Bliss at Hardmoors

Me just about to win Hardmoors 110!

My year so far has been going really well, though I feel that I am at capacity, race-wise. Any more just might tip me into the injury zone. So my periods of rest are all the more important now. I took two weeks almost completely off of running before the Hardmoors 110. It was relatively long at 113 miles and was split roughly in half, with the first half being over moorland and the second on the coast path. This sounded like a match made in heaven for me. My two favourite terrains, at a decent distance. It has only been going for a few years and originally it was a rule that you had to have a crew. I prefer to run unsupported so had just looked elsewhere for races to do. Then last year I learnt that it was now opened up to unsupported runners too. Once it opened for entries, I was the first on the list. Shortly after I had entered, Drew had entered. Time to recce! In December we had travelled up and ran the first 40 miles of the course. Drew wasn’t feeling very well so we finished there at Kildale. We had planned to get to the coast so to complete the moorland section. I never really had any more free time to recce again so would just have to be on the ball on the day. Drew got up again a few weeks before race day for a little recce.

The race begun on the Friday at 5pm, so this meant another day off work. It happened to fall on the same weekend as the diamond jubilee which meant that we were also being treated to a Bank holiday Monday and Tuesday. Plenty of rest time! Registration was in the lovely village of Helmsley. I was awake at 5am as I was signed up to take the baton for 10 miles for the Real Relay. This is an initiative dreamt up by Endurancelife when they saw the Olympic flame, and realised that it gets driven for much of the distance. They decided to start the ‘Real Relay’. It would follow the same route as the torch, but would be run the entirety. There would be no torch of course. It would be replaced by a baton that has a GPS tracking device attached. My 10 mile stint, begun at Hanham in West Bristol I passed through town, finishing in Flax Bourton on the deadly A370. After this I showered had some breakfast and we were on our way up North. We arrived at Helmsley at 1400. This gave us an hour before registration opened, so we found a tea shop and got a pot of tea to while a way the time. While we there I noticed Drew walk past outside. I got his attention and he came in and chatted. He was feeling good about it and was excited to get going seeing as this was his first major race for a quite a while now. Claire and his Mum were with him and they were going to serve as his crew for the duration.
Registration was efficient and thorough. I had a decent sized pack that was fairly heavy, though this was as usual mostly fluid. I don’t like to have the weight on my back, but am getting used to it now. I bumped into a few other usual suspects here. Alan, Mark, Fiona, and a few other familiar faces. People spoke of what their tactics were going to be. I had my now, tried and tested, super simple plan : I would run at a relatively comfortable pace, moving through cp’s as fast as possible and stopping at the end. I would only allow myself to get caught up in the competition aspect in the second half. The first half I treat as laying the foundations for a hopefully explosive second half. Ok, maybe not explosive, but consistent.
The briefing was informative and before I knew what was going on we were strolling round to the start point. The air is just electric in these moments immediately before a big race. Most people will have trained heavily for this, for many it will be their first venture into this distance… the unknown. I was feeling excited but relaxed. Other than the recce in December I had not really thought too much about it. I had dug my map out on the Thursday evening and in a bit of a panic begun marking the cp’s and self-clip points on it. I knew I was carrying some decent fitness and had no doubt that I would complete unless faced with some adverse situation.
I said goodbye to Lou, and was quite happy to be at the back of the pack with Drew. We were off! We had a 5 minute stretch of road before we stepped foot on the Cleveland Way. Drew and I instantly decided we needed to get past some folk, so we dashed around a few people to get a little nearer the front. Once on the path we could see that there were at least 20 people ahead. That’s fine as I don’t like to be at the front at the start of a big one. We will hopefully pass some of them later on. Now is the time to be vigilant. I must restrain myself and stick to MY pace which gets embedded in my muscles deeper and deeper with each day length run I complete. If people will pass I let them, If I fly past someone then I must be confident that I am doing MY pace and not getting caught up in the adrenaline soaked excitement of the moment. I’m getting better at this. I feel I am learning with each run now.
It was good to run with Drew again. I think the last time was the recce. We chatted lots as we plugged away. Drew was generally in front of us both and was pushing a pretty high pace, though I was ok with it and was surprised to see that still there were many runners up ahead. The trail climbs very slowly up onto the moorland for a fair few miles. It is very runnable and we were soon at Cold Kirby. A quick road crossing and we were soon heading out on the White Horse for 5 minutes or so on a very food foot path. We were still bunched up a lot here and I was looking forward to having my own space. We then dropped down some steep awkward steps down to the first cp in the car park where there were lots of people waiting. This would be everyone’s crews. Most people appeared to be stopping, but I had no reason to stop so continued along the trail that would climb up the same amount as what the steps had taken us down. I was generating plenty of heat due to the relatively high pace so took advantage of the steep walking hill to get hydrated. Once back on the high levelled out trail, Drew caught me back up again after stopping with his crew.
It was nowhere near as windy as when we were up here in December which made it much more pleasant. My memory told me that the first 40 miles weren’t too bad. Easy running for the first 15 miles or so, then a bit of up and downs thrown in to stretch the legs out a bit. A load of the trail had enormous stone slabs laid on it. If they were dry, then they were great for fast running, though if wet they were deadly. One real benefit though was that if you were on this stone trail then you knew you weren’t lost! The trail certainly was in very good condition at the moment, being dry but not rock hard. There was a little give to give some much needed shock absorption. I was wearing my trusty Saucony Peregrine shoes. These are my current all-round 100 miler shoes, taking mud, stones and road in their stride. Running around the edge of the escarpment was beautiful and fast. There was a group of around 5-10 runners that seemed to be sticking together well. When large groups of runners stick together on a 100 miler the odds are that some of them will be running out of their limits. It will possibly be such a small amount above their limits that they will be unaware of this redlining until it is too late.
Jon Steele and me looking a little weary

