The Hardmoors 55 is an ultramarathon starting in Guisborough and finishing at Helmsley, taking in the Western half of the Cleveland way and some 2,700m of ascent.

I decided to enter this one almost immediately after my DNF in the Hardmoors 60 as a stepping stone to another attempt at the 60.

For this race I gave myself a set of targets based around my learnings from HM60:

  • Carry no more food and equipment than I will reasonably need
  • Recce the course in advance
  • Use a pacing plan based on recces of the course
  • Run with a group where possible
  • Eat every 15 minutes
  • Spend as little time at checkpoints as possible, if practical don’t stop moving

Over the last few months I’d pared my equipment down to the bare minimum and had done the same with my food.  I’d recce’d all but two sections of the course, the first being the gate at the top of Battersby Bank to Round Hill but I was confident that this stretch was straightforward having spent a lot of time there as a youth.  The second was the stretch between Square Corner and Sutton Bank, this was more concerning because I’d be doing it tired and in the dark but I’d picked the brains of people who knew this stretch and I was assured it was straightforward and well signed.

I printed out and laminated my pacing plan, this was to go into my pocket on race day for reference:


My final training session before the 55 was a 20 miler round my usual East Durham Coastal loop a fortnight before the race which saw me post my 3rd best 20 mile time.  I wanted to try and get another couple of shorter sessions in before the race but work commitments prevented that.

In the week leading up to such a race, I’d normally try and get more sleep than usual, again work demands came into play and I had substantially less than normal but despite that I felt reasonably rested and comfortable going into the weekend.

I’d decided to camp in my car at Helmsley early on because the weather is so unpredictable this time of year and I knew I could keep myself comfortable and warm for the duration in the car.  I travelled down on Friday afternoon, stopping at Clay Bank to get a feel for the weather and again at Chop Gate where I bumped into Gill Crane who I ran the final few miles of the Osmotherley marathon with and stopped for a chat.

I got into Helmsley early and had a wander into town for a huge tray of sausage, chips and gravy before setting up my nest in the back of the car.

After that I got my head down for an hours kip.  I spent the rest of the evening alternating between short naps, chatting with other campers and eating.

Around 2:30am I was disturbed from my slumber by an owl and by around 3:30pm I give in to the fact that I couldn’t get back off so I started to slowly sort myself out for the big day ahead.  I eat a pot of porridge and had a cup of coffee while I applied BodyGlide liberally to my toes and other areas of the body that might rub or chafe then applied blister plasters to my heels.

I then put on some of my running kit before having a wander out to chat with Rosie from Drinks Stop who’d just arrived (and a cuppa of course).

Soon it was time to get on the bus to head up to Guisborough and the race start.  The journey up was uneventful and I passed the time chatting with Dave Kamis and Chris Lyons before getting quickly through kit check and registration when we arrived.  After that there was some time to kill so I alternated with catching up with various people I hadn’t seen since ta least the last race or the one before and nipping outside to stretch off before Race Director Jon Steele gave the race brief.

After that we trouped out to the road for the start and we got quickly underway, with the mass of bodies carrying me up to a bottleneck at the steps up onto the disused railway line which was to take us up to Guisborough Woods.  Up on the railway line I thought the pace was very quick and made a conscious effort to slow down, dropping quite a way down the field as I did so.  However, as the path began to rise into the woods I was soon gaining those places back despite my calves feeling very tight.  I trotted along conservatively chatting with other runners until I managed to hit a significant downhill at pace to loosen them off and catching up with Dave Cook, Dee Bouderba and Jason Hayes in the process.

We jogged along at a steady but comfortable pace, chatting away and soon we were over the top of Highcliff Nab and on our way to Roseberry Topping.

Start to Roseberry

As we came off Little Roseberry and headed towards Roseberry Topping itself, I spotted Ady Benn coming the opposite way having already made his climb up and down.  As we passed each other we high fived and wished each other well.

On the climb up Roseberry I adopted the climbing tactic that I hoped would serve me well on the many similar climbs to come.  This mainly involved taking the smallest steps with the absolute minimum vertical movement in my legs.  I lost ground to Dee (who rocketed up like a mountain goat) and Dave but wasn’t worried as we bunched back together at the top, grabbing some sweets from the marshalls and rounding the trig point before heading back down the hill.

At this point I’d already realised that the cold wind blowing out of the north could be a significant factor and had pulled a buff up from round my neck and over my chin as we came down from the top.

