2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Cleveland Way and the 10th anniversary of the Hardmoors 55 race. As part of a joint celebration, Race Director Jon Steele made some changes to the usual route and promised a slightly shorter course but with more ascent. The race was deceptively re-badged as Hardmoors 50.

These changes were:

  • The race would be run North to South from Guisborough to Helmsley (the same as my first 55 in 2015).

  • Instead of going along the railway line from Belmangate to Spa Woods and joining the Cleveland Way there, following the Hardmoors 60 route up to Highcliffe Nab via the Teeslink, which is a much steeper, muddier and direct climb.

  • A double summit of Roseberry Topping, including descending Little Roseberry via the singletrack route rather than the Cleveland Way route and going straight over the summit of Roseberry down to the gate at the top of Roseberry Lane before re-tracing your steps to the summit and re-joining the traditional 55 route.

I first recce’d the new section from the start to Captain Cooks in September at night, then again in January, with an out and back to Kildale from Newton-under-Roseberry.

In addition I did an out and back recce from Clay Bank to Kildale in storm force winds and an out and back from Clay Bank to Scugdale at night.

Most of my other training consisted of shorter local runs, but I tried to make use of local terrain to insert more elevation gain into my prep than usual. Going into the week of the race, I felt distinctly under-trained, but I was buoyed by confidence following my Hardwolds 80 finish in November.

As well as the route changes, there were a couple of changes to the race logistics. Instead of getting a bus from the finish to the start on Saturday morning, buses would now ferry people back to the start from Helmsley after the race at various intervals. There was also the opportunity to register and kit check on Friday night before the race, saving time on Saturday morning.

Craig and Emma Davie kindly offered to put me up on the Friday and Saturday night, which meant I had comfortable accommodation just 10 minutes’ drive from the start and didn’t have the uncertainty of having to find a camping spot.

I arrived at Craig and Emma’s about half five on Friday night and was greeted by Craig sporting a distinctly European hairstyle.

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Emma prepared a cracking meal while Craig put the last bits of his kit together.

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After tea, Shaun Burgess arrived and Craig, Shaun and I headed down to the start to get registered, kit checked and pick up our trackers. The process of registering was quickly completed and we spent some time chatting and catching up with other runners, the main topic of discussion was the weather forecast (strong winds and heavy rain, of which there currently wasn’t any sign), before heading back home.

I sorted out my kit ready for the morning and taped my feet before bed.

 

As I was just getting my head down, I received this message from Craig.

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Chuckling to myself I fell quickly asleep and woke before my alarm just before 5am. I looked out of the bedroom window and didn’t see any sign of the cat, but did see a lot of rain falling from the sky.

I went downstairs and made myself a cuppa and a pot of porridge for breakfast, at this point the cat made his appearance (after avoiding me most of the previous night) and tapped at the back door demanding to be let out into the rain, so I let him out and at the same time stuck my head out to get a feel for how heavy it was. Based on this fairly arbitrary test, I decided to wear my waterproof socks during the race. I was fairly certain that my feet would be equally wet with or without them but I decided that I preferred warm sweat to cold rainwater.

After breakfast, I headed back upstairs to sort my kit out and start getting ready as the rest of the house began to wake up. While chatting with Craig, I decided that I would start the race in my waterproof jacket, but leave the bottoms in my pack as an emergency item in case I had to stop and keep warm.

I initially wore:

  • Compression shorts

  • Compression socks

  • Calf guards

  • Waterproof socks

  • Leggings

  • Base layer

  • Windproof fleece jacket

  • Buff as gaiter between neck and base layer

  • Buff as gaiter between jacket and neck

  • Spare Buff on wrist

  • Merino wool balaclava

  • Lycra skullcap

  • Cycling cap

  • Full finger cycling gloves

  • Waterproof gloves

  • Waterproof jacket

I had two further pairs of gloves and a buff bagged up in my pockets.

For food I was starting with 1 sachet of Ella’s Kitchen baby food, 4 Chia Charge bars one bottle filled with plain water and another bottle filled with Vimto flavoured water with 2 High 5 tablets in.

In my first drop bag (Kildale), I had a further 3 sachets of baby food, 2 Chia Charge bars, 2 protein gels and a spare bottle of Vimto flavoured water with 2 High 5 tablets pre-dissolved to save messing about at the checkpoint.

In my second drop bag (Osmotherley), I had 2 sachets of baby food, 4 Chia Charge bars and a protein gel.

Once at the Sea Cadets hall, we handed our drop bags in and stood around chatting, it was very crowded in the hall (literally like sardines) and I decided to move outside. I got chatting to Dave Cook who had not only lost Dee Bouderba in the crowd, but had lost his tooth (by virtue of a collision with a mobile phone) on the way to the race. We tried to go back into the hall but found it nearly impossible so remained in the car park with at least 100 others.

Soon Jon Steele emerged from the Sea Cadets and made his way to the start line and as the crowd followed him, Dave and I kept an eye out for Dee. Having found Dee, we edged toward the back of the crowd just as the race started.

Moving up Belmangate, I quickly realised that there was going to be a massive bottleneck at the first stile, just before the start of Guisborough Woods. There were several hundred runners going to be moving over a stile one at a time and I decided that running here was just going to mean a lot of time standing about at the stile, so I slowed to a walk/trot beside Kristy Wise, chatted briefly, then allowed the crowd to carry me slowly forward up the path until we came to complete standstill for several minutes.

Eventually I was at the front of the queue for the stile and checked my watch to find that just getting to this point had taken 15 minutes, which was a lot slower than usual. There was another bottleneck at the next stile about 400m along the route and by the next stile, things had thinned out enough to pass straight over without a wait.

Entering the woods, the ground underfoot was firm with a thin layer of slick mud on top and sheltered from the wind, I found myself having to roll up my balaclava and open my jackets to cool off a little.

I hit the forestry trail and began to pick up the pace, but the legs didn’t seem to want to go so I let them be for now. My aim was to keep my lap (1km) average heart rate below 144BPM until after Captain Cooks, so this was fine by me, as long as a conservative effort now, allowed me to push harder later on.

I was passed by Marc Short who I ran a large section of last year’s race with and we wished each other luck and I got on with finding a rhythm, eating and drinking as I went. At the bottom of the first climb, the Teeslink path up to Highcliff Nab, I thanked the marshalls and eyes up the steep mudfest ahead.

I had chosen to run without poles, but this was the only climb I actually thought I might need them for. I tried to walk at an efficient pace up the climb and found myself wishing I had the poles. I was then passed by Andrew (Fizz) Marshall who was using a piece of branch he’d picked up as a pole and I immediately started scanning the ground by the trail for one that I could use. After a short distance I had found a serviceable bit of wood and started using it to pole my way up the climb. The downside to doing so, is that the branch I’d chosen had been laid in thick mud and my gloves and anything they touched afterwards also got muddy.

Getting to the top of the first section of the climb proved to be a bit of a grind and it felt like it had taken forever. Crossing the forest track onto the second steeper, stepped section, I noticed that it had started raining heavier again before gaining the benefit of shelter from the trees again.

Toward the top of the climb, I dumped my makeshift pole and scrambled the last few metres through the heather, pulling myself up onto the open ground beneath the summit of Highcliff Nab (which we wouldn’t be visiting). The wind up there was strong and whipping the rain into my face, so I pulled the balaclava back down and walked a 100m or so to get my breath back, checked time at 45m:16s then got a jog on.

As I turned through the moors gate onto the paved section of the Cleveland Way which leads to Black Nab, I realised that the theme of the day was going to be a strong headwind driving rain into my face. I tried to up the pace to make up some of the lost time and yet again, the legs were unwilling, so I again backed off and moved on at a pace that felt comfortable.

Because of the conditions, the slabs were slippy and there were often large puddles and small streams of water that made a jump or a quick dodge necessary. This made progress feel slower, but it seemed to be the same for everyone. Usually when the race was quite bunched up in these early stages, you’d be able to pass the time by talking to other runners, but the wind was strong enough to snatch any conversation away and the driving rain meant everyone had their head down pushing on.

I hit the Hutton Moor gate at 01h:03m and stuffed a Chia Charge bar into my mouth. The fine motor work involved in doing so made me realise that the fingertips inside my waterproof gloves were slightly wet, this wasn’t a good sign.

I tried to run 30/30 intervals (run to a count of 30, walk to a count of 30) up the path to the next gate, but even this felt a bit of a chore and the extra effort had kept my heart rate well above my target average of 144bpm, meaning my watch was beeping at me to calm down a bit.

At the gate by the top of Little Roseberry, I sheltered behind the wall to relieve myself (which I saw as a sign that I was at least properly on top of my hydration). I pass through the gate and struggled to get my waterproof gloves back on in the wind and was still pissing about with them as I passed the brave marshalls at the top of Little Roseberry. I tried to wave a hello to Karen Dove then ploughed down the descent. At last my legs began to do as they were asked and I skipped down the singletrack to the foot of Roseberry without incident.

The climb up to the summit felt tougher than usual, I could feel that my waterproof gloves were now very squishy with water that had got into them and my legs were again complaining. I was employing a tactic of taking very small steps to minimise the effort of climbing and at the summit as I passed the marshall at the trig point, I checked my watch and clocked that it had taken me 9 minutes to complete the climb, something which I usually managed in 6 or 7 minutes.

I had hoped to fly down the descent to Roseberry Lane, but the path was packed with runners either descending cautiously or on their return ascent. I decided to cut off to the side of the path and let fly. I skipped forward and had gone three or four steps when I slipped and landed heavily on my back and hip. I heard someone behind me say “I felt that!” and I also heard a crack. I got up and wiped off the excess mud while moving forward more conservatively. I felts relatively uninjured but I had a nasty feeling that the crack had come from my mobile phone or my head torch (I was hoping the former rather than the latter).

I had just got back up to a bit of a downhill trot and was making progress along the outside of the crowd when a blur passed me to the right. Adrian Martin was engaged in the tactic that I had unsuccessfully attempted. I’d only just had time to register who it was when he tripped, did several forward rolls and somehow returned to his feet without loss of speed.

Further down the descent as the path widened, I was frustrated by the sketchy surface on anything but the central (most congested) part of the path, managing to save myself from falling several times before I reached the gate that led to the stepped section.

This section was an orderly procession of runners walking down to the steep wooden steps in the trees and although slow, it was again good to be in the shelter out of the wind and rain. Going down the wooden steps, I spotted Adrian coming back up, seemingly unharmed from his fall. I exercised caution and reached the checkpoint at the gate at 01h:39m before turning round and heading back up again.

The climb back up was less eventful than the descent and was an exercise in just getting my head down and cracking on. It was re-assuring to see that there was still a steady stream of runners still making their way down, meaning that I wasn’t too close to the back of the field. I hit the summit at 01h:56m, making the second climb another slow one of 17 mins. I walked across the summit more to keep my balance in the wind rather than to catch my breath, then started descending, trying to pick up speed where possible. Again, the legs started to feel willing, so I pushed harder and had almost made it to the bottom when I slipped and slid down a small stretch. I picked myself up and wiped more mud off my hands and legs as I moved forward. My thigh felt a little sore, but otherwise I was OK.

Climbing up Little Roseberry, I noticed my right foot was squelching in a similar way to that of my waterproof gloves and I realised that the waterproof sock on my right foot had somehow got waterlogged. I guessed this had happened during my last fall as I’d possibly slid through a puddle. I spent most of the climb deciding whether it was worth the effort of taking my shoe off and emptying the sock, at the top I decided that it was probably easier to push on and do it at Kildale if I needed to.

I managed to get a decent jog on along the path toward Gribdale Gate, which is one of my favourite stretches in this area to run on. There was some shelter from the wind due to the wall beside the path, but there was a lot of zig-zagging around deep puddles to do. I was caught by Harriet Shields and we chatted briefly. I was glad to see her as in my mind it meant that although I’d felt as though I was moving slowly, so were other experienced runners. Harriet told me that she and Karl and done the maths in relation to the stile bottleneck the night before and taken a conservative approach to the first section. Harriet’s thinking was similar to mine in that we’d both recognised that the section after Osmotherley offered a good opportunity to get some running done if the legs could be protected up to then.

After a bit, Harriet pulled away and I was left to my own thoughts about my squelching foot and growing soreness in my thigh. Soon I reached the top of the descent to Gribdale Gate and spotted a golden 1,000 mile club member number ahead. I descended quickly and caught Pam Costello at the bottom. As we crossed the road and started the climb up to Captain Cooks, Pam reminded me that the last time she’d seen me on that path, was during my tantrum during the 110 last May. At this point, it served as a stern reminder about managing my mental state and I realised I’d been letting negativity dominate my thoughts. I gave myself a bit of a mental slapping and resolved to start enjoying myself and the challenge against the elements.

As we emerged from the treeline, we were again assaulted by wind and rain and the balaclava came back down over my face but as I ran around the monument at 02h:37m, I allowed myself an internal smile because the wind was now at my back. Once into the treeline, the balaclava went back up, I had the last of my baby food and a good swig of drink and pushed on down the descent running past Andy Pickering and a couple of other runners on the way.

Once through Pale End Plantation and onto the road, I managed to get a good stint of running done and resolved to run all the way to the final cattle grid at the bottom. I pushed on through and stopped for a walk at the railway bridge noting that my thigh seemed to have improved. As I walked into the village, I spotted Ann Brown, who snapped a picture of me looking surprisingly happy.

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As I approached the checkpoint, I ran through what I wanted to do in my mind to avoid spending too much time there. I was going to pick my drop bag up, take off and wring out my waterproof gloves, bag them up and put them in my pocket and put a spare pair of gloves over the top of my base layer gloves (the full finger cycling gloves). I arrived at the checkpoint at 03h:01m, which I felt meant I’d got myself back on track in terms of pacing. I was in and out of the checkpoint in 6 minutes having done what I needed to do and said a quick hi to Dave and Dee while getting sorted.

I jogged up the road out of the village and again pulled my balaclava down and buffs over my face to protect against the stinging headwind and rain. I realised that if it was this bad in the village, it would be a whole lot worse another 200m up on the moors where we were headed. As the road turned left onto the foot of Battersby Bank, I managed to have a short chat with a lady running her first ultra, but once the road turned right and we lost the shelter of the hedgerow, all words were lost to the howling wind and rain. As the road climbs, it winds left and I was looking forward to the eventual tailwind, hoping to get a help up the hill from the wind as well as some respite from the soaking wind-driven rain. When the tailwind came, it didn’t feel anywhere near as much of a help as it had been a hindrance during the climb, but still I managed to get a little bit of a jog on during some of the less steep parts of the climb.

I’d recced this section in similar strong winds, from a similar wind direction (albeit without the heavy rain) and I felt fairly confident that I knew where I could push hard and where I’d need to rest. This seemed to be giving me an advantage over the group in front as I was closing in on them steadily.

