Not standing in the hail watching it on the day, that would just be miserable. I am, dear reader, referring to the extraordinary spectacle of watching the social media fall out as cometh the hour, crasheth the website. 5.00 p.m. today, Sunday 2nd October, was supposed to have been the moment that the proverbial launch button was pressed, the site went live, and the battle for Percy Pud Entries was on! This is an event that seriously punches above its weight. How else are we to account for the veritable shark feeding frenzy that is unleashed in the quest to secure a place. Filial loyalties mean nothing, friends must fend for themselves. Normal rules of engagement and standard moral and ethical compasses no longer apply. It’s not so much ‘dog eat dog‘ as ‘this dog will hunt down and devour all and everything in its path leaving only the twilight aftermath of a zombie apocalypse in its wake in its quest to secure a place.‘ No really, I’m not even exaggerating (much)! At least one member of Steel City Striders (who shall remain nameless) admitted candidly that ‘This year I will literally crawl over your lifeless bodies to get a place‘ They reinforced this message with an angry/ determined face emoticon, so they meant business! Actually, that was relatively mild, at least they were only going to clamber over actual corpses, others would have happily ripped the hearts out of kittens to secure a place I’m sure (not explicitly stated, but definitely implied). Trust me, securing an entry to the Percy Pud is to obtain a ticket for the hottest gig in town. Which is ironic, as in all probability it will be the coldest and most miserable weather imaginable on the day, but it seems poor short-term memory is a pre-requisite for seeking to secure an entry to this race in consecutive years, that, and a disproportionate appreciation for Christmas Pud!
Oh hang on, I suppose I better clarify, though surely to goodness everyone knows about the Percy Pud by now don’t they? Sigh, well for the uninitiated, the website blah de blah is basically:
We (Steel City Striders Running Club) organise South Yorkshire’s most popular 10km each year which takes place on the first Sunday in December.
The event has grown in popularity from the first race in 1993 when 600 finished the race to recent years when the entry has had to be limited to around 2,200.
Such is the demand for numbers that in each of the last 10 years the race has sold out ahead of time.
The 2013 race was no exception, as the race limit was reached within two weeks of the entries opening, in 2014 this was 36 hours and in 2015 it took just 2 hours to sell 2,200 entries.
Why is it so popular? Traditionally each finisher in the race receives a Christmas pudding for their efforts. Food and seasonal music are provided after the race. Of course, the route is not bad either.
For many, the Percy Pud signals the start of Christmas.
WHEN: Sunday 4th December 2016, 9:30am start.
They don’t mention that you will also get to see Santa, probably be overtaken by a guy dressed as a bottle of beer and if you are especially lucky, get to stand up close and personal to celebrity news-reader Harry Gration in the marqee at the finish. You can’t honestly put a price on that can you. I’ve not washed since I got a high-five from him at the start of the Sheffield Half. It’s fine, I’ve got a healthy immune system, but thanks for your concern.
This moment, i.e. the moment when entries ‘go live’, does indeed represent the official countdown to Christmas for every runner in the Sheffield, nay the whole of the South Yorkshire vicinity. It was not, as you may have thought, the moment when I was in a Surrey garden centre last weekend and they were actually playing christmas songs (what fresh hell is this, we haven’t even had Halloween yet, this was still September). Rather, it is this moment, when the final countdown has concluded, the slow hand of time finally reaches the 5.00 p.m. threshold, and the entry site goes live. Thoughts turn to the challenge of acquiring a christmas pudding to call one’s own, the first hurdle is to secure entry, a process that for many can take considerably longer, and require rather more stamina than the race itself. It seems the Percy Pud Christmas Puddings are to runners what catnip is to our feline friends. They will do anything, and I mean anything to acquire a place…
Last year (2015) this race sold out in two hours, rewarding couch potatoes like me, who were sat on the sofa mainlining mars bars, whilst watching the telly, over the really committed athletes out on some epic masochistic road run that evening, who returned too late to nab a place. Life can be cruel at times it seems, but who ever said it would be fair?
