I have spent a little time over the last week thinking about when I would start this. I also spent some time during and straight after the race thinking about a theme for this blog. It was going to have a Lord of the Rings vibe because the race finished in Helmsley and I related it to Helms Deep, the fort where a rather large battle takes place at the end of Two Towers and Helmsley also has ruins of a castle. It was going to be about the journey to get to the town with a similar name. About a band of friends, a fellowship if you will, on a quest of some kind. Somewhere over the last week I have lost the motivation to write this adventure up like that. I think it’s because I see this event as what it was meant to be in 2020 and was in 2022. A training race exploring somewhere new in the UK.
To understand what I mean by this we have to go back to 2019. I had a fantastic experience running The Cumbria Way in the Lake District, seeing this wonderful English scenery and I also had a lovely trip to Poland with friends to do a race there. Thats when the idea of booking a UK race with friends came to mind. I also needed a training race early 2020 for South Downs. I didn’t want to go overseas as I fancied seeing another part of our lovely Island. After a little investigation, I came across the Hardmoors series. A bunch of races all set around the North York Moors between York and Middlesbrough. I heard great things about the organisers after reading reviews. The 55 race was set for end of March. Weather at that time of year is unpredictable and they even had it during the famous “Beast from the east” storm of 2018. I was kind of excited to do a wintery race to be honest. I signed up and persuaded some friends to come too, although they were less than enthusiastic about potential cold conditions! I even recce’d part of the route early Feb 2020 in 50mph winds and rain😂.
Of course the race was postponed, then again in 2021 as we didn’t come out of lockdown until April. It was moved to August but I really didn’t fancy it then either. 2022, though seemed like a goer but things had changed in my race calendar with having won entry to Madeira Island Ultra just 4 weeks after I had to make some decisions. Originally I was going to race Hardmoors allowing time for recovery before the 100 in mid June. Now I had a bigger race very close. I already made the choice to do the 85 km 4700m+ MIUT and not the 115km big one as I think that would have broken me and risked the summer races too. Coach Maggie wasn’t too happy about these races being so close but she hatched a plan to get me as fit as possible before Hardmoors and then use it as a training race. So that’s what we did!
This was a big block over 3 months, lots of speed work, lots of long runs and 2 strength sessions a week. I trained in wind, rain, cold and colder. I did plenty of hills and even some stair machine.
I didn’t get injured, or COVID again. I practiced nutrition, hydration on all my runs. I recovered well and got stronger. Even Garmin agreed with highest fake vo2 Max in 3 years.
Then on race day it all went a bit sideways!
Ultras are funny things. They are long in time (well for us mid packers) and in distance. So many things can go wrong, I’ve had all kinds of issues before but nothing quite like what happened on the 26th March. In the build up I had a bit more race anxiety than I let on. I didn’t really sleep on the Wednesday and Thursday nights. I had had a weird slight sore throat and was a little paranoid it was COVID, it wasn’t but that didn’t help. I am not sure why I was so worried. I had planned a race strategy to run well within myself at around 11-12 hours for the 86km 2600m+ race. The plan timed it all out to what I thought would be perfect for me to run comfortably on this very runnable course. The night before the race I finally slept well but the 3.50am alarm meant I was still in a deficit. The bus ride to the start was glorious as we saw the sun rise over the moors, I was excited to get going. Toilet and kit check was smooth and we had time for final tweaks of starting layers before a race briefing we couldn’t hear. I definitely think Jon the RD needs a megaphone.
It was warm though. Not a cloud in the sky and very little breeze. Definitely not a winter ultra day!
Guisborough to Kildale (cp1)
I lovely 17km section. All 5 of us started together, Dai was in a chipper mood doing some weird live commentary on me as we started, which was kind of off putting but I couldn’t escape as it was the usual busy start. I would forgive him later, lol!
