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Great post by Kim.

Miles to go before I sleep

Image result for chick

This is a genuine question: how do people feel about the word ‘chicked’? When I first heard it, I thought it was kind of cool. We ladies had a term for kicking male behind, grrrrl power, taking back our right to be feminine and all that jazz. But the more I’ve encountered it, the more it’s starting to grate. Now, I know that it’s often used in what is meant as a complimentary way and that’s fantastic. When a woman beats a man in a race, I can sort of see why it’s seen as more of an accomplishment. After all, we are, historically, not as fast as men. I get that people want to congratulate women on that. So my rant is twofold: the word itself is wildly patronising, and how we react to it, I think, needs to be rethunk!

I am not, nor is any other woman…

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This was to be my third and final attempt at completing Hardmoors 60.  The only race that has beaten me and done so twice was getting ticked off this year or not at all.

In addition to all I had learned in previous years races, I’d gathered thoughts on what had worked, what didn’t work and where I was strong or weak from my previous three ultra efforts this year (a night run from Staithes to Clay Bank in January, the Cleveland Hills Challenge in April and the Lyke Wake Challenge in July).

With the exception of the newly added section of the course just after Staithes and the section between Robin Hood’s Bay and Ravenscar, I’d run the entire course this year, some of it multiple times and the Robin Hood’s Bay to Ravenscar bit I’ve done a number of times before anyway.

Planning and Preparation

I started pulling my race plan together in July, almost immediately after the Lyke Wake Challenge and I had decided on breaking the course up into chunks in the same way I did last year, but this time, I’d used an idea that is popular in the triathlon/cycling world that you only have a finite number of matches to burn during a race, each match being a hard effort.

Looking at my strengths/weaknesses I’d decided that I probably had four matches available to me over the course of the day if I paced them right and spaced them with enough rest in between. This was something I’d played around with on the Cleveland Hills Challenge when looking at which order to run the hills in and how much effort to put into travelling between them all.

After I’d completed all my recce runs in August, I finalised my decision on where the hard efforts would be focused.

  1. Highcliff Nab to Saltburn – Mainly downhill on good quality trails with only a couple of climbs to contend with.
  2. Deepgrove Wyke to Whitby – After the steps down from the clifftop, there is a gently downward sloping section of disused railway to Sandsend, followed by a tarmac section of road and path (albeit uphill road and path) that a faster pace could be maintained on.
  3. Ravenscar to Hayburn Wyke – Again, mainly downhill, but late in the race.  If I was to make the most of this, I’d need to conserve some energy. To that end, I planned to fast walk most of Whitby to Ravenscar, only running if it was possible to do so at an easy effort. Walking Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay wouldn’t lose me a great deal of time as it’s very technical and contains a lot of steep ascending and descending where my running pace wouldn’t be significantly faster than my fast walking.
  4. Scarborough Sea Front – This was chosen mainly because when I recce’d this section with Dave Cook on the hottest day of the year, it was grim going avoiding tourists, running on tarmac after trails and generally boring. The sort of section that you need done quickly after a long day. Again, if hard efforts were needed at 80km in, I’d need to buffer it with a rest, so I chose to fast walk the section between Hayburn and Scalby Mills, which was also savage in terms of the number of steep steps in such a short section.

The recce of Hayburn to Scalby also changed my mind on the use of poles. I’d trained all year without using poles, but the sheer amount of steps that late in the race made me reconsider.  I’d trained all summer during 2015 with them and was quite happy that I’d stayed proficient in their use and still had enough upper body and back strength to make them work for me, so I decided to take them.

With all the above considered, my plan was more or less formed. Run hard to Saltburn, rest on the climb between Skinningrove and Hummersea then pick up to a steady pace on the descent to Staithes and maintain this through Runswick Bay and on to Deepgrove Wyke where I’d start the next hard effort to Whitby. After the rest to Ravenscar, I’d push on again to Hayburn Wyke, rest to Scalby and work hard through Scarborough and anything left after then would be poured into the finish.

Based on previous race times, recce runs etc, I’d worked out that I could finish in 17 hours, allowing me an hour buffer on cut off for things going wrong if I paced it well and reached my defined marker points by the target times below:

Saltburn CP: 2h:05m

Skinningrove: 2h:55m (00h:50m split)

Staithes: 4h:15m (1h:20m split)

Runswick Bay CP: 5h:05m (00h:50m split spending no more than 10 mins at the CP)

Saltwick Bay CP: 7h:30m (2h:25m split)

Robin Hood’s Bay CP: 9h:00m (1h:30m split)

Ravenscar CP: 10h:25m (1h:30m split spending no more than 15 mins at the CP including changing clothes)

Hayburn Wyke: 11h:35m (1h:10m split)

Scalby Mills: 13h:25m (1h:50m split)

Scarborough Spa CP: 14h:15m (00h:50m split)

Finish: 17h:00m (2h:45m split)

Pre-Race

I travelled down to Filey on Friday afternoon with Natalie and we hit the local chippy for food before heading to the caravan where I prepared my food for the race and added the last minute items to my drop bags.

I planned to start carrying 500ml Lucozade Sport in a hard bottle, 500ml Lucozade Sport in a soft flask and 500ml water in a hard bottle.  The bottles were to be carried in my pack, the soft flask in my back pocket.

My starting food would be a bag of wine gums, a bag of salted peanuts and 6 mini Snickers bars.  As usual, wine gums to be consumed at quarter past and quarter to the hour on the race clock, peanuts at half past the hour and Snickers on the hour.

In my Runswick Bay drop bag, I had a fresh bottle of Lucozade Sport to top up my bottle with, a can of Red Bull to be drank at the CP, a protein gel to be taken at the CP, a bag of Hula Hoops to go in my back pocket in case I needed a change of flavour/texture, some Jaffa cakes for the same reason and more wine gums, nuts and Snickers.

My Ravenscar drop bag had Red Bull, protein gel, Pom Bear crisps, Fig Rolls, wine gums, nuts, a Chia Charge flapjack and Snickers for pretty much the same reasons.

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I laid my kit out ready for the next day and went to bed at 8pm, aiming to be awake for 3am so that I had time to eat breakfast, stretch, tape my feet and get my clothes on in good time to get to Filey early to ensure no car parking mishaps as per last year and to be ready for the bus when it arrived at 5:45am. I got to sleep fairly quickly but woke up naturally around 2am.  After trying to doze back off for nearly an hour my alarm clock went off and I got up, eat breakfast and began the process of getting ready.  The weather forecast all week had been favourable in my eyes, temperatures around 15 degrees, overcast and strong northerly winds.  The caravan had been battered by wind all night so I was optimistic that the forecast would be correct, however I’d fallen foul of bad forecasting in this race before, so had prepared for cold weather but given myself provision to strip layers off if the need arose.

I got into the car with the wind still howling and drove to Filey.  Normally when I arrive around 5:15am, I’m one of the first there, this year there were lots of people there ahead of me, showing just how much this race has grown in the three years I’ve participated. I was glad of anticipating some messing about at the car park.  Last year, the parking meter would not accept debit card payments, so this year I arrived with a bag of coins, which the machines would not accept.  Eventually one of the runners in front of me worked out that it was only accepting debit card payments so I duly returned to the car to fetch my card and paid for a ticket. Ticket paid for, I then caught up with a few runners I knew in the car park having brief chats with Ady Benn, Dave Cook and Dee Bouderba before boarding the bus. On the bus, I bumped into Paul Roach, who had generously provided me with some of his excess flapjack to compliment my breakfast of bananas and porridge. I was also now onto my second bottle of Lucozade Sport that morning, on top of a cup of coffee and several days of pre-hydrating, so the bus ride was spent mainly back and forth to the toilet much to the amusement of Kelly Brearley.

Once at the start line at Guisborough Sea Cadets, I passed quickly through kit check, picked up my race number and joined the huge queue for the gents alongside Gary Thwaites and Aaron Gourley which killed the 20 minute wait before the race brief nicely.

With the race brief done, we all headed outside and got ready to start.  I managed to get myself lined up alongside two (or is it three if you count a certain “inner” persona?) of the most talkative guys in the race John Freel and Dave Cook and without a whole lot of ceremony the race was off.

Start to Saltburn

As the race started and the huge mass of bodies headed up the road towards the woods, the first thing I noticed was that the wind had dropped, a lot and it was warmer than I’d initially thought it was going to be. I’d started the race with my armwarmers on but rolled down and decided that if it stayed warm, I’d take them off and back pocket them once on the coast, where it’s always cooler. As we arrived at the edge of the woods, the race slowed to walking pace as the increase in grade, combined with the bottleneck at the first stile took effect and it allowed a couple of minutes to make last minute adjustments to kit to make sure it was comfortable.  I had brought my MP3 player and headphones in case I ended up running alone for long periods and the wire was annoying me so I spent the time waiting to get to the stile tucking them away, where they stayed for the entirety of the race.

Once over the stile, I fell in behind Dave and John listening to their banter, trying but failing to think of a way to wind John up as we passed over a field and into the woods proper and onto the forest trails.  I was in a small group with Dave and John but thought the pace was a little fast for me and decided to drop back, conveniently this was just before the 900m climb to Highcliff Nab which rises around 160m from the bottom of the climb so I removed my poles from the pack as I slowed and had them ready as we hit the climb.  Normally, this climb is ankle deep in cloying, thick mud, but the recent dry weather had left it nice and firm which made for a fast ascent and started to string the field out nicely.

I finished the last half of the climb with Aaron Gourley who lives just up the road from me and chatted about the various challenges of work/ultra balance. Once up on top of the Nab, I found myself running alongside Brenda Wilkin, who I’ve run with a few times.  Brenda is often faster than me so was an ideal pacer to get me to Saltburn. We talked all the way to the Fox and Hounds at Slapewath and the first hour flew by really quickly. Sadly, climbing away from Slapewath, Brenda mentioned that she wasn’t feeling great and dropped off as I climbed up the steps and onto Airey Hill (I later learned that she’d pulled out at Boulby with a nasty aggravation of an old ankle injury).

Once up on Airey Hill I found myself intermittently running alongside a group containing April Corbett and Wendy Colling of the Quakers Running Club and being passed by several of the faster runners who’d started slowly and were gathering pace.  As we descended from the farmers field, a couple of mountain bikers went past and asked how far we were going, upon hearing the reply of 60 miles, one of them nearly fell off his bike and we had a chuckle at the “first one of the day”, one of those little things that amuses me (and hopefully others) are the reactions of people who find out rather unexpectedly what you are up to and this was a classic.

