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!

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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.

HM 60 2_0286

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

06. Hummersea Cliff

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

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

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

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

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

07. Boulby-Staithes

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

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

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

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

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

08. Staithes-Port Mulgrave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Sandsend-Whitby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG-20150921-03937

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.

It’s almost 4 years (3 years and 350 days to be precise) since Matthew Turnbull asked me the now immortal question “Do the words ultra and marathon scare you?”.

I knew at this point that I was coming to the end of my rugby career, was looking for a new challenge and had already dabbled in multi-sport, having trained for and entered Stokesley duathlon alongside Matthew.  My answer of course was “No, of course not”, possibly this was part bravado, but either way I was committed.

Now we’re 4 years on and as a result of that conversation I’ve completed a 24 hour bike ride, rode the Coast to Coast in a single sitting, run over 26.2 miles 4 times and met a whole host of wonderful people on the way.

Matthew himself has gone on to complete an Ironman, an ultramarathon, a 24 hour bike ride and qualified for 4 world and Eurpoean multi-sports championships both in triathlon and duathlon, including a top 10 placing in the European triathlon championships in Kitzbuhel.

In short, it’s been a bit of a journey for us both.

So here I am now, 4 days from a second shot at the Hardmoors 60 ultramarathon.  Of the 27 races I’ve taken part in, this is the only one I’ve failed to complete.

My effort a year ago failed, mainly as a result of inexperience of racing that distance, over that terrain against cut offs.  I made poor pacing decisions, carried a huge rucksack full of food and didn’t eat it regularly and generally made a load of rookie errors.

Even so, it was one of the best race experiences of my life and immediately resolved to come back and try again.

On the way, I’ve spent time marshalling night races to understand how to move quickly along the trails at night and in bad weather, I’ve trained more extensively over rough terrain and spent a lot more time speaking with experiences ultra runners.  I’ve learned a lot and that’s mainly down to how inclusive the ultra running community is and how accessible it is to novice runners.

In my first main race of the year, Osmotherley marathon I had pulled together the kit I thought I needed to finish an ultra, I sat and planned my race out in advance and completed a very tough 28 mile course.  I made mistakes that day too, learned from them and made tweaks to my kit and plan for the next big race.

In March I completed Hardmoors 55 and surprised myself at the ease in which I completed the race when using tried and tested kit and a sensible plan.

In May I crewed Dee Bouderba in the Hardmoors 110 ultramarathon and as part of that experience learned from seeing athletes race over multiple days, partly on the course I have to complete at the weekend.  it gave me yet another opportunity to think what I needed to be physically capable of and what equipment I’d ned to do it.

So now it’s almost here.  The training is all done, the kit decisions all made, the biggest of which is my decision to race using poles to protect my knees from all the step climbing and descending this course has to offer and I’ve got my pacing plan, which is not set in stone but it’s a rough guide, I’m flexible enough to change it should conditions or some external factor dictate it.

I’ve discoverd over the last 12 months that it’s often the little things that cause you to come unstuck in an ultra.  Little things in a race that lasts an hour can be tolerated.  When you’re racing for up to 18 hours then a small problem early on can become huge over the course of the day.  Multiple small problems can add up into huge issues, if not physically, then in your mind.

The big difference between my Hardmoors 60 attempt last year and my Hardmoors 55 attempt in March was mainly my state of mind.  Despite a really difficuly week leading up to Hardmoors 55, I managed to take a lot of positive energy into the race and keep my mindset positive almost all the way through.

In last years 60, I had a lot of self doubts that niggled all day, I wasn’t 100% comfortable with the route, took a wrong turn, lost confidence, then panicked and ran at an unsustainable pace for several miles. I forgot to eat for awhile and suffered dips in energy for periods of time which made me feel mentally and physically terrible.

This year I’ve minimised the risks.

I know I’m physically capable of 55 miles, I’ve done it.  I did it comfortably with enough in the legs for more, certainly enough to make it to the 62 miles required on Saturday.

I’ve ran several different parts of the route, I’m comfortable with my navigation and know which hard bits of the course are coming where.  To back up the map and route description, I’ve loaded a GPS version of the route into my watch.

I have an eating plan that worked on both Osmotherley marathon and Hardmoors 55.  I’ll be eating a variety of different foods that I know I can stomach every 15 minutes.  Little and often.

My pacing plan was the hardest to come up with.  I’m going for a time in my mind.  It’s realistic, it’s faster than the 55 but with a purpose.  I made up my mind a year ago that I wanted to be at Hayburn Wyke before dark so I worked back from that goal looking at the pacing I achieved last year and during my recce runs.  I also considered how I managed after the 30 mile point on Hardmoors 55.

As races go I’ve never been as excited to just get on the starts line and get stuck in, this is where I put a big wrong right.

For the peace of Natalie’s mind and for anyone who’s into watching a dot move slowly along a map, I’ve even set up a tracker so that my progress along the route can be viewed by clicking on the link:

Hardmoors 60 GPS Tracker 

The tracker will be live from just before 8am on Saturday morning.

