5. Running Up That Hill

I finished the end of week five of my training feeling like I needed to take a little rest. Lately I’d put myself into new territory by walking through part of the Yorkshire Dales, the Pennine Way, and in running (Wo)Man vs Barge, I’d managed to accumulate a little more mileage that I’d anticipated at this stage of my training. Not only that, but I’d ad a slight grumble from my left achilles tendon. So as promised to myself, I took Tuesday as a rest day. Quite literally. 

Even with my family away, I hadn’t given myself the liberty of getting enough sleep and by Tuesday I was really feeling it. So much, I actually fell asleep on the kids bedroom floor as I put them to bed. And then again the following night. I felt charged to go running early doors yet again, but the kids immediately got unsettled by the very fact I was on my feet, so much so that I lost nearly the whole day. Yet I was determined to not lose out on my Thursday run, which I deemed critical to test my fitness prior to going off on a 15-16 mile run this particular weekend. I didn’t feel right about jumping in, however many miles I’d run with Ben Smith and however many miles I ran and walked the previous weekend. Yet come Thursday night, I couldn’t help falling asleep. Again. This was becoming a good, if unconventional week, for my sleep patterns. I was sleeping like a log, quite literally able to just fall in a random position and not wake up for hours. Except luckily I woke up having slept nearly two hours, and finally, at 11:30pm, yes, 11:30pm, I went out for a run and covered just over 10K. Even Mario’s takeaway was shut when I came back into Brighouse, such was the time of night (or morning) it was. I opted to stay up extra late for Usain Bolt’s sporting history, if slightly underwhelming for the lack of a world record. Especially given how he sauntered to a slightly quicker time in his 200 metre semi final, which was, quite figuratively, conversational pace.

I had been set on travelling to Littleborough again to run along the Pennine Way, but I decided that I needed a route that wouldn’t extend beyond the 15-16 miles. It turned out I had plotted one, and greater yet, with numerous hill elevations and descents. Only, not quite as scenic, and much more familiar. Yep, the roads from Brighouse to Huddersfield and back again aren’t exactly the mecca of running routes – a lot of main roads and noisy traffic at worst – but, a necessity for the focal point of the run, the iconic Castle Hill in Almondbury, Huddersfield. A place I visited once before, as part of a challenge of sorts set by a friend of mine. The idea here being that, from my home town, to Castle Hill, and back again, I could fit not one, but three big climbs and descents into one route. Rolling hills!

It didn’t start off too well, having properly fuelled before the run, but completely failing to remember my water bottle, packing only an energy bar, and decided I’d already come too far to double back and delay my run. Daft as that sounded, I pressed ahead and the A643 it was to begin, which from Brighouse is a climb of about a mile or so, which eventually reaches the top at the Bradley Barr roundabout and…oh well, there’s nothing much to note here. Just drop down through Fartown and eventually, take a left to head through the viaduct at Hillhouse Lane, and into industrial heartland. It had rained a bit by now and it seemed my wish for a rainy day run might happen.

Castle Hill, right in the distance, from St. Andrew’s Road, Huddersfield

On through the edge of the town centre, briefly swinging through a couple of Huddersfield’s major roads before heading up Dog Kennel Bank, leading to the suburb of Lowerhouses. Any road with the word ‘Bank’ in it is guaranteed to be steep, and this was no exception. I seemed to cope OK with it, and the gradient eased off a little as I neared the top. Only as the peak of Longley Road arrives, you’re forced to amble up a steep swinging section, no pavement, which was a fine test in itself, a worthy of a fist pump in the air to celebrate the latest hill successfully overcome. Castle Hill, and its landmark monument, Victoria Tower, were now in full view.

The pavement here tends to switch from one side to the other, and isn’t particularly reassuring – it feels to be on something of a camber at times, and at this point I was relieved it wasn’t dark. The last time I ran past the hill it was near pitch black and the glare of oncoming vehicles made it a chastening experience, not least of all because I was physically spent at that point that day. Nonetheless, here I was, now at the bottom of the hill, and declining the 104 (or so) steps to my left in favour of the road up to the car park. The road here swings round at near 90 degree angles as the climb continues, and I continued to push myself up the hill, before finally, I took a smaller staircase and arrived, at the very top.