Coming down through Skelton I noticed that some of the runners passing me were sweating heavily and I noticed that my clothes were already damp, I made a mental note to keep on top of my drinking (I’d made a good dent in the soft flask of Lucozade and some of my water already), take a salt tablet every hour and also gave myself a good slosh across the arms, head and neck with water to cool off.  At this point, I felt that my cap was keeping my head too warm, so that went into my back pocket.

I arrived at the Saltburn checkpoint feeling good and strong, grabbed a quick refill of my water bottle courtesy of Ray Wheatley and was away from the checkpoint at 2h:01m.

Saltburn to Skinningrove

Passing through the Saltburn checkpoint quickly, I headed out

out into the Valley Gardens running alongside Gareth Barnett and told him I was looking to slow down a little as I was running ahead of pace and he concurred that he thought I was going faster than normal as he’d had to work hard to catch up coming through Saltburn Woods.  Gareth peeled off at the Cat Nab car park to get a change of shoes from his crew, while I got my poles out ready for the climb above the Ship Inn onto the clifftop.  I made my way up the steps slowly and walked up the cliff slope noting that there wasn’t much wind here and the sun was quite warm.  I yanked the armwarmers off, shoved them in my back pocket and continued to drink heavily from the soft flask.

I was overtaken by large groups of faster runners who’d spent longer than me at the checkpoint along this stretch, including Ady Benn who wished me well as he passed.

The path soon levelled out and I was running again, finding that I was close behind the group containing April Corbett and Wendy Colling and it wasn’t long before I’d arrived at the charm bracelet sculpture to note that most people were opting to take the low path round this little monument on the Cleveland Way.  I took the opportunity to climb up to it and touch the star charm for luck and clang the hammer against the side before running on.

Soon I could see Skinningrove in the distance and it wasn’t long before I was descending the steps to the beach and found myself back behind Ady Benn.  I took the chance to ask the stupid question of how his sandals dealt with the sand, and found out they simply shed the sand off once back on terra firma.

As we approached the jetty, Aaron Gourley and Jennifer O’Neil fell in behind us and did me the kind service of putting a children’s TV theme in my head (cheers guys).

I arrived at Skinningrove at 2h:50m tracking 5 minutes ahead of plan still, as I passed through the village, I got my poles out for the climb onto Hummersea cliff ahead and passed Dave and John again who had taken advantage of “local contacts” to have a mini checkpoint at a “local house”. As the road tilted up towards the cliff steps, I took a swig out of my bottle and looped my poles onto my wrists for the climb.

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Rob Hartley’s photo of me arriving in Skinningrove

Skinningrove to Staithes

As I climbed the steps onto the cliff, I was once again overtaken by the Wendy and April group and again jokingly warned of consequences should I misuse my poles near them.  They soon pulled ahead as I set a more leisurely pace uphill, saving my legs for more serious work later.

Further up the hill I spotted SportSunday photographer David Bradshaw and managed a smile as I passed trotting along with my poles, forewarned, I kept an eye out for SportSunday gaffer Laura Bradshaw who I’d promised a pose for a few days earlier.  As I was running uphill, the best I could manage was something basic, none of this jumping around that Mr Freel prefers.

Photos by SportSunday Photography

Soon the path turned past the farm on the hillside and tilted seriously uphill, I was suddenly aware that it was very warm and that the promised wind had not materialised. I was sweating heavily and made conscious efforts to drink regularly.  As I reached the top of the climb, I noted that both water and Lucozade levels were low.  I’d been taking salt tablets on the hour, every hour and as I cruised along the top of the cliff, I decided to pop an extra tablet to make sure I was on top of my electrolytes.

At this point, I noticed that my shoes were a bit loose and decided to tighten the laces before the descent into Staithes to avoid a stupid injury from a twisted ankle.  As I got going again, I was passed by Jeremy Sylvester and had a brief chat as I moved on.

Dropping down the front of the cliff quickly and efficiently I found myself running comfortably, so skipped a planned walk break across the field before Cowbar and kept going until I was onto Cowbar Lane.  It was great to be feeling really strong at this point, especially as this was where I began to feel really dire last year.  A female runner (Meltem Akarsu?) fell in line with me and we walked and talked together for a minute, before she was off and running again.

As I got running again, I went into my pocket to fish out some money, as I’d decided to nip into a pub to top up on fluids. I arrived in Staithes at 4h:04m, now 9 minutes ahead of plan, depite trying to slow down.

Staithes to Runswick Bay

As I passed the Royal George, I glanced through the window, saw that there was no queue at the bar and dived in through the door, ordering a bottle of Coke  to go into the now empty Lucozade bottle and asked the barmaid to top up my water. That done, I jogged out into the street with the coke bottle fizzing and popping into my face. I got my poles out for the steep climb back out of the village, conscious that I needed to have my wits about me because at the top of the climb, the route of the Cleveland Way had changed in the last week or so and we would be routed onto the new section.

The surface of the new section was a very nice mown grass path that gently undulated and I made decent time moving along it but I could see the sting in the tail ahead.  The original route out of Staithes has a very steep climb, coming at it from the new section, the path goes up the side of that climb and is slightly steeper and longer, the poles came out again and I did a very slow march up to the top being passed by groups of charity walkers coming down the opposite way, exchanging words of encouragement to each other as we passed.

Up on the top, the poles went away and I got into running mode, taking a swig of Coke and feeling the benefit of the ice cold sugar and caffeine hit almost immediately I took off aiming to run the whole section, barring the odd set of steps in the middle. I passed through Port Mulgrave quickly, this section seemed to be popular with walkers and it was good to have people to constantly speak to along the way, the time flew by quickly and before I knew it, I was turning the sharp right that led into Runswick Bay.  I looked at my watch and saw that I was still ahead of plan and had a real chance of hitting the checkpoint in under 5 hours.  I pushed harder along the path and turned onto the steep road down toward the checkpoint, which was in the bottom car park by the beach.

As I pushed on down the hill, I  felt a twinge of pain in my right knee, “bugger!” I thought knowing I was being silly running fast downhill. I slowed up and hoped the drop in pace would ease it off. I walked into the checkpoint at 4h:59m, a full 6 minutes ahead of plan.

As Paul Hamer topped up my water and Coke bottles, filled my soft flask back up with Lucozade and I emptied my pockets into the bin, Sadie Pattison told me that there was a message from Race Director, Jon Steele in my drop bag.  Immediately all kinds of things ran through my mind, had I done something wrong? Left something behind? Had Natalie been trying to get in touch? Then I read the words…..”Quit and you die!” I laughed out loud and told myself again, there would be no quitting from me today.

I was out of the checkpoint quickly, leaving at 5h:03m, overtaking a large number of runners who’d taken the opportunity to sit down, eat and drink while I’d simply downed my can of Red Bull, chased it with a cup of water, then taken a protein gel on board, chased it with a cup of Coke and loaded my pockets with more, wine gums, nuts, Snickers and some Hula Hoops then scarpered.

Runswick Bay to Saltwick Bay

I jogged onto the beach joining a group that included Jason Highland and Joe Williams before walking along the beach with them, getting my poles out for the steps that had pretty much done me in last year.

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Runswick Bay

As we left the beach, I soaked my buff through in the stream coming down from the cliffs, and put it on my head so that I would have cool water dripping down my body for the whole climb. Joe did the same with his cap and we headed on up the steps. It seemed to take no time at all to climb the steps (10m:10s actually) as I was chatting with the group as I climbed, pointing out the spots where I passed out last year.  As we reached the top of the climb, Ady joined the back of the group and he noted my poles and asked me to keep them away from him, relating his experience in the Alps earlier in the year when he’d had to grab a fellow competitors pole just inches from his face.

The group strung out again and I was soon on my own until I heard a familiar Scottish accent shouting “Jamesey boy!” in the distance behind me.  Dave and John must have also been enjoying a nice long break at Runswick Bay. They caught up with me just before Kettleness, as did Paul Roach and Jo Barrett and we chatted briefly before they jogged on ahead. Just after Kettleness, about 5h:45m in, my knee was still making noises at me and I decided to take some precautionary paracetamol.  I had just got moving again when I heard a Bob Marley tune playing behind me, I turned to see Gareth Barnett jogging towards me and he had a bit of Bob playing from a loudspeaker.

We ran on together for a bit, passing the charming little sign that points out the current distance between the two trailheads, before Gareth pushed on ahead.

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Sign showing distances to the trailheads

I reached the marathon point of Deepgrove Wyke at 6h:10m and as I slowly descended the steps I chatted with a guy, whose name I didn’t catch, who had been reading my blog from last year and as we reached the disused railway line I intended to use for one of my efforts, he wished me well. That thought in my mind, I pushed hard, the knee still reminding me of my mistake at Runswick, so much that I decided to adopt my now, usual positive thinking tactic, repeating aloud “I am running well, I am running pain free.” over and over.

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The old railway line into Sandsend

After 15 minutes or so, the pain started to subside and I was descending the steps to the car park in Sandsend where I spotted Paul Roach taking a breather talking to Jon O’Connell (who stopped me from taking a wrong turn at last year’s Goathland marathon),  I was disappointed to find out he had pulled out at Runswick Bay.  There were quite a few runners who’d met with crew at Sandsend and had stopped, I pushed on moving quickly onto the main road as planned.  I was soon overtaken by Dave, John and Jo who’d had another long stop and were off and running again. Jeremy, was close behind me and we kept overtaking each other back and forth as I ran intervals between groups of traffic cones and road signs, Dave, John and Jo stayed roughly the same distance ahead of me so i was confident I was holding a good pace.

I reached the turn for Whitby Golf Club at 6h:45m and headed down towards the sea front, joined again by Gareth. We made our way back up to the cliff top together before he pulled away.  I continued to trade places back and forth with Jeremy all the way to the Whale’s Jawbone, where I stopped at the Trillos ice cream van to buy, simply the best tasting orange ice lolly that I’ve ever had. I walked down the steps, through Khyber Pass and along the crowded quayside sucking the lolly, bringing my body temperature down very nicely and distracting myself from the crowds that prevented me from running.  Once across the swing bridge, I spotted another runner ahead, drinking a cup of tea or coffee.  I tried to keep sight of him through the crowded street while carefully getting my poles out without impaling a passer by. I caught him at the bottom of the 199 steps and used the poles all the way up to the Abbey having a chat along the way before he pulled ahead on the Cleveland Way track that leads to Saltwick Bay.  I kept the poles out, as I planned to use them all the way to Ravenscar from this point and jog/trotted along to the checkpoint, arriving at the checkpoint at 7h:33m now 3 minutes behind time but not bothered in the slightest.  I was feeling strong. I disappeared into the bushes to answer a call of nature while Shaun Burgess did the honours with refilling my bottles, again with water and Coke.  I also got my soft flask topped up with water, just in case I needed a bit extra.

