Legend has it that this race started before the First World War and continued between World Wars. It then took a break before being revived in the 1970’s then went into intermission again (apart from once in 2004) until 2010 where it was reborn in its current form that we see today.
According to tradition at the end of the potato season the farmhands would lift the old hundredweight sacks (51 KG’s) and race with them from the churchyard in the village of Flitton to the farm one mile up the road in Greenfield then get to keep the potatoes for their efforts.
In the seventies the route was reversed so that it ended at the White Heart pub (opposite the church) and the weight of the sacks was reduced to 25KG’s but the distance remained the same.
When it was brought back again the only further change made was bringing the weight down to 20KG’s for men and 10KG’s for women to meet with modern day health and safety regulations.
Quirky Races’ Chris has been attending this event since 2015 where he won the race breaking the course record with a time of 5:30. He successfully defended his title the following year with a slightly slower 5:35 but due to a fixture clash had to miss it in 2017 so he was even more excited than usual to be returning this year with the aim of reclaiming his throne as the potato king!
Flitton in the county of Bedfordshire is only a 40 minute drive from Quirky Races HQ in Northampton and the races don’t start until midday so unusually an early start wasn’t required which was nice as the event fell on Father’s Day so I got to open my cards and gifts before making the journey. I had my wife and two young children with me as this event is for all the family. As well as the adult’s race there are races over the same distance with lighter weight sacks for older children and spud and spoon races over shorter distances for the little ones. The pub garden at the finish line has fairground rides, stalls, inflatables, an ice cream van and BBQ where most gather afterwards and await the presentation.
It was another nice hot day, as it has been every year I’ve attended which always helps the occasion. Registration and safety briefing are held in the village hall at roughly the half way point of the course. I then took an easy run up to the start which acted as a perfect warm up. I was first to arrive and got some drills and strides in before the rest of the 59 males and 18 females joined me. It was then time to collect our potato sack. It was great to see three hardcore participants had requested to carry the old hundredweight! Fair play to them. I put my 20KG sack on the start line and waited for the signal to go.
I was confident I was in shape to run a similar time to what I had done on the two previous occasions so I had the attitude that if someone was going to beat me they’d need to break my course record to do so. As the air horn was sounded we were off and my tactics were to start steady but be right up there in the leading group.
I found myself at the front with a couple of others just behind on either side of me but that gap seemed to lengthen with every stride and within a minute I felt no pressure. I was running well within myself and just stuck to my plan.
Each quarter mile point is signed which really helps as theres no way of looking at your watch as of course your hands are raised gripping the sack on your shoulders. The route, which is on a closed road, is straight and flat and the further you get the more spectators there are lining the paths either side. From half way it gets very busy and this is where I put my foot down a little more.
The crowd had been waiting in expectation for the first runner to come through so when they saw me I could really feel their excitement and I fed off that as my legs started to tire slightly. In the final 400 meters the streets are packed and the cheers get louder and louder. I pushed on again as although I felt no danger from behind it’s hard to tell and the noice from the spuds rattling around prevents that sense you normally get if someone is catching you.
As I completed the final stretch with the church and pub in sight I knew I had the win wrapped up but because I’d felt quite relaxed the whole way and hadn’t been pushed at any point I wasn’t expecting the time to be as quick but upon crossing the finish line and the timing mat the announcer called out that I’d ran a new record of 5:26. This really surprise me and was a really satisfying bonus.
I turned around to see second place (last year’s winner) coming in just under half a minute later and stayed in the finish area to see almost all the other runners coming home with smiles but very tired looking faces and then the kids from 10 years and above who set off just after the adults.
Next up was the relay where teams of four take on the same course running a quarter of a mile each with the potato sack acting as the baton.
This was followed by the under 10’s races which my daughter was taking part in so it was another little run for me as I ran alongside her cheering her on, shouting encouragement just like so many others had done for me.
Medals and goody bags collected it was time for a celebratory drink and ice cream in the pub’s garden while reflecting on what a great time we’d had.