RADCLIFFE Athletic Club chairman Chris Paxton has stepped in to help secure the future of one of the oldest fell races in the country.

The Tor Mile was first run at Helmshore in 1911 but, after enjoying its heyday in the 1950s, when more than 1,000 locals would turn out to cheer on competitors, it's popularity has waned.

Even though he is passionate about local athletics, Paxton admits to being completely in the dark about the historic race, even though it is run on his own doorstep.

"It's a shame the race isn’t more widely known" said Paxton.

"I actually live just opposite the start point in Weaver’s Dene and didn't know anything about it until recently.

"A friend asked me if I was doing the fell race and I just assumed he was talking about Pilgrims Cross (another local fell race).

Since getting his first taste of the race last year, and learning more about its history, Paxton has agreed to take over the organisation.

He added: "John Cooper has helped organise it for many years but his health is not good and he doesn't feel up to it.

"When it became clear Rossendale Harriers, who have a long association with the event and have been helping John put on the race, would be too busy hosting 50th Anniversary FRA English Junior Championship Races in addition to their existing busy race calendar, I agreed to take it on this year.

"It is such a great race, with such a rich history, I couldn't just let it die."

This year's Tor Mile will be held on Wednesday, June 21, with the juniors’ race starting at 6.30pm and seniors' at 7.30pm.

Entry is £4, payable on the day.

It sets off and finishes from just near the Robin Hood Pub, with the route straight up and down Musbury Tor, a flat-topped hill that looms large over the village.

Originally run in 1911, and then from 1919 as part of the Peace Celebrations, the original Tor Mile was a straight and challenging mile covering the 338 metres to the top of the Tor and back down again.

After a brief lull following the end of the Second World War, the race was revived in 1958 and became a focal point for the community for many years.

The first winner in the revived race, John Robinson, finished in an impressive 9mins 10secs.

The junior race, which continues to this day, was won by Stanley Rabin, aged 14, in 9:34.

A challenge already, the race was expanded in the 1980s and rerouted to its current mile-plus incarnation.

The terrain and climb is classic fell – a grinding ascent and freewheeling decent through stony paths and open moorland.

Further bumper years have followed, including in 1986 when a field of 150, many of them juniors, braved the course in the midst of one of the most ferocious downpours locals have ever seen.

Paxton said: “The Tor Mile is certainly a shock to the system – there’s no time to get going before the climb starts, and then the descent is mad.

“This race really helped to give me the fell running bug and I think it will do the same to anyone else who tries it. It demands that you go all out and you certainly know that you have run it!”

Despite its history and pedigree, recent fields have been down – just 49 last year.

Paxton aims is to use local and social media to raise visibility of the race and tempt in trail runners who might not yet have tried a fell race.

More importantly, he hopes to tempt fell runners from all over the North West and further afield to visit Helmshore and to enjoy the short, sharp shock of this classic fell race.

“What better way to spend a summer’s evening than experiencing a part of fell-running history,” he added.