by Annie Auldrope
Firstly I’d like to apologise for the topic of this post. Pinnacle Club blogs usually report back on the wide and wonderful range of activities and exploits of our members but they are generally tied together by a theme of mountains or rocky wilderness. This blog contains none of these themes but does involve carrying a large sack so I’m including it anyway.
I think I can state with much surety that no one has ever looked at me and thought “There goes a world class athlete” but that doesn’t mean that I’ve never dreamt of standing on the winners podium and holding a glittering prize aloft while the crowd applauds. If only I could find a discipline that I could excel in…
One day I came across an article about the World Coal Carrying Championships and remembered the local news reports that appeared every year throughout my childhood. Now no one can deny that I look like I can hoike a sack of coal, I have the athletic, erm, ballast required for lifting heavy weights, a bit like a pit pony but with less ankle hair.
For those of you who have never heard of the World Coal Carrying Championship (shame on you) they take place every Easter Monday in Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire and competitors have to carry a sack of coal (Women 20kg, men 50kg) along a course measuring 1108.25 yards (0.6mile) as fast as possible. When I say fast I mean FAST, the current women’s record is 4 minutes and 39 seconds while the men’s record is 4 minutes and 6 seconds, that’s just over 4 minutes with 8 stone on your back.
With my entry form sent off, my thoughts turned to training. I can run but not very fast and, like most people, I don’t normally run with 20 kilos of coal on my shoulders. I ramped up the speed on the treadmill at the gym and concentrated on weights for my legs but struggled to find a way of replicating the weight while running. My gym has a variety of weights but short of running with dumbbells in each hand I wasn’t sure how this was of any help. A solution came unexpectedly at the local Co-op where I saw a 20kg sack of coal in those bins they have at the front of all garages that stock over priced logs in winter. The fact that I struggled to get the sack over to my car and into the boot made me nervous to say the least.
The first sack carrying training run required some problem solving mainly around how I was going to get the sack onto my shoulders but a careful crouch and lift in front of a garden wall and there I was with a sack of coal around my ears. A wobbly walk followed then some tentative trotting around a route I had worked out as being just under a mile. It took me 15 minutes and my legs felt like jelly for an hour afterwards
Fast forward to race day and I had a many (well, four) training runs under my belt as I stood at registration waiting to pick up my competitors t-shirt. Previous years races had been sponsored by a local brewery, very apt for a race that starts and ends at a pub. This year, the event was sponsored by the local undertakers and I optimistically tried not to link my entry to this change of tone and direction as I pulled on my official race t-shirt emblazoned with the funeral directors name. We gathered at the start line and the coil* lorry pulled across the road so we could collect our sacks. There was a press van (the local scaffolders flat bed truck) containing some newspaper reporters, a German TV crew and some bewildered looking reporters from a Mexican TV channel who were doing a story about the Olympics. A man shouted “one, two, three GO!” and off we went up the road toward the village centre where the crowds awaited us. (* local dialect for coal).
The pack of runners quickly separated, 0.6 of a mile doesn’t give much time for tactics and pacing, you just run as fast as you can while still being able to breathe. The first half was fine and I even over took a couple of people who had already hit a wall. I slowed to a walk for a minute to gather my breath before I turned the bend that lead to a steep hill and the awaiting crowd. I wanted to make sure I didn’t run out of steam so I didn’t have to cope with the shame of not running over the finishing line in front of the crowd. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t breathing really hard by the time I dropped my sack across the finish line though. Then a woman stuck a sticker on me saying “11th” and a seven foot furry ram wearing a rugby kit handed me a bottle of water. I’m almost 100% positive this last bit is true by the way.
So I didn’t win this year but I’ll be back next year with more training and my eye on the cash prize, a podium and the mention in the Guinness book of records. And until then, I still have the title of 11th best female coal carrying champion in the WORLD.