Neil Featherby: Light at the end of the tunnel for runners

Action from the main 800m race of the Joe Skipper Track Challenge. Picture: Baz Hipwell

Runners will be hoping to take to the track at the end of April for the SMile Challenge. Picture: Baz Hipwell - Credit: Archant

At long last, it really does seem like there is now some light shining down what has been a very long tunnel.

Having seen England Athletics post with regards to The Return of Athletics and Running following the UK Government’s roadmap, they have now plotted out four gradual steps from March 8 to late June (no earlier than June 21), which will hopefully see competition back to where it was prior to all the constraints which came into place nearly a year ago.

It really will be so good to see live competition again which also enables runners of all abilities to be part of.

I had a chat with Clive Poyner (Athletics Norfolk chair), early yesterday, which he told me that he is hoping we can pick things up again in late April .

This will include the SMile Challenge series which took place through the autumn virtually.

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For those who missed it or have indeed forgotten about it, it was a series of one-mile challenges open to all with the top 24 men and top 24 women going through to a series of quarter and semi final races culminating in a grand final at the Sportspark in Norwich. Unfortunately, it never got beyond the virtual stage what with further lockdowns and restrictions.

There are some amazing prizes on offer thanks to the superb sponsorship of CoolCampers based in Norwich, and On Running. There will also be the added bonus and further excitement via a Devil takes the Hindmost elimination competition with two runners dropping out after the second lap followed by two more after the third lap, built into the semis and final.  

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To add even more spice to the tournament, the final will also see the men and women racing it out together with the ladies also being given a 30-second head start. Incidentally, it will be two men and two women who are eliminated during the final.

There will still be guidelines to follow but Clive hopes that the series can start up again in April.

“A lot will depend upon the Sportspark of course, but hopefully by the last Friday in April, we will be able to get some events underway again which will also include the quarter finals of the Sportlink/Athletics Norfolk SMile Challenge which will be a great way to get things moving again,” he said.

All being well, the semi finals and final will then take place during the following fortnight which will also include some other events and wildcard entries from the virtual mile series.

Going back to my column of last week I suggested that footwear and other run wear could possibly see competitive athletics and running at the highest level going the way of F1 racing where equipment, particularly carbon plated shoes, could have a say in the end results of major races.

I had a good look back through my library of old magazines and I have to say that the 1980s showed even more dramatic increases when it came to run footwear products and fast moving technological advancements.

I posted some of the adverts from that era on to my Facebook, which got a good response from other runners like myself who have lots of happy memories from that decade. 

What did very much amaze me though was how so many brands back then are no longer part of the running shoe revolution despite having produced good quality products with statements such as “why wait for tomorrow when you can have these today” and “the future is already here”.

I for one loved looking back through it all and am now in the process of looking even further back. 

Apologies to any Facebook friends who might be thinking – oh no, here we go again!

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