This marathon has been on my radar since before I even moved nearby, when I read Robert Young’s Marathon Man book about completing the 5 in 5. Yes, that’s 5 marathons in 5 consecutive days, where each marathon consists of five 3.8 mile loops up the same hill. My experience wasn’t quite on this scale (I did one day) but since relocating to Bolton last year, and Rivington becoming my local training ground, I really, really had to enter this one.
It sounds scarier than it is. The website states that it is a 3.5 mile trail run at the start and the finish, with 5 laps of the hill, and over 4000ft of climb each day. The reality for me was that it was more appealing than a marathon that did one big loop because I was going to hit the same feed station every 45-60 minutes; it felt like a comfortable way for me to get back into marathon running as it’s been a year since I’ve last run that distance.
I had booked myself onto Day 3 – Friday, because Mr M was off which meant I didn’t have to worry about being finished in time to pick our daughter up from school, I could still have the weekend as family time, and that’s the day Jason could run too and I like company on long runs. The day dawned cloudy and a bit dull, a stark comparison to the previous day which had been gloriously clear and blue skied, but colder. I was initially sad for Jason, because I had been looking forward to showing him the view from the top as on a clear day you can see as far as the coast to the Lake District and over to Snowdonia, with Blackpool Tower visible on the horizon. However, we had a job to do so we thanked our lucky stars that it wasn’t icy or raining, and set off to HQ in Limbrick village, Chorley.
It’s a small event, I think there were 40 or so runners registered for Day 3, most of who were tackling the 5 day challenge, and the atmosphere in the hut was calm, welcoming and friendly. We exchanged a few pleasantries with other runners, petted a very cute 10 week old puppy who we were assured would be at the feed station, said hi to Gary who would be on the feed station and had very kindly personalised my race number, and then made our way to the start line for a lovely, personal race briefing by the Time 2 Run team.
Then we were off.
The run across to Rivington took us past two reservoirs, along a few undulating country roads, where we warned each other of oncoming cars (open roads) and up to the Pigeon Tower car park where we saw the feed station for the first of 6 times that day. The team give you the option of leaving kit in the van so you don’t have to carry anything, but I like carrying my own stuff so I can access it whenever I want, so I wore my race pack. I had brought 3 sachets of Tailwind with me, so I figured I’d top up on lap 2 and lap 4, which should get me through. I’d also packed a cheese sandwich for lunchtime.
Lap 1: Reconnaissance (3.5 miles to 7.35 miles)
Immediately we headed up the rocky path that becomes a torrent of water in the rain. Thankfully today was dry, but we still marched rather than ran. It’s very technical, with big rocks that move about underfoot, and it’s pretty steep. Once at the top it flattens out past the pigeon tower, before you start to climb again up the mound upon which the Pike sits. I walked up the steps to the top, and then heard Stu shout a telling off to me for walking already. He did snap this lovely picture of me though – cheers Stu.
The top was blowy, so a brief stop to admire the view, a tap of the Pike (1 of 5) then straight down the track round the back, and onto a more runnable section (if you stay at the edges). Then we hit the rocky path. I had been dreading this bit. I had recce’d the route a few times, and had always struggled with this section because the rocks make it hard to get into any kind of running rhythm, and they can be really slippery. Today they were covered in leaves, making it hard to see them, and there were roots sticking out, and gorse bushes waiting to prickle you. We walked the bottom section which was really slippery, then after a tight turn we were on a lovely long forest track which felt luxurious underfoot after the rocks and the hill. After a while, we took a right turn back towards the feed station, past the pinetum, and back up a horrible steep section where you choose between steps or a dirt slope, I’m still not sure which I dislike more!
