Runner Report – ‘The Unlikely Second Slam!’ – The 2018 Pendle & Burnley Grand Prix

“What a difference a year makes”… as the saying goes.

Differences in plans and developments I hadn’t seen coming.

The last time I was writing a report for you all to read I was on a massive high from completing my first Grand Prix and my goal of all 14 races at last years GP. I remember putting last year’s Grand Slam medal proudly on display on a shelf and thinking, it will be tough doing this all over again, tougher than I thought as it happens.

On a routine Sunday ‘distance day’ run last September (and ironically on a lovely flat freshly tarmacked road..after all those fells!!) , I rolled my ankle right over flat to the floor with a horrid clunk. People have done worse and X-ray showed it wasn’t even broken. When the swelling calmed down it did however, as I suspected, leave me with tendon damage and a few months of rehab to do. This meant missing cross country, several planned winter races and leaving the off road/multi terrain behind for a good while.  Winter training and races were obviously part of my prep plan for this years G.P. But its funny how things happen in life and send you on different paths. I was swimming at least twice weekly to keep up some kind of fitness level and doing my rehab exercises on the ankle in the pool, progressing quickly to mixing in some sessions on the bike turbo, then actual cycling because of the lesser impact on the joint as it strengthened. Without races to aim for and without the buzz of full on training, as always I needed a goal! One day in the pool it dawned on me that I was swimming and cycling a few times a week and the once shelved idea of a triathlon came to mind. Not doing things by half, of course I went straight online and booked myself on Lytham triathlon just a few months later! Gill thought I was mad but had no doubt in me.  I returned to winter training with my club late on last year, and with the support of team mates and my coach John Roche, I soon moved back up a few groups and wasn’t too far off progress. Within the early few months of this year I had to factor in time on the bike, pool sessions and exercises on the ankle whilst managing my busy Sport Massage Therapy business. As it turns out I had a good debut triathlon at Lytham in May. Despite the strength and fitness I had gained, the G.P was right upon me and the ankle had done only a little off road running and therefore my multiple race fitness as opposed to last year was a big uncertainty.  I had to face the fact that I would probably have to settle for a few G.P fixtures, wholly expecting the ankle to have had enough after a handful of races, especially as we know ..they come thick and fast ! I was however going to see how I far I could make it.

 

I think all who raced at the G.P this year will agree that there was another factor making this year a challenge. it was overall much hotter than last years series. Aside from a small few cooler drizzly races such as Pinhaw, Kelbrook, Burnley Lions and the finale at Boulsworth, it was a scorcher this year. That said, we were due a decent summer and the atmosphere as always was great. Hameldon was a tough start with that climb and I remember needing lots of water at the end!

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Photo: the man-flu club! … taking a steady one at Trawden with team mate Chris Lawrence

Pinhaw and Wholan Nook are amongst that ones I really do like and although a bit tentative on the descents, my finishing times showed I actually wasn’t that far off pace, all things considered. It was great being in that ‘G.P atmosphere bubble’ amongst friends from different clubs and the banter returning on a weekly basis. A cooler temperature dip and return to my old stomping ground (road races) proved a good help at Colne at the Lions 10k. My race perception and pace strategy was a bit rusty though, as I broke away from a pack far too early and paid for it dearly as a few of my similar paced rivals flew past me on that second lap, reminding me of how much work remained ahead for me. There was no catching Trawden’s David Howard that day after that error. We get on well, often chatting while running together, he’s a top lad and I often pace with him during races. On the second lap his pacing was ace and far superior to my capabilities that night!

 

Kelbrook was cope able enough with a cool dull start but by now both the climbs and descends were proving tough on the tendons and I had to slow down when I felt the ankle less stable. It was somewhere around this point I invested in some new trail and fell shoes which did help somewhat. I was starting to think that maybe just maybe I had a few more races in me. I make no secret in the fact that I firmly believe Weets to be the toughest race of the series with its 2 challenging trig climbs, road section and undulating trail / terrain sections. The sun and heat returned with a vengeance and the second climb seemed to be without breeze and a real slog. Ironically, I managed to really sprint hard down the road at the end and was feeling much better at the finish than last year and my ankle wasn’t bad either. Some fell fitness was returning and after a few checks on the calendar, incredibly there was nothing to stop me making all the dates so, fingers crossed I decided to crack on.

