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WATCH The clock ticks down towards the Tour of Tameside 2018
Monday 14th May 2018 @ 14:08 by Mark Phillip

His company specialises in sending participants to some of the biggest sporting events in the world, but Sports Tours International CEO, Chris Bird, says the Tour of Tameside holds a special place in his heart.

Chris, who was previously Manchester City’s Chief Operating Officer from 1998-2003, says the Tour generates more interest than the other events his company covers, which range from the New York Marathon to the Tour de France.

At the annual Talk of the Tour evening, which was held at the Tameside Stadium last week, Chris spoke to a delegation of participants, ambassadors and key partners about a number of topics ahead of the event. “When we started the Tour we always said that we’d cap it at 1,000 participants, because we wouldn’t want it to be a massive race – it’s not what we’re about with our UK events; we’re about smaller events where people can get involved” said Chris.

“To reach the 1,000 mark already, just four years in, we’re absolutely delighted. We’ll get to a waiting list, which is great, but we want to keep it at a certain level, because it’s iconic and we want people to feel that winning that medal and winning the shirt is a treasured possession.”

Such is the appeal of the Tour, people have travelled from as far as China, Australia and New Zealand to compete in the event.

And according to Graham Jackson, UK operations and events executive at Sports Tours International, four runners from Germany are heading over in four weeks’ time for the 2018 edition.

Graham said all the signs are pointing in the right direction for another successful event. “Having had three years to have a crack at it, we’re quietly confident” said Graham.

“The numbers are increasing year on year, which is very encouraging, and we’re more than 40 runners up on those who completed the whole Tour last year. Each of the individual days are also increasing in numbers as well.”

Despite the increase in participants and uptake in interest, the Tour will once again consist of four legs across four days. Explaining the reasons for doing so, Graham said: “I think you need to get some kind of stability in any new event, and so we’ve had two years now with the four-day format. People are then able to establish times and then try and beat those times and get a personal best the following year. Like the saying goes; ‘If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’.”

An event of such magnitude wouldn’t be successful without the help of numerous key partners – none more so than Tameside Council.

Chief Executive Steve Pleasant, who is an advocate of healthy living, detailed the reasons behind the Council’s willingness to help the Tour succeed. “We just wanted to see how we could build this into the wider sporting ethos that we’re cultivating” said Steven.

“It’s such an iconic event; it’s part of Tameside’s history; and it’s a celebration of our countryside.

“It’s also something that people can aim towards, especially after Christmas time, and so we wanted to support that. “

The re-launch four years ago was fully supported by Active Tameside, who continue to provide support and guidance to participants before, during and after the event.

One employee who will be donning his trainers in four weeks’ time is fitness enthusiast Gavin Brown. The former West Hill School pupil said he’s relishing the chance to push himself to the limit and also put to bed some unwanted demons. “Over the winter period I’ve been doing a lot of races for my local club, East Cheshire Harriers” said Gavin.

“I’ve recently upped the mileage so I’ll be ready for the longer distance runs. I’ve had to pull out in the half marathon a couple of times due to cramping, so in order to overcome that I’ve been running on the canal path for two hours at a time and training is going well.”

Having started a love affair with running over 18 years ago, Gavin has never looked back since and encourages amateur runners or those with an interest to get involved this year. “My PE teacher was really into cross country, so he kind of inspired me to get involved and join East Cheshire, so I’ve been there for about 18 years” said Gavin.

“I came down to my local running club on Tuesday and Thursday, and that’s where it all began for me. Coming down, meeting people and getting involved with a group inspired me to keep going and run more miles.

“For the amateurs I’d say just run as many miles as you can – even if it’s just for ten or fifteen minutes a day. I know people struggle during the day with work and other commitments, so just sparing as much time as you can is great. For me, personally, the best way to continue with running is to enjoy it. It’s good to be out and doing things.”

One man who continues to prove that age is just a number is 70-year-old Tony Hillier.

A veteran runner with years of experience in the bank, Tony says the Tour is a great way to challenge yourself in a positive environment, regardless of age or ability. He said: “I was an ex-smoker, so I decided to start running and from there I joined a club. I saw my first tour in 1984 and something in me said, ‘I want a bit of that’. I did my first tour the following year and form there I completed 13 out of a possible 15.”