I came into the third race of the Hardmoors Superslam feeling really strong, which in a way is a good thing since it involved running further than I ever had in a single stage race in my life.

The training I put in had been really solid and during the taper I was feeling like I could go forever at a decent pace.  The final week of taper was a nervy and edgy affair where I tiptoed around life trying not to over exert or injure myself.  I spent the time pulling my kit and food for the race together.  My primary worry was how a piece of temporary dental work would hold up over the weekend rather than anything related to my general preparedness.

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Food for the race assembled in the car prior to setting off

The travel plan for this race was for Natalie and myself to check into our hotel in Helmsley on Friday afternoon then my crew, Dave Cook would meet us and load the two boxes and one bag of kit/food into his car before Dave and I headed off to an Air BnB he’d booked about 15 minutes from the start at Filey. All of which went pretty much like clockwork.

Over food in the Londesborough Arms in Seamer (highly recommended) Dave and I went over the plan of what I wanted and when for a final time.  In a race like this, you can’t really plan pacing, certainly not beyond the furthest distance you have run, but I pulled together a rough plan to give myself something to aim for.  The high level one in the written instructions I left Dave was:

  • Ravenscar (33km) by 1240:12:45 (4h:40m-4h:45m)
  • Saltburn (85km) by 21:00 (11h:00m)
  • Kildale (110km) by 02:00 (18h:00m)

Afterwards by discussion, but aiming for……

  • Clay Bank (124km) by 05:30 (21h:30m)
  • Lordstones (129km) by 07:00 (23h:00m)
  • Square Corner (146km) by 10:45 (26h:45m)
  • White Horse by 14:30 (30h:30m)
  • Finish by 18:00 (34h:00m)

This was based on my usual system of slightly handicapping my worst times from training and recce runs with a slightly bastardisded version of Naismith’s rule.  I’d tested some of the assumptions out on the route either solo or running with Dave and was fairly confident in the detailed splits (below) which I then factored in time to be spent at checkpoints.  As well as giving this plan to Dave, I gave a copy to Craig Davie who’d agreed to meet me at Kildale and pace me to the end and he’d be the one having to make me stick to the pacing.

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The general plan in terms of food/drink was to start with 2 Chia Charge bars and 2 Snickers bars and just top up my supplies with what I felt like each time I met with Dave.   The crew plan was as follows:

  • Scarborough/Holbeck Hill – Quick sense check for kit adjustments (e.g. if too hot, drop clothes off, if too cold, put some on)
  • Scalby Mills – Pick up poles
  • Ravenscar – Have a Pot Noodle and a few minutes rest, drop off poles
  • Robin Hood’s Bay – Pick up poles
  • Saltwick Bay – Drop off poles
  • Sandsend – Top up food and drink supplies, use toilets if needed
  • Runswick Bay – Compulsory CP but plan to spend as little time as possible here.  Just another health check
  • Staithes (Cowbar car park) – Health check, pick up poles and any kit needed for early evening weather changes
  • Saltburn (Cat Nab) – Hot food (porridge or Pot Noodle), hot drink (hot chocolate or coffee), change into night clothes and top up food and drink supplies.  Drop off poles
  • Fox & Hounds (Slapewath) – Pizza, pick up poles
  • Gribdale Gate – Food/drink top up
  • Clay Bank – Welfare check
  • Lordstones – Hot food and drink, change into fresh clothes for day and stock up on food/drink
  • Square Corner – Food and drink top up
  • White Horse – Food and drink top up

After food, Dave and I went back to our Air BnB (a nice caravan behind a farm house on the main road in Seamer) and got settled in.  I laid all my running kit out on the bed and went through a last minute check before bed.

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Having gone to bed planning on waking up at 5am, I woke up at 1am, Dave woke up at 3am (he had a crewing nightmare) and I woke up again shortly after.  At which point I got up and decided to make a cuppa and we both got a head start on getting ready for the day.  I took my time taping my feet up and cutting up spare sections of tape to patch my feet up later if needed while having a breakfast of porridge and banana.

We headed off down the road to Filey and arrived around 6:30am, I was quickly checked in, picked up my race number and tracker and we now had an hour or so to kill before the race brief.  We nipped to the Filey Brigg cafe for another coffee and mingled with other runners, keeping our distance from Race Director Jon Steele who kept telling us he was poorly.

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Pre-Race Selfie

Following the race brief, we quickly assembled at the race start and we were off, a mere 3 minutes later than the advertised time, which was really an indicator of how poorly Jon was, usually he manages to talk for another 7 minutes or so.

The going out of the Brigg for the gentle uphill towards Blue Dolphin was very firm and it was easy to get caught up in a faster pace than planned.  I ran for awhile chatting with Aaron Gourlay who is usually a lot faster than me, but for now the average pace of around 6m:30/km suited me and felt good and just before Blue Dolphin, I stopped for a walk break and to just take stock.

I got going again, and kept the pace about the same, but noticed that something was rubbing between my shoe and the top of my foot, so stopped to address it.  It seemed that my calf guard had rode up slightly and the tongue of my shoe was pushing on the folded material, easily corrected and worth stopping to make sure it was nothing serious.

I hit the cut from Cayton Bay caravan park to the beach (7.2km) at 46 minutes and felt comfortable, as I entered the field ahead of a group of runners, I took the chance to scope out where the cows that normally inhabited the field were.  Confident that they were all well away from the path, I pushed on up the hill to where the first set of supporters were.

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Cayton Bay – Photo, Scott Beaumont

I pushed on down the steps and was followed by a runner with a southern hemisphere accent who caught me on the climb back up the steep steps to Osgodby and we discussed briefly the challenges of training for a hilly race in his current town of London.  At the top of the steps, I was greeted and cheered on for the first of many times by Keith and Kristy Wise and I got a jog on up the road before turning right onto the overgrown path back down towards the clifftop.  I was overtaken here by Duncan Bruce who I’d met and overnighted with at Hardmoors 55 and we passed each other back and forth all the way into Scarborough.

As I approached Holbeck Hill, I took stock and decided that I had dressed about right for the weather (overcast and cool) and that my food supplies were OK, so shouted instructions to Dave about what I wanted at Scalby Mills and kept running.  I passed Scarborough Spa at 1h:26m, 9 minutes ahead of plan.

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Holbeck Hill – Photo, Dave Cook

I’ve never enjoyed running through Scarborough.  I find the concrete surface unforgiving and usually the crowds are an impediment to running well. Thankfully, at 9:30am the latter wasn’t much of a problem and a lack of traffic meant that I could run much of the seafront on the softer surface of the road, hopping back onto the path when a car approached.  To pass the time, I played an often used mental game of running for 10 lamp posts, then walking for 5 which allowed me to maintain a reasonable running pace, while keeping my mind off all of the negative things I associate with running this stretch.  As I arrived at Scalby Mills, it was starting to spit onto rain, so as I topped up my bottles with water and Lucozade Sport, I asked Dave to pass me my armwarmers with my poles.  This gave me the option of a warm layer in case the exposed clifftops became windy.  I left Scalby Mills at 01h:56m, still tracking 9 minutes ahead so I decided to take the next section easy and walk a little more using my poles to protect my knees on the frequent steps up and down on this stretch.

I ran for awhile with Angela Moore who was going well and again passed back and forth with Duncan Bruce but, apart from being over taken by several groups, I was mostly running alone all the way to Cloughton Wyke where I was caught by Aaron Gourlay who’d taken an unscheduled stop in Scarborough. We chatted as we moved along, both noting that the weather had warmed up and I was now giving myself regular showers with my water bottle.

I was looking forward to getting to Hayburn Wyke, where the diverted part of the Cleveland Way (to avoid a landslip on some steep steps) ran in shaded woodland and by a stream.  I arrived at Hayburn Wyke at 3h:14m now 13 minutes up on my plan and could hear a familiar voice behind me.  I was caught by Matthew Swan who is another runner I know is a bit quicker than me and I took as a sign that I needed to rein myself in a bit.  I knew that my plan already involved putting in a fast first 80km so being ahead of plan meant I needed to slow up a bit.  I let Matthew and another runner pass me and slowed to a walk through the cool woods, stopping by the stream to soak my buff, which I kind of regretted as it left it feeling a bit gritty as it dried, but it did the job of keeping my temperature down as I tackled the long road climb out of Hayburn to the farm buildings at Staintondale on the diverted section of the Cleveland Way.  I was passed by Paul Munster, which gave me a bit of comfort as Paul and I often run similar times in races.  Glad to be off the road and back onto the grass clifftop path on the Cleveland Way proper, I picked the work rate up again on the draggy uphill section that Dave and I had run together just a few weeks ago.  Running this section fairly recently had allowed me to remember cues in the landscape to measure distance and regulate effort well.  Just before Ravenscar, I was caught by Dennis Potton and we chatted all the way into the village.  Dave was parked on the road near Raven Hall, but the checkpoint was up the hill in the village hall.  This allowed me to let Dave know what I needed as I passed which was the planned Pot Noodle.  I walked towards to the checkpoint with Dennis, who met his wife on the way in and checked in.  I grabbed some coke at the checkpoint, a couple of cheese and pickle sandwiches and a bowl of rice pudding while my bottles were filled up with water and coke.  I then jogged back down to the car and eat my Pot Noodle while Dave topped up my food supplies with more Chia Charge bars and added some Wine Gums to the supplies.  As soon as I finished the Pot Noodles I downed a can of Red Bull, then dumped my cap and armwarmers as it was now way too hot for both and decided to wear my buff around my head to keep the sun off if needed.  I got Dave to apply some BodyGlide to my back as my pack had started to rub.  I ran out of Ravenscar at 4h:45m, still ahead of plan.

Running down through the woods away from Ravenscar was pleasantly cool and after spending almost an hour moving uphill, it was nice to open the legs up and run a bit.  Coming off the hill I passed last year’s 110 winner Jason Millward who was spectating, but so quickly I didn’t recognise him until I had gone past and continued down towards the clifftops again.

I was now aware that it was really hot and the top of my head was feeling the sun a little, so I put my buff over my head to give it some cover while soaking it periodically with water from my bottle.  As I made the road that led down to Stoupe Beck, I remembered I had put some money in the side pocket of my pack and decided to make a stop at Boggle Hole Youth Hostel for an ice lolly.  The promise of this kept me going down the steep steps.  On the way back up the other side of Stoupe Beck, a group caught me up, just in time for me to slip on some wet rock and take a slight fall.  The runners were treated to my choice language before making sure I was OK and passing me as we got to the top of the steps. I jogged the short distance to Boggle Hole and took the steps down very cautiously, mentally assessing my left foot (which had taken the brunt of the fall) as I went.  Things seemed OK, so I pushed on down to the youth hostel passing people enjoying meals, beer and ice cream on the way in.  I grabbed two Calippos, paid for them and stuffed one down the front of my shirt while I started up the steps out of Boggle Hole, the ice cooling my skin nicely, while I ate the other.

By the top of the Boggle Hole steps, I’d switched the Calippo from the front of my shirt to down the back and under each arm while finishing the first.  I gave it a few more minutes against my skin before eating it, which took me nicely to the top of the slippery wooden steps that drop you down into Robin Hood’s Bay.  I took these nice and slowly, breaking into a jog/trot at the bottom for a short period before the turn left up the fearsome steep section of road that takes you up to the next trail section of the Cleveland Way.  I jettisoned my empty ice lolly and Chia Charge packets into a bin and pushed on up the bank arriving at the top at 5h:43m, just 4 minutes ahead of plan.

At this point I’d planned to take my poles from Dave, at the same time, I took the chance to get my water and coke bottles topped off and got him to apply some sun cream to my ears which had started to feel hot and are prone to burning in the sun.  I moved out of Robin Hood’s Bay after a longer than planned stop of 3 and a half minutes at 5h:46m and pushed on towards Whitby.

This section was the hottest of the day in terms of weather and one I always find hard going no matter what the weather.  The track undulates and there is rarely a flat section, however today had the added bonus that the trail was not ankle deep in slippy mud.  I jogged what I could and walked the uphills making sure that I ate and drank regularly.  I chatted to several runners as they passed, including Keri Lewis, who I’d run with for awhile during HM30 in January.  As the temperature rose, the coke in my bottle began to taste too sickly sweet and I needed something else more palatable to drink.  I decided to use the stop at Saltwick Bay to grab a bottle of Erdinger Akoholfrei beer and drink it while walking through the caravan park so I could dump the bottle in a bin before pushing on.  Erdinger Alkholfrei is isotonic and is really good for dehydration, which I knew was now an issue.  Running further along, I tried to think what else I could have instead of coke.  I toyed with the idea of pouring some Erdinger into one of my bottles, but experience told me it would fizz up while I ran and most would overflow out of the bottle. I decided I’d see if Dave could pick some lemonade up en route and let me have some at Sandsend.  By now, I was really feeling the heat and looked for an opportunity to soak my buff at the next stream, however this was teeming with tadpoles, so I had to wait until the next one a bit further along where I dipped my buff, carefully avoiding getting my feet wet and pushed along further.

On the approach to Saltwick Bay, I looked over my shoulder to find a topless Dennis Potton had caught me up.  We chatted our way into Saltwick where we arrived at 7h:18m a quarter of an hour behind plan (I didn’t know this as I didn’t check at the time).  While Dave stowed my poles and opened my beer, I topped up my pockets with salted nuts and tried to eat a pot of rice pudding.  I got a mouthful in, but my stomach warned me that if I forced any more down, it would be coming straight back up.  I let Dave know this and walked with him through the caravan park drinking my glorious tasting beer.  I was passed halfway through by Matthew Swan who had bought himself an ice lolly at the park shop and on the way out of Saltwick I left my beer bottle with Gareth Barnett who’d set up a pop up water station in the car park.

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Coming into Saltwick Bay with Dennis Potton looking like a pair of Englishmen in the midday sun – Photo Dave Cook

Coming out of Saltwick, I picked up my pace from a walk to jog and ran alongside Matthew Swan and Emily Beaumont on the abbey approach.  I dug out a banana from my pocket and managed to get it down me without any complaint from my stomach, but still did not like the taste of the coke in my bottle.  Going through the church grounds at the top of the 199 steps was frustrating as I has to dodge, weave and sidestep through the crowds.  Going down the steps was worse, it seemed that no matter how careful I was descending and picking a seemingly empty line, that somebody climbing the steps with their head down, would weave into my path at the last minute.  As I reached the bottom, I headed into a shop and bought an orange ice lolly to get me through town, which was positively heaving and almost impossible to run through.  Going up the Khyber Pass towards the Whale’s Jawbone, I spotted Emily Beaumont buying a slush from a kiosk and I followed suit with the last of my change.  After climbing up the steps to the Whale’s Jawbone I could see Matthew and Emily about 100m in front of me and I tried to jog along and catch them up, but couldn’t seem to make ground.  Drinking the slush was a great change from coke in both flavour and consistency and just before the descent to the slipway behind the golf club, I decided that the slushy texture might make the coke more palatable, that and I’d be able to bin the cup while there were still bins to use.  So I poured my slush into the coke, binned the cup and had two paracetamol and a protein gel at the same time.

I walked up the bank behind the golf club, giving myself a good shower with my water bottle and trying to make ground on Emily who was still in sight, but she pulled away running at the top of the climb.  I again followed her example and began to use the long downhill drag to power an extended run into Sandsend.

On the approach, to the checkpoint, I decided what I wanted again.  I decided against taking my poles, but wanted some savoury food, so opted to take a bag of Pom Bear crisps with me.  I also ditched the foul mix of coke and slush on the run in.

 

 

 

Arriving at 8h:27m I wanted a quick turnaround, so I nipped to the gents while Dave filled my coke bottle with the desired lemonade.  i had another stab at eating, but nothing appealed and I jogged out of the checkpoint and was halfway up the steps before I realised I’d forgotten to pick up some crisps.  I looked back down and decided against going back for them and pushed on.

The section of disused railway line ahead looks flattish and runnable, but experience has taught me that it’s a false flat that is best approached with a fast as possible walk, saving the legs for the climb back up the steps at Deepgrove Wyke onto the clifftops.  I used this time to chat to a passing runner and eat a couple of nuts and wine gums, but again, just the attempt unsettled my stomach.  The lemonade however, was a Godsend.  Climbing the steps in the shade, I decided to try and force more food down and managed half a Chia Charge bar.  I knew from the top of the steps, there was a bit of an uphill drag before a decent runnable stretch.  I fast walked the bank then got moving into a nice jog/walk pattern.  I was again caught by Matthew and Emily who noted that my crew stops were getting like formula one pitstops.  I passed the home-made waymarker on the Cleveland Way and remember thinking that it was wrong.  In my mind, I’d mis-read it as saying 45 miles had passed since Filey and spent a couple of kms trying to puzzle it out, but this was clearly a symptom of poor concentration as the sign clearly says 37 miles.

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A reminder of the distance covered and that still to come

Pushing along the clifftops, I managed to stay in contact with Matthew and Emily until just before the descent to the Runswick Bay steps, which I again took very cautiously and feeling sympathy for the walkers coming the opposite way up these steps, from experience I know they’re hard work, even on fresh legs.  Having tiptoed across the beck at the bottom of the steps and made my way onto the beach, I carefully navigated my way to the hard sand at the edge of the water, trying to simultaneously keep my feet dry and prevent the ingress of sand into my shoes.

 

 

 

Coming off the beach, I spotted Kathryn Hammond, who was supporting her husband Tim and got a boost from the familar face.  I pushed hard up the steep hill that led to the checkpoint at Runswick Bay.  On the way up, I ran through what I wanted in my mind.  I wanted crisps and additional fluids.  I decided to take my soft flask with some Lucozade Sport to carry in my hand, then put in my pocket when done.  I was also going to have another go at eating something more substantial here.  I arrived at the Runswick checkpoint on 10h:03m now around 18 mins behind plan.  While Dave sorted me some bottles and crisps, I tried some more rice pudding and failed to get more than a mouthful in, so drank another can of Red Bull and headed out in under 2 mins.