It isn’t always the fastest runners that reach the start line, let alone finish first at the end. I’m sure there’s a wise saying there somewhere, but I can’t be bothered to think of one right now. There’s the old ‘slow and steady’ one of course, but I’ve recently found out that’s only half the quote! I know, who knew? The full one is “..slow and steady wins the race, till truth and talent claim their place.” Apparently. I hope it isn’t true, it messes with my mind. In fact, it messes with my mind almost as much as the notion that given a head start, a snail could beat the most elite of runners in any race. This was explained on radio 4 at great length in a programme on ‘infinity’ and I just thought my brain would implode, or maybe explode. One or the other, and it would be messy. It’s Zeno’s paradox, good luck with figuring that out. It’s never worked for me – but then again I do always commence my runs at the back of the line up, maybe if I edged to the front of the throng at parkrun now and again my whole running trajectory would have taken on a quite different arc… What might have been, if only I’d got a philosopher’s mind… Oh well, here is a gratuitous snail shot in the interim.
So, what’s my point? My point is, that in the build up to the moment when entries went live, there was much fanning of the frenzy of anticipation. Think of the battle for one of Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ but with higher stakes. Erm, oh, I don’t know, maybe imagine you are not so much seeking an entry for a fun and festive 10k, more securing an organ transplant for not so much a beloved relative, but for your actual self. It is seemingly impossible to over-state just how much these places were coveted. Yep, think of a cross between the last available golden ticket and a new organ of choice for your person of choice and you are only getting near to understanding the desperation people felt in trying to acquire one of only 2,200 running places. You’d think that it was the only way on earth to get a Christmas Pudding, and further more, that most people actually like them. I know! Curiouser and curiouser!
Facebook posts, twitter no doubt for those savvy enough to engage with that, every running club I know of sent out reminders to ensure that cometh the hour, cometh the entrants. Five, four, three, two one… not so much blast off, as ‘oh blast!’ The website it seemed crasheth, and did so to spectacular effect.
Basically, the computer said no. A lot. For a very long time.
Initially, there was a bit of good-natured incredulity, but, dear reader, frustration built, and the mood turned. Now this is basically where I have to hold up my hand and admit I am essentially a bad person. I am a bad person because, as a spectator sport, I found watching the hysteria build to fever pitch because of an IT glitch was pretty entertaining. Granted, I can’t do Percy Pud this year, for reasons I’ll come to at a later date, maybe… so I had less immediately emotionally invested in the battle to join the starting line up, but I am sufficiently engaged in the whole Percy Pud anticipatory build up that I was interested to see how people fared in their shots at getting in.
For the record, I am sorry that I can’t run this year, because after all it is such a Sheffield Institution, but if I’m really honest, there may also be a smidgen of relief in there. It has been sooooooooooo very cold and wet when I’ve done it. It is fun, for sure, but I shudder at the memory of peering out of the event marquee at the start last year, watching stair rods of rain plunge down from the sky like shards of ice thrown to the earth by a vengeful god. I did enjoy the actual race it is true, during it, because miraculously the sun came out, and indeed afterwards when I was no longer required to keep on running. However, I cannot tell a lie, I most definitely entertained the near sacrilegious thought of ‘never again‘ whilst waiting for the off…. Even so, you can’t not be caught up in the anticipatory excitement of it all, and I was stalking various Facebook pages to see who’d get in as the countdown reached its climax.
With only 2,200 places up for grabs the competition was sure to be fierce. Now the thing is, the thing that makes me a bad person is, that in terms of a spectator sport, it was quite hilarious watching reactions unfold on social media. There were the nonplussed who assumed they themselves were liable due to their own deficiencies in technical understanding, those in denial, ‘it’ll be reyt soon enough‘ the incredulous ‘what, again!’ because they’d had problems with the technology last year as well, and those who used humour as the coping strategy to carry them through the torments of uncertainty. This post is a tribute to you all. I thank you, for providing me with a full Sunday evening of entertainment.
