Burnley is a town of runners. Our Parkrun has around 400 of them on a Saturday morning, there are plenty of local clubs to chose from and several C25k groups for those starting out. We have a popular Grand Prix series, a big charity-driven road 10k, races organised by Burnley Leisure, the Fireman’s and a healthy smattering of club races and fell races. What we didn’t have, until now, was a marathon.
Step forward Jamie McIlvenny with the idea of a Yorkshireman style off road marathon utilising the lesser-known footpaths of the Burnley Way. (From concept to execution, despite the obvious comparisons and Tudor hangups, we were banned from calling it the Lancashireman, due to the brief border crossing en-route. Hence the unofficial name The Not-the-Lancashireman.)
23rd September 2018 marked the inaugural/trial run. Here’s how I fared…
Reasons why I didn’t recce…
- I didn’t get around to it.
- This route is basically a loop around my house. I would never be more than 5 miles from my front door. This my stomping ground y’all.
- I’m not a swot.
- I figured RD Jamie needed crash test dummies and an element of mild peril.
Simon Says… *SS*
Despite entering as a SOLO FULL I ran the entirety with club mate Simon Lister. A TAC legend and 7x IM finisher with 30+ marathons under his belt; he approaches every race as a “grand day out.” Under his tutelage I have embraced this ethos. Basically by telling us two that “this is an event with no nasty cut-offs,” RD Jamie was only bringing a long wait on himself.
Simon is rarely seen off tarmac and I was genuinely surprised he owned a pair of battered Salomans. His dry asides throughout made my day and I have included them here; I will let the reader judge which were serious, ironic or enhanced for comic effect.
Leg 1…Dirty Old Town.
I found my love by the gas works wall
Dreamed a dream by the old canal
I kissed my girl by the factory wall
Dirty old town, dirty old town
Ecky thump, this is a reet proper Northern belter of a start. It has dark satanic mills and takes in one of the seven wonders of the British canal network! You set off along t’cut nodding “ow do,” to flat-capped men walking their whippets before cutting through t’pit top and heading out, (past more mills,) to the Thursden Valley, (which is definitely where the boggarts live.)
This section is the side of the route that covers the ground between my house and that of my parents, (my childhood home.) I run these trails as part of my run commute and often bump into Simon out with his dog. This is where we struggled most with our nav!
This leg encompasses a tangled web of lies through Netherwood and Houghton Hagg before disappearing into the Land that Time Forgot. We received our first outside assistance from the man who runs the cafe at HAPPA, he intervened with directions after spotting us scratching our heads in his stable yard, and, picked up Mark the marathon rookie who waved his map at us in despair from the opposite bank of the river. I also recieved a text from Marshal Matt, “Are you ok? Where are you?” Safe to say we already had them worried.
*SS* There’s a lot of grass.
*SS* “Not another field!”
Leg 2…Rocking and a Rolling.
Hey! I know this bit! It’s predominantly bridleway. It’s big wide rocky paths that you can’t get lost on. It’s the mountain bike motorway known as Gorple Road. It’s big naff off landmarks that you can’t blumming miss, (even I can’t run past a wacking great reservoir without noticing.) It’s I’ve-run-this-bit-a-thousand-times-and-in-this-order. Heck, I’ve even run this bit in the dark! I was happy. Mark was happy. Simon didn’t have a clue where he was but was happy enough to chat about submarines for a bit. We made it in good time up to checkpoint 2 where we noshed some nachos and asked after the leaders, “don’t worry about them,” smiled Marshal Karen warmly, “they’ve probably finished by now.”
*SS* Where the hell are we? Am I somewhere near the Billet?
Leg 3…The Climby Bit.
It was not long after leaving the second checkpoint and a little con-flab about crossing a “rushy field to the way markers on the brow of the ridge,” that I realised the boys were no longer clutching their maps with whitened knuckles. I was suddenly the adult in the room. I assumed command of the regiment and skipped ahead to recon for B’s humming the theme to Blue Peter as it was the only vaguely military tune I could come up with.