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Arriving at the top of the steep bank at Runswick Bay – Photo, Dave Cook

Once back onto the trail, I got a decent jog going and the now familar pattern of being overtaken by faster runners who’d spent a little more time at the checkpoint repeated itself with Kelly Felstead and Lisa Bainbridge overtaking me in quick succession.  They were shortly followed by Emily who caught me just before Port Mulgrave, but there was no sign of Matthew, which didn’t surprise me as he’d told me earlier in the day that he was having a long stop at Runswick.  I upped the work rate pushing along towards Staithes and was quite pleased to note that the temperature was dropping fairly rapidly, the breeze coming off the sea was also picking up a little.  Just before Staithes, my concentration faltered again and I nearly took a wrong turn along a farm track while talking to some walker, thankfully, they corrected me and I gave myself a mental slapping about focus.  I pushed on down into Staithes, which was still quite busy and managed to push hard up the climb to Cowbar where my next meet point with Dave was.  As Hummersea cliff came into view ahead, I could see that it was shrouded in low cloud, so as well as my poles, I decided to ask for my armwarmers.  I reached Dave at 11h:14m, which at 70km I knew was 56 minutes behind plan.  I told Dave I’d walk on while he ran back to the car to get my armwarmers and he took my now empty soft flask in return for the poles and armwarmers.  I confirmed to him that I wanted porridge, hot chocolate and my change of clothes at Saltburn while I put my armwarmers on, then pressed on harder in pursuit of a runner I could see crossing the field ahead towards the next big climb.

As I got to the bottom of the climb, I stuffed some crisps into my mouth and worked hard up the first section, slowly reeling in the runner ahead, I caught him at the cottages that signal the end of the paved section where he had stopped to sort his feet and I used the first section of slightly flat trail to get some running done.  At the foot of the climb, I pushed harder than normal to try and make some time up and just before the top of the climb, I was breathing heavily.  I was again caught my Matthew at this point and mentioned it to him.  He expressed the opinion that it was more the hill than any reflection on form.  Matthew slowly pulled ahead into the gloomy mist, which at times provided a worrying empty void by the side of the trail where the cliff face dropped off.  I was trundling along, making sure I munched on a crisp regularly, at 12 hours I made sure that I had another protein gel and popped another couple of paracetamol, despite not feeling I really needed them.  I was now at 75km and realised that I was only a moderate effort 5k away from a 50 miles personal best.  I pushed on over the last section of the high clifftop and started on the descent, again being pleased that the trail was nice and firm, unlike the last time I was here a few weeks ago, when just staying upright was a challenge.

I passed through the farm buildings that signalled the end of the cliff proper and the start of an undulating descent that leads to the steps that drop into Skinningrove.  Coming off the farm track, I could see a pair of runners about 400m behind me.  I decided that I needed some motivation and gave myself the goal of getting through Skinningrove ahead of them.  I pushed hard down the bank and to the top of the steps, again descending these carefully.  Once at the bottom of the steps, I gave myself the goal of running all the way to the next section of beach, passing several crew cars parked up.

I walked carefully through the sand dunes, again trying to ensure no sand got into my shoes and reached the bottom of the steps up to the clifftop.  I checked my watch and 12h:50m and 79.8km.  That meant I was certainly going to make a 50 mile PB at some point along the clifftop.  I took it easy going up the steps and jogged through the 50 mile mark at exactly 13h:00m:00s then slowed to a walk up the next long drag of a hill.  I remembered from doing this section at night a couple of years ago, that it feels quite a long climb, so just took it at an easy pace.  I was passed by a the pair of runners who’d followed me down to Skinningrove and as they approached, I realised that dusk was falling quickly and my head torch was in the car with Dave.  I suddenly got worried about being benighted on the clifftop and marched a little quicker, arriving at the charm bracelet sculpture on the clifftop.  I indulged my superstition and climbed up to the sculpture touching the start charm and giving the hammer a clang against the frame, which must have amused the runners in front before following them down the path alongside the railway line.  As the path started to point down, I could finally see the bright lights of Saltburn and Redcar and surged forward with longer spells of downhill running.  It was almost dark when I arrived at Saltburn at 13h:42m.  Upon seeing Dave, my mood rose and I bounded to the car and started getting changed while Dave prepared my food and drink.  I stood chatting with Paul Burgum’s brother while liberally re-applying BodyGlide and getting changed, then stocked up my pack with food for the night section.  I grabbed my head torch and also my battery charger and wire for my watch and set it away charging while I tried and failed to eat my porridge and drank my hot chocolate.  I moved back onto coke in my bottles and was delighted to see Dee Bouderba and Jo Barrett in the car park.  Having had a quick chat and picking up my charging watch, I asked confirmed my pizza order for Slapewath with Dave bounded out of the car park and headed over to the offical checkpoint to check in with them before leaving Saltburn at 13h:53m, much quicker than planned.  There was a loud kareoke playing at Vista Mar and I remember leaving the checkpoint singing along and telling everyone I was going to sprint the steps back up onto the top, which I actually tried to do before realising and telling myself to get a grip halfway up.  I was absolutely buzzing at this point and walked on checking that my watch was charging nicely.

I joined with a group just before the woods dropping into valley gardens, but slowed and dropped behind while I re-adjusted my night clothes, which felt a little uncomfortable.  Dropping into the woods, I felt too warm and I wasn’t the only one as a runner in front had stopped to take a layer off.  I pushed on knowing things would cool soon enough and found myself in between two sizeable groups.  As we climbed out of the woods heading towards the Skelton bypass, I was overtaken by the second big group and held onto Kelly Felstead and Stephen Gibson as we passed into the housing estate in Skelton.  I was soon gapped as we climbed up the steps and across Skelton Green.  As we passed onto Airey Hill Lane, a thick fog descended and I soon found myself alone and unable to see much more than a few metres front and back.  I walked on, but it was hard to judge pace in the fog, which closed in further the higher I climbed.  It seemed to take forever to make it to the last farm houses before what I knew was a flat section followed by a downhill.  But the flat section never seemed to come and what was worse, the surface seemed to be muddier than the farm track I remembered.  I suddenly went deep into some mud and realised that in the fog, I’d somehow wandered off the track and dragged myself back left to pick up the trail again.

As the farm track turned down and into the section of field I knew I needed to cross to reach a stile that led to a better running surface, I tripped and fell, cutting my thumb.  It was a tiny cut but seemed to bleed a lot.  I sucked my thumb to clear the blood and more came and the blood had a weird taste.  I decided to just let it bleed and pushed on along the trail, now descending out of the thick murk.  I hit the top of the steps down to Slapewath and felt pretty knackered.  I was looking forward to my pizza and I had decided to make sure I ate at least one whole slice, no matter how bad I felt. I was also looking forward to getting my poles to give my legs some respite.

As I came into Slapewath, I saw Dave and he asked how it was.  I shook my head and told him it was really tough.  He re-assured me that everyone else who’d passed had said the same, this was normal.  It was just a hard section.  I eat my pizza and chucked my watch charger back into the car as my watch was now 100% charged.  I think Dave offered me some Red Bull, which I turned down and I went to get my poles, but they weren’t in the back of the car.  Dave had a look and couldn’t find them either and after a minute or so, we’d come to the conclusion that I must have left them leaned against the car while I got changed instead of putting them in the car as I’d done all day when I hadn’t physically handed them to Dave himself. Dave told me he was going to head back to Saltburn to find them and that he’d find a way of getting them to me before Roseberry if he found them.  I told myself that I couldn’t change this and that I could only deal with it positively, but as I trudged through Spa Wood, these thoughts felt empty and I let negative thoughts push their way in.  I was overtaken by a pair of 160 runner going up the concrete hill to the top of Guisborough Woods and was caught by a large group containing Elaine Wilde at the top.  This gave me a boost, as I’d paced this section for Elaine last year and running with this group seemed like a really positive thing, but going up the next hill, into yet more thickening fog, I just couldn’t hold their pace.

As I dropped down through the heather to the foot of the climb that takes you back up to the fire road which the Cleveland Way follows all the way to Highcliff Nab, I heard my phone ringing.  I pulled it out, it was Dave, he’d found my poles and was asking where I was.  I told him about 2km after Spa Wood, which meant little to him, but a voice in the background told him it was “too far”.  He handed the phone over to someone else and they asked where I was.  I looked around and couldn’t see anything but thick fog and told them I’d just dropped through the heather section.  I got a reply to the effect that he knew where I meant. I then asked “Who’s this?” and got the best reply ever, “It’s Craig you divvy, I’ll meet you at Highcliff with your poles”.  I was over the moon, Craig was exactly what I needed to get me moving again.  I told him the fog was grim and that I’d meet him behind Highcliff and pushed on.

The fog was so thick, that it didn’t feel safe to run as I couldn’t see anything around my feet that I might possible trip on.  I was passed by Andy Pickering and Joanne Abbott and we didn’t even recognise each other.  I told them I was looking for the path that forked off to Highcliff, but was worried I’d miss it and was told it was awhile away yet before they pulled off.  I got another phone call from Craig asking where I was and I told him that I thought I should be right on the fork but couldn’t see it.  The next thing I knew was that the path was heading downhill and I could see a torch ahead.  I knew then, I’d missed the turn for Highcliff, no idea how given the number of times I’d run these woods in the dark and in all weathers.  When I reached Craig, my mood lifted again.  He told me that other people had missed the turn and he’d even turned some people back from the path leading down the Tees Link towards Guisborough.

We had a bit of a walk to the paved section of path that leads to Black Nab and got a good run on, overtaking Andy and Joanne.  We slowed again at the next climb and again, the fog came down making it hard to push any sort of pace.  Craig was trying to encourage me to eat, but I fancied nothing.  He offered me some chicked and cocktail sausage which I had and took my time over, forcing myself to eat it.  As we approached Roseberry he even risked his fingers to feed me a Jelly Baby.  As we dropped down the side of Little Roseberry, several groups were on the way up and they all told us the wind was bad up on Roseberry and that it was cold.  I tried to make good progress down the slope, but each step was an effort, by the time we started climbing, each step was like lifting dead weight.  We passed a few more runners coming down Roseberry and were overtaken by a couple going up, it felt positive to be in amongst traffic but even then it was hard going.

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Climbing Roseberry Topping – Photo, Craig Davie

We eventually reached the top of Roseberry to find Tim Taylor inside a tent marshalling.  I remember feeling good and having a couple of minutes chatting and stretching my legs, before checking time and heading back down.  We left Roseberry at 18h:32m and I thought that given this was 102km into the race, around the same distance as Hardmoors 60 which has a final cut off of 18 hours, that this wasn’t so bad.  As we got to the bottom of Little Roseberry, Craig was a little more switched on and told me that we needed to start moving faster as we were going to start running close to the cut off at Kildale.

We passed more runners who were on their way down Little Roseberry as we climbed out onto Newton Moor. Back out of Roseberry Gate, it took a few moments to find the path, that was how thick the fog had become again.  Once we found the path, we got running for a short while until we could see an odd shape up ahead.  It was a runner laid by the path.  We stopped and encouraged him back to his feet and fast walked on.  Although the path was downhill, it was foggy and it dented what little will I had left to run. I tiptoed down the steps to Gribdale Gate and told Dave I was pushing straight on to try and beat the cut off at Kildale, I’d stock up on whatever food I needed there.

About 100m up the bank towards Captain Cooks, I stopped and told Craig I needed to sit down.  He tried to encourage me up and I said I was packing it in.  He told me I wasn’t.  I wasn’t injured, I was moving OK, I was just having a rough patch.  I told him I’d meant to pick some paracetamol up from the car, so he ran back and got some.  We then moved off at a crawl.  There were several times I laid down and refused to move, but each time Craig got me up and going again.  I stropped, moaned and grumbled all the way to the top.  Just before the top, we were passed by Lynsey Blyth the eventual First Lady in the 160 who was full of energy.  We followed her past Captain Cooks and started on the descent.  On the way down the steps, I slipped and clipped my ankle on a rock, which didn’t help my already shit mood.  As we passed through the woods it started to get light.  Craig had talked to me about trying to run this bit, but my legs just felt empty, devoid of anything.  We were passed by single runners and groups.  I was very surprised to be passed by Kim Cavill and almost took her to be one of the many odd illusions and hallucinations I’d had climbing Captain Cooks until she spoke and told me she’d heard about me losing my poles.  Soon Kim and her runner were off into the distance.

We hit the road descent into Kildale at 20h:31m, I wanted to run down the hill, but the legs were still not playing and the feet were hurting.  I kept telling Craig there was no way I’d make the 21 hour cut off and if I did, I had a hard day in very hot weather to deal with.  I was 100% Mr Negativity.  Despite Craig, cajoling, encouraging and trying to bully me (he couldn’t bully me, he’s too nice) I ambled into the Kildale checkpoint with a minute to spare.  Andy Norman gave me the option of a few minutes to sort myself out and get back on the road.  Craig and I looked at each other, I had a moment of “maybe” then common sense kicked in and I called it a day.

I was looked after at the checkpoint by Emma Davie, Phil Owen and Sue Jennings.  I received a pep talk on the village hall steps from Karl Shields and as the cup of tea I’d had kicked in, the positivity returned.  I’d just ran the furthest I’d ever run and picked up a 50 mile PB along the way.

Jo Barrett gave me a lift to Clay Bank and re-united me with Dave and he helped at the checkpoint before I had a sleep in his car. After a couple of hours kip, Dave took me back to Helmsley where I had a bath and a sleep, while Dave went out and supported Emily, running the final 20 miles with her.

Later in the afternoon, Natalie and I went to the race finish and were able to watch most of the people I’d run with the day before finish.

Although I didn’t finish the race myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole weekend apart from that short time between Slapewath and Kildale, even then, there were so many funny moments and weird highs to counter the lows that it was also enjoyable in a perverse way.  I love the 110 weekend, this was my fourth consecutive year involved either as marshall, crew, pacer and finally runner.  I hope to be involved next year and as many years after as possible, even if I don’t run.  I currently have no desire to have another go, I’m at peace with my DNF (unlike my previous DNF’s of the 60) and have realised how much I enjoy racing 50-60 milers.  I now want to see how fast I can do those distances in.  However, I would encourage anyone who can, to get involved in whatever way suits them.  The 110 is like a massive all weekend party that moves around the Cleveland Way.  As I’ve said hundreds of times before, the Hardmoors family is special.

To Jon, Shirley, all of the marshalls, volunteers, runners, crew and everyone else involved, thank you for a fantastic weekend.

Special thanks go to Dave Cook and Craig Davie, without whom, I could not have got as far as I did.

Super special thanks go to my wife Natalie, your support is what keeps me going and this year has been a fantastic set of birthday presents.

Finally, I’d like to dedicate this one to the memory of my good friend’s Elliot and Kerry Gowland’s dog Taz who was cruelly taken from them in the days before the race.

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Since Hardmoors 30, I’ve changed my approach to training fairly radically in order to first recover from injury and then rehabilitate and strengthen myself while still preparing sufficiently for the 55 and the 110 milers that follow in quick succession.

In doing so, I’ve incorporated a lot of technique work on the treadmill, which built up into speedwork culminating in me recording my best 10k time in over 6 years just a couple of weeks before the race.

I also got myself out for two key recce runs, one from Helmsley to White Horse and back with Dave Cook which we ran at the effort I wanted to maintain during the race and carrying all of the kit I intended to carry in the race. The temperatures that day were sub zero and snowing.

The following week I did a similar out and back in icy conditions for the last section of the route, Guisborough to Kildale and back, starting at 9:30pm and finishing around 3am in order to do the final section on tired body and mind.

I then had a very long taper and planned my race around splits that I thought would be achievable on the day (but also understanding that something would blow that plan out of the water somewhere) and was aiming to finish in 14 hours.

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I planned to camp at Guisborough Sea Cadets before the race and the night after, so in aid of making sure everything went right on that front, I camped out in the snow during my taper period, however as race week approached, the weather forecast made the prospect of camping look increasingly scary. My mind was taken off the race for much of the final week due to the eventual decision to part with my car, which had served me well since 2011 both as a family car and a race camper, but was pretty much falling apart at a rate of knots and buy a new car. Sadly, as much as I love the new car, a Corsa is not as easy to camp in as a Zafira, but at least the process of sorting the car kept my mind away from the usual mental stresses of tapering.

I travelled to Guisborough on Friday afternoon, arriving about 5pm to breezy weather 3 degrees with snow already in the air. Being the first vehicle on site, I headed into town for some food and returned to find another car had arrived containing Duncan Bruce. Shortly after, a gentleman from Guisborough Sea Cadets arrived and upon hearing our plans to camp in the field told us not to even consider it and sleep in the hall, an act of kindness that made sure that I not only got onto the start line without a difficult night of camping, but in hindsight, probably saved me from hypothermia on Saturday night.

After unpacking kit and getting myself set up near a radiator in the hall, I made a couple of adjustments to my kit choices in view of the howling gale that was driving snow against the window above my head and replaced my usual compression shorts with fleece lined thermal compression shorts (which I’d intended to use for camping) and added my waterproof socks to the pile of clothes to go on in the morning.

After a couple of mugs of hot chocolate, which I drank as the hall filled up with a couple more campers, I then tried to get my head down to sleep. I think I woke up pretty much every hour on the hour and at 4:20am, gave up the ghost and made myself a coffee to go with my porridge. I had only eaten half of my porridge and a banana when my stomach started churning and feeling awful. I made a dash to the gents and only just got there on time. This was not a good start to the day, but following my dash, I was able to hold food in, although I continued to feel queasy as I got dressed for the day ahead and stashed my kit in the Sea Cadets office we were kindly allowed to use to keep our kit in so we didn’t have to pack and then unpack after the race.

