I’d went into Goathland Marathon the least prepared for any race I’ve entered with the obvious exception of the 1995 Great North Run, which I ran still drunk from the night before.

I’d entered the race with the intention of using it as a bit of a fun last race of the year following recommendations from friends who described it as their favourite trail marathon.

Since Hardmoors 60 I’d pretty much restricted myself to short fast training runs and with the exception of the Chop Gate Chiller and a 10 mile training run, I’d done nothing you’d normally associate with marathon prep apart from attempting to run 22 miles on the night of 30th October and binning it at about 15 miles because I started being sick.

I hadn’t really bothered to study the route map and had only given the description a brief read through, instead opting to download a GPX file copy of the route onto my Suunto, just in case I did struggle with navigation.

The Route

The Route

In the days before, the weather was really mild causing me to worry about clothing, especially with heavy rain forecast.  In the end I couldn’t be bothered to decide and on Friday night tossed the entire contents of my running wardrobe into the back of the car.

I arrived in Goathland (home of TV’s Heartbeat) just after 7am on the Saturday morning wearing just my trisuit and a pair of Crocs.  I’d left Hartlepool in the relatively warm (12 degrees) and dry weather but by Birks Brow, the temperature had dropped to 9 degrees and by Scaling Dam the rain had started.  By the time I arrived at Goathland it was pouring down.

I shoved a showerproof top on and headed to the village hall to have a chat with Jon, Shirley and the Hardmoors registration team and get my bearings.  By the time I got to the village hall I was soaked through.  Having had a chat and registered for the race, I headed back to the car to dig out a towel to dry off and dig out my cold and wet weather kit.

I spent some time putting kit on under the shelter of the tailgate on my car and chatted to passing runners who were now arriving in a steady stream.  I’d decided on adding a base layer and leggings to the trisuit as well as a thin jacket.  Just in case it got really cold, I put my arm warmers and winter hat (compulsory) in my back pocket.  I added a pair of gloves (compulsory) to the back pocket to put on before the start and wore a buff round my neck and added a spare round my wrist as usual. In my pack I had a waterproof jacket (compulsory) and trousers, just in case.

For food, I had a bag of Wine Gums, a bag of sour cream and chive crisp sticks I’d picked up from Aldi the week before and 6 gels.  I filled one bottle up with water and another with Lucozade Sport.

After spending a bit of time in the village hall chatting with other runners and catching up with people I hadn’t seen since Hardmoors 60, it was time for the race brief.  It was an unusual feeling listening to Jon describe a course and not have much of an idea of where he was talking about.  I was starting to feel glad that I was carrying a map and route description in a map case instead of tucked away in my pack somewhere.

As we trooped outside for the start, the rain had eased off somewhat but it was still miserable enough for me to be pulling my buff up over my face.

Getting ready to go!

Getting ready to go! (Photo by Phil Owen)

Once the race was underway, I was pleasantly surprised to find the first stretch was an easy downhill section on road and found myself running alongside Andy Norman and chatting about his recent interest in triathlon.  As we turned left to drop into the woods beside the River Esk, Andy dropped back to find his fiancee Sarah and I followed the pack up the first set of steep steps on the route, already having to be careful of footing on the slick muddy surface.

First section from the start and down by the river.

First section from the start and down by the river.

Soon we were passing through undulating woodland with great big drops of water falling from the trees, having found each other, Andy and Sarah overtook me and I followed them both through the woods and over the rocks beside the river toward the beautiful Mallyan Spout waterfall.

Mallyan Spout

Mallyan Spout (Photo by Kristy Ann Wise)

Shortly after Mallyan Spout, a runner behind me called out that my number was falling off, so I took a moment to stop and re-attach it, then decided to use the tree cover for a call of nature before getting back on my way climbing out of the woods up to the main road back into Goathland, which the route crossed before heading up onto the moor above Hunt House Road.  The path soon deteriorated from muddy to a long series of puddles strewn with rocks.  After about a mile of trying to avoid running in the water I gave in and embraced getting my feet wet, keeping my head down, looking for the safest footing.

I’d been doing this for about 15 minutes when I spied a rock ahead and stopped on it to re-tie my shoelace, I was about to head off in the direction I’d been running when a runner behind me (thanks again runner 101) called out that I was gong the wrong way.

Giving myself a mental slapping for not paying attention, I followed a group of runners down the hill, the path, ankle-deep in water flowing its way down the hillside.

