Hendon Brook, it's reputation precedes it! A full half marathon (plus a bit) and 2100ft of ascent, no wonder it’s reputedly one of the toughest road half marathons in the country.
In truth up until last year I'd never even heard of it. But, having broadened my running horizons by joining Trawden and had my first tentative steps into the 2016 Burnley & Pendle Grand Prix, I'd seen the T-shirts worn as a badge of honour and started to ask questions. The responses I received from past participants were both negative and positive.
“A massive sense of achievement!”
“Get it done!”
Through all the comments my curiosity had certainly be piqued and I duly determined to give it a go however circumstances conspired against me and I couldn't take part in the 2016 run.
Fast forward 12 months and as soon as the PBGP dates were announced the first thing I ‘bookmarked’ was the date of HB. The plan was to train hard and give it a really good go but quite frankly my running this year has been a tad sporadic to say the least.
Earlier in the year I finally ran my first ever marathon but afterwards I seemed to drop into some form of ‘lull’ and in every race I entered after Manchester my times were dreadful compared to last year and even my parkruns were average at best. As such, to say I wasn't in the best frame of mind in the weeks prior to the 9th July is a bit of an understatement.
All this ‘malaise’ was compounded when I also develop a nasty cold about 5 days prior leading to three days of continual coughing & spluttering, zero running and necessitating about 6 gallons of Lemsip (thankfully it’s not a banned substance). To be honest had I not already entered and ordered the iconic shirt I'd have seriously considering giving it a miss but the stubborn part of me (or should that be the tight arse?) determined to at least give it a go and somehow get round, even if it involved walking.
Anyway, race day arrived bright and early and in truth a bit too bright! I tried to go through my usual preparation but I was sweating just getting dressed in between all the residual snot. Following my usual pre-race crisis of confidence, it was time to get on with it so it was into the car for the 10 min drive up to Marsden and hopefully find somewhere to park. Registration was a formality due my pre-booking and so with number duly attached (18) I determined to soak in as much of the atmosphere as I could.
In and around the start all the usual suspects were out and about eagerly chatting about what was to come. The old hands looking confident and the newbies like me adding a slight sense of nervousness and trepidation to the general hubbub. Quite a few of my running buddies had done a considerable amount of training on the actual route whereas I, despite my best intentions, couldn't make any of these for one reason or another.
So, as the race had got nearer, I’d determined to simply avoid running the route at all and see what it actually entailed on the day. That’s not to say I went into the thing blind as having walked, cycled and driven round parts of the course over the years I was well aware it wasn’t going to be easy.
As start time drew nearer, my fellow Trawden runnists, Mr Lamb, Mr Barton (both of who had done the training) and I determined to team up and run the route steadily together and ensure we all got round safely. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t do this and would prefer to run my own race however given my situation I felt it sensible to be with someone.
As 11am drew closer, worryingly the sun was rising higher in the sky. Where was all the rain we’re used to in East Lancashire I wondered? It was now getting really pretty hot and I knew there would be no hiding from the sun out on the country lanes. I’d heard a lot about the camaraderie around the course with lashings of drinks, jelly babies, etc, and I was praying there would be plenty as in this heat we were all going to need them. With the excitement (and nervousness) increasing as the time came to line up. Many a ‘good luck’ wish was bandied about and suddenly...
We were finally off! The cluttered start soon dissipated once we were all out onto the open roads with the crowds cheering us down the hill to what was Nelson Grammar. This is a nice easy start I thought. However, being a bit of a mountaineer in my spare ‘non-running’ time, I know full well that where there’s a downhill there’s likely to be an up too!
Consequently Ian, Andy and myself settled into a nice steady pace and chugged slowly back up to the Shooters where the fabulous David (Bailey) Belshaw was gleefully capturing everyones grimaces for posterity. Thankfully we now got a relatively easy stretch along and down to Catlow Bottom for a couple of paddles through the fords and then out onto Halifax Road for another long slow drag up to the turning for Ridehalgh Lane. Sadly it was somewhere around here that Andy suddenly slowed and started to walk. He seemed okay however and when I questioned him he just said something along the lines of ‘I’m just going to walk this bit and I’ll catch you up’. Sadly this was the last Ian and I were to see of him until the finish.
This short downhill section into the start of the Thursden Valley at least afforded us a bit of a rest and a chance to catch our breath before we would need to turn sharply left to slog back up the section to Halifax Road. Thankfully at the bottom a drinks station was in full flow so I stopped to take on water and a gel (God they’re hard to swallow!) before attempting the uphill section. In my ignorance and even considering my snot fueled lethargy I had still set out with the intention of trying to run the entire route without walking. How wrong could I be as it was all I could do to walk it never mind run it! However I was by no means alone in my trudge up this short, but punishing, section and many others were also reduced to a ‘mad march’.
