Killer Mile

The Mow Cop Killer Mile came out of the running boom of the late 1970's. The ICL (Kidsgrove) Athletics Club used Mow Cop regularly for long training runs - one group on flexi-time often ran up Station Road as their Friday lunchtime special. With new events springing up everywhere, John Britton (an active road and fell runner) looked into what sort of new event the ICL club might be able to organise. There was news of fast times being set in the downhill New York 5th Avenue Mile; he had measurements on the map of all manner of routes on Mow Cop (which later turned into the short-lived Mow Cop Hill Race); we had Seb Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram dominating the world in middle-distances. An evening in the drizzle with a surveyor's wheel

Article by John Britton
showed there was an exact mile without a single level step, and a total climb of over 550ft. (The surveyor's wheel was borrowed from Pete Goodfellow - an ex-international athlete who lived a few metres down from the castle car park). The idea of the toughest conceivable 1-mile road race - a "Fell-Runner's Revenge" - was born. It was thought that a "novelty" event would do best held mid-week in Spring, away from the more conventional races

The "brief but brutal" race route breaks into several different sections - a gentle first 1/4 mile away from the level crossing, then a 1-in-5 section up to Birch Tree Lane. A steady climb up through the fields in full view of the horrors to come, and at last the truly killer bit - the 1-in-4 section past the most popular spectator spot outside the Cheshire View, whose front door is the 3/4 mile mark. Even the comparatively level section from the top corner to the Finish is still climbing - never have so many people "sprinted" so slowly.

The first event on 14 April  1982 attracted a largely-local field of 95 club runners, and was won by Martin Bishop in 6:50 from Alan Adams and Barrie Williams of ICL. (Martin and his twin Mike were international runners whose parents lived on Mow Cop)  It grew bigger every year to peak around 1988-90, when there were over 1100 entries spread over 10 races, and the event had been moved a few weeks later to get enough daylight. Word of mouth proved to be a very effective form of advertising - entries poured in from all over the UK - Scotland, Wales, East Anglia, etc. There was coverage in all the running magazines and one year we had an outside broadcast team from Central TV

In the Men's event, the record moved to undeniable world class in 1987, when Roger Hackney, who had recently placed 5th close behind four Africans in the final of the World Championships 3000m Steeplechase and whose track mile time was well under 4 minutes, won in 6:17. But there was even more to come - regular competitors Andy Wilton of Staffs Moorlands lowered it to 6:14 in 1990, and Bashir Hussain of Stockport set the current mark of 6:12 in 1991. Anyone lucky enough to see these performances will know just how awesome they are.

In the Women's event, despite the attentions of numerous track, road, fell and cross-country internationals, records have always been a surprisingly long way behind the men - Jayne Spark of Altrincham ran 8:06 (as a Junior) in 1988, Sandra Bentley of Tipton was first under 8 minutes with 7:56 in 1990 and Shireen Barbour of Reading set the current mark of 7:54 in a very close race in 1992.

As well as marvellous performances at the front, another feature of these marvellous evenings was the lighter side. The "Not-a-Lot-of-Fun Runs" included the Fancy Dress brigade, the lunatics who would run straight back down the hill for more (several would manage to complete 5 races in one night), 3-legged and backwards runners, pushers of things, go-karts, etc.   

Through the 1990's the event continued to be organised by John Pointon of ICL with help from local runners, gradually suffering the lower profile and reducing entries common to all running events, until in 2001 the intended event was cancelled due to Foot and Mouth restrictions on access to the car parking field plus obligations to limit unnecessary travel, and time was called.

John Britton