A LIFE ON THE RUN AND THE FLAT EARTHERS!
The very early years of running for me are a bit hazy but I recall running the back streets of Anfield and Everton for a number years in splendid isolation. No-one really ran in the 70's unless you were a Harrier or of International standard. Or me...
It was a lone wolf sport and that suited me. Stanley Park was my personal friend as well as an elephant path to Goodison Park.
By 1994 I had been running the streets of Liverpool for about 15 years or so and had experienced the London and New York marathons as well as the Tour Of Tameside. I was hooked on this simple sport because it's simplicity and accessibility. I wasn't very good but the sport liked me.
I had tried football and wasn't very good at all. Team sports were not for me.
1994 was something of a landmark year although I didn't know it at the time because it came to define not only what I did with my time but what I was about. Running was what made me tick and having taken part in the returning Liverpool Half marathon (it hadn't existed for quite a few years) I instinctively offered to help.
The event was a huge success and for 10 years I committed my time, effort and energy on a purely voluntary basis. It was what we all did back then as we either had full time jobs or had retired. The organising committee was 100% voluntary. All of them. Including me.
Again, without realising it they were shaping what I was to take on full time in 2007.
Between 1994 and 2007 I continued to enjoy taking part in races all over the place as well as and help develop the Liverpool International Half Marathon as it was known back then.
I was serving my apprenticeship when in 2004 I received a phone call from the London Marathon Company.
It was Dave Bedford, the then Race Director of the London Marathon who asked if LMC could take over the Liverpool Half marathon as they were looking to develop a series of races across the country and though that Liverpool would be a good starting point.
Without hesitation the Organising Committee agreed. After all who better to help raise the profile of running in the city than the London Marathon Company.
So, I was to lead the team into a bright new future and position Liverpool as the centre of the running universe, outside London of course.
Only it didn't last. Two years later the London Marathon Company left because they couldn't cut it in Liverpool.
They stated a less than helpful attitude from the local authority as the reason for withdrawing...
In 2004 I had started the Liverpool Santa Dash which to this day remains the most popular BTR event. It was only supposed to last a few years, or so we thought. However, that particular event spawned 1,000s of copycat event across the country with most not even bothering to change the name. On reflection I should have patented the name!
In 2006 I was invited to bring back the old Tunnel 10K which was another event that had gone missing and as we had given the half marathon over to the London Marathon Company I thought I could put my event experience to good use. So I said yes.
During 2006 (and after I had agreed to bring back the Tunnel 10K) I was contacted by Dave Bedford who advised me that the London Marathon Company would not be delivering the Liverpool Half Marathon after two years and I could have the event back.
I had a decision to make.
So, in 2006 I had the Santa Dash, Tunnel 10K and a decision to make about the Liverpool Half Marathon. The choice was to give up my full time job and focus on events or just walk away from events altogether as I couldn't hold down a full time job and deliver events at the same time. You now know the outcome... It wasn't plain sailing in 2006 going in to 2007 as there was a job to do to evaluate the structure of the Liverpool Half Marathon in so far as what the London Marathon Company had put in place. They started and finished in Sefton Park but it was my view at the time that if we wanted an event that attracted people into the city then it needed to start and finish in the city centre. And so I set about reconstructing the event and turned it on it's head from what LMC had created. In addition to this I had less than six months to get everything place alongside a cost structure with a very low entry fee which I think at the time was £15. London could of course afford to subsidise the event I couldn't but committed to a very modest increase. As this was now a commercial entity I had to embrace commercial rules which were completely different from my volunteer apprenticeship. So... I used £30,000 of my own pension money to fund the event delivery plan in the early years to ensure the Liverpool Half Marathon in particular was saved from disappearing altogether. Around the same time (2006) I got to thinking that as part of the development plan the city should have a marathon as apart from London there were no really big city marathons.... and what better place to run a marathon than in Liverpool. The plan was starting to develop once the half marathon was in place. After all I had 13.1 miles at my disposal. All I had to do was find another 13.1 mile. How difficult could that be? Some years prior to this Liverpool City Council were making noises about how overworked they were and under resourced they were and due to restructuring did not want to carry on with the delivery of the old Corporate Cup event and the Women's 10K which had been a resounding success since the mid 80s. The Garston 10K was another LCC event that bit the bit the dust and was adopted by the volunteer team delivering the half marathon in the early 2000s. That's how L13/10k came about for those of you old enough to remember L130K events. It was the combined half marathon and 10K event. If we had not adopted the event it would have disappeared. Liverpool City Council had no interest in maintaining it so gave it over to me for safe keeping. Sadly, there was not enough interest in the revised Corporate Cup event (renamed the 5K Team Challenge) and the Women's 10K petered out to to changes in the running market. Women no longer wanted to run on their own. they wanted to just compete in open races. The Garston 10K which was adopted by the Liverpool Half Marathon was subsequently stripped away from the half marathon by the London Marathon Company was found anew home in October and was hosted in Sefton Park. It was time to review the portfolio as times where changing.
