My prep for Hardmoors 60 this year had been all about reducing the risk factors that might stop me from finishing.

With that in mind I arrived in Filey on Thursday night, having already stopped off at Crook Ness, the site of last years DNF to put into perspective where I was when I stopped last time and understand better that things really can seem worse in the dark than they actually are.

After a good night of sleep on Thursday I slept late Friday morning before getting up and preparing all my kit in the spare bedroom of the caravan.  I put my drop bags together and made sure everything was where I could find it easily in the morning.

I went back to bed for a couple of hours on Friday afternoon before waking to watch the rugby while sipping on a bottle of water.  After the rugby I went to bed, the only slight change to the plan was deciding not to bother taping my little toes up to prevent blisters.

I really struggled to sleep and eventually dropped off around midnight before being woken up by my 3am alarm.  I got up quickly and had a cup of tea with my breakfast of banana and porridge.

After breakfast I did some stretching before taping my heels and getting my kit on.  In my back pockets I stashed my starting food of dry roasted nuts and mixed bag of wine gums and midget gems. Savoury in the left pocket and sweets in the right as always.

My gels were stashed in the various pockets of my pack, as were my bottles which included one bottle of water with two table spoons of chia seeds in and the other with two tablets worth of High 5 electrolyte solution.

I also filled one of my Ultimate Direction soft flasks with water and decided to sip on it while I got ready.  I toyed with the idea of putting both of my soft flasks in my middle back pocket as spares just in case but decided that two bottles of fluids was enough, especially since I thought I’d be better putting my armwarmers in that pocket in case it was cold (a mis-judgment that would haunt me later).  I wrapped my laminate card with my mini-splits and cut outs of a couple of bits from the route description that I thought I might need in the armwarmers an stashed them in my back pocket.

I did some more stretching then got in the car and headed up the road to Filey.

As I arrived in the West car park, my headlights illuminated one brave runner sleeping under a tarp next to a car and a few more cars and camper vans around the car park.

I got my torch out and went to pay for my days parking with my debit card.  The first machine I tried to use wasn’t working so I decided to go to another.  I stepped off the kerb and my foot, clad only in a sock and Croc at this point landed squarely in a puddle soaking my left foot.  Cursing I walked to the machine to find that for some reason, my debit card wouldn’t work.

I stomped back to the car and put my trail shoes on to prevent further mishaps in the dark then moved the car to a side street, managing to park next to Jason Highland and confirming with him that it was indeed OK to park there.

I walked back to the car park and bumped into Christopher Major and spent a few minutes chatting with him while I plucked up the courage to take my beetroot shot.  The foul substance finally down my neck I sought some bushes to relieve myself.  Upon my return I discovered Dave Cook and Dee Bouderba had arrived and spent some time catching up with them before we were ambushed by the far too cheerful for 5:30am Jason Hayes.

It wasn’t long before the buses arrived, the fact that two buses were required is another sign of how popular these races are becoming.  The journey up to Guisborough passed quickly and we were soon lining up for kit check and registration which flew by quickly due to the organised manner of the volunteers.

My number collected I set about pinning it to my left leg and making sure that all the pockets on my pack were zipped tight before the race brief, which Race Director Jon Steele delivered in his usual inimitable style.

After the brief all of the runners marched outside and said our good lucks to each other before the race quickly got under way.  I was still trying to decide whether to put my arm warmers on as the race started, such was the chill in the air but soon changed my mind once I got moving.

I quickly fell in with Gill Crane, with whom I’d run the last section of Osmotherley marathon and we chatted as the road tilted up towards Guisborough Woods.  Once in the woods I jogged along chatting away with other runners until we came to the first climb of the day, the Tees Link path up to Highcliff Nab, for which I whipped out my poles and started climbing slowly and conservatively.

I was passed by a number of runners and we exchanged greetings and banter as we climbed.  Unlike last year, I felt I was climbing well within myself despite almost losing my footing on the slippery path.

01. Guisborough Woods

Once on the summit of Highcliff I ran past a few runners who’d paused a moment to take photos of the spectacular view and jogged through the woods taking the opportunity of a nice path to look at my watch.  My pace was tracking faster than I’d planned to run so I slowed off a bit.

Even after slowing off my pace was quicker than I’d planned for so I decided to take a long walk break.  After a few minutes I heard familiar voices behind me and found that I was caught up by a decent sized group containing Andy Nesbit and Gareth Barnet.  I started running again and chatted with the lads as I ran.  As we exited the woods, I spotted a couple of runners taking a wrong turn and called them back.