At the bottom of the hill, I ran straight through the checkpoint there and continued along a narrow track where i noticed a race number floating on the surface of the water that filled the rut of the track.  I fished it up and handed it to the marshall at the bottom of the next climb, at the same time pulling off my own number that was hanging by a single punch hole and shoving it in my pocket. The next climb was a mile long drag averaging around 6% but as steep as 25% in places up Howl Moor to Simon Howe.  I resolved to focus on runners ahead of me and reel them in to occupy my mind going up the climb and stop me from being so focused on the ground.

The first runner took me about 5 minutes to catch up with and amused me because she was actively ploughing through the knee-deep standing water and numerous streams that crossed the path.  As I got closer, I realised it was Lauren Ireland whom I’d run the final miles of Osmotherley marathon with. We ran together and chatted for a minute or so before I picked out a runner ahead with a yellow patch on their pack and started off after them.

As I reached the summit of Simon Howe, I asked the marshalls there to make sure that they told Jon that the blue squiggly lines on maps were streams and rivers, not footpaths as I felt like I’d just spent the last hour or and twelve minutes running along a river bed.

The course turned right here and headed back down the hill, with the surface water still following the path running down the hill also. I made good time reeling in the pair of runners in front, realising as I approached that it was Andy and Sarah.

We exchanged pleasantries about the weather as I passed and I eyeballed the next runner in front pushing on faster down the hill, splashing through puddles and managing to stay upright on th slippy mud.

I caught the next runner just before the bottom of the hill and we came together just before a stream crossing.  He went first and went in up to his knees, I decided to try to jump a bit further over than him, only to end up in the same sort of depth.

I took a break and fast walked past him up the next hill, spying another pair of runners in front. As I fast walked up the hill, I got a gel down my neck and had a good drink of both water and Lucozade.

As the ground levelled again, I got running and I caught up with the pair in front at a forestry road crossing and we ran together for a short while on yet another seriously waterlogged woodland track trying to simultaneously dodge low branches and avoid landing into knee-deep pools of muddy water.

We eventually passed another checkpoint at a road crossing and turned downhill on a forestry track.  I spied three runners about 400m ahead and I pressed my pace hard down the track, as I picked up the pace I noted that the arch of my left foot had a bit of a hotspot and was sore.  I toyed with the idea of stopping to put on a blister plaster but decided that taking off and putting back on soaking wet socks, shoes and calf guards wasn’t worth the hassle and continued.

This made the next section fun as the route took a fork off the track down a steep, rocky descent into the woods at Newtondale.  Each time my foot rolled across a rock, the hot spot became more sore but I decided I had to live with it and just cracked on.  At the bottom, the route turned left, along another forest road.  In the shelter of the woods it was a lot warmer and I took off my hat and buff from round my neck as I jogged along chasing the trio in front.  As I got a bit closer, I realised the among them was Jason Highland, who typically finishes well ahead of me in these races.  Buoyed by the idea that I might be doing well I picked up the pace again, running through the woods with the rain replaced by hundreds and thousands of burnt orange coloured autumn leaves falling from the trees.  An absolutely stunning sight, as was the mist rising from various parts of the wood.

Somewhere below me, I heard one of the trains from the North York Moors steam railway pass by, blowing its whistle as it passed.  Shortly after, I reached the next checkpoint manned by Brenda Wilkin, Kelly Brearley and a tribe of enthusiastic children.  I checked in and headed across the rail tracks into Pifelhead Wood, which was very dark.

At the other side of the woods, the path climbed steeply along an escarpment and I had to take real care with my footing due to the mud on the path and the sheer drop-off to the left.

The climb eventually ended at a gate which took the path onto some open moorland, this was one of the least waterlogged bits of this section of running and only had a mere couple of inches of standing water.

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(Photo by Brenda Wilkin)

I followed a the three runners (and the very well laid trail of yellow tape) ahead through the waist-high heather, plodging through more puddles as I went.  I again thought about treating my left foot, again I dismissed the idea, deciding instead that I could have some paracetamol if the pain bothered me too much.

I could see the A169 ahead and assumed the route would take me in that direction since I knew from the route description we crossed the road twice, instead the course took a sharp right away from the road and followed the base of the hill contouring along the side of Levisham Moor. Somewhere above Newtondale Halt, my watch started beeping at me, confused I looked down and saw that the Storm Alarm was going off.  The Storm Alarm is a function that detects significant drops in air pressure within a short space of time and serves as a warning to take cover because something nasty is headed your way.

I was quite amused by this considering the weather so far and just kept running. I could see now that Jason had put a bit of distance between him and the pair of ladies who’d been running with him. I decided to try to keep Jason in sight if I could and pushed harder into the increasing headwind.

