how my 80km run went

Last Saturday I finished an 80km (50 miles) circuit around the M60. The intention was to run the whole distance, but after 53km I had to stop and walk the remainder. It was Saturday 14 May, and I started my run at 5am, just outside Junction 7 of the M60.

The following post is an account of how it went, broken into eight sections: Sale to Stockport; Stockport to Ashton; Ashton to Chadderton; Chadderton to Simister; Simister to Whitefield; Whitefield to Kearsley; Kearsley to Urmston; and Urmston back to Sale. Note that locations and distances given are approximate.

For those who would like to follow along, the interactive map of my route is below:

1. Sale to Stockport: 1-15km
This was my second circuit of the M60 on foot after walking the route on 30 May last year (2015). On that occasion I went round clockwise, as that was how I had mapped out the route. What I only realised on my way to the finish that first time is that it meant a hard 18km walk on roads to end with after a long day on my feet.

So this year I chose to run counterclockwise, getting the longest section on roads out of the way at the start. This had the potential disadvantage of introducing four relatively long climbs, each with a steep section, into the equation. Clockwise the climbs are much more gradual, with only two noticeably steep sections. But I decided the climbs were preferable to punishing my feet at the finish.

Starting early the roads were quieter and more pleasant to run than later in the day. On the whole these are quite wealthy and leafy parts of Greater Manchester/urban Cheshire. Last year, in planning the route, that translated into a proliferation of Tory and UKIP election signs. This year it just meant relatively clean streets and lots of green.

Having only ever walked this section previously it passed much more quickly and effortlessly than expected. I was trying to keep my pace measured to preserve energy for later, though I was actually about where I predicted.

2. Stockport to Ashton: 15-28km
Joining the Trans Pennine Trail by the Mersey close to the centre of Stockport I met up with another runner who had agreed to join me for the section to Ashton-under-Lyne. Three of my siblings had also hoped to join me, one brother for the whole run, and a brother and a sister for a shorter section each. Unfortunately injury in the first case, and other commitments in the latter meant they were not able to do so. Nonetheless they were able to support me in other ways.

The run to Ashton contains some of the least pleasant urban running of the circuit; through Stockport by the Merseyway Shopping Centre and along the A560 through Bredbury to Woodley. This is because the A560 is a busy road close to the M60 not optimised for pedestrians. The pavements are sometimes narrow, and it feels more uncompromisingly urban than most of the first 15km.

That said there is plenty of green on either side, the river Goyt is crossed three times, and at least one park passed. My companion also pointed out the massive art deco pear on top of Pear Mill, which despite having passed several times I had not previously noticed.

And the run to Woodley is the shorter part of this section. After 5km, at around the 20km point of the route, we dropped onto the Peak Forest Canal, one of my favourite sections. For most of the run along the canal there are woods to one side and fields to the other. We saw plenty of mallards and geese, though surprisingly few coots, and the terrapin I noticed on a walk last year was keeping out of sight.

Most prominent was a heron we startled that flew a little way up the canal only to be disturbed again as we drew close a second time. This repeated several times. For some reason it reminded me of a family of herons I heard calling from a tree a few years ago. Their calls, overlapping, took on an electronic tone. Eventually our heron settled on the other side of the canal.

The towpath had been upgraded since last year, which was especially evident when we followed the bridge over to the east side of the canal for a section. Last summer the track was uneven, full of deep holes and puddles, muddy, and with a distinct verge against the wall narrowing the path. Now it was broader, and level.

At Ashton the canal crosses the river Tame to join the Ashton Canal, which shortly after joins the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. We, however, left it and continued into the centre of Ashton and onto the hill leading to Oldham. Here, in fact a little further on than he should have, my companion left me to make his way back to Stockport.

3. Ashton to Chadderton: 28-38km
I was now a little over halfway to Besses o' th' Barn Metrolink where I was due to change my hydration belt. But that was a long way, and included two long climbs, the first of which I was already on. Surprisingly though it seemed to require less effort than I feared.

Apart from those sections where the road crosses the river Medlock, or runs close by Daisy Nook Country Park to the west (my left as I ran), it is an urban road lined with homes and businesses like any other. Consequently I did not pay much attention to what I was passing. Although there is a building owned by a church with a living roof early on, and I left the road to begin descending opposite Park Cakes factory.

I dropped closer to the M60, then joined the Oldham Way along the Rochdale Canal for a short distance. The Rochdale Canal from around this point, Chadderton, back into Manchester is ill-kept, clogged, littered, and neglected. It reminds me of the state of many canals I remember from being a small child in the 1970s and into the 80s.

Though I have not yet seen a septic tank dumped in it, as I once did in the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in Skipton, I have seen several burned-out boats. Clich├ęd objects such as shopping trolleys, motorbikes, traffic cones, and construction fencing are common. Despite this people fish in the canal, especially underneath the electric powerlines, ignoring the frequent safety signs warning against it. The expected birds; mallards, geese, coots and moorhens also find it congenial.

