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.

Great post by Kim.

Miles to go before I sleep

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

I am not, nor is any other woman…

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

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

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

Planning and Preparation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saltburn CP: 2h:05m

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-Race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start to Saltburn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saltburn to Skinningrove

Passing through the Saltburn checkpoint quickly, I headed out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rob Hartley’s photo of me arriving in Skinningrove

Skinningrove to Staithes

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

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

Photos by SportSunday Photography

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

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

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

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

Staithes to Runswick Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Runswick Bay to Saltwick Bay

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

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Runswick Bay

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

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

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

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Sign showing distances to the trailheads

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

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The old railway line into Sandsend

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

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

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199 Steps, Whitby

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

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

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Ravenscar in view across from Robin Hood’s Bay

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

Robin Hood’s Bay to Ravenscar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravenscar to Hayburn Wyke

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

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

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

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

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

Hayburn Wyke to Scalby Mills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scalby Mills to Scarborough Spa

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

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

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

Scarborough Spa to Finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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The Lyke Wake Route

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

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

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

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

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

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Sheepwash

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

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

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

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

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The Lyke Wake post at Sheepwash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Trig at Round Hill in much clearer weather

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

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

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

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Lion Inn Checkpoint at Blakey Ridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blue Man I’ Th’ Moss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The eventual prize winners of the day were:

First Male Home: Paul Havis at 2:27pm

First Female Home: Vicky Howe at 3:41pm

Fastest Male: Ben Hamilton in 6h:06m

Fastest Female: Shelli Gordon in 6h:58m

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The idea behind the Cleveland Hills Challenge formed in my mind in around October last year when I stumbled across the Wikipedia page for the Cleveland Hills.

On the page, it lists all the summits in the range with height and grid locations as below:

Name

Grid reference

Height

Urra Moor (Round Hill)

NZ594015

454 m

1,490 ft

Cringle Moor

NZ537029

432 m

1,417 ft

Carlton Bank

NZ519026

408 m

1,339 ft

Cold Moor

NZ551035

402 m

1,319 ft

Hasty Bank

NZ565036

398 m

1,306 ft

Tidy Brown Hill

NZ603052

396 m

1,299 ft

Bilsdale West Moor

SE553966

395 m

1,296 ft

Warren Moor

NZ616075

335 m

1,099 ft

Gisborough Moor

NZ643123

328 m

1,076 ft

Easby Moor

NZ590101

324 m

1,063 ft

Park Nab

NZ614084

324 m

1,063 ft

Roseberry Topping

NZ579126

320 m

1,050 ft

Live Moor

NZ505013

315 m

1,033 ft

Highcliff Nab

NZ610138

310 m

1,017 ft

Codhill Heights

NZ614127

296 m

971 ft

Eston Nab

NZ561800

242 m

794 ft

It got me thinking that all of the 300m (1,000ft) + summits were all in a single range and it was probably possible to summit them all within a single run and quite possibly do that run in a number of different ways.

Having eliminated Codhill Heights and Eston Nab from the list, this left a list of 14 hills and me being slightly OCD (and feeling a little guilty for removing Codhill for a mere 4 metres) I decided that Newton Moor which stands more than 300m and is halfway between Highcliff Nab and Roseberry Topping might make a good addition, especially as it’s on the next ridge along from Codhill Heights.

Having formulated the idea in my head, I sounded out a couple of running friends who agreed it sounded like a fun challenge to have a go at so I went public, created a Facebook group and put it out there in November for people to have a crack at.

There was some chatter over the winter about possible routes and a lot of interest in giving it a go but by the end of January nobody had planned in a firm date. With races now appearing in peoples calendars I decided to give it a shot in April.

I made enquiries about getting a crew together and had positive responses from a number of friends including Peter Kirkham and Shel Winspear whom I’d been Facebook friends with for a long time but had never actually met before.

Having been cajoled into setting an actual date by Jayson Cavill, I set a firm date of April 9th and went public with that. No going back from it once it’s out there.

