It’s genuinely scary how quickly this race seems to have come around.  It feels like only a couple of weeks ago that I was embarking on a training plan that was essentially starting from scratch.

Since July, I’ve actually completed marathon plus distance twice (Sweeping the Hardmoors Princess 30 and just scraping past the marathon distance in Hardmoors Nemesis, both in aid of Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue).

My training has involved gradually increasing the distance and elevation gain of my runs as well as hitting a variety of different surfaces while getting in a number of recces of the Hardmoors 55 and 110 route.  A couple of times I’ve backed off the training due to feeling like I was pushing a little too hard but just before Christmas I managed to injure myself.

This resulted in me stopping running entirely for two weeks in the lead up to this race instead of tapering and receiving some great treatment from physio Mike Jefferies.

In the days before the race I had more time on my hands than usual to worry about the logistics of completing the race, so I pondered what do to about travelling in the event of bad weather and where to park etc. Right up until the last minute I was going on my good weather plan of travelling from Hartlepool to Robin Hood’s Bay on the morning of the race, but speaking to people who’ve raced previously, I had worries about getting parked. At last minute I decided to camp overnight and that decision was justified by the fact that when I arrived, I got one of only three remaining spaces in the car park.

Having arrived and shared a New Years Eve beer with Matthew Swan and Ian Gorin in Matthew’s camper van, I got myself comfortable in the car.  I was in bed well before midnight, but knew there was no chance of sleep until the local firework celebrations had subsided. In the time before midnight I went over my kit choices and how I was going to run the race.  At midnight, I video called Natalie and Martha to wish them happy new year then spent another hour planning and waiting for the fireworks to stop.

Due to the injury, my original target of beating my 50k PB (7h:09m) was out of the question and the only real goal was to get around within the 9 hour cut off.

The Hardmoors 30 course is a figure 8 loop consisting of 21km clockwise route north from Robin Hood’s Bay to Whitby along the ‘Cinder Track’ disused railway and back along the Cleveland Way path along the cliff tops.  I knew from the Princess that the Cinder Track is very runnable in most conditions and planned to run the 10km or so to Whitby at a comfortable pace then just do as best as I could on the return leg, which was likely to be muddy and hard going.

Since the pain in my leg had subsided to fairly minimal levels in the last few days, I’d decided to leave my poles in the car and pick them up for the second loop if my leg had decided to play up.

The second loop left Robin Hood’s Bay south on the Cinder Track, climbing gradually to Ravenscar then descending to Hayburn Wyke, before returning along the Cleveland Way to the finish.  The plan for this was to run what I could of the Cinder Track, fast walk back to Ravenscar and simply use anything I had left to get into Robin Hood’s Bay.

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Hardmoors 30 Route Map

I woke up naturally at 5am, an hour before my alarm clock was set and had a breakfast of porridge, banana and coffee while trying to gauge the weather.  The temperature on my car read 6 degrees, but in the sheltered area that Fylingdales village hall sits in, it felt comfortably warm, even though I could see clouds scudding along on a strong wind in the sky. I decided that on the clifftops that wind would feel decidedly cold so opted to wear a fleece jacket instead of a jersey on top of the standard winter wear of leggings and base layer.

Having got dressed and signed on nice and early, I left the village hall and did some light jogging and stretching to warm up then returned indoors for the race brief.  Once the brief was finished, we were outside in the bright winter sunshine and we were off on the first ultra of 2018.

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Hardmoors 30 Race Start by Kelli Wigham

As the crowd of runners headed along the road to the start of the Cinder Track, I was pulled along by them, way faster than I wanted to go, so as I hit the start of the Cinder Track, I slowed to a walk before jogging along at my own pace along the first flat section before the track kicked up into a climb which I negotiated in a run/walk routine until I was over the top and heading downhill.  I was just getting into a good stride and running well when I could feel the first painful twinges in my shin.

I checked my Suunto and found I’d only gone 3km, which was annoying.  I decided to take two paracetamol and continue running at a pace which I hoped would see me to Whitby within the first hour.  I quickly realised that the pain was worse on harder surfaces but subsided on softer surfaces.  Where possible, I ran on the muddier sections of track or on the grass at the side to reduce the impact on my leg and walked any concrete sections like the viaduct across the River Esk. I reached the first checkpoint at the end of the Cinder Track in Whitby at 1h:02m and grabbed a couple of Jaffa Cakes and ran through Whitby at the most deserted I’ve ever seen it making my way easily over the Swing Bridge and up towards the 199 steps which I enjoyed climbing as the stepping action seemed to relieve the pain in my leg.  This gave me some hope that it might just need stretching off gradually.