After getting dressed, I walked down to the bus pick up point and wandered around in search of Mark Dalton as I’d agreed to help with the bus marshalling. I couldn’t immediately see or hear Mark but spent some time chatting with a few familiar faces until he arrived. It wasn’t long before the coaches arrived and everyone was swiftly boarded. I spent the first few minutes of the journey checking names off against the register, which took my mind off my increasingly rebellious stomach for a short while then barricaded myself into a seat and sipped on Lucozade Sport all the way to Helmsley.

Upon arrival at Helmsley, I managed to pass through kit check and having my GPS tag fitted inside of 8 minutes, which was unbelievably slick, but also left me with almost two hours to kill so I found a side room with a few others, too off my warm jacket, hats and gloves and tried to chill out.

Helmsley to White Horse

Eventually it was time to go outside for the race brief and without too much ceremony the race was started under bright sunshine, but cold crisp air and a bit of a breeze, which as we turned west towards the Cleveland Way, became a nice tailwind. The first section leaving Helmsley is across two usually muddy fields, but today the ground was frozen solid and it was possible to keep a decent pace up to the gate that leads to the trail proper, as expected there was a bottleneck here before we could pass through and get running again. In a short space of time, I found myself running alongside a series of familiar faces, Paul Burgum, Dennis Potton, Tom Stewart and Angela Moore through Ingdale Howl and out onto the road through Rievaulx where a number of people were shedding the warm layers they’d put on before the start of the race due to the bright sun and becoming warm through exertion.

Having run this section in similar weather, I knew this warmth was only temporary (and partially false due to the wind being behind us) so took off my top buff and wrapped it around my poles with the two I intended to use later when it got really cold and unzipped my jacket a little. We soon hit the bottom of the first climb of the day, which starts as a rocky, muddy incline that leads onto a steadily climbing farm track towards Cold Kirby. As soon as we were out of the treeline, the wind made things feel a lot colder and snow began to fall, a lot of people then had to stop to put layers back on, while I simply zipped back up and added buffs as required. I passed John and Katrina Kynaston and said hi then cracked on further up the road until I reached what I affectionately call Dead Body Farm for no other reason that on a night recce of this section in 2015 Aaron Gourlay, Dave Cook, Dee Bouderba and I had climbed out from Cold Kirby to find two men manhandling a cylindrical shaped black bag out of a van here.

Once past the farm we dropped down into a gully that was ankle deep in water and for the first time I became glad of my choice to use the waterproof socks, on the way up into Cold Kirby the trail was slippy enough for a few people to take falls but I managed to get up and at the top decided to have a Chia Charge bar as the Wine Gums and salted nuts I’d been eating so far weren’t easing my iffy stomach.

Once through Cold Kirby the trail cut left and for the first time runner experienced the strengthening wind as a crosswind biting into the left side of our faces and driving icy snow at us. Thankfully the path soon turned right and we had a tailwind again.

Before long, we were approaching the horse racing stables at Hambleton where Wayne Armstrong was marshalling to divert us through Hambleton Plantation, a section of the route designed to keep runners safely away from the Cleveland Way path on the verge of the A170 near Sutton bank.  Although less well travelled and a little overgrown, covered in snow, with heavy snow falling it reminded me of movies and documentaries set in places like the Ardennes Forest in winter.  As I climbed out of the plantation, a team of marshalls saw us safely across the road and I took the opportunity of tree cover to answer a call of nature before picking up the pace for the steady downhill path that runs along the side of the glider station towards the White Horse at the same time, doubling up the buffs on the left hnd side of my face to protect my bare skin from the wind driven snow.  The route diverted right on this path down a rocky, scrabbly and usually muddy steep path down the side of the escarpment and round to the back of the White Horse car park.  On my recce run, this descent was frozen and it was possible to descend quickly, so I had it in my mind to push hard on this bit, however I was no more than two steps onto the descent when a pair of runners in front started slipping on ice and I decided caution was the order of the day.

As I reached the bottom of the slope, I was overtaken by Chris Lyons, who I ran and chatted with for the final stretch into White Horse, as we approached the car park, I thought I could hear drumming and assumed somebody had the car stereo turned up to 11.  Upon cresting the final rise, we were met by a man in Druidic costume beating a drum for all he was worth and it brought a smile to my face as I hit the checkpoint bang on my target time of 1h:55m.

White Horse to High Paradise

At the checkpoint, I got my water bottle topped up as planned and headed up the steep steps that run by the side of the Kilburn White Horse with encouragement from Race Director Jon Steele ringing in my ears.  I was now in a group that contained 1,000 mile club member Harriet Shields who kindly helped me get my headtorch out of my pack during my torrid day at Hardmoors 30.  As we hit the top of the steps, I pulled a Snickers bar out of my pack to find that it had frozen solid and let it slowly defrost in my mouth while I fast walked/jogged back uphill towards the road and re-arranged my buffs to cover the right side of my face to provide protection against the prevailing wind.

Once across the road, I stayed close to the group containing Harriet through the first km of undulating and snow covered paths, content with my pace but not wanting to push much harder due to the continued unsettled state of my stomach.  The group thinned out as the path turned into single track and gradually rose to the ridge line, once on the ridgeline, we were shotblasted with snow blown across the fields on the stiff breeze from the east.  The view on this section is spectacular, on a clear day you can see right across to the Pennines, however my view of the world was now reduced to a small gap between my cap and my buffs. There were a couple of sections of the path which usually dipped and rose, but it was clear that walkers and runners had avoided these for a couple of weeks due to the pockets of snow that had drifted and remained in them since the ‘Beast from the East’ storm a couple of weeks ago.

I was now trundling along back and forth overtaking a couple running together but unable to really chat with them due to the strength of the wind carrying words away and not really wanting to lift my face to expose flesh to the bitter cold. I estimated that the windchill was already a couple of degrees below zero, but my clothing was keeping me comfortable and only exposed skin felt cold.

I passed through the Sneck Yate checkpoint on the three hour mark without stopping and was enjoying the cover provided by the trees in Paradise Wood, up to the point where I hit the Paradise Road, where the wind was catching the lying snow on the ground and in the trees and blowing it into me at great strength.  I fast walked up the hill to High Paradise Farm and hit the Hambleton Road junction at 3h:17m, a good 3 and a bit minutes ahead of my target.

High Paradise to Osmotherley

I rewarded myself for being ahead of time with a short walk break and had just started running again when I spotted a familiar dog headed towards me and realised that Jayson Cavill was out running on the course with his dog Indie.  I shouted a quick hello that I hoped wasn’t lost in the wind and cracked on, popping a couple of Wine Gums into my mouth in the hope that pushing food down my neck regularly would deal with the stomach issues.  As I got toward the end of Boltby Woods, I fell in with Andy Nesbit and Emma Giles who were running together and aiming for 14 hours too.  I saw it as a good omen to be running with Andy on Hardmoors 55 on this particular section of the Cleveland Way, as it was on Black Hambleton we joined up and ran all the way to the finish together in the 2015 edition of the race.  We went through phases of fast walks and running as the terrain and weather allowed, passing through a series of squally snow showers and enduring some turns into the strengthening wind.  We hit the section where the terrain began to rise towards Black Hambleton around the 4 hour mark and I squeezed a protein gel down my neck which seemed to be more palatable to my stomach than the Wine Gums and Snickers.  At this point I decided to stick to Chia Charge and protein gels on the hour for food rather than the more sugary treats I was trying to eat every 15/20 minutes.  We had now hit a section with a wind in our backs and although uphill, we were running to make use of the tailwind. 

As we reached the top of Black Hambleton, a really heavy squally came down and reduced visibility to almost zero and I was glad to be started to lose altitude as there seemed to be a definite worsening of conditions above a certain height.  As the snow abated slightly, I pushed hard down the hill, picking up a nice fast pace of 5m:30s/km to 6m:00s/km and reached Square Corner at 4h:25m with my head down and missed Ann Brown taking this amazing shot of me.

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Photo courtesy Ann Brown

As we descended down the hill towards Oakdale reservoirs, the snow on the ground bcame patchy and less frequent and it was possible to move quickly along the flagstones.  Once over the Burnthouse Bank road I found myself running with Harriet Shields again on the greasy, slippery and muddy descent towards Cod Beck, however Harriet pulled away from me with ease on the steep steps after the beck on the way into Osmotherley, where runners were being greeted enthusiastically by marshalls and spectators.  Once inside the checkpoint, I picked up my drop bag, binned the Wine Gums and nuts from my pocket and debated leaving the new bag of Wine Gums on the table for someone else, but decided to take them just in case.  I downed my can of Red Bull and re-stocked my pack with Chia Charge bars from my drop bag but left my bottle of Luczade Sport on the table, opting instead to top my bottle up with checkpoint cola to see if that had a more positive effect on my stomach.  I spotted Dave Cook who was marshalling and said hi before heading back out up the road bang on the 5 hour mark, about 10 minutes behind plan, but not too worried by this.

Osmotherley to Scugdale

I had originally planned to get my poles out in the Osmotherley checkpoint, but decided on the hoof that my legs felt pretty decent and that I could run at a decent pace on the downhill section between the TV transmitter and Scarth Nick if I didn’t have the poles in my hands being blown around by the wind.  To that end, I kept them stowed in my pack and fast walked up the muddy climb towards the TV transmitting station.  Once up on the top and in the shelter of the drystone wall that runs by the path, I got a steady jog on until I hit the top of the descent then I started running at a steady pace down the side of Scarth Wood Moor, as I did so, I bumped into Marc Short and we ran together across Scarth Nick chatting as we went.  The wind had seemed to calm and the sun was shining as we ran together through the woods heading towards Scugdale, dropping through the field before the Scugdale Road, we pulled apart again and after the beck I got my poles out ready for the climbing that lay before us in the next section.  As we arrived at the Scugdale checkpoint (6h:10m) I realised I’d run my fastest Hardmoors marathon (I passed 42.2km at 5h:54m) but even better I spotted that the checkpoint had both cola and dandelion and burdock where I’d been expecting only water. While the marshalls topped up my water and cola bottles, I managed to gulp down a cup of D&B and noted that my stomach was feeling OK now.  Once the bottles were topped up, Marc and I moved off to start the really big climbs of the day. 

Scugdale to Lordstones

As we climbed up through Live Moor Plantation Marc, and I chatted about various things and caught up on bits and pieces from each other’s lives, since the last time we met a couple of years ago but once on the top, conversation became impossible in the face of a block headwind that must have been blowing 30-40mph.  Again, the peak of the cap came down and the buffs went up as we pushed hard against the wind for little return.  Marc pulled away while I plugged on behind just trying to maintain a steady pace, using the poles to keep myself steady in the buffeting wind but my work rate had increased a lot for very little return and as we climbed higher, the wind seemed to get stronger, with some odd swirling effects as the wind deflected of various escarpments and cliff faces.  Once back above 350m, the snow returned and driven into the small gap between my cap and buff, it was stinging.  As I passed the weather station by the old glider runway, I noted the wind gauge was turning at a ridiculous speed and I wondered how the weather station stayed anchored into the ground in the weather that hits up here. 

Soon I had passed he trig point and was descending towards Raisdale road with another runner.  I remember saying to him ‘At least the flagstones are dry and free from ice’, which of course was a total curse as about 30 seconds later we rounded a bend and hit a patch of ice that sent me flying down a couple of steps.  I turned to pick myself up and retrieve my poles, (which I had instinctively thrown away from my body as I fell) then had another comical slip on the same patch.  Having got up and dusted myself off, we were able to warn a couple of following runners of the ice before moving on more cautiously.  I eventually crossed the Raisdale Road on 7h:10m tracking around 20 minutes behind my goal time, but knowing that I was certain to lose a lot more time in the next few hours. 

Lordstones to Clay Bank

The next section of the route contains the most climbing per km than any other part of the route and even on the best of days, is hard, slow going.  Today, in snow, high wind and with icy surfaces, it was going to be a big tester.  Running through Lordstones Country Park I rejoined Marc and we made our way up the side of Cringle Moor together, Marc being faster and lighter pulled away from me again, but once on the top we found ourselves running together into the savage wind and snow.  At some point we were caught by John and Katrina Kynaston and a loose group formed just before the descent which, on the flagstones, was ridiculously icy and almost impossible to descend without slipping.  We took the decision to use the grass and heather at the side of the path, which had a covering of snow and offered more traction and a softer landing in a fall and made our way down into the lee of Cold Moor and out of the worst of the wind.  We jogged between the hills, making use of the reduced wind until we reached the base of the next climb, which for me is the hardest of the climbs on this stretch.

I looked up and noticed the clouds scudding over the ridgeline ahead at great speed and realised that the weather was now far worse than the forecasts I’d seen in the days before the race.  Again, Marc gapped me as we climbed the hill, but the group came back together at the top and on the descent, which was far more icy and treacherous than the Cringle Moors descent (all snow that was hitting the flagstones was now freezing on contact and I noticed it was doing the same to my leggings and jacket).  At this point, we had merged with the group that contained Harriet Shields and we all descending very slowly and carefully. About halfway down, I decided to take a sip of my water and was frustrated to find that the water had frozen in the nozzle of my bottle and I couldn’t get any water out.  I tried the coke and thankfully, that was still flowing, albeit with ice crystals in.

As we reached the bottom of the hill, we were again in a weird calm spot sheltered by The Wainstones/White Hill and due to the slow pace, the group had gained a few more runners. I looked up towards the ancient rocks as I was climbing, hoping to get a sight of the Eagle Owl that has been seen nesting here, but even the owl had enough sense to hunker down and ride this storm out. 

Going through the rocks on the Wainstones, I encouraged everyone to maintain three points of contact with the rocks to reduce the risk of slipping, which made things slower, but at least I was hopefully going to avoid a repeat of the arsebruise I picked up here while spectating last year’s 55. At the top of the Wainstones, a runner whose name I didn’t catch helped me up out of the rocks and did the same for a few others in the group.  We got moving again and along the plateau at the top of White Hill, I noted a real change in the feel of the temperature.  I checked my watch and saw that it read 3 degrees.  Given that it was on my wrist and usually read a few degrees above the real temperature due to my body heat, I judged the air temperature to be several degrees below zero and the wind chill much more than that. All this considered, I still was not cold anywhere apart from my nose.  I pulled my buff up over my nose and noticed the front of the buff had frozen solid so I spun it back to front and the unfrozen part that had been on my neck was now at the front.  As we descended off the side of White Hill, several runners, including myself resorted to sitting down and bumping down steps to avoid slipping on the ice.  About halfway down, it was possible to run with caution and Marc and I did so, eventually reaching the checkpoint at 8h:46m.  My original checkpoint plan was to spend a couple of minutes getting my bottles filled up and my headtorch out ready for the next section. 

I handed the marshalls my bottles and noticed they struggled to open the water bottle as the top couple of inches of water was entirely frozen in the bottle.  The coke was in better state, but still had chunks of ice in.  While the marshalls sorted my bottles, I asked Marc to help get my headtorch and a spare pair of gloves out for me, as I expected it to get colder after dark.  I stripped off my outer gloves and put the new gloves in between my skin layer and put the outer layer back on over them.  Marc was also putting extra gloves on, but was really struggling with them.  While we were at the checkpoint, a heavy snowfall blew over and dumped about an inch of snow on the road in the 10 mins or so we were there.  I stuffed another Chia Charge bar down my neck and checked all my buffs to make sure the absolute minimum skin was exposed and we eventually moved off. 

Clay Bank to Bloworth Crossing

We were only about 400m out of the checkpoint when my fingertips started going numb and I realised that using my poles was leaving my hands exposed to the bitter winds.  I needed Marc to help me stow them, such was the speed at which my fingers became useless. 

Once my poles were stowed, I grabbed a handwarmer from my back pocket and activated it and also used the plastic bags I’d carried my spare gloves and headtorch in and used them to cover my hands to create a bivvy bag effect and alternated that hand warmer between hands as we marched further up the hill toward the highest point of the moors (Round Hill 454m), it slowly got dark and much, much colder.  The wind was now howling and even running did not feel much more than walking.  Conversation between Marc and I was reduced to:

‘Fancy trying to run?’

‘Yeah, let’s go’

‘I’m knackered, let’s walk’

‘How far do you reckon Bloworth is?’

‘I dunno, I can normally see it, but this snow man…’ 

‘Fancy trying to run?’ 

This continued for a few kms and when we turned our headtorches on, visibility didn’t improve much and all we really got was the same view as the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon as it enters hyperspace. Despite all this, I wasn’t feeling bad or weak.  I’d done very little running since Scugdale and the legs felt willing, I was just hoping that at Bloworth, turning side on to the wind would allow some running.  The plastic bags and handwarmer had done their jobs and my fingers had feeling again and were warm through.  We hit the slight downhill into the dip that crosses a beck about 400m from Bloworth and the combination of the downhill and the positive landmark in relation to Bloworth got me running, for all of 10m before I hit some ice and ended up on my backside just short of the beck. I was busy scrabbling around making sure I didn’t lose my handwarmer and Marc came up behind to see if I was OK and went flying himself.  Satisfied we were both OK, we got up giggling and cracked on to Bloworth, turning the corner at 9h:57m. 

