Runner Report – ‘A Grand Challenge (Part 2 – Fells, Frightening climbs, Fast flats & the Finale) – Joining the 2017 Pendle & Burnley Grand Prix 14/14 Race ‘Grand Slam’ Club’

Mick Hughes (Clayton-le-Moors Harriers) concludes his 2017 Grand Prix experience with a fitting finale :

“Many of us crazy dedicated ones with the intention of completing all 14 races of the 2017 PBGP could have been forgiven for waning slightly and reconsidering after the blistering, punishing heat of the Burnley Lions 10k, but as the sizzling concrete of Colne cooled down, all attentions turned towards Kelbrook Fell Race and the need to diversify yet again and put the fell shoes on!

A slightly cooler Saturday in Kelbrook remains a firm favourite in my memory, don’t get me wrong it’s tough on a few levels; it requires stamina on the sharp straight up climb, fell stability in footing your way over some undulating moor to the eventual fast descent back to reach the tarmac track right down to the finish in the village. It’s on this descent that if you have trained hard enough and get away with wearing new fell shoes right out of the box (could have been a bad decision of mine but thankfully the Inov-8’s were great!) that you can really get the pace up to the finish, where it feels and sounds like the whole village comes out in support.

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I admit after a reasonable rapid descent, good finishing time and feeling strong, I was feeling quite smug that just maybe I could be decent at this fell game. The formidable ‘Weets Fell Race’ however, would soon bring me back down to a grounded earth. With an unusual rainy start Weets tests even the seasoned fell runner. It’s one of those that most people agree is a toughie and it really is. Plenty of climb (1800ft of it!) and once you’ve reached the trig you are straight down a rough technical slope, across a stream, only to scale another calf burning climb to another peak (many walking with hands on their thighs- which I have nicknamed the ‘death climb’!). On severely fatigued legs I managed the ridge that followed and descent down to the tarmac. It’s here that Weets has a sting in the tail, a long climb up a road to reach the final section leading to the drop down to the finish. That road is hell and I knew I had worked hard that day. Amazingly I still finished under the hour, but I went home with a new respect for serious fell runners!

A return to short, full on road sprints was next at Barrowford Grand Prix 5k Road Race and my opportunity to tick off another goal I had agreed with my coach (sub 20 mins 5k). After an upset stomach and tough week at work, I was hoping I had recovered enough to tag onto a fast lad for this one! I did just that and came away with a 19:20 finish, this did take all I had and I was early to bed that night. Barrowford is a cycle track so flat and ideal for PB’s but only if you can shut out the mind games of how many laps you have to go / have done. But it shows the diversity of the Grand Prix and how versatile an athlete must remain to be competitive.

My predominant memories the next two… Sabden Trail Race and my favourite from last year Trawden 7 were humid but beautiful routes. Both were tough in the heat but you can’t beat cheap race entry that gives you beautiful views, excellent marshals and in Trawden 7s case, a pie, beer and buff… so these two are enjoyable despite multi terrain challenges and summer humidity. Love them both… I think!

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The jewel in the crown of the GP is the infamous beast ‘Gerry McCabe’s Legendary Hendon Brook Race’. The hairs are standing up on my arms and I truly feel emotional as I write about this special race. My coaches plan for me had ramped my miles up, and I’m a fairly fit lad, most of my friends will testify to my determination.. but.. this is Hendon… having only ever trained as far as Thursday valley on the actual course, I was worried about the challenge of Lenches.

There is a reason the T shirt states, “possibly the toughest road half marathon in the country”!  The late and definitely great Gerry McCabe designed the ultimate half marathon test here in my humble opinion. You will hear many people talk of training strategies but nothing can quite prepare you for this one on race day. I have friends from many clubs and all agree that the night before feels like a nervy xmas eve. I decided to play it sensible for my first Hendon and set off steady as my coach had advised. I also paced with two great experienced team mates and it worked brilliantly.

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I had a tough time at 9 miles as the sun came out and at 11.5miles when after all those hard miles you are presented with the brutal climb up Lenches! I remember taking a gel around 10 miles and I am proud to say managed to tap out (albeit a very slow child like jog!) the whole of Lenches. I then felt I deserved to wear the T shirt and understood the statement of a fellow runner who stated “once run, never forgotten”! My first Hendon will stay with me forever. I wanted if possible a sub 2hr in one piece (!) and I crossed the line at 1hr 57.

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A two week break came at just the right time to recover, recharge and prepare for the final few races ahead. A few of us had a night out or two, spent a few relaxed nights with partners or just took stock of what we had experienced and maybe got a massage on little niggles in anticipation for the last push. At this stage many had got the obligatory 9 races in to achieve a standing or those cherry picking were perhaps looking towards the last few choices.

Towneley 10k Race is a steep and rapid 10k, the sun shone once more and impromptu water stations from the public were a God send. Mount Lane is the toughest challenge here and another record turnout for the 2017 GP was recorded. Just 3 days later another fast 5k was on the agenda. The Padiham Greenway 5k is situated right behind my house and I often utilise this refinished railway line path to add mileage to the end of my long runs. Despite the description of fast and flat, it is a gradual pull up to the top before turning and running the quickest pace possible back to the start point. Again I was pleased to be fairly quick and just over the 20minute mark on home turf being observed by my parents!

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The end was in sight with unbelievably just 2 races left: Worsthorne Moor Trail Race was the one that I had forgotten just how tough it was. Mainly trail path with stunning reservoir views it is enjoyable but by the time you spot David Belshaw (the lovely ever-present brilliant photographer) at the top of the last climb, you realise you are 6 miles in and it’s gonna hurt getting up there!… but you dig in and a pint in the crooked billet, conversing with fellow team mates and friends from several clubs (a brilliant bond that happens on this journey) you soon feel you can see this out.

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As I write this, I am celebrating finishing race 14/14 with a small select group of genuinely superb human beings! I am tired, yes, but very happy and proud to have made the descent from Boulsworth Fell safely (only a spectacular fall or two !) to finish at the Trawden Show and I cannot lie, Boulsworth is a fitting finale, as the 1000ft climb and many bogs, moors and thin fell tracks wear you down, but what it takes away in physicality, it pays back massively on finishing and that supreme euphoric feeling you get.

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Fact: The GP tests the athlete on all disciplines from 5k road, fell, trail, to half marathon
My opinion; The GP builds character, forges friendships lets you experience our beautiful countryside, tests you both physically and mentally, tells you lots about yourself and the sense of achievement is so good for the soul.

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When people think about joining a club, or partaking in a challenge or series, often the worry is about ability. I say, look around a little closer at any club training, parkrun or even at next years PBGP because one thing I can guarantee it will offer in abundance is unity. The overwhelming feeling that every runner is part of something bigger and that we are all in it together. Whether it’s the approachability of the guy registering you or the shout of encouragement of the marshal in the middle of nowhere when you are finding it tough… the Pendle & Burnley Grand Prix is very special. I say have a go, as it’s something worth supporting and holding dear for many years to come.

Special thanks to my superb understanding soul mate and wife Gillian, John Roche (also my fantastic coach), Barry Brock, Jamie & all at Trawden AC and all organisers / involved in making this years’ PBGP a success.

And to those of you in the 14/14 ‘Grand Slam’ finishers club who have become even closer friends throughout these races: Happy Running… Here’s to next year & many GP’s to come…

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Mick Hughes (V40) Clayton-le-Moors Harriers
Photos: David Belshaw

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