We soon climbed up onto the moors via some woodland. None of us agreed to run together but we were not that far away as we headed to the out and back up to the famous Roseberry Topping, a pointy peak that means you have to run down to go back up to the trig on a pretty technical path. I wish I stayed for 15more secs to enjoy the view but just tagged It then rand back down using a side path off the rocks for extra speed. Layers were off by now and sun cream applied. I wasn’t going to get burnt again! I was drinking and eating well all the way into the aid station. I did need a toilet visit here though, I came out expecting to just be on my own but Dai was still in, as was Jess. I topped up my bottles of water and tailwind and grabbed packet of sweets but noticed there wasn’t much really at this aid station. I’ll come to that later.
Jess, Dai and I left together though.
Kildale to Clay Bank (cp2)
This is where the recce started in 2020 and I remembered quite a lot of this section. I remembered the long boring road back up onto the moors. At some point on this section I caught up with Gif and Reka, then Reka and I took off.
It’s at this point I have to say Dai was running with an ankle injury and Reka also had a little bit of niggle. I am pretty sure both of them would have been off in the distance on another day.
Especially as this section is very runnable once up top, with slight undulations as you run around the edge of the moors. The views were stunning. It was getting warmer though, I was trying to stay on top of my hydration and fuelling though and just enjoying myself. Dai caught us back up at some point when we were larking around by a sign and shortly after we came across a bonus water station put on, very wisely by the organisers because of the unseasonable weather. I made sure to top up before the next climb, which of course led to a really lovely descent on pretty technical terrain. Something was clicking on those for me, usually I am super nervous if I haven’t done any for a while but on this day my legs were really happy and my mind was free to bound down. I am still not the quickest but I was keeping up with the others which was confidence building.
We soon reached the 2nd aid station, just a short climb up from a road at the bottom of the hill. I remembered that this next section would be tricky from the recce. We stopped to refill water etc. It was the same set up as before with regards to snacks. This is where I made an error, I rushed a bit too much here to keep up with the other two as they arrived a couple of mins before me. I should have taken 5, drank some more, eaten some more etc. I remember hearing another runner deciding to quit there. The heat had got to him, 32Km in.
I left under prepared for the hardest section of the course!
Clay Bank to Osmotherly (cp3)
I say this is the toughest because it’s the longest section (18km) and has the most amount of elevation gain (750m+), not a lot by many race standards but they are punchy climbs on technical terrain. We were in the hottest part of the day, the views were stunning but it was starting to get to me. I needed a little rest after a couple of the climbs. I needed to eat more.
This part had some lumps called the sisters and they were not being kind to me! I did enjoy a little climb through some rocks though, another good sign that this confidence is growing. At the last of the sisters I said I needed to stop and eat some of my wrap. Real food was needed ASAP!
To start with it went down well. Then as we started our descent, my mouth started to dry up really quickly and I did a dry heave. We grabbed some water at the bottom from a tap we had been told about but were straight up again. I was starting to feel a bit off and on the next descent I said to Dai “I’m going to be sick very soon” and promptly projectile vomited pure liquid off the side of the trail. Sorry for being so graphic but it was soo much (felt like 1 litre) and tasted of only tailwind. No food came out at all.
I felt better after a couple of minutes and we picked up the running and I thought, ok, that’s good. I started drinking to try and replace all the liquid my body had just rejected but after 10mins or so of running I just started feeling really off, light headed and just broken. It was the weirdest sensation. My legs were saying let’s go but the rest of me was like “no way mate”. I was stopped dead in my tracks. I said to Dai and Reka I needed to walk for a bit, I went into myself for a while, some time passed then the negative thoughts started. We were a little bit away from the aid station and I was torn between wanting to just quit and wanting to finish. The thoughts went to, “well ok that was a good 50km training run”, “ I can get a taxi back to the finish”. Then I heard myself saying to them “I am 99.9% sure I am going to DNF at the next aid station”. I said they should just run on, I’d be fine walking it in. Of course they had none of my waffling and insisted it would be ok. It was a slog though, I was down to 11min KMs for 3 or 4. Dai eventually ran off with a random runner in the last 500m coming into the village.