We carried on at a fair clip for a while and as usual, running the route for the second time always seems to go quicker, though we were definitely going quicker to. I was surprised when we passed the cp in the car park at Square Corner and started the descent that meant we were fairly close to Osmotherly. A little while later we were running down the stone path between fences that would bring us into the centre of the village. We turned right up the road where we could see a number of vehicles that were obviously crew vehicles due to having stocks of food neatly laid out for the runners when they arrived to make things as simple as possible. Drew  and I stopped at his car that had the boot open and a neatly laid out surface with things easy to grab and a cup of coke waiting to be drunk. Claire and Drew’s mum immediately offered me food and drink. I gratefully grabbed a few nibbles and we continued walking up the hill to the cp a 100 metres later. They offered us some food and I grabbed some flapjack. There was no chance I’d be running out of energy! We were then heading up a track that was to steep to run so we used the time to get some fluid in us. I was starting to feel a little stiff here, but it was fine.

We passed through Scarth Nick and followed the beautiful singltrack trail through the woodlands. I was happy to have passed through here while it was still daylight as we saw the bluebells which were still hanging around at this time of year. After getting my feet wet here after stupidly slipping into a stream we crossed a road and started a gentle climb. Drew dashed off for a call of nature and it was then just Paul Dickens and I, as the rest of the group split up. We turned right into the woods again only this time it was straight into a very steep climb. I knew that Drew would catch us up shortly as he was walking the ups really well. As we came out of the treeline, we were quite suddenly on the open moorland. The light was just starting to die a little here. There was still some time before we’d need our torches though. We would now be hitting the tops that would have the self-clipping points on them. These were orienteering clips that were at the very top of some of the hills that we had to stamp our sheets with. This was to prove that we had taken the correct path and not the easier lower route. Thankfully these were very simple to spot, being literally at the top of each hill marked with some orange tape.
We soon were passing over Cringle Moor where we met the two guys running the cp who were both very cheerful and had a tent erected that seemed to be full of food for us! Amazing. I grabbed some sweets and continued on my way. The weather was still pretty good and the temperature was just perfect for running. Then there was another road crossing which was another opportunity for the support teams to tend to their runners. Drew’s crew fed him and gave me some food. Claire dashed off to top my bottle up with water and was back in a flash. How incredibly generous of them. We moved off climbing up a hill immediately. We had both mounted our headtorches now but hadn’t switched them on. There were people ahead and behind who had them on though. Suddenly there were quite a few people around us. The lights make people stand out more. This was a decent climb that made me sweat lots. The temperature really didn’t seem to be dropping much. I was wearing my thin silk gloves and my hands were a little too warm. Drew and I were still keeping a decent pace going, and I was feeling pretty smooth. Once we had crested the hill, we soon hit a very good section of trail that very steadily climbed and was very runnable . I wanted to keep a good pace going along here and not waste these good sections during this early stage.

After running along this section for what seemed like a really long time, we hit the sign at Blowarth Crossing which had a self-clip tied to it. We clipped our sheets, then followed the trail which turned almost back on its self and I recalled from our recce was again relatively easy running, so it was head down and dig in now all the way to Kildale which was the first major cp where my drop bag would be. I would top up my supply of 9Bars, grab two new bottles of Lucozade and most importantly take my treat, being a pasty which I would eat as I walked away. The journey from Blowarth Crossing to Kildale on the recce was hampered by Drew suffering with illness, and incredibly strong, cold winds. This was a complete contrast, and maybe that had made me forget how long it took, as it seemed to be endless this stretch. Finally we got on the road and so there was just a decent downhill left then we would be there. We discussed our plan to be as swift as possible at the cp. Do what we had to do then leave.