The run up to April seemed to come really quickly, having performed well in the Hardmoors Three Sisters night race, in brutal weather and completing a 32 mile recce run of the Hardmoors 110 from Staithes to Clay Bank with Brenda Wilkin, Dave Cook and Dee Bouderba in snowy conditions in January I felt confident of my ability to cover the distance and climbing involved as long as I kept progressing my training.

I had also entered a duathlon race, so in between trail running training, I was also doing some cycling (nowhere near enough for the race I’d entered) and road running. I was however during most of February and March piling on weight and I felt it’s effect during Sun City duathlon where I really struggled due to my lack of cycling specific work and the additional weight I was carrying.

Having started to eat more sensibly, in conjunction with my training, I’d started to lose weight in the couple of weeks leading up to 9th April and with it, my running seemed to be improving.

On the Tuesday before the challenge, I met up with Pete and Shel and walked them through my intended route and meeting points so that they’d know where and when to meet me. Having never done any crewing before, I was determined to make things as easy as possible for them and keep meet points to obvious road crossings and all of my kit to one bag.

The route I chose started in Commondale and headed north across Gisborough Moor which I’d recce’d twice in training. Once across into Guisborough Woods I’d head up to Highcliff Nab, then follow the Cleveland Way to the foot of Newton Moor, which I’d follow a tractor trail to the top of and make my way to the highest point (based on the OS maps I’d used to plan the route).

After that, I’d follow the tractor trail down to another part of the Cleveland Way (which loops round to the other side of the moor) and head north along it before making and out and back to climb Roseberry Topping. From Roseberry I’d follow the Cleveland Way along to Easby Moor and round Captain Cooks Monument before descending into Kildale at the first agreed meeting point.

I’d chosen Kildale because it’s 5 minutes’ drive along a the same road from Commondale and has a tea room that would allow Pete and Shel to keep warm, dry and fed while they waited. Based on distance, I’d estimated two and a half to two and three quarter hours for this leg.

leg1

After Kildale my intention was to head up the Cleveland Way towards Bloworth Crossing and the next meet up point of Clay Bank, taking minor detours to pick up Park Nab, Tidy Brown Hill Warren Moor and Urra Moor (Round Hill) on the way. For this leg I budgeted three hours as I had no idea what conditions on the most exposed part of the route would be.

At Clay Bank I’d resupply with food and fluids as well as deciding whether to use my poles over the Three Sisters of Hasty Bank, Cold Moor and Cringle Moor before dropping down to the Lord Stones Country Park for another meet up, which again would be convenient for Pete and Shel as there is parking and the café for food etc. I’d allowed an estimate of an hour and a half to get there.

For the final leg, after a couple of recce’s I’d decided to use the Cleveland Way to pick up Carlton Bank and Live Moor then run across the heather down to a lower track which I could use to link up with a path that would take me directly to Bilsdale West Moor where I knew the huge TV transmitter there was slightly south of the summit, but where I’d never actually been before. Allowing for distance and tired legs, I reckoned on about two hours to the finish, following which I’d drop back down into Chop Gate for a pick up maybe a couple of miles on top of the 32 miles I’d have already run.

leg2

Having gone through this and what I’d do in various situations such as feeling unwell, getting injured or changing route we were all ready to go.

The night before, I packed all my food/fluids and kit for all weather eventualities into a bag.

The morning of the 9th arrived with damp, and drizzly conditions in Hartlepool. Pete picked me up at 7am as agreed and as we drove to Commondale to meet up with Shel (with children and dog in tow) it became clear that it was going to be foggy on the tops in line with the morning’s forecast. The afternoon forecast was for it to get brighter but with showers expected.

Once out of the car, I decided on wearing a base layer, leggings, thin jacket, hat buff and gloves in addition to the tri-suit I always run these distances in. I was also wearing gaiters for only the second time on a run and was interested to see how well they’d keep dirt out of my shoes over really long distances. For food I had a bag of Wine Gums, a bag of dry roasted peanuts, a bag of salted peanuts, an energy Gel, two Snickers bars and a banana. I also had 500ml water and 1,000ml Lucozade Sport split between two UD bottles and a UD soft flask which went in my back pocket with the food. I had a moment of panic getting out of the car when I couldn’t find my MP3 player and thought I was going to have to complete a long solo run without music, then I found that it’d rolled out of my vest pocket to the back of the car boot.