As we descended out of the woods we entered the shade of some trees and the cool air was suddenly noticeable, I realised it was really going to be quite warm today and started paying attention to my drinking.

We enjoyed a nice cool run through Spa Woods all the way to Slapewath and then it was time for the poles to come out for the climb up the quarry steps.  The group with Andy and Gareth in started to pull away and I took the decision that their pace was not sustainable for me to try to match so I took it easy from the top of the steps up to the top of Airey Hill.

I decided to get some music on as I descended down to Skelton Green and the field had become strung out and there were no other runners nearby.  I was passed by a runner at the top of the steps above Skelton as I emptied some rubbish from my pockets into a bin there and followed him down through Skelton and into the woods that led to Saltburn.

I was eating every 15 minutes to plan and was happy to note that I was almost at Saltburn just after the two-hour mark.  I was starting to wonder if I’d missed the turn for the first checkpoint at the Woodland Centre when a marshall appeared and pointed me down the path.  I called out my number and ran through the checkpoint, declining a water top up on the basis that my bottles were almost full still and that I didn’t want to linger at checkpoints, another decision I would regret later.

As I exited the Woodland Centre I reached back to pull out the directions from the Woodland Centre to Cat Nab and found they’d melted in my sweaty back pocket.  I was quite surprised at this as they’d been well wrapped in my armwarmers and dropped them into a nearby bin.  The route to Cat Nab was well taped and I arrived there to the cheers of other runner’s support crews as I passed and yet again brought out the poles for the climb up above the Ship Inn.

I noted just before the climb that I was still tracking faster than my planned pace and decided to slow right down on this section, knowing that it’d save energy for the fearsome climbing to be done after Skinningrove.  After th steps which I’d again taken conservatively I fast walked almost the entire mile to the top of the cliff before it started to descend to the signal beacon.

05. Saltburn-Skinningrove

I got running again and did my usual thing of running through the circular ironwork sculpture before realising there was a runner directly behind me.  He greeted me and I told him we’d have to go steady in this heat.  I was already leaking fluids and sipping more frequently.  He noted that this longest stretch between checkpoints and the hottest part of the day, something which was starting to worry my mind.

Just before the diversion through Skinningrove (part of the sea defences are being reinforced) I heard a voice shouting my name excitedly and turned to see Gill Crane hurtling toward me again.  We chatted awhile and Gill seemed on great form as she ploughed on ahead.

As I took the well signed and marshalled diversion down through the wooded embankment into Skinningrove I was surprised to see the Hardmoors gaffer Shirley Steele emerging from the trees, I paused to let her past and she told me to get down the hill because she never stopped runners.  I thanked her and weaved down through the trees and onto the streets of Skinningrove getting my poles out early for the climb to come and taking more fluids on board as I passed the delightful smelling chippy hut in the village.

As I passed another set of support crew I mentioned that this was my least favourite bit the Cleveland Way, they replied that they’d had a look round the corner and knew why as I slowed to a walk and took the steps nice and slow and easy.  Again I felt I was climbing well within myself compared to the pain of last year.  Halfway up, I noticed some signs warning that the SportSunday photographers were just along th path….Not like them to position themselves at the top of a tough climb…..

I managed to muster a smile as I passed the first photographer who really was going above and beyond, lying down in the baking sun to take some cracking pictures 😉 and further up the hill I even managed to break into a run on an uphill section, pointing out that I should be taking it nice and easy in this heat.

HM 60 2_0286

As the path tilted higher up Hummersea Cliff I began to struggle to keep running.  No problem, I thought, still tracking ahead of target. Just take it nice and slow and get going on the downhill side.  As the path wound further up the cliff I could see a patch of shade ahead and began to fantasize about getting there.

06. Hummersea Cliff

I sipped down some fluids and unzipped my clothes as far as they would go.  As this point I regretted putting chia seeds in the water as it discouraged me from soaking my cotton cap and buff to cool off but I pushed on at a steady walking pace, finally reaching the shade and sucking in the cooler air.  Just past the shady patch I came across the place where I took a wrong turn last year and allowed myself a smug grin and headed up into the heather finding it hard to sustain a good climbing pace but not actually feeling out of breath.

I now realised that I was really feeling the heat but also noticed that my bottles were running really low.  I tried to move efficiently along the summit of Hummersea cliff but found it hard to even muster a fast walk.  At this point I made a decision that the plan would have to go out of the window.  I couldn’t see the temperature dropping for a couple of hours and I knew there was another chunky climb beyond Staithes which still wasn’t even in sight.

