I was brought up a Roman Catholic and Good Friday mornings used to entail attending Mass, feeling guilty about the Passion, uncomfortably having to kiss a big crucifix and refraining from eating meat. These days it involves dodging dog shite and traffic and being directed by signs on scrap white goods whilst trying to bag a PB at the Salford 10k Road Race.
Lower Kersal and Agecroft, on opposing banks of the River Irwell, are the race setting and refreshingly it doesn’t paint itself to be anything other than what it is. No bullshit, no dressing up with frilly descriptions. It’s a 10k race along Salford roads in two of the city’s less salubrious wards. The route is simple enough. A two lapper that starts on Littleton Rd near Salford Sports Village and is a circuit ran mostly on Littleton and Langley Roads that crosses the Irwell twice. It’s flat so should be a PBer and is littered with cracking club runners. The types that see 3s rather than 4s or 5s beginning their 10k times and taking it easy usually means running at a quicker pace than I can belt out a 1500m. Seeing them warming up with their fantastic running form just breeds my runner envy.
Whenever I run along Littleton Road I’m brought back to a priceless childhood memory of a cold January morning 32 years ago. My uncle (Big) Brendan surprised my cousin (Little) Brendan and I with a quite special trip. We were both Man Utd daft and he brought us to The Cliff training complex in Higher Broughton. After meeting players arriving in we were told that the squad would be training on playing fields that bordered Littleton Road so we got back in Big Brendan’s maroon Ford Escort Ghia and headed over. All the talk was about the new manager that had done so well at Aberdeen and his decent start. A group of supporters though told us of his unfriendly manner toward fans and how he was nothing like Big Ron whom he’d replaced two months previous.
We happened upon a good spot that bordered the playing field and watched on with a few others. Midway through a man approached us in a Utd bobble hat and training jacket. As the figure grew closer we realised it was Alex Ferguson, the new guy at the helm. Based on what we’d heard earlier we feared the worst however our worries couldn’t have been more misplaced. The future Utd legend spent time chatting and joking with us and made my 8 year old self and 12 year old Brendan feel on top of the world. Fergie was an absolute gent and polar opposite to Captain Marvel who, together with the World Cup’s youngest player, raced past us not bothering to stop for a photograph or autograph despite our forlorn cries when they arrived to training. Football in sunshine and shadow as Eduardo Galeano put it. I’m not still bitter, honest.
And so race day came and by God the temperature dial had been turned up a bit. Arriving I was reminded of Señor Love Daddy, the radio DJ in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, when he dished out the weather forecast. It was ‘hot!’ In fact Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant, the film’s location, could pass for the area we were to run through if more in spirit than architecture especially since the demolition of Kersal flats.
I absolutely love the start of this race. The organisers, Salford Harriers, must have the most minimal of road closure permits. Runners border each side of the road until at the last minute traffic is stopped, the timing matt is set and the runners are beckoned on to the tarmac by the marshals. Then it’s go. After about 800m the duration of the race is ran more on the footpath than the road.
I had notions of putting in a good showing, perhaps a PB, this year and I set off slightly quick alongside Pete, an evenly matched clubmate. My expectations went out the window by 3km and Pete bounded off in front of me as my body just failed to respond. My subsequent km splits tumbled and as the clock approached 45:50 I stuttered across the line a sweaty and semi-delirious mess thoroughly relieved to be finished. I was 3 minutes slower than 2018 and nearly 5 minutes off PB time set at Wilmslow back in November. I felt that bad that I almost pulled in at the end of the first lap but pride, fantastic support and the lure of the all important finish coaster kept me out on the course. I commented later that I felt better on the last 10k of the Greater Manchester Marathon two weeks previously than the entirety of this 10k.
Not withstanding my performance I really enjoy this expertly organised and marshalled race and, as I’ve said previously in the Coniston blog, it’s cemented in my athletic calendar. It’s as proletarian as they come and that’s what endears it to me. It holds no pretensions and is all the better for it. It stands in stark contrast to the more sanitised event later in the year at the Quays. If I was in charge of setting the motif it would be ‘This is Salford, get use to it and run fast whilst you’re at it.’
All in all it wasn’t the best of Good Friday mornings for me, maybe I should’ve opted for the crucifix kissing. I could trot out a number of excuses as to why but ultimately they’re all worthless. It was a bad day, move on and do better next time. At least that’s what Fergie would’ve said albeit with a little barbed moan aimed at the timer.