I got Pete to drive me to the edge of the first footpath then I was off, jogging slowly at first as I unravelled the tangled mess of my earphones (why do they always end up like that no matter how carefully you pack them?)

As I approached the gate that leads onto the moors path, I blundered into a series of puddles soaking my feet with icy cold water. The path beyond the gate itself was submerged and my first dilemma was whether to continue along the path to where I knew there was a bridge or hop over the stream that runs across the route and re-join the path where it loops back and up the hill.

The jog up the hill on fresh legs seemed relatively easy and I settled into a decent rhythm quickly and it wasn’t long before I was off the single track and onto the main path across the moor with was a nice wide trail.

As the trail wound upwards, the mist grew thicker and at times I was down to less than 50m visibility, feeling quite cold I had to use a buff to cover my ears and neck.

Soon I was within sight of the cairn that precedes the summit and decided to run to the cairn to see if it was an appropriate summit marker or if the junction with a path ahead was truly the highest point of the moor. A couple of minutes of boggy heather trudging later told me that the path junction was the true summit.

With the first summit conquered in 33m:39s I had some food and got a jog on, using the gentle descent to pick up some of the time I’d lost walking the steeper inclines on the way up. The fog seemed to lift a little as I descended but was quickly replaced by drizzly rain. I passed the trig point on the moor and turned the corner onto the path that runs parallel to the top of Guisborough Woods. I ran to the beat of the music along the path until I reached the gate into the woods themselves and turned onto the fire road that leads up to Highcliff Nab. I took a walk break and used the time constructively to text my wife, Natalie and let her know that I’d fed the dog before I’d left the house just in case she gave her a bonus meal. The fog seemed to hang in the woods and visibility was quite limited, so I was surprised when I arrived at the top of the hill where the woods cleared and the path headed along the ridge to Highcliff Nab. I reached the summit in 57m:43s and rewarded myself with a banana, munching on it cheerily as I descended via the rocky path onto the Cleveland Way.

I passed a couple of early morning walkers and continued along the flagstones towards Black Nab and my next objective, Newton Moor. About halfway along the path, the fog seemed to suddenly clear and I stopped to look back at Highcliff Nab and take a picture before heading on quickly.

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As I ran I realised that the soft flask in my back pocket was bouncing around and it was annoying me, while I’d almost emptied the one in my vest so I stopped at the path junction before the ascent to Newton Moor and emptied the soft flask into the bottle which made me feel happier.

To ensure I hit the correct part of the summit, I set my Suunto into navigation mode where I had all of the summits saved as Points of Interest and my planned route for the day saved. My route took me up the winding tractor trail as expected, but I spied a single track leading off the side to the ridge I needed to be on. As the tractor trail was rocky and muddy in equal measure, I saw this as a good option and quickly got onto the ridge which I found was covered in nice, deep, wet heather but as expected had a single path running across it from north to south. I followed the directions of my route south and passed a cairn, checking to see whether this was my waypoint, nope, onwards through more leg soaking heather pleased to note that the gaiters kept the various loose bits of heather and other grit from entering my shoes. Ahead I could see a small standing stone and it soon became obvious that this was the actual summit as marked by my waypoint. I touched the stone at 1h:23m and retraced my steps with Roseberry Topping firmly in my sights.

Once back on the tractor trail I bounced down the less boggy bits of the hill and danced around the puddles where I could but my feet got a good soaking two or three times on the way down to the Cleveland Way where I turned right and headed along to Roseberry. Once through the gate onto Little Roseberry I thought I could see somebody on top of Roseberry Topping but when I looked again a minute later they were gone. The stones on the path down to the foot of Roseberry were slippy and I was descending with care, conscious that I had a long way to go and didn’t want to pick up a knock nor did I want to fall and break something here which was quite far from vehicle access.

