“I ABSOLUTELY love it and that’s why I train all year for it” — sentiment enough from Down’ard Gareth Webster.
“If it wasn’t for Shrovetide I would try and keep fit anyway but this gives me something to aim for. I train all year just for two days of play.
“My training involves more off-road running and I try to do between 45 and 50 miles a week — and that’s in all weathers.
“For obvious reasons I can’t tell you where I run but I have a number of routes — you have to know every field, every hedge and every waterway inside out”.
Convincing players to talk about game play is difficult as tactics and secrets are closely guarded as 30-year-old Gareth explains:
“I probably don’t speak to any Up’ards about a week before the game. We are all great mates outside of the game but you stick to your roots.
“When the ball is turned up the runners keep to the outside for a chance that the ball may be chucked towards you from the hug.
“Being a runner is a case of watching the game and predicting where it’s going to move so that you can break away.
“If there are a lot of people around town and I got the ball then I would go way out of Ashbourne through the fields and minor roads — that’s why you have to know every inch and you have to have set routes.
“I have been playing since I was about 14 or 15 and I have always been a runner from that young age. Even before this time you get taken to the game by your parents in the pram so you know everything there is to know about the game.
“Shrovetide is great for the town and its a tradition we work hard to preserve.”
Gareth still vividly remembers the night when he got his break as a runner:
“I got the ball and ran up the hill going towards Clifton and then I ran down the railway line before being stopped.
“As a player you really hope for the worst weather imaginable for Shrovetide as it thins the crowd out and makes it easier to get the break.
“The most important part about being a runner is the first 400 to 500 metres as you make that sprint away from the crowd. You make the break and then just go.
“It’s all about reading the game and trying to be one step ahead of it so that you have a break point and a route.”
Gareth is a self-confessed fitness freak and it’s this motivation which makes him an ideal runner. he talks through his training schedule:
“I run every day except Christmas Day and I also do a bit of weight training as well as sit ups and push-ups at home. I also try to visit the Hanover International Hotel on Derby Road when I can for a swim.
“My training usually involves a seven or eight mile jog and then I do a bit of sprint work running as well as this helps with your speed and fitness.
“I don’t have a special diet or anything as I think that if you do a bit of keep-fit you can afford to eat pretty much what you want.
“I’ve always been into fitness and used to play for the Derby and Forest lads teams as well as having trials at Crewe.”
One person who appreciates how hard you have to train for the annual game is Up’ard Simon ‘Syco’ Fisher.
The 24-year-old builder still vividly remembers the day he struck the leather three times on the mill wheel at Sturston.
“I ran all the way from Beresford Avenue. The ball was chucked out the hug and over a hedge and one of my team mates picked it up and gave it to me and then I was off — I had to run for about a mile.
“I managed to get the ball all the way and I was supported by a couple of other team mates who ran alongside me.”
Despite having a leather to his name, Simon still trains hard for the game, sticking to a training schedule which never falters because of the weather.
“I go running three or four times a week and this varies between five to 10 miles. I tend to do a mix of road running and off-road running.
“I have always been a runner for Shrovetide — I’m not really big enough to get stuck in the hug so I stick to the edges waiting for the break.
“Being able to goal a ball is a little bit about fitness — you have to be able to run the distance — but it’s also a little bit about skill — being able to read the game —and a little bit about luck.
“I don’t do any other form of fitness training as my job as a builder is physical — the problem lies in that although the job is great for building up strength it can leave you shattered meaning you don’t have the energy to go out for a run but I usually make the effort and that’s in all weathers.
“Although I have scored I would run again but not for myself.
“I would gladly run the ball to the goal but I have got my leather, I have had my chance, I would pass the ball on so that somebody else could have their moment of glory and claim the goal.
“I don’t want to score again — I had my chance.”