Reader, all of human emotion was laid bare that night. Want to know the depths of feeling, despair, rage, disappointment, forgiveness, blame that people can display, well look no further. I felt I was watching Armageddon itself, and this catastrophe alas did not bring out the best in all. It doesn’t bode well if there is an actual zombie apocalypse, mob rule took over with depressing speed.
The panic hitting of the refresh buttons apparently contributed to the server meltdown. Did potential entrants not realise that every time they hit refresh a kitten somewhere was kicked to oblivion?
Some confusion was understandable, because for a while at least it was possible to see a list of ‘entries so far’ and it seemed that one entrant had got through? How was this possible, some held this up as a beacon of hope – if one had made it, others might follow. Others suspected corruption and contacts ‘do they work for fr systems?’ The emerging conspiracy theories made holocaust deniers seem mild-tempered and rational by comparison. I was fearful a whole vigilante mob might yet be roused to hunt him down and take him out (not for dinner, the bad sort of being ‘taken out’, though being taken out for dinner can of course also be pretty tortuous in the wrong company). However, it seems the reality was rather more prosaic. It was last year’s winner, the only person guaranteed an entry the following year apparently. Personally, I’m a bit miffed this honour is not extended to the female winner as well, or maybe it is, but they haven’t been added yet. It was quite comical seeing the reactions to this revelation though. People doing the equivalent of screaming into the void, unheard, in outrage at this further injustice rubbing salt into their already open, sore and oozing wounds….
Some people took to the couch potato life with ease, settling down to sit it out (literally and metaphorically) too scared to leave their computers for fear of missing a window of opportunity when the server came back up. One or two brave souls actually LEFT TO GO FOR A RUN, figuring they’d come back later when it was all sorted. Yes, gaining moral high ground, but whoa that was a high risk (though on this occasion successful) strategy. The more productive elements of the running community variously did ironing, household tasks and comfort eating. The more opportunistic broke open the wine/ beer with considerable cheer. Others no doubt improvised by making running related purchases on Ebay or amazon.
Some became frankly petulant ‘didn’t want to do it anyway‘ (they were lying); a few resigned themselves to their fate. Would they be the first to let go of a life raft at sea I wonder? Others still perked up as they considered the plus side of not getting a place – you could spend that time in a nice warm pub enjoying the spectacle of the runners without any risk of having your nether regions frozen by having to run on the day. A few lateral thinkers came up with alternative races, since they were all fired up to enter something why not an arctic ultra say. What could possibly go wrong? Disappointingly, at least one commentator had a somewhat (in my view) unhelpful rant about how this CATASTROPHE meant the event would be taken over by non-runners (I think he meant fun-runners, and probably people like me who are never going to break any records but want the sense of achievement to be gained from giving it a go). ‘This is disgusting … I bet actual runners don’t get in and you get loads of those WALKERS which seem to be invading RUNS these days!’ Whoa, where did that come from? It made me sad to be honest, though I was glad that another responder calmed things down with a nice Buddha snap and a reminder that this is supposed to be an inclusive race with over 2000 entries available. Serious runners might enjoy participating too – and there is an impressive £1000 up for grabs if anyone beats the course record, but I find it hard to believe that really elite runners have this as their most important 10k in their annual cannon. Also, if the race were to be over-run with walkers, wouldn’t that cancel out the effect of their slower pace? Maybe it was drink talking. The mood was turning though and not in a good way… It is disturbing how quickly social media allowed a sort of mob rule hysteria to emerge!
After a bit, the servers were shut, and more speculation ensued. I do find it extraordinary how heated people got, it was like they took it as a personal affront there had been an IT system failure. I know it’s really annoying, I know you’d think it shouldn’t happen, but the bottom line is we’ve all experienced the extreme frustration of when the ‘computer says no‘, and at that point ranting doesn’t really help. The organisers know, the IT people know, it will be fixed when it is fixed. End of.