As the road twisted right I had a gulp of baby food and chased it with some water, then started my pattern of 30/30 running that I’d planned to maintain most of the way to Bloworth Crossing. This was essentially running for a count of 30 in my head, then walking for the same count. As well as ensuring that I maintained a ratio of at least 50% running, it gave my mind something to focus on other than the weather. As the trail left the tarmac road and entered the moor, I started to catch the stragglers in the group I’d seen ahead, but again conversation was impossible. In fact, for some people, standing upright was proving tricky, with people often being caught off guard by a strong gust of wind and being pushed off balance.

On the downhill stretch away from the road, I ran to a count of 120 to maintain the momentum of the downhill. As well as contending with the wind, the surface was slippery in places with some deep puddles, so there was some hopping about to avoid these deep patches that could again waterlog my socks.

At the bottom of the downhill stretch, there’s a climb of 70-80m towards the slight plateau before Tidy Brown Hill. Most people were walking this, but in my recce, I’d tried reducing the 30/30 intervals to 15/15 and this had worked well, so I did this here. In doing so, I got myself into the middle of the group I’d been chasing by the top of the climb, but again conversation was not possible. The wind was now accompanied by stinging bullets of hail as with tried to run along the plateau.

Ahead, I could see a patch of low cloud being blown into the side of the moor and pushed up the side and across the path right to left. This served as a good visible indicator of wind strength, especially as I could see runners ahead being pushed to the left as they hit this section. As well as dodgy side to side to avoid puddles and slippery patches, runners were now seeking any shelter they could from the wind and had almost naturally formed echelons like cyclists to shelter each other as they tried to make progress across the moor. I dropped back from the group as I began to find it hard to keep my work rate up.

I walked up the next steep section which winds slightly left and hoped that the slight changed in direction would put the wind more to me back then the disruptive crosswind I was contending with at present, but it didn’t.

I passed the Ingleby Coal Road at 04h:25m, which was 01h:17m after leaving Kildale. During my recce, I’d managed to run Kildale to Bloworth in 01h:17m (having the same distance in my legs then as I had now) so I was disappointed that I was still 2km from Bloworth Crossing. I pushed on hard, increasing the intervals to 45/30 then to 60/30 and began to make ground on the group in front again.

Eventually I passed the top of Ingleby Incline at 04h:33m which marked the start of the final downhill km to Bloworth and I ran the whole way, at a disappointingly slow pace, but still a full km of running.

I eat and drank again as I reached Bloworth (04h:41m) and turned the corner and was hit directly head on by the wind. Running was simply not possible for more than a few seconds at a time. This was a case of grinding it out. I was overtaken by Dave and Dee, two of the most talkative people I know and we were barely able to exchange a couple of words.

There was brief respite from the wind as the path dipped down through the section that cuts a corner of the trail across a beck, but the flag stones were slippy which made using the slight descent to full effect too risky and as we got towards the bottom, the path was flooded. Not an issue for me as I could plough through, confident that it wouldn’t overtop my waterproof socks and that my feet wouldn’t end up freezing because of my socks. Others had to tiptoe around the deeper bits.

The climb out of the dip was sheltered to a degree and I felt that I had my energy back as I climbed out, but once back onto the exposed trail and heading up the long drag toward Round Hill (the highest point of the moors), the wind again sapped my energy and will to run.

I was overtaken by Brian Cutmore and a man running with his beautiful dog (Gray Linacre I think), but I knew that once at the top, I’d be able to make use of the downhill all the way to Clay Bank. I ground out as fast a walk as I could manage, running where I felt I had the energy, but again negative thoughts were creeping in. Words like under trained and overweight began to fill my mind, I regretted having a whole month off running after the 80 in November and enjoying my food and drink too much over Christmas.

I mentally picked apart my very low training volume between January and March (only 17 runs averaging 14km with none of them over 20 miles, the longest being only 30km). I did try and remind myself that I’d put in a lot more climbing than I usually would have and that I’d been performing well, but my negative side was determined to win over.

To counter this, I decided eat and drink. Usually, my negative moods tend to be a product of more energy being expended than is being put back in. I hit the top of the climb at 05h:08m, then started to get a run on. As well as heading downhill, the path turned right out of the headwind and it became a crosswind and briefly a cross/tail wind. I made good progress toward the final descent to Clay and hoped to blast down the really steep section, however after few seconds trying to blast down and several near slips, I reined myself back in. The ground conditions were not conducive to fast descending and I didn’t want a repeat of Roseberry, so I moved at a more cautious pace and reached Clay Bank at 05h:36m. As I reached the road, I checked my water supplies, I had a decent amount left and decided to just pass through the checkpoint without topping up.

My plan for the ‘Three Sisters’ of Hasty Bank, Cold Moor and Cringle Moor, which packed 460m of climbing into 5.5km was to take the climbs very slowly and push as hard as was safe on the descents.

I climbed well within myself up Hasty Bank, the geography sheltering me from the worst of the wind. I looked down to the road behind me and saw that the checkpoint was still crowded with a couple of groups still descending Urra Moor and a few people on the way up behind me. This eased my paranoia that I was right at the back of the race, but I was starting to have concerns around the 10 hour cut off in Osmotherley. As I climbed, I rationalised this, an hour and a half to Lord Stones seemed reasonable, taking me to 7 hours, another hour to Scugdale would be 8 and an hour and a quarter to Os would see me arrive a good 45 minutes ahead of cut off. All of these times were very conservative estimates against previous race and recce times and I felt that I didn’t have to kill myself to get there.

Once up on the top again, the wind was savage and the flagstones were slippy (as they always are when wet, which is most of the time). I fast walked and jogged toward the Wainstones chasing a runner in a blue jacket ahead. I mentally used him as a target to try and avoid lapsing into a ‘too easy’ pace. I descended through the rocks of the Wainstones carefully, mindful of a bout of overconfidence a couple of years ago that led to a nasty slip and a massive bruise, then jogged down through the mud away from the rocks. I spotted a buff on the floor and quickly picked it up, assuming the runner in front had dropped it, because in this wind, it couldn’t have been there long.

I pushed hard on the descent to close the gap and caught him at the bottom of the next climb as he was rifling through his pockets, I asked about the buff and he said it wasn’t his so I wrapped it around my wrist as a spare for myself to use.

On the way up Cold Moor, I reverted to a cautious effort and was overtaken by several runners. It struck me about halfway up, that the rain had stopped so I opened up my jackets a bit to allow myself to cool down a little as I climbed. At the top, I was back into the wind so the zips went back up and the balaclava came down. I jogged across the top and was looking to hammer the descent when I saw a lady in the pair descending ahead of me blown off her feet backwards by the wind into a sitting position on the steps. I descended cautiously behind them until the path widened, then opened up and ran all the way down, I almost slipped a couple of times, but the surface was nowhere near as treacherous as others had been. I turned right following the fence line and passed through the gate at the bottom then jogged along the muddy path leading to the final big climb in this section.

As I climbed slowly, I was caught by Jennifer O’Neill and in the shelter of the hill with no rain, we actually managed to have a conversation for a few minutes before she pulled away. It felt good to have that level of human interaction after a long period of being unable to speak due to the weather. It made me wonder why this had had such a negative effect on me, especially since I do most of my training solo. I came to the conclusion that I view running ultras as a social event and that talking to people, catching up with friends, meeting new people and hearing their stories is part of the reason I enjoy it so much.

When I reached the top of the climb, I got a jog on down the path to the seat dedicated to Alec Falconer then managed a fairly fast descent to Lord Stones overtaking several runners on my way down. Passing through Lord Stones quickly, I rolled up my balaclava and pulled off some of my buffs. It seemed like there was a definite warming up going on. I checked my watch and noted that the race clock now stood at 07h:10m, I was 5 minutes behind my fag packet plan to get to Osmotherley ahead of cut off, but I was OK with that.

I climbed Carlton Bank with a small group, which included Andy Pickering, who pulled away from me at the summit. The wind was still strong up top so I put the buffs and balaclava back on, but it seemed like I was getting a lot more running done now. I started with counting intervals again, but running 120/30’s and 360/60’s alternatively to ensure that I was doing a lot more running than walking. I tracked roughly 100m behind Andy all the way across Live Moor and only began to close on him as we descended toward the treeline. I caught him at the gate and pushed down hill quickly feeling confident of the line I’d recced only a couple of weeks before. I’d almost reached the gate at the bottom when I slipped and landed awkwardly, over extending my left foot/ankle in the process. I stood up as Andy held the gate open and dusted myself down. I tested the ankle, it was sore, but was bearing weight and moving OK.

We chatted on the way down to Scugdale and noted that the wind seemed to have dropped and the temperature was rising a little. As we approached the checkpoint, we were caught by Angela Moore and we arrived at the checkpoint together at 08h:08m. I got my bottles re-filled by the marshalls and drank a cup of Dandelion and Burdock, which tasted amazing. I suddenly had a craving for salted peanuts and stuffed a couple of handfuls into my mouth and got going chasing Angela and a few others down toward the stream you cross as you leave the road. Usually, I’d ford this stream, but it was a lot deeper than normal, so I opted for the bridge before entering the field you cross to gain access to Clain Wood.

Even in summer, this field is muddy, today it was very heavy going and at the gate at the far end, the mud was particularly deep, but by this point, I was past caring and took a direct route through the mud. In the wood, the sun came out and all of a sudden, there was a pleasant spring evening feel to things. I unzipped my jackets again and took off the buffs I’d been wearing and others were doing the same.

Climbing up the steep steps in the woods, I dropped off the loose group that left the checkpoint together and noted that I was having pains in both my left knee and left ankle. I quickly popped a couple of paracetamol and resolved to get some running done at the top of the climb to loosen them off.

At the top, I picked out a tree around 100m or so ahead and ran to it, then walked for a count of 10, then picked another tree, I repeated this all the way to Scarth Nick where I necked down the last of my baby food for this section. I checked my watch and it told me I’d been going for 8h:42m, I relaxed a little because I knew the slowest I’d run Scugdale to Osmotherley in was 1h:15m and I was already around halfway between the two. I walked up the hill at a brisk pace and was overtaken by several runners.

At the top, as the path levelled off inside the treeline, I began jogging again. I’d not been running long when I felt the urge to urinate. At this point, I didn’t want to interrupt a good patch of running, so pushed on. I heard the gate at the TV antenna station clank ahead of me so I knew someone wasn’t too far ahead. I counted how long it took me to reach the gate myself, 23 seconds. As I reached the gate, I saw someone passing through the next gate about 100m ahead. I jogged on and planned to take a comfort break behind the TV antenna station fence. I arrived at the next gate to the sound of the gate behind me clanking. I looked behind and saw a female runner so delayed my stop again.

I started down the steep descent to Os and passed some walkers heading up the now very muddy and churned up path. As I reached the farmers field at the bottom, I was overtaken by the female runner, Kat Carter.

As soon as I could, I darted behind a wall and got it over and done with. I then jogged on and got into the Osmotherley checkpoint at 09h:37m, uncomfortably close to cut off.

I located my drop bag and stocked up on supplies. I refilled my water bottles, had some pizza and cake, then stripped off my hats, buffs and gloves. All were soaked through with water so I took off my pack, bagged the wet stuff up and stowed all but the cap and skullcap in my pack and took out two dry buffs, a spare pair of gloves and my head torch (thankfully unbroken from the Roseberry fall). As I pulled all this together, a male runner entered the checkpoint and announced his decision to call it a day there. As I looked around, I saw a sizeable pile of trackers on the marshall’s table left by people who’d already decided to stop. I contemplated doing the same when I spotted Harriet Shields who told me she was running with someone who was doing their first ultra and she was going to get her to the finish. They left as I was still sorting myself out and I decided to push on myself. Yes, it’d had been a pretty miserable affair so far, but the weather had now turned, I’d put some dry gear on, had food and maybe my mood would improve. This section was also a lot more runnable.

I walked out of the checkpoint and through the archway in the houses back onto the Cleveland Way, I descended the steps behind Osmotherley quickly and walked up the climb away from the Cod Beck up through the fields in what was now glorious sunshine. At the end of the field, the path passes through a ridiculously tiny gap in the dry stone wall, I decided instead to climb over the gate instead and probably achieved the same visual effect as a Walrus trying to navigate a 5 bar gate.

I jogged on down Green Lane and across Burnthouse Bank and was enjoying a decent patch of running along the track by a field full of 7 foot high maize. The enjoyment stopped at the steep downhill that followed as the pain in my left knee returned and slowed me down on the steep bank.

I walked up the track past the reservoirs, getting a jog on as the path levelled then started up the steps that lead to Square Corner and the moors proper again. It seemed to start getting dark quite quickly and a number of runners ahead had already lit up. I held off until I was on the more technical surface then lit my head torch on half beam until I got to the top. I reached Square Corner at 10h:28m, leaving me 3 hours to make the cut off at White Horse. That was going to be quite tight, but I reckoned I could reach High Paradise in about 01h:25m and then make White Horse in a further 01h:30m.

Once on the main track, I turned my head torch back off to conserve batteries and jogged along the short flat section before the ground began to rise up to Black Hambleton.

I could see a line of head torches all the way up to the summit and decided to keep mine unlit and fast walk all the way to the top. At the top, I planned to run and try and catch as many of those head torches in front as I possibly could. I started by trying to make fast progress up the hill.

As the skies darkened, I was pleased to note that there was little cloud and the moon was quite bright, negating the need to light up for a while, I pushed on hard and reached the summit at 10h:51m before cracking on after the first pair of head torches some 350m or so in the distance. I started off running intervals of 30/30 then increased these to 45/30, then 60/30, then 120/30, then 360/30. I passed the first couple mid-way through the 360 interval and decided that I wouldn’t allow them to catch me so after my rest, I did another 360/30, then started the sequence again at 30/30. I passed another runner during the 120/30 stretch and we leapfrogged each other a for several minutes as I went through the sequence of 360/30, 30/30, 45/30 and 60/30. The second 120/30 saw me pull away and I focused on another head torch maybe 500m ahead, just cresting the brow of a hill.

I kept up my intervals even on the uphills and I gained ground quickly as the runner in front was walking all the ups.

I caught him on a down, just toward the end of a 30/30 run and stayed a few metres behind during my rest count of 30 before overtaking at the start of the next 45/30, giving a quick “Alright mate” greeting as I passed. At this point, I was trying to bring out the mad competitive James that lives somewhere inside of me. I focused ahead on a large group of head torches off in the distance and pushed hard on my running intervals. A quick look behind me showed that I’d mad massive gains on everyone I’d passed so far, apart from the last solo runner who now appeared to be running in sync with me. As my intervals lengthened, I slowly increased the gap, but I could still see that he was now running intervals too, just slightly shorter running ones.

