It all started with an innocuous message on Messenger. “Hiya! What’s your diary like 8th April?” A quick check of the family calendar on the wall revealed that it was currently clear but it was in the middle of the kids’ Easter holidays so there was always the possibility that we would go to Scotland.
So I replied: “Intriguing…should I clear my diary?” Well, came the reply, I’m looking for a Race Angel to help out at Manchester Marathon that day…
Now let’s rewind and explain a bit more before we go on. I had seen the Race Angels at races before. I had even been offered some help from a lovely lady in their trademark orange T shirts during the Wirral half marathon (yes, the one I did in 2 hours and 4 seconds – still gutted about those 5 seconds!) I saw them more recently at Conwy Half Marathon but thankfully didn’t need their help.
Race Angels is the brainchild of Adrienne Hall. She did her first marathon at Chester in 2013 and was a couple of miles from the end, finding the going a bit tough when she asked a spectator how far she had to go. Despite not being in running clothes or shoes, he ran with Adrienne for a little bit and told her she didn’t have far to go. Adrienne then repaid the favour at the Dublin Rock and Roll half marathon by encouraging someone to finish. He told her she was his angel and the concept was born.
I decided that it was too good an opportunity to turn down and the diary now had a very important event in it. Arrangements were made to share a lift with Peter (another Race Angel virgin!) and Julie (her second outing as a Race Angel). As we discussed after, because we hadn’t met before, it was like a weird blind date, but with it being the running community, we all got on famously and a big thanks to Julie for doing all the driving with an extra early start.
I joked beforehand that I would get all the race atmosphere without any of the performance nerves. However I still got the night before nerves that I would miss my alarm and kept waking up during the night. When the alarm went off at 5.15 am, I was very bleary eyed.
We met up with Adrienne and Geoff in Liverpool and travelled in convoy to Warrington to meet Darren, Clare and Stephen, making up the entire team of 8 for the day. Race Angel T shirts were handed over in the car park of a Warrington hotel and then we were on our way to Manchester.
We set up shop at around mile 24. There was a water station opposite a pub where we stationed ourselves. We ran to the start to see the runners go off and lend our support.
A much needed coffee on our way back to our position at mile 24 and we were ready to put our halos on and spring into action. It felt quite privileged to see the front runners, not something I normally see in a race. It was astonishing to watch them running at a pace I would be hard pushed to sustain during a parkrun.
Peter would not forgive me if I didn’t mention this: among the front runners, there were so many men with bleeding nipples, it was unbelievable. I grimaced every time I saw one and Peter thought this was hilarious so I started to laugh too. But honestly there were so many. Have they not heard of Vaseline? The pain must have been unreal.
Finally I was summoned to help. A lady in a Knowsley Harriers vest (I think) asked me to run with her as she was trying to get Good For Age qualification. Luckily I was on fresh legs so I managed to pull out my best 10K pace and saw her to mile 25 when she ran on, hopefully a bit revitalised, although I don’t know how she managed that pace at that point in the race.
From there on in, I barely stopped for the next 4 hours. I lost count of the number of people I helped but I remember that I ran with 7 people who were very emotional. Much like myself at Liverpool Rock and Roll marathon last year, the whole experience can be a bit overwhelming and I think that it’s the body’s way of releasing that tension and allowing you to get on with the job. I used that experience and tried to make them feel that it was not silly to be emotional at this point, that loads of us had got emotional during a marathon and, more importantly, they were now at mile 25 and only just over a mile to go. Other people were not so emotional but were perhaps tired and if their race had not gone to plan, maybe a bit disappointed so hopefully a friendly chat and a walk alongside them would be a pick me up.
I really enjoyed seeing a lot of my Twitter buddies. It was like a who’s who of the UKrunchat group! Colin and Keith Johnstone, Helen Bly, Anthony Hughes, Michele Taylor, Paul Addicott and Phil Jeffries doing their sterling work as pacers, and Michele Whiffen, and who took this great pic of us. Others waved as they went past, too many of you to mention.
All the Race Angels were working equally hard and I barely saw any of them until I stopped around 3pm. When I checked my Garmin, including the run to the start and back, I had covered nearly 16 miles! No wonder I felt tired. Nothing that a late lunch wouldn’t sort though as we watched the (rather luxurious!) sweeper bus come through.
When I said yes to Adrienne’s message, hand on heart, I didn’t really think it through. I like running, and I like meeting people so it seemed a good fit for me. So the icing on the cake came when, that evening, my social media went into overdrive with lovely comments from runners who we had helped. It felt very rewarding to hear that we had made a difference to someone’s race experience.
Hats off to Adrienne for creating a wonderful concept; proof that the running community is stuffed full of amazing people. I’ll be back at Liverpool Rock and Roll marathon proudly wearing my orange T shirt. Check out the Race Angels page on Facebook and on Twitter @RaceAngels to see if they will be at your next race!