There was a good buzz around on the Saturday morning, lots of people retelling tales of the snow and ice from the year before, and there were loads of people about that I knew, either from the Hell of a Hill last year (same organisers), the Running Discussion Board on Facebook, or just from other races.
Registration was quick, I stuck my chip on my shoe, and after a quick visit to the gents, we were off. I’d set myself a rough target of 8 hours 30 for the two marathons, which although wouldn’t be mega quick, it also wouldn’t give me much time for hanging about, chatting at the aid stations and tweeting photos of my flapjacks. The first 4 miles or so were pretty much uphill, to the top of Winter Hill. I’d really struggled with that stretch last time, but it wasn’t really a problem at all this time around (apart from briefly losing my shoe in a bog) which I took to be a very good sign. I ran back down the other side of Winter Hill like an idiot, clocked a 3:30/km which I had a feeling I’d regret, and then things levelled out a bit for the flat stretch past Rivington Pike and the reservoir. It was cool to see some of the Hell of a Hill route again, although it was weird not recognising much of the rest of the route, since it had been covered in snow the last time I saw it.
One of the oddest things about the Bolton Hill route, is that although there are two sodding great hills, it’s actually the flat bits that take the biggest toll. Constantly switching from rocky Roman roads, to tarmac, to muddy moorland, to rocky trails is hard going, and there are some tricky stretches if you’re not used to that kind of terrain.
I was still having a whale of a time when I hit halfway in 1:50, which I knew was too quick for the next day to be enjoyable, so I eased off a touch coming round the other side of the reservoir at about 15 miles, despite part of me wanting to hammer it and see what happened. The climb back up towards Rivington Pike was a pig, but from the top I knew I was nearly home, and looking to be comfortably under 4 hours which was well inside my goal time. From the mile 25 marker at the top of a muddy descent, it felt like ages to the finish, but eventually I was running down the road we’d headed out on earlier, and running back into the park.
The finish to this race is ace, it’s generally downhill for the last few miles which is cool, but then the last 200m or so are down a steep grassy bank in the park which makes for a nice stupid sprint finish. I’m not entirely sure what Phil and Kris were thinking with the finishing chute though, the entrance to it was MASSIVE – you’d have got the entire field of runners down there in one go, so it felt pretty cool having all that space to myself when I came in, just over 3 hours 56.
I had a mooch about after to see if anyone else I knew was around, and had a chat with a couple of the other runners that came in behind me, but then I shot off home for an ice bath and as much food as I could possibly eat to set me up for day 2.
If anything, the Sunday was even more fun. There were more people there I knew that day, including David Marsh from SWAC and Les and Martin from the RDB and it was a little warmer, and a little drier under foot to boot.
My legs were feeling a little trashed, but nothing specific hurt, and as I started up the first hill I found a bit of rhythm and plodded my way to the top. All I wanted to do for day 2 was keep things feeling comfortable, so I kept the pace about 10-20 seconds per km slower for the main part, and just took my time. This time I hit halfway in 1:57 which felt ok, and knowing I could almost walk in under my target from there took a bit of pressure off. I bumped into David and Gill at one of the checkpoints which we hit twice, before and after running around the reservoir, and had a bit of chat with them and the marshals, before heading off for the final climb. I ran a big part of the final stretch with a guy who was running it as a warm up for the Manchester Marathon, and we chatted a bit as we went along which was cool. With a couple of miles to go he stopped for a pee, and I carried on, and pushed the pace a little, finishing in 4:09.
Overall I was pretty happy, one of the places I want to be before the South Downs Way 100 is for a 4 hour marathon on similar terrain to feel easy, and for the most part that did. I’ve got a couple of opportunities to see if I can hold a similar pace for longer in one stretch at the Oldham Way (40m) and Malvern Hills (53m) over the next few weeks, but for now, things are looking on track.