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199 Steps, Whitby

I headed off again fast walking as planned.  As I passed the Whitby Foghorn, I heard Ady (who I’d again passed in the checkpoint) calling out to me as he’d found a piece of trekking pole on the trail and asked if it was mine.  A quick check revealed mine to be intact, so I thanked him and chatted, giving him a quick time and distance check before he climbed the next steep hill ahead of me. I was content to take this section nice and easy and strolled along at an average of 11m:49s/km.  I heard the familar voice of Dee Bouderba somewhere behind me, when I looked, she was in a group some 500m behind, but was caught by a bloke I often meet at this point in race (I think he’s called Gerard?) and he was telling me about how he now can’t pass Penshaw Monument without thinking about me doing hill reps up and down it after I told him about doing so the last time we met. We hopped over a couple of stiles together and he was off.

The path evened out for awhile so I decided to jog on slowly, passing a woman carrying a pair of trainers back along the trail , then I fell in with a group of hikers as the next climb started and I chatted with them about the race and how their day had gone, then as the path flattened out, I wished them an enjoyable rest of their walk before jogging on.

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Ravenscar in view across from Robin Hood’s Bay

I was caught by the group, containing Dee just before the Rocket Post field just outside of Robin Hood’s Bay and followed them into the checkpoint arriving at 9h:13m, now 13 minutes behind time, but at this point I didn’t even check time.  The checkpoint had music and Dire Straits were playing, so I sang to myself while I grabbed some food and topped up my water bottles.  They didn’t have Coke so I topped that bottle up with water and added some “Squirty Squash” I’d been keeping in my pack, just in case.  I also added a sachet of salt and two sachet of sugar to the mix. before jogging on singing Tunnel of Love, I stopped singing to nip to the gents on the way down the hill then got myself going on the way to Ravenscar.

Robin Hood’s Bay to Ravenscar

As I climbed the steps out of Robin Hood’s Bay, back onto the trail, I was caught by two ladies who’d been part of the group Dee was in, Elaine Wilde and Ingrid Hainey.

We chatted all the way to Boggle Hole, before they pulled away on the descent as I took it nice and easy down the steps.  I passed through Boggle Hole, pretty much at full high tide, on a full moon day and the power of the water in such an enclosed space was impressive and noisy.  I poled my way up the steps, back out of Boggle Hole efficiently and got jogging again once on the level path.  I was being tortured by flies at this point and it was still very warm so I soaked my buff with water and put it over my head in the hope that it would both keep the flies away and keep me cool.

Soon, the path dropped into the shade of the woods again, down the steps to Stoupe Beck, the change in temperature in the shade was noticeable.  When I was about halfway up the steps out of Stoupe Beck, I heard the familiar clack of tungsten on concrete behind me and looked around to see another runner closing behind.  We drew level at the top of the steps and we got chatting, I’d now met Paul Riddell, who it turned out lives just up the road from me in Hetton and knows a couple of my Coalfields clubmates.

As I continued to walk, Paul jogged on (having received fresh shoes recently from the lady I’d seen running back along the trail) and I tracked a couple of hundred metres behind him along the path that leads to Ravenscar.  You can see Ravenscar looming on the hill for miles and it’s easy to dwell on the fact that it never appears to get close until you are actually there.  I focused on the path a few metres ahead rather than looking at Ravenscar, I was starting to go through my checkpoint drill in my head.  I wanted a cup of tea, with lots of sugar in, I planned to drink it while I changed out of my now sweaty and soaking wet cycle jersey.  I didn’t think I needed my base layer as it was quite warm, although the forecast was for it to get quite cold.  I’d decided to keep the base layer handy in my pack and just be prepared to stop and put it on if needed.

The rest of it was all about switching the drop bag food in and the old food out.  The “Squirty Squash” was tasting vile to me, so I decided that would be the first to get binned, I wasn’t enjoying the taste of Snickers anymore, so I planned on taking only four of the six bars in my drop bag and to eat Pom Bears every half hour and on the hour instead.

I checked time as I climbed the long ascent into Ravenscar and I was on 10h:25m and was actually feeling quite strong.  I was still a bit behind time, but I was going to arrive a long time before my equivalent time from 2014 and had a hard running section planned ahead.

As I walked up through the village, I dumped the contents of my pockets into the bins by the side of the road and emptied out my bottles, planning to have them filled fresh at the checkpoint, an idea popped into my head about taking tea in my soft flask, I decided to give it a go with half tea and half cold water.

I arrived at the checkpoint on 10h:43m.  Tony McGonnell did the honours of filling my bottles up with water, Coke and tea (black, four sugars) respectively and made me a matching cuppa in a china cup.

I quickly stripped off, dried my top half and packed away my wet jersey and buff, swapping them for a clean, dry buff and my Coalfields cycling jacket.  My cap went on and the head torch went on my head ready for when it was dark. I took my protein gel, downed the can of Red Bull from my drop bag in one, packed my food into my pockets, dumping the excess Snickers onto the table for someone else to have and eating three or four pieces of melon at the same time.  Dave Toth made me some cold rice pudding, then mopped up the mess I made when I knocked my cup of tea over. Having caused chaos at the checkpoint, I followed Paul out of the door 14 minutes after I’d arrived, under my target time for being in and out of the checkpoint.

Ravenscar to Hayburn Wyke

A few metres down the road, Paul stopped to put his jacket on as he’d immediately felt the cold.  I felt chilly too, but decided to give running a go first.  I text an update to Natalie as I jogged and as a result was overtaken by Elaine and Ingrid.

Although the sun was setting, it was still light and I pushed the pace, giving myself the mental aim of getting to Hayburn Wyke before it got fully dark.  I overtook the ladies as the route re-joined the Cleveland Way as they were doing running repairs to feet. I put my head torch on early and ran on as much as the path allowed, which was quite a lot as it was mostly downhill.

The ladies overtook me again and pulled steadily away, before stopping at a junction, I shouted for them to carry straight on and battered on myself.  As the sun dipped below the western horizon, the tip of the moon rose over the sea in the east and for the next 20 minutes or so, I was treated to the glorious view of a full harvest moon rising.

I could still see the trees of Hayburn Wyke growing closer even after sunset and pushed harder, resolving to myself that from now, every step forward would make me stronger, ever climb I met would make me harder and repeated it in my brain.  Just before Hayburn Wyke, I pulled out my poles ready to take on the next section of the course that was riddled with climbs, steep steps and stone steps of a random nature.

I arrived at the top of Hayburn Wyke at 11h:52m, now tracking 17 minutes behind plan, which I decided I could live with.

Hayburn Wyke to Scalby Mills

I followed the ladies down the steps into the Wyke, catching glimpses of the rising moon on my left and enjoying the weird light it cast on the woods.  As we climbed out of the Wyke, I noticed a campfire and lamps hung from the trees on the right and thought whoever it was had picked an amazing place for a wild camp tonight.

Up and over the top of the Wyke, it was now full dark and I’d planned to take this section slowly, but decided that I now needed to make up some of the lost time. I knew, on fresh(ish) legs, I could do this section in around 1h:10m, I reckoned that I could maybe do it now in 1h:40m instead of 1h:50m and get to Scalby at about 14h:30 then make a really decent fist of the sea front to get back on track.

As the ladies pulled ahead, I tried to keep their head torches roughly a constant distance ahead, given that I knew they’d been moving faster than me. A couple of times they stopped to check directions and we had a chat before they pulled away again. I kept swigging at the tea in my back pocket which was still both beautifully warm and tasted amazing, with the added benefit of being in my back pocket and keeping my body warm too.

I was munching on my mixed bag of wine gums and fig rolls, often ending up with wine gums and fig rolls in my mouth at the same time.  This combo sounds vile, but works really well, the taste and texture was very different to the now sickly sweet stuff I’d been having and was quite nice. I was now running using my poles and feeling quite fast, however I was very aware that at night, you always feel faster than you actually are and with using the poles, it was difficult to keep checking pace on my watch.  Each time I reached a descent, I checked time and was happy I was eating into the deficit.

Each time I reached to the bottom of a set of steps or a climb, I was mentally saying “Bring it on!” I was now wholly bought into my mental game of getting stronger and stronger for each step forward and each metre climbed.

Just before Crookness, I overtook another runner, who told me he was thinking of giving up.  I told him that I’d given up not far from here a couple of years ago and it felt shit, told him to get to Scalby but not to make up his mind there, then get to Scarborough Spa but not to make his mind up there either.  I’m not sure what he did in the end.

When I reached the steps where I’d binned it in 2014, I found the ladies again trying to decide on the right path, I pointed them up the next steps and told them these were the last steps till Scarborough.

Having done the same thing as with Ravenscar and avoided looking at Scarborough for about 10km I could now see the lights of Scalby closer than Scarborough and hauled myself along towards them. I could now fully understand why purists think that using poles is cheating and some race organisers ban them.  I felt very fresh on my feet with no pain in the knees or thighs and only minimal pain in my ankles and feet.  The distribution of weight was spread more evenly and the additional weight in my shoulders and back, was now useful weight, providing the power to the poles rather than just being extra to carry.

As I approached the steps down to the Old Scalby Mills pub, I gave Natalie one final text update before I heard the dead battery warning sound on my phone. I’d got their at my new target time of 13h:30m and now needed to hammer the sea front.  The poles went away and it was time for some interval running.

Scalby Mills to Scarborough Spa

As I’d approached Scalby Mills, I’d noted that the entire sea front had street lights so my plan became, to run for 10 lit street lights and walk for 5 lit street lights, dead bulbs did not count.

During my first set of 10 I overtook one runner and could see another pair in front.  I slowly reeled them in to find that it contained Jason Highland.  I said hi before running off again. I then caught up with another as I passed the castle headland, and another shortly after that. I was mostly trying to run on the road, as the surface was more forgiving than the concrete paths, but there were a lot of boy racers charging up and down the sea front too.

The paths weren’t crowded, with just the odd small group of set of couples walking around and only one person acted like a twat.  It seemed like no time at all before I was past Valley Road and on the final run in to the Spa checkpoint.  I ran the entire length of the road, disregarding any street lamps and arrived on 14h:12m.  I was now back ahead of my original plan by 3 minutes!

