A very wet and windy affair at Windy Hill Fell Race
I decided to cross the border into the Greater Manchester/Lancashire area to do this category B Medium fell race 9 miles/1281 ft. I fancied a change from the Dales and the Lakes and I didn’t encounter any traffic problems during the 50 minute drive on the M62.
The registration was at Littleborough Rugby Club down the road from the pretty setting of Hollingworth Lake and country park, near Rochdale. There was a strict kit check which revealed that my trusty but hardly ever used Montane trousers were only windproof and not taped at the seams which meant no run unless I could borrow a pair. It was frustrating because they were only going to stay in my kit bag but I understood organisers’ concerns about runners’ safety and potential hypothermia. Panicking, I spent about 20 minutes wandering around the rugby club trying to borrow trousers from other runners, then an angel in the form of John McDonald from Trawden A.C. lent me his spare pair which saved me a wasted trip back to Leeds. Next running purchase will be a pair of taped seamed waterproof trousers!
There was a healthy turnout of runners despite the atrocious weather and lots of comments on the start line about what else would we be doing on a Saturday morning, from watching cooking programmes on TV to lazy lie-ins. The latter being my preference. Even trudging round the White Rose Centre felt appealing as we stood in the mud-sodden field with the rain lashing down. These conditions more or less stayed the same throughout the race.
The front runners dashed off whilst I went out steady, unsure of my fitness for the distance and climbs. I expected a hilly start as you do in fell races but after leaving Littleborough rugby field we ran along a runnable track until we went over the first bridge crossing of the M62. We would later cross over and under several motorway bridges during the race which felt strange for a fell race. Fortunately I like a race with variety! I didn’t have much of an idea where I was running and followed the pack as usual. I thought I was in Lancashire but another runner commented that the race was mainly in Greater Manchester and that Saddleworth used to be in Yorkshire before the boundary changes in the 1970s. I couldn’t see too far ahead of me because of the clag and you couldn’t on avoid getting soaked to the skin, with a cutting wind in your face. At one point I couldn’t blink and thought I might have lost one of my contact lenses. In a masochistic way I settled into being uncomfortably comfortable. I know what I mean.
I was surprised how runnable the route was as we ran along some of the Pennine Way, a climb up the old Roman Road up to Blackstone Edge, another motorway bridge, a hard muddy and boggy slog up to Windy Hill mast, then an undulating path and along the Rochdale Way, then the usual scattering of runners running around or through crater like puddles, icy rocks before the descent, along more muddy filled tracks, under another motorway bridge, a fast runnable rocky path and back into the rugby field to the finish.
The race was well marshalled and flagged so it would have been difficult to go wrong en route, although I’ve learnt anything can happen in a fell race when the wind and rain are blurring your vision and you have got your head down! It was very runnable and the climbing manageable which suited me as I have been doing a few Park runs for speed work and hadn’t been running long distances or doing much hill work. I think a bit of cycling, gym work and swimming helped me tackle the tricky icy, wet, muddy underfoot conditions as I felt stronger as the race went on.
I would definitely do the race again and it was suitable for anyone who hasn’t done many fell races or who is making the transition from trail and road to fell running. There were a lot of fast times and good performances, particularly from some of the female vets. I was second in my age group but a good 12 minutes behind first place F50. It was good to see Karen Pickles, now running for Pudsey and Bramley AC, finishing third woman and 1st F45, taking home a couple of nice long-sleeve running tops. I had my eye on the bumper size Toblerones…. maybe next time!
At £12 EOD or £10 pre entry it seemed pricier than the usual fell race but there was an extensive prize list and 5 year age group prizes. There was also chip timing which I assume adds to the cost but results were speedily available once you crossed the finish line.
I’m looking forward to crossing the Lancashire/Greater Manchester border in the future.
Winner Shaun Godsman M45 CVFR 1.01.57
1st woman Alice Swift F Chorlton Runners 1.16.33
121 Sharon Williams 2nd F50 NLFR 1.37.47
The race was organized by Cannonball Events, full results here.
Images by Paul Taylor. Full gallery available here.