Bloworth Crossing to Kildale

Once round the corner at Bloworth, the wind was at our back and side and we got through more prolonged stretches of running, although I did at one stage try to point something out to Marc and realised that I could not straighten my arm because the right sleeve of my jacket had frozen solid.  Taking water was pointless as the bottle had frozen and I was only getting coke out by holding the nozzle between my lips to de-ice it before sucking the slushy coke through.  I was feeling strong and each walk break was done at a decent pace, each time we ran, we overtook groups of runners.  At some point we passed Andy and Emma, I only really noticed due to Andy’s distinctive reflective jacket and Marc and I turned our attention to cut off times.  We knew cut off was 12 hours and that we’d been moving a lot slower than usual.  I estimated that we were about 7km from Kildale and I made the time at 10h:15m so we would likely land comfortably ahead of cutoff.  Marc told me he’d just talked himself out of quitting at Kildale and wanted to have a decent stop there to have a pork pie and phone his wife. I told him that ideally I wanted to move through the checkpoint quickly, but I’d wait for him and take the chance to have a hot drink.

We pushed on with the increasingly shorter walk breaks and increasingly longer, faster and more downhill running stints and it seemed like no time at all before we hit the unusually welcome tarmac at the top of Battersby Bank.  At this point, another heavy squall blew in and at some point I’d fast walked away from the group we were in and before I’d realised it, I’d done at least two stints of running and walking on my own.  I looked over my shoulder and there were headtorches about 300m behind me so I made the assumption that Marc would catch me if I took it easy.  At the start of the descent into Kildale, I started to run again but halfway down, my bladder (which I had been holding since Clay Bank, not wanting to expose myself to the wind) forced me to attend to attend to the matter or have an accident.  I stopped by the roadside and created some worryingly yellow snow and as I sorted myself out, Andy and Emma passed, but no sign of Marc.  Still thinking he was just behind me, I pushed on. 

On the final stretch down toward Kildale, I noticed two sets of blue flashing lights heading slowly up the road towards Kildale from the direction of Easby.  A fire engine passed by as I hit the main road and I commented to the runner beside me that I was glad it wasn’t an ambulance as I was worried that an ambulance would be for a runner.  As I arrived at the checkpoint, I noticed the fire engine stopping further on in the village, but an ambulance car was outside the checkpoint.  This was not unexpected since we knew the race did have ambulance cover.  What I did not expect were the scenes in the checkpoint.  I checked in with Andy Norman who was marshalling and immediately bumped into Paul Burgum, whose first question was ‘Are you going back out?’  My answer was ‘Of course I am.  I’m feeling great, why wouldn’t I?’ and Paul told me to look around the room and at the huge pile of GPS trackers on the table handed in by retirees.  The room was full of people in foil blankets taking on warm drinks, some shivering, many having discarded kit and clearly not intending to continue.  I got a bit of a negative vibe from this and decided I wanted to be out of the checkpoint quickly.  I quickly got my dropbag, ditched the untouched Wine Gums, downs my Red Bull, loaded back up on Chia Charge and put my dropbag fig rolls into my pocket before battling off the frozen top of my coke bottle and topping it up.  I moved to get a coffee, but there was none in the coffee flask on the table so I left it be.  I looked up and saw a frozen looking Angela Moore being looked after in a side room and was a little shocked, Angela is a tough cookie with a lot of seriously hard race completions under her belt. 

There was a group of runners preparing to leave, including Tom Stewart who invited me to run with them, I agreed, and said I’d wait by the door for them, I wanted to keep moving so as not to cool down.  On the way to the door, I saw Marc arrive and I told him I needed to move on fast to avoid cooling off, we wished each other well and I moved to the door.  The other group seemed to take forever to get organised so I shouted to Tom that I was going to move on and that they’d probably catch me on the climb and at that I headed out of the door.  As I did so, I saw a Mountain Rescue Team member heading into the Village Hall, which should have triggered alarm bells (and perhaps did subconsciously).

Kildale to Finish

I jogged out of the checkpoint and down the road, noting that the clock time was now 8:32pm, I saw the fire engine further down in the village, I thought it was dealing with an RTA, but I was more focused on the firefighters, I had a vague feeling that they would try and stop me running off into the night.  I ran hard down the road towards the railway bridge and got out of sight of the village.  I decided to have a fig roll, sip of coke and some paracetamol.  I also took a salt tablet, which I’d been taking about every 90 minutes during the day to keep my electrolytes in check.  I made up my mind to run to the bottom of the hill, then keep setting myself targets all the way to the race finish. 

As I approached the start of the climb, I noticed a sole runner ahead, I caught him quickly and on the snow covered road, I thought he was taking a wrong turn (he wasn’t) an led him on a detour through the driveway of a farm house by the road.  Once back on the road, I noticed another group about 400m ahead and decided to bridge across to them with a fast walk/jog up the hill.  I decided this would be my mental game to get me through to the finish.  I’d  found during the Lyke Wake Challenge in 2016, that playing mental game gave me a bit of extra motivation to keep moving quickly in the later stages of a race.  The premise being that unless I had a mechanical injury, I was fairly capable of moving at a decent pace and that the only blockers are those from the brain telling me that I’m tired or my legs hurt.  This game was simple, bridge to the group in front, overtake them, bridge to the next group and continue this until the finish.  As I turned left into Pale End Plantation, the group in front was only 100m ahead.  I jogged on and caught Paul Burgum among the back markers with another runner (Andy Cole?).  I had a really positive conversation with Paul and I wished him well before running off chasing half of the group who’d broken away.  I pushed hard following them up towards Captain Cook’s Monument, just before the final steep bit I was only 50m or so behind, so I walked and stuck my hand into my pocket and realised that my fig rolls had gone.  Even that didn’t bother me, I just hoped somebody behind me would find them and make use of them.

I pushed on harder and as I hit the top of Easby Moor I used the howling tailwind I picked up once out of the treeline to get closer and noticed that all took the short angle cutting inside of the Monument.  I never do this, not because it’s wrong or anything, it’s just I have some sort of superstition about always going around the Monument, the same as I have about NEVER skipping the out and back to Roseberry Topping (after an infamous run of bad luck on a night when Brenda Wilkin, Dave Cook, Dee Bouderba and I did exactly that). Rounding the Monument, there was a ferocious roar of wind through the railings on the Monument and the wind was clearly still as strong as it was earlier. 

Now round the Monument, I bounded down the descent towards Gribdale Gate.  The group in front had split into a pair and two single runners.  I overhauled the single runners quickly and went after the pair.  Close to the bottom, the pair were stopped by a man walking up the hill.  As I got closer, he asked if I’d heard.  ‘Heard what?’ I asked and he told me that Roseberry Topping was closed and to just turn right at the gate and head to the finish. 

I wasn’t sure if this was a wind up and wasn’t sure what to make of it.  I pushed harder and overtook the pair just before Gribdale Gate and pushed hard up the steps onto the path towards Roseberry, opening up a gap quickly.  I noticed a pair of headtorches about a km ahead and decided that they were the next target to bridge to and that I’d see what they did at Roseberry and follow suit.  I pushed hard along the path and took about 20-25 minutes to get to Roseberry Gate.  The pair of headtorches were nowhere to be seen, but if they’d done Roseberry, by rights, they should be coming back down or be on the way back to the gate.  They weren’t so I pushed on over towards Hutton Moor Gate.  There were no targets in front, so I decided to give myself a new target of creating an unassailable gap on the headtorches behind me. 

As I arrived at Hutton Moor Gate, I noticed a pair of headtorches way off course over towards the Hanging Stone, I flashed my torch at them a few times in the hope of bringing them back on course, then forged on towards the Black Nab path.  Halfway along the path, I met a male runner heading back along the course, presumably to meet someone and as he passed, I looked over my shoulder to see the pair of wayward headtorches back on course and about 500m behind me.  I clattered along the slushy path towards Highcliff, walking only where the surface or grade forced me to, again having to shield my eyes from the snow before eventually turning off the path and into the treeline before Highcliff Nab.  I climbed the steps up the Nab following the tape laid the night before by Lorna Simpkin and the reflective stickers Jon Steele had used to provide direction and made the top at 13h:02m. 

I looked down and saw two headtorches emerging from the treeline below Highcliff and took off like a scalded cat into Guisborough Woods, but found it hard to see due to the Millenium Falcon effect of headtorch and snow.  After about a minute, I realised that the ambient light from Guisborough and the lying snow meant, that I could get better visibility by turning my headtorch off (a couple of years ago the woods were so dense that this wouldn’t have worked), so I decided to do this and gained an immediate increase in pace.  I was pushing hard through the woods, finding it hard to gauge what progress I was making against the lights behind me due to the twisting nature of the trails.  Occasionally, I could see a group of 4 or 5 torches, other times just a pair, so I forced the pace as hard as possible.  About halfway through the woods, the trail forks left and right.  Both routes come out at the same place, but one, the official Cleveland Way, takes a pointless down and up.  I was hoping and praying that the tape would stay on the fire road, but Lorna had been taking instructions to the letter and the more cruel route was taped.  I endured this section then pushed hard through the darkness on the steep downhill that followed.  The trick to running without a headtorch in the dark, is to not look directly at what you want to look at.  The parts of the eye that interpret colours are toward the centre of the eye, the parts that interpret black and white towards the edge.  These are the bits that are used in the dark and therefore, if you look slightly above, below or to the side of your target, you see it clearer.  Your peripheral vision is your friend and the longer you run in the dark, the more your night vision adapts. 

Because of this, I now avoided looking behind me or towards the town or roads to try and preserve my growing night vision and was only focused on the trail ahead and not missing the sharp right turn up into the bush and onto the next fire road up.  I found it easily and crossed over to the next trail before cruising all the way downhill to the concrete farm road which leads toward the final stretch. 

On the concrete road, I was back out of the wind, so I put my headtorch back on and chanced a look back along the trail.  I could see several groups in the woods, but not the pair I thought were behind me.  I bashed my way down the hill to the disused railway line. 

I now knew I was only 2km from the finish so I walked for 60 seconds, then run for 60 seconds.  I did this twice then upped the intervals to 120 seconds.  At some point I saw the lights of the farm on Belmangate and just kept running, over the railway bridge, down the steps, down Belmangate and into the Sea Cadets Hall stopping the clock at 14h:03m. 

As my tracker was taken off me and my time taken, the sudden stop from running hard, the heat in the hall and probably a bit of emotion all hit me at once and I had a bit of a wobble.  A paramedic came over and I insisted I was OK.  The next few minutes were a bit confusing because Harriet Shields and the group I’d last seen her in at Kildale were all there helping me to a chair and someone said ‘Well done for escaping Kildale’.  Marc appeared and explained that after I’d left, all runners had been held at Kildale, the details of that I will go into shortly.  I sat and had a hot drink and just sitting in that group of people in that hall gave me a great feeling of contentment, friendship and satisfaction.  One of the race finishes, I will remember for the rest of my life. 

After awhile, I got showered and changed and sat and had a beer with Paul Burgum, who finished shortly after me, Mark Dalton and Duncan Bruce while we waited for the hall to empty so that Duncan and I could sort our sleeping arrangements out.  In that time, I observed the interactions between the race team and Mountain Rescue that allowed me to piece events together, further information became available over the next few days and tonight I had a further chat with race director Jon Steele to clarify exactly what happened. 

Press Coverage

Most people reading this will have seen the negative press coverage of the race. In my opinion, almost all of those reports were exaggerated and were very selective with the facts. 

What actually happened was that all runners got off the moors by themselves, but at the Kildale checkpoint, after stopping, a number of people cooled down rapidly and suffered minor hypothermia symptoms.  Between 8pm and 9pm there had been significant snowfall onto already icy roads in the Kildale area and many were only reliably passable using 4×4 vehicles.  Mountain Rescue were in the area to assist a driver whose vehicle had been stuck in the snow and being aware of the race, they stopped by the checkpoint to check up on things.

A joint decision was taken at around 8:30pm to stop all runners at Kildale due to the risks imposed by the weather conditions.

Race Control suddenly had a situation where they needed to transport anyone who’d stopped to the race finish 5 miles away in Guisborough. This would normally be done by the volunteer marshalls and race control support vehicles (I’ve actually used this support twice myself and it works well), however due to the state of the roads, the support of Mountain Rescue was needed to help transport people to the finish safely and provide additional minor medical assistance to some runners.

All runners in this race had GPS trackers and Race Control knew to within 10 metres where we all were so were able to quickly close the race down in a controlled manner.

By the time I’d run from Kildale to Guisborough (2h:40m according to the tracker), all runners who’d been stopped had been transported to the end, which to me is an awesome logistical feat.

At no point did I feel that my safety or that of others had been compromised and nobody needed any hospital treatment.

I slept at Guisborough Sea Cadets following the race and the Race Director, Jon Steele sat in the same room and personally made numerous telephone calls up to around 1:30am to satisfy himself that not only were all runners OK when they left Guisborough, but that all had got home or to their accommodation for the night and were fine.

To top all that, Cleveland Mountain Rescue praised runners for their equipment and preparedness and the race organisers for their contingency planning.  To me, the Mountain Rescue praise, speaks volumes.

Performance Summary

My race did not go exactly to plan, however, I’d have been very, very surprised if it did in those conditions, I did however improve my 50 mile Personal Best by just over 6 minutes to 13h:15m:42s.  More pleasing was being able to overcoming stomach trouble that dogged me for over 30km, something which would have stopped my race a couple of years ago and that all of the recce work I did to test kit in foul weather paid off.  That means the awful 6 hour slog in knee deep snow over Bloworth in December, the icy night runs over Highcliff x2, Roseberry x2 and Captain Cooks x2 in Feb and all of the other grim, awful training runs were worth every second because I learned a lot about mental toughness and self management.

I also give credit to the speedwork and speed endurance sessions on the treadmill.  Whilst I have been a huge detractor of the treadmill in the past, the consistency it has offered has clearly improved my overall ability to move at a faster pace for longer.

Kit Choices

For those who are interested, the kit worn on the day was :

Thermal Skullcap

Cycling Cap

Base Layer

Thermal Cycling Vest

Windproof Fleece Lined Cycling Jacket

Fleece Lined Compression Shorts

More Mile Lycra Leggings

Compression Socks

Calf Guards

Waterproof Socks

Gaiters

Adidas Kanadia TR8.1 Shoes

Buff used as gaiter between base layer and neck

Buff used as gaiter between jacket and neck

Buff wrapped around face

Buff wrapped over cap and head

Skin Layer Gloves: Wilkinsons Full Finger Cycling Gloves

Outer Layer Gloves: Karrimor Running Gloves

Mid Layer Gloves added at Clay Bank were Karrimor Running Gloves too

All other kit, including compulsory items were carried but not used.

Thanks and Acknowledgements

I owe a continuous debt of thanks to my wife Natalie and our family for their continued forbearance with the long hours of training and weekends away.

I’d like to thank Guisborough Sea Cadets, without whose hospitality in allowing me to sleep indoors, I probably wouldn’t have started the race, I certainly wouldn’t have finished and if I’d stayed outside on Saturday night, I’d have probably been in a bad way by Sunday morning.

As always, Jon, Shirley and their huge family of helpers have put on a great race and dealt with adversity on the day with so much strength and organisation and afterwards with grace.  I keep saying that this race series is special, it’s special beyond words. The friendships made and the experiences had at these events are beyond value.  The way the Hardmoors family has pulled together this week should be a message to all involved about how highly regarded and valued Hardmoors is by a lot of people. 

Thanks also to Cleveland Mountain Rescue and Yorkshire Ambulance for their help in ensuring that the race ended as safely as possible.

Thanks to everyone I ran with or spoke to out on the course, you guys helped make this event what it is.  In particular, Marc Short, one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, thank you for your company and I’m certain that you saved my race by helping sort myself out when my fingers went numb.  I’m gutted that you were stopped while I managed to continue, you had the finish in you and I wish we could have finished together. Also thanks to everyone, even though my memory is hazy, who helped me at the finish when I went all wobbly. 

I look forward to seeing you all at Hardmoors 110!

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It’s genuinely scary how quickly this race seems to have come around.  It feels like only a couple of weeks ago that I was embarking on a training plan that was essentially starting from scratch.

Since July, I’ve actually completed marathon plus distance twice (Sweeping the Hardmoors Princess 30 and just scraping past the marathon distance in Hardmoors Nemesis, both in aid of Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue).

My training has involved gradually increasing the distance and elevation gain of my runs as well as hitting a variety of different surfaces while getting in a number of recces of the Hardmoors 55 and 110 route.  A couple of times I’ve backed off the training due to feeling like I was pushing a little too hard but just before Christmas I managed to injure myself.

This resulted in me stopping running entirely for two weeks in the lead up to this race instead of tapering and receiving some great treatment from physio Mike Jefferies.

In the days before the race I had more time on my hands than usual to worry about the logistics of completing the race, so I pondered what do to about travelling in the event of bad weather and where to park etc. Right up until the last minute I was going on my good weather plan of travelling from Hartlepool to Robin Hood’s Bay on the morning of the race, but speaking to people who’ve raced previously, I had worries about getting parked. At last minute I decided to camp overnight and that decision was justified by the fact that when I arrived, I got one of only three remaining spaces in the car park.

Having arrived and shared a New Years Eve beer with Matthew Swan and Ian Gorin in Matthew’s camper van, I got myself comfortable in the car.  I was in bed well before midnight, but knew there was no chance of sleep until the local firework celebrations had subsided. In the time before midnight I went over my kit choices and how I was going to run the race.  At midnight, I video called Natalie and Martha to wish them happy new year then spent another hour planning and waiting for the fireworks to stop.

Due to the injury, my original target of beating my 50k PB (7h:09m) was out of the question and the only real goal was to get around within the 9 hour cut off.

The Hardmoors 30 course is a figure 8 loop consisting of 21km clockwise route north from Robin Hood’s Bay to Whitby along the ‘Cinder Track’ disused railway and back along the Cleveland Way path along the cliff tops.  I knew from the Princess that the Cinder Track is very runnable in most conditions and planned to run the 10km or so to Whitby at a comfortable pace then just do as best as I could on the return leg, which was likely to be muddy and hard going.

