The sack race: Bags of effort at coal carrying championships

It was a contest dreamt up over a pint or two more than 50 years ago when one man walked into his local and told another he was looking a little unfit.

Picture: James Hardisty
Picture: James Hardisty

Somewhat affronted he challenged him to a race and from this bit of gentle banter in 1963 the World Coal Carrying Championships was born.

Every Easter Monday since the village of Gawthorpe has hit the headlines as heavyweight competitors attempt to navigate the novel and challenging art of running while carrying a sack of coal uphill in the quickest time possible.

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Starting at the Royal Oak public house in Ossett, adult racers must lug either 50kg of coal, for men, or 20kg, for women, for 1012 metres to the Maypole Green in Gawthorpe village. There are also races for children and veterans.

The World Coal Carrying Championships in Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire.

Today crowds lined the route, applauding as competitors reached the finish line, dropping their heavy bags of coal from their backs to the green.

Duncan Smith, one of the event organisers, said those taking part this year had had to cope with blustery conditions and headwinds.

“No records have been broken unfortunately.

“We have had a fantastic day, we have had a lovely community event, there were over 100 children taking part in the fun runs.

The World Coal Carrying Championships in Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire.

“We have had a fantastic day despite the weather we still had a great crowd of 1,500 to 2,000 people,” Mr Smith added.

This year the men’s veteran title was taken by Damian Cameron in a time of 5 mins and 3 seconds, while Craig Heppinstall, took the men’s title for the first time with a time of 4 minutes and 42 seconds. In the women’s event Meltham’s Penny Ditchfield won the title for the third year in a row with a time of 4 minutes 35 seconds.

The current male world record is 4mins 6 secs, held by David Jones of Meltham. The current female record holder for the women’s race is Catherine Fenton with a time of 4mins 25 secs.

The World Coal Carrying Championships in Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire.
The World Coal Carrying Championships in Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire.
The World Coal Carrying Championships in Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire.
The World Coal Carrying Championships in Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire.
The World Coal Carrying Championships in Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire.
The World Coal Carrying Championships in Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire.
The World Coal Carrying Championships in Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire.
The World Coal Carrying Championships in Gawthorpe, West Yorkshire.