At the top we again got a slight rest thanks to another decent bit of downhill and some flat as we made our steady way out past Coldwell reservoirs and the activity centre. But as expected a downhill was soon followed by yet another uphill as we started to climb up Back Lane to the crossroads. Again the crowds were out in force in the sunshine with our intrepid leader Paul ably assisted by the little ones, plus the Clayton Juniors all handing out jelly babies, etc. We were also passed by someone in a car giving everyone a cooling squirt with a ‘mister’ - heaven!
Unfortunately none of this actually helped me much and I was again reduced to walking however Ian seemed to be making light work of things as we slowly made our way to the top. Here I had a quick glance back down the hill to see if I could ascertain what had happened to Lamby but this proved fruitless as picking him out in all the stream of runners was a non-starter given my lack of specs! The right turn onto Sheffield lane marks just about the 7.1/2 mile point so, whilst we knew both Carry Lane & Lenches lay in wait, it was good to know we were now closer to the finish than the start.
A relatively easy mile and a bit took us down into Trawden where, at both the left turn into Colne Road, plus all the way up the hill we were roundly cheered by yet more of the noisy TAC army. This prompted a lady running alongside me to exclaim “your supporters are amazing, what a fantastic club!” To say it made me feel rather proud is an understatement as this is by no means the first time I’ve heard such praise during or after a race! I won’t deny that all this encouragement was very much needed over the next leg to the bottom of Carry Lane.
I’ve never really got on with downhill due to a dodgy knee and the mile down into the bottom of Colne was absolute agony. I even found myself in the unusual situation of praying for a bit of uphill to ease the discomfort but after arriving at the bottom of Carry Lane it dissipated rather quickly I can tell you! I can only imagine that Ian was feeling it too as the ‘chat’ all but ceased on this section and I expect given that he always has his knee strapped his pain was probably worse than mine! Around here we both did manage to catch Steve Scrivener and Ian Hothersall who had been running nicely a short distance in front of us so it was clear we were all feeling the strain.
With the short walk, yes I was walking again, up Carry Lane out of the way this just left us with the small matter of Lenches to tackle. So after passing the Lord Rodney where I swear I could have just given up and gone for a pint (if I’d had any money on me) I had to instead settle for my last gel before it was over the bridge and start climbing. Knowing this was the last really tough section I plodded away.
Run, walk, run, walk...but again Ian was making a much better fist of getting up than me. About half way we were offered yet another huge box of jelly babies and the like but in between the gasping for breath I thought is sensible to refuse as I was likely to choke trying to swallow them.
In all honesty at this point I was really struggling. My breathing had gone all over the place, my legs were feeling like lead weights and my left knee was screaming. Steve Scrivener had caught and passed me, as had a few others and by the top of Southfield Lane I’d just about given in.
“At the top of here it’s a long straight flat bit to the shooters and then its downhill. Just keep going!”
This is what I tried telling myself. However the ‘flat’ bit turned out to be a touch more undulating than I’d remembered and it was all I could do to keep shuffling. Once onto the supposed ‘flat’ bit Ian started to open up a gap between us but I was surprised to see a mate of mine Carl Carey in the distance. The reason I was surprised was that this year he has been much faster than me so I deduced either I wasn’t doing as bad I thought or perhaps Carl was suffering as much as me! Anyway, between Ian and Carl they gave me a couple of nice targets to take my mind off the pain I was going through. Thankfully once I was on the downhill on Barkerhouse Road I managed to catch up with Ian and even Carl was getting closer.
A quick right turn at the bottom brought us onto Townhouse Road for the final stretch and whilst I knew I only had a small matter of about 0.2 miles this last short incline finally did for me and I was virtually walking again. Thankfully Ian slowed as well and while Carl disappeared into the distance Ian and I dragged our-selves through this last stage and up the short incline to the school, finishing together. All with the raucous cheers of encouragement of the rather large crowds ringing in our ears. Thank you everybody it really, really did help and got me going again on that final short section!
So I’d finally completed a legendary Hendon Brook. Not the fastest of times but Ian and myself both shared 2:23:15 and in truth, given how I’d gone into it I was just happy to get round. The last of our posse of three, Andy, arrived shortly after and, after a bit of a sit down and some water, it was off to the Golf club to collect our hard earned T-shirts, a proper drink and some smug photos!
So if I had to sum up Hendon Brook in one word what would it be? BRUTAL! It’s the word I came out with when I had just finished and I hold by it. That is one tough race.
I know all you Ultra runners will be thinking ‘but its only a half marathon’ and whilst I appreciate in the grand scheme of things its not a ‘biggie’, it was a slow torturous hell for me on that Sunday.
Will I be back next year? Of course! I feel I have unfinished business here so hopefully next time circumstances will work in my favour and I can give it a ‘proper’ attempt. Preferably having trained, without a cold and fingers crossed in the rain!