Sunday 5th of February saw the 11th annual Beacon Bash held by the South Lancs branch of the LDWA. Newburgh Sports Club acted as headquarters as a record entry of 169 walkers and runners set off to tackle to a complicated course of bridleways, footpaths and muddy fields. The walkers had been sent on their way at 8am before those attempting to run the 21 mile event assembled for the off at 9am.
Around 60 runners togged out in winter gear gathered in the early morning fog to recieve final instructions. Those instructions deivered by the event organiser consisted of a stern warning to keep the gates closed on the route, and to “go on then, do your best”, before we were set free along the lanes out of Newburgh towards the Leeds Liverpool canal.
Whist the area around Parbold had escaped the heavy snowfalls affecting the rest of the UK, the first few miles along the canal towpath made it clear that it hadn’t escaped a hard frost: sheet ice covered the actual pathway, and runners were forced to seek as much grip as possible from the grass verges to either side. A few runners took early tumbles on the treacherous surfaces, with one unfortunate coming perilously close to testing the thickness of the ice on the canal itself!
“It should be called the Beacon Mince” remarked one wag as the participants demonstrated a variety of spectacularly camp running styles in an attempt to stay upright. The initial climb up to Parbold Hill proved particulary difficult for all but a couple of canny lady runners who had the foresight to equip themselves with running crampons. For once it was the rougher ground acoss open fields that offered the best propsect of a decent running surface, as all of the smoother bridle and pathways were similarly coated in thick sheets of frozen sleet.
Leaving Parbold Hill and taking to the usually muddy field tracks towards the first Checkpoint revealed that this rough ground had a drawback too: the rutted fields had frozen as hard as concrete leaving a surface like broken cobbles. There was less chance of a slip or slide, but a much greater chance of turning an ankle on the rock hard divots.
The ladies with the crampons proved that their foresight wasnt restricted to packing the right gear. They had also been sensible enough to conduct a few recces of the course over previous weeks and I shamelessly benefitted from their knowledge over the next few miles as I ran along with them with barely a glance at my OS map. Thanks ladies!
I am assured that there are some spectacular views to be had from the trails around Hunters Hill en route to Checkpoint 2, but I’ll have to take that on trust. The fog that started the day persisted even at the as we climbed out of the valley restricting the vistas to ice encrusted trees and a few curious sheep. Although the temepratures were not as severe as recent days, there was no doubt that we were running through a true winter landscape. This fact was brought home on a particularly ice blighted uphill section were the only way to make progress was to grab hold of a handy wire fence and haul yourself up hand over hand!
I managed to get as far as the road crossing before Fairy Glen before skidding across the frozen lay by and landing on my backside. Luckily with no damage done I was soon skating my way down the frozen pathways of the Glen itself. It was along this stretch that I expanded my ever growing catalogue of running injuries as a low branch whiplashed me in the face leading to a not very pleasant whack in the eye. It makes a change from the usual calf strains I suppose.
Appley Bridge Community Centre marked the halfway point. As a runner, it is not very often that I stop halfway through a run for a cup of tea amd a slice of cake, but that is one of the wonderful things that makes these LDWA events special. The community centre offered a sprawling selection of sandwiches, cakes and various other temptations to lure the weary runner into a cosy break. Seldom have I enjoyed a slice of maltloaf and a cup of tea quite so much!
With a wrench it was back out into the cold with the consolation of some slightly easier running down to Roby Mill before looping round to begin the final climb up towards Ashurst Beacon. It was at this point that I fell in with a couple of runners from Horwich who were travelling at a fair clip up towards the final checkpoint. Providing the impetus to up my efforts we settled into a good rythym along the trails through Beacon Park Golf Course. We were grateful for the help of a local Newburgh runner who had wisely recced this stretch, as these trails arent actually marked on any maps.
I resisted the soup on offer at the Ashurst Beacon Checkpoint and hurried on towards the Beacon itself before finally getting my fist glimpse of the view. As the mists began to clear Parbold Hill appeared. It seemed an awful long way, and a very long time, since I had slithered my way up that particular hill! The last few miles of mainly downhill running was a joy. With the watery sun now managing to defrost the frozen fileds a little, the resulting muddier terrain was a welcome change for sore feet.
I arrived back at the Sport Hall in 4h 12min. This was a little over my target time of 4 hours but a time I was quite pleased with given the conditions. The LDWA had a lovely bowlful of hot pot ready to serve to each finisher along with a personalised certificate. The bar was also open so replenished my depleted carb levels with a helping of hot pot and a pint!