Hardmoors 60 Pacing Plan

Location Target ETA Split Ave Pace (m/km) Cumulative Average (m/km) Split Dist
(km)
Total Dist
(km)
Split Time Total Time
Saltburn 10:14 08:45 08:45 15.37 15.37 02:14 02:14
Runswick Bay* 13:21 09:00 08:52 20.73 36.1 03:06 05:21
Saltwick Bay 15:50 09:30 09:05 15.73 51.83 02:29 07:50
Robin Hoods Bay 17:13 09:45 09:15 8.48 60.31 01:22 09:13
Ravenscar* 18:20 10:30 09:30 6.43 66.74 01:07 10:20
Hayburn Wyke 19:15 10:00 09:35 5.47 72.21 00:54 11:15
Scarborough Spa 21:43 11:00 09:47 13.45 85.66 02:27 13:43
Filey 00:22 11:30 10:00 13.87 99.53 02:39 16:22

I spent the late May Bank Holiday weekend crewing my friend Dee Bouderba at Hardmoors 110. The weekend was very rewarding and I also learned quite a bit.

Originally I had planned to crew Dave Cook, however Dave withdrew from the race due to injury a couple of weeks beforehand but he’d told me that Dee was being crewed by our mutual friend Jo Barrett and Dee’s daughter Leila and they would probably appreciate the extra help.

I first met Dee and Jo during Hardmoors 60 last September when I ran alongside them both for a short while and about 800m behind them for around 15 miles. Since then I’d run with Dee a couple of times finding that our paces were roughly similar in races, notably Osmotherley marathon where I spent most of the second half of the race in close proximity and the first 10 miles of Hardmoors 55. Jo was a regular running partner of Dee but has spent the majority of this year injured, however I’d spent some time marshalling various races with Jo and knew we had a similar outlook on racing.

I contacted Dee and Jo and shared with them my initial plan for crewing Dave. We spent a week or so kicking other ideas around between us before we had a loose, flexible idea of what we were going to do.

The Hardmoors 110 is run in tandem with the Hardmoors 160. The 160 started at 5pm on Friday at Scalby Mills in Scarborough, running along the Tabular Hills walk to the start of the Cleveland Way in Helmsley which the race would then follow on a clockwise track to it’s end in Filey. The 110 started at 8am on Saturday at Helmsley and ran the length of the Cleveland Way.

Map of Hardmoors 160/110 as shown on the Open Tracking website

Map of Hardmoors 160/110 as shown on the Open Tracking website

Our general plan as a support crew was to have a planned route that visited all checkpoints both compulsory and voluntary as well as every point that the Cleveland Way crossed a road or was accessible by road. Apart from the compulsory checkpoints that we were obliged to check into as crew we decided that it would be entirely Dee’s decision where she wanted us to be on a stop by stop basis allowing her to run her own race and have us available with all her food and equipment as well as moral support as much or as little as she wanted.

We’d also discussed pacing alongside Dee and Jo, suggested that we kept this flexible and as late as possible in the race. Dee was worried about navigating through Guisborough Woods in the dark and because I’m very familiar with the area I was confident that I could get her through that section without difficulty so I planned to park up somewhere near the woods and run back towards Roseberry Topping to meet Dee and pace her through the woods to the next checkpoint at Slapewath.

As a general summary before the race, Jo said that we were organised and both equally bossy, in a good way, enough to get Dee around the course.

Dee had told me that she intended to travel to Helmsley on the morning of the race, aiming to arrive at 6:30am to register, Jo was unable to arrive until lunchtime and planned to phone me to find out a convenient place to meet up. My original plan was to also travel down on the morning of the race but two days beforehand, I’d worked out that I’d have to get up very early to get on site for 6:30am so decided to travel down and sleep in the car somewhere near Helmsley on the Friday night.

Over the course of Friday, a friend of mine told me he was marshalling the 160 at Cropton, about 10 minutes drive from Helmsley so I decided to meet him there and assist at the checkpoint before finding somewhere to sleep. On the way to Cropton, I saw race director Jon Steele at Helmsley and let him know my plan. Knowing there were already people at the Helmsley checkpoint I decided to sleep in the car outside the checkpoint later on.

I arrived at Cropton at the same time as Stew Mcc and Ady Benn, which was around 20 minutes before the checkpoint was due to open, we were just in time to see the eventual 160 race winner Shelli Gordon breeze through the checkpoint with a huge smile on her face.

Once we were set up, I got my camping stove out and brewed up. I stayed at the checkpoint until it closed shortly after 1am and headed off the Helmsley somewhat later than expected. I arrived to find that Shelli had just departed the checkpoint. I had a chat with Jon and Shirley Steele before getting ready to go to sleep and Shirley kindly suggested that I sleep inside at the checkpoint rather than in the car which made for a more comfortable night.

I woke up naturally at about 4:30am as it got light and started the day with a cuppa courtesy of Shirley and had some porridge and a banana to fuel myself. I spent the morning chatting with the 160 runners and crews passing through the checkpoint, getting a feel for the sorts of things they’d had to deal with during the night. Almost all of them had said that the night was warmer than expected and having been outside I could tell the day was going to follow suit.

As runners and crews began to arrive for the 110, I chatted with people I hadn’t seen since the last race and got my car ready to receive Dee’s kit. Dee arrived with Leila around 6:30am and we quickly got her clothes, food and first aid kit loaded into my car. Dee got registered and we milled about waiting for the race brief.

