Sunday, 18 August 2013

Running The Oldham Way

I took my time about it, but finally ran the 41.8 miles of The Oldham Way in one go this weekend with some great company and fantastic support.

This started as a project back in February. It was one of my 3 main goals for the year. I'm fortunate to live just 1 mile from The Oldham Way, which I discovered was a footpath encircling the Borough of Oldham and taking in a lot of its amazing and varied countryside.

The landscape of the route varies from moorland to canal. Its official starting point is at Dove Stone Reservoir near Greenfield, which is just over 2 miles from where I live. It then continues over Saddleworth Moor to Diggle and Castleshaw Moor to Denshaw. It then skirts the north of Shaw and Royton to meet the Rochdale Canal at Chadderton Hall Park. It follows the canal south through Chadderton to Failsworth, after which it joins the Medlock Valley to Daisy Nook and Park Bridge before climbing over Hartshead Pike to Quick and then back to Dove Stone.

The original plan was to run it with 6 twitter friends in June, but I picked up a bit of an injury and had to postpone it. With a busy summer already planned I didn’t have too many dates to choose from after that, but tried to pick one that I hoped most of us could all still make. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be as one by one the original group (all but one anyway) ruled themselves out with other commitments etc. Fair enough. All but one that is. My good friend Johnny (@Dunsrunner) still wanted to take part even though he’d been out with a back injury for a month and had only managed one small run in the days leading up to it. The whole 40-mile route was out of the question, but he wanted to come and support and maybe run a bit.

The inconspicuous Johnny!

Then, up stepped two local runners with impeccable timing. “We’ve read your blog and would like to run The Oldham Way” or words to that effect.

Paul (@xx51mmo) and Steve (@stelee15) were well up for it and their enthusiasm was just the boost I needed. Don’t get me wrong I would have been happy to do it on my own, but I’d much rather share the experience and so I was all too glad to get these guys on board. Paul sounded like he had a bit of experience. Arguably more than me. He’s run further having done The Wall, which is a 70-miler.

Pretending I know where we are going

Steve was less experienced having done just one marathon, but having met him for a small run a week or two before I was confident he had what it took. He was no stranger to running off road and he’s ex-army. I could tell he had the mental strength to keep going.

The assembled runners: Johnny, Steve, Paul and me

We then needed one more to make up this motley crew. Now who do I know that is reliable, enthusiastic and very experienced in the art of running support? Yes you guessed it. Our rock of support for the day was Rowena of course (@rowenanews).

Johnny decided that he’d run 10 miles of it and so I put together a bit of a strategy involving me and Johnny deploying his van (from now on known as ultravan) to The Diggle Hotel on the Friday night. This worked out well as it meant we could have a couple of pints of Golden Sheep and chew the fat a bit. Johnny was to run the first 9 miles from our starting point at The Royal George in Greenfield to Diggle where he would join up with Rowena and they two would then become our support crew for the rest of the day. Rowena herself having been struggling with a knee injury would run to The Diggle Hotel along the flat, which was much quicker and less stress on her knee, whilst we were gallivanting in the hills! Simple. Not that simple. Ro fell and hurt herself running back home from the Royal George. Badly grazed her knee and took a bit of a knock. There was no way she could run the 4 or 5 miles to Diggle, but she managed to get on her bike and cycle there! Respect.

Faithful 'Red' got Rowena to CP1
Here we come

Rowena was waiting as we 4 hill runners arrived at CP1 feeling pretty good. That said, the boys now knew what they’d let themselves in for! With food and drink consumed courtesy of ultravan and our slightly battered support, I shook Johnny’s hand and as 4 became 3 we headed off up another big hill to start Stage 2. Stage 2 is tough. It’s a lot of climbing up to Castleshaw Moor and when you get there it’s incredibly exposed to the elements and the crosswind was very strong. Running along the top is very technical under foot. It’s boggy and rocky. Every foot placement needs concentration and this takes its toll.

I remember Paul saying his legs had never felt so tired after 14 miles just after we had descended from the Moor to Denshaw. I think the next 4 or 5 miles to CP2 where Rowena & Johnny would be waiting with ultravan felt quite far to Paul and Steve who were ready to fuel up. I was doing well taking in food that I was carrying (humous & olive wraps and homemade flapjack), but I too was looking forward to a swig of coke and the lift you get from seeing friendly faces.