Scarborough Spa to Finish

My bottles were topped up quickly by Wayne Armstrong and I was off again running along the last bit of promenade towards Holbeck Hill.  It was obvious that the high tide had been higher than usual as the path was covered in pebbles and sand. I was caught by Elaine and Ingrid halfway up Holbeck Hill, where I had the poles out again.  We were met by Phil Owen and another marshall, who’d kindly glo-sticked the route away from Scarborough and I tried to keep pace with the ladies, but by the time we passed Cornelian Bay I dropped back off.  Poles or no poles I was slowing up, despite feeling good.

I fast walked up the hill into Osgodby and got a jog back on down to the next turn down the steep steps into Cayton Bay.  I briefly rejoined the ladies before they pulled away again, as I reached a gate in the middle of Cayton Bay, I was overtaken by a group containing Paul Munster, who’d passed me back and forth several times all day, but I only recognised now because of the red light on the back of his pack, everything else being in total darkness.

I let the group through the gate ahead of me then followed on, taking the climb out of the bay slowly before letting the steep descent through the next field to the beach path pull me along in terms of speed. I took the next steps quickly again mentally gaining strength from them and feeling that Filey was growing ever closer.  I looked behind me and saw a couple of lights.  To keep me moving, I vowed that I wouldn’t let those lights catch me and pushed harder up the hill, chasing the lights in front of me. I was now on very familiar ground, having run this section several times over the summer, often, I’d see the group in front falter, perhaps checking maps or doubting directions while I simply piled on.  I knew where all the runnable flats and descents where and poled my way along them, I new where the tricky bits to take care were and slowed down.

I followed the group up the hill to the Flower of May caravan park, I saw the group stop ahead of me then move on again, at Blue Dolphin, I pushed harder knowing that Filey was about to come into sight on the right but even in the daytime, this section feels like a long drag,  even though it’s only 3km from Filey Brigg.  For about an hour there’d been patches of low lying fog and Filey was shrouded in it, giving the weird impression that there was sea to the right as well as the left until a patch cleared and you’d see an island of lights amongst the fog.

I slowed to a fast walk on the final uphill, knowing from my vaiours training runs in the area over the last 10 summers, that at the top of this final climb, there was a bush that signifies that it’s all downhill to Filey Brigg. As I reached the bush, I noted time at 16h:30m with about 3km to go.  In my head I wasn’t sure if 17 hours was still achievable but if someone had offered me 17h:10m or even 17h:59m at the start line I’d have taken it.

I drove on with the poles feeling like I was hurtling through the darkness, I passed the rocket post on my right knowing that I was almost at the Cleveland Way sign noting that Helmsley is only 109 miles away.  I saw the group up ahead and figured they’d stopped to take photos at the sign then saw they’d stopped again, presumably to do the same at the Filey trailhead marker.

I slung the poles away for the last time and ran off the Brigg, down the gentle grassed slope towards the last set of steps, seeing the set of head torches disappear down them in front of me.  As I reached the steps, I heard voices further down and took the steps two at a time.

I dropped onto the yacht club slipway an noted that the marshalls had glo-sticked the router back up the next set of steps that, according to the route description were optional.  I knew that if I went up this last set of steep steps, I’d have to descend another set of awkward, uneven steps at the other end.  I also knew that the tide was out and after many, many tests over the summer, knew the beach, followed by Coble Landing was the faster route.

I jogged along the beach, careful to dodge any rocks, headed up the Coble Landing slipway and hit tarmac, passed the amusement arcade and the lifeboat house.  I spotted and acknowledged the marshall on the corner then saw the blinking backpack light of Paul Munster running up the road, I followed suit, hearing the voices from the group just behind me as they exited the steps.

Adrenaline now had hold of me and I ran along the sea front and turned right, slowed for the ridiculously steep Cargate Hill before picking up pace again at the police station, gaining speed past all the closed shops, Filey Methodist Church firmly in sight. I stumbled through the door to applause and a finishing time of 16h:59m:58s.  Almost exactly on target.

I was met by Jon Steele and presented with my T-shirt and medal.  The next few minutes were a bit of a blur as my mind caught up with my body.  I was given pizza and a cup of tea.

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Race Director, Jon Steele showing how photogenic he can get at the finish

I took my shoes off and sat next to Dave Cook as I gathered my thoughts.  I’d finally cracked it.  Three years it had taken me to finish this race and the way I’d run it this year, I’d have not changed a bit. Nothing worthwhile is gained without effort and this journey has taught me so much about myself, as well as allowing me to meet a whole host of wonderful people along the way.  I’ve yet to meet an ultra runner who isn’t a nice person and everyone is always willing to help one another.

Jon and Shirley Steele have a very, very special race series here, being ultra runners themselves, they know what makes a good event and their ability to relate to people and look after them means that they always have a hardcore of volunteers, helpers and marshalls at events who are experienced runners. There is a real family atmosphere here and it’s addictive.  It’s quite normal for a back of the pack runner like me to finish a marathon or an ultra and the race winners will still be around applauding runners home.

At this point, I’d like to thank, everyone who has wished me well for this race, there are loads of you and I have taken all of your kind words and wishes on board as part of this race. I used them to fuel my energy.

I’d also like to thank those of you who’ve given me time and advice freely when I’ve asked and especially those who’ve come out with me on training runs, we’ve had some mental, crazy and funny times along the way.  Things that forge lifelong friendships, like being stuck in a dead car at 3am after spending 9 hours running through deep snow or sleeping in the back of a car in the middle of nowhere so your runner has a warm drink and something nice to eat when they arrive.

Most of all, I must thank my wife Natalie.  She has stuck by me through this obsession with completing this race.  Three years of me being out running instead of doing the various DIY jobs that need doing on the house or spending time with her and the kids.  At times, I’ve been quite selfish in trying to prepare for this race and she’s understood and let me get on with it, even when she’s found things difficult herself. Now she’ll be getting some well deserved payback.  She’s an absolute gem and I love her to bits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Lyke Wake Challenge has its origins in the Lyke Wake Race, which itself originates from the Lyke Wake Walk across the North Yorkshire Moors at their widest point from Osmotherley to Ravenscar. The history of which is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyke_Wake_Walk

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The Lyke Wake Route

The format of the Challenge is a handicapped staggered start based on estimated finish times provided by entrants based on previous Lyke Wake crossings or similar distanced races. I used a rough average of my paces from Hardmoors 55 and my Goathland Marathon races from 2015, mainly because Hardmoors 55 was my closest successful run of that sort of distance, covering some of the first half of the course and Goathland Marathon covered part of the second half. I gave my estimate at 11 hours and was appointed a start time of 5:20am.

There are prizes in the Challenge for fastest male and female crossings and the first male and female finishers to cross the line in Ravenscar.

Having raced and trained extensively on the stretch of the route between Osmotherley and Bloworth Crossing and led by Joe Williams, conducted a good recce of the second half of the route, I gave myself three aims.

  1. Finish inside of 11 hours.
  2. A stretch target of finishing in 10 hours.
  3. Since I was starting in the first 80 minutes of the appointed start times, a further stretch target of being in the first 10 finishers to reach Ravenscar.

The night before the race I slept in the car at Sheepwash, less than 100m from the start line at the Lyke Wake stone. A truly beautiful location, even if it was constantly busy from my arrival at 7pm all the way through the night with Lyke Wake walkers and other late night hikers.

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Sheepwash

After a restless nights sleep, my alarms went off at 3am and I began the process of getting a brew on and having a breakfast of porridge, cornflake tart made by Natalie (and had proved to be like rocket fuel on long training runs and rides) and strong coffee.

I went through my usual routine of packing food, drink and putting my kit on, for the first time in an ultra, I’d dispensed with the trisuit and went with standard shorts and compression shorts with my cycling jersey in anticipation of hot weather.  The temperatures in the previous days had been 18-22 degrees and even though rain was forecast (and arrived on cue just after 3am), I still expected it to be warm.

At 4am I had a wander to the start line to find race directors Anthony Corbett, Roy MacDougall and their team setting their tent up. Having said hi and disposed of my previous night’s rubbish, I retreated back to the car for a drink of Lucozade Sport and to put my trail shoes on. I returned to the start to watch the first runners away at 4:20am and get signed on. The rain stopped and the flying, biting insects appeared so I scrounged some repellant from Anthony in the hope of avoiding being bitten.

I hung around and watched Michelle Boshier and Emily Beaumont set off at 5am as the anticipation and nerves built up ahead of my own start. I returned to the car and made sure it was properly locked before returning to the start to toe the line with fellow 5:20am runners Lorna Simpkin and Russ Kelly.

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The Lyke Wake post at Sheepwash

We set off under the overcast skies running steady and chatting away. I was pleased to note that on the first small climb towards Scarth Nick, the legs felt wide awake and strong. I ran along chatting with Lorna and Russ until I slowly began to pull away from them just before the steep steps in the woods on the Cleveland Way.  At this point I was running off feel and felt comfortable, so wasn’t worried about running faster than the other two and just went with the flow, put my earphones in to listen to some music and cracked on.  However, at just over 4km into the run, with around half an hour gone, my right heel started giving the ominous first signs of a blister. I was pretty pissed off with this because I’d used Asda blister plasters to pre-treat my heels and protect them from this and stubbornness made me persevere up the steep steps onto Live Moor and onwards towards Carlton Bank before I accepted that the pain was getting worse and if I I didn’t deal with the blister it was going to cause me major issues up the road.

I pulled off my pack to find a plaster while walking an uphill section, noting that I could see Michelle and Emily cresting the top of Carlton Bank at the Trig point about 500m in front of me and could see Lorna and Russ equidistant behind me. The plaster I pulled out was a 6 inch long strip of old fashioned über sticky fabric plaster that usually requires extra sharp scissors to cut. I decided that this stuff would probably last the day and ran along rubbing it between my hands to warm the sticky stuff up, intending to deal with the blisters at the checkpoint on Raisdale Road, however the pain was so bad that I stopped at the Trig point and stripped off my shoe, gaiter, calf guard and sock and dealt with an already awful blister with the huge overkill strip of plaster.

I’d just got my footwear back on when I was caught by Lorna and Russ and we headed down the steep steps, I immediately felt a lot more comfortable and descended quickly jogging into the first checkpoint at 6:37am (1h:17m) almost bang on my planned pace. I stopped to re-tie my left shoe and was quickly away through Lord Stones country park passing Michelle and Emily then a group of early morning walkers.