While I was milling about, Jon asked me if I would help marshal the start of the race so that runners could get safely from the town hall to the start of the Cleveland Way so I donned a high viz vest and marshalled the road crossing just outside the town hall where I had a great view of all the runners as they set off.

Gareth Barnett, Dee Bouderba and Tom Stewart all raring to go.  I had the easy job.

Gareth Barnett, Dee Bouderba and Tom Stewart all raring to go. I had the easy job. (Photo courtesy of Ann Brown)

After the off I chatted with Jackie McGoldrick who was crewing her partner Jason Hayes. Jackie, being from Liverpool was not familiar with the area and we’d previously agreed for her to follow me from checkpoint to checkpoint, as Jason had run Hardmoors 55 alongside Dee, we were confident that we’d be in a lot of the same places at the same time. We gave it a few minutes for the rush out of the town square to die down before heading off to our first checkpoint, White Horse (the car park beneath the Kilburn White Horse near Sutton Bank) which was about 10 miles up the road. When we arrived, the car park was packed with other crews and there was a bit of a party atmosphere. Setting the tone for the day, I got the stove out and got a brew on and made a Pot Noodle. I was expecting to have to be on the go for 30 hours or more so I was adopting the army philosophy of eating and/or sleeping when there was a lull in activity.

White Horse Car Park packed with crew vehicles

White Horse Car Park packed with crew vehicles

I’d eaten and had some time laid down with my feet up when the first groups of runners arrived. I took some photos while I had opportunity to do so then got ready for Dee’s arrival. At this point, I was only expecting her to need a water top up so I grabbed a bottle of water to quickly top up the bottles.

Dee arrived running alongside Jason shortly after 10am and I quickly got her bottles refilled and made sure she didn’t linger at the checkpoint. We decided to meet again at the next official checkpoint which was Square Corner on the hill above Osmotherley. As soon as Dee and Jason were away, Jackie and I were off to Square Corner which took about 25 minutes to drive to.

Dee and jason arriving at White Horse checkpoint.

Dee and Jason arriving at White Horse checkpoint.

When we arrived, the car park was packed and there were a line of cars parked by the side of the road. There was already a stream of runners passing through, mostly runners from the 160 who’d passed through Helmsley before the start of the 110.

The temperature was already rising so I squeezed some fresh lemons into a cup of water to drink and keep myself hydrated. I also got into a pair of lighter shorts and T-shirt. I laid in the back of the car trying to relax and anticipate what Dee might need when she arrived. Every now and again, I’d grab my binoculars and look up the hill at the next group of runners coming down. Time passed quickly and it seemed like the entire field had passed through the checkpoint but there was still no sign of Dee or Jason. Jo phoned to let me know she was on her way and I told her that Dee was due at Square Corner shortly so she might be better meeting us at Lord Stones country park.

After about 20 minutes there was still no sign of Dee and runners were coming in dribs and drabs but the field had definitely thinned out. Many of the runners were commenting that the heat was a pain.

Conscious that Jo had to drive past Osmotherley to our agreed meeting point, I rang and diverted her to my current location at Square Corner then began to prepare for Dee’s arrival as I recognised the faces of the runners who were immediately ahead of her coming through the checkpoint.

I decided that when I saw her on the horizon I would take a bottle of water and jog out to fill her bottles on the go to allow time for her to have some food at the checkpoint. A couple of minutes later, I could make her out through my binoculars running alongside Jason in her distinctive pink calfguards. I grabbed a bottle of water and started jogging up the hill, immediately breaking into a sweat and getting an appreciation for just how hot it was.

After filling Dee’s bottles I jogged down the hill with her and as we got to the checkpoint we were both pleased to see that Jo had arrived. At the car, Dee got some food on board then I started rushing her off on her way feeling that she’d lingered long enough. To our surprise both Dee and Jason started happily jogging in the wrong direction, up the road to Hawnby and Jo had to turn them round and point them towards Osmotherley.

We’d agreed to meet Dee at Lord Stones, but both of us felt that this was a lot of time and distance along the route so changed the plan after Dee had left and drove to Scarth Nick which was one of the places we’d initially identified as a good meeting point during planning. We parked up by the cattle grid where the Cleveland Way crossed the road at Scarth Nick and I yet again got a brew on and also made myself some couscous.

From the moment we arrived, there was a steady stream of runners, some were familiar faces who stopped a moment to chat, others moved quickly through but appreciated the encouragement. Already there were runners suffering with sunburn and stomach troubles, one such runner was a 160 runner who was talking about packing in. Jo gave him some food and water and encouraged him to keep going.

It wasn’t long before Dee arrived, still in good spirits and still alongside Jason. Jackie got some food into Jason, his trademark cold Burger Kings as we got food into Dee and I refilled her bottles again.

Once Dee and Jason were off, we made the short drive to the Lord Stones country park which sits at the top of the road route over Carlton Bank, around 100m or so below the summit of the hill the runners had to traverse in order to reach us.

I spent some time getting my running kit together for the night time section through Guisborough Woods then Jo, Jackie and I went to the Lord Stones cafe for some food. We grabbed a table outside where we could see runners passing through while we ate.

