15 hours and 4 minutes, 3,300 metres of ascent and more steps than I can count but I finished the beast that is the Hardmoors 60.
It’s actually more like 63 or 64 miles but what’s another couple between friends.
This was the race I’ve been working towards for nearly a year and the biggest challenge I’ve ever undertaken so I was thrilled just to finish and after starting at 8am in Guisborough and following the stunning Cleveland Way down the coast I ran into the sports hall at Filey Secondary School a bit after 11pm a long, hard day was done.
Amanda and me ready to go at the start!
Breaking the golden rule – Starting too fast
There’s a simple rule for ultra running and unless you’re some sort of elite level ultra machine (I’m not..) you can start slow and steady because you’re in for a long day and there’s no need to rush.
As it was, I followed a load of people at a reasonable clip (about 8:30 min/mile on the runnable sections) for the first few miles onto the Cleveland Way and while I kept telling myself to slow down, my legs weren’t having any of it and on I went.
Eventually at around 7 miles I eased right back, and from there started to finally settle down and run my own race.
Just one set of epic steps up the side of a cliff at 14 miles
Settling into the race
The first 20 miles rattled by in reasonable comfort and I think I got into CP4 at 21 miles feeling ok but definitely starting to get a stitch and already finding the novelty of eating regularly was wearing off but 21 miles covered in about 3:40 was about 20 minutes faster than I’d planned at this stage.
It was great to see friendly faces in the form of my parents and my son Felix at this point too and Felix kindly offered me his jam sandwich as fuel, he does like cheering on runners (thanks to Parkrun) but his claims of the rest of the race being “all downhill from here” turned out to be a little misleading …
I made a point of easing off from CP4 to CP5 at 26 miles and indeed walked a fair chunk of this section because I’ve found in the past when I cramp up or start getting stomach issues it’s normally because I’ve been going too fast.
26 – 41 miles – It doesn’t always get worse
I’m learning fast to embrace the saying “It doesn’t always get worse” when it comes to Ultra Marathon running and I found it tough heading out from about 28 miles after meeting up with my other support team – my wife Ally and her Aunty Sandra who’d caught us up in the camper van with a change of tech tee and a lemon curd sandwich and some apple juice to keep me going.
I was struggling to get into any sort of running rhythm though, even a slow jog was upsetting my stomach so I walked a bit more and eventually it started passing and I felt stronger as I went through the 30 mile mark heading for glamorous Whitby and its famous steps up to the abbey.
Stopping briefly for an ice lolly at the abbey with a chap who was on his way to completing the Hardmoors Gran Slam (30, 55, 110 and 60 mile races in a year)reminded me a little of what’s great about ultra running – you can probably spare a minute or two to enjoy the day even if it’s hurting!
Steps, steps, steps and a few more steps
This route is famous for being tough and one of the reasons is all those f**king steps cut into the cliffs. Down steep and crooked flights of steps then back up steep flights kill the quads and don’t afford any time for recovery. I hate steps now.
Ravenscar to Scarborough (41 – 52 miles)
After stopping briefly in Ravenscar and beginning to run a little easier I really started picking up speed following my ridiculous early tactics and I was happier on the trail and following the well worn Cleveland Way although I’d run a lot on my own it turns out that because of winding and climbing and descending you’re often a lot closer to fellow racers than you might think but ultra running is frequently a lonely sport.
I began running for longer and longer stretches now and after asking a couple of walkers if they’d seen any runners recently I found out I was only a minute or two behind several runners I managed to pick right up and run the last few miles into Scarborough at a good pace and rejoin a few of them getting to the CP.
My plan had been to get to the CP before dark for some decent food and change into my road shoes (Nike Free 5.0’s) for the last 10 miles to the finish and so while a few people passed me as I rested for 5 minutes I felt ok and ready for the last stretch to Filey and the finish.
The final 10 nighttime miles
I’ve run in the dark before and it’s quite good fun although it does take some significant concentration to not get lost and there were a couple of little bits where you need to pay attention leaving Scarborough and getting back onto the Cleveland Way and I had to hang back and follow a couple of other runners into Cayton Bay CP (54 miles) before meeting Dave (sorry didn’t catch the surname) who was running his 1000th Hardmoors Race miles in this race.
I couldn’t have asked for better company running those last 10 miles.
