Athletics: The dangers of planning ahead in Rotherham

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The Independent Online
DETAILED PLAN. Detailed plan. Forgive me, but I get uncomfortable when I see those words together. Because in my experience, you can say only one thing with certainty about a detailed plan. It won't happen.

Let me share with you, by way of evidence, Rotherham.

That is, my trip to Rotherham on behalf of a sadly defunct Sunday newspaper some years ago.

Admit it. You're hooked already.

Anyway, this was the schedule: Get up to Rotherham. Book into hotel. Find park where fun run involving local-lad-made-good, Peter Elliott, is due to take place. Watch Elliott, newly installed Commonwealth 1500 metres champion, run. Then interview him about prospects for coming season. Eat. Drink. Return to hotel. Sleep. Return home.

Hardly an excruciatingly detailed plan, I grant you. But quite complex enough to unravel.

The hotel was, effectively, a boarding house with add-ons, and my room was in a separate block close to the main building. Soon after I went in, the speaker by my bed began playing Radio 1 at maximum volume. My reactions in such cases are usually spot on.

With some judicious pressing of buttons, I quashed the noise in a split- minute.

Elliott was already there when I got to the park, but something in his face betrayed trouble. His Achilles tendon was playing up again. All very disappointing. But he would contribute to the charity fund-raising occasion by getting the field of several-hundred strong under way.

So the Olympian found himself standing on a podium with a starting pistol raised high above his head - a starting pistol that, for some reason, he was unable to fire. He fiddled with it a bit as the dense mass of runners waited, the pressure of bodies forcing those at the front to tip over the line. Then he raised his arm and tried again. Nothing.

By now, the front markers had advanced 20 yards to accommodate the gathering momentum of those behind, and as Elliott, face flushing beneath his cropped ginger hair, made one more hopeless attempt, the will of the people became indomitable and the whole mass of runners straggled on their way.

Afterwards, the embarrassed Olympian explained that, as he had said, his Achilles tendon was playing up again, but that he was hoping for the best and there was no reason to suppose he wouldn't be back to full training within the week. Although you always had to be cautious.

Quite a scoop, I'm sure you'll agree.

The eating and drinking bits went smoothly. Particularly the drinking bits, as I recall.

Odd thing, but the location of the hotel seemed to have changed by the time I made my way back. The landmarks of the railway station and shopping precinct never registered on my screen, and I found myself exploring mysterious, suburban avenues under the yellow flare of street lights. A fine rain began to fall - the kind you hardly register until you realise your collar is soaked.

It was after midnight by the time I got back. The main entrance was locked and the lights were off. I buzzed the buzzer for several minutes. It appeared to be in the same working order as Elliott's pistol.

There was nothing else for it. If I couldn't get the key to my room, at least I could get under cover, so I made my way into the sub-boarding house, climbed the stairs and curled up in my wet coat outside my door. As you do.

Sleep did not come easily. But it departed effortlessly at 5am when the speaker by my bed burst into life. Radio 1 again, and even through the door it sounded very loud indeed.

A door opened down the corridor, and a man in pyjamas with sticky-up hair stared at me without saying anything. I assume he didn't say anything, although if he had said anything I would have been unable to hear him.

The radio switched itself off after a few minutes. And back on again a few minutes later. And off again.

Perhaps someone had been fiddling about with the alarm buttons.

Someone...

Let me share with you, by way of further evidence, Grimsby.

That is, my trip to Grimsby on behalf of the same Sunday newspaper some years ago.

The idea was to interview Steve Cram, who was taking part in the Northern Championships, only that plan had to be altered as he pulled out at short notice with a calf problem, so I switched may attention to the up-and- coming middle-distance runners Craig Winrow and Paul Burgess, only as it turned out they had a bad day and finished well down the field, which meant I had to...

On second thoughts, I won't tell you about Grimsby. You've probably got the picture by now.

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