After I’d finished I chatted with Gary Thwaites who was crewing another runner and for the second time that day he tried to persuade me to enter the race next year.

Jo had arranged for Leila to meet us at Lord Stones and she arrived with Dee’s husband Halim, son Oisin and grandson Kai. When Dee arrived, it was a visible boost for her to see her family.

While Dee chatted with her family and had some food, I topped up her water bottles again as well as giving her a tangerine to eat on the way to help keep her hydrated over the three tough hills the next few miles had to offer. Soon they were off again and Jo, Jackie and I waited with the family of our friend Emily Beaumont to see her through the checkpoint before heading off to the next checkpoint at the top of Clay Bank which is where the road crosses into Bilsdale at the foot of Hasty Bank.

While we waited I got another brew on for everyone and sorted out my drinks and food that I needed for the night time run. While we waited I also got another Pot Noodle on board.

When Dee and Jason arrived Jo took the opportunity to have a look at Dee’s feet changing her trainers and giving the feet a clean, dry and talcum powdering. Dee also gave her feet a change and swapped trainers at this point. Jo also took care of Jason’s feet, reporting that his feet were as manky as Jackie had warned us they would be.

I told Dee that I would swap the kit into Jo’s car at the next checkpoint, Kildale and check in with the marshals as was a compulsory checkpoint before heading off to park the car at Slapewath and running to meet her.

Having had some food and drink as well as having feet sorted out, the runners were off for the most remote part of the course, up onto Urra Moor and on to Bloworth Crossing before descending into Kildale.

Jo, Jackie and I drove on to Kildale where we transferred all the kit into Jo’s car. Jo told me she was going to heat up some stew at Kildale so that she could have some warm food before going into the night section. Jo and I ran through a checklist of things we knew Dee would need before she left the checkpoint, including warm clothes and having her head torch within reach for when it got dark.

Kildale was busy at this point with lots of crew cars present and a steady stream of 160 and 110 runners going through. Some runners looked in poor shape due to the heat, others were complaining of stomach troubles, others looked remarkably fresh. I managed to grab a few words with Paul Burgum, who once upon a time was a rugby opponent of mine during his spells playing for Stockton and Billingham. Paul seemed in good spirits despite struggling a bit with his knee so I wished him well and got my running kit on.

I then left Jo behind and drove on to the Fox and Hounds pub at Slapewath which was also very busy. It was hot so I took off my t-shirt and stuffed it into my race vest and put on my lightweight cycling jacket so that I could carry my food and torches within reach.

I set off running, my plan was to take the disused railway lines to Belmangate in Guisborough then head up the Cleveland Way at Highcliff Nab and hopefully meet Dee somewhere between Highcliff and Roseberry Topping. As soon as I started running I was leaking sweat, I rolled up my sleeves and stashed my cap into my back pocket through Spa Wood and was drinking every couple of minutes. Once out of the woods it felt like the evening sun was hammering down on me.

I quickly reached Highcliff Nab and made my way across Black Nab towards Roseberry passing Andy Petford whose support crew were running with him and Paul Burgum again along the way. As I was ascending Roseberry Topping, the temperature dropped by a noticeable margin (I was later told that in the hour before sunset it dropped 8 degrees) and even with the effort of climbing I felt cold. As I hit the summit, the wind slapped me in the face and I could see how strong it was because the Union flag that marshal Tim Taylor was flying up there was at full stretch.

I quickly ditched my pack and stripped my jacket off so that I could get my t-shirt back on then got my jacket over the top before finding a space between the rocks out of the wind.

A windswept Roseberry Topping checkpoint.

A windswept Roseberry Topping checkpoint.

I chatted with Tim for awhile and greeted runners as they arrived, many of whom were having the same experience as me going from hot to cold very quickly. Jo rang me to let me know that she’d just met Dee and Jason at the Gribdale Gate car park beneath Captain Cooks Monument and I estimated about half an hour to their arrival at Roseberry. To keep warm I walked up to the trig point, took some photos and did some jumping from rock to rock as well.

When I sat back down, Andy Nesbit who I ran huge stretches of Osmotherley marathon and Hardmoors 55 with reached the summit and I took a photo of him before he headed back down. Next up was a runner named Jeremy Sylvester who was feeling ill but determined to push on. Another couple of runners arrived, both were shortly followed by Dee and Jason who I made sure spent the minimum of time at the top before descending.

As we got off Roseberry and onto the Black Nab path a group of 5 or 6 runners formed. My target for this section was to get Dee moving quickly and to take away the job of thinking from her. From experience, this point of a race, when darkness is falling and in a place where navigation is tricky can be stressful. Stress is a big energy waster and motivation killer, so my job was to make it seem really easy. As I was going I also gave her verbal prompts to ensure that she was eating and drinking enough, anything to remove the need for Dee to think about anything else but putting one foot in front of the other and moving relentlessly forward.

I pushed a pace that I was confident that Dee was comfortable with and I’d told her to stop me if it was too fast. Quite quickly a couple of runners dropped off the back of the group. As dusk turned to dark we all had our head torches on during the approach to Highcliff Nab. To pass the time I was pointing out the locations of various towns we could see beneath us.