Since the pain in my leg had subsided to fairly minimal levels in the last few days, I’d decided to leave my poles in the car and pick them up for the second loop if my leg had decided to play up.

The second loop left Robin Hood’s Bay south on the Cinder Track, climbing gradually to Ravenscar then descending to Hayburn Wyke, before returning along the Cleveland Way to the finish.  The plan for this was to run what I could of the Cinder Track, fast walk back to Ravenscar and simply use anything I had left to get into Robin Hood’s Bay.

map

Hardmoors 30 Route Map

I woke up naturally at 5am, an hour before my alarm clock was set and had a breakfast of porridge, banana and coffee while trying to gauge the weather.  The temperature on my car read 6 degrees, but in the sheltered area that Fylingdales village hall sits in, it felt comfortably warm, even though I could see clouds scudding along on a strong wind in the sky. I decided that on the clifftops that wind would feel decidedly cold so opted to wear a fleece jacket instead of a jersey on top of the standard winter wear of leggings and base layer.

Having got dressed and signed on nice and early, I left the village hall and did some light jogging and stretching to warm up then returned indoors for the race brief.  Once the brief was finished, we were outside in the bright winter sunshine and we were off on the first ultra of 2018.

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Hardmoors 30 Race Start by Kelli Wigham

As the crowd of runners headed along the road to the start of the Cinder Track, I was pulled along by them, way faster than I wanted to go, so as I hit the start of the Cinder Track, I slowed to a walk before jogging along at my own pace along the first flat section before the track kicked up into a climb which I negotiated in a run/walk routine until I was over the top and heading downhill.  I was just getting into a good stride and running well when I could feel the first painful twinges in my shin.

I checked my Suunto and found I’d only gone 3km, which was annoying.  I decided to take two paracetamol and continue running at a pace which I hoped would see me to Whitby within the first hour.  I quickly realised that the pain was worse on harder surfaces but subsided on softer surfaces.  Where possible, I ran on the muddier sections of track or on the grass at the side to reduce the impact on my leg and walked any concrete sections like the viaduct across the River Esk. I reached the first checkpoint at the end of the Cinder Track in Whitby at 1h:02m and grabbed a couple of Jaffa Cakes and ran through Whitby at the most deserted I’ve ever seen it making my way easily over the Swing Bridge and up towards the 199 steps which I enjoyed climbing as the stepping action seemed to relieve the pain in my leg.  This gave me some hope that it might just need stretching off gradually.

Once across the Abbey car park and onto the Cleveland Way trail, I ran at a decent pace overtaking other runners and early morning walkers all the way into Saltwick Bay caravan park where the pain came back within a few steps of running on the road through the park.  I walked until I reached the grass track at the far end of the park and was quite pleased to note that it was nowhere near as muddy as people who’d run parts of the route in the days before had made out. I made good time passing Laura Bradshaw of Sportsunday photography to the Whitby Foghorn/Lighthouse (1h:37m) where I spotted David Bradshaw, noting that he wasn’t at the top of some ridiculous hill for once.

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Passing above Whitby Lighthouse taken by David Bradshaw of Sportsunday Photography

As I approached the next hill, I got an inkling I knew why David wasn’t at the top of a hill, the runners ahead had slowed to a very cautious pace.  As I got closer, I could see that the path had become a total quagmire.  I got through relatively easily and began to climb the steps up the next hill to the sounds of people slipping and sliding their way through.

The next 5km or so was a complete mudbath.  Mostly ankle deep liquid mud on top of a firm subsoil that quickly clogged up the grip on the shoes and led to lots of sliding about. I expected this to hurt my leg a lot, but in reality, as long as I didn’t slip and over extend the leg it didn’t hurt.  However keeping upright was that much of a challenge, I along with almost every other runner along that stretch had slowed to a crawl.

Eventually, as we approached Robin Hood’s Bay, there were some runnable gaps between to muddy patches, but almost right up to the village it was not possible to run at a consistent pace without running into a slippy patch.  On the way to the Robin Hood’s Bay checkpoint, I went to the car and picked up my poles, then hit the 21km checkpoint on 2h:55m, grabbed a cuppa while the marshalls topped up my bottle with Coke.

Up to this point, my food strategy had been my usual Wine Gums and salted peanuts every 15 mins with a Snickers or Chia Charge bar on the hour.  However, stopping to eat while using poles can be a pain and the checkpoint had Chia Charge bars which I know work well for me as an hourly snack so I added a couple to my back pocket to compliment the ones I was already carrying (Santa brought me a stash this year) and changed my plan to having a bar every 30 mins.

I sorted my poles out and walked painfully along the tarmac to the beginning of the Cinder Track which I was disappointed to find was in good, firm condition and after a couple of hundred metres running, I was slowed to a walk.  I was passed by Joanne Abbott and Joe Williams who said they were walking the next section, but left me for dust at cracking fast walk while I could only hobble along using my poles for support.

I kept giving myself landmarks as targets to fast walk up the hill until a pair of runners in front of me came into view as the path wound upwards towards Ravenscar. I spent the next 3 or 4km trying to reel them in with a combination of fast hobbling and slow jogging and I got to within 20m or so when I was caught by a runner from behind who introduced himself as Keri.

We walked and chatted all the way into Ravenscar and the company took my mind off the pain in my leg (which I supplemented again with paracetamol just before Ravenscar).  At the Ravenscar checkpoint I had a sausage roll and grabbed more Chia Charge bars and hobbled off in pursuit of Keri.

At the old Ravenscar train station I was still in some considerable pain and wasn’t feeling great but I found Paul Nelson marshalling there.  It seems I always bump into Paul when he’s doing really well in a tough race (I saw him coming off Cold Moor on HM55 and coming into Gribdale Gate in HM200) and he’s always cheerful. Being greeted by his smiling face just picked me up no end and as I hit the Cinder Track I resolved to run more regardless of how much it hurt.

I adopted a strategy of picking a tree at the furthest point I could see in the distance and running to it.  When I got closer to that tree, I picked a new one and kept moving. I managed this for a couple of kms at a time only stopping for a walk to eat on the half hour or hour but eventually I began to slow off again and was passed by a succession of runners, including Michelle Boshier, Emily and Scott Beaumont who I chatted briefly with before I could no longer keep up with them.

I arrived at Hayburn Wyke (35km) at 5h:03m and found the checkpoint manned by Wayne Armstrong who topped my water and Coke up while I raided the checkpoint for more Chia Charge bars before heading down into the woods chasing Keith Wise and the two runners I’d been trying to catch up earlier. Descending the steps into the Wyke started off easy enough but further down they had been made muddy and slippy by the passage of the runners before me and I slowed down to avoid a nasty fall.

Upon reaching the bottom, I used my poles to climb back out, but it was obvious that I had slowed down significantly as I lost ground on everyone ahead of me and was overtaken by two groups of runners. At the top of the steps, the Cleveland Way clifftop path had been reduced to churned up and slippy mud, which was almost impassable.

The flat sections were tricky, anything uphill or downhill was just ridiculous.  Most of this section is uphill and without the poles I would have fallen over numerous times.

Again I focused on the pair of runners I’d been chasing earlier as the light started to fade.  One of the pair has started to lag behind the other, and I worked on closing the distance to him.  The poles allowed me to climb faster than they could climb, so I made ground uphill but lost it on the flat.  It was clear they were running together, because one would wait for the other when the gap between them got quite big.

A full moon rose over the sea to my right, as this slow motion chase through the mud played out and it struck me that the last time I’d seen a full moon rise on this stretch, I was running the opposite way during the 2016 Hardmoors 60 attempting to keep up with Elaine Wilde and Ingrid Hainey.  This bit of deja vu put a bit of energy into my stride and eventually I managed to overhaul one, then the other of the pair as the light began to fade.

I was now through the 40km mark at 6h:13m and working on trying to snap the elastic on the pair behind me, more for my own psychological benefit than any competitive reason.  I needed something to focus on to keep pushing on and moving through the pain. As the path approached Ravenscar, it began to get less muddy and more runnable and I was able to pick the pace up and hit the marathon mark at 6h:35m, which all things considered, I was reasonably pleased with.

Darkness was now falling and I opened my side pocket to get my head torch out, but couldn’t quite reach. I had zero motivation to take my pack off and my energy levels were dropping through the floor so I fast walked the last few hundred metres to the checkpoint where I asked one of the marshalls to help with getting the torch out while my bottles were refilled and I managed to stuff another sausage roll into my face.

Headtorch on, safe in the knowledge that there was only just over 6km remaining, starting with a very familiar descent away from Ravenscar I set off with renewed vigour.  I decided to ignore any pain I was in and use the descent as best I could and rattled down it quickly and hit the path above the Alum works in full dark.  The farm track was muddy but not slippy, however as soon as I turned off it to hit the clifftop path, I was back into quagmire territory. At this point I was beyond caring and threw myself along the path, no longer caring if I fell.

I was making ground on all but one of the head torches behind me, which was approaching rapidly and I tried to up my pace to keep ahead. This went on for almost 2km when I came upon a pair of head torches moving very slowly across a small dip.  I asked if they were OK and they confirmed they were ‘just going steady’.  As I entered the dip, I realised why and almost slid down to the bottom.

As I got through, they’d made ground on me again but I got moving and caught them up, just as I did, I stubbed my left foot into the ground and felt that combination of pain and release of pressure on my little toe that can only mean a blister has just burst.  As I stopped to curse, the head torch from behind passed the three of us and moved off into the distance.  I jogged on towards the Stoupe Farm road with the pair but having to slow dramatically once on the tarmac and being dropped by the pair totally as I descended the steps to Stoupe Beck.

As I climbed out of Stoupe Beck, the lights of Robin Hood’s Bay seemed tantalisingly close, but I knew that Boggle Hole was yet to come. Soon enough I was carefully descending the steep steps, listening the boom and crash of the waves below and eventually reached the bottom, ran across the bridge and started up the steps at the other side.  Climbing out of Boggle Hole seemed to take forever but at this point I knew it was a case of just grinding on to the finish.

At the top of the steps, I ran through the tunnel of tree and through the gate which I knew meant that I was on the final path to Robin Hood’s Bay, I moved as fast as I could along the stone slabs and almost ran off the edge of them where a recent clifffall had resulted in the earth beneath some slabs dropping down the cliffside, but the slabs remaining in place.  I tentatively edged my way around the far side of the path in the mud, until the path seemed safer then started running again towards the last set of slippery wooden steps that dropped into Robin Hood’s Bay.  I hit the village at 7h:58m and started the final steep climb up the road to the finish.

Despite being painful, the various Christmas lights in the village gave me something nice to look at and distract me, closer to the top I managed to get a faster hobble on and turned into the car park and the last 100m or so to the finish, clocking into the village hall and the finish at 8h:10m:33s by my watch.

I was presented with my medal and finishers T-shirt by Wayne Armstrong and I finally sat down to take stock of myself and strip off my muddy shoes and socks.

It wasn’t pretty but I’d got around within cut off and I now had 1/5 of the Hardmoors SuperSlam completed. As a run, it was a lot harder than most I’ve done in the past.  I can’t think of a single race that I’ve ever started carrying an injury before, certainly not an ultramarathon and I was happy that I’d been able to manage the pain and keep moving.

As always, the event itself was fantastically well organised and Hardmoors gatherings always have a party atmosphere.  New Years Day seemed, understandably slightly more so.

The marshalls at all checkpoints, some of which were in the middle of nowhere and and in pretty cold and windy locations, were brilliant, always happy, encouraging and willing to help. It’s amazing how much that these volunteers add to this race series and it speaks volumes that people keep coming back in ever increasing numbers. So to the Hardmoors team, led by Jon and Shirley, thank you for yet another great race and Happy New Year!  I’ll see you all at Hardmoors 55 in March.

Although this year is a rest year for me, next year was always intended to be a big year as my ambition is to run a 100 mile ultramarathon before my 40th Birthday in August 2018.

To achieve this, I was always going to enter the Hardmoors Grand Slam (30, 55, 110 and 60 ultras in a single year).  However, following the success of the Hardmoors 200 for the 10 year anniversary of the series, which incorporated the Wolds Way (plus a bonus mile as the Wolds Way is 79 miles), a new race was added to the calendar for November 2018 and an extended Super Slam was created incorporating:

Hardmoors 30 – January 2018

Hardmoors 55 – March 2018

Hardmoors 110 or 160 – May 2018

Hardmoors 60 – September 2018

Hardwolds 80 – November 2018

I immediately decided that I wanted to do the Super Slam rather than the Grand Slam and made some adjustments to my training plan and started training in earnest on 1st July for a year that would not only include all of the Hardmoors Ultras, but the Lyke Wake Challenge in July 2018.

The plan has been going well, training mostly on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays during July at set distances with a rest week of shorter distances every 4th week.

Moving into August, the plan moved to Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturday and Sunday runs.  This co-incided well with my annual fortnight holiday in Filey, which I used to develop my running over some of the terrain I’d be racing next year and to start to recce the Wolds Way, which is entirely unknown to me.

Having traveled to Filey on Saturday, I did my Saturday run on Sunday, my first recce of the Wolds Way, first running from the caravan to the end of the Wolds Way at Filey Brigg and working back along the extra mile that is added to it for the Hardmoors race, before following the route to Muston then looping back to the caravan.

Short Hardwolds 80 Recce: 15.7km, 1h:47m:13s, 283m gained.

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Filey Brigg

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View across Filey Bay to Bempton Cliffs

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Wolds Way signpost

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Fields of gold between Filey and Muston

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For my Tuesday run, I headed out early morning from the caravan along the clifftops, through Filey and followed the Cleveland Way to Blue Dolphin and back.  In a bit of a hurry so no messing about with photos, just job done and dusted before breakfast.

Blue Dolphin & Back: 16.2km, 1h:43m:48s, 278m gained.

First thing on a morning, this is a truly stunning route, that said, it is on an evening or at night too….

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For my Thursday run, I decided to head out to a point where the Wolds Way crossed the main road out of the nearby village on Hunmanby, then follow the route back to the clifftop path at Filey.

Hardwolds 80 Recce: 16.0km, 1h:47m:26s, 253m gained.

One of the good things about doing these recces is that you identify areas where you could go wrong, in this instance a point where the Wolds Way cuts between a hedge and crosses a field on the other side, but the path you are on continues ahead, then gets quite overgrown. The sort of thing you’d miss 75 miles in at night.

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View from the top of Muston Wold with Cayton/Scarborough on the left, Lebberston (including a circus big top) centre and Muston/Filey off to right.

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View across to Bempton Cliffs from the Filey clifftop.

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For my Saturday run, I’d looked at a map other local runners routes and found a path that forms part of the Centenary Way that links up with an earlier part of the Wolds Way near Flixton and avoids the 4km climb along the main road outside of Hunmanby.  I decided to run this and follow the Wolds Way route back to the main Scarborough-Filey road and head back to the caravan.

Centenary Way/Wolds Way: 17.3km, 1h:58m:40s, 304m gained.

This was another one where I took a wrong turn.  This time, one of the Centenary Way signposts had been knocked over and I followed tractor tracks up a hill before the path deteriorated into chest high nettles and weeds. Once back on track I found a stunning section of path. The only downside seemed to be the energy sapping winds, which I noted as the Wolds Way race is scheduled for November and winds then will be biting cold.

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For Sunday, I’d planned to go slightly longer.  I wanted to get onto the Cleveland Way and do a section I know well, but have only completed in a southbound direction so instead I planned on going out and back from the south.

I wanted to do Scarborough Spa to Hayburn Wyke and back, but the distance was a little more than I had in my plan and I was also limited to roughly three hours so I decided to park at the top of Holbeck Hill and run north for an hour and a half then turn around.  It turned out that I managed to get just past Cloughton Wyke before turning around, which on that terrain, I was quite happy with.  Regardless of anything, running along Scarborough seafront always seems to be mentally tough.  Not so bad outbound, but coming back, the heat and number of people, even early morning as well as the unrelenting concrete surface was just not as enjoyable as the trail sections of this run.

Holbeck Hill – Cloughton Wyke – Holbeck Hill: 26.2km, 3h:13m:13s, 595m gained.

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View getting out of the car ready to start.

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Approaching Scalby Mills around 7:30am.

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Approaching the steps at Crook Ness, the site of my first ever race DNF in 2014.

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Heading back towards Scarborough.

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With that done, I headed into another day’s rest which perversely involved a fair bit of walking before my Tuesday run, which I’d chosen to be a run along the beach to Bempton Cliffs and back.  It’s a run I try to do every year with the sand being a different surface from the trails I’m usually running on and due to the way the beach undulates, plus the up and down the bank at Reighton Sands I always do on the out leg, I get a surprising amount of elevation gain as well as challenging the supporting muscles a bit.

I set out just before lunchtime in thick fog but was sweating profusely throughout.  As I passed Reighton Sands on the return leg, I gave in to the heat and stripped my shirt off, having to wring it out before I tied it to my wrist.  When I returned to the caravan, I realised why I had so many problems, it was 25 degrees and the humidity level was very high.  To confirm this, the sun came out and burned the fog off to provide the hottest day of the stay.

Annual run to Bempton Cliffs: 16.1km, 1h:36m:54s, 339m gained.

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For the final run of the fortnight, I decided to re-do the Centenary Way/Wolds Way route, but instead of returning along the main road, I chose to head along the cliff paths.  Considering the cumulative distance over the last fortnight, I was happy with how I felt and the way I covered ground. The only mishap was that a couple of cows had decided to block a gate on a section of the Wolds Way and refused to move.  When I tried to open the gate, they kept nudging it closed and I was forced to hop over a barbed wire fence into an adjacent field and rejoin further along the path.