The business plan, such as it was, was a bit of a moving feast. Events were either developing - or not - and there was a marathon plan in the background. The marathon plan was submitted in 2007 and gained no traction whatsoever with Liverpool City Council who just refused to discuss and then when the Capital Of Culture surfaced then that was it. Radio silence. So despite drawing up a plan for a marathon and putting it in front of LCC they just refused to acknowledge it. They were too busy... and on reflection they had an ulterior motive. 2008 came and went, with no sporting events featuring at all in the entire Capital Of Culture year and I thought it was time to prompt the marathon idea once again. It was still a good idea and there was still a gap in the market. However, despite providing a more detailed marathon plan it was by and large ignored. I wasn't giving up though. This is my city and my chosen sport. I had a track record of delivering events in the city and LCC had clearly displayed a complete lack of interest in delivering running events in the city so why not? 2010 a development in the marathon project when after continued pressing for a response from LCC for an acknowledgement for what I wanted to bring to the city I was advised that another company had submitted a plan for a marathon and on that basis the concept had to be put out to tender. I told LCC where the 2nd plan had come from and despite a lack of response based on 'confidentiality' I was right. I knew who it was and I knew how the 2nd plan had come about. This would make a great conspiracy theory if only it wasn't true. Anyway, I was now required to bid for my own idea and at first I declined but was encouraged to ultimately pitch for my own idea. I did and was subsequently shortlisted. I pitched but was not selected. The marathon award went to a London based company by the name of Limelight. I have a document at my disposal which identifies the award criteria which makes for interesting reading. I must share it with you all one day. After much local uproar and subsequent contemplation about the outcome I was approached by LCC to see if I could help them out and deliver the marathon because Limelight were unable to deliver the marathon due to a date clash with an event they already had on the same day. The marathon door was open... In the meantime I was contacted by none other than Competitor Group who were interested in acquiring the Liverpool Half Marathon.
So this was an interesting turn of events.
Liverpool City Council asked me to help them out by delivering a marathon (albeit by default) and Competitor Group (Rock N Roll) wanted to buy the Liverpool Half Marathon.
I met with the CEO of Competitor and another notable Liverpool dignitary and we opened up discussion about the Liverpool Half Marathon. The discussion didn't really go anywhere as i wasn't happy about introducing a strong corporate profile to the city because the Liverpool Half Marathon had not been that kind of event.
This event was part of my being and I wasn't about to give it up easily despite the promise of untold wealth.
It wasn't about money. It never has been. It was all to do with the integrity of the event.
This part of the story seemed to come to an obvious end but looking back it was just the start of a battle for increased commercial profile in Liverpool and the Council was play it's part.
2011 came and with it the return of the Liverpool Marathon.
I used my knowledge and understanding of the marathon event to create what I felt was the best course for runners using the local geography at my disposal.
Anyone who took part in that first marathon will remember it fondly - with the first 12 on the Wirral Side of the River Mersey, two miles through the Birkenhead Tunnel and the final 12 miles on the Liverpool side - finishing in front of the city's mist iconic landmark and on a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The event was considered a resounding success and we went on to deliver the event again in 2012. Again with considerable success with tears being shed at the half way point exiting the Birkehead Tunnel. It was that good.
At the debrief all things were discussed and the parting shot from LCC representatives was to insist that the date of the 2013 event was not to be announced because the city was 'considering the future of the event'.
Suffice to sat that three months later I was given an imposition by LCC to finish the marathon outside Liverpool because apparently it caused too much disruption in the city.
And that ladies and gentlemen is how the Tour Of Merseyside came about along with the Wirral Half Marathon.
Having been denied the 3rd year of the marathon I created an endurance event and retained what we had in place on the Wirral side of the water.
