Thursday, 10 July 2014

Spirit of Running Man

James 'Running Man' Gilson
Posters by Owens Weddings as
 part of their contribution
Hello Bloggers.

There are few people that inspire us as we trundle through life. Some actors and politicians (occasionally), soldiers, police officers, teachers, our friends and our family.  And occasionally, as in my case, a total stranger.  A stranger that I have never met.  He has never been on the telly, he has never been in any of the national newspapers, well none that I used to read! I didn't even know his name.  And little did I know that, after first seeing him in the 80's,  he would  inspire me to keep on with my own running,

But for years (at least 30 in my case) I saw this man going about his daily run, using the same route, wearing exactly the same thing, year after year after year, day in day out.  Well, "What is so inspirational in that?" would be the question you'd be asking me.  Well this guy, this ordinary guy, who to me has always looked 'old' even way back in the eighties!, this guy ran every day, a 10k distance, wearing only a pair of shorts, sunglasses and running shoes! And I mean every day! Occasionally if it was particularly cold he would adorn a vest if the snow was coming down particularly hard! In the last couple of years he had cut his daily route down to 5k.

The first time I spotted him running half naked in the middle of winter, with his greying ponytail behind him flying in the chilly wind, I thought I must be imagining it!  But there he was.  Year after year I used to see him, and with each passing year my smile seemed to be a little broader, a little wider.  It was as if he bought just a tiny little bit of un-normality into life.  A little bit of humour, a sense of  'wowness',  After a while I started to look out for him.  

Over the years my smile grew to admiration.  Twenty five  years down the line I thought to myself, "Yeah, good for you, Running Man, keep on running"  Seeing him also helped me with my running.  On the days that I struggled with my running thoughts of 'Running Man' helped me to keep going, "If he can do it in the winter, a bit of rain is not going to hurt you" I told myself. I am sure others used to think like that as well.There was a time after that I didn't see him as much. I used to try and run on his route in hope of 'bumping into him, and having a quick chat on route. But that never happened.  You then start to think the worse.  But then last year someone had posted a photo of Running Man of facebook, saying "Guess who I saw?"  Do you know what, I felt as happy as she did!  "This guy deserves a facebook page" I had thought to myself, and on a whim I created the 'Fans Of The Running Man" facebook page! And in my naivety I thought that I would probably be the only one that was impressed that he was still going, apart from the young lady that posted the picture in the first place!

3,000 likes in about 2 weeks I realised that I wasn't the only one. It was then I decided I had better contact Mr. James Gilson, to ask for permission to continue with the page (although I was a little late in asking).  Thankfully he was quite happy with the page,  and he even thought it was a bit of fun, even with people stopping him to take photos of him!  He was bemused by it all but would always give a wave or a smile to those that tooted him from their cars when they saw him running on the street.
James happily posing for
a passing 'fan'

With the Facebook page republished it soon crept up to  5,000 likes, and my running club, Pettswood Runners, even asked him to be the official starter of our own 10k, which I am glad to say he agreed to. That was the first time I had actually met this, now, famous guy!  For the next 4 months after that he was continually spotted running his 5k route, he was continually photographed by his 'fans' and he was tooted by all who saw and admired him.  We had become 'Fans of the Running Man'. It was nice knowing that I wasn't the only one that thought this guy was an inspiration!

James at the Pettswood 10k
It was a very wet day!

The last time any of the FOTRM saw 'Our Running Man was in January of this year.  No one even wanted to ask about him, 'just in case'  But then I had heard the sad news that James had died. At the end of March we had lost Our Running Man.  During the times when James was still here, the fans wanted to run 'his route' as a fun charity run with him, but now that wasn't going to happen.

What happened instead was a memorial run. 'The Spirit Of Running Man!'  And I was the one going to 'organise' it.  I had never organised anything like this before.  I could just about organise a sausage on a plate!  But I felt a memorial run in his memory would be only right.  

So now the organising began.

Spirit Of Running Man Tribute Run

How do you go about organising a run? The idea had been suggested, I had said it was a great idea! And now what?

There was I, with over 5,000 fans,  over 200 hundred of them wanting to take part in a run  in James Gilson's memory.  It was just as well I had connections in the right places,  Pettswood Runners!  Our coach at PWR is Richard, and he is on the committee of our 10k race.  He knows all about how to organise a race.  So after the decision was made to go ahead with it, Richard went off and started getting a brilliant team together, the marshals and registration team, and had made enquiries about medals for all who will take part, while I set about seeing exactly who would come and do this run, as well as get some of the local businesses on board to help make it a fantastic tribute run to our local, iconic, Running Man.

Orla, (second on right) with her fab registration team!

