Sunday was our club’s annual road race – the Wellingborough 5, or ‘Welly 5′ as it has become known to locals.
I was down for my usual job of marshaling at the top of the track leading into the Old Grammarian’s Sports ground car park heading to the start/finish line. This time with Nic, another lady from my club.
For 2016 we were no longer able to park runners in the large farmer’s field opposite the Old Grammarian’s (OGs) as they have started developing this site into an industrial estate. It meant that all marshals and all runners would need to park in the OGs (much smaller!) car park instead and this required lots of organisation! After the stress of being placed on car parking duty at the South Downs Way 100 a few weeks back, I was glad to see that my marshal position remained at the top of the track and that I wouldn’t need to be directing cars into spaces on the day, but instead merely pointing them in the direction of Colin, who would be indicating exactly where they were to park.
As we knew there would be limited car park spaces I headed down with Tom, who needed to head out with the van and lay the signs for the course out on the route in the morning. Because it was still too early to direct runners into OGs when I first arrived, I helped set up signs and start lists inside with those who were on registration before heading out to my marshal point a little before 8:30am. The race didn’t begin until 10:30.
Dan had decided a few days earlier that he would quite like to run the Welly 5. Despite not having trained for it he has been going to the gym twice a week for the past month and regularly going to footy training for several months. He managed to snag the last remaining place of the 300 on offer.
This year the t-shirts for runners were polyester technical tops. If you haven’t yet tried a polyester technical top I suggest that you hunt one down immediately! They are so light-weight and cool for Summer running. I picked one up for marshaling at Pitsford Triathlon the other week and am hoping there are still a few Welly 5 tees going spare as well next time I’m at club.
The road that the OGs is located on is locally known as ‘The Mad Mile’. It is one mile of straight road with nothing on it but the turn into OGs. Cars really pick their speed up coming down this little country road and I was surprised at how fast-moving the traffic was even at 8:30am on a Sunday morning. There is no way that we would be able to run the race if we were disallowed a road closure for the Mad Mile for the hour the race takes place. At times it got a little hairy when runners were waiting to turn their cars in to the car park from both directions and other road users were trying to squeeze through the middle of cars turning in!
Miraculously the car park team did a great job of slotting in all of the cars and the race began on time once the road containing the start had been closed off. I had been asked by our Race Director if I would take photos at the start and finish from my marshal position, as I had done in previous years, so I took my camera along to get a few shots of the runners setting out.
Tom had been posted as tail runner so jogged along behind the final two ladies as they made their way past the car park track and then the 249 runners that had turned up for the race, the lead bike and Tom disappeared off into the distance.
It was perfect race weather – quite sunny yet still with a slight breeze. Much nicer than last year when it tipped it down for the entire race!
We had a good 23 minutes or so before we would be able to see the front runners heading back round the corner in our direction and several other supporters from the club had gathered by this point with Nic and I.
It probably wasn’t much more than 10 minutes later when a car rushed down the track from the car park towards us at full speed. Hazard lights were flashing and the horn was honking as the car approached us. Despite us not supposed to let any cars out of the car park until the road reopened, we could do nothing but leap out of the way of the speeding car, which then sped off to the left past us. It wasn’t until it passed that we realised that the guy sat behind the wheel was dressed in a St. John’s Ambulance uniform.
He was driving with too much urgency for it to be something as straight forward as a sprained ankle or broken leg. I glanced up to see Colin running from his marshal spot over to us and immediately thought that something must have happened to one of our club members. Colin though, hadn’t been aware that it was the guy from St. Johns, and had actually been running over to remind us not to let anyone out.
A further few minutes and the car came racing back down the road in the other direction – heading towards the way the runners would be coming towards us for the finish. Not long after, he was followed by a paramedic vehicle and closely afterwards, a police car. We were very worried over by the finish now, especially after having seen the police car speed by.
The front runner came past, and my job as photographer began. So that I could begin photographing the runners I passed my phone to another club runner so that she was able to call the Race Director and tell him what little information we knew – that there had been an incident on the course. He was already aware.
The first guy (Mark Ryall of Milton Keynes AC) won by a huge margin. He had been leading from the very beginning of the race. There had been no chance of anyone catching up with him and beating his very impressive finish time of 26m 49s. Second place belonged to one of our green vests that you can see way back in the distance of the above photo.
As our finishing club runners started to filter back out to cheer where we were stood it became apparent that the majority were not aware that there had been an incident, and of those that were, knew no details. We worriedly ran through names of our own who were still out on the course and mentally ticked them off as they came past one by one. There was one obvious runner missing, but it wasn’t until Dan came to find me after crossing the line that we learned of any further information. (Dan had a very consistent race and had finished in 49m 51s.)
The person that had suffered a cardiac and respiratory arrest had gone down before Dan had passed through and Dan was able to inform us that it was a male runner from Northampton Running Club. Although instantly relieved that it wasn’t the one of our own we were still missing, we were still very anxious to know that all was OK, especially as an air ambulance now droned overhead in the direction of the course.
Our lead bike had headed out to pick up the tail runners on delivering the front runner across the line. He returned now, along with the back runners and informed us that the road had been closed off completely so no cars were to head in that direction. Nic and I remained at our marshal post to ensure all cars turned left out of OGs rather than headed to the right where the incident had occurred and where the road was now closed.
A gentleman came over to me and said that he hadn’t seen his friend finish the race yet. Had all the runners arrived back now? Only he didn’t think that his friend was normally this slow. I asked what club vest his friend wore as a way to sound out whether or not I needed to share what limited information I had been given so far. I was told that his friend didn’t run for a club but he couldn’t remember what colour top he had been wearing that day. Tactfully I was then able to say that there had been an incident on the course involving a male runner, and that it had been confirmed that the incident involved a club runner from one of our local running clubs who would have been wearing club colours. By this point I had also been told that a few runners had stopped to help when the runner first went down, including our missing club runner so I shared this information as well. I was told by the gentleman that his friend was a policeman and he was sure that he would have stopped to help if he could. He thanked me and left to make a phone call.
A few minutes later a marshal car came past and they could confirm that amongst those who remained helping on the course were a nurse and a policeman, so I headed over to reassure the man where his friend was.
It wasn’t until 20 minutes or so later that I saw Tom walking back towards us with another runner who was walking alongside him. This chap was the policeman who had stopped to help.
The Northampton runner had collapsed very early into the race. Tom was first to reach him and was able to call for help. So many members of our club and runners out on the course were quick to think and react with everybody jumping into roles such as slowing traffic, performing CPR, reassuring the man’s wife who had also been out on the course, calming other runners and giving instructions to the ambulance crew. They ended up performing CPR for half an hour before the Northampton Road Runner (also called Tom) was airlifted to the local cardiac unit.
Although things didn’t sound too good to begin with, we received an email from his wife on Monday afternoon and it appears that things have now started to improve. She was able to tell us that he woke from the induced coma himself, recognised his family and when given a pen and paper managed to ask what time he had clocked for the race! Apparently he was rather upset that he had DNFd! Although still in intensive care and not yet ‘out of the woods’ everyone is remaining positive.
Hopefully it looks as though Tom will make a good recovery, but it made several of us think about ensuring our first aid qualifications were kept up to date and highlighted the importance of carrying a mobile phone at all times on a run.
Are you first aid qualified?
Do you take your phone out with you when you run?