Match of the Week: Bideford AAC New Year's Day Two Bridges Race
IN ATHLETICS, many a road race features a bridge at the start or finish.
Take, for example, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at the beginning of the New York City Marathon, the Tyne Bridge at the start of the Great North Run, and the London Marathon finish over Westminster Bridge before it was moved to The Mall.
The annual New Year's Day four-miler in Bideford can do better than that.
The Two Bridges race does exactly what it says on the tin. It crosses two bridges, one soon after the start another shortly before the finish. The Torridge Bridge sees the runners out, the Long Bridge brings them home.
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So it was literally and metaphorically that Emma Gooding reached dizzy heights on the first morning of 2013.
Crossing high over the river on the A39 bridge built in 1987, Gooding looked down to see the leading runners pass beneath her on the Tarka Trail in the early stages. But those she saw were all men.
As she followed in their footsteps, she drew ever closer towards the first victory of her life.
Along the Tarka Trail she went, then over the ancient bridge, which has spanned the Torridge for more than 700 years, now in sight of her own personal moment of history.
A final dash along the quay and she arrived at the finish to win the women's race.
Not many were up to see it as Bideford's curtains were still half closed at his hour on New Year's Day.
While other runners struggled with hangovers, Gooding beamed a smile and raised a forefinger to signal her No 1 position.
"I was in bed by 11pm," she said. "I'm getting old."
Old? She's 40, just as Paula Radcliffe will be this year.
Gooding's goal in 2013 is to break three and a half hours for the marathon
A minute and a half inside her target time of 30 minutes, it was her first outright triumph, albeit in the closed shop of a race organised by Bideford Amateur Athletic Club for members only and special guests.
"I have been placed and been first in my category (veterans), but I have never won a race before," said Gooding.
Not for her a "shall I or shan't I?" argument with a thumping head on the morning of the race.
She even cycled seven miles from Torrington to get to the start. And seven miles back again, presumably.
The event attracts a mix of serious athletes, average runners who treat the occasion as a training run and those trying to work off the alcohol.
Alan Heard, 59, has been a near ever-present since the race was first run in the early 1990s and has seen it from all sides.
He has been among the better runners and this year he was in the middle of the pack, but he has also turned up the worse for wear.
"I've been drunk from the night before, really ill," he said."But you just do it and see how you get on when you go round.
"Sometimes you see people hanging their head over the bridge at various points. You have got to the hardest part of the race by then and people are being sick, hanging over the side, then carrying on."
For the 2013 race, though, it was four cans only at home for Heard. Then he waited for the fireworks to finish before retiring.
"In years past I would start early and have 10 to 12 pints," he said.
At £2.50 to enter, the race offers a cheap hangover cure. "You usually feel a lot better from having done it," said Heard.
The man with the reputation is Stevie Sanders. Not for winning the race but for turning up looking like somebody in need of a different Bideford AAC – Bideford Alcoholics Anonymous Club.
Barrie White, the club president, said: "He more or less crawled over the line, then walked a distance away from the finish and brought his drink up. He'd had a good night."
As the runners congregated in the clubhouse waiting to be called to the start, there was no sign of Sanders.
"I'll tell you who'll have the biggest hangover – Stevie Sanders," said Heard.
But nothing stops him turning up and this year was no different, despite his claim to have had "a couple of crates" and a bedtime of 4am. Or at least he thought that was what his watch said.
Now here he was, only seven hours later, on the start line.
"I just woke up and that was it – straight out, straight down here," said Sanders.
It was as though his body had been programmed through many years of doing the event.
"I have been doing it ever since it started," he said. "Not every one – I have been abroad a few times – but if I am here I come down."
By comparison the footballers have it easy with more time to recover from any excesses.
Down the road, Bideford's team were not in action until 3pm.
Athletics was well ahead in kicking off the sporting new year.
Doug Jenkin, the race organiser, said: "We have our half marathon in March and New Year's Day is the beginning of the training regime to get fit for that.
"This is the kick-off race, the first run of the year towards that level of fitness."
So, even before lunch on the first day of the year, Gooding and Steve Gallienne had wins under their belt.
In the absence of any close opposition, Gallienne ran against the clock, recording 20mins 54secs.
"That's just over five- minute miling which, with the wind blowing, is flying," said Jenkin.
A time of 20-13 would have been neat for 2013 but the lack of somebody to extend Gallienne precluded a faster pace.
Only the day before he had been out for a ten-mile training run with club-mate Mark Jenkin but the latter called in to say he did not feel up to the race.
Hung over? Jenkin said not, he was just unwell, while Gallienne had another theory, with the South West Cross Country Championships scheduled for this weekend: "He's saving himself for Sunday isn't he?"
Gallienne, 23, had not been drinking the night before but at least stayed up to see in the new year despite having a race the next morning and a three-hour working shift starting at 7.15am.
"I'm a support worker at Broomhayes School and I was at work this morning," said Gallienne. "I was supposed to work from 7.15am until 3.15pm and I was going to do this race in my lunch break, but I have managed to get the rest of the day off."
Gallienne was followed across the line by Ian Gooding (21-28) and third-placed Andrew Ingle (21-38).
Sanders, somewhat miraculously in the circumstances, finished in the top half, taking 20th (29-22) in a field of 51, of which 42 were Bideford members. Heard was 31st (32-15).
Gooding placed 16th (28-23), with 15-year-old women's runner-up Zo Gardiner not far behind (29-11).
The team honours went to Andy Pearson, Alec McLaren, Amy Alford and Alex Talbot-Adams who had been thrown together by chance. Strange as it may seem, the teams are picked after the race.
Watching Doug Jenkin at his table in the clubhouse putting the teams together while the runners consumed their post-race refreshments was like seeing him invent a wacky Christmas board game.
The idea was to come up with ten closely-matched teams based on the results of the race.
You take the first ten runners to head each of the ten teams, then the next ten in reverse order, so eleventh place is in the same team as tenth and twentieth in the same team as first, with eight other sets of numbers in between.
Still with us? It is enough to make your head spin. Like running with a hangover.
Jenkin, though, like Sanders, took it in his stride. Even if it did take longer to produce the team result than run the race.