THERE’S something very magical about Rivington Pike. On a good day you can stand beside it and it feels like you can see forever. On a bad day, the mist gives it an eerie ethereal feel. Up there, you get a real sense of the power of nature, good and fearsome.
The wind rises at the top at times threatening to blow you off your feet, the temperature drops and it feels like you’re in a very dark, foreboding place. Yet there is always – clear skies or misty gloom --an unmistakable majesty about it. It is where the earth touches the heavens.
Challenging it to a one-on-one battle six times a day, five days on the trot, is always going to be a contest heavily stacked in its favour. It is not for the faint-hearted. But then, no challenge worth its salt is ever achieved with a faint heart.
The sense of achievement should you rise to the challenge and defeat this hell of a hill for even just one day let alone five consecutive days, is life-changing. Five-in-five runners conquer this mystical peak 30 times to achieve victory, to stand at the top of this great hill as a conqueror.
Welcome to the Hell of a Hill Marathon.
Twelve months ago, after I had completed one day of it, the thought came to me to go for all five. I have rarely believed between then and last week that I could do all five, certainly not at the first attempt, but the thinking behind it was simple. I would start on the Wednesday and see how far I got. I might not be able to do one this time round – I had no idea. I only wanted to do my best, whatever that turned out to be.
Not knowing what your best is, that’s what makes us set ourselves challenges. Then when we achieve them, or as in my case this year, go further than I ever imagined myself capable of going, we grow as people; we build our character..
That’s the magic of the Pike. It not only brings out the best in you – it shows you a best that you never thought could exist.
I was privileged to share this challenge with - and run every day alongside - some of the most incredible runners I have ever met. People of various shapes and sizes, but all sharing two things – an iron will not to be defeated and a physical strength to withstand the pain the Pike can inflict when you challenge it again and again, day after day. Awesome athletes, yes. But awesome characters, too. Every one an inspiration.
This was my first attempt. I must get better if I’m to have another chance. All I can hope is that every time I attempt it, I manage a little more than last time.
But that has always been the way. It is not just a lesson for gritty endurance runners.
In April 2013, at over 24 stone, I lasted no more than a minute walking on a treadmill on my first visit to the gym. I had no idea then what I could achieve, what would be my “best” that day. I had no dreams to climb a Pike. All I wanted on the next visit to the gym was to try to walk on the treadmill for two minutes. Then three, then four…
Just as I had no idea what I would manage as I stood at the start line in Wilcocks Caravan Park in Rivington that cold Wednesday morning last week, so I had no idea when I stepped on the treadmill three and a half years ago whether I would be able to walk on it for a minute more than I'd done the day before.
We all have our own challenges and our own agendas. If we constantly strive to do the best we can, our best will continue to surprise us.
So my first attempt is broken down like this: Five days, started every day. Two marathons, two 18-mile runs and one 9.5-mile run. A total of 98 miles. 22 laps of the Pike. 18,300ft of climb.
All because I dreamed three and a half years ago that I’d be able to walk for more than a minute on the treadmill. And wasn’t prepared to let it stop at that.