Usually you’ll be there, eagle-eyed, checking the shirts, looking for those distinctive colours. Was that a Vega…? No. Oh, what about …? When you finally spot a wild Vegan Runner at a race it can be quite a big moment, especially if you’re not lucky enough to be in one of the areas with a really active local group.
There was none of that on Sunday September 18th – a warm, sunny morning in Stockport, Cheshire, a few miles south-east of Manchester. On this day it was difficult to go anywhere without seeing a group of VRs.
It began as an idea to find a race the Manchester group could turn out in numbers for. After a little searching and checking, a local race with a date that worked for a number of the group was found – a 10k so as to be suitable for most abilities and with a cheeky £10 entry fee if registering teams of 5 at once. Could the group fill 2 teams, or perhaps 3? As the teams filled, more were created, then more and others outside the group began to show an interest (let’s not ignore the fact that the race fell on the same weekend as the Manchester Vegan Beer Festival). This was no longer just a local gathering, VRs signed up from London, Hertfordshire, all over the North East, Leeds, Huddersfield, Merseyside… the list goes on.
There was quite a bit of organising and planning required to keep things on track and some members joined other local groups and spread the news. In the run up to the event, Jonna, Manchester group local contact, managed the teams. This became particularly hectic during the closing days as people had to pull out due to injury etc., but these were quickly replaced by yet more eager Vegans wanting to share the day with their club mates. Another task Jonna set herself was to secure a sponsor in the form of Unicorn, a local co-operative grocery, who offered a generous supply of fruit (organic, of course, as they offer nothing else!). And let’s not forget that banner flag, designed by Jason and to be heroically carried throughout the morning by Tom!
By race day we had 14 teams of 5 and a number runners registering solo, all ready to don their black and green shirts (some for the very first time) to run the streets of Stockport, promote a healthy Vegan lifestyle and do our club proud.
Meeting on Mersey Square, opposite the Plaza, our numbers rose steadily, hugs became more frequent and smiles grew larger. Thanks to a borrowed shirt from here, and a pair of shorts from there, one of those intending only to cheer and spectate had a last minute change of mind and took a place – who could blame anyone for wanting to jump in and be a part of this BIG day – the vibe was immensely positive and compelling.
With just over half an hour to the start of the race, around 60 Vegan Runners descended into the Bear Pit. Fortunately, being around 200 years too late to witness the kinds of activities that gave this area its name, instead it was the first club photo opportunity. With the photos snapped, a particularly memorable moment took place as Verna stood, faced the terraced crowd and said a few heartfelt words regarding the occasion and the history of the club, followed by a round of applause for Jonna and everyone else involved with making the day possible. It was OK to get a little misty-eyed at this point.
With little time left for anything resembling a meaningful warm-up, the gathered runners headed off past the theatre and up the hill to the start area – a hill they would each soon get to re-tread around 9.9km later. Outer layers were shed, toilet queues began looking unsurprisingly lengthy, bags got dropped, and the nerves began to kick in as the start time neared.
600 entrants – over 1 in 10 being Vegan Runners – queued at the start. After a short delay the race began, with the hosts commenting on all the Vegan Runners whizzing by mere seconds later!
The course itself wasn’t bad at all, although it did have its fair share of climbs, twists and turns coupled with occasional changes to the terrain. Not everyone enjoys a route that doubles back on itself down the same track but, just after the half way point, running beside the River Mersey in both directions offered a great opportunity to see, wave, high-five, cheer and encourage each other while the race was in progress. Wonderful stuff!
As people completed their runs they joined the growing group near the finish line. Another chance to chat, cheer home the remaining members, sample the post-race fruit and stretch out some sore limbs.
After the prize-giving, another photo opportunity presented itself before the group began to disband. Some had trains to catch, others had an appointment at The Allotment with the talented Matthew Nutter, local chef and runner, as he opened his doors to a lucky few dozen or so VRs for a post-run breakfast. It was said a hardcore few even made it back to the Beer Festival.
Among those earning new 10k PBs were Alex Hinchcliffe and Bob Neill, finishing 2nd and 4th overall, setting up an easy win for the Soy Division VR team, with 5 Vegan Runners finishing in the first 20 places. Alex is more often found high in the hills around Sheffield, Bob is more at home in the vast wilds of the North East, running more substantial distances such as the Ultra Marathon he recently placed first in. For them both come travel and take part in an event that’s not really their prefered running format is something we’re all thankful for, and their placings really helped with the message. But, having said that, their efforts were equally matched on the day by all those Vegan Runners stepping up to the 10k distance, pushing for PBs and even taking part in their first ever events wearing the shirt. All commendable stuff!
There are far too many stories to tell: PBs earned, friendships made, hangovers burned off. One thing is for sure, everyone did the club proud. It seems clear that, with the club being inherently different to regular running clubs and with all the difficulties that presents, yet expanding rapidly and gaining more and more attention, the local groups will play a vital going forwards. This kind of event brings us together just like our weekly training runs but on a grander scale and with a more accessible and inclusive format, bringing in members from further afield, maybe the kinds of people who cannot attend the training runs or have none in their areas. Yes, it was probably a record turnout for Vegan Runners at an event – but this record will be smashed soon enough, and again and again – it’s only natural as the club grows stronger in numbers by the week. What’s sure is the buzz generated by an event like Sunday’s will only seek to strengthen us as a club and bring us closer to the day the local groups take their place alongside their neighbouring local running clubs in their own right. Until then, more like this!
It wouldn’t be right to end this without mentioning Sam Barton, Community Sport Officer at Life Leisure, the event’s organisers. Always available for advice regarding the teams, bag drop etc., and ensuring that *all* goodie bags handed out contained vegan-friendly snack bars, Sam made us not only feel welcome, but a valued part of the event. From all of us at Vegan Runners, thank you!
Report by Kevin Dempsey