This year, I’ve tried to select and compete in different fell races. So far I’ve encountered bad steps in the Lakes, that knotts are not necessarily small hills, and sinking a pint on the finish line feels like standing on a ferry amidst choppy seas. Last week running friends from Leeds jokingly said I’d get more than sickly feeling when I announced that I was heading to Lancashire for my latest fell foray.
North-east of Rochdale the moors rise steadily towards a tower of wind turbines. Like much of the Pennine area – from a distance – the terrain seems inocuous and the gradient appears unlikely to buckle or cause blaspheme to any bold or brazen bogtrotter. How wrong?
Turnslack fell race is something of a regional classic – 8 miles and just a pip over 2000 feet of ascent. My girlfiend and I had arranged to meet a friend and show what all this hill running was about. Yes, he’d already dipped in his toe over the Pentlands, but this was different. Registering and changing in the parish church was certainly odd. As was queuing for the toilet down the aisle while the vicar sat nearby befuddled at three-down in the Times crossword.
The start on the road outside soon resembled a sketch by the Chuckle Brothers. The Race Organiser no sooner started the pre-race information and another car would want to drive through. After the umpteenth repeat I think he basically muttered, something along the lines of, ‘Oh bugger it, the course is well-flagged, 3-2-1 GO!’
An uphill rocky track soon had the leg muscles firing then steeper grass climbs elevated us high above and away from all recent hilarity and commotion. I’d just about caught my breath when a sudden near vertical drop took us through the first of many cloughs. Hades Hill didn’t present the expected fear and trepidation. The sun did hide behind a blanket of darker clouds and a cool headwind limited any silly attempt at a premature bolt over the moorland.
What will occur if you run over 8 miles of hills near Rochdale?
The wind was soon behind and the moors fell away beneath me. I whizzed down a well defined grassy track passing a couple of less confident descenders. Orange route flags flew by in a blur. My eyes watered and my only real concern – as always – was not to lose my contact lense. Just as the track levelled near a farm three runners ahead of me stood in a huddle, either with hands on hips or scratching heads. I knew instantly we’d all gone wrong. Over my right shoulder, maybe a quarter of a mile away, a line of coloured vests snaked up through the bracken on the next climb. Bugger.
The climb was tough. Perhaps as I’d just hurdled through long grass and bog to regain the race route. And there were tussocks. With bog-filled hazards in between. The next descent was again fast and furious. Admittedly, I was trying to recover some of those places lost during the off-route adventure. A short beck leap led straight into chest high bog reeds. Then more tussocks. And, on the plateau above, boggy tussocks. Running form was reduced to an effective shuffle and the pace was cranked out in a low gear.
Greater Manchester soon filled the valley below and the pristine view was framed by the whirl and whoosh of several wind turbines. Just when a wide track offered some hope to stride out the orange flags peeled left and directed all runners through shin-high grass, laden with football-sized rocks and boulders. Much like the next level on computer game, the bracken landscape soon followed. Weaving left and right over undulating gradient started to make my legs feel a tad weary. Then whack! I’d obviously lost concentration and started to taste tea and heavily iced cake. My big toe crunched against a rock. Every footfall down the track and then up the steps to the cemetary finish was painful. But the tea and cake soon after masked all pain. And the church pews were surprisingly comfortable.
Although we didn’t win any prizes – the bathroom scales snagged by 3rd place looked impressive – all agreed the race was definitely a belter and one to recommend. The route certainly packs a punch and, like most parts of Pennine moorland, the distance and climb crams in so much detail and diversity.
What will occur if you run 8 miles over bog and moor near Rochdale? Your legs’ll Turnslack!