It was early last year that I first heard about the Tour of Tameside. An iconic running event, originally founded in 1981, involving multiple stages across a number of terrains. In 2015 the event enjoyed a rebirth and it was last year that I was asked to join a team of physio’s and therapists providing pre and post event massage across the four days. It was during these sessions that I talked to runners about their experiences and memories of the Tour and thought that maybe I might give this ago myself.
A keen runner, with a few marathons and multiple day events under my belt, I felt this would be tough but achievable. But I was concerned that all my previous running experience had come on either the track or the road. So in November 2016 I entered my first trail event, quickly followed by several more in the first 5 months of this year and built much more of my training around trails and the off road.
On Thursday 15th June at 7pm, I joined the other starters at Oldham Rugby Club for the X Trail 10K, the first event of the 2017 Tour of Tameside. One of the many things I love about the sport is that runners will always help runners. And sure enough it was on the start line that an ‘old’ Tameside pro set about putting the nerves to rest, and explained this would be a steady and undulating race to get us nicely warmed up. And this was very much the case, even in very light rain.
Despite a quick climb up at the start on cobbles, the course soon took us along a gentle path through Park Bridge Country Park, onto the Park Bridge Road before a more challenging climb into Daisy Nook Country Park. This was followed by a quick descent into the woods and finish. With three more tricky races to follow, I felt I had held back a little, but was more than happy with my efforts and finished in 52:50. I walked the short distance back to the rugby club feeling relieved to have got started and enjoyed my post-race massage.
Hell on The Fell soon followed on Friday evening. During the 2016 event, when I was working the event as a therapist, I had witnessed some very pained runners, complaining about how tough this 10K course had been. I knew first hand from treating there tight and aching muscles that this was certainly true. Standing at the Brushes Road Reservoir, in Stalybridge, waiting for the starter’s horn, I looked up at the landscape in front of me and decided that my goal was to simply get around and make sure I was fit to start again early the next morning.
In terms of my body, I was aware of a little bit of tension in my legs but was more distracted by the nerves in my stomach. I had never attack a fell run before and was more concerned about the down hills sections, as I have difficulty focusing on depth due to an eye condition. It was at least a dry night, if not a light cloudy, and once we set off my nerves began to settle.
We climbed gently at the start, running at first along Mottram Old Road, and then filtered off left onto Hobson Moor Road. And then it started just after the halfway stage. A steep by relatively short climb onto Dewsnap Lane brought about a sharp twinge right at the top of my hamstrings in my right leg. The result was a slightly worrying but fast walk for about 200 metres before I felt confident that everything was okay. Now on Hobson Moor Fell, the course began to twist left and up and left again and up further still. The difference between this and the night was starting to tell, but with it came with fantastic views across Tameside and beyond. But as the say going, what goes up, must come down!
Our finish line was alongside the Copley Leisure Centre, where we had all been instructed to park our cars on arrival. It dawned on me quickly that from where we were at the top, the path, if you could call it that, to the leisure centre was more of a drop. My pace slowed dramatically, my hamstrings began to twinge and burn again, and I was aware of other runners fast approaching from behind. I did my best to let a few pass and guide myself to the finish line in 1.02:22. I urgently found my way to the massage table. This combined with an ice pack helped soothe the pains throughout my legs. At this point a Saturday morning Half Marathon seems more than a bit daunting.
After a good meal and good night sleep I arrived in Hadfield feeling nervous once again and a little warm to say the least. My first appointment was with the massage table once again, before a very good stretch. We had been ‘treated’ to the hottest day of the year. Not a cloud in the sky, and I was already breaking into a sweat whilst queuing for the toilets.
By now after two races I was starting to feel it. Despite my continued and religious efforts to stretch, I was aware that my hamstrings might not want to play ball today, but I was at least determined to start. With the intense heat, cramp was always my concern and so water and shade would be the biggest factors on the day for me. Covered in sun cream, sun glasses and peaked cap on, I started cautiously on the grass and clocked the first two miles in just under 21 minutes. As we joined the Longdendale Trail we initially entered a tree covered track. The Hero Half Marathon is an out and back course and we would enjoy the views and surroundings for 7 miles before turning back.