Centenary Way/Wolds Way: 18.0km, 1h:56m:08s, 358m gained.

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Overall, with 125.5km and 2,410m gained over two weeks, I feel good, am recovering well between runs and am happy with pace/effort over the runs.

Next week will feature a run on Monday followed by sweeping the Princess 30 Ultra on Saturday, which will be a nice stretch out to a longer distance.

Great post by Kim.

Miles to go before I sleep

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This is a genuine question: how do people feel about the word ‘chicked’? When I first heard it, I thought it was kind of cool. We ladies had a term for kicking male behind, grrrrl power, taking back our right to be feminine and all that jazz. But the more I’ve encountered it, the more it’s starting to grate. Now, I know that it’s often used in what is meant as a complimentary way and that’s fantastic. When a woman beats a man in a race, I can sort of see why it’s seen as more of an accomplishment. After all, we are, historically, not as fast as men. I get that people want to congratulate women on that. So my rant is twofold: the word itself is wildly patronising, and how we react to it, I think, needs to be rethunk!

I am not, nor is any other woman…

View original post 255 more words

This was to be my third and final attempt at completing Hardmoors 60.  The only race that has beaten me and done so twice was getting ticked off this year or not at all.

In addition to all I had learned in previous years races, I’d gathered thoughts on what had worked, what didn’t work and where I was strong or weak from my previous three ultra efforts this year (a night run from Staithes to Clay Bank in January, the Cleveland Hills Challenge in April and the Lyke Wake Challenge in July).

With the exception of the newly added section of the course just after Staithes and the section between Robin Hood’s Bay and Ravenscar, I’d run the entire course this year, some of it multiple times and the Robin Hood’s Bay to Ravenscar bit I’ve done a number of times before anyway.

Planning and Preparation

I started pulling my race plan together in July, almost immediately after the Lyke Wake Challenge and I had decided on breaking the course up into chunks in the same way I did last year, but this time, I’d used an idea that is popular in the triathlon/cycling world that you only have a finite number of matches to burn during a race, each match being a hard effort.

Looking at my strengths/weaknesses I’d decided that I probably had four matches available to me over the course of the day if I paced them right and spaced them with enough rest in between. This was something I’d played around with on the Cleveland Hills Challenge when looking at which order to run the hills in and how much effort to put into travelling between them all.

After I’d completed all my recce runs in August, I finalised my decision on where the hard efforts would be focused.

  1. Highcliff Nab to Saltburn – Mainly downhill on good quality trails with only a couple of climbs to contend with.
  2. Deepgrove Wyke to Whitby – After the steps down from the clifftop, there is a gently downward sloping section of disused railway to Sandsend, followed by a tarmac section of road and path (albeit uphill road and path) that a faster pace could be maintained on.
  3. Ravenscar to Hayburn Wyke – Again, mainly downhill, but late in the race.  If I was to make the most of this, I’d need to conserve some energy. To that end, I planned to fast walk most of Whitby to Ravenscar, only running if it was possible to do so at an easy effort. Walking Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay wouldn’t lose me a great deal of time as it’s very technical and contains a lot of steep ascending and descending where my running pace wouldn’t be significantly faster than my fast walking.
  4. Scarborough Sea Front – This was chosen mainly because when I recce’d this section with Dave Cook on the hottest day of the year, it was grim going avoiding tourists, running on tarmac after trails and generally boring. The sort of section that you need done quickly after a long day. Again, if hard efforts were needed at 80km in, I’d need to buffer it with a rest, so I chose to fast walk the section between Hayburn and Scalby Mills, which was also savage in terms of the number of steep steps in such a short section.

The recce of Hayburn to Scalby also changed my mind on the use of poles. I’d trained all year without using poles, but the sheer amount of steps that late in the race made me reconsider.  I’d trained all summer during 2015 with them and was quite happy that I’d stayed proficient in their use and still had enough upper body and back strength to make them work for me, so I decided to take them.

With all the above considered, my plan was more or less formed. Run hard to Saltburn, rest on the climb between Skinningrove and Hummersea then pick up to a steady pace on the descent to Staithes and maintain this through Runswick Bay and on to Deepgrove Wyke where I’d start the next hard effort to Whitby. After the rest to Ravenscar, I’d push on again to Hayburn Wyke, rest to Scalby and work hard through Scarborough and anything left after then would be poured into the finish.

Based on previous race times, recce runs etc, I’d worked out that I could finish in 17 hours, allowing me an hour buffer on cut off for things going wrong if I paced it well and reached my defined marker points by the target times below:

Saltburn CP: 2h:05m

Skinningrove: 2h:55m (00h:50m split)

Staithes: 4h:15m (1h:20m split)

Runswick Bay CP: 5h:05m (00h:50m split spending no more than 10 mins at the CP)

Saltwick Bay CP: 7h:30m (2h:25m split)

Robin Hood’s Bay CP: 9h:00m (1h:30m split)

Ravenscar CP: 10h:25m (1h:30m split spending no more than 15 mins at the CP including changing clothes)

Hayburn Wyke: 11h:35m (1h:10m split)

Scalby Mills: 13h:25m (1h:50m split)

Scarborough Spa CP: 14h:15m (00h:50m split)

Finish: 17h:00m (2h:45m split)

Pre-Race

I travelled down to Filey on Friday afternoon with Natalie and we hit the local chippy for food before heading to the caravan where I prepared my food for the race and added the last minute items to my drop bags.

I planned to start carrying 500ml Lucozade Sport in a hard bottle, 500ml Lucozade Sport in a soft flask and 500ml water in a hard bottle.  The bottles were to be carried in my pack, the soft flask in my back pocket.

My starting food would be a bag of wine gums, a bag of salted peanuts and 6 mini Snickers bars.  As usual, wine gums to be consumed at quarter past and quarter to the hour on the race clock, peanuts at half past the hour and Snickers on the hour.

In my Runswick Bay drop bag, I had a fresh bottle of Lucozade Sport to top up my bottle with, a can of Red Bull to be drank at the CP, a protein gel to be taken at the CP, a bag of Hula Hoops to go in my back pocket in case I needed a change of flavour/texture, some Jaffa cakes for the same reason and more wine gums, nuts and Snickers.

My Ravenscar drop bag had Red Bull, protein gel, Pom Bear crisps, Fig Rolls, wine gums, nuts, a Chia Charge flapjack and Snickers for pretty much the same reasons.

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I laid my kit out ready for the next day and went to bed at 8pm, aiming to be awake for 3am so that I had time to eat breakfast, stretch, tape my feet and get my clothes on in good time to get to Filey early to ensure no car parking mishaps as per last year and to be ready for the bus when it arrived at 5:45am. I got to sleep fairly quickly but woke up naturally around 2am.  After trying to doze back off for nearly an hour my alarm clock went off and I got up, eat breakfast and began the process of getting ready.  The weather forecast all week had been favourable in my eyes, temperatures around 15 degrees, overcast and strong northerly winds.  The caravan had been battered by wind all night so I was optimistic that the forecast would be correct, however I’d fallen foul of bad forecasting in this race before, so had prepared for cold weather but given myself provision to strip layers off if the need arose.

I got into the car with the wind still howling and drove to Filey.  Normally when I arrive around 5:15am, I’m one of the first there, this year there were lots of people there ahead of me, showing just how much this race has grown in the three years I’ve participated. I was glad of anticipating some messing about at the car park.  Last year, the parking meter would not accept debit card payments, so this year I arrived with a bag of coins, which the machines would not accept.  Eventually one of the runners in front of me worked out that it was only accepting debit card payments so I duly returned to the car to fetch my card and paid for a ticket. Ticket paid for, I then caught up with a few runners I knew in the car park having brief chats with Ady Benn, Dave Cook and Dee Bouderba before boarding the bus. On the bus, I bumped into Paul Roach, who had generously provided me with some of his excess flapjack to compliment my breakfast of bananas and porridge. I was also now onto my second bottle of Lucozade Sport that morning, on top of a cup of coffee and several days of pre-hydrating, so the bus ride was spent mainly back and forth to the toilet much to the amusement of Kelly Brearley.

Once at the start line at Guisborough Sea Cadets, I passed quickly through kit check, picked up my race number and joined the huge queue for the gents alongside Gary Thwaites and Aaron Gourley which killed the 20 minute wait before the race brief nicely.

With the race brief done, we all headed outside and got ready to start.  I managed to get myself lined up alongside two (or is it three if you count a certain “inner” persona?) of the most talkative guys in the race John Freel and Dave Cook and without a whole lot of ceremony the race was off.

Start to Saltburn

As the race started and the huge mass of bodies headed up the road towards the woods, the first thing I noticed was that the wind had dropped, a lot and it was warmer than I’d initially thought it was going to be. I’d started the race with my armwarmers on but rolled down and decided that if it stayed warm, I’d take them off and back pocket them once on the coast, where it’s always cooler. As we arrived at the edge of the woods, the race slowed to walking pace as the increase in grade, combined with the bottleneck at the first stile took effect and it allowed a couple of minutes to make last minute adjustments to kit to make sure it was comfortable.  I had brought my MP3 player and headphones in case I ended up running alone for long periods and the wire was annoying me so I spent the time waiting to get to the stile tucking them away, where they stayed for the entirety of the race.

Once over the stile, I fell in behind Dave and John listening to their banter, trying but failing to think of a way to wind John up as we passed over a field and into the woods proper and onto the forest trails.  I was in a small group with Dave and John but thought the pace was a little fast for me and decided to drop back, conveniently this was just before the 900m climb to Highcliff Nab which rises around 160m from the bottom of the climb so I removed my poles from the pack as I slowed and had them ready as we hit the climb.  Normally, this climb is ankle deep in cloying, thick mud, but the recent dry weather had left it nice and firm which made for a fast ascent and started to string the field out nicely.

I finished the last half of the climb with Aaron Gourley who lives just up the road from me and chatted about the various challenges of work/ultra balance. Once up on top of the Nab, I found myself running alongside Brenda Wilkin, who I’ve run with a few times.  Brenda is often faster than me so was an ideal pacer to get me to Saltburn. We talked all the way to the Fox and Hounds at Slapewath and the first hour flew by really quickly. Sadly, climbing away from Slapewath, Brenda mentioned that she wasn’t feeling great and dropped off as I climbed up the steps and onto Airey Hill (I later learned that she’d pulled out at Boulby with a nasty aggravation of an old ankle injury).

Once up on Airey Hill I found myself intermittently running alongside a group containing April Corbett and Wendy Colling of the Quakers Running Club and being passed by several of the faster runners who’d started slowly and were gathering pace.  As we descended from the farmers field, a couple of mountain bikers went past and asked how far we were going, upon hearing the reply of 60 miles, one of them nearly fell off his bike and we had a chuckle at the “first one of the day”, one of those little things that amuses me (and hopefully others) are the reactions of people who find out rather unexpectedly what you are up to and this was a classic.

Coming down through Skelton I noticed that some of the runners passing me were sweating heavily and I noticed that my clothes were already damp, I made a mental note to keep on top of my drinking (I’d made a good dent in the soft flask of Lucozade and some of my water already), take a salt tablet every hour and also gave myself a good slosh across the arms, head and neck with water to cool off.  At this point, I felt that my cap was keeping my head too warm, so that went into my back pocket.

I arrived at the Saltburn checkpoint feeling good and strong, grabbed a quick refill of my water bottle courtesy of Ray Wheatley and was away from the checkpoint at 2h:01m.

Saltburn to Skinningrove

Passing through the Saltburn checkpoint quickly, I headed out

out into the Valley Gardens running alongside Gareth Barnett and told him I was looking to slow down a little as I was running ahead of pace and he concurred that he thought I was going faster than normal as he’d had to work hard to catch up coming through Saltburn Woods.  Gareth peeled off at the Cat Nab car park to get a change of shoes from his crew, while I got my poles out ready for the climb above the Ship Inn onto the clifftop.  I made my way up the steps slowly and walked up the cliff slope noting that there wasn’t much wind here and the sun was quite warm.  I yanked the armwarmers off, shoved them in my back pocket and continued to drink heavily from the soft flask.

I was overtaken by large groups of faster runners who’d spent longer than me at the checkpoint along this stretch, including Ady Benn who wished me well as he passed.

The path soon levelled out and I was running again, finding that I was close behind the group containing April Corbett and Wendy Colling and it wasn’t long before I’d arrived at the charm bracelet sculpture to note that most people were opting to take the low path round this little monument on the Cleveland Way.  I took the opportunity to climb up to it and touch the star charm for luck and clang the hammer against the side before running on.

Soon I could see Skinningrove in the distance and it wasn’t long before I was descending the steps to the beach and found myself back behind Ady Benn.  I took the chance to ask the stupid question of how his sandals dealt with the sand, and found out they simply shed the sand off once back on terra firma.

As we approached the jetty, Aaron Gourley and Jennifer O’Neil fell in behind us and did me the kind service of putting a children’s TV theme in my head (cheers guys).

I arrived at Skinningrove at 2h:50m tracking 5 minutes ahead of plan still, as I passed through the village, I got my poles out for the climb onto Hummersea cliff ahead and passed Dave and John again who had taken advantage of “local contacts” to have a mini checkpoint at a “local house”. As the road tilted up towards the cliff steps, I took a swig out of my bottle and looped my poles onto my wrists for the climb.

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Rob Hartley’s photo of me arriving in Skinningrove

Skinningrove to Staithes

As I climbed the steps onto the cliff, I was once again overtaken by the Wendy and April group and again jokingly warned of consequences should I misuse my poles near them.  They soon pulled ahead as I set a more leisurely pace uphill, saving my legs for more serious work later.

Further up the hill I spotted SportSunday photographer David Bradshaw and managed a smile as I passed trotting along with my poles, forewarned, I kept an eye out for SportSunday gaffer Laura Bradshaw who I’d promised a pose for a few days earlier.  As I was running uphill, the best I could manage was something basic, none of this jumping around that Mr Freel prefers.

Photos by SportSunday Photography

Soon the path turned past the farm on the hillside and tilted seriously uphill, I was suddenly aware that it was very warm and that the promised wind had not materialised. I was sweating heavily and made conscious efforts to drink regularly.  As I reached the top of the climb, I noted that both water and Lucozade levels were low.  I’d been taking salt tablets on the hour, every hour and as I cruised along the top of the cliff, I decided to pop an extra tablet to make sure I was on top of my electrolytes.

At this point, I noticed that my shoes were a bit loose and decided to tighten the laces before the descent into Staithes to avoid a stupid injury from a twisted ankle.  As I got going again, I was passed by Jeremy Sylvester and had a brief chat as I moved on.

Dropping down the front of the cliff quickly and efficiently I found myself running comfortably, so skipped a planned walk break across the field before Cowbar and kept going until I was onto Cowbar Lane.  It was great to be feeling really strong at this point, especially as this was where I began to feel really dire last year.  A female runner (Meltem Akarsu?) fell in line with me and we walked and talked together for a minute, before she was off and running again.

As I got running again, I went into my pocket to fish out some money, as I’d decided to nip into a pub to top up on fluids. I arrived in Staithes at 4h:04m, now 9 minutes ahead of plan, depite trying to slow down.

Staithes to Runswick Bay

As I passed the Royal George, I glanced through the window, saw that there was no queue at the bar and dived in through the door, ordering a bottle of Coke  to go into the now empty Lucozade bottle and asked the barmaid to top up my water. That done, I jogged out into the street with the coke bottle fizzing and popping into my face. I got my poles out for the steep climb back out of the village, conscious that I needed to have my wits about me because at the top of the climb, the route of the Cleveland Way had changed in the last week or so and we would be routed onto the new section.

The surface of the new section was a very nice mown grass path that gently undulated and I made decent time moving along it but I could see the sting in the tail ahead.  The original route out of Staithes has a very steep climb, coming at it from the new section, the path goes up the side of that climb and is slightly steeper and longer, the poles came out again and I did a very slow march up to the top being passed by groups of charity walkers coming down the opposite way, exchanging words of encouragement to each other as we passed.

Up on the top, the poles went away and I got into running mode, taking a swig of Coke and feeling the benefit of the ice cold sugar and caffeine hit almost immediately I took off aiming to run the whole section, barring the odd set of steps in the middle. I passed through Port Mulgrave quickly, this section seemed to be popular with walkers and it was good to have people to constantly speak to along the way, the time flew by quickly and before I knew it, I was turning the sharp right that led into Runswick Bay.  I looked at my watch and saw that I was still ahead of plan and had a real chance of hitting the checkpoint in under 5 hours.  I pushed harder along the path and turned onto the steep road down toward the checkpoint, which was in the bottom car park by the beach.

As I pushed on down the hill, I  felt a twinge of pain in my right knee, “bugger!” I thought knowing I was being silly running fast downhill. I slowed up and hoped the drop in pace would ease it off. I walked into the checkpoint at 4h:59m, a full 6 minutes ahead of plan.

As Paul Hamer topped up my water and Coke bottles, filled my soft flask back up with Lucozade and I emptied my pockets into the bin, Sadie Pattison told me that there was a message from Race Director, Jon Steele in my drop bag.  Immediately all kinds of things ran through my mind, had I done something wrong? Left something behind? Had Natalie been trying to get in touch? Then I read the words…..”Quit and you die!” I laughed out loud and told myself again, there would be no quitting from me today.

I was out of the checkpoint quickly, leaving at 5h:03m, overtaking a large number of runners who’d taken the opportunity to sit down, eat and drink while I’d simply downed my can of Red Bull, chased it with a cup of water, then taken a protein gel on board, chased it with a cup of Coke and loaded my pockets with more, wine gums, nuts, Snickers and some Hula Hoops then scarpered.

Runswick Bay to Saltwick Bay

I jogged onto the beach joining a group that included Jason Highland and Joe Williams before walking along the beach with them, getting my poles out for the steps that had pretty much done me in last year.

