It was that time of year again; the 4 am alarm, the 150-mile drive, the 82 miles of running up hills in the car parks. Yes, The WTF Alton Towers weekender was back!!
Unlike last year, where everyone was in the park and waiting to go from around 8 am, this time around it was a bit of a mad dash for many. No one managed to identify what caused it, but from around 8.30 am the roads around the park became gridlocked, whilst the car parks remained empty. Panic started to fill the group chat. Lots of photos were posted of traffic jams. Lots of live location pins were being dropped. Paul Lock helpfully commented that he’d just driven past a Londis. Then he posted that he didn’t know where he was.
Mat and Donna arrived, but Mat forgot to check where he parked. Legend has it that he is still walking around the car parks today, searching in vain. People started to leave their cars and walk/run. There were multiple sightings of Pete Marshall, who having already run a parkrun, had to leg it from his cab and run a mile to get to the start line. Jordan also made it in on foot, only to be thwarted by security who wouldn’t let him in because he didn’t have his entry barcode. You’d have thought the fact he was in running gear and had his bib would help get him in, but no.
Eventually, most of us who were not going to be running the course in 35-40 minutes got into the start funnel and found an appropriate place to begin from. Many of us had not had time to drop our gear off, so Donna and Marcia became the unfortunate recipients of a dozen bags thrown at them as we crossed the start line. It didn’t take me too long to remember how vile the hills are on this course. Last year I’d run with Karin and Laine who’d taken my mind off things by doing that strange Scottish talking thing to each other. This year I found myself on my own and was soon considering my life choices as I moved from one hilly car park to another. Now and then a speedy late arrival would come flying past, making their way through the field whilst cursing the traffic.
It took me an hour, but eventually, I came hurtling down the finish straight, barely in control of my legs. The cheer squad was in full effect, Jon Flynn screaming what sounded like abuse at me, and Rob giving me a namecheck on the line, which I think is a first for me. It made me feel special anyway.
The park seemed a lot busier than last year, and the queues for rides were taking 40-50 minutes to get through. It was lucky that we were able to go around as one big gang and keep each other amused. Unfortunately, much of the amusement was at my expense. For my sins, I am a Spurs fan. As we queued up for the Wickerman ride I was constantly refreshing the Sky Sports app as they hung on to a 1-0 lead against Wolves. Then, just as we were about to enter the ride, they conceded a goal. As I was being strapped into my seat they conceded another and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. My face on the ride photos was one of fury and anguish, much to the delight of everyone else. I spent the rest of the afternoon sulking from one ride to the next while Locky, Ben and Rob took it in turns to remind me of the result.
The only person who looked more miserable than me was Sir Mo Farah when Jon Flynn accosted him for a photo. He seemed OK at first but then proceeded to get into an argument with Mrs Farah while Jon stood next to him looking both uncomfortable and unsure whether to hang around or not.
Back at the hotel in the evening, the gang congregated for dinner and drinks. As always, it was brilliant to see so many people there, all brought together through a shared passion for running and a ‘silly little podcast’. Every time we have one of these meet-ups I find it remarkable how this amazing community has built up from two lads having an idea for a chat about running.
Being old and a poster ‘boy’ for Hims hair restorer spray, I was falling asleep on my feet by 8.30 pm, so bailed out early. My insider (Doug obviously) told me the night was fairly quiet, though the WTF stragglers were the last to leave the pub, being told “I’m turning the lights out and locking the doors in two minutes. You lot need to leave” by the poor sod left to run the bar.
On Sunday the brave and the foolhardy were out on the course again for the 5k and half marathon distances. The weather was grim, but from the pictures I saw, it looked like everyone enjoyed themselves. It was great to see Marcia and Paul running together for the first time in a race.
I had a read through my write-up of last year’s event. I said there that the best part of the weekend for me was Bee messaging the group to say how much her daughter Rayli had enjoyed being with us and had been made to feel welcomed. This year, Rayli again took that best moment prize once more, taking part in her first-ever race. I don’t need to write anything more, this picture says it all.