February is normally a little late for my first race of the year, but tonsillitis then a nasty cold kept me out of action for most of January and caused me a DNS for the Burn Road Harriers Old Monks Race.

Even with that shaky start I’d managed to get some quality training in prior to the race with a few runs in Guisborough Woods and up on the tops around Roseberry, Captain Cooks and Kildale. I finished my prep off with a comfortable paced half marathon and was surprised to have clocked my fourth fastest time over the distance, so I felt pretty good going into Sunday’s race.

I was using Osmotherley as a full dress rehearsal for Hardmoors 55 which is in just over a month’s time. To that end I had all the compulsary kit for that race, plus the few extras I intended to have with me on the day. I took food enough, by my estimation to keep me going for 8 hours or so and my targets for the race were as follows:

Recce the Cleveland Way between Clay Bank and Osmotherley

Finish before sunset

Get over 7 hours on my feet logged

Test my kit

My final aim was a little bit unorthodox. Having experienced several hours of running alone in Hardmoors 60 last September, I’d decided that in the 55 I was going to fight to stay with a group. In the run up to this race I’d identified a number of people on the entry list who I thought were similar paced runners and I was going to attempt to stick near them if the opportunity arose. The main problem being that all of them were better climbers than me and there were one or two really long climbs in this race where those people would simply get too much of a gap on me to make the ground back up, in particular I was concerned about the climb from Chop Gate to Cock Howe, where I knew most of the people I was aiming to stick with, could get up to 10 minutes ahead of me.

I decided to go out easy on any climbs, but for the stretch between Osmotherley and Scugdale, I was going to hammer the descents and try and get a decent lead knowing that once up onto the moors I’d slow and start going backward through the field. I knew this would have a detrimental effect on my legs for the latter stages, but I flipped this into a positive by telling myself it’d give me an idea of what my legs would feel like in the later stages of the 55.

Arriving in Osmotherley on the morning of the race, the weather seemed mild and fairly dry. Reports from friends who’d been up on the moors during the week advised that there were still patches of snow and some boggy bits. With this is mind I decided to keep all of my warm kit, because I was going to have to carry it on the 55 anyway and the moors are unpredictable this time of year but decided to ditch my waterproof socks as they can become uncomfortable to run in after awhile. On the 55, this decision would have meant putting them in my pack or in a drop bag with a spare pair of socks. On this occasion they went in the back of the car.

After registration, chatting with friends and the race brief we all toed the line at the north end of the village and got quickly underway.

Most of the first km was downhill so I was rattling along overtaking people I had no business overtaking. Everything felt fine and dandy with the only slight worry being that I felt overdressed. My cap and skullcap were quickly whipped off and stuffed into my back pocket. Once into the woods the route went uphill towards the TV transmitter site and I was reduced to a slow jog then a fast walk for awhile. As I got past the TV transmitter, I marked the location in my Garmin, just in case visibility was awful in a months time. Up on the top it was misty and cool, so the headgear went back on.

I was now moving along at a decent running pace about 10m behind the runner in front and 10m ahead of the runner behind me. As we got onto the downhill section of Scarth Wood moor I adopted the ‘Frozen Philosophy’ and let it go, brain off, brakes off and full tilt down the hill, passing plenty of runners, just before the bottom, I spotted a group who’d taken the wrong fork and shouted them back. We finished the descent to the first checkpoint together where Ann Brown was snapping everyone who went past.

 

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I passed through the checkpoint without stopping and headed into Clain Woods chatting with other runners, keeping the tempo quite high. The sun was now trying to break through the early morning mist and my jacket was now unzipped halfway down. Serious consideration was given to even taking it off.

Further along the path we came to a set of steps down to the old railway line to Swainby, I was familiar with these and knew that they were only a couple of hundred metres long but nice and evenly spaced, with an even grade so I performed my patented gravity bomb trick, using my weight to fly down them at a rate of knots.

Once through the wood the track cuts left across a field that always seems to be wet. I gingerly got round a boggy patch before letting the brakes off and flying down the field at full pelt.

I have no idea what I tripped over or caught my foot on, but all of a sudden I was down on my knees and sliding along the floor, ploughing two neat furrows in the ground before popping back up onto my feet. In my minds eye this looked like some sort of John Travolta dance move where he slides across a dancefloor on his knees before returning to his feet gracefully. The reality was probably very different, the language was very Pulp Fiction though.

As always, I took the option of running through the beck at Scugdale rather than crossing the bridge before having another stint of walking up the steep rise to checkpoint two which is at the foot of the climb onto Live Moor.

