This review is slightly unusual in that it is going to encompass four races.
The Tour of Tameside is a competition in its own right. Whilst you have the option to enter any of the four races independently, the option to enter the full tour allows your results over the four events to be aggregated leading to a champion of the whole tour (as well as winners of each race).
The Tour of Tameside was first created in the 1980s by Dr Ron Hill – back then it was a 6-race medley. As with many events of the 1980s it stopped at some point and then was revived as a 4 race medley where it is organised by Sport Tours International:
- Leg 1: X-Trail 10k
- Leg 2: Hell on the Fell 6
- Leg 3: Hero Half Marathon
- Leg 4: Dr Ron Hyde 7
I originally entered the event with a view to working on my endurance for the planned ultras later in the year. The idea of having to race on tired legs helping to strengthen (the mind mostly) the athlete. However it’s hard not to be drawn into the competitive nature of the event and any notion of taking things easy went out of the window somewhere in the first 5 seconds of the first leg!
So without further ado, let’s talk about the races.
The X-Trail 10k took place on the Thursday evening and was billed as a multi-terrain 10k taking in a couple of local parks on the Ashton/Oldham boundary. Parking was at Oldham Rugby Club and everything was very well organised – race HQ were on hand to pick up numbers if you didn’t have them, or to upgrade those who had paid for individual races to do the full tour. There was a 10 minute walk to the start line which was decked out with inflatable gantry and chip timing.
If anything needed amending, it was really that the PA wasn’t loud enough to get the information to 600 excitable runners. There was also a led-warm-up which was great in theory, but with runners crammed together on a start line, any attempt at copying the moves (assuming you could see the lass leading the warm-up – I couldn’t!) would probably cause a variety of injuries to fellow runners. Anyway, that ordeal done and we were ready to go. Here’s course route and profile:
What isn’t so clear either on the profile above, or on the one sent out to all runners, is just how steep the first mile is on the road. I’d made a mental note beforehand that it was vaguely up and then generally flat and/or downhill, so this was a surprise. Although it didn’t really bother me; I set off on my own terms behind lots of people sprinting off, only to pass them all a few hundred metres further along on the hill!
Once off the road we followed a hard-mud trail out and back before passing through the start area and off around another park. It was actually a very pleasant route. Towards the end there were several big signs saying ‘warning – steep incline’. But it seems someone must have forgotten to add the steep incline. Or maybe I’ve run on trails for too long!
Anyway, I completed the course in 41:44 in 48th place out of 604 runners. So a decent result given I hadn’t intended to push too hard, on the grounds that it was the first of four consecutive days racing!
The evening was improved even more when one of my running friends introduced me to Dr Ron Hill himself, who was cheering the runners over the finish line.
Hell on the Fell
I was very intrigued by the second leg of the Tour, being billed as a fell race. As you may realise, most fell-races are low-key events and tend to pass the running-masses by as they’re about the running rather than how big the medal is you get for finishing it. It took place on the Friday evening on the outskirts of Stalybridge.
The race itself wasn’t really a fell race in the way I was used to. For a start, the first 3.5+ miles were on tarmac. Granted 3 miles of this was uphill, but we did have to wait a long time before we actually set foot on the hill proper. Here’s the profile and route:
Again, the same routine with a PA, the lass doing the warm-up and then lots of runners setting off too fast! It was a very leisurely climb up the housing estate roads on a hill that kept on going up. Passing lots of runners who had blown-up on said roads! Off the estate and onto the main road with still no mud or grass in sight. We turned left at the Wagon & Horses pub and the road steepened further and we were out in the countryside – that’s a bit more like it! The road degenerated from tarmac to track and finally we were on trails heading to the top of the hill. By the final summit I’d pretty much run out of oompf but it was nice to be actually on something that felt like a fell race.
Then it was down the other side of the hill. And in my usual fell-race style, my descent wasn’t as good as my climbing and I lost a couple of places in the process. Still I got back in one piece in 46:34 and in 50th position in the race (out of 493 finishers). I figured that most people there were doing the full tour as it’s a slightly strange one for people to do individually (not least the cost of entry to it was a lot more than most actual fell races).
I felt pretty good, but I was concerned about running a half-marathon less than 14 hours later!
The HM leg of the Tour of Tameside starts above the village of Hadfield. You may think you’ve never heard of the village, but if you’ve ever watched ‘The League of Gentlemen’ on the TV, you’ve seen the location!
This was the first event that felt ‘big’, with an ‘athletes village’ setup. Unfortunately, due to one of the fields being waterlogged, all the cars had to be squeezed into this same field (although a good number of people parked on the road). This caused a bit of chaos although the marshals did a sterling job getting people parked up, despite some of the idiots who were driving onto the field. It did however mean that a lot of the cars were trapped in which would likely make for a slow escape after the race.
The race started slightly later than billed as there was a ‘memorial run’ in memory of PC Nicola Hughes who was murdered on duty in 2012. There was also a memorial to a runner who had died in the previous year in a tragic accident. Away from the event itself, we were marking the untimely passing of a runner in the Racecheck community, only a couple of days ago. So behind the jovial nature of the race, there was also a sombre side to proceedings.