I remember them both telling me, “Get to the aid station, take some time, see what happens.”
Osmotherly aid station
When I entered I had 2 hours until cut off to sort things out. I wasn’t a happy bunny. I was shivering but I was hot. My mind was so foggy. It was nice to be inside though.
I collected my drop bag here with food supplies to see what I wanted to eat. The thing with this race that I wish I had paid more attention to with hindsight was that the race organisers describe it as “self supported, with essentials” what that means is they provide you the ability to have two non returnable drop bags (you have to carry the contents after collection or leave behind). This also means that the aid stations only really have basic food (sweets, biscuits, peanuts and maybe a little cake) apart from Osmotherly, which had some pizza, pasta, and fruit salad. I didn’t really think this was true when I read the race info and thought more would actually be available, totally my mistake.
I didn’t use the kildale drop bag, when I should have. I didn’t put more in the Osmotherly one. I did have a bag of roasted potatoes, a chocolate croissant, more gels etc. But no more real food. I should have packed fruit, a roll and some other bits.
While I sat at the aid station figuring out what was going on I drank lots of water and had a cup of coke. I figured I needed to rehydrate as quickly as possible. At some point Gif and Jess came in. Gif was covered in salt and Jess was in the best mood. I think having us all back together lifted my spirits. I started eating, potatoes, a chocolate croissant, some fruit salad and a bunch of melon that Reka kindly gave me. I started feeling better, not 100% but there was a smile, a glint in my eyes and a new fire. Mentally I slowly turned that 0.1% into 100%. I was going to finish this race! I grabbed some bananas and other random things off the table where people had left things from their drop bags they didn’t want. Then about 40-45mins after entering I exited Osmotherly with Dai and Reka.
Osmotherly to Sneck Yate Bank (cp4)
I remembered the climb out of the village from the recce (we did a little out and back on this section), it wasn’t steep but went on for a while. I felt re-energised at this point, I might even say chipper! We made good time getting up and even caught up with Gif, who seemed worried about the cut offs but I said that we were 1hr15mins ahead and she had left maybe 10mins before us. The last aid station cut off was coming up and she had plenty of time and was moving well.
As we got onto the more runnable and undulating section, I noticed that I was needing to pee and it was causing me a bit of lower stomach pain. When I stopped to try, only a tiny bit was coming out. The colour wasn’t bad but not good. It was relieving the pain a bit though and I found I was able to run after. This became the theme, all the way to the aid station. Legs were happy to run but my tummy kept cramping up and it wasn’t nice. I was drinking plenty, just water at this point and also eating as well. In hindsight I was obviously still dehydrated, not dangerously but I couldn’t put enough in to keep up with the effort. I apologised to Dai and Reka as I knew we could be moving much quicker. It was still a stunning day and I was in a much better place mentally than earlier. We came into the aid station well ahead of cut off (over 3.5hrs). I knew now that barring anything major we would finish. I filled my 2nd bottle with coke to have something difference to taste, grabbed some more sweets and headed out with the guys. I think at some point around here we left Gif, Jess was still way off in the distance.
Snake Yeck Bank to White horse (cp5)
This section was memorable for a few reasons. Not a lot of climbing, stunning views along the edge, and a beautiful sunset. It was getting colder though and we stopped to add layers, Dai’s ankle was getting more moany, my stomach was mostly the same. Pain, pee, no pain, run, repeat. Although the running was getting more consistent. This part is quite short but they put in what another runner aptly called “value for money miles” as an annoying rutted path takes you on a little lollipop route off the main course, down a steep descent to the local painted white horse; which of course we couldn’t see as it was pretty much pitch black now! Although the aid station was crewed by the most enthusiastic volunteers. They had it decked out in all kinds of lights and inflatable dinosaurs. I thought I was hallucinating and a slightly crazed volunteer thought I was just casually smoking as I walked in to the aid station. A very surreal experience.
We were pretty quick through though, stopping to put on our torches and add any extra layers for the last push to the finish.
