Hardmoors 55 – 2012
As its name suggests the Hardmoors 55 is a 55 mile race on the North York Moors. It follows the first half of the Cleveland Way national trail and involves over 8500ft of accumulated ascent. 5.30am on Saturday morning saw me rolling out of bed just in time to get prepped for my latest prearranged adventure. I got a lift with my parents to the start at Helmsley. As I finished my kit check I was glad for the early start, as the shuttle bus bringing runners from the finish at Guisborough deposited 70 or so competitors, all of whom needed to get their bags checked and then to register as well. While they waited patiently I took the opportunity to catch up with friends made during previous Hardmoors events. And before long, Martin Dietrich, previous Hardmoors 110 winner and race director for the day (thus allowing Hardmoors head-honcho John Steele the opportunity to run in his own race) gave us a concise pep talk and set us on our way.
Within the first miles there are several stiles at which 130+ runners will bottleneck. I queued patiently to wait my turn to go through each one, figuring that losing 10 seconds over the course of 55 miles was nothing to worry about. However, a fellow competitor was having none of this, swaggering past the queue up to the rickety farm gate next to a stile, making to vault over it. Amusingly for those of us politely queueing, his leg went straight through a brittle old cross bar and sent him tumbling, whilst a runner behind me irately pointed out that the farmer who owned that fence would probably not be happy to find his gate broken, and that the stile was there for a reason … although not in so many words.
On the nine-mile stretch to the first checkpoint at the White Horse on Sutton Bank I ran with Andy who recounted tales of his recent adventures at the Copper Canyon ultra-marathon in Mexico. His descriptions of runners in loin cloths or long decorated dresses and the less scrupulous competitors hitching rides on the back of pick-up trucks sounded fantastic and whiled away the miles down to Sutton Bank. Upon arriving at the checkpoint I was simultaneously asked for my number and race tally by the checkpoint staff, asked how I was getting on by Kev Borwell, offered food and drink by my folks and had the mick taken out of my, admittedly very bright, orange jacket by Pat Mullen. I did my best to multi-task responses to everyone whilst eating a banana and just about managed it, before setting off back up onto the North York Moors western plateau.
My hip was beginning to feel sore, so I bade Andy go on ahead of me whilst I rooted around in my rucksack in the drizzle for some Ibuprofen. Washing it down with electrolyte supplements and dolly mixtures (UK Athletics approved, honest) I made my way around the ridge, enjoying the dramatic views and making sure I didn’t go too quickly. This after all is an ultra-marathon, not a sprint. I met my parents again at Sneck Yate where they were waiting with their dog Mike. Mike was looking bored, so I offered to take him with me on the next leg to Osmotherly. I got a few baffled ‘where the hell’s he come from?’ from fellow runners who had seen me earlier in the race without a dog and a couple of ‘that’s cheating!’s from people implying he was pulling me along. Although for the record, whilst he did pull me at points as he darted after rabbits, scents and other things that interest dogs, it was in every single other direction than forward and with such sudden intensity that my arm felt in danger of dislocating. He soon got into the spirit of things though and generally ran happily with me for the next 7 miles.
We arrived at Square Corner just outside Osmotherley 20 miles into the race following a descent down a long steep track made up of large loose rocks. I don’t think I’ve ever not tripped up or at least stumbled whilst running down this slope and this occasion was no exception, as my toe caught on a loose boulder, sending me flying and and setting me on my behind. Mike looked at me in a bemused way whilst I dusted myself down muttering ‘Every bloody time’. I continued on my way, thankfully uninjured, handed Mike back over to my folks at Square Corner and ran down into Osmotherley where I met friends Kris and Rowan who had generously offered to crew for me in the afternoon. I checkpointed in the village hall and was happy to have run 22 mies in my target time of 4 hours; with what was to come, it was essential to take things sensibly in the first half of the race.
I left Osmotherely, enjoying the broken sunshine and fine views whilst psyching myself up for the Cleveland Hills. At the bottom of Carlton Bank I met Kris and Rowan again who filled up my water bottles and gave me some food and cracked a few jokes about a couple of elaborately dressed runners who had caught their eye. And then, apart from the very steepest parts of the gradient, I ran the entire way up Carlton Bank. More importantly, I didn’t feel spent at the top. I carefully picked my way down the steep bank on the other side, running where I could and precariously balancing on my tip toes over precarious drops at other moments. The Cleveland Hills are generally like this, sharp difficult to run ascents, followed by steep, technical descents. At times it can take 30 minutes to travel a mile, which needless to say, plays havoc with your average speed. I was happy that I’d made good time, but then spent slightly too long at the bottom of the bank chatting to Rowan and Kris about the football and deciding which energy gel flavour was the least worst.
