Through the Villages Race

Shared by Dan Atkinson

It was a fresh Sunday morning in the sleepy village of Wheelton. Although Mark and a few others from the club had pre-warned me that the Through the Villages was a tough undulating course, I felt prepared and excited for the test that lay ahead.

We made our way to registration in the village hall to collect our numbers and to assess the competition. We spotted the prize list on the wall and Mark joked about what he would spend his voucher when he won, I say he joked, I think he had a pretty good feeling about the race. I mentioned that there must be another prize list somewhere as I couldn’t see a prize for 186th.

Making our way out of the hall for a warm up run Mark pointed out a potential rival. Mark assured me that this man with long wispy hair who was still in jeans and jumper would soon don his 40 year old Horwich Harriers vest and would be up there with the best of them and they had battled it out at various races on a few occasions.

Still in shock, we set off for a warm up to the race start. For those that have done this race before, you will know that the start is on a hill, we carried on up about half a mile and I was worried that I still couldn’t see the end of the climb, I decided to turn and run back the other way, sometimes I think it’s better not knowing what lies ahead and just tackling it as it comes.

As we made our way back to the car the sun was shining and as we donned our black and red battle vests I felt a wave of excitement pass over me. Today was going to be a good race!

We shook hands at the start line and wished each other a great race. As I stepped back slightly from the front line I saw Mark take his place next to his rival, front and centre wispy locks tied loosely into a pony tail and sure enough his skinny arms poked out of a retro sun bleached ancient looking Horwich vest.

The horn sounded and we took off, reaching the top of the first hill I was in a good place, I had set off strong, no one had overtaken me the sun was shining and the view was beautiful.

The first downhill section is really steep, I descended with a smile on my face, little did I know I would be facing it again at the end up the race. If I had known this, I probably wouldn’t have been so jovial. I let myself relax and opened up my stride picking up some speed on the down hills trying to use them as a bit of a rest, a tactic I think worked quite well for me.

By this point I began to wonder how Mark was getting on, was he ahead of the wispy haired whippet? My gut reaction was that he was, mainly as he looked a lot healthier stood side by side with him, but as I have come to learn, looks can be very deceiving in the running world.

Approaching halfway there were a handful of people around me. I kept on the heels of the guy in front and the guy behind me did the same, this continued for a few hundred meters using each other as wind deflectors on top of the hills. I soon got annoyed and felt they were slowing me down so I picked up the pace and at first they kept up, but after a 2nd push they didn’t follow. This felt like my first real experience of what I have heard guys at training talking about, employing race tactics to gain an advantage. It felt good, did this mean I was a real runner now? As I pondered this thought I completely missed the water station but felt okay so probably wouldn’t have stopped anyway.

I checked my watch at around the 6 mile mark, just over 2 miles to go I thought, I feel good, I pushed on taking a few heads as I went. Each person I let overtake me gets their name higher on that list than mine, that is all I could think to drive me onwards.

A few rolling hills later, I turned a sharp right and just after the 7 mile mark there it was. A monster of a hill, the very same I had flown down at the beginning so joyfully. Just prior to reaching this hill, a runner from Belle Vue had come along side me. His breathing was deep, loud and extremely irritating, but when I tried to accelerate, he clung on at my side I just couldn’t shake him! As we reached the bottom of the hill I took a look up and I could see some runners ahead starting to waver. This was a good opportunity, I was blowing but I knew there wasn’t long left. Just get to the top of this hill and it’s all downhill from there I repeated. I pushed on up the hill and my heavy breathing companion couldn’t keep up, he shouted ahead some words of encouragement. I got my head down and took the hill two meters at a time. My watch was set to keep me within a certain pace zone and It was telling me I was on target, this was great I thought. I was gaining on the guys in front and I knew I was close to the end.

As I reached the top of the hill I had overtaken a couple of guys and could see the road stretched out flat in front of me. My legs were screaming but I pushed on knowing that my heavy breathing friend wouldn’t be too far behind me and there was no way I was going to let him or anyone else overtake me now.

Finally I was at the crest of the descent back to the finish line, coming up the hill towards me I could see Mark, he spotted me and began to cheer, as I got past he checked his watch and I got the impression he was shocked to see me! The cheek! He shouted me on as I opened up my stride for the last time, taking over two more guys as I plummeted towards the finish line.

I crossed the line and met up with Mark, he told me he had come 7th with a time of 51:52 and told me about his battle with his rival and how they were neck and neck brushing shoulders but that he had pushed on and the other guy couldn’t keep up, he had beaten him! My watch told me I had finished in 1 hour 2 minutes, which I was pleased about.

When we got back to the hall, the first page of results was stuck up on the wall and Mark confirmed his position and also noted his 1st place position in the V45 category. We joked as we ate our free hotpot and drank our brews that I would be over the moon to have made the first page. As I went over to the sheet just out of curiosity I couldn’t believe it, there I was, number 49 1:00:52! I wasn’t even on the bottom of the first sheet of results!

All in all a great mornings running. Hopefully I will get the chance to do it next year!

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