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Photo: finally, strong enough for a sprint finish ! …putting a kick in to the finish at Weets.

 

Trawden is probably my favourite race as it’s the first real trail race I ever did. This year was a bit of a disappointment as a bad cold stopped me attacking it at pace and doing it justice. A great thing that it did do though, was present the rare opportunity to run nice and steady with a couple of team mates and enjoy every view on route…a different experience. I recommend this to anyone, if only done once! I took it fairly steady and ran with Chris Lawrence, Donna Airey and Helen Beech who all were either equally ill, maxed out from doing Trailblaster the day before! or just pacing steadier than normal. It was another one done though, another race ticked off.

 

Hendon was the one I nearly blew up completely at. I have no excuse, I have experience ! I know the magnitude of the task, I just set off to damn quick on the first 6 miles and ended up drinking more water and pouring water over my head at every water station! Thanks to the organisers that had the hindsight to add several additional stations, and the volunteers and marshalls were a vital support as always. There was a moment climbing out of Thursden Valley in the heat that I actually felt quite odd and thought it may have been my first DNF!  I knew I had to have a couple of very steady recovery miles and by the time I reached Colne I managed to get going again enough to steadily tap out my way up the punishing legendary lenches and to the eventual finish. Never is a T-Shirt so hard earned! a real badge of honour. The barbeque this year was a fab idea and made for a great atmosphere and fitting ending to such a special race.

 

I had friends coming to watch me at Towneley and that helped me kick on. Not an easy 10k by any means as leaving Towneley you have Mount Lane and the glorious tops of Burnley to come! but I was okay on the day, plenty of clubs represented that day. Record numbers for race attendance continue throughout this year!

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Photo: Towneley’s an easy return to tarmac..isnt it?!

The notorious fast Greenway 5k followed (a must for PB chasers) and I was still managing the miles, pace and frequency of the races…just! I managed a fast-ish pace around most of the greenway with help of a nice new tight fitting compression ankle bandage, previous stretching sessions and having got into some creative positions on the foam roller! I wasn’t sure I’d be anywhere near last years 19:41 finish. It was hotter, no doubt, but it was the same for all of us. I only just went over the 20 minute mark and that was enough for me. Many of you will know my wife Gill and the banter that gets sent her way along the lines of ’when are you getting an orange vest! Gill ran Greenway, pretty well too! (unattached of course) and I believe it settled a few doubts in her mind on racing and I also believe it was a real influence in her decision shortly after to join Clayton, as of September!

 

 

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Photos: The heat of Hendon & checking the watch at Greenway!

By the time the Worsthorne race came, there was no way I was going to settle for anything less than the Grand Slam after managing to get this far in. As my coach John Roche would say sometimes you just have to ‘Have a word!’.  As always, I seemed to pace ok over the trails of Worsthorne, as it’s a regular training ground for us each week in summer. I do, however always feel it’s a real pull up that last climb from the woods to the last descent of Gorple Road.  Seeing David with the camera and meg by his side always raises a smile though, even after toughest of climbs or longest trails most can get their finest race face on! As much as the broken, rocky surface of Gorple Road was showing up my tired ankle, I knew I had a weeks recovery before the finale.

 

If you’ve yet to experience all 14 races (which I totally recommend a go at!) it’s a special feeling when you head into the last race at Boulsworth. You know it’s a tough climb and a hard finishing race but you also know that you are steps away from going down in the roll of honours for that year! Boulsworth seems a massive climb, or perhaps it did to me after a long spell away from enough off road preparation prior to this year’s races ! The view of the Trawden show where you started from far below is worth the climb and I must have been buzzing for the finish as my descent was fairly good, didn’t lose a place as I recall and I even managed to P.B this last race, finishing under the hour.  Incredibly, as attendance to races continues to grow every year, so does the number of those achieving all 14 races. Myself, Charis Rowlands of Trawden (multiple grand slam achiever) and others had bottles of bubbly at the ready and I must admit the celebrations felt just as sweet as last year.

