As ever, thanks to our Johnny, not only a tremendous runner but also our superstar blogger. Who better to sum up the first proper race organised by the Pumas!
Over to Johnny….
The Coley Canter. Ah, how the name conjures up idyllic thoughts of ambling over the rural pathways and fields around the village and surrounding areas. The perfect trek for a warm summer’s evening stroll, perhaps. Set off earlier, and you could imagine a family picnic, basking in the golden sunlight, drifting away while you relax as the children and dogs frisk away among the daisies.
But this is December, the day breaking cold, yet bright and sunny. Crisp is a word you could use to describe it. Awaiting is a gruelling eight-mile trudge through thick mud, woodland climbs and steep hills. This was the reality. This is the real Coley Canter!
The real Coley Canter
For several years, this event was established on the local running calendar, having been run by top athlete Karl Gray. However, it hadn’t been staged for four years, but with the Northowram Pumas happy to resurrect the race, it seems set for a healthy future.
Of course, to make such an event possible, much hard work needed to be put into practice, and to that end, Race Director Ally Canning did a sterling job. Not only did this mean organising and positioning the marshals (without whom there wouldn’t have been any chance of the race going ahead), it also meant planning the route in the first place, something that included appeasing local farmers whose land we would be trampling upon. Together with the help of Luke Cranfield, she ensured the route was as tough as possible. And while the race wasn’t due to start until 11.00am, around three hours earlier, Luke, Julie Bowman and Liz McDonnell went out to check that the whole eight-mile course was still clearly marked out.
The rest was down to the participating runners, of which there were 74, a total which included ten Pumas, one of whom was Shana Emmerson, who was happy to take on the mantel of Tail Runner. Karl Gray was also among the competitors, one of the favourites, in fact, but he would be challenged by Gary Priestley of Salford Harriers. We trooped around to the bottom side of the cricket field, gathered in a huddle, listened to our briefing from starter Andy Haslam, and before you knew it, we were off, slowly but surely (most of us, anyway; well, that way you feel you’re getting your money’s worth).
Immediately out of the cricket field we took a right turn and followed Westercroft Lane to the junction with Denholmegate Road where marshal Paul Hopkinson was holding up the traffic to let us cross. We turned left onto the pathway leading towards St John the Baptist Church, followed a trail path then hit Coley Road. All was well at this point, and having done the recce a couple of weeks earlier, I knew that that the first two miles or so wouldn’t be asking too many questions. Turning right on Coley Road, we then took the track to our left and careered through the fields, crossing Northedge Lane, then picking up the trail through the trees and fields, heading toward Syke Lane.
By this time the leaders were well in front, with Rick Heaton and Shaun Casey tucked in neatly towards the front. I was somewhere in the middle of the pack and running for the most part up until Judy Woods with Matt Newton. Ever the gentleman, by the time we reached the stile at Syke Lane, I let Matt go through first, then chased him along the tarmacked road until we veered off to the right and picked up the trail that headed onwards and upwards towards Norwood Green. It was along this section that we had the most fun. Resembling scenes from Takeshi’s Castle, we passed through a stile which necessitated something of a jump, and found ourselves landing in thick mud – ankle deep, it was – and the photographer standing by must have chortled at the sight of runners looking for the driest landing spot. Oh the joys.
The pull up the field to Norwood Green was our biggest challenge so far on the route, steep and with few footholes, but once we’d climbed it we turned a sharp right and continued through the trees, climbing steadily until we reached Village Street.
We took a left and followed the field as it turned in to the track, then headed down towards the direction of the intimidating Judy Woods. At the entrance to the woods, Matt and myself were given a rallying call from marshal Paul Bottomley, then we crossed the brook and started the steep climb up the steps. I never looked back, but if I had have done, I would have noticed Matt struggling a little. Once I reached the top of the stairway, I got my head down and worked hard as the deceiving incline up through the woods started to take its toll as legs became ever heavier.
The pull through Judy Woods, as scenic as it was, seemed to take an age, but in time I reached its highest point, then made the welcome descent down towards the brook. As we reached it, the terrain seemed to take on vertical proportions, and I dare say I wasn’t the only one who took a tumble, though thankfully, I didn’t end up in the water. Once the brook had been negotiated, there was then the climb up the other side on what was a narrow, slippery, muddy path, with one heck of a drop on your right hand side. If you’ve ever seen ‘The Italian Job’ and that coach ride up the mountains, you’ll get my drift.
By now, I had the company of two other runners, one being Jo Talbot-Patterson. We exchanged positions several times over but we were never too far apart, until the finish, that, is. We climbed out of the woods then enjoyed the canter across the fields, working our way diagonally until we reached the farm track. We turned right, then a left at the top where the route joined Green Lane and thankfully a nice downhill stretch.
After all this effort, you’d have forgiven me for thinking that I was well over the halfway point by now, and, in fact, I consoled myself with this very notion. But then we arrived at the watering station, with bottled water being handed out by Carine Baker en famile (except dad Joe, who was taking part in the race, though way ahead of me). Carine proved a natural dispenser, no doubt rolling back the years when she acted as drinks monitor at school. This, in fact, was the halfway mark – we were nowhere near home.