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Runswick Bay

As we left the beach, I soaked my buff through in the stream coming down from the cliffs, and put it on my head so that I would have cool water dripping down my body for the whole climb. Joe did the same with his cap and we headed on up the steps. It seemed to take no time at all to climb the steps (10m:10s actually) as I was chatting with the group as I climbed, pointing out the spots where I passed out last year.  As we reached the top of the climb, Ady joined the back of the group and he noted my poles and asked me to keep them away from him, relating his experience in the Alps earlier in the year when he’d had to grab a fellow competitors pole just inches from his face.

The group strung out again and I was soon on my own until I heard a familiar Scottish accent shouting “Jamesey boy!” in the distance behind me.  Dave and John must have also been enjoying a nice long break at Runswick Bay. They caught up with me just before Kettleness, as did Paul Roach and Jo Barrett and we chatted briefly before they jogged on ahead. Just after Kettleness, about 5h:45m in, my knee was still making noises at me and I decided to take some precautionary paracetamol.  I had just got moving again when I heard a Bob Marley tune playing behind me, I turned to see Gareth Barnett jogging towards me and he had a bit of Bob playing from a loudspeaker.

We ran on together for a bit, passing the charming little sign that points out the current distance between the two trailheads, before Gareth pushed on ahead.

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Sign showing distances to the trailheads

I reached the marathon point of Deepgrove Wyke at 6h:10m and as I slowly descended the steps I chatted with a guy, whose name I didn’t catch, who had been reading my blog from last year and as we reached the disused railway line I intended to use for one of my efforts, he wished me well. That thought in my mind, I pushed hard, the knee still reminding me of my mistake at Runswick, so much that I decided to adopt my now, usual positive thinking tactic, repeating aloud “I am running well, I am running pain free.” over and over.

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The old railway line into Sandsend

After 15 minutes or so, the pain started to subside and I was descending the steps to the car park in Sandsend where I spotted Paul Roach taking a breather talking to Jon O’Connell (who stopped me from taking a wrong turn at last year’s Goathland marathon),  I was disappointed to find out he had pulled out at Runswick Bay.  There were quite a few runners who’d met with crew at Sandsend and had stopped, I pushed on moving quickly onto the main road as planned.  I was soon overtaken by Dave, John and Jo who’d had another long stop and were off and running again. Jeremy, was close behind me and we kept overtaking each other back and forth as I ran intervals between groups of traffic cones and road signs, Dave, John and Jo stayed roughly the same distance ahead of me so i was confident I was holding a good pace.

I reached the turn for Whitby Golf Club at 6h:45m and headed down towards the sea front, joined again by Gareth. We made our way back up to the cliff top together before he pulled away.  I continued to trade places back and forth with Jeremy all the way to the Whale’s Jawbone, where I stopped at the Trillos ice cream van to buy, simply the best tasting orange ice lolly that I’ve ever had. I walked down the steps, through Khyber Pass and along the crowded quayside sucking the lolly, bringing my body temperature down very nicely and distracting myself from the crowds that prevented me from running.  Once across the swing bridge, I spotted another runner ahead, drinking a cup of tea or coffee.  I tried to keep sight of him through the crowded street while carefully getting my poles out without impaling a passer by. I caught him at the bottom of the 199 steps and used the poles all the way up to the Abbey having a chat along the way before he pulled ahead on the Cleveland Way track that leads to Saltwick Bay.  I kept the poles out, as I planned to use them all the way to Ravenscar from this point and jog/trotted along to the checkpoint, arriving at the checkpoint at 7h:33m now 3 minutes behind time but not bothered in the slightest.  I was feeling strong. I disappeared into the bushes to answer a call of nature while Shaun Burgess did the honours with refilling my bottles, again with water and Coke.  I also got my soft flask topped up with water, just in case I needed a bit extra.

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199 Steps, Whitby

I headed off again fast walking as planned.  As I passed the Whitby Foghorn, I heard Ady (who I’d again passed in the checkpoint) calling out to me as he’d found a piece of trekking pole on the trail and asked if it was mine.  A quick check revealed mine to be intact, so I thanked him and chatted, giving him a quick time and distance check before he climbed the next steep hill ahead of me. I was content to take this section nice and easy and strolled along at an average of 11m:49s/km.  I heard the familar voice of Dee Bouderba somewhere behind me, when I looked, she was in a group some 500m behind, but was caught by a bloke I often meet at this point in race (I think he’s called Gerard?) and he was telling me about how he now can’t pass Penshaw Monument without thinking about me doing hill reps up and down it after I told him about doing so the last time we met. We hopped over a couple of stiles together and he was off.

The path evened out for awhile so I decided to jog on slowly, passing a woman carrying a pair of trainers back along the trail , then I fell in with a group of hikers as the next climb started and I chatted with them about the race and how their day had gone, then as the path flattened out, I wished them an enjoyable rest of their walk before jogging on.

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Ravenscar in view across from Robin Hood’s Bay

I was caught by the group, containing Dee just before the Rocket Post field just outside of Robin Hood’s Bay and followed them into the checkpoint arriving at 9h:13m, now 13 minutes behind time, but at this point I didn’t even check time.  The checkpoint had music and Dire Straits were playing, so I sang to myself while I grabbed some food and topped up my water bottles.  They didn’t have Coke so I topped that bottle up with water and added some “Squirty Squash” I’d been keeping in my pack, just in case.  I also added a sachet of salt and two sachet of sugar to the mix. before jogging on singing Tunnel of Love, I stopped singing to nip to the gents on the way down the hill then got myself going on the way to Ravenscar.

Robin Hood’s Bay to Ravenscar

As I climbed the steps out of Robin Hood’s Bay, back onto the trail, I was caught by two ladies who’d been part of the group Dee was in, Elaine Wilde and Ingrid Hainey.

We chatted all the way to Boggle Hole, before they pulled away on the descent as I took it nice and easy down the steps.  I passed through Boggle Hole, pretty much at full high tide, on a full moon day and the power of the water in such an enclosed space was impressive and noisy.  I poled my way up the steps, back out of Boggle Hole efficiently and got jogging again once on the level path.  I was being tortured by flies at this point and it was still very warm so I soaked my buff with water and put it over my head in the hope that it would both keep the flies away and keep me cool.

Soon, the path dropped into the shade of the woods again, down the steps to Stoupe Beck, the change in temperature in the shade was noticeable.  When I was about halfway up the steps out of Stoupe Beck, I heard the familiar clack of tungsten on concrete behind me and looked around to see another runner closing behind.  We drew level at the top of the steps and we got chatting, I’d now met Paul Riddell, who it turned out lives just up the road from me in Hetton and knows a couple of my Coalfields clubmates.

As I continued to walk, Paul jogged on (having received fresh shoes recently from the lady I’d seen running back along the trail) and I tracked a couple of hundred metres behind him along the path that leads to Ravenscar.  You can see Ravenscar looming on the hill for miles and it’s easy to dwell on the fact that it never appears to get close until you are actually there.  I focused on the path a few metres ahead rather than looking at Ravenscar, I was starting to go through my checkpoint drill in my head.  I wanted a cup of tea, with lots of sugar in, I planned to drink it while I changed out of my now sweaty and soaking wet cycle jersey.  I didn’t think I needed my base layer as it was quite warm, although the forecast was for it to get quite cold.  I’d decided to keep the base layer handy in my pack and just be prepared to stop and put it on if needed.

The rest of it was all about switching the drop bag food in and the old food out.  The “Squirty Squash” was tasting vile to me, so I decided that would be the first to get binned, I wasn’t enjoying the taste of Snickers anymore, so I planned on taking only four of the six bars in my drop bag and to eat Pom Bears every half hour and on the hour instead.

I checked time as I climbed the long ascent into Ravenscar and I was on 10h:25m and was actually feeling quite strong.  I was still a bit behind time, but I was going to arrive a long time before my equivalent time from 2014 and had a hard running section planned ahead.

As I walked up through the village, I dumped the contents of my pockets into the bins by the side of the road and emptied out my bottles, planning to have them filled fresh at the checkpoint, an idea popped into my head about taking tea in my soft flask, I decided to give it a go with half tea and half cold water.

I arrived at the checkpoint on 10h:43m.  Tony McGonnell did the honours of filling my bottles up with water, Coke and tea (black, four sugars) respectively and made me a matching cuppa in a china cup.

I quickly stripped off, dried my top half and packed away my wet jersey and buff, swapping them for a clean, dry buff and my Coalfields cycling jacket.  My cap went on and the head torch went on my head ready for when it was dark. I took my protein gel, downed the can of Red Bull from my drop bag in one, packed my food into my pockets, dumping the excess Snickers onto the table for someone else to have and eating three or four pieces of melon at the same time.  Dave Toth made me some cold rice pudding, then mopped up the mess I made when I knocked my cup of tea over. Having caused chaos at the checkpoint, I followed Paul out of the door 14 minutes after I’d arrived, under my target time for being in and out of the checkpoint.

Ravenscar to Hayburn Wyke

A few metres down the road, Paul stopped to put his jacket on as he’d immediately felt the cold.  I felt chilly too, but decided to give running a go first.  I text an update to Natalie as I jogged and as a result was overtaken by Elaine and Ingrid.

Although the sun was setting, it was still light and I pushed the pace, giving myself the mental aim of getting to Hayburn Wyke before it got fully dark.  I overtook the ladies as the route re-joined the Cleveland Way as they were doing running repairs to feet. I put my head torch on early and ran on as much as the path allowed, which was quite a lot as it was mostly downhill.

The ladies overtook me again and pulled steadily away, before stopping at a junction, I shouted for them to carry straight on and battered on myself.  As the sun dipped below the western horizon, the tip of the moon rose over the sea in the east and for the next 20 minutes or so, I was treated to the glorious view of a full harvest moon rising.

I could still see the trees of Hayburn Wyke growing closer even after sunset and pushed harder, resolving to myself that from now, every step forward would make me stronger, ever climb I met would make me harder and repeated it in my brain.  Just before Hayburn Wyke, I pulled out my poles ready to take on the next section of the course that was riddled with climbs, steep steps and stone steps of a random nature.

I arrived at the top of Hayburn Wyke at 11h:52m, now tracking 17 minutes behind plan, which I decided I could live with.

Hayburn Wyke to Scalby Mills

I followed the ladies down the steps into the Wyke, catching glimpses of the rising moon on my left and enjoying the weird light it cast on the woods.  As we climbed out of the Wyke, I noticed a campfire and lamps hung from the trees on the right and thought whoever it was had picked an amazing place for a wild camp tonight.

Up and over the top of the Wyke, it was now full dark and I’d planned to take this section slowly, but decided that I now needed to make up some of the lost time. I knew, on fresh(ish) legs, I could do this section in around 1h:10m, I reckoned that I could maybe do it now in 1h:40m instead of 1h:50m and get to Scalby at about 14h:30 then make a really decent fist of the sea front to get back on track.

As the ladies pulled ahead, I tried to keep their head torches roughly a constant distance ahead, given that I knew they’d been moving faster than me. A couple of times they stopped to check directions and we had a chat before they pulled away again. I kept swigging at the tea in my back pocket which was still both beautifully warm and tasted amazing, with the added benefit of being in my back pocket and keeping my body warm too.

I was munching on my mixed bag of wine gums and fig rolls, often ending up with wine gums and fig rolls in my mouth at the same time.  This combo sounds vile, but works really well, the taste and texture was very different to the now sickly sweet stuff I’d been having and was quite nice. I was now running using my poles and feeling quite fast, however I was very aware that at night, you always feel faster than you actually are and with using the poles, it was difficult to keep checking pace on my watch.  Each time I reached a descent, I checked time and was happy I was eating into the deficit.

Each time I reached to the bottom of a set of steps or a climb, I was mentally saying “Bring it on!” I was now wholly bought into my mental game of getting stronger and stronger for each step forward and each metre climbed.

Just before Crookness, I overtook another runner, who told me he was thinking of giving up.  I told him that I’d given up not far from here a couple of years ago and it felt shit, told him to get to Scalby but not to make up his mind there, then get to Scarborough Spa but not to make his mind up there either.  I’m not sure what he did in the end.

When I reached the steps where I’d binned it in 2014, I found the ladies again trying to decide on the right path, I pointed them up the next steps and told them these were the last steps till Scarborough.

Having done the same thing as with Ravenscar and avoided looking at Scarborough for about 10km I could now see the lights of Scalby closer than Scarborough and hauled myself along towards them. I could now fully understand why purists think that using poles is cheating and some race organisers ban them.  I felt very fresh on my feet with no pain in the knees or thighs and only minimal pain in my ankles and feet.  The distribution of weight was spread more evenly and the additional weight in my shoulders and back, was now useful weight, providing the power to the poles rather than just being extra to carry.

As I approached the steps down to the Old Scalby Mills pub, I gave Natalie one final text update before I heard the dead battery warning sound on my phone. I’d got their at my new target time of 13h:30m and now needed to hammer the sea front.  The poles went away and it was time for some interval running.

Scalby Mills to Scarborough Spa

As I’d approached Scalby Mills, I’d noted that the entire sea front had street lights so my plan became, to run for 10 lit street lights and walk for 5 lit street lights, dead bulbs did not count.

During my first set of 10 I overtook one runner and could see another pair in front.  I slowly reeled them in to find that it contained Jason Highland.  I said hi before running off again. I then caught up with another as I passed the castle headland, and another shortly after that. I was mostly trying to run on the road, as the surface was more forgiving than the concrete paths, but there were a lot of boy racers charging up and down the sea front too.

The paths weren’t crowded, with just the odd small group of set of couples walking around and only one person acted like a twat.  It seemed like no time at all before I was past Valley Road and on the final run in to the Spa checkpoint.  I ran the entire length of the road, disregarding any street lamps and arrived on 14h:12m.  I was now back ahead of my original plan by 3 minutes!

Scarborough Spa to Finish

My bottles were topped up quickly by Wayne Armstrong and I was off again running along the last bit of promenade towards Holbeck Hill.  It was obvious that the high tide had been higher than usual as the path was covered in pebbles and sand. I was caught by Elaine and Ingrid halfway up Holbeck Hill, where I had the poles out again.  We were met by Phil Owen and another marshall, who’d kindly glo-sticked the route away from Scarborough and I tried to keep pace with the ladies, but by the time we passed Cornelian Bay I dropped back off.  Poles or no poles I was slowing up, despite feeling good.

I fast walked up the hill into Osgodby and got a jog back on down to the next turn down the steep steps into Cayton Bay.  I briefly rejoined the ladies before they pulled away again, as I reached a gate in the middle of Cayton Bay, I was overtaken by a group containing Paul Munster, who’d passed me back and forth several times all day, but I only recognised now because of the red light on the back of his pack, everything else being in total darkness.

I let the group through the gate ahead of me then followed on, taking the climb out of the bay slowly before letting the steep descent through the next field to the beach path pull me along in terms of speed. I took the next steps quickly again mentally gaining strength from them and feeling that Filey was growing ever closer.  I looked behind me and saw a couple of lights.  To keep me moving, I vowed that I wouldn’t let those lights catch me and pushed harder up the hill, chasing the lights in front of me. I was now on very familiar ground, having run this section several times over the summer, often, I’d see the group in front falter, perhaps checking maps or doubting directions while I simply piled on.  I knew where all the runnable flats and descents where and poled my way along them, I new where the tricky bits to take care were and slowed down.

I followed the group up the hill to the Flower of May caravan park, I saw the group stop ahead of me then move on again, at Blue Dolphin, I pushed harder knowing that Filey was about to come into sight on the right but even in the daytime, this section feels like a long drag,  even though it’s only 3km from Filey Brigg.  For about an hour there’d been patches of low lying fog and Filey was shrouded in it, giving the weird impression that there was sea to the right as well as the left until a patch cleared and you’d see an island of lights amongst the fog.

I slowed to a fast walk on the final uphill, knowing from my vaiours training runs in the area over the last 10 summers, that at the top of this final climb, there was a bush that signifies that it’s all downhill to Filey Brigg. As I reached the bush, I noted time at 16h:30m with about 3km to go.  In my head I wasn’t sure if 17 hours was still achievable but if someone had offered me 17h:10m or even 17h:59m at the start line I’d have taken it.

I drove on with the poles feeling like I was hurtling through the darkness, I passed the rocket post on my right knowing that I was almost at the Cleveland Way sign noting that Helmsley is only 109 miles away.  I saw the group up ahead and figured they’d stopped to take photos at the sign then saw they’d stopped again, presumably to do the same at the Filey trailhead marker.

I slung the poles away for the last time and ran off the Brigg, down the gentle grassed slope towards the last set of steps, seeing the set of head torches disappear down them in front of me.  As I reached the steps, I heard voices further down and took the steps two at a time.

I dropped onto the yacht club slipway an noted that the marshalls had glo-sticked the router back up the next set of steps that, according to the route description were optional.  I knew that if I went up this last set of steep steps, I’d have to descend another set of awkward, uneven steps at the other end.  I also knew that the tide was out and after many, many tests over the summer, knew the beach, followed by Coble Landing was the faster route.

I jogged along the beach, careful to dodge any rocks, headed up the Coble Landing slipway and hit tarmac, passed the amusement arcade and the lifeboat house.  I spotted and acknowledged the marshall on the corner then saw the blinking backpack light of Paul Munster running up the road, I followed suit, hearing the voices from the group just behind me as they exited the steps.

Adrenaline now had hold of me and I ran along the sea front and turned right, slowed for the ridiculously steep Cargate Hill before picking up pace again at the police station, gaining speed past all the closed shops, Filey Methodist Church firmly in sight. I stumbled through the door to applause and a finishing time of 16h:59m:58s.  Almost exactly on target.