On arrival, we saw Mark Collinson with Fiona and a Pot Noodle. I chatted to him as I accessed my drop bag commenting on how well he was going. His strategy was to go hard on the first section as he had heard that it was the fastest and he doesn’t see his strength as being in the lumpier stuff. I disagree, I think that he has proven how strong he is on many terrains including routes with lots of ascent. There was a table in the village hall that had a tonne of ‘party food’ piled up on it. I grabbed a handful of flapjack and walked over to Drew. He was ready to move so we walked out into the dark silent night and jogged down the road, knowing that soon we would have a decent uphill where we could eat our treats while walking. The ascent was pretty lengthy and I thankfully didn’t need to rush to finish my pasty. We then left the road and where following some beautiful woodland trail still upwards. I could see a light quickly approaching from behind. ‘Let them pass’ I told myself. There was still 70 miles to cover. He passed us effortlessly and as though he had just begun. We remembered the fact that there were three teams running it as a relay. Maybe he was one? We convinced ourselves that he must be which made us happier.
We exited the woods and were out on the moorland again and there in front of us was Captain Cook’s monument. No time to stop and admire. A slight kink to the right and we followed the trail for a further 20 minutes or so. All this time there were two female runners slowly gaining on us. We then came to the point where we had to go out and back to Roseberry topping. I was really looking forward to this section. Why, I’m not too sure, but it certainly felt like a milestone. A quick descent followed by a steep climb to the very top where there was a cp. Apparently Drew and I were in the lead. There were two ahead but they were both relay teams. The two ladies behind caught us at the top and we discovered that one was a relay and the other was buddy running. As we descended again, we passed those runners behind and got an idea of what was actually happening. Kevin Perry was pretty close and right at his heals was Mark.
After some nice running through Guisborough woods, We dropped down to the woods. As we met the road, Drew’s ever faithful crew were waiting to greet us. We were quick to get what we wanted before moving on. It was brightening up at this point, which is always a fantastic part of the run for me. To be able to remove the Petzl from my head is great, especially if I am sure that I will not be needing it again. I had used the batteries for a few hours before so wasn’t sure whether I would need to do a battery change during the night, but thankfully they had survived. We were getting very close to Saltburn now, which would mean the end of the moorland section and the start of the coastal section. This would also be just over half way covered. From here the race would begin.
Mark Collinson (3rd) and Kevin Perry (2nd)

The cp was in a hotel. Drew and I popped in and made sure we had been seen. I grabbed some cake from the table and Drew stocked up from his crew car. Then we made our way down to steps to the sea front. It felt good to be on the coast at last. I had never been on any of this trail before so it would all be fresh and exciting. I would also have to be on the ball to make sure I didn’t go the wrong way. Drew complained that he was feeling a little nauseous and just needed to be sick and then he would be fine. He thought that it was probably caused by the half dozen or so croissants he had eaten. After a few miles up on the cliffs we came down to pass through Skinningrove. I hadn’t seen anyone behind for ages, but when I turned to look on the road section there was a chap close by, running a lot faster than us. I couldn’t see a pack on him so assumed that he was relay, then I noticed his pack. As he gained on us I saw it was Kevin. As he was about to catch us, I accelerated a little and slowly left Drew behind. I must say that this was a bit of a panicy response, but I did feel in control, and was aware that Kev was still gaining. When he caught me we chatted and he went in the front dictating the pace. It was high! After ten minutes or so, he suddenly stopped and said something. I didn’t quite catch it and assumed it was a call of nature, so continued on my own, expecting him to catch me shortly. This little bit of an injection in pace and adrenaline pumping through me seemed to light my competitive fuse and I now had the bit between my teeth.