I felt fresh going into the first big climb of the day and trotted up the runnable bit before slowing to a walk as the steps ascended into the woodland before changing into the chunks of rock flung into a hillside that make up much of the steps found on the Cleveland Way. Compared to doing this climb in last years half marathon I found it an easier climb, probably testament to the climbing work I put in across 2014, but even so I lost several places before I reached the top were one of the Sports Sunday photographers was waiting to snap me and the group of runners I’d fallen in with.

Once recovered from the climb I got my pace back up and started snacking on the wine gums and dry roasted nuts I’d brought along. Up on the top it was also noticeably colder so the jacket was fastened back up and full head cover back on. The mist made a re-appearance too. On the next climb to the Carlton Bank weather station and trig point (both got marked in the Garmin) I was again passed by faster runners and again I remained unworried, everything was going to plan. Most of the people who passed me got reeled back in on the descents and I was still feeling strong and comfortable.

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Eventually I was descending to the Lord Stones checkpoint where I intended on having a cup of cheap supermarket cola and whatever sweeties were on offer. I said a quick hello to Gail Gould who was marshalling at the gate and headed down to the gazebo to grab a handful of sweets and a cup of cola. I waited to let a car pass then I was off again across the road into the Lord Stones country park having knocked off an hour and a half and began eyeing up the next big climb onto the first of the Three Sisters, Cringle Moor.

I now consider myself very familiar with this climb with several ascents in daylight, at night time, in wind, rain and snow. There’s a trick to pacing it and I felt I did well again on Sunday slowing the pace enough to keep the heart rate comfortable and not battering the legs but still pushing hard enough to keep the pace competitive, I made it up the climb in 9m:32s which is my second best time on that one.

Once on the top I again pushed the pace harder than normal trying to pick off a couple of runners in front of me. I drew level with them at the top of the descent and forced the pace down the often treacherous cobbled steps. Thankfully the steps were dry so I could bound down them rather than the stressful slow progress that you tend to get forced into when they’re wet and slippy.

Next up was Cold Moor, again I paced it nicely at 9 minutes exactly putting my 3rd best effort on that climb away (fuelled by a chocolate bar handed to me by marshall Flip Owen at the bottom of the hill). At this point I was running running alongside Mark Dunseith who’d caught up with me and chatted as we climbed. Along the top and on the descent Mark looked strong and pulled ahead of me a I headed down to the checkpoint manned by Jo Barrett.

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The next section was unfamiliar territory, I’d never taken the low path around the Wainstones before. I expected it to be a typical forest track with a couple of muddy ruts but plenty of places to hop around the worst of the mud. I was wrong. So far I’d managed to keep my feet dry and mud free, but there was no chance of that here. The track was completely ankle deep in mud and standing water. I tried to pick good lines and hop around the deeper bits but at 2h:15m into the race I was down again, this time slipping over and landing on one hand and knee. I was quickly back up and gingerly picking my way through the mess when it got a whole lot more fun.

Being in woods, on the north face of the moors, this track hadn’t seen much sun and the recent snow had not yet melted so the surface became ankle deep snow mixed with mud and standing water. I was picking my way through the best bits when I spied a ledge by the side of the path. I hopped on this and ran along it for awhile before foliage began to close this option off.

I saw a shallow patch of mud I could step onto to get to a clearer section on the left hand side of the track and jumped for it. My left foot went down and my right foot went forward and completed the next stride with my left foot before I realised I was missing a shoe. The left stockinged foot went ankle deep into the grime before I span and hopped back to collect my shoe just before it disappeared under the surface. I quickly wiped the worst of the mud off my sock and slipped the shoe back on again.

I eventually hit the Clay Bank checkpoint at 2h:30m and quickly guzzled a cup of orange aid to wash down some of the dry roasted nuts I’d eaten before taking on the beast that is Clay/Hasty Bank.

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I took this climb nice and easy knowing that I wanted to push hard once I got back onto Cold Moor to make up some time on the long descent into Chop Gate. In all honesty I don’t know how some of the mountain goat like runners make such good time up this one anyway, the footing is awkward for me and it’s just too bloody steep to really go at. (See the photo above by Ann Brown)

Almost twelve minutes later I had made it up the top and was headed for the Wainstones, scrambling through the rocks I was starting to feel a bit of stiffness in the knees and ankles but apart from that I felt in decent shape.   Again, I let it go on the descent back to the checkpoint at the foot of Cold Moor to begin the climb up again pretty much on the three hour mark.

Despite the many times I’d been up onto Cold Moor I’d never used this path to get up there, I now know there’s a reason for that. Steep, muddy and pocked with patchy snow that made it hard to gain any sort of traction. I was comforted by the fact that the runners in front of me, including Mark didn’t seem to be gaining any sort of distance over me so they must have been experiencing the same sort of difficulties. With that in mind I didn’t worry too much and got some more food down my neck as I was climbing.

