On a bright sunny early winter morning on Saturday 16 December 2023, 16 brave and partly hungover Toddies gathered for the not-inaugural-but-not-raced-for-a-while Todmorden Harriers Staggered Start Handicap Race: a 4-mile burst up to Stoodley Pike from the Top Brink. The course incorporated a good couple of steady uppish miles along the London Road track, a sharp right turn up the bridleway before Swillington, a climb to The Pike, an important anti-clockwise loop of the tower, then a sloping descent down the hill track and back home for a downhill sprint through the finish field to the line. A very runnable route, even for non-fell enthusiasts.
Following consultation with the fell runners FB page and Chat GPT, a complicated Excel Spreadsheet algorithm was devised. Races from this year’s Tod Harriers GP and other (ideally shortish fell) races were reviewed and fed into the algorithm to give estimated finish times for each runner. A few weeks before the actual race, some kindly guinea pig Toddies took part in a test race where a gritty Helen Hodgkinson managed to win the sprint and hold off Doni Clarke to cross the line first. The system seemed to work and, following a few tweaks, the respective start times were set: it was time to race.
And so it was that the runners gathered on race day, knowing their ages and genders were no longer relevant. Their task was simple: the first to cross the line would be crowned the not-inaugural-but-not-raced-for-a-while Todmorden Harriers Staggered Start Handicap Race Champion! The prize: more kudos than a particularly well attended Strava-friendly pack run and a couple of tickets to the Banff Mountain Film Festival at Hebden Bridge Picturehouse in February.
The clouds cleared to reveal blue skies and the glorious phallic folly atop its challenging hill. Somewhere below The Pike, a yellow dot could also be seen; the figure of Mark Anderton dressed head to toe in a luminous waterproof boiler suit. An outfit suited perfectly to both tackling a leaking ceiling (as Mark had been occupied with that morning) and, as luck would have it, marshalling runners down a tricky downward descent.
As each runner was given a ten second countdown and a cheering send-off, the tension was palpable. Would Dave O’Neill manage to keep his lead to fend off his nemesis, Jane Leonard!? Would the queasy Ben Blosse manage not to throw up during the dizzying circuit of the Pike!? Would Hannah Prince end up in Mytholmroyd!? Would anyone be able to make up the big lead the algorithm had given to Reg Czudek!?
The answer to the latter question was emphatically, “no” as Reg ran brilliantly to come home comfortably with the victory! The battle for the rest of the places was tighter with less than 8 minutes between second and sixteenth place, Rob Gray moving up six places to cross the line in second and Ricky Parrish moving from ninth to third place. Tales of victories and losses, large and small, were exchanged in the pub afterwards. Full results below.
Thanks to all the runners and marshalls for what was a very enjoyable event!
Report by Mat Gray
On race day 16 Toddies took part, Reg Czudek was first to set off and first over the finish line with a huge smile. Seventeen minutes later Rob Gray crossed the line in 2nd, and a further 2 minutes Ricky Parish in 3rd.
Me (Mark) being a stat nerd, there can be several analyses from the results below, such as 4th to 16th finishing within 4 minutes of each other, 13 runners were 2 minutes within estimated time, 5 within 20 seconds but I don’t want to bore you with that. However it does show the algorithms were generally pretty accurate.
The key thing everyone agreed what great fun the race was. It was my first ever handicap race and I loved being Chaser & Chased with the main goal of not being overtaken. Looking forward to the next one, there was even talk in The Top Brink of a series in 2024. How about it Mat? 😉
Report By Mark Tempest