So, I am in the front of a long race again. It’s a love hate situation. It is of course exciting being at the front, but I also get pretty paranoid that someone is much stronger than me and chasing me down. I fight the desire to constantly keep looking over my shoulder  to get a glimpse of second place. I was running ok still so just tried to focus all my energies on keeping the pressure on. I was approaching Runswick Bay and the path turned inland. There ahead I saw what looked like Drew’s mum spot me then start running back to the car that was parked out of sight. When I arrived they both asked me if I wanted anything, I said I was fine, then Claire offered me a bottle of Lucozade. I gratefully accepted it, and told them that Drew was not too far behind but had a bit of a dicky stomach. Claire ran off to find him and I continued on my way. At the bottom of the hill was a cp. I stopped briefly, thanked the guys then carried on. I was now running along the beach at Runswick Bay. This carried on for a while before turning up a tight gully that climbed straight back up to the cliff top.
The running was very enjoyable from here. I was beginning a slight low point where I was struggling to run at all times. I was tiring mentally but knew this would pass, I just had to ride it out. This low probably dragged on for around 15 miles but I was still moving pretty good. Just before the next drop bag point where I would get my second pasty, I had a deer leap out onto the trail just 20 metres ahead. I slowed a little but continued expecting it to dash off, but he just moved slowly forwards on the path looking back cautiously as I approached. I love to see deers when I’m out running alone, but usually they will disappear rapidly, so this was a real treat and a gift at this difficult time during the run. Eventually the panic overcame it and it bounded off up a steep slope.
Next up was Sandsend, the location of my second pasty! I gingerly climbed down some small steep steps to the car park where the cp car was. I needed water here, but forgot to top up, and moved on pretty quickly, running scared from the phantom second place runner. It wasn’t till about 10 minutes later as I ran along the sea front road that I realised my blunder. I still had a fair amount of fluid on me so it wasn’t fatal but was more irritating to have made the error.
Not too much further on was Whitby, where I asked a member of public for directions and he was deaf. After much signalling what I wanted he pointed down the road. I ran where he pointed and saw the bridge that I needed to cross. After the cobbled streets where behind me I was off up the 199 steps to the abbey and found the trail again and was back in the groove. Time sped up a little bit for the next section which brought me to Robins Hood Bay. As I ran down the road through the town, I heard my name shouted out. I turned and saw Fiona waving. I walked across to her. She hadn’t heard from Mark for a while and asked if I needed anything. I said water. She gave me a bottle and I was off again.
The coast was roughly flatish along the top of the cliffs with dips down to rivers and streams. The next dip was the fantastically named Boggle Hole which was short and sweet. The next cp at Ravenscar came soon enough though I was still struggling a little mentally. I asked the guys at the cp if they had any idea how far the next runner was behind, and they said it was around 30 minutes the last they heard.  From here I was starting to feel as though the end was in my sights. The possibility of a win crept into my thoughts now and the race was surely on. Now was the time to put the pressure on!
My bloody great sword for a year!

I could see on my map that I was closing in on Scarborough. The other side was the location of the final cp which signified 13 miles remaining! The home straight. Once onto the road along the seafront there was a long run around the headland to the south beach area. It was here where I saw Lou running towards me with a big beam on her face! I wasn’t expecting to see her till the end so this was a massive morale boost and I felt emotional. We had an embrace then I continued to jog. I told her I was struggling. She said she would meet me at the next cp. She then got me a bottle of water and a wedge of chocolate brownie. Yum! She sped off and left me alone. I straight away walked for a minute or two, before telling myself off and lurching back into a slow jog. This carried on around the corner. Eventually I arrived at the final cp where Lou was. I downed a load of coke (I never drink coke!) then was off. I felt good now and was on a mission to nail this thing! I was determined to run every last bit now unless it was very steep. The weather was glorious and I really was appreciating the whole day. I was really enjoying myself here and definitely had pulled myself out of the dip I had been in for a little bit too long now. I was really feeling as though the win was looking like a definite now. Life was good. I had what I thought was a stone was in my shoe under the ball of my foot. It was quite annoying but nothing more. When I finished, I learnt it was in fact a blister. I can’t believe I can still fall for the ‘blister feeling like a stone in the shoe’ business.

I entered Filey and looked at the directions I had printed off of the website that would guide me to the secondary school where the finish was located. I found my way with no issues and was soon running the grounds of an apparently deserted school. Then I spotted the flags that acted as the finish line and there was a photographer who just managed to get a picture of me finishing.
I’d won! I was completely not expecting that. I thought that sub 24 hour time was an ambitious target, maybe too much, but I had finished in 22:44! I walked into the sports hall where people were. They congratulated me and offered me food and drinks. It was good to sit down. I hadn’t sat down once and it was the best thing. Soon Lou turned up and after a glorious shower and seeing Kevin Perry finishing, we were off to find a meal and back to the B&B which was a fair drive away in the Dalby forest. 

Suunto download of the race.

Next day I returned for the prize giving. I received a tankard to keep and a sword that I look after for the year! And what a sword it is too! The previous winners names are engraved on it along with the times. It has to be the coolest prize I have ever received.
So, the year continues and the list of races leading up to the big one slowly shrinks. Next up in two weeks’ time (three weeks after Hardmoors) I have what I consider to be the hardest single stage challenge I will be running this year, the Ultra Trail South West. It is a 100 miler, but it is on the Gloriously tough South West Coast Path. This is a race that I have been excited about from the second I heard about it.
Anyhow, I feel all blogged out now. I almost feel like I should apologise for my blogs going on for ever, but I guess that if you have got this far then you are probably getting some sort of entertainment out of it.
Happy running!

4 thoughts on “Bliss at Hardmoors

  1. Outstanding race there lad, and glad you enjoyed the “North York Moors National park”.

    Pat. Saltburn

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