Johnny and his ultravan patiently waiting for us at CP2 whilst Rowena gets the shots (he's probably on Twitter isn't he)

Looking back up the trail

Nobody's looking, I'll just squeeze in a few burpees!

No sign of us yet

Here we come

Forcing a smile


Setting off again

The next stage was the longest. Miles 19 to 35 began with another big ascent. Lots of running across farmer’s fields. A lot of stiles. The occasional navigational blip. By the time we joined the canal in Oldham it had started to rain. I was feeling OK. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt better running than I did doing this run. I just had a good day and felt pretty strong throughout. The other two won’t mind me saying though that they were finding it hard now and CP3 couldn’t come soon enough.

Paul in particular was concerned about slowing me down, but it didn’t matter to me how long it took, it was about starting together and all finishing together. My biggest problem is usually going too fast and paying for it later, so in that respect a slower pace was good for me. I did get my calculations a bit wrong and CP3 seemed to be getting further away and the guys were very patient as I kept saying “actually, it’s a few more miles yet!” I ran on ahead a lot to try and give them something to chase (don’t know if that was a good strategy, but it felt like it was working) and when I arrived at Daisy Nook I took a minute to get the map out and work out what was left. Just half a mile to Park Bridge where Johnny and Rowena would be waiting. We all now needed some supplies. For me it was salt and sweet stuff. Steve had realised that Haribo alone wasn’t enough and Paul needed food too; his energy levels now very low. After that I told them, the good news was that the final stage was around 6 miles, not 8 as I’d first thought!

I’d exchanged messages with Rowena, which was just as well otherwise it would have been a shock to come running down the trail into this former mill site and now heritage centre to see lots of people and a man with an M6 machine gun!! Apparently they were filming ‘Crimes that Shook Australia’! Paul’s wife and family had turned up, which must have been a massive boost for him. They had some camping chairs and Paul plonked himself down in one. After a little while I was starting to get worried that Paul wouldn’t get out of the chair if he sat in it too much longer! Then another boost. Johnny wanted to run the last 6 miles with us, which I thought was a great idea.

Keep running or I'll shoot you!

First casualty of the day!


He just can't stop doing burpees!

If we don't set off running again soon we're dead

Gotta love a man handing out Jaffa Cakes

Getting a bit TOO comfy 

Crouching gunman as you'd expect to see at any checkpoint

We set off, the first couple of miles following the river, then we began the climb to Hartshead Pike. This was a tough hike so far into the run and we lost the path on the way up, making it harder still. We then ran down the other side and through a bit of a residential area before greeting another hill up to Quick. I'd been looking forward to the hill at Quick though knowing that the splendor of the Saddleworth hills would appear again as we came over the crest of the hill and we could see where it all started 10 hours earlier. I sprinted down the grassy bank (well I was sprinting in my head, I was probably hobbling in reality). Johnny then got ahead to take a photo of the 3 of us descending. We passed Paul’s Mother & Father-in-Law’s house and got waves of support and encouragement, then down to the canal, left past the cricket club and out onto the road where our starting point, The Royal George, came into view.

What a feeling to have done this spectacular route. Handshakes all around. Hugs for everyone off Rowena. It was throwing it down with rain now and we all staggered into the pub looking like wet dogs and smelling worse. The crazed looks in our eyes probably dissuaded the manager from turning us away, but you could tell from the look on his face that we weren’t the sort of Saturday night clientele that he was looking for :-)
Paul’s wife and kids arrived too and we all had a well-earned drink.

I have to thank my lovely Rowena for her tremendous support and putting up with me ranting on about this run all year. Enormous thanks to Johnny for making the trip down from Duns and making the day extra special. But my biggest thanks go to 2 guys who ran 41.8 hard miles with me and never once considered giving up. Paul admitted it was as hard if not harder than The Wall and I think he has learnt a lot from this run. As for Steve, *puts on on Ironman voice* Steve Lee, you are an ultrarunner. Legends, all 4 of them.

Respect to Paul & Steve. Looking forward to running with you again.

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