Once onto the top I used a mixture of jogging and fast walking to continue along the false flat section of the ridge, which seemed to be muddier than it normally is. I kept comforting myself that the climb would eventually finish and that there was an awesome downhill section coming up that I’d rocketed down many times before, even in the pitch black of night.

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Once the path started pointing downhill I realised I was going to be really, really disappointed. The path is very rutted, however one can normally hop from rock to rock and keep a good pace up all the way down to Cold Moor Lane, however, due to the recent snowmelt and the numerous runners before me, the ruts were several inches deep in water, the rocks covered in greasy mud and the bits of track above water were a mess of thick, sticky mud. Nevertheless I tried to push the pace where I could. At this point there were no runners I could see in front of me whose line I could follow (or avoid if necessary) so I just did my downhill thing.   I had a couple of near misses where my feet went from under me then I recovered mid fall but I kept going then all of a sudden I was down again on my left side. On my way down I’d clipped my Garmin against a rock and saw the pin on the wrist strap go flying and had the nightmare vision of it disappearing under the surface of one of the 6 inch deep puddles near me. Thankfully it had stayed on my wrist. I was helped up by two runners who were following behind and once they were assured that I was OK they pushed on ahead of me.

I gave myself a quick check over, stuffed the Garmin in my back pocket so that I didn’t lose it, had a quick drink then moved on again. Almost immediately I felt my left thigh was pulling a bit. I’d obviously over extended it when I went down so I slowed off and walked a bit before speeding back up to a run as I got closer to the village.

The thigh seemed to have quietened down as I arrived at the Chop Gate checkpoint manned by John Vernon and Dennis Atherton (now at the third checkpoint I’d seen him at). I guzzled down a cup of cheap cola, then was off again to take on what was, for me the toughest climb of the day.

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Once at a decent height above the village I could see some bodies following me up the climb. I pressed on at an even pace, but every time I had to use my left leg to clamber over an obstacle the thigh was giving me some bother.

I was first overtaken by Emily Beaumont who chatted with me before she was off again, shortly followed by another runner.

Once past the farm tracks over the first false summit, the path again turned to mushy mud and more worryingly, lots of thicker and deeper snow. Again I was glad that I had been slightly overdressed at the beginning as I certainly wasn’t now. I was trudging through the snow when Gareth Barnett caught me up. We walked, talked and ran together for a bit before Gareth pushed on ahead. I could see the checkpoint ahead at Cock Howe and risked a glance over my shoulder. I could see Dee Bouderba about 100m behind me. Dee was one of the similar paced runners I’d hoped to stick with in the second half of the race so it looked promising at this point that we’d hit the summit together.

I as I arrived at the summit I decided to fasten the laces on both my shoes as it felt like I’d been sliding around inside them at times. At the same time I removed the strap from my map case from my neck, where it had been annoying me and tied it to my pack. Both made an instant difference to my posture and how I felt. As I moved off from the checkpoint I had a choice of a well trodden mud/snow path or some virgin snow. Me being me I chose the snow, I put my foot down on it and got a nasty surprise, whoosh! My foot went through the surface and I was almost thigh deep in the white stuff, worst still, my foot had exited the bottom of the snow and was very obviously under some really icy water. Great! At least the track from Cock Howe to the lord Stones checkpoint was flat…kinda.

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As I got moving along the track I seemed to be struggling for pace, for some reason I couldn’t quite keep up with Dee as I thought I might have been able to. It became very reminiscent of Hardmoors 60 when I’d spent several hours behind Dee and Jo Barrett at distances varying from 100m to nearly 1km. The same was happening here along the top of Barkers Ridge. Sometimes I’d get my pace moving at a decent rate and I’d make ground, then Dee would be off again, then I’d realise that Dee had only slowed to avoid some obstacle like patches of deep snow or water (and I again made the same mistake I did at Cock Howe and ended up knee deep in some more innocent looking snow).

I could hear another runner approaching behind me using sticks and he passed me, then as he slowed for a bit I passed him again but we never really fell in beside each other long enough to talk. As we made it over Barkers Crags into the glider station I let him go and having had a quick look around to ensure I was alone I decided to answer a call of nature. No sooner had I started I could hear voices (this always happens to me on runs! Not hearing voices, well that too but being caught out.) Also over my shoulder I noticed a runner powering over Barkers Crags and heading my way very quickly.

I sorted myself out and got moving again, passing the source of the voices, a family of walkers as I got onto the road by the glider station. I was caught up by the power runner and it was Brenda Wilkin. I was surprised that Brenda hadn’t passed me much earlier in the race and told her so. She said she’d had an awful time with cramps in her calves for the first 13 miles or so and had even been crying at one point. She must have been glad she pushed on because she was really going well by this point (19 miles).