Castle Hill, with Victoria Tower just ahead
Its Emley Moor Mast! It looks much more impressive to the eye than the phone.
Victoria Tower

Castle Hill is a scheduled monument, comprising the remains of a hillforts built in the Bronze Age and Iron Age, a 12th century castle and was also once the site of a medieval village. It later becane a warning beacon (you can still see its red light at dark), previously held political and religious meetings and once had its own tavern, later demolished. The monument strikingly atop the hill, Victoria Tower, was built as a permanent memorial to Queen Victoria in recognition of her sixty plus year reign of the British Empire, and is a grade II listed building. 

You get some absolutely stunning views of Huddersfield, Emley Moor and more besides from up on Castle Hill – at its most direct, still only around 3 miles back to the town centre – and I did allow myself a bit of time here to take a few snaps and take in my surroundings. Now it was time to get down, which I would do so by heading down the footpath down the other side. This was foolish, as it was a narrow stone staircase that was greasy from the rain and in no way suitable to run up or down! Hence, mile 7 went for a cool 9:55!

Soon I was back into my running and down the 15% gradient of Lockwood Scar, as fast a drop as the gradient suggests, but taken carefully, and then up through the edge of Huddersfield town centre – up Chapel Hill, Castlegate, and along Portland Street to continue uphill through Edgerton. The climb here is gradual – so you do a bit, then it flattens out, and so on. Then its a right onto Burn Road, which initially drops. Some nice views around here. I was still feeling pretty good here.

However, Burn Road is easy to misjudge, and it soon turns into a steep uphill as it adjoins Grimescar Road. This is quite a punishing elevation but not insurmountable, and soon enough I was finishing more or less the final long uphill part of the route, dashing past Ainley Top village and on the potholed pavements on New Hey Road, before taking the bridge into Upper Edge. A left at the next crossroads, and it was downhill through Rastrick, towards Brighouse. I finished in 2:07:13. I’d actually been out longer than that, but that’s probably the fastest I’ve pushed it for a few weeks.

By far, the most pleasing thing was that I came through this run not just free of any niggles or quirks. And that I somehow coped for 2 hours with only the occasional raindrop for hydration. I actually didn’t feel too tired. I assure you, I put in plenty effort, and I’m not doping! My chia seed and blueberry porridge is all natural! But seriously, there’s a few reasons that this may have worked. One being the rest I took between the previous Sunday and Thursday night. Another was the spike in decent nights of sleep. The other being the recent spate of slow running, racing over hills and trails, walking in the Dales, and on the Pennine Way. Now those walks absolutely took everything out of me. I slept well on those days. But more to the point, they seem stamina building. I must have got some further strength in my calves and quads, because I’ve never coped with a hilly run that well. Ok, Ok, I did take a bit of a breather up on Castle Hill, so I’m not getting ahead of myself. But to feel fresh for the rest of the weekend, it was an amazing feeling.
It was great to chill out and watch events in the Rio Olympics draw to a close, chiefly the men’s marathon, won by the supreme Eliud Kipchoge, but ultimately the big performance for me, and many others, was GB’s Callum Hawkins, running his third marathon and finishing in 9th overall. It inspired me to actually go out and do the recovery run that I’d come close to dropping. And in doing so, managed a negative split!

Looking ahead, my swimming lessons are due to resume, and I’m off on one of my logistically ambitious long runs again – this time from Salterhebble Locks, through Sowerby, Mytholmroyd and Stoodley Pike before continuing along the Pennine Way to Littleborough. That will take me up to 17-18 miles, depending where I finish, and I need to be away very early to ensure I can run a steady enough pace to finish with enough time to stretch and cool down. It’ll be a good chance to try out my race vest on a long run rather than a walk. This will likely be a better chance to test my stamina than the run up to Castle Hill, so long as I can stop admiring the view and actually get on with the run. I’m sure I will – I can’t afford to be too late home as I’ve got a very busy day ahead!