Saturday October 13, 2018

The King of the Hill series is a nine race series in which participants run up the same hill – Binn Road in Marsden, up into the Wessenden Valley – on the first Wednesday of each month from February to October. The top finishers accrue points based on their finishing position, with the winner crowned King of the Hill champion. As of 2017, it spawned a sister race, the King of the Hill Marathon, centering around this ascent, and incorporating a half marathon, 10km and 5km option, with competitors running along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal from Huddersfield to Marsden, and then ascending through the Wessenden Valley, before heading back the exact way they had come before.

I’d wanted to do this race last year, with its low entry fee (£10 + booking fee) and a canal based route (because I love running near water) being big appealing factors, along with the fact that half marathon is perhaps my favourite and best distance. However, all plans had to go on hold as I was about to become an uncle for the first time, and so the race wasn’t a priority. This time, the only potential obstacle was my kids’ friends’ birthday parties, which thankfully were later on this particular day, meaning no clash, just a need to get home and showered after the race.

Obligatory pre-race selfie

Storm Callum had done its bit in the day or two before to wreak a little havoc. Truth be told, West Yorkshire didn’t get it too bad but there were still storm conditions and high winds. The day of the race seemed calm, the air was slightly warm. Knowing what I knew of the canal, it was probably going to be muddy and wet in places. At least, in the case of distances below marathon, the race title was just that, a slight misnomer perhaps, given canals tend to feature only short hills, not the whopper the marathon of this race includes. Today would be an out and back from Huddersfield to Marsden on the canal only, and back again.

The race began just after 9am, and I immediately surged into the lead. There was no looking back. At least, not initially.

The first two miles went really quickly – a 5:40, then a 6:15. It was following a section where I had to take to the road, due to a towpath closure, that I realised there definitely wasn’t any PB potential in this course, as my pace began to slow a little, possibly as punishment for setting off so quickly, but also because canals have locks. Which rise, or decline, in opposite directions. The first half of the race featured several short, sharp inclines that proceeded to test my stamina, and the stormy weather that had preceded this day had left several puddles across the towpath, seemingly increasing in frequency, disrupting my rhythm. There was the choice of whether to avoid them or run straight through them. I tried to skirt around the larger puddles – the ones covering the entire towpath – but most of the time they could be easily skipped over, or unavoidable. Alas, I splooshed in a good few and my feet became wetter and wetter. There was also a headwind that was trying to push me back on occasion.

I was also so quick off the start that the first water station was still being set up. I had time to stop and get some water before heading on my way. I continued to push the pace but such was the frequency of the hilly locks that one even stopped me in my tracks. Not my greatest admission – but we’ve all been there, haven’t we? – but I kept moving forward, and quickly got going again.

I got to Marsden and stopped again for a drink and to gather my bearings. I wasn’t too sure if I wanted any food but the wonderful marshal offered me a few crisps which I took up immediately. The salty flavour perked me up a bit, and I took another gel at this point to go with the water. I got right into my stride. Just seeing no one immediately coming in the opposite direction was massive impetus to create as big a gap as possible. I estimate it was about five locks back to the person in second. I just had to keep it together. I was potentially holding a reasonably sized lead here.

The puddles were still massively disrupting my rhythm, but eventually I settled into a pace around 6:30-6:35 per mile, pushed on my a slight tailwind, and that seemed to be enough. I couldn’t seem to get back below this pace for anything longer than a few seconds, but my lead was comfortable, and sure enough, I arrived back at the ex Charlie Browns Autocentre finish to be crowned (literally and figuratively) King of the Hill Half Marathon champion!

Yes, that is a crown I’m wearing!

This was a fairly low key race, and it was a fairly low turnout too, but it was devised to that way in order to keep the price low – only up to 150 entrants are allowed, though I overheard only 50 registered cumulatively for the events. The crown is the only prize given out, worth no more than a couple of quid at most, however the food put out for the runners including bananas, oranges, sausage rolls, cake, yes, cake, amongst others, and I’m perfectly fine with that over a medal or some other trinket. Recovery food and cola, that’s the stuff! And no race photography either. Which again, I can live with, given that the race had to call for marshals days before the event to ensure it could go ahead.

I had a slightly farcical post race when I thought I could visit my firm’s. nearby office to get a shower. Wane, the race director, even lent me a towel. However the gates were locked when I got there and I didn’t have the access code for the car park. Alas, I returned to get changed. It didn’t end there, however. The wind was beginning to pick up again, and as I tried to clean the mud off my legs, it caught the crown and carried it all the way into the canal! Incredibly Wane, and a fellow finisher, fished it out and went as far as to give it a wash!

My time came in at 1:28:43. Not my fastest half marathon time, but not too shabby, and well inside 2017’s winning time, meaning I actually hold a course record, I guess? All things considered, the time wasn’t important on this day. I just wanted a good race and the win is always a nice bonus.

I will move on now to consider whether my year is pretty much done, or if I can stretch to another paid entry race and see if I’m lucky enough to win again. Without question, I’m already moving on with one eye on the Blackpool Marathon next year, but if my budget allows I might enter one more race this year (not including my club’s Christmas Handicap, which is free entry). But with two wins since Germany, a parkrun PB and some cracking times set on the track, I seem to be having a blast this second half of the year. And I decree that it continues!

Thank you so much again to Wane for everything on the day, and everyone involved with Team OA, particularly the marshals who stepped up on the day to ensure the race could go ahead.

King of the Hill Marathon website