Google+ Running in Cork, Ireland: Article by John Walshe on the Rivington Pike Race in the North of England

Monday, April 06, 2015

Article by John Walshe on the Rivington Pike Race in the North of England

 Mountain Running or Trail running is a popular sport in the UK, especially in the North of England. While the equivalent races in Ireland attract very modest numbers, some of the English ones can attract hundreds of runners. John Walshe of Ballycotton has written a short article about the Rivington Pike race, one of the most popular and famous hill races in England.


One of the most popular and tradition forms of foot racing, particular in the North of England, is that of Fell Running. Known here in Ireland as Mountain or Hill Running, fell racing covers a multitude of distances from those lasting 12 or 13 minutes to day-long and even multi-day competitions. On of the most acclaimed running books of recent years, titled ‘Feet in the Clouds’ by Richard Askwith, was devoted to the sport.

This month of April sees two of the classic events on the fells taking place, the Rivington Pike - always held on Easter Saturday - and The Three Peaks which will be held on April 25th. The latter is held in Yorkshire over a distance of around 23 miles and takes in the three mountains of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent.

On Saturday last, the town of Horwich in Lancashire was once again the venue for the Rivington Pike. Held every Easter Saturday, this is one of the oldest and most historic fell races in the UK. The first recorded event took place in the early 1880s and it has become one of the most prestigious races in the calendar.

Horwich is about six miles from Bolton and is the home of the Macron (formerly Reebok) Stadium where Bolton Wanders now play. This is situated alongside Horwich Parkway Railway Station and a familiar landmark that can be viewed from the many trains that pass through is that of Rivington Pike Tower on the summit of Winter Hill.

This is where the race goes – starting outside the Crown Hotel, it’s basically 3.25 miles up and down, with a total ascent of around 800 feet. Fell running, like its equivalent here in Ireland, is a relatively low-key and cheap activity. Entry fee for the Rivington Pike race was £5, with all entries taken on the day. The total of 257 finishers was well inside the limit of 500, which was probably just as well. As can be seen from the accompanying video from last year, it can be pretty scary to see runners hurtling down the hill trying to avoid those on their way up!

The record for the race is 15:53, established by John Wild back in 1981 with the women’s mark of 19:38 standing to Carol Greenwood since 1987. This year the winner was Rob Hope of Pudsey & Bramley in 17:40, with Matthew Roberts (Calder Vale Fell Runners) second in 17:59 and Peter Matthews (Blackburn Harriers) third in 18:07. First woman was Lindsey Brindle of the promoting Horwich RMI Harriers who finished 21st overall in a time of 21:05.

Although he had only 11 of the 257 finishers behind him, for 76-year-old Ron Hill last Saturday’s race marked the 39th occasion he has taken part in the event. This includes three wins in the 1960s, the most remarkable coming in 1965 when it was part of a hectic Easter treble. The day before Rivington Pike (Good Friday) he had won the Salford 7.5 mile road race in a course record of 35:01, despite having to run in bare feet after forgetting his racing shoes!

Ron Hill descending from the summit

The following day, in cold wind and rain, he was 100 yards behind the leader at the summit of Rivington Park but he used his track and road ability to full effect on the way down to win in a time of 17:08. And the weekend wasn’t finished yet. Two days later, on Easter Monday, he travelled across to Yorkshire where in conditions of high winds and occasional hail, sleet and snow showers, he won the Beverley Marathon in 2:26:33.

Over the next five years, Hill would go on to win the European, Boston and Commonwealth marathon titles (the latter in 2:09:28) and it’s a tribute to his longevity and love of the sport that 50 years after his memorable Easter treble he’s still turning out and contributing to the rich history of running lore that races the likes of Rivington Pike provide.

This video clip of the 2014 race gives an idea of what it's like...


Anonymous said...

Thanks to the two Johns for this. Really enjoyed the article. Been following fell running for years and they are all quite mad. Interesting that Nicky Spinks broke her own woman's record in the Bob Graham Round in Cumbria this weekend. 18 hrs 6 mins. Not bad for a 47 yr old cancer survivor!

Anonymous said...

Lovely article.