Once these matters were concluded it was business as usual; we could here the PA this time but we still couldn’t see the lass doing the warm-up, nor did we have any room to join in. So I think we all bounced up and down instead to warm up until it was time to race.
I will say at this point that my legs felt like lead balloons attached my my torso. I genuinely wasn’t sure how I was going to get around the full distance. Even though it was billed as flat and therefore should be quick, I knew that it was going to be a battle from the word go. Here’s the route and profile:
The route began with a quick loop around Hadfield before joining the Longdendale Trail. It was then an out-and-back route which felt more undulating than the above profile shows. I certainly hadn’t clocked that it was a steady uphill to the turn-around point. But that did explain why I was struggling a lot more on the way out than I did on the return leg. Although it was still harder work than it should have been; that’s the impact of racing both days prior to this event! Just after the turn-around point, a female runner who actually finished as 2nd lady passed me, and I ran in her wake for the majority of the return leg; having someone about the same pace (slightly quicker in fact) at least gave me something to focus on. Otherwise I’d probably have slowed down.
I’d noticed that most of the distance markings were further than my watch by about 0.2 mile and the total distance did appear to be slightly long. It was nice coming off the Londgendale Trail, although the short and steep climb up to the starting/finishing field did encourage a few choice words at that stage. In the end I finished in 1:35:10 in 46th position out of 630 runners.
Up until this point I hadn’t looked at the overall leaderboard for the Full Tour, but I weakened. I was in 37th place I think at this time which was very flattering. However I was aware that I couldn’t move without something aching and I was exhausted. I didn’t really want to have to race day 4 in that state. However I could see on the leaderboard that a time difference of even a minute relative to those around me could make many places difference. Why am I so competitive?!!!
I managed to escape from the field before everyone else tried so I could get home (to go to work). And spent most of my free time looking for things to eat to offset the calorie deficit from all this exercise!
Dr Ron Hyde 7
The final race of the Tour of Tameside is a 7 mile road race. It’s also the biggest event with lots of people entering it in isolation, rather than doing any of the other races. I arrived in Hyde town centre very early having managed to work my way around the road closures, it being the only partially-closed road event of the Tour. To say everything was hurting is an understatement. My prediction was that the race was ‘going to get messy’, at least my one was. Although common-sense says that everyone else doing the Full Tour must be in a similar state.
I bumped into a running friend who insisted that the best thing was to go for a 2 mile warm up before the race. I must say I wasn’t sure whether this was a good idea, but knowing he knew his stuff, I went along with it. And he was totally right. I didn’t feel any more tired by the extra miles, but my legs felt like they might cooperate a bit now.
For the final time, let’s see the profile and route:
There was the usual PA stuff and the usual warm-up which we couldn’t see or hear, or have room to do.
It’s another race which begins with a hill! But that’s fine – it means a steady beginning and watch lots of runners lose their bottle having gone out too fast. Can you see the theme here?
I’d studied the profile given in the race-information pack so pretty much knew what was coming. I knew that by mile 5 that the bulk of the climb was done, save for a bobble in the last mile. If anything, it was the downhills where I felt I didn’t have the energy, despite consuming gels on the way around (something I wouldn’t normally do on anything less than HM distance). I lost a few places on the downhills but made up far more on the climbs. I was in a “battle” at the 6 mile mark with another runner who had passed me on the previous downhill (I’d passed him on the previous uphill) but that bobble at the end gave me enough to pull away.
Despite feeling so dire prior to the race, I managed to do something I’ve never done before in a race, and ran all negative splits i.e. each mile quicker than the last. Helped in part, of course, by the fact that most of the climb was at the beginning. And the finish was pretty special – straight down the main road with a decent level of spectators cheering on. And it was downhill too. I finished in 47:33 in 48th place out of 681 finishers. I had to be happy with that.
I went off to collect my final medal and the commemorative pint pot that was available to all Full Tourers. There was a T-Shirt too, although my medium sized one had unfortunately been substituted for a much larger size – the organiser is sending me a medium one directly so hopefully I’ll have that in the near future. In the mean time I’ll use the big one as a duvet cover…………
Full Tour of Tameside result
I must say that as soon as I’d seen my fellow club runners finish their races, I got back and checked the overall results. The total race time was 3:51:47 and I finished in 36th place overall out of 437 runners who had completed all 4 race. I’m happy with that!
Tour of Tameside – final thoughts
I thoroughly enjoyed this event. The total cost of £63 wasn’t so bad given that it’s entry to 4 races (I’ve had to pay more for individual marathon entries) and the event is well organised and slick. It’s also set up under the Running Bee Foundation to pay its profits to fund local sporting work within Tameside itself, so the whole event benefits the community which hosts the event.
Photos were taken by Mick Hall and cost £4.50 per digital download. Most of the ones I’ve found of myself I seem to be grimacing! Perhaps I took the event more seriously than I realised!!!
For me, what makes it special is that you can enter it as a medley/tournament. I’m not sure I’d dash over to run any of the individual events (even though they’re all good). But throw in that extra bit of competition – plus the whole managing your fitness over the 4 days, and suddenly the combined event is far more than it’s components.
I’ve already received the ‘early bird’ email for 2020, but I think I’m going to wait until I’ve caught up on food, and on sleep!