Two 5am starts and a 14 hour ‘shift’ to set up the course on the day before the race is no way to look good for the cameras or deal with the constant, intense commotion and plate-spinning needed to run a successful event. But I arrived at Philips Park at 6am on Saturday morning almost completely worn-out. Hopefully today would be trouble-free, everyone would arrive, have a nice time, cheer and clap and then we’d clear up the mess in about an hour and I’d be home in time for tea. No problems. No mishaps.
Everything. Like. Clockwork.
One thing was a definite – the course was going to be amazing. The wet weather of recent weeks had been replaced with sub-zero temperatures and normally muddy sections, sometimes barely rideable, were lightning quick. I rode a swift lap before dawn and genuinely envied the people who would be riding this for a couple of hours at full-tilt in the daylight.
We were having a youth race this time. I’d arranged with a few mates that they’d arrive early-doors to dig me out of the shit and marshal it. So it came to pass that Lee, Dave, Wayne, Phil, Budge and others positioned themselves in the places marked with a smiley on the course map and marvelled at the youngsters ‘rip it up’. One or two of them really were ripping it up and were scarily quick. Brilliant to watch and a really nice bunch of guys and girls, youth racing will be a regular HTN feature from now on.
Other Friends Of Hit the North (my dad, the two Simons, Andrew the traffic cop, Tony, Deb, Jenny and others) showed up early to lend a hand with the rapidly-filling site.
The senior race this year was going to be our biggest in terms of numbers in our history (apart from that massive 12 hour race we did when we were quite a lot stupider) and the large number of people, bikes, cars and vans needed managing properly and was taking a great deal of concentration by all involved. We’d stepped things up this year, pushing the event into new territory and taking full advantage of our experience, contacts and know-how. Andrew and I are far from experts, but we can put on a hell of a show.
The hustle and bustle was all going on while the youth race was being started and was in progress. As usual, it felt like were walking the fine line between magnificent success and ‘a bit of a cock up’ but we were getting away with it.
Down the hill to the start of the main event. One of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done happened right then – and all I was doing was balancing on a wooden fence, shouting 3,2,1 and holding aloft a novelty airhorn. Almost 300 riders tore off up the hill (well, some of them did) and that was it. Me and Andrew had done our bit for now (well, apart from giving prizes to the youths who would christen our new podium).
The blue touchpaper had been lit on months of planning and preparation and now it was up to each individual to do their bit for the next 2-and-a-bit hours until the hectic period just before and after the end of the race….
I managed two or three enjoyable laps with my high-vis vest on, cheering friends and strangers on, chatting to marshals and trying not to get in the way, (mostly) resisting the urge not to chase riders down and get involved in little dogfights – I was wearing walking boots and jeans after all
The brass band parped. The drum band drummed. The caterers catered. The lap counters counted. The marshals marshalled. Everyone did their thing and everyone, and I mean EVERYONE had a brilliant time. The course was fast, the most fun in a 4 mile loop anywhere? It’s up there with the best of them. Inside the M60, 4 miles from Manchester City Centre? Crackers. It’s the stuff of legends. I was even interviewed on live BBC radio.
Things went a bit wobbly twenty minutes from the end of the race. The snow started to fall and people got cold. The lap counters became hypothermic and had to take breaks in warm cars. Despite preparing the presentations and prize goody bags a couple of days in advance, everyone finished and quite understandably scarpered. Then, cars couldn’t get out of the car park. Over 100 vehicles trapped at the bottom of a slippery, ice and snow-covered hill. We abandoned the presentations and left the snow to fall onto our brand new podium in favour of a couple of hours of pushing cars, shovelling snow and gathering road grit from a bin half a mile away in a broken wheelbarrow and some traffic cones. Some lessons learned and some ideas have hatched since then on how we can improve things and cope with typical winter conditions next time.
Some hours later, the car park was empty and the park once again fell silent….until we bring the place to life once more….
All media – videos, photographs, blog posts from riders – relating to Hit the North 3 can be found on our website, here. Enjoy.