I was wondering how to celebrate my 48th birthday. Instead of the usual imbibing and regretting it the following day, I decided to run the Eccles Pike fell race. Not only that, I would turn it into a personal duathlon by cycling there and back at maximum effort. The journey uphill from Stockport to the Navigation Inn in Buxworth took me 40 minutes (I have no idea of the distance). I had plenty of time to register, chat with Kevin Day, Will Meredith and a few others, soak up the evening sunshine and check out the start location. The start and finish was on a sports field in a cold hollow beside the river and out of the sunlight. Kevin of organising club Goyt Valley Striders arrived late (by car, would you believe) to say his piece and blow his horn. The reason for the lateness was to allow for late arrivals, who had been held up in the roadworks on the A6. I was glad I had cycled.
The route would follow an 'up-'n'-down, out-'n'-back format. We set off up the football field to a sharp left up to the road. I elected not to short cut through the deep 'station weed', which some others did. Once up on the road we descended to complete a left-hand circuit back around the Navigation Inn beside the canal basin, which brought us back into the warmth of the setting sun. Back past the Navigation, we turned right to climb to the bridge over the Whaley Bridge bypass, then onwards up past more sports fields before turning right onto a lane, where the sun blinded us. A left turn took us steeply uphill on single footpath and the ascent towards the foot of Eccles Pike via fields, a bog, a steep climb and a rocky technical path. Fortunately the sun was behind us at that point. The techical path saw the front runners begin to pass me in the opposite direction before I reached the foot of the Pike.
The right turn up the Pike allowed me my first walking break. There was no way I was going to run any of that. The same went for those around me. We puffed our way up to the top. As soon as the gradient began to ease I forced a shuffle, then jog, then run out of my legs on the left-hand turn back to the downhill and return leg. However I felt a little weakened and did not feel confident to 'let 'er rip' to my satisfaction. I felt as though I was stumbling clumsily down the hill, but I wasn't getting overtaken so it can't have been too bad. Back down onto the rocky path I turned left into the blinding sun to run almost blind. I ran on the right to avoid crashing into the tail-enders who still had the final climb to look forward to. I was running as hard as my body allowed but it seemed so slow (as always). I got overtaken by one on the descent across the fields to the boggy dip but I soon caught up on the other side. I pushed with all I had down the path to the lane and right turn. My ears told me there were runners behind but I would do all I could to hold them off. I ran, now with the almost set sun behind me, to the left turn down the edge of the sports field to the bridge over the bypass, down, left, past the Navigation and right. Cruelly we were now faced with the uphill along the road. I was dragging myself but I was still not getting caught. Yes, I was passing others walking in the opposite direction back to the Navigation who had already finished, but they're 'special' and blessed with speed and I'm not, so I could ignore them without too much feeling of inadequacy.
From what I could hear, the runner behind me seemed to be closing. I pushed myself up to the right turn down the track back to the football field. Even though it was downhill I had nothing left to blast it. I just hoped my best would be good enough not to get overtaken. I turned right and ran up the football field to the finish in 0:32:46, which was 76th out of 128 finishers. The man closing on me was David Smith, the only other Stockport Harrier in the race. He was just 2 seconds behind. Another 10 yards and he would have had me.
Runners were milling around in the cold hollow in the calm evening air, drinking water from plastic cups. Steam rose off them as if they were thoroughbreds at the end of a race. They probably were. I was just an old nag out to pasture (but I was still steaming).
I returned to my bike to begin the mostly downhill ride back to Stockport, which was exhilarating. I enjoyed burning off the cars who, after racing starts from traffic lights, elected not to overtake me until we ventured into 40mph zones. (The wind and rolling resistance of hybrid bikes is not conducive to high speed.) I did prove one thing though; cyclists don't set off speed cameras.
That was my penultimate training for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. The final training was my local Woodbank Parkrun on Saturday, which I completed in 23:19. I later discovered that it was only 3 seconds outside my PB for this hilly 5k. That was a pleasant surprise. I felt fit and ready for the UTMB.