My new plan involved taking it nice and slow until the temperature started to fall then after that I would pick up speed and make up lost time.

I was struggling down a rocky section when I heard voices behind me.  A huge grin spread across my face, it was Dave, Dee, Jason and another girl whose name I didn’t catch.  A stopped for them to catch me up and fell in with them, descending the cliffside.  I was gutted to realise they’d noticed a tap at the last farmhouse and asked for a water top up there.  I told them I was almost out and would have to top up in Staithes.  At this point Jason offered me a salt tablet.  Having not used them before, I didn’t want to start on race day so declined.  As we passed through another farm, I was scanning for a tap or someone to ask and didn’t see anything put a muddy puddle on the floor.  I bent over and scooped my hat through it and put it on my head.  I didn’t care that the water was filthy, it felt great cascading down my body.

As the land flattened to a gently downslope we got running again towards Cowbar Lane.  The group pulled away from me with ease and I was quickly dropped.  I couldn’t understand why I seemed to have no energy, I’ve run with Dave, Dee and Jason a few times now and was highly confident that I should have been able to match their pace.

07. Boulby-Staithes

I slowed to a walk again feeling really weak and seeking out any sign of shade, I briefly found some behind a van as I turned the corner to head into Staithes.  As the road wound down, I was looking for potential sources of water, I even considered crossing through the river rather than by bridge but couldn’t see a safe exit on the other side.  Once into the village proper, the shade between the buildings was luxury.  I could feel my energy return and I got a move back on briefly.

Just before the end of the village my bottles were almost clean out.  I nipped into the Cod and Lobster where the staff topped my bottles, something for which I’m very grateful and which may have saved me from real problems.

As I left the pub, I got my poles out for the cobbled climb out of the village, I must have looked rough because a couple, eating ice cream on a bench asked if I wanted them to scootch over so I could sit and rest.  As I approached the top of the climb I was caught by Brenda Wilkin and Kelly Brearley and I vaguely remember telling them that the heat was destroying me before they pulled away up the next huge climb.

I remembered dancing my way up this climb last year but today I leaned on my poles and walked slowly, stopping every now and again to gasp for air.  I was overtaken by a group of walkers and watched them reach the summit and pause to take several photographs in the time it took me to finish the climb.

I got through the gate and tried to jog on but I was only shuffling, worse still I couldn’t seem to get enough water in. I’d barely gone a mile from the Cod and Lobster and my bottles were half empty again.

08. Staithes-Port Mulgrave

Eventually I arrived at Port Mulgrave and decided to give myself little targets to run to, just so I was going quickly for a couple of hundred metres before walking again.  Shortly after Port Mulgrave, there’s a small ravine that has steps on either side.  I got down the first set easy enough but going up the other side I couldn’t seem to claw enough air into my lungs.

My legs seemed willing enough (they were feeling fresh and pain-free) but I felt I couldn’t breath.  I eventually got to the top and dropped to my knees to catch my breath.  I laid on my side a few minutes and some walkers came past giving me a quizzical look.  I told them I was just having a rest.  I got up and gave myself a target of the next hedgerow to run to.  I ran there and stopped to walk.  I repeated this process until I was at the top of the steep bank down to Runswick Bay.

Halfway down the bank I was caught up by sweeper Jason Ellis.  I had a moment of panick and said “I’m not last am I?”  He replied to the negative and told me he’d run ahead to update the checkpoint.  I followed him down to the checkpoint, emptying the residual chia seeds from my bottle because I intended to tip some water over myself upon refilling.

At the checkpoint, I greedily guzzled some water before topping my water bottle up and ripped open my drop bag.  I’d been looking forward to the double espresso energy gel in there for some time and wolfed it down.

I filled my other bottle up with Red Bull from my drop bag, on reflection, I should have carried that and drunk it from the can so I could have had another bottle full of water, but at this point I was craving the flavour and not thinking straight.

While at the checkpoint, I soaked my hat and buff and was about to get on my way when a spasm of cramp shot up my left leg.  I sat and had a drink, stetched it off, re-topped my bottles and headed off across the beach, pausing at a rockpool to re-soak my hat.  I used my poles to march across the beach, aiming for every spot that I could get my feet wet in.  If the tide was higher up, I’d have waded the shallows to try to cool down, but this would have taken me out of my way due to the tide being low.