I could now see that the group in front was getting closer, but at the end of each interval, the niggle in my knee was starting to chirp up too. I focused on closing the gap further, it was now down to 200m or so and I could see the tree line of Boltby Forest approaching, I discarded the intervals and continued running until I was within 50m of the group then had a long walk to a count of 120. I went again for a count of 120 and was within 10m of the group as they passed through the gate into the wooded section.

As I slowed, I heard footsteps behind me and I looked over my shoulder. I was surprised to see that the solo runner I’d passed had caught me up. We spoke and I realised it was Chris Keegans. We chatted and he told me that when I passed he’d realised I had been running intervals and he’d decided to do the same to get himself moving again. I told him I was going to walk the final km or so to High Paradise to have a break then run the long downhill past the farm and into the next field.

Chris said he’d do the same. He told me that he thought that a large section of the field would have been timed out at Osmotherley and I told him that I thought a lot of people had called it a day there regardless of the cut off. We let the group in front gap us again and moved on at a steady fast walk. The pain in my knee began to subside as I walked and I thought about more paracetamol, I thought back to when I’d last taken some and remembered it as being about 8h:30m, it was only 11h:45m on my clock now so I couldn’t have more for another 45 mins.

We reached the turning down to High Paradise farm at 11h:53m, bang on my estimate of 1h:25m and walked to the farm buildings then got a jog on down the hill as I guzzled a protein gel (which I take every four hours during a race). As we reached the bottom and passed through the gate into the muddy field before Sneck Yate we were caught by Andy Pickering who confirmed that there were still a lot of people still to reach Osmotherley when he left a few minutes before cut off.

As the path tilted uphill through the woods, both Andy and Chris pulled away from me as my knee began to shout at me and I had to slow down again. As the path levelled and began to descend towards Sneck Yate I re-gained the lost ground so this didn’t worry me. Seeing the lights from the checkpoint also gave me a much needed boost as we jogged toward it, arriving at 12h:10m.

The checkpoint was manned by Matthew Swan and we spent some time chatting, we all noted that the sweeper, Ryk Downes had been transported to this checkpoint and was sitting in the camper van, which made me vaguely aware that he would be soon chasing us up if we slowed.

I stocked up on drinks and had some food, I also popped a couple of paracetamol and we headed on our way up the hill out of Sneck Yate with Andy and Chris pulling ahead again. I estimated that there was about another 9km to White Horse, with 01h:20m to go until cut off. This meant I had to maintain a pace of around 8m:50s/km to get there inside of cut off. I’d managed to keep most of my running over the previous 8km under that pace, but all of the uphill sections had been slower than that.

With that in mind, I pushed a little harder going uphill and used any slight levelling or tilting down in the terrain to get a jog on. I had soon reached the walled section of field above Boltby and had almost caught Andy and Chris when the ground tilted up again. I knew this continued for short distance along the escarpment edge before undulating again. I looked behind me and saw several sets of lights closing distance up the hill from Sneck Yate and pushed on harder and caught Andy and Chris in the section above Thirlby. We moved along together briefly before they started pulling away again. My knee was now nagging at me insistently.

I was caught and overhauled by Kat Carter who pulled from me while I slowed to a pained walk. She was about 50m ahead of me when she reached the poorly signed section where a finger post appears to point up the footpath toward The Gallops used by the racing stables and I saw her take the wrong turn that Andy Nesbit and I had almost taken in 2015. I shouted her back and was relieved to see her change direction and return to the correct path. She was just ahead of me as I got to the same turn and on the flatter paths that I now knew were behind Sutton Bank Visitors Centre, I tried to get another run on, but this time I could barely hobble.

I walked on and was overtaken by another pair of runners, they asked how I was and to my surprise the words “My leg’s knackered, I think I’ll jack it in at White Horse” came out of my mouth. I hadn’t really given it thought until then, but as I walked, I checked time, it was now at 13h:18m, I had 12 minutes to cut off. I wasn’t going to make that. I had an idea that there would be some leeway, but at my current pace I wouldn’t reach White Horse until around the 14 hour mark. I’d then have another 14km to do, which would put my finish time somewhere between 2 and half to 3 hours or 16h:30m to 17h:00m.

The other thought that started going through my mind was that I’d booked onto the buses back to Guisborough, the last of which was scheduled to leave at half past midnight. If I finished in 17 hours, I’d not be in Helmsley until 01:10. While the rational part of my brain argued that the bus would be held for awhile until the stragglers were home, some part of me argued that it wouldn’t. The rational part reasoned that even if I did miss the bus, there would be no way that I’d be left stranded in Helmsley because there would be plenty of people in the same boat and there would be people offering lifts, that’s just the Hardmoors family at work. If all else failed, I could sleep in Helmsley and worry about getting back in the morning. At that, I dismissed the ridiculous thoughts that had run through my head and focused on trying to get running again. I lasted about 30m before I had to walk.

I was overtaken by another runner just before the Sutton Bank road crossing and once across the road I made my decision. Running another 14km on a dodgy knee on mostly downhill, muddy fields and paths was going to hurt and probably do some serious damage. Better to call it a day at the checkpoint.

I dug my phone out (now sporting a large crack across the screen) and called Craig with the notion in my head that he wouldn’t have long finished his race and may only just be leaving Helmsley, that would allow me a swift extraction from the course and a lift back to Guisborough to avoid waiting for the bus. Craig told me that Emma had already picked him up and was halfway back to Guisborough. I told him I’d get sorted somehow and cracked on walking toward the checkpoint. I was now on the out and back part of the course and passed various runners who’d been to White Horse and were heading back to Sutton Bank, there must have been 50 or so runners on that part of the course.

Just before the turn off down the rocky bank to the woods that led to the checkpoint, I decided to continue on the nicer path and use the steps down to the White Horse car park to protect my leg. As I deviated from the course, my final decision made, I was caught by Angela Moore, who tried to call me back onto the correct route. I signalled my intention to DNF and continued on, passing more runners in what had now become a walk of shame.

As I reached the top of the steps, I passed Emy Jones and Michael Rafferty in a large group and I greeted them, I was pleased to see Emy on the route to completing this race as she’d had a rough time of ultra running in the last few months.

I eventually arrived at the checkpoint at 13h:54m:59s, some 25 minutes after cut off. After handing my tracker in and confirming my withdrawal, I was asked to wait until the sweeper had passed through before getting a lift with the marshalls into Helmsley. In the meanwhile, a crew car was leaving the checkpoint and I was offered a lift by a couple whose names I’ve forgotten, but to whom I’m very grateful.

Once back at the finish, I grabbed some food and chatted with people to see how their races had gone. I located Dave and Dee and found that they had both withdrawn at Osmotherley after an experience that sounded very similar to mine of simply not enjoying it at all up that point and being thoroughly cold and wet. I spoke briefly to Jennifer buck who supplied me with hot drinks and made sure that I was OK other than the obvious injury and the moodiness of the DNF.

Jon Steele then announced that there were people heading back to Guisborough by car and offering lifts, which would be helpful in easing congestion on the fuller than planned last bus, I put my name down and was initially offered a lift with Shelli Gordon (thanks Shelli). I sat and chilled/dozed in my chair for awhile then Jon called me over and let me know that another couple were heading off before Shelli and had space. Again, I’ve forgotten the names, but sincerely, thank you.

When I arrived back at Craig and Emma’s I let myself in and got all my muddy kit off. I’d had a text from Craig to tell me there was some food waiting in the slow cooker for me so I showered, bagged my muddy gear and ventured into the kitchen to find the most amazing beef stew in the slow cooker and a choice of beers laid out to go with it.

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I sat and eat my supper and reviewed the race in my mind. In terms of not finishing, I think I’d made the correct decision. I know there were a lot of people who finished later than they usually would and indeed were classed as late finishers, arriving in Helmsley beyond the race cut off. I probably could have been in that number, but I have no idea what the cost of that would have been on my knee.

Almost everyone I spoke to said that there was little enjoyment to be had between the start and Osmotherley. I’d genuinely enjoyed the section between Square Corner and Sneck Yate and at Sneck Yate, I genuinely thought I had the finish in the bag, but nothing is certain in ultra running.

Being honest with myself, I was under trained for this race, I may have been able to blag my way around the course in good weather conditions, but the bad weather in the moors found me out. This is just another thing to add to my continual learning about life beyond 26.2 miles.

As a race, I think this was a fitting tribute to the 10th anniversary of the 55 and the 50th anniversary of the Cleveland Way, the Hardmoors team of marshalls and helpers were all fantastic with many spending long hours in the tough weather conditions too.

Thank you to everyone involved, also in particular to Craig and Emma, who were superb hosts, to those who gave me lifts to Helmsley and Guisborough and also to my wife Natalie, who indulged my desire to run this race despite a promise that I wouldn’t undertake a big project this year.

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On Saturday 24th November 2018, I took part in and completed the inaugural Hardwolds 80 Ultramarathon. A race of 80 miles starting in Hessle and finishing in Filey, travelling mostly along the Wolds Way National Trail. It was the furthest I’ve ever run.

Preparation

I was coming into the race off the back of a very poor performance having DNF’d Hardmoors 60 in September at 62km with a variety of heat related cramp and vomiting issues. Following that setback, I’d spoken at length to a PT named Emy Jones and re-assessed how I fuelled, hydrated and actually ran my ultra distance races. The details of which are here.

In the four weeks leading up to the race, I’d had two weeks of peaking at 65-70km followed by two taper weeks. In both of my peak weeks, I’d completed long runs of 36km and 32km in full race kit, at race effort and in the final of the peak weeks, I’d gone back out in the afternoon of my long run day to run 16km on tired legs/mind.

There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I was physically capable of completing the distance, it was just a matter of pacing it right. To that end, I intended to run to heart rate, aiming to keep my average lap (1km) heart rate at <=140BPM and if that meant using the full 24 hour time limit, so be it.

My main concern was how I would cope mentally, my last outing above 100km was my failed attempt at Hardmoors 110 when I’d had a pretty spectacular mental implosion and ended up with a DNF at 110km rather than a finish at 110 miles. I spent some time thinking about this and resolved to spend the week leading up to the race, eliminating anything that might cause me undue stress from my day to day life, race prep and where I could, try and come up with “actions on” for scenarios that might occur on the day that could derail my mood.

The day before the race, Natalie and I travelled to Filey and upon checking in to our B&B, I got my kit quickly into the room and went to bed for a couple of hours kip. After that, I spent some time pulling my kit and drop bags together and placed it all in the wardrobe by the door to minimise any disturbance on my way out of the room.

We went for tea and when we got back, I taped my feet. This was something I usually did on the morning of the race, but find quite stressful on the morning, especially if doing it in a semi dark room and trying to be quiet. It was also really good to have Natalie available to help me. After taping my feet, I put some socks on to hold the tape in place and we both went to bed at 9pm.

In the morning, I woke about 10 minutes before by 4am alarm, got up, quickly had breakfast and got dressed. The weather in the preceding days had been rainy and wet, so I opted for wearing waterproof socks over my running socks as my feet had got pretty wet during my summer recces with just morning dew on the grass to soak them.

It was a 5 minute walk to the bus pick up point and having got there, I spent some time chatting with Adrian Martin before the buses arrived. I then located Dave Cook and Dee Bouderba who I sat with and passed the journey to Hull fairly quickly.

Upon arrival, it was still dark which made for an interesting walk down to the Hessle foreshore from the car park, but the sight that greeted us was stunning, the Humber Bridge at dawn.

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Humber Bridge at Dawn – Photo by Ian Gorin

Signing on for the race passed quickly and with some time to kill before the race brief, I chatted with Tom Stewart about the day ahead. The weather seemed hard to judge, there was a cold breeze blowing off the river, but the ambient temperature felt warm. I opted to start in the warm kit and strip layers off if needed.

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Ready to go! Jane Raper, Tom Stewart and myself at the start – Photo by Ann Brown

With the race brief completed, we all lined up to start under the Humber Bridge. Because my aim was to run to heart rate, which would be slow, I positioned myself fairly far back so as not to get in the way of faster runners. Without any real fanfare at all, we were off on our epic journey.

Hessle – Welton (9km)

 

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Map courtesy of Opentracking

This first section of the race headed off on firm riverside track for a few hundred metres to a gate, where Race Director Jon Steele had warned we would be bottlenecked. Instead of queuing for the gate I, along with a few others opted for a gap in the fence and jumping down to the pebbled beach on the foreshore. The was about 500m of this shale surface before we were back on hard packed trail. As I’d suspected, as soon as I was moving, I was beginning to feel too warm, so I opened my jacket, took off my warm hat and buff. I noticed plenty of others were ditching their warm clothes too.

I ran for short sections with Matthew Swan, Andy Nesbit and Emma Giles before dropping back as my Suunto told me my heart rate was tipping over the 140BPM speed limit I’d set myself. I used the walk break to squeeze to Bangers and Mash flavoured babyfood into my mouth before jogging on and catching up with Andy and Emma.

We jogged together through North Ferriby before I yet again dropped off in obedience to my heart rate strategy.

I reached the road crossing at the A63 on the 40 minute mark and was quite pleased with the average pace of around 7m:15s/km. I knew that I would now slow as I headed off road and into the woods towards Melton and walked the hill. As I did so, I overtook Andy and Emma and was caught by Sean Higgins who I chatted with for a bit, then began running at the top of the hill, coinciding with my Suunto stopping it’s beeping telling me that my heart rate was again back to an acceptable level. As I descended through the Scout campsite, I was pleased to note that my legs felt good and seemed hungry to get some running done, but they’d have to wait, because I reached the road crossing at Melton, which signalled the start of another climb.

I chatted and ran with a female runner up the hill and through the woods, stopping to walk several times when Suunto started chirping at me to slow down again. As we reached the tarmac road that drops into Welton, the other runner pulled away from me and seeing as how it was downhill all the way, I chose to ignore the beeping from my wrist and run all the way into the village before walking as we turned the corner at 1h:03m, heading towards Welton Dale.

Welton – Brantingham (7km)

 

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Map courtesy of OpenTracking

As we left the village of Welton, we were amused by a cat that decided to flop in the road and roll about, seemingly unaware that it was in the midst of a group of runners. It then hopped up, skipped to a driveway to continue it’s rolling about. At this point I’d caught up with Emily Beaumont and Michelle Boshier and could see Dave and Dee about 50m ahead. We pressed on through the wet grass of Welton Dale. I was pleased to note that the path was fenced off from the rest of the dale, as this section had been populated by cows in the summer. Sure enough, at the end of the dale, as we entered the wood, the cows were all laid in the field adjacent to the path.

As we passed through the gate, we were caught again by Sean Higgins and as I again obeyed the incessant beeping of the Suunto, the group pulled away from me slightly as I walked up the hill through the woods.

I walked along a bit behind Emily and Michelle until the ground flattened out and we emerged from the woods, the path turned right here and ran parallel to the road, however the muddy path that continued uphill, was considerably trickier than the road. I got a jog on as we turned left across a field and made ground towards Dave and Dee in front of me trotting along very comfortably, but feeling warm despite the overcast skies.

