This is the ‘year in 7’ when the Amble doesn’t fall on the day before the Winter Hill fell race and so I was expecting a field with a “keen front”. I think I have finished in the top 5 during the last couple of years I wasn’t expecting to do any better than, perhaps, top 10. Conditions still looked to be good but thawing and the section after Belmont still had the potential to be difficult and the climb up Great Hill would probably not be frozen at all.
Off with Albert Sunter at the front, off too fast and before the Pike I knew there was no point in trying to keep up so I dropped off to a nearly comfortable pace losing another couple of places to reach the Mast with three in front. Another 4 came past, very fast, on the descent and I began to wonder about a top 10 place. The next check point doesn’t record numbers, it only offers drinks and biscuits. It is also about 15-20 yards off the route and there is no need to visit it , as I found out last year. Not stopping there picked up 5 places and although I conceded 2 of them before crossing Stake Moss I was able to hang on to that pair and stay ahead of the rest. The rough ground slowed them and I started the climb to Turton Heights within sight of the second placed runner. Last year I didn’t eat or drink enough and wanting to avoid a repeat I sorted my check point strategy – refill my bottle, take food, say “thanks” and get away as quickly as possible, carry the food until the next climb and eat & drink then. This worked so well at the Strawberry Duck that I caught the second place runner (from Preston Harriers) almost as soon as we left the CP. Eating on the climb out, I reached the stile at the top of the hill just ahead of him and then stretched my legs to discourage him from chasing me down to the A666 and Cadshaw Valley.
Now with a comfortable gap and Albert in sight I lost he plot completely, thinking it would be a good idea to catch Albert I started pushing a bit harder going up Cadshaw – what a plonker! Not only could I not catch Albert I should have been eating and drinking on the long steady climb. When it became obvious I wasn’t reducing the gap I started eating and started suffering for my impetuousness. The leg to Darwen Tower was going to be a long one and a long one it was. By the Tower, I had taken a heavy fall and spilt almost all my drink, lost two places and had another runner right behind me but I had managed to keep eating and I did drink what was left after the spill. Not long after the Tower the woman behind overtook me easily and, seemingly, without having to try too hard. Dropping off the moor she followed the zigzag track while the straight path allowed me to get in front of her and close the gap on the pair in front. Reaching Slipper Lowe CP just behind them I heard them ask for “Tea or anything warm, please”. so they had suffered in the cold wind too. Grabbing some malt loaf, topping up my bottle, saying hello to John Crook and setting off immediately meant only Albert was in front of me. Great Hill was going to be wet and slow so I enjoyed the malt loaf on the way up. Looking back I saw the pair just leaving the road as I started the steepest part of the climb but I also saw the Preston Harrier much closer but walking the first part of the climb. Now all I had to do was reach the top and stretch out the gap on the descent. Having been down here a couple of weeks ago I knew where the “good running” would be.
As I reached White Coppice I saw one other runner appear over the skyline and leaving White Coppice I saw one of the pair three quarters of the way down the hill. From here to the end there were “short route” walkers to chase and the route twists and turns so that it is difficult to see very far ahead. As long as I was in sight I pushed on as hard as I could (which probably wasn’t very hard). I would like to be able to say I paced it to the end to finish in sub 4 but I didn’t – with ever increasing panic I watched the seconds tick away and only as I reached the last field before Rivington did I realise finishing in under 4 hours was possible.