To many people fell runners are a strange breed.
Every weekend they take to the hills to challenge their bodies and minds against some of the toughest terrain and weather.
The North West, along with Cumbria and Scotland, are hotspots for an age-old sport which has virtually drifted off the mainstream sporting radar over the last few decades.
Club runners keep the sport alive, training and competing in long-established races.
Holcombe Harriers is one such club. New and modest in size compared to other local athletics clubs, members meet every Thursday outside the Hare and Hounds pub in the village before setting off on training runs.
The club was established in December, 2010, by Claire Raho, her husband John, dad John Kirkham, and Michael Horan.
It now has around 50 members and their vests are often seen high up in the finishing positions at local fell races and ultra runs.
Fell running remains popular in the Bolton, Bury and surrounding areas which have a history steeped in shepherding and mill working. People in the area used to race against each other many decades ago as a way of comparing speed and strength.
Some may wonder why people are drawn to a sport which can sap the body of breath and energy and test runners to their physical and mental limits. But that is part of the appeal, says Claire. “I love fell running when it’s absolutely freezing with horizontal rain and you’re covered in mud and hurting all over,” she said.
“It’s verging on insanity but there are a couple of hundred people out there doing the same thing with you.”
Carmen Byrne, who has been a member of Holcombe since 2013, said: “Although the other clubs have more members, we probably have a bigger percentage of members who compete regularly.
“There are a lot us who have been racing for a while and we motivate each other.”
I love fell running when it’s absolutely freezing horizontal rain
John and Claire first began competing in local fell races under the name Holcombe Harriers as the word ‘unattached’ – which is attributed to runners who are not members of an athletics club – made them feel they were not part of the fell-running community.
Claire’s dad is a local sports and remedial therapist and was treating a client, Michael Horan, who had coincidentally been talking to him about setting up a club with the same Holcombe Harriers name.
So the four decided to meet in the Hare and Hounds to discuss making it a non-bureaucratic club for like-minded runners to spend time together on the Holcombe fells, with no fees or administration.
Thursday evening training commenced and their numbers soon doubled. They ran on the Holcombe fells throughout the winter, whatever the weather, and raced at weekends.
In the spring of 2012 with the better weather they branched out into road cycling as well as running and more and more people joined them with a variety of racing goals in long-distance fell races, swimming, road and mountain biking, duathlons and triathlons.
In 2013 the club affiliated to England Athletics UK which enabled them to join in team competitions.
Although this meant the club now had to adhere to officialdom, requiring a committee and a constitution, the club avoids politics and prefers to encourage members to set their own goals and challenges which generally determines what is on offer on training nights.
And the club has never lost the principal theme which has been at its core from the start which is to share a love of racing and inspire and encourage each other.
That is not to say Holcombe Harriers have not had success. Three members have competed in the World and European championships in duathlon, several have done the Ironman triathlon and a number have run at county level.
The club are organising the Holcombe Two Towers fell race on June 14 and the Holcombe Mountain Trial Duathlon on September 24. For information about these events, or to find out more about the Holcombe Harriers, visit www.holcombeharriers.com
This article first appeared in The Bolton News