On the way back up Little Roseberry, Dee spotted the SportSunday photographer and managed to trip over while distracted but she wasn’t hurt and cam back up laughing and smiling.  Once through the gate at the top of the hill, our little group continued our steady progress along the Cleveland Way towards Gribdale.

As we passed the Gribdale Gate checkpoint I walked ahead on the climb to Captain Cooks to buy some time to send my first update text to Natalie and was joined by the rest of the group as we reached the top before picking up the pace for the very nicely runnable downhill stretch into Kildale.

Roseberry to Kildale

At this point I was happy with my pacing, I was slightly ahead of plan but happy to push the pace a little faster because I had the benefit of being in a good group.  My food was going perfectly to plan, I’d eaten every 15 minutes and I was just about out of my dry roasted nuts, had couple of Wine Gums left and two gels.

We cruised into the Kildale checkpoint at 2h:33m where I said hi to Ruth Whiteside and quickly binned the almost empty foodbags and started looking for the dropbags only to be told that a logistical mistake meant they were 10 miles along the route at Clay Bank.  I quickly retrieved my bags from the bin and started loading them up with supplies from the checkpoint to last me another 10 miles.

At this point Dee had dropped back to use the loo at the cafe in Kildale and still hadn’t joined us, with my aim of keeping moving in mind I told Dave I was going to walk on and he assured me that they would catch up.

I started off up Battersby Bank which is on tarmac and quite runnable in places and about halfway up I looked behind me to see no sign of Dave, Dee and Jason.  There was a short line of runners following me up the hill but not particularly close so I stuck my headphones in an cracked on to the beat of my very random selection of music (I plugged the MP3 into the computer before I left and let the computer choose 125 random tracks).  One of the first tracks was “The Only Way Is Up” by Yazz and the Plastic Population, very appropriate.

As I pushed across the ever more exposed moorland towards Bloworth the temperature dropped and I was forced to used my spare buff as a headband on top of my two hats to keep my ears warm and my cap from blowing away in the wind.  I was quickly overtaken by the group behind me but this did not bother me.  I was still ahead of my pacing plan at around 8:30m/km to 8:50m/km so I stuck to this comfortable pace allowing the group to head off into the near distance.

As I approached Bloworth I remembered reading one of John Kynaston’s blog last year where he described gaining benefit from repeating a mantra of “I am strong, I am fit” as he ran.  Since I was alone I decided to try this myself.  I started repeating “I am strong, I am fit, I am running well and I am running pain free.” over and over.  I had done this for over a full kilometer and was starting to feel really good when I came across an amusing sight.  The group ahead were taking turns to lift each other up to clip the numbers they’d attached to their lower bodies at the self clip that Jon Steele had left comically high on the sign post at Bloworth crossing.

Kildale to Bloworth

I casually tipped up giggling and removed my triathlon belt holding my number, clipped it and got on my merry way repeating my mantra for a few minutes then singing along to my music for a few minutes more, much to the amusement of a couple of ladies running ahead of me who I’d chatted to earlier in the race.

At this point I started to feel really strong and really good about myself, so even though I was roughly 10 minutes ahead of my pacing plan I allowed myself to go with the flow and picked up the pace.  I overtook one runner, then another, then another.  Just before Round Hill I decided to walk and send Natalie another text update.

When I got running again I felt like I was dancing down the descent towards Clay Bank and my MP3 obliged with a nice, fast track for me to skip down the rocks to.

Bloworth to Clay

I rushed down to the roadside where Dennis Atherton was manning the drop bag pickup and finally dumped the rubbish from my previous food.  I filled my now empty juice bottle up with the can of Red Bull from my drop bag and quickly packed food into my back pockets including a bag of Bombay Mix, a Chia Charge Flapjack, a mixed bag of Wine Gums and Midget Gems and 4 gels.

At this point I also decided to give my “You are running pain free” mantra some chemical assistance and grabbed some paracetamol from my pack before heading over the road and up the side of Hasty Bank at 4h:45m, 5 minutes ahead of my planned arrival time at Clay and having spent a few minutes there already .