At around 1h:40m, I’d finished my first packet of baby food and first bottle of fluids. I’d started the day with 500ml sugar free Vimto cordial with 2 High5 tablets in and 500ml plain water. I put 2 fresh High5 tablets into the empty bottle before tipping my plain water into it. I do this to avoid contaminating my plain water bottle, just in case I ever need it to wash an injury or cut.

Shortly after this, I passed the OpenTracking team, who appeared to be lying in wait for someone who’s tracker wasn’t behaving and not long after that I descended toward Brantingham, supplementing my babyfood diet with a chocolate orange Chia Charge bar (which by the way, are the best flavour so far). I arrived at the Brantingham CP at 2h:05m, topped up my empty plain water bottle and grabbed a handful of peanuts before moving on.

Brantingham – South Cave (3km)

 

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Map courtesy of OpenTracking

I spotted Dave and Dee just ahead of me and tried to close ground on them running along the nice road section that led away from Brantingham and was about 20m behind when we turned left off the road onto the steep wooded climb towards Ellerker North Wold.

As expected, as soon as I was on the climb, Suunto was beeping at me again, so I fast walked up the hill and found Dave and Dee stood at the top having a chat so I ran with them for a shot while as the path dipped up and down before finally tilting back up for a long, steep climb which I knew from my summer reconnaissance was the last climb before South Cave.

My Suunto was now annoying me with the beeping, so I covered it up with my jacket and enjoyed the peace that was only disturbed by my heavy breathing as I climbed the hill. Once back on the flat at the top, my breathing and heart rate settled back down and I passed through Mount Airey Farm back onto a long tarmac descent into South Cave, which I ran at a nice steady pace, observing where the runners ahead went as they passed over the road. I hadn’t managed to recce South Cave to Goodmanham in the summer, so it was a bit of a step into the unknown, but I’d tried my best to memorise the route description and pored over the maps in the week before the race. I had a feeling that the climb out of South Cave was a long, drag and what I could see as I descended toward the village backed that up, so I readied my poles as I arrived into South Cave at 2h:32m.

South Cave – Goodmanham (18km)

 

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Map courtesy of OpenTracking

I was now almost 19km into the race and feeling good, however the sun had come out and I was starting to feel warm as I climbed, but using the poles, I was clearly moving faster than the runners in front of me as I could see the gap closing. The only real annoyance to me was that my heart rate was now pretty much constantly above the limit I’d set myself, so I was looking forward to getting past the 24km mark when my watch was programmed to stop beeping heart rate alerts at me.

I was feeling pretty pleased with my judgement of this climb, what appeared on the ground, was exactly what I’d expected based on the map and description and as I reached the top, I felt really strong and ran quickly down the hill, through the next fold in the land and toward the next wooded section closing the gap on the runner in front some more.

As I turned the corner through a gate into the woods, I felt the first twinge of a blister on my left little toe, but ignored it, as I often get a hotspot on this toe and I’d already written off the possibility of a blister there as a cost of wearing waterproof socks.

I slowed to a walk to have another Chia Charge bar and was overtaken by another runner (Sean Higgins I think). While I was eating, I became aware of the booms of gunshots from the nearby woods. Once I finished eating, I got another run on and gone a couple of hundred metres when I heard the sound of an airhorn up to my right.

All of a sudden, I realised I was surrounded by gentlemen with guns, dogs and beaters carrying game birds that had been shot. I bet they didn’t expect to have a couple of hundred runners marching through the middle of their shoot. I climbed up the hill out of the woods with the runner I’d been closing down since South Cave and jogged along the edge of the fields that the path took us along. Away to our right, I could see a road and a beacon, which I remembered from the route description, so was expecting the path to take us across the field, but typically of this route, it stayed along the edge, adding a few hundred metres to the distance we had to cover.

As I crossed over the road and turned right past the beacon, I passed through the 24km mark and to blessed silence from the Suunto. To celebrate, I started running intervals of 800m run, 200m walk which passed the time well and also got me moving at around 6m:45s/km for a couple of kms with the added psychological benefit of bringing me into contact with bigger groups of runners. Up to this point, I had started to feel a little paranoid that I was moving really slowly and that I was almost right at the back of the race. Placing in the race was, for me, irrelevant, however I was concerned that if I was moving too slowly, I’d be in danger of missing cut offs, which we’d been informed at the race brief, would be strictly enforced.

The path was now taking me through a deep valley, which turned left and opened out slightly. About 400m in front of me, I could see Sean Higgins and another runner about the same distance ahead of him. From memory of the map, I knew this valley ended at a road so I resolved to try and catch both before the road. To do this, I ran intervals of 600m running and 400m walking. Within 4 minutes, I’d caught and passed Sean and was making decent ground on the runner ahead, who I’d nicknamed “Red Shirt” based on his clothing choice.

As we moved through the valley, I spotted a familiar face up ahead, it was Laura Bradshaw of SportSunday photography, so I shouted a greeting and tried not to look too knackered as she snapped away. Shortly after I passed David Bradshaw and again tried to look composed as I passed him by with a good luck greeting ringing in my ears.

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Photo by SportSunday Photography

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Photo by SportSunday Photography

As I approached the road, I closed the distance on “Red Shirt” and he assumed the familiar shape of Ryk Downes. I caught Ryk as we passed some walkers heading out from their cars, one of the ladies walking appeared to be paying somewhat too close attention to the top of my legs, when I realised she was trying to read the event details on my race number. We explained what we were up to and the walkers wished us luck, with Ryk and I moving on having a few words before I got back into my run/walk intervals.

After a short road section, the path turned left and yet again, upwards on a grassed path. I spotted another runner ahead and saw that she was wearing a single pink calf guard, so named her “Pink Calfguard”. I checked my watch and saw that I’d just passed 28km, so only another 100km to go! I knew the Arras Wold CP was at 32km, so to keep myself motivated, I decided to try and close the gap and catch the pink legged lady by the CP. At this point, she was so far ahead that she was almost out of sight, but slowly the distance was coming down.

I passed a trig point on my right with wind turbines in the field to my left and remembered from my map studies, that this was almost exactly 2km from the CP. I finished my supply of High5/water and decided to fill that up directly at the CP.

The path now joined a road, which I knew ran all the way to the CP. As well as “Pink Calfguard”, who was now only 50m or so ahead, I could see several other runners either solo or in small groups strung out all the way up the road to where I could see a line of parked cars, which I assumed was the CP.

I arrived into the CP at 4h:26m, passing “Pink Calfguard” as she stopped at her crew car and spotted Scott Beaumont (who was crewing his wife Emily) and had a few words while I stocked up on CP food and my empty bottle was filled with flat Coke by the sage John Vernon. I jogged away from the CP and arrived at the marshalled road crossing before I realised I’d broken with my plan to avoid sugary drinks for as long as possible. I briefly thought about tipping the Coke out and going back to get my bottle topped up with water, but thought better of it.

I jogged down the road toward Arras Farm and saw a lane bearing left, followed by a path left in front of the farm buildings and an option to go between the farm buildings. From memory, I knew the path took an arc left at Arras Farm, but I couldn’t remember if it was before or after the buildings, confusion which was further compounded by a sign warning farm visitors not to pass into the yard. Both the left turns before the buildings felt wrong and with no runners in sight to give confidence of the route, I stopped and took the safe option of checking the route on my Suunto. This told me that the path went between the farm buildings and turned left behind them. Grateful that I’d avoided a nav error, I turned the navigation off on my Suunto to save battery, then headed through the farm buildings and out into a muddy field.

Running along the edge of the field, I had a view of the next 1.5km or so and could see that there were loads of runners ahead. Coupled with the fact I knew I’d passed a large group in the CP, my mind felt at ease that I was now somewhere in the middle of the race and running at a reasonable pace relative to the cut offs. I did some mental maths and worked out that I’d completed 33km in 4h:33m and was about 17km from the first cut off which had a time limit of 9 hours, so barring disaster, I’d be through it with plenty to spare. I estimated based on current progress I’d probably arrive at Millington around the 7 and a half hour mark, which I would be very happy with.

The field I was running through had power lines running parallel to the path, so I set myself up doing run/walk intervals at a rate of 1 pylon per interval and was soon running alongside the back marker of a group I’d seen ahead, however we were descending through a very slippy field and I decided to back off a little whereas he pushed on ahead toward the road.

As I reached the road, I spotted him taking the left turn along the Hudson Way, which leads to Market Weighton instead of continuing along the Wolds Way. This was something I had been keeping an eye out for myself as the route description warns that the signposting here is ambiguous. I tried a quick shout to get his attention, but he continued running. I had remembered that he was wearing headphones, so thought that was it.

I was joined by “Pink Calfguard” who (at the finish line) I realised was Lauryn Bentham, whose progress in completing as many marathons/ultras as possible between April 2018-2019 for MacMillan Cancer Support I have been following online, link here.

Lauryn gave an almighty shout of “YOU’RE GOING THE WRONG WAY!!!” and still had no response, so we jogged on together, then suddenly we heard the runner approaching behind us, he thanked Lauryn before jogging off up the hill while we slowed to a walk and chatted a bit (Lauryn was trying to work out where she recognised me from).

As the road tilted uphill, I slowed to a walk and Lauryn pulled away from me. I had a quick check of my watch and judged myself to be around 800m from Goodmanham at exactly 5 hours, which I was pretty pleased with as it had only taken me 1h:50m to run Goodmanham to Millington in the summer. To celebrate, I had another chocolate orange Chia Charge and jogged into Goodmanham at 5h:05m.

Goodmanham – Nunburnholme (8km)

 

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Map courtesy of OpenTracking

Although I was now pleased to be back on familiar ground, having recce’d the Goodmanham to Millington section in the summer, I did notice on the downhill leaving the village, that the hotspot on my left little toe had very definitely become a blister. Even so, I bounced energetically all the way down the hill, under the old railway bridge and took a bit of a breather to walk back up through the woods toward the fields that I knew were fairly runnable.

I took a drink of the Coke from my bottle and decided it tasted foul and that I’d ditch it at the next opportunity. As I climbed up into the fields, I could see Lauryn ahead and just beyond her, another group of runners. I started jogging and after a few minutes, felt hot. I took a sip from the Coke and decided enough was enough and tipped it out. I then decanted my plain water into the bottle and reached for my tube of High5 tabs. Once opened, what came out, was dust. I tipped the dust from the palm of my hand into the bottle and looked into the tube. I saw that the bouncing about the tube had taken had eroded the tablets and one had become wedged sideways. I managed to get what remained of two tabs out and into my bottle, packed the tube away and got the lid on my bottle and jogged onwards around the edge of the field.

As I approached the picnic area at Towthorpe, I passed Lauryn, who had met up with her crew. I pushed on over the busy road jogging alongside the field in chase of one of the back markers from the group I’d seen ahead.

I followed the straggler onto the road which curves gently downhill for 200m or so before you turn left to a pleasant downhill run across a field into the Londesbrough Estate. In the middle of the Estate, there is a small bridge across a beck flanked by a pond and that’s where I caught him (it turned out to be Jonathan Jamison), at the very same time Lauryn caught me.

Once over the bridge, which marked the 40km point of the run, Lauryn and Jonathan pushed on ahead up the hill faster than I could manage. Up ahead, I spotted a cow in their path and observed it being very nervous as they passed, so I gave it a very wide berth and jogged on down the next bit of downhill before walking up into Londesbrough village. Walking through the village I noted that the weather was very much in the mould of a pleasant early autumn evening rather than a late November afternoon and I took another large pull on my water bottle before jogging on.

On the way out of Londesbrough, I spotted Scott Beaumont parked up waiting for Emily and said hi. He asked if I had everything I needed and with tipping the Coke out of my bottle in mind, I asked if he could spare some water. A small act that went a long way to ensuring that I could remain on top of my drinking. Thanking Scott, I left the village and made good use of the long tarmac stretch to Partridge Hall farm with long stints of running while it felt good to do so, even if my left foot was starting to feel the blister each time the road headed downhill.

After running through Partridge Hall farm, I was pleased to note that the field, which had contained belligerent cows during my summer recce, now contained sheep. I could see another runner halfway across the field and pressed hard through the first really muddy section of the day (I almost lost a shoe) overtaking the runner, who turned out to be Hezel Magwili before slithering through the gate at the other end of the field. Once through the gate, I jogged on, genuinely enjoying the rough ground and squelchy mud.

Soon, I reached the top of the descent into Nunburnholme and used the descent to get a proper run on to stretch my legs, arriving into the village at 6h:18m.

Nunburnholme – Millington (5km)

 

nun-mill

Map courtesy of OpenTracking

As I passed through Nunburnholme, I passed Lauryn stretching her calves off in the village, I asked if everything was OK and she told me she was fine, just moving her calves in a different direction to how they’d moved for the previous 6 hours.

I jogged into the field and noted that I was almost among the next group, but I knew there was a steep climb at the other end of the field, followed by some rough ground, so halfway around the field I stopped to walk and get my poles out ready for the climb ahead. As I climbed the hill through Bratt Wood, I noticed that every time my left foot clipped a rock or bit of rough surface, my blister was giving me a jolt of pain, so I took a couple of paracetamol to try and stave off any future worsening of the pain.

The track upwards degenerated from a gravel path into a muddy sheep trod, which I knew from the summer was very rutted and uneven, so I took care to be careful where I stepped.

I was overtaken near the top of the climb by Hezel Magwili and Jonathan again and we all got a run on along towards some farm buildings, after which the trail became a road again.

We approached a small farm building with a garage that had burned down beside it. I’d seen this damage in the summer and wondered what could have started such a catastrophic fire so close to the other buildings without damaging them. The owner was busy clearing them out and he told us that it had been struck by lightning in July.

Once past these buildings, I finished off my last packet of babyfood, knowing that Millington was not too far away and crossed the road into another chewy bit of ground before climbing up to the path above Kilnwick Percy, running along and enjoying the views that stretched westwards for what must have been at least 50 miles. I also remember seeing a pair of gliders dancing and wheeling overhead and marvelled at the view they must have. These distractions passed the next km or so to a set of farm buildings before the track joined the road to Millington nicely.

As we joined the road, Hezel and I caught up with Darren Wilson and we chatted as we jogged down the hill towards and past the next group of runners. I looked at my watch and noted that I’d passed the 30 mile mark and probably done so in a personal best time. I felt very pleased with myself as we walked up the hill to Millington together, arriving at the CP in 7h:19m.

Upon arrival, we were asked to show our waterproof jackets as a random kit check then I made my way in to pick up my drop bags. The marshalls filled my water bottles while I dumped the rubbish from my pockets into the bin, added more crumbly High5 to my water and loaded my pockets with fresh supplies from my drop bag.