One of the runners in the group (I think a 160 runner) indicated that the pace was too fast for him but I kept it up, my logic for this was that my only concern was Dee, anyone else who wanted to stay with her for company had to match her pace or drop off and run alone. With that in mind I pushed the same run/walk pace all the way through to Spa Wood. Having run through Spa Wood earlier I was able to point out the slightly boggy patches and tree roots/rocks as we approached them to ensure that Dee didn’t trip, slip or otherwise lose her footing. This way we made good time and eventually we could see the light worn by Jeremy ahead of us.

The group ran into Slapewath to find Jo and Jackie armed with pizza and Emily’s support crew still waiting for her but I found that now she’d have the bonus of one of them running all the way to the finish with her.

The route the race took from Roseberry Topping through Guisborough Woods.

The route the race took from Roseberry Topping through Guisborough Woods.

While I towelled, dried and got into warm clothes, Jo saw to Dee. Jeremy headed off on his own but said he’d be going slow enough for the group to catch him. I had talked Dee through a couple of tricky navigational points on the next section, so was happy with this but I also arranged to drive ahead and stand at these places to ensure she couldn’t go wrong as I knew the 1am cut off in Saltburn was close but manageable, however, if a wrong turn was taken, that cut off would get very tight quite quickly.

While the runners got off running, Jo told me that a running friend of Dee and her’s would be joining us at Saltburn. Jo said she was going to get more pizza for Dee before meeting him so I said I’d have a coffee to warm up before driving into Skelton to help with navigation before meeting up at the Saltburn checkpoint.

While I was brewing up my stomach gave the first signs of trouble by turning over several times. By the time I’d finished my coffee, packed up the car and drove to Skelton Green it was positively churning.

I was only there a few minutes when I saw head torches in the distance and I walked out to meet the group. Happy that they were OK with the road crossing and the route into Skelton proper I let them pass and dived into the bushes to deal with my stomach situation.

I jogged back to the car and drove to the next tricky point, a turn into a housing estate just off Skelton High Street that had caught a few runners out last year. The problem being that the path didn’t look like a part of the Cleveland Way anyway (being a residential street) but also the signpost was well above eye level on a dark coloured sign which could be easily missed.

I met the runners on the High Street and got them through the corner before driving on to the checkpoint at Saltburn bandstand. There were a few cars dotted around and the first person I saw was Andy Nesbit who looked tired but was being seen to by his crew.

I then checked in at the bandstand around midnight and got talking to Gary Thwaites again while I waited for Jo. Gary didn’t seem as keen on running next year as he was earlier in the day, having heard the disappointing news of Gareth Barnett’s DNF at Kildale and rumours of others along the way from things ranging from stomach trouble, to sunstroke and injury I could understand why. Especially seeing some runners coming into the checkpoint looking very tired and battered.

I wandered off to find Jo and surprised myself by walking into the stone footing of a bench. It was unlike me to be so clumsy. I phoned Jo to find that she was sat on the opposite side of the road to me. I wandered over and was introduced to Ed, who’d come to help out. Ed said that he’d run the next stretch with Dee, something for which I was grateful.

I sat on the kerb waiting for Dee to arrive and my stomach was still feeling iffy, I decided to walk into the woods to see if I could see head torches in the hope that walking would settle my stomach. I stopped to pee and saw that my urine was very dark. Belatedly I realised my problem, I was dehydrated from my run.

I walked back to the car to get my water bottle and electrolyte tablets. At the car I sorted myself a drink out then decided to put my phone on charge.

I found that my phone charger and hand torch were both missing and I rifled the entire car looking for them before I realised they were in the front footwell in a place I’d searched 3 times already.

At this point I gave myself the mental slapping I deserved, I’d let my concentration go to shit through dehydration. The stomach problems, walking into things and losing things that were in plain sight were all classic symptoms.

I stopped and started sipping the electrolyte mix immediately. I walked back over to Jo who gave me a slice of pizza and I checked the time. There was about 25 minutes to cut off and I was starting to worry, I needn’t have. Within a few minutes, Dee and the rest of the group appeared, Dee looked remarkably lively compared to some of the runners we’d seen come through. Jo saw to Dee and to be honest, my mind was still a bit muddled at that point and I can’t remember much of what went on but we agreed that we’d park just outside of Staithes at a point I’d previously identified at home as where Cowbar Lane joined the Cleveland Way but at that point I couldn’t remember it’s name.

Ed set off running with Dee and the rest of the group while Jo and I headed off in cars. Jackie had split from us as she wanted to get to Runswick Bay for some sleep.

I lead off along the coastal road and pulled into a left hand track where I thought we needed to be. When we got to the end of the track I found we were at some farm houses at the opposite end of the field to where we needed to be (co-incidentally about 200m from where I’d first met Dee and Jo during Hardmoors 60). We got back onto the main road and I spotted the sign for Cowbar village, we turned off but yet again I missed the turn due to it being signposted as unsuitable for motors. We ended up driving through the edge of Staithes were I was certain I’d seen some teenagers sleeping on the grass outside a house.

We got to the main car park in Staithes and I told Jo what I’d seen and she asked if I was maybe hallucinating. I, personally wasn’t sure.