My climbing plan for this stretch was very much the same as Roseberry.  Slow, steady, minimal movements and minimal stress on the legs.  I was overtaken by a couple of runners but this didn’t bother me.  I was feeling good and strong and seemingly climbing without effort.  I’d just got onto the top when I started thinking my pack felt a bit odd.  As I got running again, the feeling got worse.  I stopped and took it off and realised what the problem was just in time.  When I’d got the paracetamol out, I’d left my pack unzipped in my hurry to get going again, my headtorch had been swinging from the pack and was only hanging on by the buckle on the strap.  Another few metres and it’d have dropped into the heather without me noticing.  This may not have been an issue in itself because I was carrying a spare hand torch (although being forced to use a hand torch in HM60 had slowed me a lot) but the psychological blow could have been bad.

I quickly zipped my pack up having been overhauled by two runners while stopped and cracked on to the Wainstones where the runners who had overtaken me were slowly picking their way down through the rocks.  Having trained extensively on this stretch I knew the Wainstones well and quickly percolated like water finding the shortest most efficient route through the rocks and picking up a couple of places in the process.  On the descent I really let fly putting a decent gap between me and the runners behind.  At the bottom I even had time to stop and fasten my laces without being caught before heading up the next climb of Cold Moor.  Again, being slow, steady and minimal caused me to be overtaken but again I wasn’t worried.  I had never felt so good on these climbs, hardly out of breath and relaxed, I realised I was actually enjoying climbing.

I got onto the top and decided to have some Bombay Mix while I was trotting along at a nice clip (my average at this point for the entire race was well under my target) and decided it tasted foul.  I shoved it back in my pocket and resolved to use my Chia Charge flapjack instead.

I flew down the descent where a very cold looking John Vernon and Flip Owen were checking off runners outside their tent.  I got a high five from Flip and a reassuring comment that I was looking strong as I started on the ascent of Cringle Moor.  Again I enjoyed the climb, the technique of preserving the legs obviously working well and the mantra reinforcing my positive feelings. It seemed I was over the top in no time at all before rocketing down the other side towards the Lord Stones checkpoint.

Clay to Lord Stones

I was now repeatwed my mantra loudly and unashamedly as I finished the last of the Red Bull and cruised into the checkpoint at 6h:00m.  A whole 8 minutes ahead of time, smiling as I passed Jo Barrett and I was laughing and joking as I filled my bottle up with coke at the checkpoint.

As I crossed Raisdale Road, I was anticipating some pain from Carlton Bank, I’d really suffered on there in the Osmotherley marathon at a shorter distance in.  As I arrived at the bottom of the steps, Objects In The Rear View Mirror (May Appear Closer Than They Are) by Meat Loaf came on my MP3 player.

Awhile ago I’d made some videos to use while on my cycling turbo trainer and I’d used this track overlaid against a video of climbing the White Horse Bank (which I’d cross the top of later in the race).  I’d found it a bit of a dirge for the turbo trainer but it seemed perfect for me on this climb.  I was cruising up in time with the music and my body seemed to expect to have to work with this song in my head, I was running past the trig point at the top in no time at all and as I reached the top the sun came out and I had a moment of what can only be described as euphoria.

I was now belting across Holey Moor an Live Moor with ease enjoying every minute of this race, I actually felt something close to bulletproof as I was bouncing down the descent from Live Moor and clattered onto the tarmac at Huthwaite Green in 6h:47m, now tracking 16 minutes ahead of plan.

Lord Stones to Huthwaite

I had it in my mind that this section would be psychologically difficult, there was an uphill stretch across the field into Clain Woods to do but, I’d even decided to ford the river instead of using the bridge on my way into the field.  I couldn’t believe how well I was going.

I seemed to reach the point I’d been dreading quickly, the steps that are hidden in the wood that stretch for 300m at a grade of over 20% in places up to Coalmire Lane.  As I got onto the steps I was caught by one of the ladies I’d been chatting with earlier and pretty much on and off since the start and got talking again as we made our way up.  The steps were conquered in no time at all and I seemed to have the ability to run straight away so I obliged my legs again.

As I arrived at Scarth Nick, I took the time to text another update to Natalie before starting on the climb to the woods above Osmotherley.  I passed the time chatting with the two runners I was to run into Osmotherley with.  We jogged along, self clipping again at the TV station before enjoying the descent into Osmotherley.  Shortly before the village the battery warning started beeping on my Garmin so I started planning what I needed to do at the checkpoint:

  • Toilet
  • Drop Bags
  • Top up drink bottle
  • Get head torch out and into my back pocket
  • Take more paracetamol
  • Hook my Garmin up to the charger

I arrived in Osmotherley at 8h:03m feeling positive at being almost 15 minutes ahead of plan.  I quickly got through my list of tasks before plugging the Garmin in and my mood took a nose dive.  The bloody thing wouldn’t charge.  I couldn’t work out if it was the wire (which I’d found had been getting leaked on by coke from my bottle), the cradle or the charger.  I swapped new batteries into the charger and still nothing.  I’d tested the whole set up the previous night and was furious with myself.  I hadn’t brought a second watch to manage my eating every 15 minutes and pacing so was facing some guesswork when it ran out.