After putting my night kit on, I was simultaneously eating rice pudding, drinking hot soup and chatted to Dave, Dee, Mick Cottam and Matthew Swan. This was an act of multi-tasking too far and I knocked my soup all over the table. After clumsy attempts to clear it up myself, I was ushered away from the disaster zone by marshalls and I took that as my cue to leave the CP, my record of causing chaos at CP’s continues……

Millington – Fridaythorpe (13km)

 

mill - fri

Map courtesy of OpenTracking

I left the CP along with Brian Cutmore and Stephen Gibson and jogged through the village to the foot of the steep, muddy climb back up to the Wolds Way after the brief diversion into Millington. Halfway up the climb, the weather cloud cover increased rapidly and by the top of the climb, it was drizzling and Brian and Stephen had pulled well away from me.

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The view back down towards Millington – Photo by Jon Steele

I jogged along, trying to recall details of the route description from memory as this was the second of the three sections I hadn’t recce’d. I had been told there was a fearsome climb just after Millington with a switchback in it. As I descended a field, I spotted the climb and it certainly looked like it would live up to it’s reputation.

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Switchback Hill after Millington – Photo by Mike Hall

As I ran down the grass bank to the foot of the climb, I again cursed the now painful blister and got my poles out for the climb. As I climbed, the drizzle turned to a slightly heavier shower and I was thinking of stopping to put my rain jacket on at the top when it eased off again. As I reached the top of the climb, I thought I could see Andy Pickering at the bottom stopping to either put a waterproof or head torch on. There was also a group coming down the other side of the valley and I thought I could pick out Dave and Dee among them.

I got a run on along the grassy path along the top of Cow Moor and had that little game of chicken I always have in the fading light in trying to leave turning my head torch on as late as possible, but before I trip over anything and hurt myself. As I reached the descent into Nettle Dale, I saw the runner in front had lit up and the surface was sufficiently slippy for me to decide to do the same.

Upon reaching the bottom of Nettle Dale, it was fully dark and another heavier rain shower was starting. Again, I decided to make the call at the top of the hill on putting my rain jacket on and again, the rain stopped as I hit the top of the steep section.

As the path turned right and the grade slackened off a bit, I got some more interval running done, just running until the legs told me to stop and passed back and forth with Anthony Stephens a few times before he pulled ahead.

I was caught halfway up the climb by Emily Beaumont, who I was surprised to see without Michelle, who’d sadly pulled out earlier and at the top of the climb I heard Dave and Dee behind me and they caught me as I tried to get a run on along the Huggate Sheepwalk, but found it way too slippy to run along.

I decided to walk awhile and as the path became a better track, I was caught by the group comprising Andy Pickering, Joanne Abbott and Jude Dayne. I walked with them for a bit then found another runnable section to stretch the legs out on. We hit a section of road together and I ran the short section of tarmac before we dropped left into another muddy field crossing. The group pulled ahead of me going across the field, but after taking on more food, I had a burst of energy and caught them at the next road crossing. At this point, I thought I could see a lighthouse in the distance and despite the distance from the coast, I guessed that it might have been Flamborough that we could see (subsequent map consultation seems to back that up).

We were soon running on a more tarmac lane that eventually became a footpath, mostly downhill so we were getting more running done, but for me, my blister was making it painful and I dropped behind the group. The footpath came out onto another road section, moving away from Huggate, which I ideally would have run, but the legs were unwilling and I think this section was a bit of a false flat, so I had the poles out again to help. I was caught again by Darren Wilson and we chatted along the road section before we again disappeared through a hedge into a field. I stowed my poles and moved as quickly down the slippery downhill section that my left foot would allow.

At the bottom of the descent, we turned left into Holm Dale and our little group became more strung out, with Anthony Stephens about 50m ahead of me. I was following his head torch when I kicked something with my left foot and felt a jolt of pain in my blistered toe, followed by that feeling of released pressure, the blister had burst! For the first minute or so, it was very painful and I was worried about being able to continue. However, once it had fully drained and settled, all pain was gone and I could again run on it properly. At this point I was running and counting to 60, then walking for a count of 30 to ensure that I was running for at least twice as long as I was walking.

As we approached the end of Holm Dale, the valley formed into two separate paths and the runner in front followed the left track up a steep hill. I started to follow, but realised the path was turning West and Fridaythorpe was to the North. I stopped and activated the navigation on my Suunto and confirmed that this spur was the wrong path, just as Darren caught me up. We both shouted and caught the attention of the stray runner then headed up the correct hill which opened out onto a side street in Fridaythorpe. We jogged a minute on, a minute off until we hit the centre of the village and found a pop up CP where we could re-supply with water, arriving at 10h:01m.

We sheltered from another rain shower as our bottles were refilled and I added two more crumbly High5 to my main drinking bottle, before we headed off out of the village just behind the Abbott, Dayne and Pickering trio.

Fridaythorpe – Thixendale (7km)

Fri-Thix

Map courtesy of OpenTracking

Not long after we left Fridaythorpe, we were caught and overtaken by Peter Kidd, who was now only 40 miles from achieving his 1,000th Hardmoors mile. We congratulated him on his achievement before he left us for dust.

After dropping down the steep descent into Brubberdale, I used the slow progress up the muddy climb at the other side of the valley to get a good gulp of baby food down. As I reached the top of the climb, Darren held the gate open for me and told me he was stopping to attend to some business, so I pushed on.

Within a few minutes, I could feel the energy from eating and managed a good stretch of running from the beginning of the copse of trees by Gill’s Farm, all the way down the descent into the steep walled valley of Thixendale. The grass path at the bottom was very wet and I was now thankful for the waterproof socks. I jogged on behind the head torch in front running intervals counting to 120 while running and 60 while walking so as to continue getting in twice a much running as walking, but also, longer spells of running.

It wasn’t long before I could make out the road ahead that this path joined, marked by a crew car parked where the path came out of the field and joined the road. I’d run more effectively so far on this section compared to the previous one and I put this down to the benefits of running on a route I’d previously recce’d v running on unknown ground.

Once on the road, I tried to maintain constant running, but had to stop for at least one walk break. As I turned left into the village, I check my watch and was pleased to note that the overall time was now 11h:10m. I decided that this was a good point to take some caffeine on board in the form of two Pro-Plus tablets and a couple of paracetamol to quieten some of the niggly pains in my legs.

Thixendale – Wharram Percy (7km)

Thix-WP

Map courtesy of OpenTracking

This next section was one I’d targeted to try and run a large portion of, but before I could get any running done, I had to climb a long, steep double track road out of the village. Halfway up, I looked back and could see only one head torch behind me in the village and I could make out another about 200m in front. Once at the top of the climb I decided to run until I overtook the that head torch. I managed to do this just before a left turn at a fence line.

At this point I could see the single head torch still not far behind me and a group of three or four turning right at the end of the field. I knew this field was pretty flat, followed by a steep descent, then a long steep climb. I noticed that the full moon had come out from behind the clouds and was giving some natural light. To try and save battery power, I switched my head torch onto it’s lower light setting and set off at a harder running pace. A quick glance down at my watch told me that I was churning out a quite respectable 6m:45s/km here so I kept it going all the way to the top of the steep descent.

I could see a head torch halfway down the descent and a group just starting up the other side. I flicked mine back onto full beam and started to bounce down it, as I’d done on my summer recce for all of about 10m when I realised that the surface was wickedly greasy and running was liable to lead to a fall.

I descended carefully through the halfway gate and then as the path became less steep, pushed hard to the bottom. Up ahead, I could see two head torches on the climb, moving well. I dug my poles out, flicked my torch onto half beam and climbed at a steady pace, allowing them to fade off into the distance again.

About halfway up the climb, I looked down to see the head torch behind was only about 20m away now and we came together at the top, it was Darren again. We chatted briefly, before I realised I was now on the long flat/slightly downhill runnable section I’d identified on my recce and started moving again.

I ran for a count of 120, which took me through some tree and around a right turn onto a double track path lined with chunks of chalky stone. I walked for a count of 30, before running for 180. This brought me to within a few metres of a pair, who pulled away slightly during my next walk break to a count of 60. I then ran for a count of 360, catching the pair as they climbed a stile. After the stile, I walked for 30 then run for 360 again, making more distance on the lights behind me. I had a rest for a count of 60, looking over my should and counting 8 sets of lights as far back as the turn through the trees.

The count of 60 took me to the top of the descent into the deserted village of Wharram Percy, so I decided to run all the way down. Closing all the time on a head torch in front. As I approached the deserted village, I noticed some lights strung around a bush, then another set around a finger post, these looked pretty, but the lights decorating the deserted village (complete with atmospheric music being played somewhere) were amazing.

As I ran around the church and past the cottage, I spotted another head torch ahead and ran faster to catch up. I caught Peter Kidd again as he was going through the gates before the climb up to the CP and I walked up to the CP with him to arrive at the best CP of the day on 12h:33m.

At the CP, I dumped the rubbish from my pockets and topped up my water, including using the last of my High5 tablets and any remaining dust. I had several cups of Dandelion & Burdock, which tasted amazing and grabbed some food. While I was eating, it started raining heavily, so I moved on quickly to keep warm.

Wharram Percy – Wintringham (13km)

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Map courtesy of OpenTracking

This next section was one I’d recce’d out and back and had identified sections along which, running, even on tired legs was possible. The first 2.5km away from the CP were downhill and apart from a short field crossing, were all on road, so despite the rain, I pushed on. It was now coming in sheets blown on the wind from the East and my jacket was taking a soaking. I resolved to get to the protection of the hedgerow on the field crossing ASAP before making a decision on putting my waterproofs on.

10 minutes after leaving the CP, I arrived at the field. The hedge was no protection, but to stop my gloves from getting wet, I got out and unbagged my waterproof gloves from my back pocket and put them on. As I got them out, I think I may have dropped my half eaten packet of babyfood, because when I next went to eat from it, I was surprised that it wasn’t there and had to start a new one. The alternative was that I’d binned it by accident at the CP. This occupied my mind briefly as I ran the final tarmac section through the village of Wharram le Street.

Ahead of me, I saw a group stopped donning waterproof bottoms. I remembered from my recce that there was a bench where the Wolds Way path left the road and became a stony lane over a hill. I stopped at the bench, quickly stripped off the waterproof gloves, being careful to point the cuffs away from the wind and unpacked my waterproof jacket. While in my pack, I took out my hand torch, which I though might come in useful for a field crossing that was coming up. While I put my jacket and waterproof gloves back on, I was overtaken by a large group.

As I got going again, I recognised Mick Cottam at the group’s rear. This was one of the only uphill sections I’d planned to run, as running it 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off worked well in my recce. It took me two cycles of running for a count of 30, walking for a count of 30 to catch Mick. As I caught him, I had a moment of paranoia about how quickly I’d zipped my pack back up and asked him to check my zips. After he checked me, I chatted for a short while then got going on the 30/30 plan again.

On the way to the top, I caught Joanne Abbott, Jude Dayne, Andy Pickering, Brian Cutmore, Stephen Gibson, Emily Beaumont and a couple of others. We crossed the next road together and descended toward some farm buildings, as we turned left, I recognised that we were approaching the part where I thought I’d need my hand torch (its beam can be zoomed up to 500m, so it’s good for picking out landmarks over a distance). The part I had in mind was marked on the map as The Peak and it was a muddy descent across a field, in a gap between two small hills with a gate/bridge over a beck at the bottom. The bridge marked the official 50 mile point of the Wolds Way, but in the dark, it was easy to miss the correct line to this crossing point.

As we turned right to begin the descent, I took off my right waterproof glove to get my torch out of my back pocket and clipped it to the front of my pack. The torch beam was brilliant and picked out the line needed perfectly, in fact it looked like two runners ahead were able to use it to find the gate after taking the wrong line.

The descent was muddy, slippy and treacherous and the pouring rain wasn’t helping matters. The group skidded and slid down through a thick muddy section then thankfully onto some grass before crossing the bridge and making the small climb back up to the road section that leads to Wood House Farm.

I let the group move ahead while I stowed my torch and put my waterproof glove back on, then got running in 30/30 intervals again. I caught the back of the group as we passed through the farm buildings, then dropped back off as they power walked faster than me along the next little hill up from the farm.

At this point, I noticed that the fingers on my right hand felt a bit squelchy and realised that while clipped to my pack, the waterproof glove had partially filled with rain water. I took it off and shook it out, but the inner remained damp. I kept it on over my damp skin layer glove in the hope that the outer shell, would stop the wind from cooling my fingers too much. At lest the heavy rain had subsided and the clouds had blown over to allow the full moon to light the path again.

Th next section of road had powerlines running parallel, so I again adopted a tactic of running to a pylon, walking to a pylon, remaining a short distance behind the group until we dropped back onto a muddy path inside the treeline that climbed upwards. I knew that this path eventually came back out onto a gravel track, but continued climbing all the way to Settrington Beacon before the trail descended all the way to Wintringham.

I decided to have a long walk break and let the group go as they were moving at a pace that was simply too fast for me. I decided to have a good eat and drink, finishing off my baby food, Chia Charge and protein gel supply for this leg of the race. I had a couple of Snickers bars left, but I didn’t fancy them. I was looking forward to re-stocking from my drop bag now.

Toward the top of the climb, I started back on with running intervals to a count of 60 running and 30 walking. I could see the lights of the huge group of maybe 10-12 runners cross the road and into the woods beyond Settrington Beacon and a couple of crew cars waiting by the crossing. I arrived about a minute behind the big group and entered the woods alone.

The first thing that struck me was how cold it was in the woods, despite being sheltered from the wind. It’s as if the still air was somehow a lot colder than the wind blowing on the hill. I was glad of my buffs and gloves there for sure.

I could hear a couple of owls hooting at each other and to entertain myself I joined in hooting back at them. This probably sounds nuts, but it kept me happy as I jogged down the hill, especially since I’d started to feel a hotspot on my right little toe now.

As the path turned right and descended further, I started to get the impression that my head torch was fading. I counted back to when I’d turned it on at around 4pm, it was now just after 10pm, which meant it had been on for 6 hours, so it was not unreasonable for the batteries to have started to go. I had a spare set and would change them at Wintringham. As I exited the woods, and began the steep descent down Keld Lane, I pulled out my hand torch, which illuminated the path brilliantly.

I jogged down the lane noting that a pair of runners were between me and the big group off in the distance. I decided to try and catch them before the right turn along the field edge that led to Wintringham. I caught them just before the right turn and jogged along the field edge and across into Wintringham with them, arriving at the CP at 14h:40m. Upon arrival we were spot checked for kit again (head torch, whistle and waterproofs), handed our drop bags then pointed in the direction of warm food and drink.