I eventually entered the ravine where the steps off the beach were, enjoying being in the shade of the cliff and splashed up the beck towards the steps.  I climbed the four toot climb to the bottom step and started using my poles to move slowly upwards, my shoulders were burning and my lungs heaving after about ten to fifteen metres and my vision began to swim a bit.  I sat down and I not sure what actually happened next, but I’m confident that I passed out briefly because when I next opened my eyes, I was laid on my side on the grass by the path.

I got back to my feet and walked a little further up into some shade, literally five or six metres and I was gasping again so sat down.  I gave serious thought to heading back to the checkpoint then dismissed it as being soft.

I got up and started up the steps again before everything started going swimmy and I either sat or kneeled down.  The next thing I remember is that Gail Smith who was sweeping with Jason was calling my name and asking if I was OK.  Sue Jennings was with Gail and both got me to move up into some bushes for shade.  Jason arrived and told Gail and Sue to push on while he looked after me.

I had a few minutes rest in the shade before taking on some Red Bull and sloshing my body with water.  After a short while I was back on my feet and being led up the steps, Jason cajoling me at first to get moving then encouraging me to run once we got on a flat bit. I made it about ten metres before both legs cramped up.  While I was loosening them, Jason gave me one of his salt tablets and told me not to dilute it with too much water.

I didn’t know it at the time but it’d taken me 29 minutes to climb the Runswick Bay steps, three and a bit times what it’d taken me last year with a knee that was playing up.

Once moving again, Jason started picking out targets for me to run to and as the air started to cool my brain started to switch back on.  I looked at my watch and saw that my average pace for the day was now just under 11m/km and to meet cut offs comfortably, it needed to be 10m:30s/km.  I started trying to keep going just past the targets Jason set before picking out the next landmarks for myself.  I needed to start eating back into the lost time, otherwise I’d be timed out at Ravenscar.

I sipped more Red Bull and felt my energy start to return as we moved along chatting.  Each walk break, I checked pace and tried to walk faster than 10m:30s/km.  Those few miles were a revelation to me.  I never thought I’d be able to come back from the state I was in but here I was recovering and getting faster and stronger.

At one point we saw the Coastguard helicopter pass overhead and i joked that they were out looking for me, the reality we found out was more serious, but with a happy ending.  It turned out that a runner ahead of us, Dennis Potton had become aware of a child in the water in trouble, stopped running, went onto the beach and rescued the child then carried on running.

Now my average pace was 10m:45s/km and falling fast, Jason and I chatted about loads of different stuff and the miles fell away.  We soon dropped onto the disused railway line that led to Sandsend and the periods of running were now longer than the periods of walking.  In no time at all we were at Sandsend and I nipped into the toilets to relieve myself.  One of the sights that must strike fear into men is to see dark red blood flowing in their urine, mine was just pure blood.  However, it didn’t panic me, I’d had this once before and it confirmed my fears that my earlier problems had either been caused by dehydration or been the cause of dehydration.

We quickly got going again and soon we were at the sea cut and had the choice of the bridge or descending to the beach to cross the river.  I wanted to cross the beach and wet my feet so we did.  When we returned to the road, I used the signage on the roadworks to provide more running targets until the hill became too steep, then we fast walked.  I now had my average down to 10m:33s/km.

12. Sandsend-Whitby

As we turned down across the golf course towards the beach again, I used the downhill to maintain a good running pace and as we reached the foot of the cliff, I was pleased to note the average was now 10m:30s/km.  We ran comfortably along the Whitby clifftops and passed the 50km mark.  I was now starting to feel confident of retrieving this race.

We descended past the whales jawbone and down Khyber Pass onto the quayside and run as far as we could before crowds stopped us.  We made our way quickly over the swing bridge and maintained a fast walk towards the 199 steps which we both knew would be leg sapping this far in.

Jason breezed up the steps so he could call ahead on his phone while I plodded,trying not to have a repeat of my earlier problems breathing.  This time everything was fine and my legs felt good and strong.  Jason said he was going to run ahead to the checkpoint and update them so I cracked along on my own, happy to see that I quickly corrected the increased to my average pace caused by the climb up to the Abbey as I went.

Saltwick Bay caravan park arrived in no time, my only concern was that I was slightly lower on food than I’d planned to be due to moving much slower than I’d hoped for.