After initially leaving the CP at Cayton Bay I stayed with Dave for a mile or two before I had to slow down again for my stomach (hiccups and feeling sick) but again, it eventually cleared and after being a tiny bit sick (too much coke and pringles – sorry!) I felt the best I’d done all day and I begun powering round the remaining miles on my own in pitch black with just the light of my headtorch on the edge of the cliffs!
It took a couple of miles but I eventually saw Dave’s headtorch in the distance and closed fast until I caught up at which point the low battery warning started flashing and my torch dimmed quickly.
Being a total gent Dave was happy to run with me sharing the light of his borrowed torch and we chatted and ran at a strong pace all the way to Filey picking up a couple of places before meeting up with all my friends and family who were waiting at the sea front at 11pm cheering us on before they jumped in their cars to get to the finish.
That boost I think led to the fastest mile of my day as Dave and I picked up (I think) about 6 places in the final mile to the school where we crossed the line together although he had an hour to knock off his time because he’d started late!
All done! 23:15 and an official finish time of 15 hours 4 minutes
Support and friends
You don’t often get to do a race like this without support of friends and family who not only cheer you on during the day, they help you find the time to train and I can’t say thank you enough to Ally and Aunty Sandra for following me around in the camper van trying to palm off their cheese sandwiches on me in my weakened state.
Also my parents for baby sitting Felix and taking him to the beach and then last but not least my amazing Parkrun friends who despite it being 11pm on a Saturday night were there in Filey whooping it up – Kerry, Wane & Katy and special thanks to Simon who ran the last mile with us in his jeans, hoody and hiking boots (good way to work up a sweat there ;))
I was gutted to hear Amanda had been forced by injury to retire but not before completing more than a marathon on that course – never nice being forced off but there’s a line between carrying on through discomfort and injury which you must be sensible about and live to race another day and I hope to see Amanda in full force on the White Rose Ultra course in November.
I met and chatted to some great folks on the route and I hope everyone had a race to remember.
The organisation, marshals and supporters
On race day, runners take all the plaudits for being the ones out there but the sign of a great race is just that – focus on the runners because everyone organising has done an amazing job.
I’d heard a lot about the legendary Hardmoors family/atmosphere while researching the race and it’s all true. From the very first minute of registration all the way through the long day, everyone involved was friendly and encouraging and as usual I make an effort to thank all the marshals and supporters as I run past but once again – THANK YOU FOR BEING AWESOME – races don’t happen without those who give their time and effort and you must all have given a lot of both for such a long day.
Kit and training
Almost as an addendum I guess is the actual training and race day kit for those interested …
On the day, the weather was perfect. Sunny, warm but not too hot and even in the night time stretch the sky was clear and warm so I ended up using minimal kit but the highlights were as usual my Salomon Speedcross which did me well up to 52 miles at which point I changed in my Nike Free 5.0’s to run on the hard packed mud of the Cleveland Way and sea front of the last couple of miles.
The I actually only stopped to change shirt once as the Ultimate Direction Tony Krupicka race vest was superb.
I’ve long struggled with packs having used a Camelbak and a couple of Salomon bags, this was everything I’ve been after for a long time. The bottle (I run with one and use the other pouch for food) doesn’t budge or wobble and the pack fit is so snug and comfortable I barely removed it or took it off in 15 hours running. I’ll do a follow-up review of this one sometime but in the short term – buy one!
My training has been a little sporadic because I like to try and just get out into the hills around my house when possible but for this I didn’t really get into the distances a lot of ultra runners like to record.
I’ve been running around 35-40 miles a week consistently for months and I’ve been doing hill work but the killer on Hardmoors is the cliff steps, I suspect the only way to really train for those would have been in a gym doing more to target my quads. I didn’t really mind running up and down the hills – they were familiar and comfortable for the most part but THOSE STEPS …
I did ramp up to a couple of longer runs in the high teens and also included a full 32 mile recce run of the White Rose Ultra route I’ll be racing in November but beyond that, much of my training was dictated by how much free time I had so I did a lot of shorter 2 hour runs with 1500-2500ft ascent but ran them harder than I would normally and I think this has worked well in the constraints I’ve got.
Interestingly the stamina part has come along a bit too as I’ve recently managed to run an 18:57 and 18:54 parkrun on my last 2 outings – not a bad improvement from the 29ish minutes I first ran less than 2 years ago!
hahahahaha .. did I mention those million bastard steps?! ;)
My Garmin ran out at 55 miles so the last 10 miles are crudely plotted manually and therefore slightly inaccurate