After months of training over 5,000 people put on their running kit and headed off down to Don Valley for the annual Sheffield Half Marathon this morning. Many more supporters strolled on down to the streets of Sheffield with our anoraks and umbrellas to cheer them on.
Except it didn’t quite go as planned……er the company supplying the water for the race didn’t come up with the goods and the organisers cancelled the race…about 30 minutes after it was due to start.
Can you imagine the reaction of 5,000 runners pumped up with adrenaline and carbed up on pasta, porridge and jelly babies? People who are dedicated enough to run a half marathon are focused and determined and just to prove it, they set off on their race despite the official cancellation and an attempted police block and earned themselves the twitter trending hashtag #rebelrunners!
Back on the streets, questions were being asked, rumours were rife and twitter was in action #ilovesheffieldhalf and #sheffieldhalfmarathon went from good luck messages to ‘what’s happening’ queries and finally the news leaked out and messages of dismay and sympathy started coming through.
I was one of many supporters standing half way round the course on Ecclesall Road and what happened next made me so proud of the city where I live. Firstly the #rebelrunners appeared and got one of the most rousing applause I have heard in any running race. Then the Sheffield community spirit (The People’s Republic of South Yorkshire) really kicked in, off went the people into shops and cafes and brought out water for the runners. By the time the last runners came through, almost every one of them had a bottle or cup in their hand. So the combined determination of the runners and the empathy and kindness of their community overcame the unexpected crisis experienced by the organisers. This is called resilience!
This heartening story explains the collective power of people and communities over organised systems in crisis. How informal networks (offline and online) can move quickly and act with common sense to cluster around and support those for whom they feel empathy.
There are lessons to be learnt around creating the conditions for thriving and resilient communities here. When people feel connected, a sense of shared purpose and are able to feel empathy for each other, they feel empowered by that connection to take action and unexpected problems can be overcome.
Does this mean then that organic, informal, people power beats mechanistic and formal systems in overcoming a crisis? I wondered today, if the race organisers had reached out to the community for help, what would have happened? Maybe the answer is that we need to strike a balance, make the most of all our resources, institutions, networks, technology community organisations and connectors.
There is an opportunity to do this in pursuit of a better healthier future for the people of Sheffield. Under the banner of Move More Sheffield, people that care are coming together to help make Sheffield a city where everyone has the opportunity to enjoy participating in physical activity. Check out, sign up and make your pledge at http://www.movemoresheffield.com/ and/or follow on twitter @movemoresheff
PS: The full story can be followed on the twitter hashtags mentioned. They really spell out what I love about Sheffield culture: community, rebellious, down to earth, resourceful, ironic and a great sense of humour.
PPS: You can also show your support for the #rebelrunners and make a difference by donating to WaterAid http://www.justgiving.com/waterless