Rather than go over the brutal steep climbs of the tops of Cringle Moor, Cold Moor and Hasty Bank, which were all shrouded in mist, I opted, like many others to take the low path around the Three Sisters which was often muddy, but not as hard on the legs. I think it was a good choice as the trees protected me from the breeze that was picking up and the path was a lot dryer than in usually was, even so I had gone ankle deep in mud several times before arriving at the Clay Bank checkpoint at 7:22am (2h:02m), again pacing almost exactly on plan. I stopped to get my number clipped, grab a jaffa cake and smiled at the photographer before heading over the road and up the really steep climb towards the highest point of the moors, Urra Moor.

The climb was fairly relentless but I cracked on at a constant pace, occasionally thinking that I could just make out a dayglow rain jacket ahead in the distance, but the mist was closing in and made it hard to tell.  Looking back a km or so down the hill, I couldn’t see anyone behind me and thought that those following must have taken the higher path, which I knew could add up to 20 minutes onto your time.

I was soon past the Trig point to the left of the path at Round Hill and began to pick up pace running on the wide sandy track towards Bloworth Crossing, already ticking off 17.5km in 2h:35m and starting to realise that my legs were in the mood to really play ball.

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The Trig at Round Hill in much clearer weather

I made it to Bloworth Crossing and checked time at 2h:50m.  As I guzzled the last of the Lucozade in the soft flask in my back pocket, I could see that the old Farndale Railway track ahead was covered by thick fog and there would be little to look at to keep my mind occupied, having recce’d this section in thick fog, I knew that would make it mentally tough and difficult to gauge progress. Since I was starting on an even 10 mins, I decided to run some intervals to keep my mind occupied. I settled into a pattern of 5 minutes running and 1 minute walking. After 3 intervals I had a 2 minute walk break and had some food before cracking on again.  Just ahead I could make 2 human shapes in the distance and slowly began to reel them in while maintaining my pattern.

I passed them both at the end of a run interval and found they jogged past me again while I was walking.  I got going again and passed and found that one of the pair had followed and jogged on with me.  We chatted a few minutes going through a run and walk interval together, then he dropped away during my next run. During my next walk interval, I realised that I wasn’t far from the Blakey Ridge turn and decided to see if I could run all the way there. I was about halfway through this longer 1.3km interval when I saw another runner ahead.  He looked over his shoulder then picked up pace. I decided I wasn’t that bothered about chasing anyone down and in any event he had probably started around an hour before me, so based on the ground I’d made already, I’d eventually catch him at some point. As the route turned left off the old railway track and up the hill towards the Lion Inn I was only a few metres behind and I thought I heard him say something.  I pulled out my earphone and he told me that if I passed him, I would be in the lead.  I followed him up the hill to the next checkpoint, where we arrived together at 9:08am (3h:48m).

Since I was now out of both Lucozade and water, I got my soft flask and 1 UD water bottle filled with water and the other filled with cola while I wolfed down some very welcome rice pudding. I jogged out of the checkpoint now in the lead and I was shouted back by Phil Rutter to take a photograph before I headed away along the fogbound road.

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Lion Inn Checkpoint at Blakey Ridge

As I jogged along the road, passing groups of walkers, I began to consider the fact that I was now leading the race. I’d previously not been bothered about race position beyond thinking that it would be nice to be in the first 10 finishers, but now out in front, I wondered whether I should try and stay there or accept the inevitable fact that the faster runners behind me were going to eventually chase me down.

As I cut across Rosedale Head and came back to the road by Fat Betty, I couldn’t make out anyone behind me in the fog and thought to myself, “It’s only another 22 miles, not that far really.  If I really, really try I could push myself into a good position and maybe they won’t catch me.”

Having never, ever led a race before I started to think what the best way to go about defending a lead was. At this point my mind was kind of hoping for some wise advice, but instead of an Obi Wan Kenobi-like voice in my head, a voice from my youth appeared in the form of Alex Stone offering the simple directive, “Simple Jim, just run like stink!”.  In the absence of anything better, that’s what I did. I lifted up my head and picked up the pace along the road before turning hard left into what is commonly known as “the boggy bit” of the course.

The boggy bit starts with a single track, then widens and the ground starts to feel nice and bouncy underfoot as you head into the peat, soon , you start to hear the squelching underfoot, then the slurping as you sink in a bit.  On the recce, with Joe Williams, he pointed out the line of white topped standing stones that marked the route through the marsh and it’s waist high grass.  In the fog, these weren’t visible and there hadn’t been a lot of walker through ahead of me to beat down the long grass into a visible path.

I decided to simply plough on straight ahead and hope for the best, mostly this worked and I only had to divert a couple of times when I came to patches of obviously deep standing water.  The only way the next few miles could have been more of a Quagmire was if it was uttering “Giggidy Giggidy” as I passed. The mud varied from ankle deep to knee deep from metre to metre, but I just pushed on.

I soon arrived at the Hamer checkpoint, bang on 10:35am (5h:15m) and was directed into the tent by Anthony Corbett (who I saw at every CP apart from Jugger Howe) for a random kit check while I got my cola bottle refilled. I was soon back on my way, heading along another section of bog and rocky trail towards Blue Man I’ Th’ Moss, an ancient standing stone. It has now started to rain quite heavily and water was running freely along the path soaking the peat as I scrambled across ditch after ditch on the way to the ancient stone.  At one point I was stood on a ledge that just gave way below me leaving my right foot up high and the left side of my body dropping down half a metre, jarring my ankle. As I got going over the next summit, the soreness of the ankle prompted me to pop a couple of paracetamol.

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Blue Man I’ Th’ Moss

I was now heading downhill past woodland towards Wheeldale and the path was now a series of slippy rocks surrounded by puddles.  Given that my feet were soaked, I wasn’t bothered where they landed as long as the ground was stable and I picked up pace again. As I moved on, I dropped below the fog layer and the sun came out.  For the first time all day, I had clear line of sight for over a mile behind me and I couldn’t see anyone following me. Encouraged by this, I picked up pace again and pushed hard into the Stape checkpoimt arriving 11:36am (6h:16m) and was quickly through and bounding down the almost vertical descent to Wheeldale Beck. As I reached the bottom, I took advantage of the long grass to relieve myself, which in turn indicated to me that I wasn’t drinking enough.  I had a full soft flask of water in my back pocket and half a bottle of coke up front left, plus another half bottle of water which I’d mainly been using to squirt over myself to keep cool.  I dipped my cap and buff in the beck and gave my body a rub over with the water before heading up the steep hill toward Simon Howe.  Looking back up to the checkpoint, I still couldn’t see anyone following me, but my legs were feeling good and I didn’t fancy leaving much to chance so I headed up the hill running intervals to my music, running for one song, resting for another until I hit the top of the hill.

On the way down, I finished the cola and topped the UD bottle up with the water from the soft flask and decided to add some Etixx energy drink powder to the bottle. It tasted like liquid sherbet but was definitely giving me a bit of a kick as I thundered my way down the long downhill stretch into Ellerbeck, where the best checkpoint ever awaited (arrival at 12:35pm, 7h:15m). On the table was a wide range of food, but I only had eyes for two items, freshly cooked sausgage and huge chunks of watermelon. I scoffed a sausage, topped my water bottle up and took a chunk of watermelon to eat as I ran towards what I reckoned to be the hardest section of the day, the boggy, 4km climb from the A169 to the Cross at Lilla Howe. Having jumped across Eller Beck, I decided on more paracetamol to get me through the final stretch and found that I’d dropped my stash somewhere. I decided that I wasn’t bothered and cracked on.

It was simply impossible to do anything ather than fast walk the marshy section of the climb, but I knew there was a section of MOD road coming up and forced myself to run that entire stretch when I hit it.  I stopped at the top of Lilla Howe and looked back 4km along the trail to the last checkpoint and still couldn’t see anyone following. I now only had 10km to go and had at least a 4km lead.  I’d already mentioned to Anthony at Ellerbeck that I felt like one of those unknown riders who somehow gets away up the road on a Tour de France stage and was wondering whether the big hitters would even know I was out there or be able to catch me if they did. I made up my mind that if I got to Jugger Howe without being caught, I’d run all the way to the finish.

I made use of the descent away from Lilla Howe picking up pace again but as the path became more rocky I turned the ankle I’d already knocked again and eased right off and had a couple of minutes walk break to stretch the ankle out gently.  I realised the sun was quite warm and tipped a good load of water over my body again and as I turned round to look back along the trail before running again, I saw a red T-shirt on the horizon.

I looked at my watch, I’d done 56km, I was 8km from Ravenscar, swore loudly and took off like a scalded cat. I was amazed that I’d gone from not being too bothered about going for first place at Blakey, to now being so bloody minded that I was prepared to blow my legs just to make this guy work hard to catch me.  I blasted along at 5m:20s/km for a bit, occasionally looking back and seeing him gaining fast.  After about a km I was knackered and slowed up and I was caught, the runner coming past, Paul Havis, was going at around 5m/km as he passed, we exchanged words and he was gone, quickly descending the steps into the Jugger Howe ravine.  I was halfway down when he was cresting the steps at the other side. Now paranoid that I’d be caught by a series of runners, I pushed hard up the other side of the ravine and up the long uphill drag to the next checkpoint to find that Paul had already made 7 minutes on me as I arrived at 2:04pm (8h:44m).

I had a seemingly endless wait to cross the main Whitby Road and as soon as I was across I pushed on as hard as my legs would allow. At the start of the day, I’d have been over the moon with a 10 hour finish, but now I had the realistic chance of finishing before 3pm, somewhere close to 9 hours and as second finisher if I could just make sure that nobody else caught me. The drag to the radio mast at Ravenscar seemed to take forever, but I knew, that once I was past it, it was all downhill. I crossed the road past the mast and cut along the path behind it to the steep downhill footpath across the field, bouncing along, battering the blisters on my toes and not caring.  I was soon on the road and pushing out 6m/km, increasing to 5m:30s/km as I turned the corner down the final stretch to Raven Hall, pushing faster to 5m/km as I got closer to the gate and turned into the finishing funnel at a furious sprint finish to cross the line at 2:40pm clocking 9h:20m for a run of 64.4km containing 1,429m of ascent and some of the most difficult terrain I’ve run on.

I was met at the end (as was every runner) by Anthony Corbett whose team from Quakers Running Club had put on an astonishingly well organised event.

I laid at the finish line until 5pm watching runners come home to a fantastic atmosphere.

The eventual prize winners of the day were:

First Male Home: Paul Havis at 2:27pm

First Female Home: Vicky Howe at 3:41pm

Fastest Male: Ben Hamilton in 6h:06m

Fastest Female: Shelli Gordon in 6h:58m

These were superb performances on a very tough course in warm, humid conditions. Everyone who ran that course deserves massive respect, a friend of mine told me beforehand that the route was “A trial by combat” and he was not wrong.