I soon overtook the ladies who’d stopped for a bit of a picnic and continued running along the reasonably flat path bfore reaching a marshall in a tent who pointed me up a steep hill, where I could see Jason approaching the top.

I had no choice but to walk this hill and chose to eat and drink while I walked.  I checked my water bottle and decided to top it up at the next checkpoint.

As I crested the hill I now had the wind at my back so I decided to make the most of it and run as much as possible, but I only lasted a couple of hundred metres before my blister started bothering me.  In an attempt to deal with it, I stopped and tightened my laces to minimise the movement in my shoe before cracking on.

The path took a right along a fenceline and just ahead I could see the next checkpoint, with Jason just leaving it.  I picked up pace and ran strongly into the checkpoint, stopping only to top up my water before ploughing down the hill after Jason.

At the bottom of the hill, the path crossed a couple of streams before heading upwards again.  I slowed to a sporadic run/fast walk pattern and was soon overtaken by the ladies I’d passed earlier who were jogging along comfortably.

I looked ahead up the hill and I could see Jason overtaking another runner who seemed to be slowing up.  I decided that he’d be my next target and using the ever increasing wind at my back I began to run more and slowly reel him in.

After a few minutes I noticed something on the path ahead, as I drew closer I realised it was a pair of armwarmers.  The only people immediately ahead were the ladies who’d overtaken me, about 200m in front.  I ran hard for a couple of minutes and eventually caught them just as they were about to finish a walk break, I handed them back to the grateful owner before taking a walk break of my own.

At the same time, I decided enough was enough from my foot and popped some paracetamol.

As the path started to level up I got mor running done and eventually overhauled the male runner I’d targeted, th ladies and Jason, however were stretching their lead on me and I decided to give up on chasing them.  Just as I made this decision the rain returned with torrential force.  It was almost horizontal, so I put my winter hat on under my cap and my buff, pulling the hat down and the buff up to cover as much exposed skin as possible.

As I climbed onto the rim of the Hole of Horcum my right hand side was so saturated that just clenching my fist squeezed several drops of water out of my glove.  it then started with hailstones, the side of my head being peppered so hard, the sensation of the hail hitting the wet hat covering my ear was making my ear ring. At least I had some comfort that the Storm Alert on my watch worked.

I knew there was a checkpoint at the roadside about a kilometre ahead so I pressed on, hoping to hide behind Mike Booth’s camper van to put on my waterproof jacket. As it turned out, the jacket was not required.  As I reached the road, the rain stopped and while I filled up my Lucozade Sport bottle with coke, the sun came out!

As with most things in life, timing is everything and on Saturday, I timed my arrival at Mike’s camper van with him just finishing making a batch of sausage sandwiches, so he kindly offered me one.  Not EVER known to pass up food I gratefully took one and was on my merry way, shortly after passing Phil Owen in his car who offered me a Miniature Hero from a huge tub, I took a Bounty for later.

As the route descended towards Newgate Foot, the wind dropped remarkably quickly and the heat from the sun intensified.  I stripped off the winter hat and buff again as well as opening my jacket as far as I could.  Just below me and to the left, I could see the regrouped trio of runners ahead of me, very close by.  However, due to the geography of the route, they were actually about three minutes ahead of me. At the bottom of the hill, the route rose again steeply across fields up Hazelhead Moor towards Whinney Nab.

This climb seemed to take forever, trudging through long wet grass, it didn’t help that I was getting progressively warmer too.  I reached the top of the climb onto Saltergate Moor and rolled up the sleeves of my jacket and base layer and pushed on.

The next kilometre could only be described as a marsh.  Mostly ankle to knee-deep mud, interspersed with ankle to knee-deep water, the only redeeming feature of which was that the water was blissfully cold on my sore left foot. The going was very heavy but I pushed on hard, very conscious to keep drinking (my memories of the heat at Hardmoors 60 fresh in my mind as well as a piece on Levison Wood’s Walking The Nile where one of the party died of heat stroke while walking through marshland, albeit in Africa).

I soon made it to RAF Fylingdales and the path ran along the perimeter fence, every now and again there were posts by the path and I decided to use one of these to hang my kit on while I stripped to the waist to dispose of some unwanted additional clothing.  Off came the race vest, jacket, hats and buffs.  I then took off the base layer and put the jacket and vest back on, the whole procedure causing amusement to someone inside the perimeter fence. I stuffed the hats in my back pocket and the buffs went round my wrist and I got going again just ahead of another pair of ladies who’d caught me up while I was stopped.