At the checkpoint, I gratefully topped up my bottle with water and another with coke as well as guzzling a bit of both before we moved on.  The run out of Saltwick Bay is slightly uphill so we were fast walking more than running but I was happy with the pace at this point.  We came to a set of small wooden steps and as I stepped off the last one, I felt a cramp flash up my right leg.  Jason told me it looked painful but I said I’d be fine, within ten paces I was on my back on the floor, both legs locked up with cramp and to make matters worse, my back was too.

It took a minute or so to stretch it off but as soon as I stood up, I felt it coming back.

I did some mental maths, it was 17:45, cut off at Ravenscar was 20:00.  The run from Robin Hoods Bay to Ravenscar on fresh legs took me 45 minutes in the summer and contains two sets of fearsome stepped ravines plus the final climb into Ravenscar.  We were still maybe seven or eight kilometres from Robin Hoods Bay, which in real terms was around an hour and twenty minutes at current pace, maybe more if I had to keep stopping for cramp.

If I was fully fit and capable of pushing a decent pace, it was just possible, having problems after a day of problems it was unlikely.  I’d given it a go but today wasn’t going to be my day.  I decided to head back to the checkpoint at Saltwick and thanked Jason, not only for his support, but for bailing me out of what might have been a life threatening situation back at Runswick Bay.

As Jason pushed on to catch up with Gail and Sue, I dug out my phone and contacted race control to let them know I was pulling out and to ask them to let Mike and John at Saltwick Bay know that I was headed back as I could see them starting to pack up the checkpoint behind me.

As I started to walk back, I ended up on my arse again all cramped up and a pair of walkers asked if I needed help.  After a few seconds, I was back up and walking with them and they kept me company back to the checkpoint where I was lucky enough to be able to arrange a lift back to Filey with one of the marshalls who was waiting for the final pair of sweepers who were with another runner.

I laid on the floor and had several massive cramps that were painful beyond belief.  At one point a wasp landed on my leg and I couldn’t even move to waft it away.  I told it to either just sting me or fuck off.  It chose the latter.

I had a tiny sip of water from my bottle but found I couldn’t stomach it so left it alone.  I had some peanuts from the checkpoint in the hope that it would help the cramps, it didn’t.

Once the final runner was in, we were soon on our way to Ravenscar to drop the sweeper off.  Just before the Boggle Hole turn I asked to stop the car and was sick by the side of the road, bringing up everything in my stomach.  Once finished I was grateful that I didn’t try to push on.  Cramps would have been grim but cramps and vomiting would have been just unthinkable.

At Ravenscar we stopped for a cuppa and I started searching for my drop bag to access the Fig Rolls that were in there.  I knew these would settle my stomach, but as with tradition, once the checkpoint had heard of my DNF, my bag had gone on the table for others who were continuing to use and some lucky soul had had them away.

I settled for a cuppa and several slices of watermelon before we were off to Filey.

Once we were at Filey I checked in and let them know I was OK and just needed a bit of rest.  I was provided with a mat, a sleeping bag and several cups of tea.  I laid there for a couple of hours watching people finish and eventually the cramps subsided sufficiently for me to get up and walk around a bit.

I was still there when my former rugby clubmate Andrew Lilley finished his first Hardmoors ultra in just under 14 hours. A cracking time.

So once again I’d failed to finish Hardmoors 60.   My downfall this time was that I failed to anticipate the heat, it wasn’t forecast to be as hot as it was, but equally I was simply unprepared for it.

On the fitness side, I think I was more than capable of the distance and the climbing, I just didn’t adapt to the conditions on the day.  Big lesson learned.

When I got back to the caravan the next day I pulled my running top out and it was very evident how much salt I’d lost, most of it was still on the top.  Despite being rinsed with water several times during the day, brushed off and folded in my pack after the race, a thick coat of salt and several large salt stains were visible all over it.

IMG-20150921-03936I also pulled my water bottles out, having only had a couple of mouthfuls after I’d decided to stop I was shocked at how empty they were considering I’d stopped only a mile or so after topping them up.


My thoughts on the race itself, yet again, it’s an epic event, raced by amazing people and put on by fantastic organisers who both know and understand ultra running inside out.  The race itself would simply not be possible without the army of volunteers who help out for nothing more than goodwill and a good day out.  You are all fab.

My final acknowledgement is to Jason and Gail.  I’ve no doubt that I was in serious trouble when you both found me and to not only get me up on my feet and safe again, but to get me running for another ten miles is just brilliant, thank you.  Sue, thank you for waiting with Gail while they helped me, I’d have understood if you’d pushed on but your words of encouragement helped me get moving too.  As we said to each other at Filey, maybe it’ll be third time lucky.