Personally, I’m over the moon with my own performance.  Some of it is down to the rewards of losing over a stone in weight and getting a lot more time on my feet in over the last month or so, but a lot of it was down to forcing myself to push harder instead of plodding, just aiming to finish the course in what I thought I could finish it in. In pushing hard, I’ve learned that I can go faster, for longer without burning out and even if I want to can force a really hard pace after hours on the road, as my burst to try and avoid being caught and my sprint finish proved. As the old saying goes, ultrarunning is 90% mental and 10% MENTAL.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The idea behind the Cleveland Hills Challenge formed in my mind in around October last year when I stumbled across the Wikipedia page for the Cleveland Hills.

On the page, it lists all the summits in the range with height and grid locations as below:

Name

Grid reference

Height

Urra Moor (Round Hill)

NZ594015

454 m

1,490 ft

Cringle Moor

NZ537029

432 m

1,417 ft

Carlton Bank

NZ519026

408 m

1,339 ft

Cold Moor

NZ551035

402 m

1,319 ft

Hasty Bank

NZ565036

398 m

1,306 ft

Tidy Brown Hill

NZ603052

396 m

1,299 ft

Bilsdale West Moor

SE553966

395 m

1,296 ft

Warren Moor

NZ616075

335 m

1,099 ft

Gisborough Moor

NZ643123

328 m

1,076 ft

Easby Moor

NZ590101

324 m

1,063 ft

Park Nab

NZ614084

324 m

1,063 ft

Roseberry Topping

NZ579126

320 m

1,050 ft

Live Moor

NZ505013

315 m

1,033 ft

Highcliff Nab

NZ610138

310 m

1,017 ft

Codhill Heights

NZ614127

296 m

971 ft

Eston Nab

NZ561800

242 m

794 ft

It got me thinking that all of the 300m (1,000ft) + summits were all in a single range and it was probably possible to summit them all within a single run and quite possibly do that run in a number of different ways.

Having eliminated Codhill Heights and Eston Nab from the list, this left a list of 14 hills and me being slightly OCD (and feeling a little guilty for removing Codhill for a mere 4 metres) I decided that Newton Moor which stands more than 300m and is halfway between Highcliff Nab and Roseberry Topping might make a good addition, especially as it’s on the next ridge along from Codhill Heights.

Having formulated the idea in my head, I sounded out a couple of running friends who agreed it sounded like a fun challenge to have a go at so I went public, created a Facebook group and put it out there in November for people to have a crack at.

There was some chatter over the winter about possible routes and a lot of interest in giving it a go but by the end of January nobody had planned in a firm date. With races now appearing in peoples calendars I decided to give it a shot in April.

I made enquiries about getting a crew together and had positive responses from a number of friends including Peter Kirkham and Shel Winspear whom I’d been Facebook friends with for a long time but had never actually met before.

Having been cajoled into setting an actual date by Jayson Cavill, I set a firm date of April 9th and went public with that. No going back from it once it’s out there.

The run up to April seemed to come really quickly, having performed well in the Hardmoors Three Sisters night race, in brutal weather and completing a 32 mile recce run of the Hardmoors 110 from Staithes to Clay Bank with Brenda Wilkin, Dave Cook and Dee Bouderba in snowy conditions in January I felt confident of my ability to cover the distance and climbing involved as long as I kept progressing my training.

I had also entered a duathlon race, so in between trail running training, I was also doing some cycling (nowhere near enough for the race I’d entered) and road running. I was however during most of February and March piling on weight and I felt it’s effect during Sun City duathlon where I really struggled due to my lack of cycling specific work and the additional weight I was carrying.

Having started to eat more sensibly, in conjunction with my training, I’d started to lose weight in the couple of weeks leading up to 9th April and with it, my running seemed to be improving.

On the Tuesday before the challenge, I met up with Pete and Shel and walked them through my intended route and meeting points so that they’d know where and when to meet me. Having never done any crewing before, I was determined to make things as easy as possible for them and keep meet points to obvious road crossings and all of my kit to one bag.

The route I chose started in Commondale and headed north across Gisborough Moor which I’d recce’d twice in training. Once across into Guisborough Woods I’d head up to Highcliff Nab, then follow the Cleveland Way to the foot of Newton Moor, which I’d follow a tractor trail to the top of and make my way to the highest point (based on the OS maps I’d used to plan the route).

After that, I’d follow the tractor trail down to another part of the Cleveland Way (which loops round to the other side of the moor) and head north along it before making and out and back to climb Roseberry Topping. From Roseberry I’d follow the Cleveland Way along to Easby Moor and round Captain Cooks Monument before descending into Kildale at the first agreed meeting point.

I’d chosen Kildale because it’s 5 minutes’ drive along a the same road from Commondale and has a tea room that would allow Pete and Shel to keep warm, dry and fed while they waited. Based on distance, I’d estimated two and a half to two and three quarter hours for this leg.

leg1

After Kildale my intention was to head up the Cleveland Way towards Bloworth Crossing and the next meet up point of Clay Bank, taking minor detours to pick up Park Nab, Tidy Brown Hill Warren Moor and Urra Moor (Round Hill) on the way. For this leg I budgeted three hours as I had no idea what conditions on the most exposed part of the route would be.

At Clay Bank I’d resupply with food and fluids as well as deciding whether to use my poles over the Three Sisters of Hasty Bank, Cold Moor and Cringle Moor before dropping down to the Lord Stones Country Park for another meet up, which again would be convenient for Pete and Shel as there is parking and the café for food etc. I’d allowed an estimate of an hour and a half to get there.

For the final leg, after a couple of recce’s I’d decided to use the Cleveland Way to pick up Carlton Bank and Live Moor then run across the heather down to a lower track which I could use to link up with a path that would take me directly to Bilsdale West Moor where I knew the huge TV transmitter there was slightly south of the summit, but where I’d never actually been before. Allowing for distance and tired legs, I reckoned on about two hours to the finish, following which I’d drop back down into Chop Gate for a pick up maybe a couple of miles on top of the 32 miles I’d have already run.

leg2

Having gone through this and what I’d do in various situations such as feeling unwell, getting injured or changing route we were all ready to go.

The night before, I packed all my food/fluids and kit for all weather eventualities into a bag.

The morning of the 9th arrived with damp, and drizzly conditions in Hartlepool. Pete picked me up at 7am as agreed and as we drove to Commondale to meet up with Shel (with children and dog in tow) it became clear that it was going to be foggy on the tops in line with the morning’s forecast. The afternoon forecast was for it to get brighter but with showers expected.

Once out of the car, I decided on wearing a base layer, leggings, thin jacket, hat buff and gloves in addition to the tri-suit I always run these distances in. I was also wearing gaiters for only the second time on a run and was interested to see how well they’d keep dirt out of my shoes over really long distances. For food I had a bag of Wine Gums, a bag of dry roasted peanuts, a bag of salted peanuts, an energy Gel, two Snickers bars and a banana. I also had 500ml water and 1,000ml Lucozade Sport split between two UD bottles and a UD soft flask which went in my back pocket with the food. I had a moment of panic getting out of the car when I couldn’t find my MP3 player and thought I was going to have to complete a long solo run without music, then I found that it’d rolled out of my vest pocket to the back of the car boot.

I got Pete to drive me to the edge of the first footpath then I was off, jogging slowly at first as I unravelled the tangled mess of my earphones (why do they always end up like that no matter how carefully you pack them?)

As I approached the gate that leads onto the moors path, I blundered into a series of puddles soaking my feet with icy cold water. The path beyond the gate itself was submerged and my first dilemma was whether to continue along the path to where I knew there was a bridge or hop over the stream that runs across the route and re-join the path where it loops back and up the hill.

The jog up the hill on fresh legs seemed relatively easy and I settled into a decent rhythm quickly and it wasn’t long before I was off the single track and onto the main path across the moor with was a nice wide trail.

As the trail wound upwards, the mist grew thicker and at times I was down to less than 50m visibility, feeling quite cold I had to use a buff to cover my ears and neck.

Soon I was within sight of the cairn that precedes the summit and decided to run to the cairn to see if it was an appropriate summit marker or if the junction with a path ahead was truly the highest point of the moor. A couple of minutes of boggy heather trudging later told me that the path junction was the true summit.

With the first summit conquered in 33m:39s I had some food and got a jog on, using the gentle descent to pick up some of the time I’d lost walking the steeper inclines on the way up. The fog seemed to lift a little as I descended but was quickly replaced by drizzly rain. I passed the trig point on the moor and turned the corner onto the path that runs parallel to the top of Guisborough Woods. I ran to the beat of the music along the path until I reached the gate into the woods themselves and turned onto the fire road that leads up to Highcliff Nab. I took a walk break and used the time constructively to text my wife, Natalie and let her know that I’d fed the dog before I’d left the house just in case she gave her a bonus meal. The fog seemed to hang in the woods and visibility was quite limited, so I was surprised when I arrived at the top of the hill where the woods cleared and the path headed along the ridge to Highcliff Nab. I reached the summit in 57m:43s and rewarded myself with a banana, munching on it cheerily as I descended via the rocky path onto the Cleveland Way.

I passed a couple of early morning walkers and continued along the flagstones towards Black Nab and my next objective, Newton Moor. About halfway along the path, the fog seemed to suddenly clear and I stopped to look back at Highcliff Nab and take a picture before heading on quickly.

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As I ran I realised that the soft flask in my back pocket was bouncing around and it was annoying me, while I’d almost emptied the one in my vest so I stopped at the path junction before the ascent to Newton Moor and emptied the soft flask into the bottle which made me feel happier.

To ensure I hit the correct part of the summit, I set my Suunto into navigation mode where I had all of the summits saved as Points of Interest and my planned route for the day saved. My route took me up the winding tractor trail as expected, but I spied a single track leading off the side to the ridge I needed to be on. As the tractor trail was rocky and muddy in equal measure, I saw this as a good option and quickly got onto the ridge which I found was covered in nice, deep, wet heather but as expected had a single path running across it from north to south. I followed the directions of my route south and passed a cairn, checking to see whether this was my waypoint, nope, onwards through more leg soaking heather pleased to note that the gaiters kept the various loose bits of heather and other grit from entering my shoes. Ahead I could see a small standing stone and it soon became obvious that this was the actual summit as marked by my waypoint. I touched the stone at 1h:23m and retraced my steps with Roseberry Topping firmly in my sights.