After the five minute break I cracked on again, 30 miles in with three big summits from Cringle Moor to the Wainstones, to contend with. Again it was all slowly up and slowly down on the energy-sapping slopes, but I successfully made my way over the first two gruelling summits, leaving only Wainstones to go. At the seat of the hill, I found a fellow runner lying on his back having a harassed conversation on his mobile phone: “Look, I’ve got to go, I think it’s in the airing cupboard… have you checked there… look I’ve got to go… Oh I don’t know… well have you asked him?… look, I really have to go!” I gave him a grin as I trundled past and he gave me a knowing nod. Returning to the job in hand, I concentrated on ascending the exposed rocky outcrop of Wainstones, which turns into a hands and feet job at the very top. At the summit, a hardy marshal clipped my tally and I immediately set off back down the long slope to the foot of the hill. Towards the bottom I found Rowan and Kris, in a blue tracksuit and thus looking slightly incongruous in this picturesque setting, observing some livestock. We went through the refuelling procedure again whilst observing ominous storm clouds gathering overhead.
The next stretch was the toughest. A trek onto the totally exposed Urra Moor to Blowarth crossing, then back down into Kildale. This is the bleakest part of the route. The moorland is always burnt, there is never anybody up there apart from the odd lad on a quad bike towing an empty trailer (it’s always empty). It is also a seven-mile stretch with no cover whatsoever, so inevitably it started raining. I donned the waterproof jacket I’d been wearing around my waist, which was extremely efficient at channeling water off my body and straight on to my shorts which immediately soaked right through. Combined with the sweat soaked t-shirt under my thin waterproof I quickly found myself feeling very cold. I knew it was important to get energy in myself at moments like this, but alarmingly my fingers were suddenly numb, and seemingly unable to peel the banana I wanted to eat. It took about fifteen minutes eventually to get into the critter! I contemplated putting more layers on, but didn’t fancy getting changed up there in the desolation, soaking the dry clothes I was putting on in the process and probably making myself colder in result. So I pressed on, surmising that the quicker I was in the next checkpoint, Kildale at 42 miles, the better.
The miles went on and on. Eventually, as I came off the moor with about a mile to go into Kildale, the weather improved and the sun appeared, spectacularly illuminating the Cleveland Hills across which I had just run. My mood lifted correspondingly and soon after I found Kris and Rowan sat in their car, sampling energy drinks they’d bought from the local newsagent and listening to CDs on repeat. They seemed somehow to be enjoying themselves, so I got my warm kit on, ate some more sweet sugary food (which was becoming less and less palatable) and went on my way. Only 14 miles to go.
The final stretch started with a slog up to Captain Cook’s monument which I found reassuringly manageable. To be able to run a steep slope like that 40+ miles into a race is new territory for me and it was satisfying to see the reward for my sometimes quite grim winter training. Meanwhile, the darkness was closing in, but I held off using my headtorch and opted to use the ambient light as long as possible. Whilst running I prefer not to limit my range of vision to a four foot square patch of bright white light for as long as possible, and the reward of seeing the suitably impressive ilhouette of Captain Cook’s monument in the gloom made a few trips and stumbles a worthwhile trade-off. Approaching 44/45 miles, however, I experienced a huge plummet in energy levels and realised I was starving. I rummaged around in my rucksack for whatever I had left in there and found a battered old Mars bar and a handful of loose dolly mixtures. Thinking ‘They’ll have to do’ (I don’t know what I was expecting, pizza perhaps?) I got them into me as quickly as possible, whilst revving myself up for the final big challenge of the day, the dog leg up Roseberry Topping.
Roseberry Topping is a 1000ft summit set just back from the Cleveland Way. The race route takes you off the main trail, up Roseberry Topping and then back to the trail exactly where you left it, adding an extra 40 minutes onto your rae whilst not taking you one inch closer to the finish. This is psychologically tough, as is the ascent itself. It was particularly awkward on this evening as the recent rain had made the rocks on the slope extremely slippery. I must have rolled off the path two or three times on the way up, as even with the head torch I had finally donned I kept losing my footing. Eventually I crested the final proper summit of the day, to be greeted by the friendly face of Pat Mullen. We had an amusing exchange where he confidentially offered me his ‘private stash’ of coke in such a way that I immediately started wondering whether or not I was about to complete the quickest ever run from Roseberry Topping to Guisborough. It was only when he reappeared with a flask that the penny dropped he was actually talking about the sugary soft drink. We had a laugh about that and I said a grateful goodbye knowing that with 47 miles done this really was the last leg. I stumbled back down the hill to the Cleveland Way where I rejoined the trail.
With the chocolate, dolly mixtures and cola now succesfully metabolising I felt a surge of energy and pushed on towards the last checkpoint at Highcliffe Nab. After checking in here I made my way into Guisborough Woods which I’ve run in several times before and so assumed I knew the way through. After running for 30 minutes then, I was surprised to find myself ankle deep in a bog, covered in scratches and lost. It took a good 15 minutes of looking for a landmark to fix my location against to work out where I needed to get to. But this I did and I eventually left the wood and found my way onto the disused railway line that took me to the finish. Kris, Rowan, shelter and warm food were waiting.
I am never going to trouble the front of the field in these races, so as long as I enjoy myself and stay relaxed, I can simply relish the challenge throughout. I got around the 55 miles and 8500feet in 12 hours and 6 minutes, a time which would have been improved upon if there had been less chatting with my support crew and more accurate map reading in Guisborough Woods. I was pleased, nonetheless. This is a very tough race, but it’s in the bag now and means the Hardmoors Grand Slam is still on. The 30 and the 55 are done. Next up, the 110 mile event in June. Bring it on.