We checked the map and realised our mistake so I drove slowly out of Staithes. I was grateful to see the teenagers on the floor again in that they were real. I pulled over to check they were OK and found that they were drunk but otherwise in good spirits and capable of looking after themselves.

We got to the end of Cowbar Lane in time to find Andy Norman and Sarah Booth who were running the 160 coming off the field onto the path. They stopped to chat and Jo gave them some of the leftover pizza.

Satisfied that we were in the right place we decided to stop and get some sleep. I looked back from the path to where our cars were and realised that it was so dark that our cars were invisible from the path even at a distance of 10m or so. I decided to pull onto the path so that runners had to pass within a metre of the car and to be doubly sure, I put a strobe light on top of my car.

The stretch from Boulby to Staithes.  The kink in the Cleveland Way track, where it meets the road marks the spot where I parked my car.

The stretch from Boulby to Staithes. The kink in the Cleveland Way track, where it meets the road marks the spot where I parked my car.

Jo got her head down for some well deserved sleep, I couldn’t rest. I sat sipping water and watched lines of head torches proceeding down Boulby Bank and wound the window down to greet and encourage runners as they passed.

I settled my chin on the windowsill of the car and closed my eyes, dozing but waking each time a runner passed, making sure they weren’t Dee and sending them on with some encouragement. I set my alarm clock for 3:30am allowing me just over an hour of sleep then leaned back against the door and closed my eyes again.

The next thing I knew, it was light. I’d been vaguely aware that my alarm clock had gone off and that I’d disabled it. I checked the time and I was horrified to find that it was 4:18am. My head was fuzzy from sleep but in my mind I knew the maths didn’t add up. Even at a slow jog/walk Dee should have been past by now. My mind raced, had she somehow missed the car? Had she seen me asleep and just let me sleep, surely not? Was Jo awake and seen to Dee and let me get some rest? I looked at Jo’s car, no sign of movement, I phoned her, I’d woken her up too. We got up and realised that we’d both fallen into a deep sleep. There was no way Dee or anyone else could have missed my car so we adopted the position that they were still somewhere between Saltburn and Boulby. Jo tried to ring Ed, but not having his number programmed into her phone, she dialled the most recent unsaved number waking up an innocent member of the public by accident.

I thought I’d seen the glint of a head torch on the crest of Boulby Bank in the improving dawn light but whoever it belonged to must have switched it off (assuming I was right). I grabbed the binoculars and swept the track I’d seen countless head torches follow during the night and was convinced I could see movement but not make any bodies out.

I told Jo we’d give it 5 minutes then I’d jog out towards the bank. Soon we could see the group making their way across the fields towards us.

It turned out that a section of the Cleveland Way that we knew was diverted due to sea defence works was really poorly signposted and the group had got lost in the dark. They’d ended up wasting nearly an hour before phoning Jon Steele who been out to put them right.

We got them moving again quickly and told them we’d have hot drinks waiting at Runswick Bay. As we arrived at Runswick Bay, the heavens opened and it rained for about an hour. Jo stayed in the car to keep dry and had a sleep, I didn’t have that option, I needed to use the fact that Runswick had civilised public toilets to finally sort out my stomach problems and have a bit of a wash.

I came back and got the kettle on, made tea and porridge for breakfast and prepared brews for Dee and Jason. When Dee arrived, I was expecting her to be down and a bit grumpy due to lack of sleep, miles in the legs, the lost time and the rain but she was still her positive, upbeat self.

We made sure that she had a warm drink and Jo checked her over, getting her ready for the stretch ahead to Sandsend where there was another cut off to beat. Ed was going to continue running with Dee, I pulled him to one side and asked him to keep her pace constant and if anyone in the group, other than Dee wanted to slack off he should keep her moving ahead of them.

We drove on as Dee, Ed and Jason moved off along the beach ahead of the others they’d arrived with. We arrived at Sandsend and checked in with the marshals before donning waterproofs to protect from the rain. I got the kettle going again and had a tidy round in the car to restore order in my mind and to make sure that the things that had been flung in and out during the night wouldn’t prevent us from finding things we needed quickly.

I sat and chatted with Jo about the day ahead. Jo wanted to run the final stretch with Dee but we weren’t exactly sure where that final stretch would begin. I told her that I’d happily bring her back to her car regardless and that Robin Hoods Bay was probably a good place to run from.

At the same time I was texting my wife Natalie who gave me orders not to attempt to drive home after the race and sleep over somewhere. With the pressure of getting home off, I felt a bit better. I felt even better when Natalie said she was organising for me to stay in a caravan overnight in Filey.

As I sat drinking tea and sweeping the cliff paths with my binoculars another band of rain came over, but on the plus side, my body and mind pulled round a bit. For some reason, it had never occurred to me that crewing someone in such a race would have been as demanding as this but on reflection, I’d not had a lot of sleep or proper food and had run 14 miles the previous day as well as being preoccupied with making sure everything went well for Dee.

Eventually I got a glimpse of the runners through the trees on the clifftop and I got the kettle on for their brews. As they descended the steps into the car park, Dee looked a little stiff (who wouldn’t be?) But otherwise, OK. Jason descending the steps after her looked worse.

Dee and Jason on the descent into Sandsend.

Dee and Jason on the descent into Sandsend.