The path took a sharp right turn and headed over a bridge, up a concrete path in the direction of Worm Syke Rigg.  Water was running freely down the left side of the path and i took great pleasure in plodging through it to cool my now ridiculously sore foot off.

As the path levelled, it turned into a gravelled double track with deep puddles every couple of hundred metres.  My pace slowed a little and I was overtaken by the ladies, then shortly after by a male runner.

The Worm Syke Rigg Path

The Worm Syke Rigg Path (Photo by Andy Nesbit)

The path soon curved left, then upwards and after about two kilometres I arrived at the Cross at Lilla Howe where the marshall there gave me some Skittles, which were just the sugar and E number rush I needed at this point.

The ‘path’ now pointed downhill towards the A169 at Ellerbeck Bridge. I use the term path loosely as due to the earlier rain and despite the now blazing sunshine, the path was a torrent of water often intertwining with Little Eller Beck and combining with the soggy mud and the peat being pulled down from the moor by the water, it wasn’t so much a path as a mire.

Even I was forced to descend with care, several times misjudging a puddle and ending up thigh deep in water, a few times a little too deep in mud for comfort too.  I pushed the pace as hard as I could and tried to use the slowing of the runners ahead as a bit of a warning about any tricky bits.

As I approached the bottom of the bank, the path crossed the beck, which was now fast flowing and deep.  Due to a moment of indecision about the best crossing point, I slipped over when choosing a path towards the beck then changing my mind when I saw a narrower crossing.  Thankfully, nothing was damaged and I managed to leap over the beck safely too.

I made it to the Ellerbeck Bridge checkpoint 37.6km in at 5h:21m.  Doing a little bit of mental maths I realised that there was around 7km to go and I’d been averaging 7km an hour. Even allowing for the climb, I was still in with a realistic chance of a 6 and a half hour finish, well ahead of my estimate of 7 and a half hours.

I crossed the road and ran down another short, water filled descent, crossed the moors railway again and began the climb to my second visit of the day to Simon Howe. As I got onto the hill, I could see Jason walking ahead of me.  I decided to try to push on to catch up with him but I was really struggling in the heat.  I unzipped my jacket and trisuit, opting to run bare-chested to stem the amount of sweat leaking out of me.

I was surprised to be caught and passed on the climb by the ladies I’d followed round the Hole of Horcum, they told me as I passed that they’d taken a wrong turn and visited Fylingdales twice. I was quite impressed that they were still going well following such an extensive detour.

Eventually I caught Jason just before the summit and we chatted on the way to the top. At the top we both got a run on and Jason really got motoring again going down Two Howes Rigg, I tried to keep up with him but the surface was just the sort of uneven scrabbly, muddy, slippery stuff that rubbed my blister every time my left foot made contact with the ground.

I moved fast where I could and slowed where I had to, looking at the watch as I crested the last moorland rise of Two Howes I saw that I was on 5h:50m with 4km to go.  From there on I just enjoyed the final run in.

Descending from open moorland, past sheep and walkers, eventually coming out on the road just before Mallyan Spout Hotel. Now on tarmac and approaching the finish, I lifted the pace and turned it up a notch every 30 seconds feeling really strong and wanting to put in a good finish. By the time I reached the turn for the village hall I was running at 4m:30s/km pace which is my 5k race pace.  I bounded past Dennis Atherton who was cheering finishing runners on and into the village hall to stop the clock at 6h:24m:18s.

At that precise moment as my legs and lungs realised just how I’d finished that race, I realised I was experiencing one of the things that encapsulates Hardmoors races.  At most races there’s applause when a runner finishes, but at this point, it seemed everyone in the village hall was applauding. Looking round I could see the faces of people who were very likely in the top 10 finishers and who would have finished about two hours before me still sitting and applauding finishers.

As I grabbed some very welcome coffee and sandwiches I sat down, slowly starting to feel the aching in my legs and hips. Looking around, I could see runners caked up to the knees in mud.

In a pre-race email, Race Director Jon Steele had said that he wanted ‘a Hardmoors T-Shirt to mean something’.  This race had not only thrown 44.5km at the runners but also 1,300m of ascent, most of that in torrential rain and strong winds. Almost the entire course was ankle-deep or more in mud and water which made the going harder still when the storm passed and the sun got out. Believe me Jon, that T-Shirt means something. It was a stunning race, perfectly organised and despite everything I’d recommend it to anyone as their first trail marathon or someone looking to take their first steps beyond the marathon distance.

A few days after the race, I found out that the marathon had a 100% completion rate.  Despite everything thrown at the runners, nobody gave in. That is truly impressive, well done everyone!

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