Once back on the tractor trail I bounced down the less boggy bits of the hill and danced around the puddles where I could but my feet got a good soaking two or three times on the way down to the Cleveland Way where I turned right and headed along to Roseberry. Once through the gate onto Little Roseberry I thought I could see somebody on top of Roseberry Topping but when I looked again a minute later they were gone. The stones on the path down to the foot of Roseberry were slippy and I was descending with care, conscious that I had a long way to go and didn’t want to pick up a knock nor did I want to fall and break something here which was quite far from vehicle access.

Soon I was climbing Roseberry Topping, using the same technique I did on Hardmoors 55, very small steps with minimum pressure placed on the muscles, no real rush. I was feeling strong and running to plan. I was soon on the top and run up to touch the trig point at 1h:44m before heading straight back down the way I came. On the way back up to Little Roseberry I passed a walker who commented that the weather was awful. I looked ahead to Captain Cooks and noted that for the first time today, the fog had cleared enough for me to see the monument, however I looked back at Roseberry to find it obscured by fog just a couple of minutes after being able to make out the summit clearly.

I ran most of the path to Gribdale Gate, passing more walkers who were also doing the same little dance as I was around the boggy bits and puddles. I arrived at the foot of the climb to Easby Moor from Gribdale Gate at 2h:08m and began to walk up at a decent pace. I could see a dog walker and a family ahead making their way up and I resolved to overtake both before the summit in order to give my walking a bit of focus.

About halfway up I managed to overtake the dog walker and about three quarters of the way up I overtook the family of walkers.  As I approached the top, I started jogging again and touched my next waypoint, Captain Cooks Monument at 2h:22m and began my descent into the always boggy woods aiming to hit Kildale by the 2h:45m point.

Once through the woods and onto the road I managed to maintain a consistent pace all the way down into the village, the only obstacles being a few sheep who’d chosen (or rather their lambs had forced the decision) to feed their lambs in the middle of the road.

I arrived at the cars bang on 2h:45m, had a quick catch up with Pete and Shel, dropped off the now empty soft flask into the boot of the car and resupplied my back pockets with Snickers bars for the journey ahead.

Having given an estimate of three hours to get to Clay Bank I headed up Battersby Bank to my next objective, Park Nab, another summit I’d never visited before.  On the way up, I took some photos of the improving visibility across to the Three Sisters and continued at a steady fast walk up the hill. I eventually reached my turning point off the main road and headed up a muddy tractor trail towards the Park Nab summit.  At this point I was making mental notes to update the Challenge Facebook page with landmarks for each summit.  Park Nab was entirely devoid of any useful marker.  In fact I hit the summit at 3h:12m but continued further than I needed looking for a decent marker until it became obvious I was descending again. I turned around and made my way back over the muddy, greasy summit sliding around a bit as I went and earning my feet another soaking.

Once back on the road I cracked on to my next objective, Warren Moor which was less than 1km away. I arrived at the gate/cattle grid in the road where my Suunto was telling me to divert left onto the moor to reach the summit, but it was obvious from my current position, that I was already at the highest point of the moor, so marked time at 3h:22m pleased to have picked off 7 summits in a fairly quick time.

I was now heading onto the most exposed part of my route, the old coal road that leads on to Bloworth Crossing, most of which sits over 400m above sea level and often throws hostile weather at you. The last time I crossed this section of the moors was in January, after midnight in drifting snow and thick fog. At least the fog was clearing up today and I actually thought I could feel the temperature rising a little.  I was running well on the slight incline, only breaking to walk when the path steepened every now and again. I could see the ridge upon which my next target, Tidy Brown Hill sits from a long way off and I kept moving steadily, only stopping once to take a couple of photos of the trail behind me and another of Captain Cooks/Roseberry in the distance.

I was soon level with the ridge I needed to be on and switched Suunto back into nav mode as I looked for an easy path up through the thick heather. I soon found a section that had been cut back and started to climb towards the waypoint marked in my watch. I’d only climbed about 10m or so when the ground got very squelchy and I was having to hop over bouncy peat to avoid the masses of standing water. As I reached the top of the ridge I could see that thew waypoint was again going to be lower than the highest point. I was too busy looking for a marker when I went knee deep into a muddy puddle.  At that point I turned back and headed to the ridge where I took my mark of a lone mini pine tree planted roughly at the highest point. I was now 8 summits up in 3h:51 minutes and just under 26km into the run, which I guessed was around half the distance I needed to cover.  If that was true, I was well ahead of the 8 and a half hours I’d guessed I’d take.

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I bounded back down to the Cleveland Way, again thankful for the gaiters in keeping the nasty stuff out of my shoes and cracked on towards Bloworth. At this point my legs were starting to feel a little sore, so since I was alone I decided to repeat the mantra that had worked so well for me on this stretch during last year’s Hardmoors 55. I was soon running along repeating “I am strong, I am fit, I am running well, I am running pain free.”

Pretty soon, the pain had subsided but the sun had come out, another thing I noticed was that there wasn’t a breath of wind, almost unknown for this trail. I made sure I was drinking regularly and plugged on to Bloworth, reaching the turn towards my next summit Round Hill, which sits atop Urra Moor at 4h:23m. As I passed Bloworth, I was in bright sunshine and was about to start stripping layers off, when a welcome rain shower made an appearance keeping me cool and refreshed.

The path was getting quite busy too, I passed several walkers which helped me pass the time greeting them. The trig point for Round Hill came into view and I turned off the path and headed up to the summit on 4h:45m.  This was the highest point of my route and since it was also the highest point of both the Cleveland Way and the North Yorkshire Moors, I paused to take some photos, one of which was the Bilsdale Transmitter way off in the distance.  I made my first of many promises to the Bilsdale West Moor then.  “I’m coming to get you!”

I was off on my toes again, this time headed downhill and making faster progress, knowing that I soon had some of the toughest climbing to do, I took some paracetamol while on the move to make sure that any aches and niggles were dulled before I got there. I was now sweating profusely and had taken my hat, buff and gloves off and stuffed them in my back pocket.

I was now bounding downhill heading towards my next meet up with my crew at Clay Bank, as I got onto the road I could see Shel and the kids waiting there and I jogged down the road, emptying the last of my Lucozade into my mouth as I went.

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At Clay Bank, I stripped off my base layer, knowing that I was definitely too hot with it on, but decided against stripping my leggings off. I soaked the buff on my wrist in cold water, topped my water and Lucozade bottles up and stuffed some more Snickers into my back pocket. Before heading off, I decided to play my trump card and downed a can of Red Bull in one go.

I grabbed a banana to eat while climbing Hasty Bank and then I was off, across the road and up through the woods back towards the Cleveland Way gate. I finished my banana half way up the steep section of Hasty Bank and feeling hot, sloshed some fresh water over my head and upper body.

From the gate to the top of Hasty Bank took around 12 minutes getting me to my next summit on 5h:37m. With the sun shining and the skies clear, the views were stunning so I stopped again to take some photos before I was off and heading down through the Wainstones towards the foot of Cold Moor. I was feeling really strong as I climbed Cold Moor (this probably had more to do with the Red Bull than anything else) and I kept cool with regular slurps of drink and sloshes of cold water over my head. I crested Cold Moor and ran across the summit on 5h:58m.

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As I reached the top of the descent, I could see a pair of walkers almost at the bottom, I targeted beating them to the top of the next climb.  I bounced down the side of the hill and overtook them going through the gate at the bottom of the hill, exchanging a greeting as I passed then jogged on to the foot of the next climb, which is one of the toughest on the Cleveland Way.  I fast walked the hill, but could hear the voices of the walkers behind me, having closed the small gap I’d managed to make running across the valley floor during the first part of their climb.  I pushed a little harder, at one point too hard, slipping on a rock but I made good progress up the hill, as I got onto the flat section at the top, I’d built a decent gap and I jogged on to the turn I needed to take to head up to the cairn that marks the summit of Cringle Moor around 100m from the main path.  The route up to the cairn was singletrack, muddy, wet and slippy.  Needless to say, my feet got wet again.

I touched the cairn on 6h:23m and jogged back down to the main path, passing numerous walkers on the way, including the ones I’d previously passed. I was down descending quickly but carefully down towards the Lordstones Country Park and my next rendezvous with Pete and Shel.  On the way down I could feel a hot spot forming on my left little toe, I ignored this and pushed on, in my mind I was smiling, only 3 more hills to go, I’d well and truly broken the back of this run and I was still feeling pretty good.

At Lordstones I topped my bottles back up, thought for a minute about taking my poles for the final leg then changed my mind as I was feeling good.  I jogged out of Lordstones at 6h:42m, having spent about 5 minutes sorting myself out for the final stretch. The sun was still very warm on my neck and I was again sloshing water over my head as I climbed. Carlton Bank is another set of steep steps and I was expecting my calves and thighs to be sore at this point, but they weren’t and I felt that I was climbing comfortably within myself. I reached the trig at the top on 6h:54m and took some more pics before moving on.  As I jogged down the rubble strewn path away from Carlton Bank, I caught my left little toe on a rock and confirmed for certain that I had a pretty decent blister forming, the right little toe also started sounding off too but I ignored both and pushed on singing alone to the music on my MP3 player, which I was pleasantly surprised that it was still pumping out tunes.  I reached the penultimate summit of Live Moor on 7h:16m just as the music reached the last track and returned to the beginning of today’s playlist.

I’d recce’d some of the paths around this part of the moor as part of my Lyke Wake Challenge prep and decided to use that to my advantage now, taking a shortcut across the heather to a track down by Snotterdale Plantation rather than heading up to the glider station at Carlton to pick up the trail to Bilsdale.

I made slow progress back up to the main trail but I’d saved myself some distance at least. I was now facing south, heading directly towards the transmitter, promising Bilsdale that I was coming.

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The trail was rocky and soon, both feet were feeling sore, hotspots on the little toes and the ball of my right foot were slowing me, but I kept pushing on.  Just past Barkers Crags, I passed some runners coming the other way, one wearing a Hardmoors 26.2 finishers shirt and I greeted them fairly manically as I pushed upwards towards the top of the moor.

I was now almost at Cock Howe and the transmitter seemed to be just as far away as it was half an hour ago. As I passed Cock Howe, at 8h:18m, the battery on my MP3 player finally gave out and I was left with only the crunch, crunch sounds of my footsteps and the occasional honk or screech of moorland birds for company

In the distance, I could see a cairn by the trail and I focused on getting there despite my tiring legs and sore feet. I arrived at the cairn which was at the top of a bit of a plateau on 8h:36m.  I checked Suunto and could see that my final waypoint was around 200m off into the heather at my two o’clock. There was no real difference in elevation between the cairn and the waypoint off in the heather so I stopped the clock on 8h:36m:59s.  Challenge complete and a happy, but tired man.