4. Chadderton to Simister: 38-44km 
The next section is one where I got thoroughly soaked in incredibly heavy rain while planning my route in 2015. Not so much my route from the canal to Kingsway, nor along Kingsway itself, but Manchester New Road, the A664. As an aside there are several Manchester Roads, and Manchester Old Roads encountered on this route, though fewer Manchester New Roads.

In 2015, walking in the opposite direction up Manchester New Road a heavy rain started. A river at least a metre wide developed across part of the road, rushing downhill with some speed. Ahead of me a large frog hopped out of the hedge in front of a garden. It paused on the pavement, watching. As I got closer it finally leapt into the roadside torrent and was swept past me out of sight, tumbling in the waters.

This year I crossed to the other side and ran on in warm sunshine with no frogs in sight. Toward the bottom of the road I turned left into Alkrington Woods as a pleasant green shortcut. Most of the path I took followed the river Irk, one of the Greater Manchester rivers I am less familiar with. The Tame, the Goyt, their child the Mersey, the Medlock, the Irwell are all better known to me. Even Cornbrook, by name at least, has greater recognition. The Irk, rerouted and culverted eventually empties into the Irwell near Victoria Station in Manchester.

After Alkrington Woods I rejoined a road which runs both parallel to, and towards, the M60. But just before the road feeds onto the motorway I turned right, uphill on Heywood Old Road. This is a quite steep climb, and the first time I felt the effort of running uphill. I slowed, and almost contemplated walking, but carried on. For much of the climb there are fields to the right. You are close to the edge of the city here.

At the top of the climb I went left onto what is more of a track than a road, Simister Lane. It climbs a little further, though the road it has just left drops away. The track becomes rougher and passes between what seem to be farm buildings. From here you can see ahead of you the bridge crossing the M62 you are heading for. There are fields, arrays of solar panels, and clustered both near and into the distance, elegant wind turbines.

The track drops down, joins another track, then becomes a road and slowly accumulates houses. A road to the right leads past a farm and over the motorway. This bridge, and another close by over the M66 were extremely challenging in the planning phase and during the walk in 2015. I have acrophobia, fear of heights, which is worsened when the height in question is over several lanes of speeding traffic.

5. Simister to Whitefield: 44-50km
I find that running long distances induces an almost meditative, altered state. My engagement with my surroundings is changed and reduced, less active than when I am walking. Usually this is something to be regretted, but when crossing these high bridges can only be regarded as a good thing.

The road down to the first bridge over the M62 passes through a gateway which is usually flooded, and has wooden stepping-'stones' to one side. For once it was dry, so I was not slowed. Except that my running was noticeably slower, and even the slight climb to the bridge and over it took a little work. But I was focussed enough and quick enough that I was not concerned by the motorway below.

Coming off the bridge the road becomes a track, which ends at another track crossing perpendicular to it. My route was left along this track, which shortly became a footpath. That footpath runs right up to the M66, then turns right and tracks alongside the motorway on one side and a golf course on the other, before joining a bridge over the motorway.

Somewhere in that transition from track to footpath I stumbled for no good reason. Although I did not fall I let out an involuntary pained, frightened and sad cry, and stumbled on for several steps. Not falling, but not in control of my body either. At that point I realised it was unlikely I could complete the whole route running. But I recovered and carried on.

The footpath gets narrower, more overgrown, and more uneven underfoot. I considered walking, but decided to press on as far as I could. The short, rough climb, drop, and climb again to the road over the bridge on my left was harder than actually crossing the bridge. Over the bridge I went left again, leaving the road for a track taking me towards Whitefield.

Along that track, and after the point where it becomes a road again and rejoins the city, I walked for a couple of short sections. The distances ahead of me seemed to open out again and become more challenging. But at the end of Thatch Leach Lane, close to Besses o' th' Barn Metrolink, I met up with family to change my hydration belt and pick up fresh water and isotonic drinks.

It was around 5-10 minutes past 10am, which had been my predicted arrival time. I let my siblings know I did not expect to be able to run much further, and that consequently my finishing time was likely to be in the range of 3-4pm, or perhaps later. Then I ran on to the roads leading into Clifton Country Park.

6. Whitefield to Kearsley: 50-61km
Across Bury Old Road there is a short footpath leading to Phillips Park Road East. This becomes a bridleway-type track, then becomes Phillips Park Road, which itself becomes a track and eventually ends at a footpath.

On the first section of bridleway-type track between the two roads, on a gentle incline, I fell heavily. I dropped the isotonic drink in my right hand and fell full length, landing on my right palm, chin, left knee, and left hand side. Somehow the back of my left wrist was grazed too. For a moment I considered giving up, but I was still able to walk and was not actually hurt. I picked up my bottle and walked on for around five minutes.

After that I tried running slowly again and was able to do so. There was a concern in my mind that I might easily fall again and this time injure myself, but I wanted to run as far as I could. I even managed to continue beyond the point where Phillips Park Road turns to footpath and drops down to Clifton Country Park.

But where I had a choice, go right along a tarmacked path or go down a steep footpath, I went straight on. That meant walking; and the reason I chose it was that there were people in sight along the tarmacked way, and at that point I did not want to see anyone.

