Of all the types of training a runner can do, without question, hill sprints are the worst. Don’t get me wrong. I recognise the massive benefits they bring. Speed endurance. Core strengthening. That high of reaching the very top, before coasting back down. Yeah, I realise the good things about them far outweigh the bad. That they test my willpower like nothing else. A hard marathon leaves me wanting more, but a hill sprint, well, I’d rather unblock a toilet than bust my lungs running to the top of a hill. OK, maybe that’s not entirely true, but I can honestly say it’s something I do through gritted teeth. Well, unless I’m gasping for air by the top.

So what drew me to enter the Meltham Murder Maniac? Was it the fairly low entry price (£7.50 in advance)? Nope. Was it the charitable aspect (£5 of each entry went to Holme Valley Mountain Rescue)? Not really, although it was good to see a local race giving back to its community. It was moreso the challenge, and the history of this race. The race was inaugurated in 1984 by a Meltham local who had tested the course himself (Wessenden Head Road) and run a sub 4 minute mile downhill. The event, then just known as the Meltham Maniac Mile, quickly became a magnet for runners seeking to join the sub 4 minute mile club and in 1993, a 16 year old wrote themselves into the record books, and more recently, an episode of QI) when he ran the downhill mile in 3:24, way inside the official mark set by Hicham El Guerrouj of 3:43.13 in 1999. The race was abandoned after 1997 but returned in 2014 with a ‘Murder Mile’ now added as part of a local nostalgic event, Meltham Memories, and has since been run every year, with Team OA now continuing what has become a fixture in the local calendar.

I was one of the first to arrive on race day, and with a whole hour to kill before the race, I walked up part of the hill to get a scope for the challenge ahead. It reminded me so much of why I love this part of the world. The hillside scenery is simply magnificent, a peaceful village, green hills all around and nothing but politeness from the locals. After a warm up around the local roads, it was time for the race. I opted to ditch the visor and sunglasses though, as the cloud rolled in to blunt the sharp rays trying to shine down on this early evening occasion.

Pre-race, before the sun decided to hide again

The majority of runners today were here to do both the Murder (uphill) and the Maniac (downhill), with a few simply running the downhill prior to the main up-then-down race. We also had one runner just doing the uphill. Everyone was assembled hastily for the start, and about 10 seconds later, the event was underway. Immediately, I was in a group of about four at the front, tucking in behind two Holmfirth Harriers, with a young lad, at a guess no older than 12, running well on the right hand side of the road. I was doing around 7:35 mile pace to begin with, having got out quickly and into my rhythm, and wasn’t losing much speed on the climb, as I moved past one of the Holmfirth runners. The kid on the right marginally led at one point, but a little further up I was firmly established in second. I then seemed to be moving up on the leader, and soon overtook him, about 0.6 miles in. From this point, I didn’t look back. I kept to my rhythm and surprised that my pace had still remained just inside 8 minute miling, until I briefly took my foot off the gas to recompose myself at a tiny sting in the hill’s gradient. Turning around the corner, I began to see cones on the side of the road and eventually, a few volunteers recording the splits at the top. I surged at this point, buoyed by the sight of halfway, and made the 180 degree turn getting straight into my stride.

Amazingly, I had a gap. And a fairly significant gap at that, with the next runner just coming around the corner, maybe a tenth of a mile back. I’d already started charging at this point, and I swear I was absolutely gritting my teeth. Now admittedly, I’ve run down much steeper hills – Trooper Lane, Halifax (19%), and Birkby Lane, Hartshead (14%) to name two – and a few steeper ones too, but they end a lot sooner. It’s about a mile up to the cattle grid on Wessenden Head Road and still ascends beyond that point. This had a nice consistent gradient, and with a gentle breeze to run into on the way back down. A man running in a flamingo costume (really!) offered a high five, perhaps the fastest one I’d ever delivered, though not as hard as the one I nearly took my team mate’s hand off with in Germany.

I felt absolutely in control, and gradually got quicker and quicker. I didn’t dare to look back, there simply wasn’t time! My average pace dipped under 5:00 per mile, and my watch beeped the second mile at 4:52. The footsteps I kept thinking were pounding behind me just seemed to be either a figment of my imagination, or perhaps the sound of my feet thudding at an increasingly faster cadence.

The finish line arrived and on this day, I was the victor. My official time, 13:38. The next runner came in around 20 or 30 seconds behind me, and soon a steady stream of runners, including the man in the flamingo costume finishing respectably. My uphill mile was clocked in 8:40, downhill in 4:58. The course was slightly longer than a mile, but I don’t really mind! It’s my best result of the year, having set personal bests on occasion but not achieving so many ‘podiums’. I didn’t even expect to win this race, a great bonus to an event I was pleased to have taken on, and actually enjoyed.

The fun didn’t end there as the presentation took place. There was no grand prize – especially as the race gives away £5 of each race entry to Holme Valley Mountain Rescue, a worthier recipient than any medal or trophy manufacturer. Instead, the top three of the up and down, plus the top three downhill and, in a nice touch, the very last person to finish, all got a selection from the lucky dip box. A series of white envelopes, all looking fairly much the same. The man in second won a spork. I won a glowstick. Although not one of those cheap ones for a rave. One you can use on camping and outdoor trips. Which is actually handy, as my wife I are taking the kids camping shortly!

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A big thanks to Team OA once again for their organisation on the day (and for the photos). As it was, organisation wasn’t too much – no start/finish awning (the road had to remain open), just timers at the top and bottom of the course to check numbers coming over the line, but as only a two mile race, it was kept nice and simple, in keeping with the premise of this race. It’s nice to be added to the list of winners of this illustrious race, but that record time, wow, I can’t imagine what it would be like to run downhill at that pace!

Official website for the Meltham Murder Maniac (Team OA)