On the course I noticed the other runners where much quieter than on the previous days. When I had enjoyed their banter and support. Like me I think they were feeling uncomfortable in the sun and probably nursing some of their own aches and pains. And so we slowly made are way up the trail, in and out of the shade for a few miles, taking on water at every water station along the way. On mile six the course took us alongside a reservoir and exposed us to the heat of the day. There was no breeze at all, and the air felt still and heavy. And now for the first time my breathing felt deep and uncomfortable and I thought I might be getting the first signs on cramp in my calves. Cramp had played a big part of my 2015 London Marathon, and it wasn’t an experience I was keen to repeat. I could feel myself tightening up as negative thoughts raced around me head. Eventually I took a moment and began to calm myself down. I kept telling myself to focus on that mile and to get myself to the turning point. Then it was just as case of getting back down the trail as quickly or as slowly as my legs would carry me.
My pace become erratic, I found myself behind runners who seemed much slower than my comfortable pass but yet I didn’t seem to have the energy to get pasted them either. And this continues until mile 9 when it seemed to cool down a little and I found myself alongside a lady in a fancy tri club vest. Her pace seemed to fit mine perfectly and for the next mile or so we kept each other going at a steady and comfortable rhyme. As we approached the final stages the course took a wicked right hand swing onto a steep but short path. After 13 miles in the heat this was a bruising way to finish. At the top the finish line was just a short 50m metres or so down a grassy slope and was a very welcome sight indeed, although I had now lost my partner as she took off without me. I have run a lot further over more days, but never in such hot and uncomfortable heat. By far my slowest and toughest half marathon to date at 2.11:07. I had survived the Friday night and Saturday morning, with only a cheeky 7 mile road race to finish! After another lifesaving massage I headed home with my third medal around my neck.
I did not sleep as well on Saturday night as I had done on the Friday. Like the day before it, it was warm and sticky. I woke several times in the night with very restless legs and an uncomfortable ache between my shoulders. By the time I had arrived at Hyde Town Hall for the start of the Dr Ron Hyde 7 mile, I was tired, sore and over-heating once again. The temperature had raised a notch and was now officially the hottest day of the year for the second day running. No pun intended!
Today I had one objective. To look good at the start line, to look awesome at the finish line and be whatever was needed in between. After the previous three days I had run 25 miles and it felt like it. We had run across cobbles, grass, fields, along trails and short bursts on road. Up hills and down fells. Now all I had to do was run on tarmac, something I would normally had been very comfortable to do. But to be honest, the hardest bit of the Tour for me had been the quick turn arounds from one event to another after some tough conditions and feeling nervous about my legs. On the positive, this was going to be a much flatter course on an even surface. If it meant walking for 5 miles to complete the Tour, then I was happy to do so.
The great runner and legend, Dr Ron Hill himself got us started with the help of the Mayor. The crowd outside Hyde Town Hall cheered as we set off up Market Street towards Smithy Lane. The first mile felt slow and painful before we hit a gentle but long climb. Unlike Saturday, there were no areas of shade to hide and the heat seemed to be beaming down on us as well as bouncing back up off the tarmac. After 3 days of intense preparation and tenderising, we were now being cooked on the A560.
But as the race continued I felt like I was slowly loosening up and by the time we had turned onto Underwood Road there appeared to be a cool breeze to meet us on the downhill sections. Before I knew it 5 miles had pasted and whilst lots of things were hurting it was now feeling very achievable for the first time today. As I approached the inflatable finish line at the Town Hall I was aware that a gap had appeared both in front of me and behind. I finished the 2017 Tour of Tameside on my own as my name was announced over the PA system. As planned I looked awesome, at least that’s what I’m telling myself until I see the official finish line photo. This will no doubt tell a more painful story. Either way I had clocked a reasonable 1.06:11 over a 7 mile course. Quicker than the very tough 6 miles on Friday night.
After received my final medal, engraved Tour tankard and standard t-shirt I did the one thing that was left to do. One final sports massage, to remove the lactic acid from my legs. It was not pleasant but it was necessary, and as I sit here 48 hours later writing this I know that it has played a huge part in my recovery. I preach it to my clients because I know it works, and have once again felt the benefits for myself.
My 2017 Tour of Tameside was about trying something different but also rediscovering my endurance fitness after a long layoff. Injuries are frustrating but with the right approach, training and treatment there is no reasons why in many cases you can’t get back to the activities you love. For me like so many others, running gives me freedom, headspace and a form of therapy. 2017 is the year I got a large part of this back and the Tour of Tameside gets a big thumbs up from me.