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Photos: Steep short climb at Sabden & heading out to Boulsworth to start the climb

 

So, what started out as potential damage limitation, and a 9 race qualifier at best, with a bit of digging deep and effort became the unthinkable, my second grand slam in as many years. The thing is, every year there are newbies, either to club running or the G.P and you just have to love watching their enthusiasm, epic journey and seeing them improve throughout.  We’ve all been there and its very inspiring. There are a number of runners, amongst the top 10 and the bottom!  many that I am now proud to call good friends who’ve had a superb first G.P, returned many years in succession or carry on performing great, well into the veteran categories. The great thing is, the G.P recognises this and the awards ceremony is always a highlight. We are so lucky that the money invested now means lots of trophies and awards are handed out in recognition.  Imagine my delight and the irony that guest speaker this year would be GB medal winning triathlete Candice Heys with a very inspiring story of her journey.  This year wasn’t planned to pan out like this, and next year I am intending to compete in more triathlons alongside my running and perhaps do a few more obscure races on the to-do list. I’m not thinking I’ll plan in or end up undertaking another grand slam attempt!

But……..what are plans, who knows?

 

And after all…

 

‘what a difference a year makes’……

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Photo: Grand Slam achievers of the Pendle & Burnley Grand Prix 2018

 

Special thanks to Gill (as always in her support of my training/racing), brilliant coach John Roche, Jamie McIlvenny, Barry Brock and all G.P race organisers and marshalls, Tony Pilling and Natasha Newell for support and triathlon training advice, David Belshaw for hours spent photographing all athletes…and to all team mates and friends from all clubs who have shared my journey.

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Mick Hughes (V40) Clayton-le-Moors Harriers

 

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

Runner Report – ‘A ‘Grand’ Challenge – The 2017 Pendle & Burnley Grand Prix… so far… so good’

Mick Hughes (Clayton-le-Moors Harriers) has penned a great write-up of his Grand Prix experience from ‘unattached’ to Club Runner :

“Despite years of being an ‘un-attached road runner’, this time last year I knew nothing of the existence of the PBGP series. I had done the obligatory big city 10k’s from Burnley to the various capitals and was a long suffering, self training bling collecting road runner and, to my knowledge was training hard enough and certainly self driven enough to train without a club. Don’t get me wrong I have raised a good sum for multiple charities and kept myself in reasonable shape. I was however naive to what I could achieve and to the extent of the superb local competitions available to local runners right on my doorstep. By the end of last spring, I was curious to how far forward a club and coach could take me in improvement and the only club that had ever crossed my mind was Clayton. By June 2016, the decision was made and I was waiting for my membership at Clayton to be approved in July 2016 as I turned up to Trawden 7 Trail Race (still un-attached and in road trainers!).

I had started training with Clayton and been informed of the PBGP. I completed in Trawden 7 and was hooked, I would go as far as saying this changed my mind on trying multi terrain races, after indicating on my club membership form that I was only interested in road, my mind was opened to pursuing trail, fell for beginners ! and even a season of cross country followed.

Fast forward to 2017, having completed a winter of hard training, several purchases of decent types of running shoes and a challenge from a fellow inspirational club team mate, I have the completion of all 14 PBGP 2017 races as my main goal this year. So this will be my first full Grand Prix experience.  The more you think about it and consider the GP, the more it becomes a complete no brainer and an absolute must (and understandably a main fixture of many a local runners yearly agenda). Its a series for runners. run by runners’. The race fees are around five times cheaper than many big events, safe in the knowledge that the local hospice gains massively from the funds, the organisers understand what the runners really need and everyone down to the last marshall tend to be enthusiastic. The main factor to me though, is that special atmosphere that this series automatically generates, whether you are having friendly rivalry pre-race banter with a Trawden runner, Blackburn Harrier, discussing tactics with a fellow team mate or simply, the enthusiastic person on registration that has a smile and four safety pins ready, there’s certainly something magic at these events.

I managed 5 races last year and therefore anything before Trawden 7 was an unknown quantity for me. Having now raced on multiple terrains I lined up at the start of race 1; Hameldon Hill with the confidence that i was stronger and fitter than last year, at the very worst (if my fell technique was mediocre, resulting in a slow time) a finish of each race was the bigger goal. The one factor i hadn’t really give that much consideration to was… heat & humidity!