After checking in with the marshals, Dee headed over to the cars, but Jason went straight past and continued on the route saying he was going ahead because he’d struggled to keep up. I started to try and persuade him to stop and eat, then realised that Jason wasn’t my priority and left Jackie to go after him.

Dee stopped for awhile and had a warm drink and some food while Jo yet again had her shoes off, dried, powdered and otherwise looked after her feet.

While this was happening I chatted with Ed who was looking really well for having run overnight. Ed said he was happy to continue on to Robin Hoods Bay with Dee, which I was over the moon at. I gave him a quick overview of the route to ensure that anything Dee had forgot from the 60, Ed would have at least have had an idea of. For me, this is a particularly hard section of the Cleveland Way, between Whitby and Robin Hoods Bay, there is little in the way of flat terrain and you are either descending or climbing. It’s also psychologically hard because Robin Hoods Bay is hidden out of site until you are almost on top of it.

With Dee and Ed fed and watered they jogged off in high spirits while Jo and I discussed next steps. We decided that we’d use the facilities at Sandsend to have a wash, to feel human again, nip to a shop for some food and Jo was going to get her running kit on so that she was ready to go.

After about half an hour of sorting out, we were back on the road and we arrived at Robin Hoods Bay around 9:30am. I laid down in the back of the car alternating between snoozing and watching the world go by as well as getting some food (soup) on board.

After an hour or so, I began to get edgy about time, a number of crews and some runners had visited the car park, but I wasn’t expecting many because it wasn’t an official checkpoint.

I had a chat with Jo, expressing my concerns about the cut off at Ravenscar getting ever closer and we decided that when Dee did appear, Jo would get moving with Dee quickly and I’d get all the kit from Jo’s car into mine and take Ed and myself off to Ravenscar.

More time passed and no sign, so I decided to jog back along the route, about 400m along, I came across a runner who was chatting with his crew about binning it. I asked if he’d seen anyone behind him and he replied in the negative. I jogged further along and saw Ed and Dee round the corner into view. I voiced my concerns about the Ravenscar cut off to Dee and it was like someone had stung her. Her eyes sparked up and she began to move faster than she’d moved all race. I let them get ahead and move off to the car park and jogged further back to Jason who looked, in all honesty to be in very shit state. I spoke to him and asked if he was OK, he told me he was struggling with his chest and I said something to the effect that he’d struggle to finish if that was the case. Jason gave me a hard look and told me that there was zero chance of him not finishing, the look of determination in his eyes convinced me that he was right. We jogged back to the car park where Dee was getting ready to move off with Jo.

When they moved off, Ed and I swapped the cars over and flew off to Ravenscar. Worried that Dee would be very close to the cut off I hurtled into the checkpoint to check in and let them know that Dee was well on her way and looking strong. I was told that there was plenty of time for the cut off yet so I decided to run back along the course and jog in with Dee. I grabbed some kit from the car and Ed told me he was knackered. I told him to get some sleep while I was gone.

I had a few words with other runners who were at the checkpoint then moved off back along the course looking for Dee. I was less than 5 minutes out when I found Dee and Jo jogging along chatting and laughing. It was obviously a huge shot in the arm to be back running with her racing partner, this was evident from both the look on Dee’s face and the pace at which she’d covered the ground from Robin Hoods Bay to Ravenscar.

As we made our way up the hill to Ravenscar I decided to let Ed sleep in the car a bit longer so that he’d be fresh for the final run in. I told Dee and Jo that I’d run with them as far as Hayburn Wyke then come back to the car and meet them at the Scarborough checkpoint. Again, we’d arranged to meet Dee’s family so I gave them a rough ETA for Scarborough while Dee had some food, drink and banter with the race director and marshals at the checkpoint.

As we left Ravenscar, I realised I was drastically overdressed with my base layer on in the midday sun, the day was shaping up to be another hot one but there was a nice breeze blowing us along too. We jogged, chatted and joked. Dee and Jo were trying to work out why I hadn’t come across Jason before them as he’d left Robin Hoods Bay ahead of them (it later transpired that he’d taken a wrong turn).

The hour that it took to get into Hayburn Wyke seemed to pass in no time at all, I followed them into the Wyke and halfway up the far side before wishing the ladies well and turned back round. The run back over was mostly uphill and into a headwind. By the time I crested the ridge above the Wyke I was leaking sweat and stopped to remove my base layer. I jogged a bit further on, using my poles to practice ascending with them and eventually came across Jason with his pacer Rachael. Jason looked in better shape but was struggling with the heat too. I wished him well then cracked on again. My legs definitely felt the previous days miles.

Soon I came across Jeremy again, I was pleased to see him because I thought he might have dropped out somewhere but when I saw him, he was going well. Eventually I came across Andy Nesbit and Emily Beaumont alongside Emily’s pacer and the sweepers. At this point I estimated the back of the race at being around 30 minutes behind Dee.

I moved at a steady pace back to Ravenscar and found the checkpoint totally closed down and abandoned. Ed and I packed the car and drove along to Scarborough, we decided to drive along the seafront to see if we could see any runners. We spotted John Hamnett in a small group but that was all. The traffic in Scarborough was horrendous, as was the sheer volume of pedestrians. I certainly wouldn’t have fancied weaving through them 100 miles into a race.