Carine told us to keep going until we found the next marshal, whom we encountered after a somewhat laughable jaunt avoiding massive puddles. Here was Liz McDonnell, ushering us into what was Shelf Woods, but whilst most of this section was quite favourable, the gradual pull up to the top had several runners, myself included, having to walk, despite the attentions of the photographer who caught us in the act. There then followed the carefree charge back down towards the beck, before we wound our way up the other side and entered Shelf Park and familiar territory.
The track from Shelf Park known as Bridle Stile gave us our longest stretch of downhill running and the chance of a much-needed breather. But there was still much to do. We ran down towards a farm, veered right, crossed a field, then entered another woodland section. It was nice running down through the trees, but there’s always this nagging feeling that the next climb isn’t too far away. And sure, enough, we were met by another staircase, and as if that wasn’t enough, once we climbed our way up there, there was the gradual incline up through the fields. I’d caught up some other competitors by now, but only because they were walking, heaving, like me, as they did so. One lady, walking her dogs downhill, remarked “Good sound effects,” to which I retorted, ‘These are for real.”
We staggered through two fields, entered a farm track, bore a sharp right, then made our way across more fields, thankfully flat in nature. In the distance the church at Coley came into view. But it was at this point that I checked over my shoulder to see the sight of club mate Jane Cole several hundred yards behind me, and closing. Bearing in mind that I’d not seen any other Pumas for nearly six miles, suddenly I was asking questions of myself. Was I slowing down considerably, or was she timing the race just right and catching me? Or both? We’re all competitive by nature in this sort of environment, you’ve only to look at the photos (and accompanying video) of Jane, Alan Sykes and Matt Newton in the sprint finish at the end of the Winter League race at Skipton to see that. To avoid a repeat here, I knew I had to dig in and press on. We turned through a stile that almost had you doubling back on yourself, crossed the field, then joined up with Coley Hall Lane. I wasn’t finding any of this easy at all; my legs were feeling ever more tired, and a couple of runners who hitherto had been way behind me, passed me with consummate ease. We turned right back onto Coley Road, and though I knew that we were in the closing stages the gradual incline was bringing me to an almost standstill. Behind me, Jane had narrowed the gap to about one hundred yards. I was gripped with panic! Up Coley Road we climbed and climbed before turning left down a track which led to Denholmegate Road. We crossed the main road, headed towards a farm, through the yard, then headed downfield, my legs suddenly finding a new lease of life. Near the bottom Gabby Kenny, with Jude and Orlagh, were giving us what looked like the Mexican wave and cheering us on, perhaps the most pleasing sight other than the finishing line itself.
I careered through the farm yard, hit Westercroft, then entered the cricket field. A quick check over my shoulder to confirm I was under no threat, and I made a charge for the line, greeted as I crossed it by Neil Coupe and his timing equipment.
There was no one immediately behind me; myself and Jane were actually separated by the aforementioned Jo Talbot-Patterson, who had given up the ghost in our own personal dual up Coley Road.
I saw neither runners finish as I was deep in recovery mode and gathering my senses. When I felt up to it, I walked back to the finishing line to welcome in the fellow Pumas, Matt leading Tom O’Reilly home. Roy Lindsell was the next Puma home, followed in due course by Jo Allen and Tiffany Lewis. Shana was the last runner home, as she had to be! I was the third Puma home, the distinction of being the first falling equally to Shaun Casey and Rick Heaton, both linking up as they crossed the line, though mysteriously, Shaun being given a time four seconds faster than Rick. Either one of them had very long arms, or Neil’s equipment was proving momentarily dodgy.
Before I’d crossed the line, the race had been won some twenty-nine minutes earlier by Gary Priestley, maintaining his lead over Karl Gray having pulled away from him through Judy Woods.
There appeared to be only one casualty on the day, Alex Whyte having to pull up, but she was well tended to, getting a lift back to the clubhouse and being supplied with icepacks.
When it was all over, there was the chance to relax in the bar, with home-made pie and peas being served up. Which made you realise just how much had gone into making the event a success. From start to finish, the planning, the organising, the volunteering. So much that we sometimes take for granted. Upon reflection, perhaps the running of the Coley Canter was the easiest part.
Or maybe not.
Top finishers and Pumas’ positions:
1 Gary Priestley (Salford Harriers) 51.13
2 Karl Gray (unattached) 51.46
3 Gavin Mulholland (unattached) 54.34
4 Jonathan Collins (Stainland Lions) 58.49
24 Shaun Casey 1:12.46
25 Rick Heaton 1:12.50 (!!)
44 Jonathan Meynell 1:22.39
46 Jane Cole 1:23.09
57 Matt Newton 1:30.23
58 Tom O’Reilly 1:30.27
63 Ron Lindsell 1:41.36
66 Jo Allen 1:44.01
68 Tiffany Lewis 1:47.32
73 Shana Emmerson (Tail Runner) 1:55.00
Next year’s Coley Canter will be held on the 30 December 2017. Keep your eyes peeled around the start of November for more details!