Once across the Abbey car park and onto the Cleveland Way trail, I ran at a decent pace overtaking other runners and early morning walkers all the way into Saltwick Bay caravan park where the pain came back within a few steps of running on the road through the park.  I walked until I reached the grass track at the far end of the park and was quite pleased to note that it was nowhere near as muddy as people who’d run parts of the route in the days before had made out. I made good time passing Laura Bradshaw of Sportsunday photography to the Whitby Foghorn/Lighthouse (1h:37m) where I spotted David Bradshaw, noting that he wasn’t at the top of some ridiculous hill for once.

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Passing above Whitby Lighthouse taken by David Bradshaw of Sportsunday Photography

As I approached the next hill, I got an inkling I knew why David wasn’t at the top of a hill, the runners ahead had slowed to a very cautious pace.  As I got closer, I could see that the path had become a total quagmire.  I got through relatively easily and began to climb the steps up the next hill to the sounds of people slipping and sliding their way through.

The next 5km or so was a complete mudbath.  Mostly ankle deep liquid mud on top of a firm subsoil that quickly clogged up the grip on the shoes and led to lots of sliding about. I expected this to hurt my leg a lot, but in reality, as long as I didn’t slip and over extend the leg it didn’t hurt.  However keeping upright was that much of a challenge, I along with almost every other runner along that stretch had slowed to a crawl.

Eventually, as we approached Robin Hood’s Bay, there were some runnable gaps between to muddy patches, but almost right up to the village it was not possible to run at a consistent pace without running into a slippy patch.  On the way to the Robin Hood’s Bay checkpoint, I went to the car and picked up my poles, then hit the 21km checkpoint on 2h:55m, grabbed a cuppa while the marshalls topped up my bottle with Coke.

Up to this point, my food strategy had been my usual Wine Gums and salted peanuts every 15 mins with a Snickers or Chia Charge bar on the hour.  However, stopping to eat while using poles can be a pain and the checkpoint had Chia Charge bars which I know work well for me as an hourly snack so I added a couple to my back pocket to compliment the ones I was already carrying (Santa brought me a stash this year) and changed my plan to having a bar every 30 mins.

I sorted my poles out and walked painfully along the tarmac to the beginning of the Cinder Track which I was disappointed to find was in good, firm condition and after a couple of hundred metres running, I was slowed to a walk.  I was passed by Joanne Abbott and Joe Williams who said they were walking the next section, but left me for dust at cracking fast walk while I could only hobble along using my poles for support.

I kept giving myself landmarks as targets to fast walk up the hill until a pair of runners in front of me came into view as the path wound upwards towards Ravenscar. I spent the next 3 or 4km trying to reel them in with a combination of fast hobbling and slow jogging and I got to within 20m or so when I was caught by a runner from behind who introduced himself as Keri.

We walked and chatted all the way into Ravenscar and the company took my mind off the pain in my leg (which I supplemented again with paracetamol just before Ravenscar).  At the Ravenscar checkpoint I had a sausage roll and grabbed more Chia Charge bars and hobbled off in pursuit of Keri.

At the old Ravenscar train station I was still in some considerable pain and wasn’t feeling great but I found Paul Nelson marshalling there.  It seems I always bump into Paul when he’s doing really well in a tough race (I saw him coming off Cold Moor on HM55 and coming into Gribdale Gate in HM200) and he’s always cheerful. Being greeted by his smiling face just picked me up no end and as I hit the Cinder Track I resolved to run more regardless of how much it hurt.

I adopted a strategy of picking a tree at the furthest point I could see in the distance and running to it.  When I got closer to that tree, I picked a new one and kept moving. I managed this for a couple of kms at a time only stopping for a walk to eat on the half hour or hour but eventually I began to slow off again and was passed by a succession of runners, including Michelle Boshier, Emily and Scott Beaumont who I chatted briefly with before I could no longer keep up with them.

I arrived at Hayburn Wyke (35km) at 5h:03m and found the checkpoint manned by Wayne Armstrong who topped my water and Coke up while I raided the checkpoint for more Chia Charge bars before heading down into the woods chasing Keith Wise and the two runners I’d been trying to catch up earlier. Descending the steps into the Wyke started off easy enough but further down they had been made muddy and slippy by the passage of the runners before me and I slowed down to avoid a nasty fall.

Upon reaching the bottom, I used my poles to climb back out, but it was obvious that I had slowed down significantly as I lost ground on everyone ahead of me and was overtaken by two groups of runners. At the top of the steps, the Cleveland Way clifftop path had been reduced to churned up and slippy mud, which was almost impassable.

The flat sections were tricky, anything uphill or downhill was just ridiculous.  Most of this section is uphill and without the poles I would have fallen over numerous times.

