It doesn’t matter how well your training has gone, how fit and ready you are before race day, ultra races are long enough to potentially ruin any plans you had. The weather, your choice of kit, hydration and nutrition are among some of the factors on the day that can change the outcome of your race. However this uncertainty is what makes these races interesting.

The Hardmoors 55 is one race where no matter how many times you race it every time will be different. Jon Steele, the Race Director, assists this by occasionally changing the direction of the race. This year and last year it was the ‘traditional route’starting at the true starting point of the Cleveland Way, in Helmsley (a small market town not too far from York) and finishing approximately 55 miles away in Guisborough. The weather is another key factor at this time of year. The last time I ran the race (in 2013, in the opposite direction) it had been snowing for a few weeks beforehand and snowed on the day….all day. So much so that the cold caused your water bottles to freeze and the jam sandwiches on offer at one checkpoint were frozen! The previous year it had been unusually hot and sunny and caused a few to drop out due to dehydration and heat stroke. The year before that it was so cold and wet that a few suffered with hypothermia!

This year the weather forecast was looking good. It had been quite mild recently and apart from a couple of short rain showers, the ground had chance to dry out over the days prior to the race.

Kit check.jpg
Kit check at Helmsley

I arrived at the race headquarters, in Helmsley, about 90 minutes before the race start. After a kit check I collected my race number (55, which I had requested as it was the 55 mile race and it was my 55th birthday a couple of days after the race). That gave me enough time to have a chat with friends and double / triple check my kit and the obligatory three or four toilet visits before the start at 9.00am.

At the start in Helmsley

The first section of this race, to the first CP, is mildy undulating and is a good chance for the field to spread out. There were a few farmers gates in the first couple of miles and I thought it looked like we were swarming over them at first. It wasn’t too long thought that the field started to spread out. I caught up with and was passed by a number of runners who I know from the Hardmoors series of events. It was good to have a chat at this stage and catch up before the field spread out further.

On our way, heading towards the first CP

At about 9 miles we were at the first CP near Sutton Bank and the White Horse. My plan was not to stop here but carry on to a public car park where my Girlfriend (Annette) would be waiting with food and drink.

The CP at the White Horse is on a looped section of the course so I had chance to pass some of the front runners. I didn’t see the male leaders, but the three leading ladies Kim Cavill, Carol Morgan and Shelli Gordon passed me. They were all looking strong and notably happy, passing pleasantries on the way.

Heading up and out from the CP at the White Horse

The next section of the race is a lovely scenic stretch looking out over to the Yorkshire Dales on the way to the village of Osmotherley. After a while you reach hard packed track on the Hambleton Moors, which can be bleak in the winter, but quite pleasant today. The last mile or so is downhill to an area called square corner, where your support crews could wait. On the descent I noticed a large black cloud heading over the moors behind me. I found out afterwards that it started raining on the moors and a lot of the runners behind me were soaked!

Still looking okay at the first CP!

Prior to the race I had predicted my times at each checkpoint and at Osmotherley I was right on my predicted time. The CP in Osmotherley was the first main CP, featuring hot food and the pick up for your drop bags if you had any. However I didn’t hang about and headed back out after five minutes to continue on my way. The next 8 miles were a lot tougher than I remembered and knew straight away that by the next meeting point with my crew, I would be about 20 minutes or so later than planned.

The race organisers idea of fun – motivational signs at the CP’s!

It isn’t far after Osmotherley that you can see Roseberry Topping , which is about 6 miles from the finish. For the next 20 miles or so, it never seemed to get any nearer!

This section also saw the start of the tougher section of the race. After the CP at Scugdale you were onto the climb up towards Clay Bank . I power hiked my way to the top and then picked up running again across the moorland before the technical descent to Lordstones Café.

This was where Annette (my crew!) met me. I also bumped into Howard, a fellow member of Tadcaster Harriers, who had entered the race but was taken ill and now confined to a wheelchair a few weeks before the race. I took a bit of time to have a chat with Howard before heading over to my car to grab some hot food and a change of clothing. I also decided to change from my Inov8 X-Claws to Scott Kinabalu to give a bit more comfort bearing in mind the ground was hard and rocky from here.

Up to now I had been keeping hydrated and taken on an adequate amount of food (cheese sandwiches, scones, sausage rolls etc.). At this point I decided to have some hot food and ate some pasta Bolognese, hot soup and a cup of tea. As welcome as this was, I realized I had been there for over 30 minutes and was told to move on (by Annette) as I was starting to shiver.

Heading down towards the CP at Clay Bank

I knew the next three miles would take me about an hour as it took me over a section known as the ‘Three Sisters’ or the climbs of Kirkby Bank, Wainstones and Clay Bank. Anyone who has walked or ran the Cleveland Way will know this section well. You can circumnavigate the hills but this is not allowed in the race and marshals are in place to stop you doing that. The uphill sections here were easier and faster for me than the downhill’s. I have attended fell running training where you are taught to run up and downhill fast. However I am too old and sensible to let myself go too quickly downhill in a race….especially where the terrain is quite technical. The three descents here are all technical. There is always a faster way down, but that would involve a death defying descent. I didn’t want to risk a fall to save a few minutes.

Annette was waiting at Clay Bank with more food and drink as well as the obligatory flat Coke. I had two cups of Coke (which I would regret later on in the race).

At this point I had planned to run with my poles as an additional aid. The next stretch I knew to be a long slog to a well known point on the Cleveland Way, Bloworth Crossing. It is a remote point on the bleak moors and it was here that four years ago my water bottles froze due to the adverse conditions. However the track is firm underfoot and a good runnable section if you have the energy. It was on this stretch to the next checkpoint at Kildale that I started to tire and felt my energy levels slump. I had a little bit of gastrointestinal distress and found it difficult to take on food and water. Maybe I was feeling the energy slump after the two cups of coke.
Once again you could see Roseberry Topping from a distance. I commented to another runner that the lead runners will be past that point by now. Little did I know that the lead runner had already finished and was probably sat down drinking tea and eating cake!