I packed up as quickly as I could and set off having lost several places in my 16 minutes of faffing about (not that I was bothered about places but it was getting dark and I’d wanted to stay near a group for this bit and felt I was gong well with the couple I ran into Osmotherley with).

Huthwaite to Osmotherley

As I left the checkpoint Emily Beaumont arrived, the last I’d seen of her was on the railway track at Guisborough where she’d pulled up in apparent pain and was stretching.  She now looked very fresh and soon caught me on the climb out of Osmotherley.

As she passed, I realised that in my rush at the checkpoint, I’d forgotten to take some paracetamol so sh very kindly got it out of my pack for me and saved me stopping.

During the climb onto Black Hambleton I was caught by Andy Nesbit and we got chatting.  I told him I was walking for a bit as I’d allowed myself 4 hours to get to White Horse and my current walking pace was comfortably quick enough to get me there faster.  In fact it was quicker than some of the running I’d done earlier.  We decided to walk to High Paradise and then get moving again on the descent.

We cracked on at a steady pace, telling each other about how our day had gone so far, chatting briefly with runners who overtook us and estimating how far ahead other runners were as their headtorches came on as well as speculating whether the headtorches we could see behind us would catch us.

We left it as long as possible before turning ours on to conserve batteries but it got to the point where the gravel track was getting tricky in the fading light.

Soon we hit High Paradise farm and I gave my first top up of the day to my water and chia bottle, rather fittingly from the Chia Charge wagon there.  As we were jogging off from the checkpoint Fran Jeffery and another runner arrived.  I was pleased to see her as Emily had told me that she was local to these parts and would be a good person to follow if I was struggling with the navigation.

Square Corner to High Paradise

Andy and I pushed on jogging and walking in equal measure keping ahead of the lights only a few hundred metres behind us.  We moved quickly across Sneck Yate having a few friendly words with a gentleman who was waiting for someone there and got going along Boltby Scar where Andy spotted a deer on the cliffside.  Seeing wildlife up close like that always spurs me on and it took my mind off the growing pains in my feet, in particular, what I suspected were a couple of blisters on my left little toe.

We were caught and overtaken by a runner just before Whitestone Cliff and just started to follow him up a left hand turn that appeared to be signposted Cleveland Way when Fran shouted us both back.  We tried to shout the runner ahead back but he was alread on his way across the Gallops.

We followed Fran at her amazingly quick walking pace to Sutton Bank and down towards the cruel out and back loop to White Horse passing runners now coming the other way.

As we descended the scrabbly bank down to the woods around the White Horse (which had some painful challnges for our tired knees) I was surprised to see that my Garmin was still working and we were at 11h:56m which was still looking slightly ahead of budget for White Horse.  A few minutes later, my Garmin gave up the ghost and I was now reliant on Andy, not only for witty banter but reminders to eat and timings.

We soon arrived at what I called the fun checkpoint.  They had disco lights and music booming out of their car stereo but informed me sadly that they were out of coke.

I filled my coke bottle up with water and waited as Andy refilled his bladder, trying to have a dance to the music but my legs were not playing ball.  Just as we were about to crack on, John Vernon arrived in his car and the checkpoint crew told me he had coke.  I very quickly ditched the water and substituted it with lovely sugary caffeine and E number goodness.

Paradise to Finish

Andy and I had been dreading the climb up the steps back to the top of the White Horse but I didn’t think they were that bad.  We got to the top and I suggested a bit of a jog to loosen our legs which we did for about 200m before fast walking again.

In the distance we saw a group of lights heading down to White Horse and we speculated whether that was the final group running with sweepers.  At this point we made a pact to get away on our toes if we saw any lights coming up behind us as a bit of an incentive to keep our pace up and make a final push for Helmsley.

I was confident in this stretch having recce’d it in the dark with Dave, Dee and Aaron Gourley a few weeks earlier.

