Although they are from rival clubs, Angus Butler of Herne Hill Harriers and Steve Gardner of Belgrave Harriers became the joint winners of the first Athletics & Running @Home Volunteer Award for London at last week’s England Athletics Regional virtual presentation evening.
The pair collaborated to pioneer a virtual racing format during the first lockdown period when no club training or racing was permitted other than what could be done during a solo exercise session per day. Then when facilities reopened under new government and governing body guidelines they organised the first endurance track races after lockdown.
Herne Hill men’s cross country captain Butler and Belgrave team manager Gardner’s initiative with a team “relay” challenge between the two clubs set the ball rolling for virtual racing. They provided the inspiration for the virtual national relays which followed in the wake of the original two team event.
The concept caught the imagination of athletes and team managers around the country to create a virtual event to replace the National Road Relay Championship that would normally take place in Sutton Coldfield in April. Countless virtual races and competitions were to follow, with these enabling thousands of runners to enjoy a form of competition at a time when almost all other sports could not.
The enthusiasm and positivity of both men helped to ensure that athletes remained in touch with one another and were motivated with challenges throughout the weeks of lockdown.
Later in the summer Butler and Gardner played a key role in bringing track racing back in England as soon as it was safe to do so.
Their innovative approach provided their teammates with as many racing opportunities as possible during a much shorter than usual track season.
In reintroducing track competition they devised a new format for races following guidance and then shared their Covid-secure plans. In doing so they demonstrated to other local clubs, venues and meeting organisers that track racing could be held simply and safely despite the challenging circumstances with full licensing from England Athletics.