Lap 2: Doggy kisses (7.35 miles to 11.2 miles)
After a brief stop at the feed station to fill our bottles, we set off on the second loop, now familiar. We got chatting to a man wearing a 100 marathons T-shirt, about how he completes the 5 in 5 challenge every single year, as his holidays from his work as a gardener! On our way down this time, we also chatted to a man who was also taking part for the first time, and we were talking about how the Friday event meant we didn’t feel as guilty as we could still spend time with family over the weekend. Once down the rocky path, and back in the woods, I heard an excitable patter of feet and a yelp, and turned around to see my furry pal Poppy legging it down the hillside to me, closely followed by Bella. It was a nice surprise to get some doggy kisses, and it broke up the loop nicely, as did an al fresco loo stop further down the track, hidden in the woods (there are no portaloos on the loop). Then cursing once more up the steep track, we made the feed station once more.
Lap 3: Samey, samey sameness (11.2 miles to 15.05 miles)
It had been my intention to have a cheese sandwich here as it was now midday, but for some reason we set straight off back up the hill, after a brief swig of flat coke. On our way up to the Pike, we were lapped by the leader, who was on his fourth lap. At the top this time we met a lady with a cute dog who took our photo, then the rest of the loop has disappeared into a big merge of sameness: woods; rocks; roots; slippery leaves; inclines that we hadn’t noticed before.
Lap 4: Fat hands! (15.05 miles to 18.9 miles)
We stopped a little longer at the feed station this time to refill our bottles again and eat a cheese sandwich. We could have eaten this while walking up the hill, but I think mentally we needed the break. The laps were becoming a little monotonous now. After a very quick lunch, we set off again and chatted some more to 100 marathons man. As we descended from the Pike, I looked at my hands and realised my fingers resembled little fat sausages. I immediately panicked, and stopped to prise my rings off before they swelled any further, and made a vow to get some more electrolytes down me at the next feed station and try to have another wee in the al fresco bathroom in the forest down the bottom. I had been drinking around 250ml of Tailwind every hour so should have been hydrated and sufficiently topped up with electrolytes, but the fat hands worried me. I immediately got that song in my head that Tom Cruise dances to in Tropic Thunder (because of the fat hands) and that became an annoying ear worm for the rest of the day. We got lapped again at the bottom by the leader, just finishing his last loop, but it was reassuring to see that even he walked the steep climb ahead of us. This was the worst lap I think. Annoyingly, the 5 in 5 runners seemed in better spirits than me at this stage, but I guess they are used to the boredom by this point.
Lap 5: Last push (18.9 miles to 22.75 miles)
Jason introduced me to the wonders of flat coke mixed with electrolytes and water on this lap; it’s a revelation! It perked me up enough to get to the top with no bother, and then it was nearly all downhill from there (ignoring the short climb back up to the feed station for a final time), which Jason challenged me to a sprint up, but I walked up, swearing inwardly, while he raced to the top. Then a final thank you to the feed station volunteers and we were on the home straight.
I had been hoping for around 5 and a half hours, but looking at the time we would be lucky to finish in 6. After a gentle run back, with some walking up the inclines, we made it back to HQ in an official time of 6 hours, 17 minutes and 5 seconds. I was 36th out of 42 finishers. Compared with my marathon PB of 3:58 it seems very slow, but I was genuinley happy to have completed a challenge I set myself.
Incidentally, the winner finished in 3 hours 52 minutes, which just shows you what a tough event this is.
We enjoyed the tastiest beans on toast I have ever eaten, and a few cups of tea, while we downloaded run data and had a laugh at the elevation graph. I mean, look at it, it’s ridiculous.
I’ve made my Strava data for this public, if you’d like a real giggle.
Then after a 15 minute sports massage (best tenner I have ever spent), that was it. Done.
Would I recommend this event? Absolutely. If you want to challenge yourself in a beautiful environment, it’s brilliant. I had the best day, even despite the fat hands. The medal is pretty cracking too, and if you do all five events, they slot together to make one huge pizza. Talking of pizza, we smashed a Dominoes when we got back home too. I’ll be back to do this again.
Here’s the link if you fancy entering it yourself: https://www.time2runevents.co.uk/info2.cfm?info_id=225243