I grabbed myself a couple of slices of pizza and found a table to sort my stuff out. First of all, I put my watch on charge to try and ensure I had enough battery to cover the full 24 hours should I need to use the Navigation mode. I then took off my wet buffs and gloves and got out some dry buffs and a dry pair of gloves. My second spare pair of gloves had got wet as I hadn’t sealed their bag properly, so I left them in my pocket.  I  decided to take my dry gloves off, bag them and put my waterproof gloves back on if it rained again.

I changed the batteries in my head torch, stocked my pockets up with all my drop bag food, but left my remaining Snickers bars and the ones from my drop bag on the table for someone else.

I drank a few mouthfuls of my Red Bull, before deciding I didn’t want it and binned it and instead obtained a cup of tea from Dave Johnson who was marshalling.

I went over and grabbed more pizza and cookies and spotted Dave Cook while I was eating. As I approached, I realised Dave didn’t look at all well, he was shaking and really cold. I was about to grab a marshall, when somebody moved him near to a radiator, wrapped him up and started looking after him.

I was still slightly shocked when Mick Cottam came over to me and asked if I was about to go back out, I said I was and asked him if he knew this section as I hadn’t recce’d Wintringham to Potter Brompton and he laughed and said “I’d thought you”d have recce’d it, that’s why I was asking if you were going.” At that, we both decided to get a move on, as we were cooling down.  We left the CP at 14h:57m.

Wintringham – Potter Brompton (14km)

Wint-PB

Map courtesy of OpenTracking

As we walked out of the CP, Mick and I both noted that we were now very cold. We looked ahead and saw that the path climbed away from the village so felt confident that we’d soon warm back up. I felt a lot better now that I was in fresh dry gloves and buffs, but was worried about Dave and hoped he’d be OK.

We chatted along the back of Wintringham and Mick told me that if he finished the race, he’d complete his 1,000 Hardmoors miles too. Despite having eaten almost a full pizza in the CP, I continued to feed on my babyfood as we walked.

We got a jog on as the path headed into the woods behind Wintringham, I had an idea from comments made by people who’d recce’d this section that there was a steep climb coming, but I thought this was going to turn out to be exaggerated. I was wrong. As we arrived, I could see the grade was similar to that of Roseberry Topping, but with no steps and stretching upwards into the dark.

I walked slowly up the grade and Mick quickly pulled away. I was was reluctant to use my poles as the straps were still damp from the rain and I didn’t want them to wet my dry gloves. I was overtaken by two runners (I think one was Darren Barnes) and decided as a concession to take one of my poles out and use that up the climb.

The climb lasted for about 500m I reached the top of the climb and stowed my pole. The path now tilted downhill, along the edge of the hillside along a bit of a raised berm surrounded by bushes. I ran along trying to close on the head torches in front but was slowed a bit from the soreness of my right little toe and now hotspots on the balls of both feet.

Eventually I reached a road, where the Wolds Way sign pointed both left and right, one pointed to Wolds Way via a campsite, the other Wolds Way on its own. I couldn’t remember any mention of this from the route description (but the route description does tell you what to do here, I’ve checked) and was about to consult the route via Suunto, when I spotted head torches in the tree line to my left.

I took the left route and found myself running along the edge of woodland on a path very similar to one of my local training routes in Castle Eden Dene. The familiarity with the surface allowed me to run for extended periods at a time, sometimes counting up to 360 seconds before short breaks.

The path emerged from the woodland onto a field edge path that was riddled with rabbit holes that were a constant injury risk. I used my hand torch to pick these out ahead of time. I could now see a group of five or six runners strung out a few metres apart some distance ahead and I focused on running intervals to gain ground on them. I was feeling the need to be in company on this stretch. I wanted to make sure that I kept moving well, I wasn’t worried about getting lost, as I could now see the A64 down to the left and knew the path, although having a few twists and turns mainly only changed direction at a road crossing or field edge and would likely be signposted well.

The path crossed a road and skirted around the edge of a plantation and I briefly caught Mick again as the path turned left into another field. The path then turned right and seemed to remain flat enough to run, after about 200m, a slight change in grade meant that running was hard as the slippy surface meant that I kept sliding downhill to my left and it was hard to maintain safe footing.

After about 20 minutes, the path turned left down a steep downhill, where there was a gate to pass through a field wall, that slowed the group ahead down. I caught onto the back of the group and realised it contained Matthew Swan and Keith Wise as well as Mick, the other part of the group appeared to have pulled further ahead.

We ran through another slippy sloped field and emerged onto a road. I used the opportunity of a decent surface to turn off my head torch and use moonlight to run steadily on the downhill section. As we left the road and entered another section of woods, I remember Keith saying to me that he’d “Run out of run” and was walking it in. I did some maths and replied “We’ve just done 100km, 62 miles, only 18 miles to go and we’ve got 7 hours left to do it in. If we can’t do that, we shouldn’t be out here.” That phrase came back to haunt me later…..

Matthew and I plodded along ahead of Keith as the path rejoined the road and went downhill, before taking another right cut across a short field to another road where there was a line of crew cars. I recognised one car as belonging to Keith’s wife Kristy and remembered that she was one of those looking after Dave. I asked her how he was and she told me that they’d got him warmed up and he was fine. This made me feel so much less worried and I thanked her and moved on up the road.

Further up the road we passed Wayne Armstrong in another crew car as we turned up a steep hill. Matthew pulled slightly ahead as he climbed faster than me, going up or down hill was now quite painful due to the blisters, but I decided that there was not long left and cracked on.

The path took us through another bit of woodland then out pointing downhill along a lane that turned right. We passed a pair of runners that included Mark Baines before turning right onto a really sandy path. I could see some buildings up ahead and suggested to Matthew that we try running some 30/30 intervals but after the second interval I ran out of a bit of steam and chucked another Chia Charge down my neck to try and recover some energy.

We crossed the road by the farm buildings, that marked the end of this section at 17h:55m.

Potter Brompton – Staxton Wold (5km)

PB-SW

Map courtesy of OpenTracking

Once across the road, the sandy track continued. I was struggling to maintain the pace that Matthew was setting and started to lag behind. As I dropped off, Mark Baines caught me up at a jog. The lady he’d been running with had pulled out at Potter Brompton and got into her crew car so he was pushing on alone. He was quickly past me and a minute or so later overtook Matthew’s head torch.

The next road crossing brought me back onto familiar territory, this was Ganton, where I’d run the route into Filey from in August. Back then it took me around two and a half hours. Tonight I had around 5h:40m to do around 24km so in my head, I was now feeling very confident despite the amount of climbing I knew was packed into the next 5k.

I jogged through the sleeping hamlet of Ganton then walked onto the track that tilted uphill after it crossed the stream at the end of the road. I kept a steady walking pace for about 200m until it dipped behind a hedge, one of the few places on the Wolds Way, where I thought it was easy to make a navigation error.

As I entered the new field, I saw that Matthew’s head torch was almost at the other end of the field where the path turned right and headed up the hill. A climb that goes on for around 2km and gains around 100m, I prepared myself by taking on board more Chia Charge and getting my poles ready. I was grateful that the surface of the field was still nice and grassy and not as thick with mud as I’d expected it would be at this time of year.

As I turned the corner and headed uphill, I looked back along the trail and saw a pair of head torches about 50m behind me. I climbed at a steady pace, taking care not to put too much pressure on my increasingly sore blisters and aiming to keep moving as close to 5km/h as I could. According to my maths, I had 5h:30 minutes to do less than 24km so in theory, that pace should see me finish with 24 hours. Especially given that I hoped to be able to pick the pace up on the downhill from Folkton Brow to Muston.

I climbed slowly following the path as it zig zagged across the side of the hill following the field edges. I had passed the Wolds Way signpost that said Filey was 13 miles away already, but knew that could not be relied upon, as the final stage of the race took a circuitous route around Filey.

I was now on the penultimate straight uphill section and the pair of head torches behind me were slightly closer, but still a decent distance behind. I could still see Matthew in front and another light just beyond him.

As the path took another left turn onto Binnington Brow, I was caught by Brian Cutmore and Stephen Gibson. We chatted as we moved on together, I told them my feet were in bits and I think they both echoed the sentiment about their own feet. They pulled away from me as the road crossing at Staxton Wold Farm came into view and I took a moment to pop a couple more paracetamol and some Pro-Plus.

I crossed the road, looking forward to a nice tarmac surface on this hill, it was another one I’d run intervals on in the summer, but I had nothing left here, add to that the fact that the hard surface seemed to put more pressure on my blisters, I found myself moving very slowly and leaning on my poles. Time seemed to stretch out, seconds seemed to pass like minutes. I saw Brian and Stephen turn to corner at the radar station about 300m and it seemed to take me ages to get there, but I finally arrived at Staxton Wold on 19h:11m. I knew this was slower than plan, but I now had a good downhill surface to run on.

Staxton Wold – Flixton Wold (4km)

SW-FW

Map courtesy of OpenTracking

The lights of the radar station illuminated the road perfectly, so I was now able to turn my head torch off for awhile. I started running downhill and maintained was felt like a strong pace Suunto seemed to indicate I was moving around 7m:45s – 8m:30/km which I was happy with. I didn’t stow my poles, because I knew that there was another steep climb at the bottom of this hill, I just ran along on my battered feet until the road ran out, then flipped my head torch back on and proceeded on the rougher path as fast as I could.

I could now see Brian and Stephen’s head torches not too far ahead, I’d clearly closed the gap a bit and I could no longer see anyone behind me.

I arrived at the foot of the next steep climb and saw Brian and Stephen mere metres in front of me, sadly the reason for this was that they were about 10m above me and moving slowly up the climb. I poled my way up and caught them at the top. I looked down and saw at least two head torches starting the climb.

Usually, at this point in a night section, I’d try and bring out my mad competitive side to move me forward by making a target of not being caught by anyone behind, but at this point I felt utterly broken. I managed to maintain the same walk/jog pace as Brian and Stephen moving across a long straight section, I told them that the next bit dropped into a Wold where the eye would be drawn to following the lie of the land sticking to the floor of the valley, but the correct path followed the fence line up the other side, down again then back up before a very long drag to the CP.

We dropped down to the valley floor, the steep descent being very painful on the feet and predictably, Brian and Stephen pulled away from me up the other side. I was now in a bit of a trance, this was turning into a grim death march, something I really didn’t want to happen.

I could see the lights of the CP from almost 600m away, I saw Brian and Stephen pull further away in front and it was all I could do to just keep on moving. I motivated myself by reminding myself I only had all but finished the race, I just needed to keep on top of the cut off times. I was muttering “Just keep moving” to myself over and over again.

I knew part of this was that it was almost 4am, I’d been awake for over 24 hours and this was the natural part of the day when I would be at a low ebb. As I pushed up the bank to the CP, I remember seeing a dog in a high viz jacket near the field edge and a marshall wearing what appeared to be a great coat.

I was glad to find that this was no hallucination upon my arrival and I was greeted into the CP by Paul Atkinson with words of encouragement at 19h:59m. I replied with my more realistic assessment of things, which was essentially, I’ve got 9 miles to go in four hours and I’m not going fast enough. I need to get a move on.

I walked straight through the CP, ignoring food, drinks and any temptation to stop. I marshall came over and walked with me, offering me food, offering to run back, get it and bring it to me, but I declined. I told him I had what I needed in my pocket and I’d eat when I’d caught some time up. I could tell he knew I was acting against all perceived wisdom, but at this point I was in the stubborn, pig head, thick skinned rhino mode that Natalie hates so much. I was going to catch up on time and finish this, no matter how much it hurt.

Flixton Wold – Muston (7km)

FW - M

Map courtesy of OpenTracking

As I left the road and back onto the muddy path down to Raven Dale, I counted four head torches ahead of me on the same path and on the ridge at the other side of Camp Dale, I could see a line of six or seven.

My own head torch was starting to fade rapidly but I was using my poles to drive me along and couldn’t get my hand torch out. I tried to close the distance to those in front, but I still felt like I was getting little or no speed for a lot of effort. The state of my feet was starting to concern me, so I started repeating a mantra of “Your feet do not hurt” over and over again. It didn’t really work, but it focused my mind onto a task.

It seemed to take forever to reach the bottom of the valley where the path turned right, but I’d closed on a pair of lights in front. I reached into my pocket and took a good swig of babyfood on board and had a good drink as I walked across the valley floor and started up the steep hill on the other side.

Once on top of the ridge, which in the summer had been covered in sunflowers, I got a run on, it seemed to be drizzling again, which I was entirely indifferent to. I looked behind and saw a pair of head torches and entirely by surprise, the competitive me came out and I got moving to try and get away. I was soon at the top of the steep descent off the ridge and started to launch myself down it in pursuit of the runners I could see in front. I hadn’t gone far before I realised that the surface was both rutted and slippy as Hell so I slowed and took it easy.

At the bottom, I got a jog on, I was now almost at a gate that meant I’d joined Stocking Dale, which was part of one of my regular 10 mile routes I like to run when I am staying in Filey.

As I turned left into Stocking Dale, I was caught and overhauled by Keith Wise and Nicola Burston. I took a walk break, marching on as fast as I could manage, I now had very familiar landmarks to gauge progress and this helped.

I was almost on top of a group in front and I reckoned that if I got a run on across the field as we exited Stocking Dale, I might catch them. After that, even with a fading head torch, I’d be on a farm track and could move faster.

The plan almost worked and at the far corner of the field, I caught the group and overtook one of it’s number as the path became the farm track. I was fast walking now, with some renewed energy behind a pair of runners. I was waiting until we got to the top of this hill then I was going to motor down into Muston. I took more food on board and more drink. I also remember adjusting my clothes and feeling a nasty pack sore on my back, “bugger it, I’m nearly done” I thought and pushed on to the road crossing at Folkton Brow.

We crossed the road together, but I had forgotten that once over the road, the path continued to rise for a short while into the field, so I continued walking and the pair in front pulled away. As I crested the hill, I got a run on, 25m, 50m, 75m, closing the distance on the pair in front, looking up for the electricity pylon that marked the point where the path cut through a hedge, easy to miss and continue on down the field if you weren’t alert. I saw it and the pair in front cut through just ahead of me.

I stopped to climb the small mound into the field, it felt like a superhuman effort. Another swig from my bottle and running again. I caught the pair in front at the gate to the next field. My poles were now stowed and the hand torch out. My head torch almost useless, so I turned it off. From experience, I knew that with a few minutes rest, I’d get a little bit of time at full brightness when I turned it back on.

The path down the field was muddy and rutted, each step hurt my blisters but I pushed on, keeping somewhere close to the pair in front. On a normal 10 mile run, this tends to come around the 5 mile mark and I can run Folkton Brow to Muston in around 12 minutes, this time it took me nearly 30 minutes.

I was grateful that the farmer had taken down all of the wire fences that separated this field into sections, as I didn’t have to slow for the gates and I hoped it also meant that there were no cows in the field. I could now pick out the gate at the bottom of the field with my torch and I was now on the final flat.

