While waiting at the start of the race, a friend asked me if I had done the race before. I’m not mentioning any names but I could see from his face he was very fond of the event and eagerly awaiting the race start. I admitted it was my first time and that I had heard much about the race over the years. I was then described as a ”Potteries Virgin”. After doing over 180 marathons it’s not often (if ever) I’m called a virgin but maybe it gives you an inkling of how runners rate this race.
For the veteran marathon runners the Potteries Marathon is a classic and has been sadly missed by many for over a dozen years. Its return this year has created quite a buzz for the dedicated marathoners. I never did it in my younger marathon PB hunting days as I considered a marathon in the summer as too risky when striving for that still elusive sub 3 hour marathon. These days I’m much less focused on times but much more interested in sampling different marathons and after missing out on this one many years ago it had to be experienced this year. I was curious to find out what had made it such a much loved race over a decade ago and whether it still had something special to offer.
The race started and finished at the Britannia Stadium the home of Stoke City FC. A good venue with lots of parking. I thought it was a shame that the event was held at the side of the stadium under gazebos and we couldn’t actually go inside to use any of the stadium facilities. This year’s course was apparently new but I had heard the old course was hilly so was expecting much of the same for the new course. The finish was in the car park right at the side of the stadium and as we waited for the start it was easy to see that last few hundred yards of the course were up a very steep hill into the car park so I immediately knew there wasn’t going to be many sprint finishes today.
The race started and quickly wound its way out of the industrial area where the stadium was and into suburbia. Out on the course there weren’t any spectacular land marks to talk about but equally there wasn’t anything horrible either. Most of the time the course meandered round the towns and housing estates of the Stoke-on-Trent area. The course was well marshalled with lots of council workers manning the traffic at the road junctions. Lots of races these days struggle to keep going due to the pressure of health & safety, costs and the large volume of cars on the roads but the Potteries marathon seemed to have it all managed fairly well and in a manner races 20 years ago would have been handled. There were plenty of spectators spread evenly out on the course who were all very friendly and vocal as they cheered on the runners. Lots of people had put out cups of water on tables at the bottom of their drives and were even handing out sweets, fruit and ice pops. The whole community seemed to be behind the event. There was a strange feeling of tradition and pride about the whole race.
For me a stretch of the marathon around mile 16 the most interesting as we went passed a factory called Steelite International. I remembered it from my job many years ago when we sent steel to the factory for a large extension. This was one of the many pottery factors in the area. A short way further on we went past another (I didn’t catch the name) a fantastic old brick building with lots of pottery stacked in the windows. We turned right at the end of the factor’s shop and over a canal. I could feel the air of industrial heritage this town must have once had.
The race was as hilly as I had suspected with lots of climbs and descents, nothing massive but plenty of them. Finishing with a steep few hundred meters up into the finish where I had to git my teeth to push myself up in front of lots of loud cheering spectators. I would be surprised if anyone got a PB (unless it was your first marathon) but a great race, worthy of the affection given to it from marathon runners who experienced it during its previous incarnation.
No medal at the finish but a nice t-shirt, oat pancakes and an unusual shiny pottery coaster.
Considering the hills and the warm summer conditions I’m pleased with my time, a little over 3:16. I certainly hope to get the opportunity to come back again in the future.