Heading up to Bloworth Crossing – time to use my poles!

The sun was starting to set and I wondered if I would make it to the CP before I needed my headtorch. It had also started to rain so I thought it would be best to wear my rainproof jacket so I wouldn’t arrive cold and wet at the CP. The next point to get dry clothing is a further three miles or so from the CP.

The last couple of miles to the CP were downhill. My legs were suffering now so I didn’t want to run too fast down the hard tarmac stretch of road. It was dark, but I managed to tag onto a couple of other runners and took advantage of the light from their head torches. Before long I was at the CP. Kildale village hall was the second CP with hot food and a drop bag collection point. I took a few minutes here to put on my headtorch and get ready for the last stretch to the finish. The marshals were also checking runners kit to make sure they still had all essential items. My dry / spare running top was asked for so I fished it out of my backpack. All the runners were being asked to show items from the mandatory kit so it wasn’t an inconvenience, although no doubt some runners were taken aback by the request.

Once again I didn’t hang around long and headed back out to climb the hill to Captain Cooks monument and down to Gribdale Terrace where there was the last crew meeting point. On the descent down to Gribdale I heard music and was surprised to see a ‘disco-themed’ checkpoint. I was even more surprised to see this being run by two Tadcaster Harrier clubmates Izabella and Jason. It was a bit of a sensory explosion at this point of the race….from the dark to flashing disco lights, music and cowbells! Annette was there to rescue me and take me to the car to replenish my food and water. I had some more soup and a cup of tea before heading off again. Just before setting off I took a couple of salt tablets to avoid cramping over the last few climbs. However I noticed that my stomach started to spasm. I know from past experience that this isn’t good and could cause me to be sick.

Still smiling – or hallucinating at the CP Disco!

I set off regardless, another climb heading up towards Roseberry Topping (at last!). The scene here was quite bizarre. Roseberry is not directly on the Cleveland Way, so you have to head out and back along a track to get to the foot of the hill. All you could see was the lights from headtorches heading up and back to the top of the hill.

As I started the climb I realised I had nothing left in my legs. I paused for a short while and looked up at the challenge ahead. I had no alternative but to grit my teeth and go for it. Roseberry is quite a technical climb and descent, even in the daylight. At nightime, whilst trying to avoid other runners coming down, it is even worse. As you look up it seems to get steeper towards the top, or was that an illusion! Finally I was there and had a quick look at the views from the top. The marshals here also had a party atmosphere going, as best they could considering the conditions, with a disco frog and sweets to celebrate the last main climb of the race.

Great time lapse photo by Matthew Swan (along with the other Roseberry Topping Picture!) of Roseberry Topping!

I headed back down to the bottom and started the climb back up to the Cleveland Way. I was not eating or drinking now and this was starting to take toll on my energy levels. I had put some flat coke in my bottle at the last crew meeting point. I tried to take a sip but it just made my stomach cramp and I had a battle on to keep from being sick. I battled on as I knew it was only a few miles to the finish.

The track from here was muddier than I expected. The Scott Kinabalu shoes I was wearing were not performing well in these conditions. I was glad to have my poles to prevent me falling over. The route now took us towards Highcliffe Nab (the highest point in Guisborough Woods) and then gradually downwards towards the far end of the woods before heading back towards the finish at Guisborough Sea Scouts hall. The last mile was along an old railway track. To avoid anyone taking a shortcut the race organisers had put a self clip at the start of the railtrack. I was now marching rather than running. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I was at the finish. With about half a mile to go my girlfriend Annette was waiting for me. She had been watching my progress on the Trackimo tracker and knew I wasn’t far off the finish. It was good to have the company on the last leg.

My original plan to finish in 14 hours was slowly slipping away. However I crossed the line with 17 seconds to spare!

I was pleased to have finished but felt a little bit deflated. However in hindsight that was due to a lack of energy. I had finished the race in my anticipated time, no injuries or blisters so I should be pleased.

Looking at positives and negatives from the race:

  • My kit choice was ideal. Having support crew helped here as it allowed me to change shoes and into dry clothing. If I was to change anything, I would have worn my Scott Kinabalu early on in the race, then changed to Inov8 X-Claw for the last 10 miles. However I wasn’t to have known the last few miles would be muddy!
  • I used anti-chafing cream on my feet and changed socks after 30 miles. This avoided any blisters
  • I ate and drank well (and to plan) for the first 40 miles of the race. After that my stomach became a little bit distressed and I struggled to eat and drink.
  • Running poles are a god aid when you are tired. The only downside is it ties up your hands which would normally be used for feeding, map reading etc. That is something I will need to work on before the Lakeland 50 in July.
  • My training went well. I wasn’t injured at the start line. All this meant that I was comfortable throughout the race and at no time did I regret entering the race!
  • I had planned the timings and locations for my support crew. Annette was there on time at every point prepared with what I wanted at that point!
  • Later on in the race when I didn’t want to eat, I had planned to use Clif Shotbloks. However I forgot to do this on the day!

In retrospect, not many negatives from the race. I enter the next phase of my training looking forward to the Lakeland 50 and feeling confident.

Other results:
1st place Donald Campbell 7:31:19 (course record)
1st Lady: Kim Cavill 9:00:38
Last runner 16:19:00

329 finishers. 41 DNF

Questions for you guys:

What are your thoughts on using poles in an Ultra? Do you think it is cheating?
What do you do to combat feeling sick later in a race?

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