My favourite posts were the satirical ones. They restored faith in human nature. There was a spate of people outraged to the point of not just suing the race organisers, but threatening to pursue them for all eternity like an army of vengeful dementors, and/or demanding a pound of flesh by way of compensation with immediate effect. However, as a counter-balance to this, one poster gave details of his pooing schedule for the following day, requesting a hand-written note be delivered to him personally by a member of the organising team in the event of booking going live again when he was otherwise engaged. Genius! Plus, a much-needed lightening of the mood. At least I presume that request was in jest, though with some of the remarks posted you do have to wonder…
Anyway, the upshot of the evening was, that there was an attempt to restart the servers and at this point a small trickle of further entrants made it through to the checkout. Alas, then everything crashed again. The race organisers, who must have been having the evening from hell, then decided to postpone entries entirely for a few days if necessary, until the system has been stress tested all over again. They had already done significant stress-testing in anticipation of a surge of hits when entries opened, but even so were taken by surprise at the deluge of people all trying to enter at the same time. Victim of its own success perhaps, but it’s not fair to make the race organisers victims of a vigilante mob as well. I don’t think lynch mobs have a place anywhere, but especially not for a temporary delay in accessing a run on Loxley Road. Maybe the Percy Pud will have to be renamed the ‘Angry Mob Fun Run’? There is precedent for such an event I believe.
So, what have we learned?
- The Percy Pud is really popular
- The only way to guarantee entry into the Percy Pud is to win in the event the year before
- People are very intolerant of failing IT
- Passions run high when there’s pudding at stake
For what it’s worth, I think its great that the Percy Pud is so popular, 2,200 places is still a lot and so I don’t see why it can’t remain an inclusive event. However, nor do I see a problem with say volunteers one year being guaranteed a place the following one or holding back a proportion of places for e.g. club members, and so staggering entry a bit. However, I was pretty disgusted by how much rage was directed at the VOLUNTEER organisers. It’s not life and death, it’s a run. You wonder who will be willing to step up and take on these roles in future if they have to contend with that kind of abuse. It’s an IT failure, not criminal negligence. Or indeed criminal negligee, which I understand is something else entirely. The race team were as frustrated and disappointed as everyone else, and showering abuse on them and demanding reparations like victims of war crimes did seem a tad disproportionate. On the plus side, there was a backlash (can you have a positive backlash) of more supportive comments, congratulating the team for what they had done. So not everyone on Facebook was a troll, some were troll-fighters. Yay!
Anyway, latest is, the booking fee has been removed (good will gesture), and two days notice will be given before the site booking system goes live again (possibly next Sunday). I hope for everyone’s sake that systems run smoothly, ruffled feathers are smoothed and IT issues forgotten. Let’s all try to be friends again. Ultimately this is a race that is great fun, should be supported and even if it isn’t possible to run I reckon it would be a great craik just to volunteer for it and soak up all the fun. The link to the latest Percy Pud 2016 entry information is here though, in case you are wondering
Lest you think I have exaggerated the drama, let me conclude by drawing your attention to the press interest generated by the calamitous turn of events – the crashing website making The Star no less. This would surely have secured the legendary status of the Percy Pud for evermore were it not already an integral part of the history of running in Sheffield as any local (worth talking to) would be able to confirm. HUGE demand indeed!
So fingers crossed, it will be a case of all’s well that ends well. In the meantime, I spent Sunday evening on the edge of my sofa watching the drama unfold. So I’ve already got my money’s worth from the event … though on reflection I didn’t pay anything so basically I have to hold my hand up and admit to being a rubber-necker. Sorry(ish) about that. And to think previously I thought GBBO was exciting! Clearly I aint seen nothing yet. Running for a pudding as a blood sport. Who knew?
Bring on the Percy Pud, have fun y’all – if you think you’re hard enough!
For all my posts relating to the Percy Pud, follow this link, including an account of my 2015 Percy Pud rainbow run.