Run Anglia: Polley’s at the wheel...but not for much long as CoNAC man talks retirement
PUBLISHED: 13:00 29 March 2019 | UPDATED: 20:53 30 March 2019
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Run Anglia editor Mark Armstrong talks to Richard Polley as he pulls away from the Norfolk running scene and gets ready to start a new life in France
When there’s a will there’s a way.
There is when Richard Polley gets involved, anyway.
That’s just how it has been for Norfolk running for more than 25 years.
The City of Norwich Half Marathon, the Trowse 10K, Lord Mayor’s 5K, Run Norwich, Norwich parkrun, the Sportlink Grand Prix series, the Athletics Norfolk Running Committee, and of course establishing the City of Norwich Athletic Club – all have had Richard’s guiding hand somewhere along the way.
But he is in the process of slowly relinquishing his various roles across the county to emigrate to France next year with his wife, Sarah.
He will be missed – speak to anyone about running a club or setting up a race and it’s the administrative side that makes or breaks them.
That’s where Richard comes in – he’s a doer, and ascribes to the theory that a good idea only becomes such when it’s carried out properly.
At 61, Richard feels ready to take his hand off the running tiller. He insists it won’t be the case but you really wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he has set up a parkrun wherever he puts down roots in France next year… we’ll see.
“I took early retirement from the civil service three years ago and I’ve never been busier,” he joked. “And now I’m in the middle of the best part of two years extracting myself from the various things I’ve got involved with before we move away.
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“It needs something drastic like this (to move away). It’s a fresh start for Sarah and me.
“Part of moving away is moving away somewhere to start again where the sun shines.
“I’ve promised myself I won’t be setting up a parkrun wherever I go. I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities out there but I want to make sure that I sit on my hands!”
Lawrence Wade is filling Richard’s shoes as Road Running coordinator at City of Norwich AC (CoNAC), and as such road running at the club is in very safe hands.
But the region will miss Richard’s drive to see a project through, just as he did when helping to get Duke Street Road Runners and Norfolk Olympiads to merge in 1996 to form CoNAC.
He’s helped establish the club as the destination for elite runners in our area but it perhaps flies under the radar what an excellent runner he used to be himself.
“I ran okay,” he says modestly. “32 minutes for 10K, 55 minutes for 10 miles, 1-13 for the half marathon, 1-58 for 20 miles, 2-44 for marathon.
“I was a decent club runner in those days and I must admit that I often look round now and think ‘I could have won that race’.
“Often I was only in the top 10 or top 20 in those days. The standards were higher but there were much fewer races.”
Whilst the running boom has been good for the nation’s health some argue that the competitive side of the sport has suffered.
The average times of runners from 30 years ago are quicker than the current fields you see.
However, Richard has been at the forefront of CoNAC’s drive in recent years to ensure there are opportunities for runners to thrive outside the county whilst other clubs concentrate on local races.
“I come from a competitive background rather than a participation background,” he said. “James Senior (coach) has now got a really good training group together and most of the races round here up to 10K have got CoNAC people out at the front.
“It’s a fact that most of the best runners tend to come through the ranks at CoNAC or tend to gravitate towards us.
“It’s about coaching, opportunities and ambition. If you look at other clubs around here who say they are doing a good job, and in their own minds they are doing a good job, but are they competing in the big events, taking teams to the national events? Setting themselves against the best clubs in the country?”
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It wouldn’t be fair to label Richard a running elitist though, given his work in setting up Norwich parkrun at Eaton Park.
He argues there is room for every runner’s goals as long as both camps show each other respect.
“That’s one of the best things about running – I could never step on the same pitch as Eric Cantona but I can step on the same road as Paula Radcliffe,” added Polley, a big Manchester United supporter.
“I like to see people competing. The mass participation element is great – often people think that competing is wrong and that you should just be taking part, rather than doing the best you can.
“I don’t particularly subscribe to that – I think that there’s room for both.
“That’s what I like to see at parkrun – the people at the front having a good go and the people at the back doing what they want to do.
“I think having those two things happening at the same time can only be a good thing and that they should co-exist.
“I think that’s what sets some clubs apart – at CoNAC we’ve got 850 members and we cater for everybody. Despite what some people might want to tell you we’ve got people at CoNAC running 30 minutes for 5k as well as those who aim to complete the same distance in under half that time.”
