For those of you out there reading this who have never heard of the Hill of a Hill event, it’s a marathon a day for 5 days. It’s not called Hell of a Hill because of the 5 days, it’s because of the “Hill” bit. The event is set in Rivington near Bolton and consists of running 6 laps up a hill called Rivington Pike, where a square stone folly stands on the top overlooking Bolton. The paths are very rough and rocky so under foot conditions are extremely technical and challenging. Put all this together and you get one “Hell of a Hill” event!
Two years ago I had no intention of completing all 5 days of the Hell of a Hill event but as I wasn’t too busy at work I kept coming down each day and entering one day at a time. I couldn’t do the Saturday (day 4) due to family commitments but returned on the Sunday. In the end I managed 4 days out of the 5 without really planning to do so. I watched the 5 day finishers being applauded and wished I had done the same, so in 2015 I entered all 5 days. Sadly in 2015 I got injured on day 1, struggled to complete day 2 and had to pull out of the event. It’s not often I don’t complete a running event which made me even more determined to return again in 2016 and conquer this challenge.
Hell of a Hill – Day 1
We had a new course for 2016 due to work being done in the gardens. This meant the course was now 6 larger loops each day up Rivington Pike instead of the previous 8. From my recollection there used to be about 5000 feet of climb each day, this year it had reduced to 3650 feet, much less but still very significant and greater than the height of Mount Snowdon. In a way I was a bit disappointed I wasn’t doing the original hillier course but the new course had a new seriously steep, rocky descent which was very awkward to run, dangerous and painful on the soles of my feet. So even though it wasn’t as hilly this year it was still a ridiculously tough course and a formidable challenge.
Day 1’s weather was very cold, with some low mist and a sprinkling of snow on the top around the Pike from the night before. At least it was dry and the paths were free from the snow. The view from the Pike changed each lap, some laps we were in fog with some eerie views, while other laps I could see for miles across the Cheshire plane. On fresh legs I put in a decent time of 4:20:43 and a pleasing 8th place overall which was a good solid start for the 5 day event.
Hell of a Hill – Day 2
For day 2 the weather wasn’t kind, we had a mixture of sunshine and showers. As the day went on the wind increased making it very blowy on the exposed top of the hill near the Pike. I must thank the marshals for supporting us all day long in such cold November weather each day at the two check points out on the course. They were lovely, friendly and great encouragement when we were feeling weary. On this day one of the supporting ladies brought some delicious chocolate cupcakes to the check pint at the Sheep House Lane car park. They were fantastic with chocolate orange pieces inserted into the top. I really enjoyed marching up the hill towards the Pike on one of the laps whilst munching away on one of those delicious cupcakes.
My legs felt tired from the previous day’s efforts on the hill so my pace was a bit slower but still steady so I was pleased to have 2 days done without incident. Day 2’s time 4:39:06.
Hell of a Hill – Day 3
Day 3 had a frosty start but it was calm with some lovely sunshine, I couldn’t have asked for better running conditions considering it was the middle of November. Even though my legs felt tired the lovely weather made me feel great. I took the first half conservatively and as the weather made me feel so good I ended up speeding up during the second half and clocked a negative split time.
It was Remembrance Day and at 11am we could all hear a bugle piping out through the trees. I think it was coming from a local school. All marathon runners stopped where they were as a mark of respect listening to the bugle sounding the last post, it was such an emotional and beautiful moment.
Over the event so far I had kept bumping into the same runner, Christopher Kay. We had a similar overall pace but Chris was impressively stronger on the up hills but this was balanced out by my downhill technique. This meant we kept overtaking each other virtually every lap, for a short while during most laps we kept each other company with interesting running banter. I was surprised how many similar marathons we had done, yet not really come across each other before. Finishing time today 4:31:25
Hell of a Hill – Day 4
What awful weather, what a difference 24 hours can make. It had been raining all night making the start of each lap going up from the car park on Sheep House Lane up to the Pigeon Tower was like running up a river not a track. For most of the first half of the day it rained. It was cold but at least it was calm. Coming down the far side of the course was no easier than going up. The path on this part of the course is very stony and steep and with the rain it was another river, running fast and several inches deep meaning you couldn’t see the stones which made it extremely tricky to run on. This was some of the most challenging terrain I’ve ever encountered.
I know I’m a man who loves numbers and statistics and to pass the time I found myself counting the steps from the Pigeon Tower up to the Pike. I kept doing this each lap, it seemed to help me get through this tough section of the course. I can confirm there are 159 steps to the top of the Pike which are split into 2 sections, the first section has 64 and the second section 95. This has been checked, double checked, triple checked, etc, etc, etc. In fact it become my ritual each lap as I ascended to the Pike. On some laps I counted out loud to the amusement of any runners that were near me at the time. Also as I reached the pike I liked to touch it and count the number of times I had reached it each day. I can’t give you any real reason I did this but somehow it seemed comforting counting to 6 each day.
As I ascended up to the Pike on one of the laps I heard lots of loud noise at the top. I wondered if we had suddenly acquired an unusual crowd to cheer us all. As I got to the Pike I was amongst a rugby team, I don’t know what they were all doing up there but it was an interesting distraction for one of my 6 laps of the day.
As if the rugby players wasn’t strange enough a couple of laps later when I was coming down from the Pike I bumped into about 150 Santas marching up to the Pike. It was obviously a charity event as a few of them had buckets to collect money. I couldn’t see them being too successful collecting money with so few people out on the Pike. The whole sight of Santas on the Pike seemed so surreal I wondered if all these laps of the Pike were starting to make me hallucinate.
Day 4 done in another similar time 4:38:04. I was very pleased to have most of the challenge done and still have another reasonable time considering the poor weather and awkward underfoot conditions.
Hell of a Hill – Day 5
Another day and another change in the weather, this time for the better and most importantly dry, with cloud and fairly mild conditions especially for November. It might surprise people and runners who haven’t done multi-day events before but the last day can produce fast times. This is mainly because you don’t have to save any energy for to next day.
I had a crazy first lap with Christopher Kay, we both started the first lap at a ridiculous pace which certainly wasn’t sustainable for the whole 6 laps but it was great fun as we enjoyed our final day. It was amazing how a day can change this course, the rivers had gone and the paths were much easier to negotiate. Over the previous 4 days I have had the upper hand over Chris on the steep downhill sections but his skills had definitely improved and he was able to match me. Combine this with his faster accents and I was unable to match his pace even though I was having a good run myself. Well done to Chris who beat me and slipped in front of me in the overall 5 day standings. I didn’t mind coming behind the younger man and had thoroughly enjoyed his company and banter over the 5 days. I hope I can share another running event again with Chris at some time in the future.
After the mad first lap the next 5 were much more sensibly paced and I finished in a very respectable 4:23:09 and 5th overall in the 5 day event. I’m so pleased to have finally complete this event which for the last couple of years has eluded me.
I wish to thank Philip and his wife Melissa for staging this crazy tough event and to all marshals that were so friendly and encouraging over the five days.
If reading this is tempting you to enter than follow the link below. Also Phil does have a list of other events so maybe they might also take your fancy.
I would also like to thank Team Nutrition for their products that I used to keep helping me round these tough endurance events. During this event I used their Hydration drink, Pura Charger 180 with its electrolytes and caffeine then immediately after each run their Recharger product which is a tasty chocolate protein drink to aid my recovery. To view these products and their complete range follow the link below:-
Also thank you to Mick Hall for photographing days 1 and 5, and capturing some great images. Some of which I’ve used in this blog post.