I was met by Jon Steele and presented with my T-shirt and medal.  The next few minutes were a bit of a blur as my mind caught up with my body.  I was given pizza and a cup of tea.

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Race Director, Jon Steele showing how photogenic he can get at the finish

I took my shoes off and sat next to Dave Cook as I gathered my thoughts.  I’d finally cracked it.  Three years it had taken me to finish this race and the way I’d run it this year, I’d have not changed a bit. Nothing worthwhile is gained without effort and this journey has taught me so much about myself, as well as allowing me to meet a whole host of wonderful people along the way.  I’ve yet to meet an ultra runner who isn’t a nice person and everyone is always willing to help one another.

Jon and Shirley Steele have a very, very special race series here, being ultra runners themselves, they know what makes a good event and their ability to relate to people and look after them means that they always have a hardcore of volunteers, helpers and marshalls at events who are experienced runners. There is a real family atmosphere here and it’s addictive.  It’s quite normal for a back of the pack runner like me to finish a marathon or an ultra and the race winners will still be around applauding runners home.

At this point, I’d like to thank, everyone who has wished me well for this race, there are loads of you and I have taken all of your kind words and wishes on board as part of this race. I used them to fuel my energy.

I’d also like to thank those of you who’ve given me time and advice freely when I’ve asked and especially those who’ve come out with me on training runs, we’ve had some mental, crazy and funny times along the way.  Things that forge lifelong friendships, like being stuck in a dead car at 3am after spending 9 hours running through deep snow or sleeping in the back of a car in the middle of nowhere so your runner has a warm drink and something nice to eat when they arrive.

Most of all, I must thank my wife Natalie.  She has stuck by me through this obsession with completing this race.  Three years of me being out running instead of doing the various DIY jobs that need doing on the house or spending time with her and the kids.  At times, I’ve been quite selfish in trying to prepare for this race and she’s understood and let me get on with it, even when she’s found things difficult herself. Now she’ll be getting some well deserved payback.  She’s an absolute gem and I love her to bits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Lyke Wake Challenge has its origins in the Lyke Wake Race, which itself originates from the Lyke Wake Walk across the North Yorkshire Moors at their widest point from Osmotherley to Ravenscar. The history of which is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyke_Wake_Walk

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The Lyke Wake Route

The format of the Challenge is a handicapped staggered start based on estimated finish times provided by entrants based on previous Lyke Wake crossings or similar distanced races. I used a rough average of my paces from Hardmoors 55 and my Goathland Marathon races from 2015, mainly because Hardmoors 55 was my closest successful run of that sort of distance, covering some of the first half of the course and Goathland Marathon covered part of the second half. I gave my estimate at 11 hours and was appointed a start time of 5:20am.

There are prizes in the Challenge for fastest male and female crossings and the first male and female finishers to cross the line in Ravenscar.

Having raced and trained extensively on the stretch of the route between Osmotherley and Bloworth Crossing and led by Joe Williams, conducted a good recce of the second half of the route, I gave myself three aims.

  1. Finish inside of 11 hours.
  2. A stretch target of finishing in 10 hours.
  3. Since I was starting in the first 80 minutes of the appointed start times, a further stretch target of being in the first 10 finishers to reach Ravenscar.

The night before the race I slept in the car at Sheepwash, less than 100m from the start line at the Lyke Wake stone. A truly beautiful location, even if it was constantly busy from my arrival at 7pm all the way through the night with Lyke Wake walkers and other late night hikers.

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Sheepwash

After a restless nights sleep, my alarms went off at 3am and I began the process of getting a brew on and having a breakfast of porridge, cornflake tart made by Natalie (and had proved to be like rocket fuel on long training runs and rides) and strong coffee.

I went through my usual routine of packing food, drink and putting my kit on, for the first time in an ultra, I’d dispensed with the trisuit and went with standard shorts and compression shorts with my cycling jersey in anticipation of hot weather.  The temperatures in the previous days had been 18-22 degrees and even though rain was forecast (and arrived on cue just after 3am), I still expected it to be warm.

At 4am I had a wander to the start line to find race directors Anthony Corbett, Roy MacDougall and their team setting their tent up. Having said hi and disposed of my previous night’s rubbish, I retreated back to the car for a drink of Lucozade Sport and to put my trail shoes on. I returned to the start to watch the first runners away at 4:20am and get signed on. The rain stopped and the flying, biting insects appeared so I scrounged some repellant from Anthony in the hope of avoiding being bitten.

I hung around and watched Michelle Boshier and Emily Beaumont set off at 5am as the anticipation and nerves built up ahead of my own start. I returned to the car and made sure it was properly locked before returning to the start to toe the line with fellow 5:20am runners Lorna Simpkin and Russ Kelly.

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The Lyke Wake post at Sheepwash

We set off under the overcast skies running steady and chatting away. I was pleased to note that on the first small climb towards Scarth Nick, the legs felt wide awake and strong. I ran along chatting with Lorna and Russ until I slowly began to pull away from them just before the steep steps in the woods on the Cleveland Way.  At this point I was running off feel and felt comfortable, so wasn’t worried about running faster than the other two and just went with the flow, put my earphones in to listen to some music and cracked on.  However, at just over 4km into the run, with around half an hour gone, my right heel started giving the ominous first signs of a blister. I was pretty pissed off with this because I’d used Asda blister plasters to pre-treat my heels and protect them from this and stubbornness made me persevere up the steep steps onto Live Moor and onwards towards Carlton Bank before I accepted that the pain was getting worse and if I I didn’t deal with the blister it was going to cause me major issues up the road.

I pulled off my pack to find a plaster while walking an uphill section, noting that I could see Michelle and Emily cresting the top of Carlton Bank at the Trig point about 500m in front of me and could see Lorna and Russ equidistant behind me. The plaster I pulled out was a 6 inch long strip of old fashioned über sticky fabric plaster that usually requires extra sharp scissors to cut. I decided that this stuff would probably last the day and ran along rubbing it between my hands to warm the sticky stuff up, intending to deal with the blisters at the checkpoint on Raisdale Road, however the pain was so bad that I stopped at the Trig point and stripped off my shoe, gaiter, calf guard and sock and dealt with an already awful blister with the huge overkill strip of plaster.

I’d just got my footwear back on when I was caught by Lorna and Russ and we headed down the steep steps, I immediately felt a lot more comfortable and descended quickly jogging into the first checkpoint at 6:37am (1h:17m) almost bang on my planned pace. I stopped to re-tie my left shoe and was quickly away through Lord Stones country park passing Michelle and Emily then a group of early morning walkers.

Rather than go over the brutal steep climbs of the tops of Cringle Moor, Cold Moor and Hasty Bank, which were all shrouded in mist, I opted, like many others to take the low path around the Three Sisters which was often muddy, but not as hard on the legs. I think it was a good choice as the trees protected me from the breeze that was picking up and the path was a lot dryer than in usually was, even so I had gone ankle deep in mud several times before arriving at the Clay Bank checkpoint at 7:22am (2h:02m), again pacing almost exactly on plan. I stopped to get my number clipped, grab a jaffa cake and smiled at the photographer before heading over the road and up the really steep climb towards the highest point of the moors, Urra Moor.

The climb was fairly relentless but I cracked on at a constant pace, occasionally thinking that I could just make out a dayglow rain jacket ahead in the distance, but the mist was closing in and made it hard to tell.  Looking back a km or so down the hill, I couldn’t see anyone behind me and thought that those following must have taken the higher path, which I knew could add up to 20 minutes onto your time.

I was soon past the Trig point to the left of the path at Round Hill and began to pick up pace running on the wide sandy track towards Bloworth Crossing, already ticking off 17.5km in 2h:35m and starting to realise that my legs were in the mood to really play ball.

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The Trig at Round Hill in much clearer weather

I made it to Bloworth Crossing and checked time at 2h:50m.  As I guzzled the last of the Lucozade in the soft flask in my back pocket, I could see that the old Farndale Railway track ahead was covered by thick fog and there would be little to look at to keep my mind occupied, having recce’d this section in thick fog, I knew that would make it mentally tough and difficult to gauge progress. Since I was starting on an even 10 mins, I decided to run some intervals to keep my mind occupied. I settled into a pattern of 5 minutes running and 1 minute walking. After 3 intervals I had a 2 minute walk break and had some food before cracking on again.  Just ahead I could make 2 human shapes in the distance and slowly began to reel them in while maintaining my pattern.

I passed them both at the end of a run interval and found they jogged past me again while I was walking.  I got going again and passed and found that one of the pair had followed and jogged on with me.  We chatted a few minutes going through a run and walk interval together, then he dropped away during my next run. During my next walk interval, I realised that I wasn’t far from the Blakey Ridge turn and decided to see if I could run all the way there. I was about halfway through this longer 1.3km interval when I saw another runner ahead.  He looked over his shoulder then picked up pace. I decided I wasn’t that bothered about chasing anyone down and in any event he had probably started around an hour before me, so based on the ground I’d made already, I’d eventually catch him at some point. As the route turned left off the old railway track and up the hill towards the Lion Inn I was only a few metres behind and I thought I heard him say something.  I pulled out my earphone and he told me that if I passed him, I would be in the lead.  I followed him up the hill to the next checkpoint, where we arrived together at 9:08am (3h:48m).

Since I was now out of both Lucozade and water, I got my soft flask and 1 UD water bottle filled with water and the other filled with cola while I wolfed down some very welcome rice pudding. I jogged out of the checkpoint now in the lead and I was shouted back by Phil Rutter to take a photograph before I headed away along the fogbound road.

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Lion Inn Checkpoint at Blakey Ridge

As I jogged along the road, passing groups of walkers, I began to consider the fact that I was now leading the race. I’d previously not been bothered about race position beyond thinking that it would be nice to be in the first 10 finishers, but now out in front, I wondered whether I should try and stay there or accept the inevitable fact that the faster runners behind me were going to eventually chase me down.

As I cut across Rosedale Head and came back to the road by Fat Betty, I couldn’t make out anyone behind me in the fog and thought to myself, “It’s only another 22 miles, not that far really.  If I really, really try I could push myself into a good position and maybe they won’t catch me.”

Having never, ever led a race before I started to think what the best way to go about defending a lead was. At this point my mind was kind of hoping for some wise advice, but instead of an Obi Wan Kenobi-like voice in my head, a voice from my youth appeared in the form of Alex Stone offering the simple directive, “Simple Jim, just run like stink!”.  In the absence of anything better, that’s what I did. I lifted up my head and picked up the pace along the road before turning hard left into what is commonly known as “the boggy bit” of the course.

The boggy bit starts with a single track, then widens and the ground starts to feel nice and bouncy underfoot as you head into the peat, soon , you start to hear the squelching underfoot, then the slurping as you sink in a bit.  On the recce, with Joe Williams, he pointed out the line of white topped standing stones that marked the route through the marsh and it’s waist high grass.  In the fog, these weren’t visible and there hadn’t been a lot of walker through ahead of me to beat down the long grass into a visible path.

I decided to simply plough on straight ahead and hope for the best, mostly this worked and I only had to divert a couple of times when I came to patches of obviously deep standing water.  The only way the next few miles could have been more of a Quagmire was if it was uttering “Giggidy Giggidy” as I passed. The mud varied from ankle deep to knee deep from metre to metre, but I just pushed on.

I soon arrived at the Hamer checkpoint, bang on 10:35am (5h:15m) and was directed into the tent by Anthony Corbett (who I saw at every CP apart from Jugger Howe) for a random kit check while I got my cola bottle refilled. I was soon back on my way, heading along another section of bog and rocky trail towards Blue Man I’ Th’ Moss, an ancient standing stone. It has now started to rain quite heavily and water was running freely along the path soaking the peat as I scrambled across ditch after ditch on the way to the ancient stone.  At one point I was stood on a ledge that just gave way below me leaving my right foot up high and the left side of my body dropping down half a metre, jarring my ankle. As I got going over the next summit, the soreness of the ankle prompted me to pop a couple of paracetamol.

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Blue Man I’ Th’ Moss

I was now heading downhill past woodland towards Wheeldale and the path was now a series of slippy rocks surrounded by puddles.  Given that my feet were soaked, I wasn’t bothered where they landed as long as the ground was stable and I picked up pace again. As I moved on, I dropped below the fog layer and the sun came out.  For the first time all day, I had clear line of sight for over a mile behind me and I couldn’t see anyone following me. Encouraged by this, I picked up pace again and pushed hard into the Stape checkpoimt arriving 11:36am (6h:16m) and was quickly through and bounding down the almost vertical descent to Wheeldale Beck. As I reached the bottom, I took advantage of the long grass to relieve myself, which in turn indicated to me that I wasn’t drinking enough.  I had a full soft flask of water in my back pocket and half a bottle of coke up front left, plus another half bottle of water which I’d mainly been using to squirt over myself to keep cool.  I dipped my cap and buff in the beck and gave my body a rub over with the water before heading up the steep hill toward Simon Howe.  Looking back up to the checkpoint, I still couldn’t see anyone following me, but my legs were feeling good and I didn’t fancy leaving much to chance so I headed up the hill running intervals to my music, running for one song, resting for another until I hit the top of the hill.

On the way down, I finished the cola and topped the UD bottle up with the water from the soft flask and decided to add some Etixx energy drink powder to the bottle. It tasted like liquid sherbet but was definitely giving me a bit of a kick as I thundered my way down the long downhill stretch into Ellerbeck, where the best checkpoint ever awaited (arrival at 12:35pm, 7h:15m). On the table was a wide range of food, but I only had eyes for two items, freshly cooked sausgage and huge chunks of watermelon. I scoffed a sausage, topped my water bottle up and took a chunk of watermelon to eat as I ran towards what I reckoned to be the hardest section of the day, the boggy, 4km climb from the A169 to the Cross at Lilla Howe. Having jumped across Eller Beck, I decided on more paracetamol to get me through the final stretch and found that I’d dropped my stash somewhere. I decided that I wasn’t bothered and cracked on.

It was simply impossible to do anything ather than fast walk the marshy section of the climb, but I knew there was a section of MOD road coming up and forced myself to run that entire stretch when I hit it.  I stopped at the top of Lilla Howe and looked back 4km along the trail to the last checkpoint and still couldn’t see anyone following. I now only had 10km to go and had at least a 4km lead.  I’d already mentioned to Anthony at Ellerbeck that I felt like one of those unknown riders who somehow gets away up the road on a Tour de France stage and was wondering whether the big hitters would even know I was out there or be able to catch me if they did. I made up my mind that if I got to Jugger Howe without being caught, I’d run all the way to the finish.

I made use of the descent away from Lilla Howe picking up pace again but as the path became more rocky I turned the ankle I’d already knocked again and eased right off and had a couple of minutes walk break to stretch the ankle out gently.  I realised the sun was quite warm and tipped a good load of water over my body again and as I turned round to look back along the trail before running again, I saw a red T-shirt on the horizon.

I looked at my watch, I’d done 56km, I was 8km from Ravenscar, swore loudly and took off like a scalded cat. I was amazed that I’d gone from not being too bothered about going for first place at Blakey, to now being so bloody minded that I was prepared to blow my legs just to make this guy work hard to catch me.  I blasted along at 5m:20s/km for a bit, occasionally looking back and seeing him gaining fast.  After about a km I was knackered and slowed up and I was caught, the runner coming past, Paul Havis, was going at around 5m/km as he passed, we exchanged words and he was gone, quickly descending the steps into the Jugger Howe ravine.  I was halfway down when he was cresting the steps at the other side. Now paranoid that I’d be caught by a series of runners, I pushed hard up the other side of the ravine and up the long uphill drag to the next checkpoint to find that Paul had already made 7 minutes on me as I arrived at 2:04pm (8h:44m).

I had a seemingly endless wait to cross the main Whitby Road and as soon as I was across I pushed on as hard as my legs would allow. At the start of the day, I’d have been over the moon with a 10 hour finish, but now I had the realistic chance of finishing before 3pm, somewhere close to 9 hours and as second finisher if I could just make sure that nobody else caught me. The drag to the radio mast at Ravenscar seemed to take forever, but I knew, that once I was past it, it was all downhill. I crossed the road past the mast and cut along the path behind it to the steep downhill footpath across the field, bouncing along, battering the blisters on my toes and not caring.  I was soon on the road and pushing out 6m/km, increasing to 5m:30s/km as I turned the corner down the final stretch to Raven Hall, pushing faster to 5m/km as I got closer to the gate and turned into the finishing funnel at a furious sprint finish to cross the line at 2:40pm clocking 9h:20m for a run of 64.4km containing 1,429m of ascent and some of the most difficult terrain I’ve run on.

I was met at the end (as was every runner) by Anthony Corbett whose team from Quakers Running Club had put on an astonishingly well organised event.

I laid at the finish line until 5pm watching runners come home to a fantastic atmosphere.

The eventual prize winners of the day were:

First Male Home: Paul Havis at 2:27pm

First Female Home: Vicky Howe at 3:41pm

Fastest Male: Ben Hamilton in 6h:06m

Fastest Female: Shelli Gordon in 6h:58m

These were superb performances on a very tough course in warm, humid conditions. Everyone who ran that course deserves massive respect, a friend of mine told me beforehand that the route was “A trial by combat” and he was not wrong.

Personally, I’m over the moon with my own performance.  Some of it is down to the rewards of losing over a stone in weight and getting a lot more time on my feet in over the last month or so, but a lot of it was down to forcing myself to push harder instead of plodding, just aiming to finish the course in what I thought I could finish it in. In pushing hard, I’ve learned that I can go faster, for longer without burning out and even if I want to can force a really hard pace after hours on the road, as my burst to try and avoid being caught and my sprint finish proved. As the old saying goes, ultrarunning is 90% mental and 10% MENTAL.