I decided that the park would give me a chance to recover. I knew that I had a steep climb out of the park to Manchester Road, and a long climb up the road until the point I left it en-route to Blackleach Country Park. I knew it would be hopeless to try running up any of those hills, but that after that my route was predominantly downhill. I would also have had 40 minutes or more walking to regain strength, and might be able to resume running.

Clifton Country Park is very pleasant, and intersects with a number of other paths and parks on both sides of the M60. It also includes works from the massive and ambitious Irwell Sculpture Trail. As with many of the parks it is a shame to only pass through rather than spend a day or more exploring. Though it is a benefit of having created this route, and now completed it twice, that I have seen parts of Greater Manchester I would otherwise be unaware of. There is a lot to explore, and a lot more parkland than you might imagine. All of these places can be revisited at leisure.

The Irwell, from its tributary the Irk, through this park, and between Salford and Manchester where it becomes the Ship Canal is as much of a presence on the route as the Mersey.

Out of the park and up the hill along Manchester Road I turned left into a residential street that eventually falters and ends at an Academy on one side, and an industrial estate on the other.

7. Kearsley to Urmston: 61-76km 
The route leads left around the industrial estate, then right across what appear to be old, sturdy railway bridges over the M61. The motorway here is sprawling in three sections close to where it joins the M60.

Starting across the bridges I was joined by a small dog which seemed determined to follow me. It was eventually persuaded to rejoin its owner, but for a long time appeared to have decided I was its new family. This is a pretty frequent occurrence, though I do not much like dogs. I far prefer the self-contained independence of cats. Nevertheless it was a friendly, fun and energetic little dog, and I did not mind it following me.

I only spent a short of time in Blackleach Country Park, almost immediately taking a path leading me out to Linnyshaw, the East Lancs Road and Roe Green. While still in the park I did attempt to start running but was unable to do so. I rang my family to confirm I would not be at the start/finish point by 2pm, but closer to 4pm. As I was getting picked up at the end of the route I asked them to phone me before setting out to check if I was on time.

Roe Green is curious, essentially a village complete with surrounding green spaces, abutted on two sides by the M60 and the East Lancs Road. Here, since I was walking, I could drop down onto part of a network of footpaths. The steps down would have been too steep had I been running, and there is an alternate way to join my route closer to the M60 if I stay on the pavement.

The footpaths head off in various directions, including under the motorway in at least two places. But at both these places another path heads uphill to track alongside the motorway. It then takes a detour round a school before dropping down between the M60 and a churchyard to a road which drops under the motorway and into Worsley.

Worsley has some very expensive houses, and is apparently where a number of footballers have homes. Whether these are in addition to homes in Cheshire or an alternative I do not know. Or care. I loathe football, I loathe the presumption of its fans that you have to be interested and hold an opinion, and I loathe the fact that it constantly bleeds into news sources outside of sports coverage and outside of its own season.

Despite this Worsley is pleasant enough, and the route through it on the Bridgewater Canal out towards Leigh is recommended walking. The route comes inside the M60 between here and the Trafford Centre in order to cross the Ship Canal at the Barton Bridge. From here to the end of the route is around 14km this way. The shortest diversion I can see outside the motorway, looking at maps online and not trying to find the route on the ground (which is usually much harder) is 34km.

I do plan to explore this diversion. If it can be followed then it may mean an alternative, closer to 100km circuit for those who wish it. But on this occasion I walked through Worsley down to Barton upon Irwell, across the Barton Swing Bridge, past the Trafford Centre, back under the M60 and on into Urmston.

8. Urmston to The Finish: 76-80km 
At around this point I was confident it would take me less than an hour to reach the finish. I checked my online description of the route to confirm it, then rang my family to let them know I would finish at 3:20pm. Just 80 minutes outside my predicted finish time of 1:30-2pm.

From Urmston I took a path that runs down past a riding stables and onto the Trans Pennine Trail along the Mersey. At the Mersey I turned left and followed the river for about 20 minutes. This is a very nice walk, and a lovely end to the circuit. At the A56 (Cross Street outside the M60, Chester Road inside) I left the river for the final time and walked to the start/finish point at Junction 7.

I completed the walk at around 3:05pm, a little over 10 hours, and reached my siblings parked inside the ring road at about 3:15. I was happy to finish, though I could have walked further.

Despite having to stop running after around 53km I enjoyed the day. I completed the circuit, I ran more than half the distance, the weather was sunny but not too warm, my planning worked out without a hitch, and most of the route is enjoyable. It takes you through many varied aspects of Greater Manchester, and while it is a significant distance makes the whole area seem smaller and more manageable. You feel not only inclined to visit new places locally, but that you can do so without too much effort, that these places are not so remote.

The circuit takes you through urban centres, suburbs, countryside, parks, along canals and rivers, over and under all manner of transport arteries, and lays out the geography of Greater Manchester far more clearly that looking at a map.

After completing the route I had a bath, dinner, then later another bath, before a relatively early bed. I don't currently feel inclined to embark on another long distance run, though I might consider another long walk. For now it is sufficient to have completed this challenge.


James Davies said…
Matt this is truly brilliant, both the real thing and this account. All good, James

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