TOUR OF NORLAND TRAIL

Copley, Sunday, 27 August 2017.

The club championship races come thick and fast. Only seven days on from the Fleetwood Half Marathon, the next event was the Tour of Norland Trail Race, hosted by Halifax Harriers, an event in stark contrast to the flat roads that were pounded on the Lancashire coast. However, despite the talk of panoramic views over Sowerby Bridge, many Pumas were doubtless put off by the thought of raking it over the 7.4-mile route, though as at Fleetwood, a handful showed up to claim their appearance points, although here it was a different cast. This time around, four were enticed by the mouth-watering thought of ascending the 800-feet climb up onto the Norland Moors; Kirsty Edwards, Matt Newton and myself had already verbally committed (to each other) to tackling it; Andrew Tudor arrived after an eleventh hour fitness test to which he gave himself a big thumbs up.

Underneath the arches…are the Pumas who took part. From the left; Johnny Meynell, Kirsty Edwards, Matt Newton and Andrew Tudor.

Part of the appeal of the race was that you could enrol on the day of the event, therefore no need to commit in advance. The £5 entry fee was also pleasing on the purse strings, and in total, there was a field of 140 runners taking advantage of this cut-price deal. Registration was at Copley Cricket Club, as was the finish to the race itself, on the far side of the cricket pitch. To get there, the runners had to negotiate whatever the Norland Moors threw at them, and the competitors gathered just below the canal at the entrance of Hollas Lane for the 10.30am start.

The route took the runners along Hollas Lane, under the railway arch and up the fields, familiar to those who ran the final West Yorkshire Winter League race, hosted by Stainland Lions, back in February. Once North Dean Road had been reached, the runners were directed up the hill (obviously), then they veered a sharp left to continue the climb up Pickwood Lane before taking a bridle path, a gentle incline which ran for about half a mile and eventually came out at Turbury Lane. The route turned right along here until a marshal directed the runners left to begin the 2.9-mile clockwise loop of Norland Moor. Having circumnavigated this section, the runners exited Norland Moor at the same point as they’d entered it, and after a short run back up Turbury Lane, entered the fields and the welcome descent back to base. The route continued through the woods, eventually picking up Pickwood Lane and North Dean Road and returning along the route we’d started out on, continuing past the start, along the path through the woods before entering the final straight which was Copley Cricket Club and the finish line ahead. It was never intended to be easy, and the Tour of Norland Trail didn’t disappoint.

We were set on our merry way to the instruction of “On your marks,” and then there was no turning back. We followed Hollas Lane then began climbing the fields, the pack becoming bunched in the early stages as it negotiated the stiles. The last of these took us onto North Dean Road and there was the arduous pull up for what seemed an eternity. Needless to say, I soon found myself having to walk; it looked so disheartening, even at this early stage. Matt and Kirsty had started to pull away, and Andrew, taking his time, passed me shortly before we turned up the bridle path. He had once advised me to concentrate on my effort, and I chose to do this once I’d taken a quick glance up ahead as the track stretched way into the distance. It turned at right angles at one point; Matt, who had made an early bid to become #FPH had slowed down somewhat and Kirsty had soon caught him up; in turn, Andrew then took the pair of them and I wouldn’t see him again until I finished. The tour of the moor still maintained an incline for quite a way, and I found it really tough on my legs, particularly having sampled the Lancaster parkrun the day before (I dare you – have a go).

The starter’s counting down the seconds, but there’s still time for a quick selfie. It’s tradition, you know.

In time we descended towards Butterworth End Lane but just before reaching it, the trail took a swift right turn, and guess what? We were climbing once more. Though by this time I had the fillip of seeing Matt and Kirsty almost within reach, so clearly I had made up some ground. As the trail flattened out across the moor we were about to experience the domino effect, and I’m not talking about pizzas. I was perhaps fifteen yards adrift when I saw Matt suddenly take a tumble. Kirsty stopped to help him back on his feet, and suddenly the three of us were all together, and may I say, it was nice to be among friends! Less than two minutes later, Kirsty was the next casualty, missing her footing (it seemed) and like Matt, taking what seemed a nasty fall. But she saw the funny side, regained her composure, and we were on our way again. Until that is, I took my turn. My mother always went on about me dragging my feet, and I should have heeded her advice. Down I went, banging my left ankle in the process. Matt and Kirsty stopped while I recovered, got to my feet, then we carried along. But soon enough the pair of them were striding away, and I lost more ground whilst I had to retie one of my laces.

The tour of the moor seemed to take an age, but eventually we came out in the same place as we went in, joining Norland Road and turning immediately into Turbury Lane, then crossing the fields that took us into the woods. As we entered this part of the course, I was at the back of a four-man convoy, but feeling happier, safe in the knowledge that all the climbing had now been done. Of course, we ran down through the woods quicker than we’d come up them, and as we came out of the other side, there was a marshal directing us back down Pickwood Lane and North Dean Road. I made good my run for home, passing the other three runners, and as I entered the stile which took us into the fields we’d climbed at the start, I noticed Matt and Kirsty leaving it at the other end. I charged down the field with a Stainland Lion for company, and as we crossed the bottom veering left, we were closing with every step. Suddenly I had visions of the three of us – myself, Matt and Kirsty – finishing together, but there was a twist in the tale, or should I say, my ankle. The field took us down what we called as kids the ‘catsteps’, here muddied and uneven. Travelling at speed, tucked in behind the Stainland runner, my left foot hit the ditch and for a second time I was lying on my back. I suffered no life-threatening injuries, but the fall did knock the stuffing out of me, and any chance I had of catching up my fellow team mates all but disappeared. I rejoined the tarmacked road which led us back under the railway arch and the flat run over the last half mile or so. But by now I was gone; the runners who I’d overtaken coming out of the woods now passed me with ease, though as I reached the part where we started the race over an hour earlier, a quick glance over my shoulder told me there was no more imminent threat. Tired, battered and bruised, I pulled myself along through the woods with the River Calder to my right and the rugby pitches on my left and entered the cricket field with the fantastic sight that was the finish line. Andrew, Matt and Kirsty cheered me in, and the ordeal was over.

Andrew Tudor enters Copley Cricket Club on his way to being #FPH.

From being less than thirty seconds behind Matt and Kirsty with half a mile to go, they’d managed to put nearly two minutes between me; they ran in together and were given the same times. Andrew took the honour of being #FPH, though having managed to run unscathed for most of the race, suffered a calf strain after pushing himself too fast down the final fields and he saw out the final stages in a slow canter. The race itself had been won by Jonathan Melia of Rossendale Harriers in 51:11.

Kirsty and Matt cross the line together.
Giving it my all for the camera. I drag myself over the line.

The race recovery included free tea and biscuits, and Kirsty, Matt and myself sat and watched other runners finish across the field. I admired how the Halifax Harriers had organised the event, and from where I was, there hadn’t appeared to have been any glitches. But that wasn’t necessarily the case. Stories unfolded of one lady who’d taken exception to part of the course going over ‘her’ dog-walking patch; she’d taken it upon herself to remove or change the direction of some of the flags on the moor, with some of these later found in a bin. It seems it was the leading runners who suffered; quick thinking by some of the marshals up there soon put most of the runners on the right track, but it does make you wonder what goes through people’s minds at times. The experience at Oakwell Hall in the West Yorkshire Winter League was obviously not a one-off incident.

Every picture tells a story.

Northowram Pumas’ positions and times;

71 Andrew Tudor 69:36

85 Kirsty Edwards 72:44

86 Matt Newton 72:44

93 Johnny Meynell 74:39