We banged on at a decent walk/run rhythm and just after the Hambleton Inn we spotted lights ahead of us.  This surely couldn’t have been Fran as she had left the checkpoint well ahead of us and was going well.  We pushed on faster to catch up and found two runners taking a slight detour round the horse training track at the farm there.  One of them looked tired and unhappy, as we jogged on together he dropped back.  I asked the man who’d been with him if he was OK and he said he thought he was having some food, so we pushed on.

I wanted to make the most of these country lanes so I tried to get the group jogging at every opportunity, Andy was now sharing my determination to finish well and I knew that there was no doubt about us finishing now.  My spirits were back on high.

Andy refreshed his torch batteries in Cold Kirby and we jogged on into the woods, the other runner caught us shortly after this and I got chatting to him.  He seemed very tired, so I asked him if he was eating and drinking OK.  He told me he was out of food and water so I gave him some fig roll biscuits and the last of my coke which seemed to perk him up but you could tell he was running on pure force of will now.

The stretch of road we were walking along by the river seemed to drag on forever and as we turned right into the woods and started on the final big climb I checked time with Andy again and did some mental maths.  We were in with a very good chance of a sub 15 hour finish if we played it right.  I suggested jogging again at the top of the climb which we managed for a bit before we reverted to our power walk. As we’d slowed to a walk, the group was still together, but such was our walking pace, Andy and I somehow snapped the elastic on the other two.

As the terrain started to point downhill I asked Andy how he felt about a strong run in, he said he’d give it a go and we did.  We got moving at a gravity assisted jog, only stopping to walk briefly on a really stoney path which seemed to cause serious grief to our feet just before Helmsley, we pushed harder once we got onto the tarmac at the end of the Cleveland Way and we saw Marc Hewison waiting at the end of the Way for Andy.

We didn’t stop and jogged on harder, pushing our way over the final hundred or so metres to achieve the sub 15h finish.  When I checked in with Shirley, she told me I’d clocked 14h:48m:33s.

I was elated!  We walked up the stairs, chatting briefly on the way to Gary Thwaites before being presented with our medals and T Shirts by Jo Barrett.

As I sat down to some very welcome chilli and gave a final update to Natalie I began to wonder how Dave, Dee and Jason were doing.  It didn’t take long to find out.  They made it up the stairs just as I finished my chilli and I was pleased that all three were intact and happy.

In the days after the race I’ve given some thought to what I’ve learned from the experience and summed it up:

  • Pacing – I was right after HM60 to blame not having a proper pacing plan.  While I spnt a lot of the day ahead of plan, splitting th distance down and trying to moderate effort gave me the structure I needed.
  • Food  – Eating regularly kept my energy, mood and motivation high.  i still took too much food and Bombay Mix was a poor choice (I binned all but two mouthfuls), so were the dry roasted nuts in my second drop bag.  I didn’t use them at all.  The fig rolls and Chia Charge flapjacks were perfect.  As well as that the Wine Gums and Midget Gems were nice enough but not too sickly to keep me happy all day.  Also a gel per hour seemed about right.
  • Clothing – I was worried about being too hot in my fleece but needed it to keep my food and other stuff handy in the back pockets.  I needn’t have worried, if anything it kept me just warm enough.  Leggings, trisuit, hats, buffs etc all served me well as per previous races and runs.  My shoes were equally as good with my feet only suffering two blisters (one on each little toe as a result of my feet swelling).  Looking forward to HM60, I may need to consider a standard cycling jersey or maybe a more lightweight cycling jacket depending on the weather in September.
  • Positive Thinking – My big take away from this race is the power of positive thinking.  Repeating my mantra had a definite impact.  I went from a place where I could feel my body starting to hurt to being fresh, positive, strong and pain free within a few miles and powered over some of the more difficult terrain on the course on mental strength.  This is something I’ll be looking to utilise more going forward


Final Thoughts

As with all races, nobody gets to run them without them being organised.  Jon and Shirley Steele have not disappointed me yet with a Hardmoors race.  They are always well organised with a family atmosphere that I have now started likening them to an all day party that you get to spend with friends you only ever see once in awhile.

Jon and Shirley of course, could not do this without the extensive team of ever growing volunteer marshalls and helpers that form the heart of the Hardmoors family.

I will confess right now to being addicted to this series and having seen Nikki Carr’s big smiles at hitting the 1,000 Hardmoors miles mark I now have my own long term goal for the future.

To everyone who was part of this day.  Thank you, it was brilliant and I look forward to seeing you all soon.