Soon I was climbing Roseberry Topping, using the same technique I did on Hardmoors 55, very small steps with minimum pressure placed on the muscles, no real rush. I was feeling strong and running to plan. I was soon on the top and run up to touch the trig point at 1h:44m before heading straight back down the way I came. On the way back up to Little Roseberry I passed a walker who commented that the weather was awful. I looked ahead to Captain Cooks and noted that for the first time today, the fog had cleared enough for me to see the monument, however I looked back at Roseberry to find it obscured by fog just a couple of minutes after being able to make out the summit clearly.

I ran most of the path to Gribdale Gate, passing more walkers who were also doing the same little dance as I was around the boggy bits and puddles. I arrived at the foot of the climb to Easby Moor from Gribdale Gate at 2h:08m and began to walk up at a decent pace. I could see a dog walker and a family ahead making their way up and I resolved to overtake both before the summit in order to give my walking a bit of focus.

About halfway up I managed to overtake the dog walker and about three quarters of the way up I overtook the family of walkers.  As I approached the top, I started jogging again and touched my next waypoint, Captain Cooks Monument at 2h:22m and began my descent into the always boggy woods aiming to hit Kildale by the 2h:45m point.

Once through the woods and onto the road I managed to maintain a consistent pace all the way down into the village, the only obstacles being a few sheep who’d chosen (or rather their lambs had forced the decision) to feed their lambs in the middle of the road.

I arrived at the cars bang on 2h:45m, had a quick catch up with Pete and Shel, dropped off the now empty soft flask into the boot of the car and resupplied my back pockets with Snickers bars for the journey ahead.

Having given an estimate of three hours to get to Clay Bank I headed up Battersby Bank to my next objective, Park Nab, another summit I’d never visited before.  On the way up, I took some photos of the improving visibility across to the Three Sisters and continued at a steady fast walk up the hill. I eventually reached my turning point off the main road and headed up a muddy tractor trail towards the Park Nab summit.  At this point I was making mental notes to update the Challenge Facebook page with landmarks for each summit.  Park Nab was entirely devoid of any useful marker.  In fact I hit the summit at 3h:12m but continued further than I needed looking for a decent marker until it became obvious I was descending again. I turned around and made my way back over the muddy, greasy summit sliding around a bit as I went and earning my feet another soaking.

Once back on the road I cracked on to my next objective, Warren Moor which was less than 1km away. I arrived at the gate/cattle grid in the road where my Suunto was telling me to divert left onto the moor to reach the summit, but it was obvious from my current position, that I was already at the highest point of the moor, so marked time at 3h:22m pleased to have picked off 7 summits in a fairly quick time.

I was now heading onto the most exposed part of my route, the old coal road that leads on to Bloworth Crossing, most of which sits over 400m above sea level and often throws hostile weather at you. The last time I crossed this section of the moors was in January, after midnight in drifting snow and thick fog. At least the fog was clearing up today and I actually thought I could feel the temperature rising a little.  I was running well on the slight incline, only breaking to walk when the path steepened every now and again. I could see the ridge upon which my next target, Tidy Brown Hill sits from a long way off and I kept moving steadily, only stopping once to take a couple of photos of the trail behind me and another of Captain Cooks/Roseberry in the distance.

I was soon level with the ridge I needed to be on and switched Suunto back into nav mode as I looked for an easy path up through the thick heather. I soon found a section that had been cut back and started to climb towards the waypoint marked in my watch. I’d only climbed about 10m or so when the ground got very squelchy and I was having to hop over bouncy peat to avoid the masses of standing water. As I reached the top of the ridge I could see that thew waypoint was again going to be lower than the highest point. I was too busy looking for a marker when I went knee deep into a muddy puddle.  At that point I turned back and headed to the ridge where I took my mark of a lone mini pine tree planted roughly at the highest point. I was now 8 summits up in 3h:51 minutes and just under 26km into the run, which I guessed was around half the distance I needed to cover.  If that was true, I was well ahead of the 8 and a half hours I’d guessed I’d take.

