I’d been feeling ill as I didn’t want to give myself an excuse to stop during the race, or to give anyone else the opportunity to talk me out of running in the first place! 

Mile 10 - photo courtesy Mark Salt

Mile 10 - photo courtesy Mark Salt

So off I went, to Hanley town centre on a Sunday morning to run my first half marathon. I certainly wasn’t feeling 100% but I’d made up my mind I was going to run and I was going to finish. So off I went, running at a steady speed and determined to stay in front of the 2 hour pacer! I can remember most of the race up to about the 10 mile mark. After that it’s all a blur. I remember turning the corner of Leonard Avenue and my body screaming at me to stop and collapse, and I remember thinking of Matt, closing my eyes and carrying on running. My logic at this point was the quicker I get to the finish line, the quicker I can lie down! I’ve got big gaps in my memory for the rest of the day but I do know I finished the race in 1:50:58, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m still not quite sure how I managed to get to the end.

At the finish - photo courtesy Mick Hall Photos

At the finish - photo courtesy Mick Hall Photos

Post race I started with the symptoms I had three days before. I was admitted to hospital that night and would spend ten nights there. I was eventually diagnosed with malaria, picked up on my most recent trip to Africa. The team on the infectious diseases ward at Royal Stoke Hospital were incredible, and I was tested for a whole host of tropical diseases and parasites – fortunately everything came back clear, it was just malaria! 

I’m writing this at the end of June, recovering at home. I’m not running again just yet, but I’m getting stronger each day and will be soon. I’m less than 4 weeks away from my next trip to Africa, in no way discouraged from the work I’m involved in there. I suppose some people will say I was daft to run the race and others will be surprised that I finished, but I guess it just goes to show what a determined mind can accomplish. Matt never gave up during his battle, and I wasn’t about to give up on this.

In conclusion to what’s been an eventful few weeks I suppose I’m left with just one question… am I the only person to have ever ran the Potters ‘Arf marathon with malaria?!!