I descended towards Lord Stones, pleased to note my thigh seemed to have settled down and as I approached the gate leading to the checkpoint I noticed that my shoelace was undone. Gail Gould very kindly offered to do the honours showing a wealth of experience in looking after ultra runners who sometimes can’t manage even simple tasks themselves during a race, but I managed by myself this time.

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At the Lord Stones checkpoint I finished my juice bottle and filled it to the top with the cola from the checkpoint. This is something I plan to do at HM55 so I was glad to see the juice lasted roughly the right distance. Another handful of sweets from the checkpoint and I was off chasing Dee and Brenda up the side of Carlton Bank the way we’d came just a few hours earlier. We were now just past the five hour mark and as I climbed the hill I noticed that the weather seemed to be turning. The wind had picked up a lot and some low cloud had closed in. As I reached the summit I pulled my buff up over my face and told myself to “Get the f*** off this moor sharpish”. I pushed the pace hard along this stretch and every time my energy dipped I started trying to eat my way out of trouble with wine gums and energy gels getting slung down my neck as if they were going out of fashion.

I heard voices behind me, expressing similar thoughts about the weather and getting off the moor quickly. I’d been caught up by Gill Crane and Lauren Ireland. We ran together for awhile chatting and the company definitely improved my mood and consequently my ability to keep pressing on when I felt like stopping. To add to this I could see Dee getting closer and closer ahead of us, so it looked like the group was going to get a bit bigger. Brenda, however was just a speck in the distance and pulling away quite quickly.

As we descended from Live Moor we had become one group sometimes running together then stringing out a bit then bunching back up. The group had become strung out as we passed through the checkpoint at Huthwaite Green but as I’d topped off my bottle at Lord Stones, I was able to jog through and rejoin the group as they were leaving.

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As we headed into Clain Woods I managed to get a stone trapped in my shoe. I stopped to remove it and was again off the back of the group so had to push on to catch up. I found that every time we went uphill I ended up dropping off. Sometimes I’d catch up before the next hill, other times I’d only get close. I didn’t find this demoralising, it actually gave me some focus and kept me going.

As we reached the bottom of the evil, evil steps that I’d bombed down earlier I was caught by Andy Nesbit. He had a good covering of mud too and told me he’d ended up on his back in a puddle earlier. He pushed on up the hill in chase of the group while I just did my best to keep them in sight.

I pushed hard through the woods and arrived at Scarth Nick just as the group were leaving. They were about 20m ahead of me fast walking up the hill towards Sheepwash so I just fast walked behind them, making ground and eventually catching up just as we hit the rocky climb onto Pamperdale and Osmotherley Moor.

I was again slightly off the back of the group but close enough to hear the voices and the chat. I caught up just before the main road at the point where we passed the standard marathon distance of 26.2 miles (although at a conversion rate of 3:1, from Imperial miles to Hardmoors miles, the marathon distance had been passed at around Cringle Moor.)

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From this point on I managed to stick with the group for the final stretch into Osmotherley where Andy took a cracking photo.

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The final stretch into town held a nasty surprise in a set of steep steps up from the beck into the town but at this point we all knew the finish was close. As usual I was slower going up and had to chase the group to the finish and a well deserved cup of tea, cake and rice pudding.

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As a race and a day out, I thoroughly enjoyed Osmotherley Marathon. I’d recommend it to anyone, even if it was to be their first marathon. Yes it’s probably one of the hardest marathons you can do, even race director Jon Steele had touted it as a possible personal worst course in terms of timings but that just means the pressure is off and you can just enjoy being out and about in spectacular countryside sharing an amazing experience with other like minded people.

In terms of my aims:

Recce the Cleveland Way between Clay Bank and Osmotherley – I’m now comfortable with the route.

Finish before sunset – Finished well before sunset

Get over 7 hours on my feet logged – Ran for 7h:27m

Test my kit – Tried all the kit out. Despite getting wet I didn’t miss the waterproof socks, although on the 55 I’d be looking to change wet socks as part of my routine at maybe the Osmotherley CP if my feet had got wet. Food and drink all went to plan, I had no blisters or chafing. I didn’t find that I was missing anything I needed. The only real issue was that the map case had annoyed the life out of me for awhile. In honesty for the 55 I don’t think I’ll be needing the map out for reference until Osmotherley, even then, it can probably go into my back pocket, one to try out on another run.

Run the first half hard and stick with a group in the second half – Well it kinda worked. I think the fact I kept dropping back from the group on climbs (and indeed going backwards through the pack on every climb in the first half) justified my fear of starting off at a slow pace and being ejected permanently on the long drag up to Cock Howe. It’s probably not something I’d do on another course, unless there was a similar climb.

Most pleasing was the fact that the pace I’d maintained throughout the day, with minimum discomfort and over 5,000ft of climbing was roughly where I wanted it to be with the 55 in mind.

All in all, I’d consider the day a success.

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