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I bounded back down to the Cleveland Way, again thankful for the gaiters in keeping the nasty stuff out of my shoes and cracked on towards Bloworth. At this point my legs were starting to feel a little sore, so since I was alone I decided to repeat the mantra that had worked so well for me on this stretch during last year’s Hardmoors 55. I was soon running along repeating “I am strong, I am fit, I am running well, I am running pain free.”

Pretty soon, the pain had subsided but the sun had come out, another thing I noticed was that there wasn’t a breath of wind, almost unknown for this trail. I made sure I was drinking regularly and plugged on to Bloworth, reaching the turn towards my next summit Round Hill, which sits atop Urra Moor at 4h:23m. As I passed Bloworth, I was in bright sunshine and was about to start stripping layers off, when a welcome rain shower made an appearance keeping me cool and refreshed.

The path was getting quite busy too, I passed several walkers which helped me pass the time greeting them. The trig point for Round Hill came into view and I turned off the path and headed up to the summit on 4h:45m.  This was the highest point of my route and since it was also the highest point of both the Cleveland Way and the North Yorkshire Moors, I paused to take some photos, one of which was the Bilsdale Transmitter way off in the distance.  I made my first of many promises to the Bilsdale West Moor then.  “I’m coming to get you!”

I was off on my toes again, this time headed downhill and making faster progress, knowing that I soon had some of the toughest climbing to do, I took some paracetamol while on the move to make sure that any aches and niggles were dulled before I got there. I was now sweating profusely and had taken my hat, buff and gloves off and stuffed them in my back pocket.

I was now bounding downhill heading towards my next meet up with my crew at Clay Bank, as I got onto the road I could see Shel and the kids waiting there and I jogged down the road, emptying the last of my Lucozade into my mouth as I went.

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At Clay Bank, I stripped off my base layer, knowing that I was definitely too hot with it on, but decided against stripping my leggings off. I soaked the buff on my wrist in cold water, topped my water and Lucozade bottles up and stuffed some more Snickers into my back pocket. Before heading off, I decided to play my trump card and downed a can of Red Bull in one go.

I grabbed a banana to eat while climbing Hasty Bank and then I was off, across the road and up through the woods back towards the Cleveland Way gate. I finished my banana half way up the steep section of Hasty Bank and feeling hot, sloshed some fresh water over my head and upper body.

From the gate to the top of Hasty Bank took around 12 minutes getting me to my next summit on 5h:37m. With the sun shining and the skies clear, the views were stunning so I stopped again to take some photos before I was off and heading down through the Wainstones towards the foot of Cold Moor. I was feeling really strong as I climbed Cold Moor (this probably had more to do with the Red Bull than anything else) and I kept cool with regular slurps of drink and sloshes of cold water over my head. I crested Cold Moor and ran across the summit on 5h:58m.

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As I reached the top of the descent, I could see a pair of walkers almost at the bottom, I targeted beating them to the top of the next climb.  I bounced down the side of the hill and overtook them going through the gate at the bottom of the hill, exchanging a greeting as I passed then jogged on to the foot of the next climb, which is one of the toughest on the Cleveland Way.  I fast walked the hill, but could hear the voices of the walkers behind me, having closed the small gap I’d managed to make running across the valley floor during the first part of their climb.  I pushed a little harder, at one point too hard, slipping on a rock but I made good progress up the hill, as I got onto the flat section at the top, I’d built a decent gap and I jogged on to the turn I needed to take to head up to the cairn that marks the summit of Cringle Moor around 100m from the main path.  The route up to the cairn was singletrack, muddy, wet and slippy.  Needless to say, my feet got wet again.

I touched the cairn on 6h:23m and jogged back down to the main path, passing numerous walkers on the way, including the ones I’d previously passed. I was down descending quickly but carefully down towards the Lordstones Country Park and my next rendezvous with Pete and Shel.  On the way down I could feel a hot spot forming on my left little toe, I ignored this and pushed on, in my mind I was smiling, only 3 more hills to go, I’d well and truly broken the back of this run and I was still feeling pretty good.

