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Ryston Runners play pivotal role in history of GEAR

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When runners first realised that the Grand East Anglian Run was the weekend after the London Marathon, most thought it would result in slow times for them if they had made a literally marathon effort the previous weekend.

But many have since found that a 10k run off the back of marathon training, whether for London or any other spring marathon, actually often results in a PB time.

Members of Ryston Runners AC, many of whom ran their own personally devised “Not GEAR” 10k courses on Sunday were no exception to this.

2019 Gear 10K (9794954)
2019 Gear 10K (9794954)

Before it was taken over by Run For All a few years ago, GEAR (originally “Great” until falling foul of trademark regulations) was very much a local event, and Ryston were very involved from the start.

The first incarnation of the event was a 10k starting and finishing in The Walks on a site well known by today’s park runners.

The borough council had just invested heavily in the development of the town centre and wanted to find a way of attracting visitors.

Originally, the first idea was for a marathon starting in Hunstanton and finishing in the Tuesday Market Place, but when that proved logistically impossible Ryston ex-chairman Ian Vaughan Arbuckle came on board and helped to organise the first 10K.

Under the subsequent direction of Harry Collins, and with the race centred on the Tuesday Market Place, it quickly became a high-profile event.

In due course, the mantle of race director was passed on to Roger Partridge, then sports development officer for the borough council.

He quickly enlisted help from the most prolific local club and one of its most experienced athletes.

Pete Duhig and Roger Partridge at the best event presentation (34423275)
Pete Duhig and Roger Partridge at the best event presentation (34423275)

Roger said: “I was always anxious about getting it right. I was much more at home doing the Inter Village Games because that was the type of event I understood.

“That’s why Pete (Duhig) was so important for me. I really don’t think I could have done it without him.

I needed his knowledge and experience and I think we made a great team. I will always appreciate his support.”

Of the club, Roger says, “Ryston’s role was vital and very welcome. They knew the sport and were well versed in organising and taking part in running events.

“We needed people who understood what was required.

“For them to form the start and finish team and help with all the set up of the weekend made sense and was a huge contribution to the success of the day.

“People never see what goes on behind the scenes but it was a long weekend with duties starting early on the Saturday and setting up the TMP and the start gantry/area.

“An early start was needed on Sunday too to put everything into place. From set up to clearing up afterwards Ryston members (led by Andy Smith and, later Jeremy Navrady) were vital in covering all those start and finish arrangements.

“And Ryston helped with the results coordination and many marshalling duties as well.”

From quite early on, Ryston adopted a policy of making the recommendation to club members that if they wanted to run in GEAR they should consider providing a family member or friends to help with marshalling duties or helping at drinks stations, which also guaranteed a good level of club support.

As well as providing the club with many category and team wins over the years, the event has also seen new runners being encouraged to consider joining the club.

A classic example is Adam Matthews, who, as a rookie teenager, won the junior category at the race without even realising it, but, with encouragement from club members, went on to join Ryston and become a valuable part of their senior road and, occasionally, track and field teams.

Roger also acknowledged the support of local organisations, from Ryston to the Ladybirds, the air cadets and the scouts, and other individual volunteers.

Giving roles to local bodies helped them to develop a sense of ownership of the event and GEAR became a truly community event.

Bespak was also a major player, sponsoring the event to a considerable degree, and backing the Corporate Challenge within the race, as well as the popular Mini GEAR.

Through Peter Duhig’s connections with the British Masters Athletics Federation, GEAR was chosen to be the venue for the National Masters 10k Championships in 2014, the event winning much praise from visiting competitors, leading to its selection as the Best 10k of the Year, to receive which accolade Roger and Pete travelled to the London Marathon exhibition for the award presentation.

Although no longer involved in the start and finish set ups or marshalling, Ryston members have been very much to the fore providing pace runners for the various time zones in the event, as well as producing many category and team winners, and supporting new runners in their first competitive event.

In the weeks leading up to the race the club has put on free “Get Into GEAR” training sessions, led by club coach Rebecca Tuff, and regularly attracting more than 150 runners, as well as being involved with the route recce runs on Sunday mornings leading up to race day.

Whether GEAR 2020 takes place in October or has to be cancelled and entries transferred to the 2021 event, one thing can be assured: that Ryston Runners AC will be visibly and successfully involved in this popular event.

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