A record number turned up and the sun was blistering.. the climb was unforgiving, and as much as I kept an eye on the Garmin to keep pace easy to the top, crossing some technical slight bog was sapping my energy and I had to dig deep to push on to the eventual decent. But, during all four of the races this year there have been instances where you look out and are stunned by the views and the support around you (regardless of club allegiance), it is an unbelievable, addictive, welcome companion…the sense of “we’re all in this together”.  I came down off Hambeldon in the respectable ‘Fell rookie’ time of 54;22. Next up was Pinhaw Moor Trail Race, a straight up. straight down 5 mile, 700ft race, and again, a humid evening, but the support in the town as you set off and return back pounding the pavements hard into the finish is enough to keep you going as much as any city gathering. Although the climb tests even the most accomplished fell runners, on turning at the trig mount, our beautiful Lancashire rural landscapes are reward enough as the legs control braking in the fast and steep exhilarating descent down. 39 minutes later I was discussing the trials of the course and putting the world to rights with members from many clubs back at the cricket club in Earby over a well earned pint.

Still buzzing on reflection from the first two fixtures, Wholan Nook Trail Race came upon me quickly and on a night after a hard day at work. At a modest 5 miles (and trail paths on which i was familiar), I don’t think I gave this little feisty course enough respect. A team mate warned me of the need to keep some reserve for the second big climb (one of which I was unaware was 4 miles in !) this was a tough race but the morale amongst all runners was great and after a lung busting climb and some elevated trail paths, the reservoir of Clowbridge was soon insight, glimmering in the early evening sun and many team selfies were taken in the backdrop of the boat club and surrounding hills. Just over 38 minutes was satisfying enough as I looked towards a return to my usual surface of strength – the road! with a positive eye still on the final prize of completing the G.P as I carried on, thankfully fit and injury free, aside from the usual odd aches and pains of competing.

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Burnley Lions 10K came on the hottest day of the year! A 2 lap road race with a few twisting country lane climbs that certainly included the most scenic areas of Colne I had seen but at roughly 25 degrees, it was the most brutal and draining race of the GP thus far. I set off well, support was great and the locals were out in force with impromptu unofficial water stations, shouts of encouragement and local cheer. A massive turn out once again from Clayton, Trawden, local clubs and gifted un-attached runners (in general across all age categories) and I believe a record once again for this race made the atmosphere a force to be reckoned with. The second lap asked everything of me and I struggle to recall a hotter more challenging 10k, but nevertheless, the 4th race was soon under the belt and several bottles of water later all was good as I opened a celebratory beer and looked at the pictures kindly taken by David Belshaw capturing the highs and lows of another tough but rewarding race.

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As I write this, next up will be Kelbrook Fell Race, I hope I have improved enough in technique and fitness to remain fairly competitive and to do my club proud, but one things remains…

My eye is still firmly on the goal of picking up that precious hard earned full GP finishers medal and furthermore and more importantly I believe, more than ever in the fact that this is the best race series event locally, bar none. Challenging ? …Yes, no doubt (across all disciplines) but worth it?… absolutely…

The magic of the ‘Grand’ challenge (PBGP) lives on…

Best of luck to all fellow athletes for the remaining 10 races… may the heat be moderate and the spirits remain high.

Thanks to all who work tirelessly in the background to make this event a success.

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

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If you would like to submit a write-up of a race or how your Grand Prix is going, please get in touch and we’ll all look forward to reading it.

PBGP Race 2 – Pinhaw Moor

PBGP Race 2 – Pinhaw Moor:

The weather forecast was crap but as per the brochure it was wrong and the sun came out. Record numbers tonight with 220 runners of all abilities. The cricket club was packed afterwards for the presentation to cheer the prize-winners and to have a few beers with such lovely people. Congratulations and many thanks to Stephen Chew and Barlick Fell Runners for a superb night. It sums up what the event is all about and all for £5 entry. Look forward to seeing you all next week. Cheers JR

The PBGP is not just a cracking series of races…

“…the PBGP is not just a cracking series of races it’s a kind of real life, nonline running community with plenty of craic!”

The Pendle & Burnley Grand Prix truly is for all runners: club-based, unattached, leading at the front or bringing up the rear.  We asked Trawden AC‘s Deborah Stevenson to write a few words to sum up her experience of the Grand Prix and it’s a great read!

Grab a brew and have a look here “Nonline bants at the PBGP

We would love to have race reports or write ups from any runners in this years Grand Prix. So if you’re smashing your times or loving the fells for the first time, write a few sentences, snap a few photos (we’re sure David Belshaw will have one or two 😉 ) and send them onto us!