I noticed the pair in front change tack suddenly and I noticed strange dark lumps on the ground ahead. I flashed my torch on them and belatedly realised I was right in the midst of a herd of cows. I did a jog trot as carefully and quietly as I could, I’m always nervous of cows, but the cows in this field once blocked me from entering via one of the gates and I had to hop the barbed wire fence to get around them.

I eventually got out of the field and into the short wooded section, the head torch went back on and thankfully threw out enough brightness to get me to the road into Muston, where I turned it off again.

I passed Roy MacDougall somewhere here, but I only have the vaguest of memory of speaking to him, I walked along the kerb into the village and got a shuffle-like jog on past a group of crew cars waiting for their runners. I dug my poles out for the steps into the next field and checked my time. I’d hit Muston at 21h:47m. In my head my mind was screaming “HOW LONG DID THAT TAKE YOU!!!??”

Rational James kicked in and worked out 7km in 1h:48m with 7km of mostly tarmac to go. I had 2h:13m to cover a distance I’d just done in 1h:48m, surely I would make it……..

Muston – Finish (7km)

M-Fin

Map courtesy of OpenTracking

I climbed up the steep steps out of Muston onto the short field crossing before the main road between Filey and Scarborough wondering how much the steps on the way to Filey Brigg would hurt if those few steps had caused my legs that much pain. I was caught mid-thought by Keith Wise overtaking me, he must have stopped to meet Kristy in Muston, so I tried to keep with him and we crossed the road together, before he pulled ahead of me climbing over the muddy hill in the next field.

Descending the hill was slippy and treacherous, I was determined not to fall and injure myself this close to the finish. Eventually I made it out of the field and noted that the path was now marked with glow sticks.

I was caught by the Abbott/Dayne/Pickering group as we turned right out of the field and walked to the point where the Wolds Way turned left directly through Filey to the Brigg and we turned right for out lap of the town.

Andy, Joanne and Jude pulled away from me quickly as they jogged up the hill away from Filey. I walked using my poles and only ran when I reached the top of the hill. I managed to run all the way down it, over the road and back onto the Centenary Way towards Muston Grange caravan park. This track is mostly a gentle downhill all the way to the golf club, so I ran (or did what passed for running) as fast as my legs would move. Soon I needed to turn the head torch back on and it was only giving a tiny pool of light.

There were more glow sticks marking the path and I pushed on down the hill. I was vaguely aware that my watch had just beeped at me with a different noise to it’s usual lap beep. I ignored it and pushed on.

Over the railway line, past the donkey field, more glow sticks and another weird beep. I looked at my watch and tried to read its face. “Low Memory” it said, I tried to remember what happened when the memory got full, I reckoned I was only an hour from the finish, my watch was showing 22h:29m an hour and half left. I decided to wait until I was on the prom to work out what to do with the watch, I pushed on. Now at the top of the steps each step down excruciating and finally, finally I was on Filey prom. I stopped my watch. At least the activity would be saved, then I re-started it, then remembered that if the memory was full, it started overwriting any unsynced workouts with the new one and promptly stopped it again.

Time to go old fashioned, I looked at the clock face, 06:43. That’s 1h:17m to 8am and the race started about 5 minutes late.

The wind was blowing off the sea and it was high tide. Water was crashing against the sea wall and waves were breaking over the top soaking me with spray. I could see head torches going out and back along the Brigg. I knew from over a decade of holidaying in Filey that even at toddler pace, stopping at every kiosk and attraction, it should only take 45 minutes max to reach Coble Landing, so I walked, just soaking in the grey, wild dawn and the fact that I was going to finish this race.

I passed all the closed seafront cabins, enjoying my solo promenade on broken feet, tired legs and hungry body. I reached the bottom of Cargate Hill and saw some runners turning to go up. I moved on further and reached the steps at the bottom of the Brigg at 7am. I climbed the steps onto the Brigg painfully and met several runners coming the other way, including Matthew Swan, Brian Cutmore and Stephen Gibson. I remember Brian telling me that I had a full hour to go.

I walked painfully up the slippy path then along the clifftop and then down the next set of painful steps, this was mentally very, very tough. I’d had to walk past the finish and now I was heading away from the finish and up and down stupid, painful steps.

Across the yacht club slip and up the next steps, slowly and painfully, another runner coming down, barely enough energy to acknowledge him, but forcing myself to, we exchanged Well Done’s then he was gone, on his way to his finish.

I was now crawling up towards the Brigg proper, I could see a tent by the Cleveland Way trailhead, just past the Wolds Way (Hessle 79 Miles) signpost, I started trotting, then had to walk. I head a familiar voice from the tent. It was Rod Collier. I’d last seen Rod exactly 24 hours before collecting drop bags. I checked my watch, it said 07:15. I said to Rod “45 minutes to finish?” and he told me to get a move on. I turned and ran down the hill passing another runner, an early morning dog walker then down the horrid torrid steps onto the slipway, passing a very broken looking runner coming up them. Did I look that broken? Possibly, probably.

I jogged across the slip and hauled myself up the next steps on my poles. I started trotting down the Brigg and saw Andy Nesbit and Emma Giles coming the other way, big beaming smiles and Well Done’s exchanged, I was so pleased to see they were going to finish, then as I reached the top of the steps leaving the Brigg, the best surprise of all Dave Cook and Dee Bouberda! I thought my eyes were playing tricks, when I’d last seen Dave at Wintringham, he was all but hypothermic. Now here he was about to finish. When Kristy said he was OK, I thought she meant he was OK but had retired.

Seeing Dave gave me a huge boost. If he could come back from that and almost catch me, I could bloody well finish strong too. I passed another broken runner on the steps and stumbled out onto Ravine Road, then bobbled along Beach Road, I saw a marshall at the bottom of Cargate Hill, I asked him how long to cut off and he told me a good half hour, I crawled up Cargate Hill, crossed the road and got a short trot on.

I passed the window of our B&B and looked inside, no sign of life. I shuffled on, heard footsteps pounding behind me, a pair of runners and their crew sprinting, actual sprinting and they were gone Simon Middleton and Chris Price hurtled past me and on to the marshall I could see in the distance at the corner, I followed them about a minute later, the marshall telling me where the front door to the Sea Cadet Hall was. I stumbled in, stopping the clock at 23h:41m:31s!

I’d done it! Someone cut my tracker off and I was led to some seats, my medal and T-Shirt was presented to me by Karen Dove, about 5 seconds before I decided to collapse on the floor. I couldn’t even collapse properly as my knee had painfully seized. I had just got back onto the chair when Natalie appeared all smiles and smothering me with kisses.

My brain was starting to shut down a little, all the adrenaline was bleeding away. I know people brought me food and looked after me, I remember it being around 8am, breakfast time at the B&B but I wasn’t hungry, I just wanted to lie down. I told Natalie to go get some breakfast while I just let my body adjust.

While I was there, I got to see Andy, Emma, Dave, Dee, Lauryn, Sean and Peter finish. It was a great feeling seeing people who’d been part of the adventure complete it themselves.

When Natalie returned, I was more alive and I hobbled back to the B&B for shower and sleep.

Final Thoughts

From getting onto the coach at Filey, to arriving at the finish and being looked after, this was a perfect event. I think that speaks absolute volumes of Jon, Shirley and all of the people who work hard to put Hardmoors on. Especially when you consider that this was an inaugural running of a race.

If there were teething problems, I didn’t see them and from a runner’s perspective, that’s the most important thing.

Thank you to everyone involved in the organisation, running and support of this race. Thanks to everyone I ran with, you were all awesome and I hope I see you at future events. Gatherings like this only serve to remind me of and re-enforce the lifelong friendships I’ve made through trail running and Hardmoors events in particular.

Well done to all involved, you rock!

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Background

My 2018 Hardmoors 60 Race Report is conspicuous by its absence from these pages. Usually, it’s a case of “James runs a race, race report appears within a week”. However this time I made an exception. Partly because I have only a little bit of detailed recollection of the race and partly because I felt without investigating and pulling together some learnings, this would be little more than a rehash of my 2015 Hardmoors 60 Race Report.

With these learnings included, this piece is a lot longer than most of my previous posts as it contains a summary of what I can remember from the race, followed by the investigation I did afterwards and what I learned from it. The latter part of this feels fairly technical and possibly something that might bore someone simply wanting to read an account of the race, so consider yourself warned (and forgiven if you decide to give it a miss).

Race Report

After my failed Hardmoors 110 attempt, which ended at Kildale, I was very positive and felt that I was in very good shape for the 60. I no longer had the overarching need to protect the finish in order to preserve a Super/Grand Slam or Triple Ring attempt, I decided I would use the 60 to have a serious crack at bettering my 50 mile PB of 13h:00m:00s which I set during the 110.

I had a week off running following the 110 then did White Horse Half, which I treated as a bit of a training run and completed the 26.7km “half” in 3h:08m:18s. I was pleased at how well I’d recovered from the 110 and made only minor adjustments to my summer training plan, which wasn’t much different to my approach to the 55 and 110, but did include six Wolds Way recces spread over two weeks in August. The shortest of these was 13km but three of these were 26km runs. I clocked up 133km over those two weeks and felt great throughout.

I followed this up by sweeping the 50km Princess Ultra at the beginning of September before winding down for the 60.

As usual, I planned for the 60 by splitting the course down into manageable chunks, the only difference between this plan and previous attempts was that I split the chunk from the start to Saltburn down further because I thought it was too long. So I included mini-splits to Highcliff Nab and Slapewath in between.

Usually, my plan is based on the output of a tool I have built in Excel that uses the times of my most recent training runs. Normally, I put in my best and worst recent 20 mile plus runs and have a look at what is most realistic. Other times, I take a bit of an average of the two. If I’d used this method for the 2018 race, this is what it would have looked like:

01

This plan wouldn’t have seen me through 50 miles in my target time of 13 hours, but would have seen me shave 15 mins of my previous best for this course.

What my actual plan looked like was:

02

What I was trying to achieve was to go faster in the earlier sections and bank time. I knew I could complete the splits to Saltburn, because I did these only a few weeks before, on one of the hottest days of the summer and none of the other splits were unrealistic based on previous runs and recces.

I had a pretty poor night’s sleep before the race, but apart from that, my pre-race prep was not much different to any other.

I planned to start the race with three bottles. Two 500ml UD flasks, one with water and one with Lucozade Sport in and a 500ml soft flask of Lucozade Sport carried in my hand or pocket.

At the start of the race, I remember going off very quickly up Belmangate before getting a grip of myself and slowing down. I remember that I felt comfortable all the way to Highcliff Nab chatting with Brenda Wilkin and Paul Elsley before pulling away from them on the climb. Based on my watch, I reached Highcliff at 00h:34m:51s, pretty much bang on time and I stopped there to tie my lace. I remember feeling hot on the climb but the breeze on top was quite cold.

I remember feeling comfortable all the way through Guisborough Woods and passed through Slapewath at 01h:09m:47s, again pretty much bang on target. After this point, I did notice the day was hotting up, but upon arrival at Saltburn, neither of my hard flasks were depleted and the soft flask was about ¼ full, so I ran straight through the checkpoint at 01h:58m:40s feeling rather pleased with myself for getting there just over a minute ahead of plan and saving 2 minutes rest time by passing straight through the checkpoint.

I can’t remember much about the section to Skinningrove other than I know I used a lot of the water in my bottle to soak my arms, neck and head to keep cool and that I arrived at Skinningrove at 02h:50m:59s. Still just a shade ahead of plan.

Between Skinningrove and Staithes, the weather became overcast and there was even some drizzle at some point, but it remained very humid and warm. I remember feeling that my energy was going just before the climb up to Hummersea Cliff and somewhere around then I told myself that a 50 mile PB wasn’t on because continuing to push hard in this heat wouldn’t end well. Having slowed down somewhat I felt a bit better, even more so for seeing Phil Owen coming down Boulby Bank and getting a water top up from him and cruised into Staithes at 04h:11m:32s. Now behind plan, but no longer concerned about that. At Staithes, I planned to nip into the Royal George to top up my water bottle and buy some Coke. I tipped the remainder of my Lucozade Sport out and went into the pub, but couldn’t find any staff to serve me. So I trotted out and went to the Cod and Lobster instead where I got some water and Coke, topped both bottles up with ice and to the bar staff’s amusement put ice under my armpits, in my buff and down my top. I spent just under 5 minutes stopped at Staithes instead of the planned 2 minutes.

I can’t remember much of the section to Runswick Bay, but arrived there at 05h:17m:49s. I remember seeing Rebecca Quinn and Joe Williams at the CP, both of whom run similar times to me in races, so I had no real concern about my pacing at this point. I remember not wanting my bottle of Lucozade from my drop bag and I think I opted for CP Coke instead, leaving my Lucozade on the table for someone else. I did see a can of Cream Soda on the table and downed that. I also downed the can of Red Bull from my drop bag and took on water from the CP too. I think I also had some melon before heading off across the beach.

Going up the steps at the far side of the beach was hard, but no harder than expected, but at the very top, I felt physically sick and needed to sit down on the bench at the top. I know a few people passed me and expressed concern that I looked ill, but I just took the time to gather myself. I reasoned that I’d took a lot of fluid on board before the CP and at the CP, but I hadn’t balanced it out with electrolytes. I eventually got walking and started eating some of the Pom Bear crisps I had in my drop bag. I also took an S!Cap tablet. After about 500m I got jogging again and remember feeling iffy, but moving. Occasionally I felt a twinge of cramp in my calves, but kept eating the crisps and drinking fluids. I vaguely remember thinking to myself that I could eat my way out of trouble and started to make sure that I eat something either sweet or savoury every 10-15 mins.

At Sandsend I’d started to feel a bit better and bought a cup of black tea and a can of lemonade from a kiosk. I remember running with both in my hands and seeing Karl Shields and laughing about not spilling a drop, then later being passed by Karl and Harriet in their van and handing my rubbish over to them. Things got a bit vague then, but I think I might have bought a slush in Whitby but I can’t recall carrying it or drinking it. I do remember feeling cramps in my calves again and walking through Saltwick Bay caravan park being heckled by some lads outside a caravan.

At the Saltwick CP (08h:16m:25s), I had watermelon, melon, orange juice and I topped one of my bottles up but not the other (I forget which it was). I’d taken several S!Caps between Runswick and Saltwick, but took on more there and I moved away feeling OK. I remember running well on the descent following the big climb after the lighthouse for a couple of kms before I started to feel the cramps in the calves again so I slowed for a bit before going again. Approaching Hawsker Bottom, there’s a set of steep cobbled steps which I started descending. I was only a couple of metres down when a huge cramp flashed all the way up my left leg and left side of my back. As I stiffened up, I slipped and fell down several steps. I laid there for a few minutes waiting for the cramp to subside and took some water on board.