I wanted to make it a morning where the whole family can take part, so I didn't want it to be just a run.  James bought about many smiles, not just to runners, but to people pushing buggies, dog walkers, business folk, people in their cars, in fact the whole community, so it would only be fitting to be able to include everyone possible.  I 'billed' it as a tribute run/walk, The Spirit of Running Man.  And we were going to keep as much as we could to his two routes, his 10k and his 5k,  and as safely as we can make it.
The medals

We also had to decide how much the runners pay for registering, because not only were we going to run his route in his memory, we were also going to raise money for two charities.  One was St. John Ambulance and the other was Cancer Research UK, as both these charities had  significance to the Gilson family.  James had ran 6 marathons and he used to raise money for St. John Ambulance but it was cancer that eventually took James and his family wanted to raise money for the CRUK.  All who wanted to run also wanted to be able to donate to his favourite charity.

Our fantastic St. Johns Ambulance!

With Richard wearing his 'Course Directors' hat, we walked, for the first time ever, the Spirit of Running Man route.  With Richards' keen eyes, and my idea of  'touching' on James's two routes, we planned the way around.  The high street, where so many people had seen him and photographed him,  down Southborough Lane heading towards the A21, where in the winter time James carved out lonesome running figure passing the leafless trees and bushes.

But kept the route just shy of the A21, as it's quite a busy road. We want to keep safety foremost  for all the children that would be taking part. We cut down a path that bought us by two schools and came out by the local park, and then we can bring the runners and walkers through the local housing estate  and back to the high street, so in effect cutting the 10k route in half.  The  finish will be at the Royal British Legion and they can collect a medal, just a small memento of the occasion.

Walkers and Buggies

With just a few words on the FaceBook page, "So, who would like to do a tribute run then, just add a 'yes' comment here" was it all took, 250 replys later and we had our run entrants, and even some of those said they would be bringing friends and family too!  I was beginning to think I had committed to something that was way to big for me to handle, but with Richard as my perfect planning partner I felt assured that it will be a success.

The next thing for me to do is to find some great prizes as spot prizes for the entrants.  It always makes for a good event if you come away feeling brilliant, with a little memento and a prize!  I thought I would just start right at the spot that I had the thought in my head.  I was in the local Supermarket, Morrisons, and I just decided to ask a member of staff who I would need to talk to about getting something for a spot prize for the entrants.  It was that simple!  She put me through to the person in charge of charity donations and voila, I came back that afternoon to collect two bottles of wine! 

"That was easy" I thought to myself.  After that popping into the other businesses became easier to do. But the thing that made it so much easier is that all the businesses knew Running Man, they all missed him and they all was willingly giving of their products and services.  I wanted to show the FOTRM exactly what sort of community we were living in, and I put up pictures of everything that I got from our business folk!  

James was still inspiring people, but now he was inspiring a caring and giving side of a community that was missing their iconic 'celebrity'.  People who used to live in the area and had moved out to start their own businesses found a way that they can say 'Thanks James Gilson for bringing about years of smiles' as they gave their services and products as prizes.  It truly was a joy to watch the whole thing unfold, and become a community event!

The Royal British Legion  came up Trumps!  They had offered their carpark for us to all meet up in, and to have the finish line, not only that, but they were going to open up the bar for tea and coffee (and beer when it became a decent time!) for all that came along to watch, enter and wait!  Plus they even got out the outdoor grill and tempted everyone with bacon rolls and tea and coffee at a brilliant price!  Who can resist the smell of bacon.

John Caitling, Chairman of the
Pettswood Royal British Legion

The One Inn the Wood, a new micro pub also played a great part in the community spirit, by 'fining' customers who got out their mobiles in the pub!  And I do believe a few cussing words were dealt with a shake of the tin as well! That soon filled up with coins! 

Fired Up Pottery Painting Studio gave a fantastic donation to the run,  Sarah Buck, owner of the business, painted a plate of the Running Man. I wanted to add to the whole fun and spirit of the event and I auctioned it off to the highest bidder exclusive to Fans of The Running Man only!  The plate in the end went to Claire Gilson.  A most fitting place for the plate to go to, James's daughter!  Yes, James' daughters, all three of them was going to be there as well.  Caroline, Claire and her husband and children and Frances were going to be there and were going to take part.  They were also going to say a few words and give the 'Ready steady go'

Painted by Sarah Buck
Fired Up Painting and Pottery Studio

There was no need to worry that the family wouldn't be heard as one of the many fans from FOTRM had given freely of his services, his Personal Address system.  Keith Young made sure that the family could be at the start of the race, not only that but he and his son Harry kept the crowds entertained back the Legion with some  favourite tunes of James, and he also counted  the runners as they came back!  