Remember Competitor Group and their interest in the Liverpool Half Marathon which I turned down? Well they surfaced in 2014 to bring a marathon to the city - along with a half marathon the city didn't need.
The Rock N Roll Group were warmly embraced by LCC who contributed £50,000 to the event...
The marathon course... which used 26 miles of Liverpool roads compared to just 12 in the Run Liverpool marathon... well it was given to RNR by LCC. The plan bears an uncanny resemblance to something I created for my original presentation (and said not to use because it wasn't the best course) so draw your own conclusions...
The Tour Of Merseyside has grown in both profile and popularity since 2013 and has created a life of it's own to the point where we now have two additional 'Tours' in the city. I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery or it may just be opportunists jumping on the bandwagon of success.
I'm all for variety but the latest incarnations seem to be just mimicking what has proven successful.
I would have thought something different would have been a better option?
In recent years I have had several approaches from corporate entities enquiring about the Liverpool Half Marathon and potential acquisition and I have refused all approaches.
I would like to stress that going back to 1994 when I first got involved with the Liverpool Half Marathon I have never sought commercial gain from these events. I'm just happy that I have been able to encourage people to get out and run and achieve something that they may have never thought possible.
Money doesn't come into it.
It never has and it never will.
Which brings me to the Flat Earth Running Club... over this review of how and why I got involved in running I have tried to be as honest as possible with all the facts I have at my disposal as what has happened over the years - which is now more than 25 - and yet since the introduction of Social Media there seems to be a nucleus of people who have a different take on why I deliver events.
They exist mainly on Social Media and voice their hostile views based on... well not much fact really. More a view on what they think I am about or how much I earn or how I should run my business.
They don't take part in BTR events because they have convinced themselves I am con or rip off merchant.
They don't like that I won't run the business in a particular way that suits them and one even referred to my wife recently as 'scum'.
It really does beggar belief that these people consider themselves so important that they can be so offensive without really understanding what motivates me to do what I do.
Facts or the truth don't come into it because they have made their minds up about me on a personal level - and isn't that what the Flat Earth Society (or Running Club in this instance) is about?
Some will believe whatever they want to believe regardless.
And yet these same people feed from the teat of success and with no shame whatsoever walk among runners at BTR events to promote themselves. Double standards, hypocrisy or just opportunism...
In the main the running community is a great diverse group of like minded people but since the late 70s and early 80s the running landscape has changed beyond recognition.
It's a lifestyle choice now and events are there for people to enjoy and take part in - and for my part I would like to think I have made a significant contribution to running on Merseyside. I have no doubt about that.
The worrying thing for me is that a growing number of people focus on finding fault and are ultimately joining the Flat Earth Running Club!
The portfolio that BTR now delivers has been created to provide the best possible range of events to encourage participation and development from the Santa Dash to the Tour Of Merseyside.
Along the way we have a great mix of 10K, 10 Mile and Half marathon events supplemented by charity based initiatives including the 96/5K - an event I was invited to stage by members of the Hillsborough Family Support Group in order to create a lasting legacy for the 96 Liverpool fans who lost their lives in 1989.
I look upon that as an honour and NOT a commercial opportunity.
Anyone who thinks differently should be ashamed of themselves.
We have two new events planned for later this year which will help raise the profile of local charities in Wirral and support the efforts of the BTR Road Runners and people looking to get involved in running.
This isn't about money.
This is about providing a platform for runners and at the same time help local / small charities.
Flat Earth Running Club members please understand this...
We will also be helping Everton The Community deliver a new and all inclusive run, jog or walk event to support the building of a £1,000,000 Mental Health Unit on the Spellow Lane site in Everton.
A very worthy cause and if we can help in some way to getting this facility built then it's very much a job worth doing.
The If You Know Your History 5K will be a busman's holiday in more ways then one for me as many of you who know me know that Everton FC has been a big part of my life - and to that I really look forward to making the event a huge success.
If you have stuck with me so far and have managed to read my personal steam of consciousness then thank you very much indeed. I hope that it has given you some understanding as to what motivates me to get up in the morning.
We are a small business of just three employees and one part timer.
We do a fantastic job on behalf of many 1000's of runners and will continue to do so for many years to come.
If you have read this far and still believe that I am a rip off merchant, am still disreputable or indeed that my wife still retains her mantle of 'scum' then we know what running club you belong to.
Thank you for reading this.