There are many important races in a runner’s calendar; the first attempt at a new distance, the bucket-list races like The London Marathon or those once in a lifetime events that take place somewhere the other side of the world. Then there are those races that actually mean something to the runner, races that to anyone else wouldn’t even get a passing glance.
For me it’s a race that takes place where I spent ten years growing up. A village in Lincolnshire where my parents still live called Heckington. Now, I don’t expect you to have a clue where that is – most people I speak to in London don’t even know where Lincolnshire is – but it’s your fairly standard village. There’s a Co-op, a cash machine, a post office, a couple of churches, a milkman and a factory I spent most of my summer holidays packing dried peas (you know, the ones you see in Pot Noodles). It’s a nice place, don’t get me wrong, but for your average runner looking for races across the UK, it’s unlikely to crop up on your to-do list.
Heckington is however famous for a couple of things, the first is it’s eight-sailed windmill, possibly the only eight-sailed windmill in the UK. The second is the country’s largest village agricultural show, The Heckington Show.
As village shows go it has a hell of a lot going for it. There’s show jumping, a dog show, falconry, a parachute display, fireworks, live bands, there’s even a stunt motorcycle display team. It’s a long way from Alan Partridge judging vegetable contests and alerting people that the fayre’s on fire (note, there is a vegetable contest).
But I’m not here to wax lyrical about an agricultural show. What I’m here to talk about is the Heckington Show ten-mile road race.
I run a lot of races over the course of the year, I travel to other countries to take part in marathons, I do events which push me far beyond what I thought I’d be able to do, but as important races go there are few that can compete with one that takes place where you grew up. Especially when you grew up being slightly overweight with absolutely no interest in sport or fitness whatsoever.
My parent’s liken it to Brigadoon, a place where for one day of the year a quiet village that almost goes unnoticed turns into a thriving, bustling festival of activity. People from around the country head over to Lincolnshire and friends that have long since moved away travel back to visit.
Back when I went to school I had no interest in running, I was too busy playing Commodore 64 and eating Skips, but now, twelve years later it’s a chance for me to do something with old friends that we all now have in common. An opportunity for me to relive the old days where I seldom ran a few streets, and take on my friends as a fellow runner.
If you’ve ran a big race like the London Marathon you’ll know what it’s like to make you’re way through crowds of people cheering for you as you make you’re way down the street. Try doing that through a course where you know people on every corner, a race where you run past your own house and see your family sat outside taking pictures as you desperately try to beat one of your best friends to the finish line. One year they even made banners for me, it was pretty embarrassing.
As races go it’s a good one. It’s a tried and tested course planned to perfect detail. A mainly flat two lap course that starts and ends in the main ring to crowds of excited people. Even if you didn’t know the village it’s well worth taking part in, and there aren’t many races you can step over the finishing line of and then head over to see a medieval re-enactment.
When I was a younger I’d to go along to the Heckington Show and head straight to the beer tent, seldom even glancing over at the runners. It was something I didn’t feel part of. But now, many years later it’s a become a tradition for my friends and family. A sort of celebration of who we all once were and who we are now.
And the nicest part of running a race in your home town – beating one of your runner mates who’s always been fitter than you… by four minutes.
Heckington show takes place during the last weekend in July. Click here to find out more.
Picture credits: Steve Wheatley