At Lordstones I topped my bottles back up, thought for a minute about taking my poles for the final leg then changed my mind as I was feeling good.  I jogged out of Lordstones at 6h:42m, having spent about 5 minutes sorting myself out for the final stretch. The sun was still very warm on my neck and I was again sloshing water over my head as I climbed. Carlton Bank is another set of steep steps and I was expecting my calves and thighs to be sore at this point, but they weren’t and I felt that I was climbing comfortably within myself. I reached the trig at the top on 6h:54m and took some more pics before moving on.  As I jogged down the rubble strewn path away from Carlton Bank, I caught my left little toe on a rock and confirmed for certain that I had a pretty decent blister forming, the right little toe also started sounding off too but I ignored both and pushed on singing alone to the music on my MP3 player, which I was pleasantly surprised that it was still pumping out tunes.  I reached the penultimate summit of Live Moor on 7h:16m just as the music reached the last track and returned to the beginning of today’s playlist.

I’d recce’d some of the paths around this part of the moor as part of my Lyke Wake Challenge prep and decided to use that to my advantage now, taking a shortcut across the heather to a track down by Snotterdale Plantation rather than heading up to the glider station at Carlton to pick up the trail to Bilsdale.

I made slow progress back up to the main trail but I’d saved myself some distance at least. I was now facing south, heading directly towards the transmitter, promising Bilsdale that I was coming.

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The trail was rocky and soon, both feet were feeling sore, hotspots on the little toes and the ball of my right foot were slowing me, but I kept pushing on.  Just past Barkers Crags, I passed some runners coming the other way, one wearing a Hardmoors 26.2 finishers shirt and I greeted them fairly manically as I pushed upwards towards the top of the moor.

I was now almost at Cock Howe and the transmitter seemed to be just as far away as it was half an hour ago. As I passed Cock Howe, at 8h:18m, the battery on my MP3 player finally gave out and I was left with only the crunch, crunch sounds of my footsteps and the occasional honk or screech of moorland birds for company

In the distance, I could see a cairn by the trail and I focused on getting there despite my tiring legs and sore feet. I arrived at the cairn which was at the top of a bit of a plateau on 8h:36m.  I checked Suunto and could see that my final waypoint was around 200m off into the heather at my two o’clock. There was no real difference in elevation between the cairn and the waypoint off in the heather so I stopped the clock on 8h:36m:59s.  Challenge complete and a happy, but tired man.

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I walked was to Cock Howe then jogged down to Chop Gate to meet Pete and Shel at the Buck Inn.  They’d been fantastic support all day and Pete presented me with the perfect tonic as I arrived, a pint of coke which I necked in one.

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The Challenge lived up to all I expected it to be, epic in it’s 52.6km distance and 1,716m elevation gain. The weather was very kind all things considered.  Kitwise I was happy with my choices and foodwise, I was happier with how things had gone that any long run I’ve ever done.

Eating every 15 minutes, alternating Wine Gums, dry roasted nuts, salted nuts then a banana or Snickers on the hour (with the exception of a single gel at the 2 hour mark) worked very well and my stomach was the most settled it’s been on a run over 20 miles. I’m now of the view that gels may be the thing that’s caused previous queasiness.

For fluids, I felt that the Lucozade Sport worked well, supplemented now and again with an S Cap.  I’m interested to see how I’d go with a more complete carb/electrolyte drink like Mountain Fuel.  That’s something I’ll probably try before July when I take on the Lyke Wake.

The route, I think I picked a good option, the only downside being that the Bilsdale section at the end was a bit of a dirge, particularly when I was feeling tired.  I’d be interested to see what it’d be like starting at Scugdale, doing Live Moor, Bilsdale then Carlton and working round the rest of the route in reverse. Starting at Slapewath and doing an out and back to Gisborough Moor might be slightly quicker too. Lots of options to explore for future attempts.

I can’t sign off without giving the huge thanks due to my crew, Pete Kirkham and Shel Winspear.  Both of whom gave up their time freely, spent a day driving from place to place and making sure I had everything I needed. The completion of this challenge is as much yours as it is mine.  Thank you!