White horse to Helms Deep (sorry, couldn’t help myself)
The final 14 and a bit KMs, off the moors now, was more rural with rutted fields, country lanes and darkness. After the long steps up out of the aid station of course. Our mood had swings, I could sense that Dai was in quite a bit of pain now but he is a tough MF and will get it done, Reka’s ankle was also being a bit of a grumpy too and my stomach had eased off a bit but had this nagging pain. I continued to eat and drink trying to keep the energy. We ran a fair bit when the surface wasn’t to horrid for Dai. Something that I hadn’t really remembered until this point was, competitors were allowed “a support runner” to bring them in. The race used to allow crews but due to congestion in the local area causing issues for residents they had to stop. The race organisers agreed to allow this support for the last part as a bit of company on the final run in. It was weird to see chirpy people running out to meet their friends all along the course in the dark and we chatted to some who blatantly lied about how far it was etc, why do people do that lol! We also encountered a road of frogs, next to a small river. Our feet actually got a little muddy on this section as we tried to avoid stamping on the frogs in the dark on a very moist lane. These are the random things that happen on races that makes it all part of the adventure.
I could feel the finish getting closer and closer and my mood lifting even more. As lights of civilisation got brighter I was excited to use an actual toilet, to sit down, to eat some real food and rehydrate. After one last 100m+ road hill we could sense the finish coming. The pace picked up and before we knew it we joined the lane that went past the ice cream shop that GIF had visited the day before, we were running past the church and then up the lane towards the finish. Then about 50m from the turn off Reka had to stop. Her ankle wasn’t happy but this actually made me laugh. Was she going to comedy DNF right before the finish?
Of course not, I made a joke to the marshals about them taking our bibs which they didn’t get and we crossed the finish line to relief and joy.
I used the toilet, ate pizza, ate bean chilli, drank tea and lots of water. We were handed lovely wooden medals and very nice T-shirts.
The race cut off was 16 hours, my goal was 11-12 hours. I was happy considering a few hours earlier I thought it was going to be my first ultra DNF.
It’s weird looking back at my splits and comparing them to my estimated though.
Start to Kildale: Estimated 1hr 50, Actual 2hr 07
Kildale to Clay bank: Estimated 2hrs, Actual 1hr 56
Clay bank to Osmotherly: Estimated 2hrs 30, Actual 3hrs 8
Osmotherly to Snake: Estimated 1hr 30, Actual 2hrs 34
Snake to white horse: Estimated 1hr 10, Actual 1hr 15
White Horse to finish: Estimated 2hrs, Actual 2hrs 12
The estimated time would have given me an 11 hour finish. You can see where I lost time, the walk in to Osmotherly and the extra time spent in the aid station getting my mind and body together. Otherwise it seems I was fairly spot on with my predictions and I have to be happy with that.
Some massive learnings on this race. Tailwind is in the bin for me, I am going back to a standard medium strength hydration powder. I will definitely drink more when the temps go up, need to get in the zone for that. I should really have read the aid station specs, then I would have brought more food and fruit in drop bags.
The positives though is this was a great training race. It had plenty of punchy climbs and steps like Madeira will. My legs and body are strong, I fuelled well throughout. I felt so fresh at the end of this race, once I had rehydrated and eaten plenty of food, I was able to start training again on the weds after. Mags got it right again!
I can’t finish this off without some major shout outs.
Dai and Reka, for believing in me when I didn’t. My mindset has definitely changed for future races. Thank you for not letting me have a pity party!
Gif, you also had a tough time in the last section, coming in slower than you you know you could have. You got it done and are much stronger than I have seen you.
To Jess, who has had two horrible DNFs, seeing in you for the first time in ages and also then not seeing you as you sprinted off into the distance was ace. You had the best day and I so happy for you.
To the race organisers and volunteers for putting on a great event with awesome vibes. The course is really beautiful and I am so glad we finally were able to run it even if the weather was too good. Thank you Hardmoors!