The Tour of Tameside

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Completing a marathon over 3 days isn’t easy so when the Tour of Tameside returned after 14 years I offered to volunteer instead. Big sporting events need volunteers to help on the water stations, bag drops, setting up and marshalling the route. I was happy to help and even more delighted when on the first day of the tour I got to complete part of the route, not on foot but in the lead car. On the Friday evening I drove a bunch of Tameside Radio volunteers up what felt like a dirt track in the hope that Walkerwood Reservoir was at the top of it. Thankfully it was and with it a fantastic view over Stalybridge. It was deserted apart from a lonely looking start line. I sat and admired the view from the car. Ten minutes later hundreds of runners flooded up the road. I was very relieved to hear that I would have a man with a map in the car. I feared without help I might have led the runners the wrong way or straight into a river. My companion was Alan and he, thankfully, knew what he was doing. Although unbeknownst to me I had overtaken him on the road on the way up the hill and he’d had to walk the entire way. Not a good start. Alan’s pre-race advice was to keep ahead of the runners but not too far as to lose them. What could possibly go wrong? My biggest fear was that I was going to stall the car and all the runners would overtake me before I had even got into first gear.

It was nearing the start of the race so I got in the car and started the engine. There was a slight delay due to the timing equipment so I was on the clutch for a good five minutes. I felt exhausted. Suddenly the PA started blasting out a countdown, Alan got in the car and on the sound of a claxon we were off. No stalling but goodness the runners went off fast. I sped down the track and four runners kept up with me.

Halfway down I was starting to feel like a rally driver. There were people walking their dogs and going for a peaceful evening stroll. Not any more. They understandably looked startled as I sped towards them. Alan wound down the window and shouted, “A race is coming please move to one side!” Luckily they did as hundreds of runners poured after me. A car turned up the road and I think the driver instantly regretted it when he saw what was coming towards him. Alan said to me “the junctions have been closed off, don’t stop, just go left” and he was right. It was an unnatural feeling going straight through a junction but sure enough I was clear to go. I slowed to make the corner and the runners were immediately behind me again.

The route up Mottram Old Road was steep and brutal. The car strained to make the hill but the runners kept coming. I used the horn and flashed the drivers ahead to warn them of the race. Residents came out to support and some even had their own chairs. They waved at us and we waved back. I felt like the Queen. One runner had broken off from the pack and was now leading. It was Mohammed Aburezeq who not only went on to win the race but the entire tour. I felt concerned as a car from a side street managed to find itself part of the race and if it hadn’t turned off a couple of minutes later it may have come second.

We drove off towards the fell. Stage one was a fell race after all. Alan called for me to pull over. He leapt out of the car as soon as it was stationary and signalled the way. Alan and I waited there until all the runners had passed and we gave important words of encouragement such as “this way”. There were runners of all ages taking part in the tour, some who had done all the previous tours and even one man in his eighties. Many looked relieved at the top of the hill and others a bit delirious as they entered the final stretch. A man called out “I don’t remembered it being like this” as he disappeared out of sight. The road became quiet again and Alan and I drove back to Copley Leisure Centre, the race already won, for a well-deserved rest and a hot chocolate. Leading a race really can be hard work.