Again I focused on the pair of runners I’d been chasing earlier as the light started to fade.  One of the pair has started to lag behind the other, and I worked on closing the distance to him.  The poles allowed me to climb faster than they could climb, so I made ground uphill but lost it on the flat.  It was clear they were running together, because one would wait for the other when the gap between them got quite big.

A full moon rose over the sea to my right, as this slow motion chase through the mud played out and it struck me that the last time I’d seen a full moon rise on this stretch, I was running the opposite way during the 2016 Hardmoors 60 attempting to keep up with Elaine Wilde and Ingrid Hainey.  This bit of deja vu put a bit of energy into my stride and eventually I managed to overhaul one, then the other of the pair as the light began to fade.

I was now through the 40km mark at 6h:13m and working on trying to snap the elastic on the pair behind me, more for my own psychological benefit than any competitive reason.  I needed something to focus on to keep pushing on and moving through the pain. As the path approached Ravenscar, it began to get less muddy and more runnable and I was able to pick the pace up and hit the marathon mark at 6h:35m, which all things considered, I was reasonably pleased with.

Darkness was now falling and I opened my side pocket to get my head torch out, but couldn’t quite reach. I had zero motivation to take my pack off and my energy levels were dropping through the floor so I fast walked the last few hundred metres to the checkpoint where I asked one of the marshalls to help with getting the torch out while my bottles were refilled and I managed to stuff another sausage roll into my face.

Headtorch on, safe in the knowledge that there was only just over 6km remaining, starting with a very familiar descent away from Ravenscar I set off with renewed vigour.  I decided to ignore any pain I was in and use the descent as best I could and rattled down it quickly and hit the path above the Alum works in full dark.  The farm track was muddy but not slippy, however as soon as I turned off it to hit the clifftop path, I was back into quagmire territory. At this point I was beyond caring and threw myself along the path, no longer caring if I fell.

I was making ground on all but one of the head torches behind me, which was approaching rapidly and I tried to up my pace to keep ahead. This went on for almost 2km when I came upon a pair of head torches moving very slowly across a small dip.  I asked if they were OK and they confirmed they were ‘just going steady’.  As I entered the dip, I realised why and almost slid down to the bottom.

As I got through, they’d made ground on me again but I got moving and caught them up, just as I did, I stubbed my left foot into the ground and felt that combination of pain and release of pressure on my little toe that can only mean a blister has just burst.  As I stopped to curse, the head torch from behind passed the three of us and moved off into the distance.  I jogged on towards the Stoupe Farm road with the pair but having to slow dramatically once on the tarmac and being dropped by the pair totally as I descended the steps to Stoupe Beck.

As I climbed out of Stoupe Beck, the lights of Robin Hood’s Bay seemed tantalisingly close, but I knew that Boggle Hole was yet to come. Soon enough I was carefully descending the steep steps, listening the boom and crash of the waves below and eventually reached the bottom, ran across the bridge and started up the steps at the other side.  Climbing out of Boggle Hole seemed to take forever but at this point I knew it was a case of just grinding on to the finish.

At the top of the steps, I ran through the tunnel of tree and through the gate which I knew meant that I was on the final path to Robin Hood’s Bay, I moved as fast as I could along the stone slabs and almost ran off the edge of them where a recent clifffall had resulted in the earth beneath some slabs dropping down the cliffside, but the slabs remaining in place.  I tentatively edged my way around the far side of the path in the mud, until the path seemed safer then started running again towards the last set of slippery wooden steps that dropped into Robin Hood’s Bay.  I hit the village at 7h:58m and started the final steep climb up the road to the finish.

Despite being painful, the various Christmas lights in the village gave me something nice to look at and distract me, closer to the top I managed to get a faster hobble on and turned into the car park and the last 100m or so to the finish, clocking into the village hall and the finish at 8h:10m:33s by my watch.

I was presented with my medal and finishers T-shirt by Wayne Armstrong and I finally sat down to take stock of myself and strip off my muddy shoes and socks.

It wasn’t pretty but I’d got around within cut off and I now had 1/5 of the Hardmoors SuperSlam completed. As a run, it was a lot harder than most I’ve done in the past.  I can’t think of a single race that I’ve ever started carrying an injury before, certainly not an ultramarathon and I was happy that I’d been able to manage the pain and keep moving.

As always, the event itself was fantastically well organised and Hardmoors gatherings always have a party atmosphere.  New Years Day seemed, understandably slightly more so.

The marshalls at all checkpoints, some of which were in the middle of nowhere and and in pretty cold and windy locations, were brilliant, always happy, encouraging and willing to help. It’s amazing how much that these volunteers add to this race series and it speaks volumes that people keep coming back in ever increasing numbers. So to the Hardmoors team, led by Jon and Shirley, thank you for yet another great race and Happy New Year!  I’ll see you all at Hardmoors 55 in March.

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