We met up with Dee’s family at the Holbeck car park and I chatted with the marshals while our kettle was boiling. This time it was Pot Noodles for Ed and I. Leila offered me some chips but I didn’t think I could stomach them.

Ed was steeling himself to run from Scarborough to Filey as Jo phoned to ask where the checkpoint was. She told me they were at the Spa, just a few minutes down the road.

When they arrived, we took as much of Dee’s kit as possible off her and put it in the car. I told them I’d drive to the finish then run back over to meet them so we could all run in together, then the group of 3 were off running again, in such a manner that you wouldn’t believe that Dee had done over 100 miles and Jo and Ed over 20 each and all 3 had been on the go for over 30 hours.

Dee and Jo arriving at the Scarborough checkpoint.

Dee and Jo arriving at the Scarborough checkpoint.

At Filey I had a chat with Jon and Shirley as well as some of the runners who’d finished before having a slow jog along the course having a few words with each runner I passed. At this point I was in awe of them all. After 30 minutes or so I found Dee, Jo and Ed at the north side of the Blue Dolphin caravan park.

We jog/walked until Filey was in sight then we jogged. I spend my summer holidays in Filey, so was able to point out a bush in the distance that signalled the top of the last uphill section before the finish, it was all downhill from there. As we got closer to it, Dee began to increase the pace, I’m not even sure that she was doing this consciously. A check of the watch revealed that she was in good form to come in a comfortable 25 minutes or so ahead of the cut off, meaning that she’d actually made up a lot of time since Robin Hoods Bay. We kept moving, the pace stronger again and soon we reached the sign signalling 109 miles to Helmsley, then the marker that signified the end of the Cleveland Way before finally dropping behind Dee as she ran across the finish line in 35h:30m, a full half hour ahead of final cut off to a well deserved round of applause.

Final Thoughts

Being part of something as special as this, helping someone achieve an ambition that not many people succeed in was brilliant. To have worked with people at friendly, organised and dedicated as Jo and Ed was a pleasure.

What struck me about the whole experience though was Dee’s own strength and positivity throughout. Over the weekend I’d watched strong and experienced runners unravel and have really bad times, quite a few DNF’d. Dee never seemed to have a bad patch. Because of this, our job was made a lot easier. In short, Dee was (as with every other aspect of being around her) an absolute pleasure to work with.

Things That Went Well

Being organised, having a flexible plan beforehand that we could have changed had we needed to.

Having the facility to make hot drinks, this was a great pick up several times over the weekend.

Having capable pacers. Ed was a lifesaver during the night section and ran really well. Jo brought a new lease of life for the final 25 or so miles.

Guisborough Woods, I didn’t really appreciate just how much stress that not being having to navigate that section removed until I was at Filey chatting to one of the runners who’d descended from Roseberry with us then dropped off the back of the group. He told me they’d got lost in the woods and wasted time and energy worrying about it. He said it contributed to his DNF. I think having Ed run through the night would have also allowed Dee to switch her brain off at times, saving mental and physical strength.

Having a crew made up of similar paced runners, I think if I was crewing someone faster than me, they’d soon get sick of me holding them back instead of pacing them along. Likewise, if a runner was significantly slower than me, there would be the risk of the pacer pushing them too hard. It certainly helped that we’d all run with Dee before and had a good idea of how she preferred to run.

I think we had a great mix in the crew. Jo and Ed knew Dee better than I did and I was confident that they could manage her and encourage her in a way I couldn’t if things got tough. Jo and I beforehand proved we were equally well organised (and bossy). All of us are easy going and friendly. The chemistry was just right.

Things To Improve

From Jo and Ed’s perspective I don’t think either of them put a foot wrong all weekend. I made my own life difficult by staying up late on Friday night, I could argue that I’d have had a poor nights sleep anyway, I’d probably have been lying to myself. Having discussed things with Jo afterwards, she said that she would have probably tried to sleep more often, particularly earlier on Saturday if she’d had the time again.

One thing Jo did differently to me was to take a toothbrush and clean her teeth periodically, which she said helped her feel fresh.

I’m not sure any of us ate particularly well over the weekend but Jo and Ed fuelled themselves adequately. On my run to Roseberry, I underestimated the heat and allowed myself to become dehydrated. Also the sudden temperature drop lured me into a false sense of security and I didn’t drink enough on the return run. As a result I spent an hour or so being slightly confused and several hours sorting out a dodgy stomach. This meant I was less use to the crew than I should have been.

Overall it was a great weekend and a great experience to be around so many athletes who were achieving so much.

Gary Thwaites has subsequently told me that he does want to do this race. Myself, I’d have my name down tomorrow had I not promised myself that I wasn’t committing to doing anything longer than 60 miles until I’d cracked Hardmoors 60.

I’d like to thank everyone who organised, marshalled and otherwise participated in the Hardmoors 160/110. You all made it an excellent weekend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

minisplits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start to Roseberry

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

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

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

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

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

Roseberry to Kildale

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kildale to Bloworth

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

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

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

Bloworth to Clay

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clay to Lord Stones

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

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

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

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

Lord Stones to Huthwaite

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huthwaite to Osmotherley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Square Corner to High Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paradise to Finish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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