I was about to try and get up when Peter Kidd and Claire Wheeler arrived from behind. They spent a few minutes trying to help, but every time I tried to move, a new cramp flared up, some so painful that it made me feel sick. Peter and Claire moved on and after sitting for a bit I got my poles out and walked on for a bit. My next cramp came a few minutes later on a flat section and affected both legs and I found myself locked up on the floor.

I dragged myself up against a drystone wall and sat there trying to work out whether I needed someone to come and get me or whether I could walk to Robin Hood’s Bay after a bit of rest.

I went in my pack for my phone to ring race control to let them know I intended to finish at Robin Hood’s Bay, but would be moving slowly, but lo and behold I had no reception. I was passed by several more runners and walkers, all of home took a moment to see if they could help, but I assured them that with some rest, I’d get going.

I must have been stopped for half an hour before I hobbled to my feet and walked slowly on with my poles. I’d been going for 5 minutes before I vomited for the first time. I felt a bit better and moved on. Shortly afterwards I vomited again. After a while I saw somebody running from the direction of Robin Hood’s Bay. It was Neil Widgley who had been told by other runners that I was struggling. He’d came with warm clothes and first aid kit just in case I needed them. He walked me back to Robin Hood’s Bay. I remember feeling generally OK, apart from any time we had to climb a hill, which caused me to quickly become out of breath.

As we approached Robin Hood’s Bay, we were met by Kev Borwell and Emy Jones, upon their arrived, I greeted them by throwing up again. We walked into Robin Hood’s Bay together and arrived at 11h:15m:35s as darkness began to fall.

I was assessed as being dehydrated. Kev made sure I put my warm kit on and Emy made sure I had plenty to drink and massaged my legs back to a point where they weren’t cramping as much with a solution made from Magnesium and water before Kev drove us both back to Filey.

A couple of days later, I chatted online with Emy, who is a qualified PT, nutritionist and life coach with a whole host of exercise and race specific experience. I got some advice from her on hydration and nutrition. I also did some further research into dehydration and cramping in long distance/ultra runners.

So what went wrong?

Essentially, what ended my race was cramps and later, vomiting. I became unable to move faster than cut off pace due to the cramps and the vomiting, as well as slowing me down, prevented me from replenishing my fluids and fuel effectively.

Why did it happen?

After my further reading and advice from Emy, I am in agreement that the vomiting was entirely down to dehydration.

My further reading also lead me to the conclusion, that dehydration was also a significant factor in relation to the cramping, however I have found that among experts, the causes of cramps are hotly debated.

Many do feel that in hot conditions, the rise in body temperature results in excess sweating leading to a loss of body fluids and electrolytes, which means your blood volume decreases and your heart rate increases. All of this reduces the body’s ability to dissipate heat, which accelerates fatigue and takes its toll on our muscles ending in cramp.

Tim Noakes wrote around 430 pages in his work Waterlogged countering this view, believing the causes of cramps to be neuromuscular.

In a podcast with Trail Runner Nation, Noakes explained:

[Dr. Martin] Schwellnus developed the theory that there are reflexes in the muscle that prevent them from cramping…. When we run, and, in particular, when we run slightly faster than we want to (or that we really should be running), it seems that that reflex gets tired, and the inhibitory reflexes become less strong. And as a consequence, the excitatory impulses… become dominant. And as a consequence, the muscle goes into cramp.

And we know that, because if we look at the electrical activity in the muscles, we notice that before they cramp, the activity starts to rise. So something’s changing in the muscle, that’s making it more prone to going into cramp. And then, you continue for a bit further, and it goes into a full cramp.

And the point is, it is an electrical phenomenon, a reflex, that may originate in the brain (or more likely originates in the spinal cord), but has almost certainly got nothing to do with dehydration or sodium balance, and has almost everything to do with genetic predisposition and also has got everything to do with how tired you are, and how hard you’ve exercised.

Noakes adds:

The remedy, unfortunately, is to do lots of stretching to the [affected] muscle, lengthening the muscle, because what we have also found, is that, muscles that haven’t been lengthened – muscles that have been working in a small arc, and working in a shortened position – those are the muscles that are going to cramp. So you need to stretch the muscle, lengthen it, to make it less susceptible to cramping.

More recent work has studied the incidence and prevalence of cramping. (Schwellnus, Drew et al. 2011) and two factors did emerge that separated crampers from non-crampers: the crampers ran faster versus the rest of the field, and they had a history of cramping in previous efforts.

This resonated with me, firstly in this attempt at the 60, I’d gone off way quicker than my own training and split planner said I was capable of and secondly, I had a history of cramping under these conditions (my 2015 attempt at the 60).

It also stood to reason, that my increased effort had caused a higher heart rate, higher body temperature and consequently a higher sweat rate than I was used to. This, combined with my drinking at a rate that was not in line with the effort and the higher temperatures of the day meant that in the early part of the race, I became dehydrated, which in turn had a massive effect on muscle performance.

My fluids, did not contain the correct proportions of the electrolytes that I was sweating out, so that delicate balance was messed up very early in the race. As I approached Staithes, I’d recognised the dehydration problem and addressed it by drinking heavily, which probably served to dilute my electrolyte balance.

The other big mistake was, that I chose to rehydrate with drinks that had a high sugar content. Sugary drinks (I now know) exacerbate the effects of dehydration. At a point just after Runswick Bay, I realised I’d possibly had too much to drink, without including electrolytes, so I started taking S!Caps. S!Caps contain 341mg Sodium and 21mg Potassium, so while they did do something so redress the balance, they do not contain the whole spectrum of electrolytes that I was losing (typically 500ml sweat contains 575mg Sodium, 887mg Chloride, 138mg Potassium, 9mg Magnesium and 30mg Calcium), so were probably, too little, too late.

During the latter part of my run, as the cramps became more prevalent, I also took too many S!Caps and did so without drinking an appropriate amount of plain water to support them. This accelerated the process of dehydration, resulting in vomiting.

So with this starting point, I went back to the data from my training leading up to the 60 and the 60 and examined my efforts. I then compared these with previous ultra-efforts, with the notable of my HM110 effort as I didn’t wear a heart rate monitor for that race.

What The Data Told Me

Looking back at the average heart rate per km of my long training runs in July and August 2018, it was possible to group the HR displayed into bands based on Phil Maffetone’s arbitrary 180-age formula. At 40, my ideal HR would be sub 140bpm.

I colour coded anything sub 140 as green. However, I recognise that the world is not perfect and when you are moving over varied terrain and in different weather, your HR will naturally fluctuate. During my training, I never looked at my HR as I preferred to train off feel so there will have been time spent above 140 that felt OK. To recognise that, I coloured anything 140-144 as amber.

I then added another category, that level of effort that’s just above the comfort zone, that’s OK to enter for short periods but not to stay there 144-149 became amber with red font.

The next category was 150-159, the zone you might expect to spend time in during short to medium training runs, but somewhere I wouldn’t really want to spend any time on a longer run and especially not during an ultra. This was coloured pink with red font.

Finally, there was the red zone, 160+. This is the zone that hurts if you spend time there, usually, I only visit this during sprints and only stay there for prolonged periods (or so I thought) during 5k, 10k and half marathon races.

To gain context, I added in the pace/km and the elevation gain/km. This meant that I could compare the effort to the pace achieved and also see, if the HR/pace correlated with any sustained climbing. To assist with this, I coloured any gain/km of 20m+ in yellow.

Training Runs

03

04

It can be seen fairly clearly that on most runs, I stayed at an averages of 130-140bpm but often under 130bpm, the exceptions being both runs on my local 20 mile loop, a Hardmoors 60 recce from Guisborough to Saltburn and my Hardwolds 80 recce from Ganton to Filey.

On both of the 20 mile loops I spent sustained periods (almost 3 hours on one and two hours on another) over 140bpm, often with long periods over 150bpm. The notes on both of these runs indicated that I suffered as a consequence.

The Hardmoors 60 recce shows that I spent the first 4km above 140, which is kind of understandable as this section is all uphill and included the Teeslink climb to Highcliff Nab.

The time spent over 140bpm in the Ganton to Filey run, was due to a deliberate decision to run hard from the top of the hill above Muston and therefore not particularly reflective of how I would hope to run on longer outings.

Races/Ultras

2012-2015

2015-2016

2018

Looking at all of my ultra-distance races, it seems I have a habit of going hard in the first 21-24km. My worst performances (2014, 2015, 2018 HM60 and 2018 HM30) all have one thing in common. I went into the red zone one or more times in the early part of the race.

In this year’s HM30, I was injured and trying to bank some time before the injury slowed me down, so this could probably be disregarded.

In the 2014 HM60, I had no real concept of how to manage my pace and paid for it severely later on.

In the 2015 Hardmoors 60, I went into the red on the way to Highcliff Nab and again on the climb out of Slapewath and pushed pretty hard almost all the way to Staithes. I hit serious issues at Runswick and cramps ended my race around 2km before the cramps started this year.

On this year’s HM60, it was a similar pattern. I went into the red going up Highcliff Nab. That’s almost 14 minutes with my heart rate above 160, probably a fair bit higher given that things tend to be a little lower when they are averaged.

In other races, I do have a habit of going into the 150-159 zone early on, but these spells seem to be punctuated by dips back below 150 where I had perhaps looked to rest a bit. Also, the harder spells seem to be more closely aligned with climbs.

In my more successful runs (2016 Lyke Wake, 2016 HM60 and 2018 HM55) I have gone off at a lower level of effort, even if I’ve gone over 150bpm, it’s been an average of 3-4bpm lower than in the races where I’ve suffered.

What this seems to tell me, is that my long training runs in the lead up to this year’s HM60 were mostly conducted in the <140bpm zone. Where I exceeded this, I suffered. This indicates that I was not sufficiently conditioned for sustained periods of time/distances of harder efforts and if I wanted to run that hard for long periods, I should have been using my shorter training runs to build up to those sorts of sustained efforts.

The result of this was, that when I ran hard for the first 24km of this year’s race, in warm weather, it was an effort that my body was not accustomed to. My muscles were worked at a level that was simply not sustainable. As a result, my body worked harder and I sweated more than usual. I did not counter the sweating with an appropriate level and make up of replacement fluids and an exacerbated the situation. In effect, I’d probably done most of the damage before the Saltburn checkpoint, but I might have been able to salvage a slow painful finish from it, if I’d been better at rehydrating.

What Now?

What I’ve taken away from this, is how I manage myself on longer runs needs to change. All the data in my training and racing going back years tells me that I have a much more comfortable, incident free and successful run when I maintain an average heart rate below 140bpm.

One of my key beliefs in ultra-running is, that completion is all about success, through minimising failures. In other words, there is a long list of things that can go wrong in an ultra. That list gets bigger and more likely to happen the further along the race you are and the risk increases massively beyond 42.2km. So it makes sense to me that working to keep the heart rate below 140bpm on long runs would benefit my racing performances.

To this end, I’ve built a Suunto app which causes my watch to beep at me every 10 seconds where my lap average heart rate (a lap being the current 1 km lap) in the first 24km of a run exceeds 140bpm. This allows me to know when my rate of exertion is higher than expected and take measures to get things back under control.

I had initially built the app so that it beeped at me whenever I spent more than 10 seconds above 140bpm, but this meant that it was going off far too frequently due to the little spikes in heart rate that you get when climbing etc. The idea behind the 24km limit is, that in my race efforts, 24km seems to be the point at which I settle down into a more sensible effort naturally. I have also found during training runs, that once I’ve spent a couple of hours running at the lower effort, it becomes habit so a reminder is not needed after that point.

There has been a trade off in pace/speed, but I’ve found that I’ve been able to sustain my efforts for longer at this lower level. While at the distances of 32-36km (which are the longest I’ll do in training) this doesn’t pay off against the overall times I was achieving running harder, it is still reasonably close and I am finishing feeling strong and it’s not a massive leap to project this pace out to 48km (30 miles) where I can see the tipping point where being able to sustain this slightly slower pace for longer returns a faster overall time.

Conserving my effort in this way has also allowed me to perform harder efforts later in the day if required without the suffering that would occur if I’d been pushing hard all the way around. Proof of this occurred last weekend when I pushed hard up a 500m section of hill I use to test myself at the 32km point and I sustained an average of 150bpm for that whole lap, presumably with a higher heart rate on the hill then a subsequent dip as I returned to normal effort. During the effort, I felt comfortable, a bit more out of breath, sure, but comfortable. After the effort, my heart rate returned back to an average of 135bpm and I continued comfortably to the finish at 37km.

The other learning I have put into action is all about hydration and nutrition and is almost entirely as a result of my conversations with Emy.

Previously, I had been hydrating with Lucozade Sport and plain water. Later in races, I’d top up with Coke, Dandelion & Burdock or Lemonade from checkpoints.

Remembering that sweat, on average contains 575mg Sodium, 887mg Chloride, 138mg Potassium, 9mg Magnesium and 30mg Calcium per 500ml. Lucozade only contains 250mg Sodium and does not provide replacement for any other electrolytes. It is also very sugar heavy and therefore, once dehydrated, taking on Lucozade is likely to make things worse. Other drinks like Coke, Dandelion & Burdock etc while tasting nice (something that is not to be ignored as a benefit later in a race) don’t provide any electrolyte benefit in terms of maintaining the balance.

Emy recommended that I go back to using High 5 tablets in my drinks. I had previously used these (including the 2015 HM60) and still suffered. Emy had advised using two tablets per 500ml, where I had previously only used 1. Using 2 tablets would provide 500mg Sodium, 140mg Potassium, 112mg Magnesium, 18mg Calcium and 56mg Vitamin C. Much closer to the electrolyte profile needed. This is advice that I have taken on board and put into action.

The other recommendations I have put into action, is to take a drop of MegaMag magnesium supplement in a drink the night before a long run/race and to start using Pink Himalayan Salt in my diet to bring up my levels of Magnesium. She also recommended rubbing my legs down with or bathing in water and Magnesium salts as a recovery activity. The role of Magnesium in the body, is to regulate muscle contractions, so it stands to reason, that being on top of my Magnesium intake would be beneficial in preventing cramps.

I have also cut out some of the sugary food from my intake during long runs. Instead of taking Wine Gums I have switched to savoury food in the form of pouches of Ella’s Kitchen baby food, which is essentially real food blended and kept in a resealable pouch, ideal for carrying on longer runs. I still use Chia Charge bars and Snickers and have found that with this combination of food and drink, my stomach has been more settled on longer runs too.

I’ve now run 6 or 7 long runs, including some tough hilly work putting these learnings into action and not only have I had no issues in terms of feeling bad, struggling, cramping, being sore etc. I’ve actually felt stronger during the runs and recovered more quickly afterwards and been able to train more frequently than I previously had been able to.

The next step is to put all this into action in a race situation, which is fast approaching in the form of Hardwolds 80 on 24th November.

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.

Saltwick

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.

Runswick Top

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.

Roseberry CD2

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.

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.

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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.