Stephen Day

“Is Dan Jones running?” asks one bloke. “Is he running with the rest of us?”

Well, he usually doesn’t…

I’m at the Dorne Cup. Not running, just listening to conversations around the course – especially by the famous stream crossings.

The women’s and M60s race is underway. Everyone is waiting for the runners to come back into view after disappearing behind the stopbank.

“How long will it take them to appear around the corner? Oh, here they are!”

Nicole Mitchell is running well in 3rd and collecting praise from a group clad in Scottish jackets. “Who’s that girl? She’s great!”

Paul Rodway is going strong and collecting similar praise. “Go Paul! He’s going well, Paul, eh?”

At 2km Suzannah Lynch has a small gap on Ruby Muir and another 10m back to Nicole. But instantly the gap widens and the race for 1st place is suddenly over. On the other side of the soccer field, the masses are still passing the 800m mark. 

It’s time to head over to the stream. 

A small crowd is there, making its early assessments about the quality of the afternoon’s entertainment.

“It’s quite shallow, mate.”

“She’s not too flash in the water.”

“This second crossing is a lot easier than the first one.”

Dan Hunt sees me. “Oh, are you taking notes?” and becomes a bit circumspect.

But he can’t help himself and continues. “This is good, man. It’s not simply negotiable. Where’s the line? There is no line.” I don’t know what this means but I write it down anyway.

Sharon Wray and Rowan Grieg are discussing angles and light as they set up their spots for the afternoon. 

Every time I stop to chat, the conversation turns to comparing injuries. It’s like that Monty Python sketch of the four Yorkshiremen: “You were lucky. We lived for three months in a paper bag in a septic tank…”

The first women come through the stream.

“If they’re undersized, just throw ’em back.” yells out a wag. 

A marshal notes runners are having some trouble following the orange flags in among the orange leaves and the low orange sun. 

“Left! Left!” she yells desperately, belatedly.

But Sharon’s focused on style, not direction. “Look at that! Perfect,” as a runner glides through the stream and up the far bank. 

“You can have a little rest in the water, Des, to cool off,” she says to a flustered looking Des Young.

A helpful spectator shouts out a warning. “Oh, don’t go there, that’s a rough patch… oh” But, sadly for the rest of us, it’s not the tumble we are all waiting for.

Rachael Cunningham comes into view.

“Go Rachael,” says Sharon. “No one’s done a face-plant yet.” Unfortunately for Sharon and the other photographers, Rachael maintains the perfect record. 

The fastest U20s catch up to the back of the 6km race, which started before them.

Bob Stephens notes, “These young, fit fellows only do 4km. Doesn’t seem fair.”

Ian Morton comes around for his turn in the stream, and sees the crowd. “Pack of bloody vultures!” he says.

Anne Hare is guiding Maria Williams. Talking the whole way. “Cross the footpath then it’s six paces to the water. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and a steep step into the water.”

Executed perfectly.

“Oh bugger,” says another runner as they turn the corner and see the stream. “Nah, you’ll love it,” says a hopeful Sharon.

“Get that camera out of my face,” says Fiona Macmaster. But she doesn’t fall over either. So the cameras aren’t interested in her anyway.

Alan Stevens strolls by. “Make sure you get Todd when he falls over this time,” he tells Sharon. Sharon doesn’t need reminding.

With the 6km race over, the stream is quiet. People drift back to the tents, waiting for the next race.

Older juniors warm up with detailed skipping drills. 

Masters runners warm up with gentle, chatting jogs.  

The real young juniors warm up by hanging from the football posts. I see a couple of girls warm up by tik-tok-twerking to their phones.

But all the different warm-ups synchronise into nervous strides five minutes before the race starts.

By the time the senior men are ready to race, my shadow is twice as tall as me and the sun is about to fall behind the hills.

“Senior men and masters men, make your way to the start line for the feature race of the day,” calls the announcer.

He obviously had not seen Susannah Lynch taking apart a quality women’s field. 

The race starter gives less-than-helpful instructions to any nervous first-timers among the senior men, M35s and M50s: “The course is the same as the year before and the year before that…” 

A cluster of kids with phone cameras have joined Sharon and Rowan for the final race, all hoping for that magic shot as someone falls over. 

“Head first” one of them yells at a runner, and gets a laugh. So he tries the same joke on half a dozen more runners.  Because a joke always improves in the retelling. 

“Go Daddy,” yells another kid. Can’t use that line twice though. 

We’re all looking expectantly at the far bank of the stream as runners’ spikes slowly dig it up and make it more slippery.

“Getting mucky,” exclaims one old guy, gleefully, hopefully.

A non-spectating member of the public crosses the little bridge as Willie Stevens powers past her in the stream below.  “Eeuw, that’s disgusting,” she says with a look of contempt.

By now there are eight kids from Trentham Harriers on the bridge.

“I don’t even care if I fall in,” one of them says.

“I do,” says Mum.

And then, cutely, they all start a game of Pooh Sticks.  I don’t think they even know that’s what it’s called. 

“There’s my stick!” one cries, happily.

“Should we see if a kid would go through the same as a stick?” asks another.

An older boy can’t understand why everyone is getting wet. “All they have to do is run and leap,” he says. Maybe in the Marvel Universe.

The kids’ patience is wearing thin. “Get us wet! Get us wet!, Get us wet!” the chant goes up. 

Kristian Day comes around for his second set of stream crossings, sees Ruby Muir. “This is what it’s all about, eh?” he says to her as he concedes two places to runners behind him.

The old guys start to calculate the teams trophy. But the maths eludes them.

Someone sees my notebook and thinks I’m doing the maths too. Another asks if I’m taking secret notes for relay selections.

“It’s a sad day in the history of the Dorne Cup,” says Sharon, as it becomes clear no one is going to take a tumble in the stream in front of her.

The crowd starts to drift off as the entertainment thins.

Sharon and Rowan commiserate together. They might be competing for the best photos but there is a camaraderie in their competition.

And then, the last runner of the day, Scottie Ryland comes around the corner, all smiles, and plunges into the water with aplomb. It’s not a tumble, but it gives Sharon her shot of the day. 

Patience rewarded.

Scott Ryland