There is excitement around the next crop of athletes coming through at CoNAC. The likes of Logan Smith and Ben Spratling in particular are complimenting the more established names of Iona Lake, Dani Nimmock and Ash Harrell.
“We’ve had some pretty good runners in the past but it seems we have been able to gather together now some kids that are prepared to put the hard work in.
“They need us to be able to provide the opportunities which challenge them – they can turn up to most of the events around here and fill most of the top 10.
“With the success and focus that James is providing with lots of steerage from Tim and Pauline Ash.
“I think we are stronger than we have been for several years and success breeds success.”
I was part of the group that set up Norwich parkrun in 2010 and I’ve got to admit I didn’t think it would ever catch on.
When I learned that it was down to getting people to volunteer every Saturday I just thought ‘this won’t catch on’.
But we started looking for sites and there were two options - one was Earlham Park and the other was Eaton Park.
We opted for Eaton because we were able to get a permanent route on tarmac all the way round. The majority of Earlham would have been on grass and if you’ve got a grass track then you’ve got to mark it out each week and people get muddy.
The other factor was the availability of parking. Eaton has two reasonably sized car parks while Earlham Park didn’t have much parking at all.
We had 117 on our first ever event and it has grown and grown – we regularly get in excess of 500 people there each Saturday.
I also think it’s really helped people to move on from parkrun to proper running and athletic clubs. Our friends at Norwich Road Runners are the biggest success story there – they have probably trebled their numbers in the last four or five years.
It was an idea from Visit Norfolk as they wanted our view on whether a mass event in the city centre would be a good idea.
I wasn’t sure it could work because from my experience with the City of Norwich Half Marathon I knew it really needed all the minds working in the same direction of all the big movers and shakers in the city centre.
It became clear what a big boost for the economy the race could have. We started off in 2015 with myself as the start/finish director, Granville Courtnell as the event director and Adey Ewing as the course director.
We worked with others to get it going and then the Community Sports Foundation jumped in big time and provided lots of help and support to ensure its success.
They have now got full time staff working on it with Granville, Adey and myself retained for consultancy and it has really kicked on.
Run Norwich future…
It has increased its limit to 7,500 this year and I think that is probably the limit the course can take.
One of the ideas of Run Norwich was for it to pick up all the local landmarks, which is a good idea but one of the nips in the course is around the back of the cathedral.
We have introduced wave starts and that has worked well but it is getting close to its max now because Norwich wasn’t built to host road races.
It’s all quaint and lovely but there is another side to that.
I doubt it could get bigger – it would then probably need to go around the inner ring road – part of its charm is its charm so to lose that would be a shame.
Lord Mayor’s 5K formation…
Norfolk sent a team of 10K runners to a town called Verden in Germany in 1994 and it was a town centre 10K. It was five laps on a Sunday morning and we were up against a local army team.
The whole place got shut down – it was absolutely brilliant – running through the city streets, cheering, clapping and we wanted to do it in Norwich.
We had two or three years of banging on the door at City Hall and in 1996 they allowed us to do it as a trial but we couldn’t be a mass participation event, it had to be done and dusted in 20 minutes.
That’s where the time limit comes in – I think 55 took part in the first year but over the years it has grown and grown.
I’d have to say it’s probably the best idea we’ve had and it’s what I look back on that gives me the most pleasure.
It’s now got national prestige – people come a long way to compete.
Sportlink Grand Prix Series place allocation…
What we were finding is that with this big surge with the number of unattached runners entering races it was becoming a lottery for affiliated ckub members to get into these races.
The idea is to give club runners a window to get their places before the unaffiliated.
I suggested a two-week window for affiliated members to get their places and it’s something that all clubs are considering but they don’t have to do it if they don’t want to.
After all it’s the clubs that put these races on – there are plenty of commercial organisations that have come along and created a race on the back of the running boom. They will disappear as soon as there is not a buck to be made out of it.
It’s the clubs that put on the races and provide the backbone and structure of the annual calendar.
Last year the Holt 10K sold out in a couple of days. If your PC went wrong or you couldn’t be on a keyboard at the right time then you could miss out.
That’s not right in my opinion so this window just gives club runners a chance to get their places.
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