The Potters 'Arf: Never Do Things By Half - by Mervyn Edwards

Mervyn Edwards will be well-known to many readers as a frequent contributor to the Sentinel's 'The Way We Were' series, and as the author of 'Hanley Through Time', 'Stoke Through Time' and numerous other books on the Six Towns and their history.  What you may not know is that he's also an accomplished runner: we really enjoyed this account of the 2014 Potters 'Arf, submitted by Mervyn for our 2017 Anniversary book. Read on... 

Never do things by halves.  Strangely enough, this is a lesson I learnt from competing in the Potters ‘Arf of 2014.

Over the years, I had completed seventeen full Potteries Marathons, several half-marathons and numerous other races, but in 2014, aged 53, I was asked by a younger friend in his mid-thirties to run with him in the ‘Arf.
Truth be told, I expected Kev to beat me, but this was a chance to share his joy and excitement in competing in his first ‘Arf, and to run alongside him as far as I could.
The dilemma for me was, how seriously should I take the race?  I’ve always said that once I have finally lost my competitive edge, I’ll do these damned races dressed as Abraham Lincoln, or play a kazoo whilst running, or get up to some other pack of daft.
However, once I saw the starting line, I found that though my teeth and hairline may be receding, my competitive appetite was still in place. “Wake up and smell the runners’ embrocation,” I admonished myself, as hundreds of race memories came flooding back: the bleeding nipples, the sob-inducing crowd support on the home stretches, the blister-popping first aid staff at the end… they all seemed fresh in my memory.
And as I prepared to start the race, I looked down at my cheap trainers.  I’d imagined that I wouldn’t be running seriously, so what if my footwear offered less support than a pic-nic chair beneath a Sumo wrestler’s bottom?  Now feeling caught up in the euphoria of the event, I glanced at Kev’s robust running shoes and imagined my own trainers being well battered by the end of the race.
Of course, I wasn’t the only runner looking slightly out of place.  We spotted one petite blonde, whose impossibly long, tumbling hair and full make-up made her a candidate for the catwalk rather than a sweaty race around the Potteries.  However, the ‘Arf is a great social equaliser, bringing together elite athletes, handy club runners and human bananas.
I kept pace with Kev for several miles in, my decent rhythm taking me up the first incline on Anchor Road.  The joy of being an experienced ‘Arf runner is that you know when to ease off and when to bomb ahead – and I did.  We still laugh about what I did upon hitting the crest of Dividy Road.  With a long descent in front of me, and a chance to make up time and position, I ran like a turbo-charged madman down the slope, to the surprise and even laughter of fellow runners.  My flat trainers thudded relentlessly on the tarmac – slap, slap, slap – as I surged ahead of Kev.
The rest of the race was a blur.  I finished in 1:56:55, only two minutes behind my younger mate, having shown all my old grit and determination.  I learnt that as a long-distance runner in my fifties, I wasn’t spent… unlike my trainers, which were now ready for the dustbin.

The coveted sub-2.00 hr bronze medals - photo courtesy Janet Snow