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I walked was to Cock Howe then jogged down to Chop Gate to meet Pete and Shel at the Buck Inn.  They’d been fantastic support all day and Pete presented me with the perfect tonic as I arrived, a pint of coke which I necked in one.

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The Challenge lived up to all I expected it to be, epic in it’s 52.6km distance and 1,716m elevation gain. The weather was very kind all things considered.  Kitwise I was happy with my choices and foodwise, I was happier with how things had gone that any long run I’ve ever done.

Eating every 15 minutes, alternating Wine Gums, dry roasted nuts, salted nuts then a banana or Snickers on the hour (with the exception of a single gel at the 2 hour mark) worked very well and my stomach was the most settled it’s been on a run over 20 miles. I’m now of the view that gels may be the thing that’s caused previous queasiness.

For fluids, I felt that the Lucozade Sport worked well, supplemented now and again with an S Cap.  I’m interested to see how I’d go with a more complete carb/electrolyte drink like Mountain Fuel.  That’s something I’ll probably try before July when I take on the Lyke Wake.

The route, I think I picked a good option, the only downside being that the Bilsdale section at the end was a bit of a dirge, particularly when I was feeling tired.  I’d be interested to see what it’d be like starting at Scugdale, doing Live Moor, Bilsdale then Carlton and working round the rest of the route in reverse. Starting at Slapewath and doing an out and back to Gisborough Moor might be slightly quicker too. Lots of options to explore for future attempts.

I can’t sign off without giving the huge thanks due to my crew, Pete Kirkham and Shel Winspear.  Both of whom gave up their time freely, spent a day driving from place to place and making sure I had everything I needed. The completion of this challenge is as much yours as it is mine.  Thank you!

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!

The Chop Gate Chiller Night Race is a night race put on by Hardmoors to compliment their October training day which provides trail running tuition, navigation exercises, running techniques (ascending and descending skills) and body conditioning.

The idea being that you spend a day learning to run off-road and navigate then put it all into practice later on.

I marshalled last years event and promised myself I’d do this one if I could.

Last week I was chatting to a cycling friend of mine, Lee Douglas and jokingly suggested he have a go, to his credit he agreed.  So on Saturday night I picked him up at 5pm and we headed down the road to Chop Gate.

When we arrived we ummed and ahhed about the weather, or rather I did, Lee had pretty much made his clothes selection, I was trying to avoid a repeat of my HM60 weather misjudgment.  However, with the temperature before sunset at 7 degrees, a clear sky and breath already producing plumes of mist I plumped for the trusty fleece jacket and made sure I had my warm hat and a couple of buffs.

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We saw Rosie from Drinks Stop before the race and grabbed a coffee and went inside to register.

At this point I’d assumed Lee was signing up for the 9 mile race but he’d already made his mind up to do the 5 mile event, we discussed how long he’d be waiting for me to finish and I’d guessed that I’d be done in 2 hours or so and he’d be done in around 1 hour.  The next dilemma was that one of us had drawn the number 13, thankfully Lee picked that one up and even wore it the right way round.

We passed the time chatting with other runners before checking out the race route on a map before the race brief.  Lee’s route was a straightforward out and back route but the first half was around 300m of ascending from Chop Gate, up Cold Moor Lane, over the summit of Cold Moor and on to the Cleveland Way, the path at this time of the year is always boggy and strewn with slippery rocks, meaning that the descent back down was going to be fun.

My route turned left when it hit the Cleveland Way and dropped down some 70 metres or so to the valley floor before climbing up to the summit of Cringle Moor and descending down to the Lord Stones country park.  From there the route headed along Barkers Ridge undulating across som of the highest ground on the western side of Raisdale towards Bilsdale and Cock Howe, where the route descended steeply back to Chop Gate.

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After the race brief, we trooped outside, most people lighting up their head torches, but I decided not to bother, not that I was worried about battery life (I knew my batteries were brand new) but it’s just a good habit I’ve developed about not using artificial light of my own until I actually need it.  At the start line I bumped into Denise Benvin and we had a quick chat before we were off jogging up the road through the village.

The initial pace was nothing special and my plan was to try to stick with Lee until he turned back and then go as fast as I could for the finish.  My illusions of sticking with Lee were quickly shattered as we left the road and hit the muddy trail.  The trail started to go immediately uphill and as he does on the bike when the road goes up, Lee shot off ahead with minimal effort leaving me at my usual steady pace. I tried to gauge where Lee was against the faster runners in the pack and I had the feeling he was going well.

At this point the crowd thinned out a little and I turned my head torch on as I tried to pick my way along the trail without standing in anything too boggy or wet. once up above the village, the going got a bit too hard for me to keep a constant jog pace so adopted a run-walk approach as much as possible.  When running because impossible I just walked.

There were two runners ahead, who I aimed to keep within 100m or so of, not out of any competitiveness, just to give myself a mental benchmark against, as it’s easy to allow your pace to drop off in the dark without much in the way of visual points of reference.  While I worked to keep these two runners in sight, I was caught by Joe Williams and we exchanged a few words before I got another run going up to the summit.  As I hit the summit I realised there was a cold wind on the tops and dug my warm hat out of my pocket before performing the tricky manoeuvres required to remove my head torch and cap to put it on and replace both while running.  I’d just got the head torch sat back on my head, when I realised my left shoe lace was undone so I stopped to tie it and got quickly going again.

I’d only just got started when the lead two 5 mile runners were heading back past me, there was a short gap before the 3rd runner flew past, followed about 50m behind by Lee.  We exchanged a greeting then I cracked on to the Cleveland Way.  I thanked the marshall there before putting in a burst of speed to get to th top of the descent.

I whipped out my hand torch and used the zoom to have a quick look at the path down, then switched it off and tore at the descent as fast as I could.  Having run this part of the Cleveland Way numerous times, I was confident I knew the fastest way down and being a big lad, I knew that gravity was my friend here. It wasn’t long before I was passing the two runners I’d used as my benchmark, then another, which turned out to be Dave Toth whom I’d met at various other Hardmoors races then as we got to the bottom of the hill, another three runners who courteously gave way to let me pass.  As I passed, I told them they’d be passing me again on the next climb.

I tried to run more of the bottom section of the Cringle Moor climb than I normally would and when I was forced to walk by the steepness of the grade (somewhere between 35% and 40% for most of the climb) I pushed my walking pace as hard as I could.  Nevertheless I was caught by Dave and the other three runners just before the false summit that leads to the real summit.

Once at the top we all got running again and the path was relatively safe enough to steal the odd glance across to the lights of Teesside and Co. Durham, which from 410m above sea level look stunning at night. As the path tilted down again I turned on the pace again, commenting as I passed Dave that confidence in descending has a gradual rising curve, followed by a sharp drop off after your first mistake.  I continued to bound down the side of the hill and as I approached the Lord Stones country park, I looked over my shoulder to see that I’d made maybe 50 or 60 metres on the group descending the hill.

I pushed the pace hard through the country park and passed the checkpoint on Raisdale Road before slowing to a walk to catch my breath as the path rose up towards Carlton Bank.

As the path levelled and followed the side of the hill, the cold wind made me realise I’d been sweating a lot so I put into practice, the lesson learned from HM60 and took a salt tablet. I also set my Suunto into map mode so that I didn’t make the mistake of taking one of the many possible wrong turns along the various paths that criss cross the hill. I needn’t have worried, since the path had plenty of glow sticks dropped along the route and you could see some of them from quite a distance, certainly enough to make route planning easy.

I chanced another look over my shoulder and saw a mass of head torches approaching, maybe 10 or 11 people running in a group.  Although I wasn’t being competitive, I was wearing a race number and that does do something to the psyche when you see a group behind you.  I decided to push harder up the grind towards Cock Howe and to try not to be caught, very conscious that I was wearing a red strobe light on my back and presented a very easy target to follow.

I was moving along at what I felt was a very strong pace, passing a couple of marshalls who’d been stood in the middle of nowhere to ensure we didn’t take the wrong path before I has another look over my shoulder and saw that two head torches had detached themselves from the group and were slowly reeling me in.

I continued to crack on and was probably pushing a little too hard as I felt my left foot come into awkward contact with a rock, this didn’t hurt too much, but it served as a reminder to be more careful.

Before long, the path began to rise steeply again, from memory of running the route the opposite way round I realised that this was the final steep bit before I’d crest the ridgeline and be able to run along the top of the plateau before a sharp turn left down the hill.  I took another walk break and was overhauled by two runners (Mark Hendry and David Evans I think).  I jogged on keeping pace with them for a bit before feeling my left lace flapping against my leg again.  I stopped to tie it tight, looked behind to get some comfort that the large group of head torches were still a decent distance behind and put a big effort in to latch back onto the two runners in front of me.

As we turned left down the hill I switched my brain off and allowed gravity to pull me forward, the only real changes of direction my brain participated in were those required to avoid deep puddles or anything that looked slippy, other than that, I let myself follow the route that gravity dictated.  Over the last year or so I’ve tried to verbalise this to myself as water flowing down a hill, taking the path of least resistance and stick to this method of descending as much as possible.

Tonight this method was working well again.  The three of us thinned into a single file and as the descent got steeper, gaps appeared between us, with one of the two runners in front of me and another behind me.  A bit further down the trail I could see another head torch too, then after a couple of minutes that torch seemed to gain a huge amount of distance on us just as it seemed we were gaining.

As we descended further, the path got slippier and muddier, evidence of the passage of runners ahead of us and all those who’d been running up and down the hill all day during the course.  Soon, the mud, combined with the steep grade, made staying upright a challenge, I managed it but only just.

Soon I felt I was flying along the path again and I could now see the lights of the village hall ahead.  I picked up the pace again, digging deep to pull out a fast finish.  I burst into the village hall for a finish time of 2h:02m.  Almost bang on my estimate of 2 hours.

After I finished, I found out over a cup of hot soup, that Lee had finished his race in 4th place, an impressive result for someone who’s only run 2 or 3 times this year. He seemed quite happy with that and I reckon he could well be back for more soon.

Overall, the night was hugely enjoyable, as always with Hardmoors races, well organised and well marshalled by very generous and brave marshalls who spent the thick end of 3 hours sat up in the middle of nowhere in temperatures of only a couple of degrees.  The banter and company at the village hall was great and I look forward to seeing everyone at Goathland Marathon in a couple of weeks time.

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.

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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.

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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.