I was feeling most proud of our local community and all that they had done to make it a well worth Tribute Run to an inspirational local character, James 'Running Man' Gilson.  The whole thing came together so well. We had so many prizes coming in the only thing that could be done was to raffle some of the off.

We had over 50 donations, the prizes ranged from vouchers from the local food restaurants, hairdressers and barbers, the local bike shop came up trumps with an electric pump. And even Evans Flooring gave us something thing. We had flowers from the 3 shops we have in Pettswood and also another beautiful bouquet from one of the FOTRM who didn't have a business in the High Street, but like all the fans, she had grown up seeing him and wanted to give.

Other people who had moved from the area and had business started to contact me with gifts and prizes to be added to the ever growing list.  So you can see why I put the word 'organising' in inverted commas.  It was the fan page that had actually organised everything, I was the go to person.  What a fantastic feeling it is being part of a community that recognises something extraordinary in just one person, and want to show it! Computer techs and photographers, reflexolists and candle makers! Bed Post and Personal trainers, Pubs, bakerys, gift shops and drycleaners, even a solicitor gave a hour free as a raffle.  And if someon couldn't give something from their business then they improvised, they gave gifts sets of Pimms and a £50.00 gift voucher!

From the very beginning of the day till when the last of the entrants and their families left the R.B.L. I was busy, making sure everything was going ok.  Richard had taken the marshals to their posts, and the marshals that hadn't managed to get to the walk throughs the weekend before, were quickly told what to do and where to be.

Registration for the entrants was from 9 o'clock till about 9:30 then once that was all done we all walked through the high street where all those fantastic businesses are, some of who were opened on a Sunday, and can see just how many people were taking part!  It felt like a celebration, it wasn't a sad occasion, the sad occasion was when Our Running made his last journey through the high street back in April.  The fans came and paid their respects to him then, to see his last journey through Pettswood high street.

But this day, this day was different. We were here to remember a man who bought about many smiles to many people, for many years.  People chatted and laughed and I am sure spoke to each other about when they first saw the Running Man.  There were people with their shirts off, there were mums and dads with their children.  The dog walkers were there with the pets. There were even granparents that had come along.  This really is an event for all!

Keith Young had gone 'mobile' with his public address system and Richard could give out saftey instructions to everyone.  He then handed me the mic.  I hadn't written anything down to say, I hadn't really though what I was going to say.  The even wasn't about me.  But it was good to 'show' everyone who it was behind the FaceBook page, I think someone though it was a chap! But it was good also to introduce the Gilson sisters, now they had things to say.

They said that their dad would have been totally overwhelmed by all that is happening here, but mainly they wanted to say thank you, thank you to all that was here today to remember their dad and to raise money for CRUK and St. Johns Ambulance.  Then they gave the 1,2,3 go! and the throng of people started up Southbough high street.

After they all went I walked back to the RBL to check on things there.  I wanted to see how the raffle tickets were going.  They girls had been extremely busy!  In fact they had sold so many I had to change boxes to put all the tickets in.  What I had negleted to tell them though, is that all the tickets were to be put in the box separately!  But as the girls and guys had been writing their names on just the first ticket and then just putting a line through the rest of them to say they belong to said name, they had to quick write all the names on all the tickets!

These are things I didn't think about, and I was busy helping with them when I heard Keith saying that the first of the runners were coming in!  It was manic after that!  I tried to get as many tickets ready for the box as I could, all the registration team were now on the 'ticket team!'  What would I have done without them!  I had to leave them  with the tickets though and go down to the finishing line to see them coming in.  It was while I was down there that I realised I had left the fantastic finishers medal up stairs.  This was one of the many prizes from the fantastic folk we have here and I had to go and get it.

But just those few mishaps and errors, yet no-body complained.  In fact everyone though it was a well organised event.  Considering we had everything sorted within a couple of months then really, I was a brilliantly organised event!  But still, after everyone had gone, I had sat with my sister and her boyfriend and my friend and just burst out cyring!  It was an emotional day!  One that I truly loved being part of, and I will feel honoured to be the 'Go to person' again next year!

Mike took some great footage of the event, and it can be found here. I think he managed to capture the atmosphere of the day!  There are many more photos that can be seen on the running man page which you can see by clicking here

Here are just a few more pictures of the event, more can be seen on the FaceBook page Fans of The Running Man,

It's all all to the pumps, ok, just blow up the ballons!

The queue starts!

This way please!

One of the two charities we were raising funds for!

The Gilson Family

Our canine friends.

The first back! In true Running Man style!

The prizes!

Everyone got a medal!

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