*SS* “How has Jamie even found these paths?
*SS* “I bet those nav sessions that the club runs and I never go to would be useful in a race like this.”
This last leg is long, long in miles, long in terms of Garmin battery life. As we climbed Thievely Pike, (the highest point of the Burnley Way,) Mark started to question the wisdom of doing this as his first marathon, (or rather his legs did.) Flanking the behemoth we leapt Somme-worthy bogs, mounting our assault from what I termed “the wrong side,” before stumbling surprisingly early upon the trig, (or photo opportunity.) I made sure to send a snap to RD Jamie so he could ring home and get them to tape X Factor.
*SS* “This indistinct path seems very distinct to me.”
As we’d all run out of water and I kept chunnering about the ice cream van potential in Towneley Park, we decided to hit the village petrol station shop when we passed. My attempt to impress the lady inside with our epic endurance was met with directions for a shortcut ahead and a firm recommendation from her to cheat. We resisted the temptation and I sucked on a lemonade lolly as we sucked up the unnecessary climb that followed.
We had a little celebration for Mark as we hit the 26.2 mile point on the lawn behind Towneley Hall, (if you can call myself and Simon half-heartedly mumbling “yay” and forcing him to stand not-there-there for a picture a celebration). This would have made a spectacular finish line had he entered a marathon distance marathon instead of a Jamie-made-it-up one. It was hardly a grandstand finish as we still had 2 miles to go.
The final stretch proved that I’m not officer material. We lost Mark. We left a man behind. I worried. Simon ate a pie. Mark made it to the finish. RD Jamie stretched and yawned and smiled whilst contemplating the cut-offs he will enforce strictly next year.
A Note on Cows…
RD Jamie had “helpfully” made reference to the bovine potential of this race so we can’t say we weren’t forewarned. Apparently the permanent “Bull in Field” signage was supplemented by a red “Bull really is in the field today” sign when necessary which was good to know.
I have history with cows. They don’t like me, and increasingly, I like them less with each encounter. I have several tactics for dealing with the placidly aggressive grass-munchers, I try to channel my inner cow whisperer whilst my muscles assume the coiled tension of a 100m sprinter in the blocks. A gentle soothing explanation of my intrusion in their field is often enough, sometimes supplemented by a stern “stay!” (this has a 50/50 success rate with my labrador so I’m not sure how effective it actually is with cows, but it’s worth a try.)
We encountered lots and lots of cows on our run. One intelligent beast mooed ferociously to indicate a hidden stile which was very helpful, (I’m sure she would have pointed with her muddy hoof had she been able.) Another herd blocked our path determinedly and stared in a sinister fashion, ready to charge if we made a wrong move. One adopted Mark and trotted like a pet cat at his heels. We saw mangy Highland coos (big horns but too picture-postcard-on-a box-of-fudge to be threatening,) and one with a curly pelt and fluffy round ears that looked like a very cute panda/cow hybrid, (I definitely would have cuddled that one if it had come close enough!)
After a lifetime in this town, I have discovered that it is the beef/dairy farming capital of the world! There must be more cows than people! Logically I want to be like that Adam bloke on Countryfile and just confidently pat them on the flank if they stray inquisitively close. Illogically, I think of the thousands of people charged, stampeded or brutally gorged to death by these monsters each year. I’ve not googled it but these animals must weigh at least a ton?
It’s difficult not to compare this to the Yorkshireman once the seed has been sown and at just two weeks apart on the race calendar they would make a great double challenge. The Burnley Way, despite being way-marked needs more concentration to navigate but if you take the time to look up from the map, you are rewarded with some spectacular scenery. It’s undoubtedly a beast, but like that big furry dragon thing in The Neverending Story it is friendly and ever so dignified. I really hope this becomes a staple. Jamie has come up with a cracker!