Birmingham Post journalist Paul Bradley has a new deadline – when he face a Chariots of Fire-style dash at Lichfield Cathedral. It won’t be easy...
It’s the race few will ever get the chance to run. Only 22 men have ever completed it – only one woman has attempted to.
But at 11.59am on Saturday. July 17, ten competitors will once more line up on the steps of Lichfield Cathedral to race around the Ladies of the Vale (the name given to the three spires) in the time it takes the bells to chime midday.
And this year, I will be one of them.
Coe and Cram would be proud. Chariots of Fire characters Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell would surely approve.
“There’s a lot of pushing and shoving at the start to get the tightest line so you’ll have to have your wits about you” warned 37-year-old Tipton Harriers and former England middle distance runner Phil Clamp.
“But it really is a spectacular event to take part in. Hundreds of people line the streets of Cathedral Close and there’s a huge buzz.
“You’ll love it but to be honest it will be a massive task for you to even get close to beat the chimes.
“This will be the fourth time I’ve done it but I haven’t gone round in under the 58 second marker since my debut eight years ago.”
This year’s Salts Techstep Cathedral Dash is set to be even more exciting with last year’s winner and Great Britain 800m international Jimmy Watkins going up against last year’s runner-up Harry Jones and 2008 winner, local boy, James Trollop of Birchfield Harriers.
Event organiser, Kevin Wilson, of KP Events, said: “There is no other race in the world quite like the Cathedral Dash and I think this is what captures people’s imagination.
“Of course, when we dreamt it up 13 years ago it was loosely based on the Chariots of Fire film where Abrahams and Liddell raced around the Trinity College quadrangle at Cambridge University.
“We introduce all the competitors to the huge crowds and then as the clock ticks nearer to midday there is absolute silence as everyone waits for the first chime.
“It’s simply fantastic and the atmosphere is electric.”
The race’s popularity grew so much so that Npower joined forces with KP Events and sponsored it for four years, and Kevin rolled it out in York, Durham and Lincoln.
But none of the other cities could quite match up to the Lichfield format, according to Kevin.
“Don’t get me wrong, it was magnificent to have Npower on board and we were really happy to take the format around the country.
“But the other cities didn’t have the same iconic route as Lichfield.
“At York the competitors ran at a nearby park, in Durham they did a lap of the Palace Green and in Lincoln they ran along a road.”
In 1988, middle-distance running greats Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram raced the Great Court Run at Cambridge University with Coe winning the 341 metre sprint in 45.52 seconds.
But now Lichfield remains the only city outside of Cambridge to host such an event.
I was invited to take part after Kevin decided he wanted to revitalise the dash. He hopes that by having a journalist take part and writing about his experience the Cathedral Dash may continue to build on its success in now its 13th year.
He may, however, have overlooked my lack of experience in sprinting. There is a distinct possibility that I could set a new record for the slowest person to have ever attempted the race.
For new sponsor, Salts Techstep, backing the event is a coup.
Colin Hurley, head of the Salts Techstep division, which makes custom made surgical footwear, said: “The Cathedral Dash just seemed to have the right ethos for us.
“We want to promote health and fitness and foot care so runners can do their stuff without the fear of injury.”
In the build-up to the race a “business baton” relay organised by Lichfield Chamber of Commerce will be held for the first time.
A 100m sprint for eight to 15-year-olds, a junior 400m dash, and a cycling sprint will also be hosted in the grounds of the Cathedral.
And of course there is the added spectacle of watching yours truly struggle round the course.
Personal trainer, Andy Wilson, from Walsall Wood, who will be training me as well as taking part in the Dash for the first time, said: “It’s going to take a lot of hard work and some focused training to make a novice like you more dynamic and explosive off the start.
“But we’ll give it a go and give you the best chance possible to beat the chimes.
“I’ve never done anything like this before either so I’m going to have to hone my own fitness especially for the event.”
* The annual Cathedral Dash invites 10 runners to race round the famous landmark in the time it takes the bells to chime midday.
* The total distance is 430 metres and the time to beat is 58 seconds.
* 82 runners have attempted the challenge but only 22 have beaten the chimes.
* The race first started in 1998 when Lichfield businessman Kevin Wilson persuaded the Dean of Lichfield Cathedral to let him replicate the Chariots of Fire film around the perimeter road.
* Great Britain 400m international Paul Thompson, of Birchfield Harriers, won the inaugural dash in just under the 58.6 seconds of the chimes.
* From 2003 to 2007 Lincolnshire County sprint champion Steve Blagdon of Lincoln Wellington AC beat all competitors and the chimes to become the only man to win the race back-to-back four times.
* In 2009, Cardiff AC’s GB 800m international Jimmy Watkins took the dash title.
* One wildcard place is reserved for a member of the public to enter on the day. Previous wildcards include a Tibetan monk and a member of the Liverpool Symphony Orchestra.
* This year’s race starts at 11.59am on Saturday July 17 - the penultimate day of the Lichfield Festival.