Written by James Campbell - https://jamescampbell78.wordpress.com
Since Hardmoors 30, I’ve changed my approach to training fairly radically in order to first recover from injury and then rehabilitate and strengthen myself while still preparing sufficiently for the 55 and the 110 milers that follow in quick succession.
In doing so, I’ve incorporated a lot of technique work on the treadmill, which built up into speedwork culminating in me recording my best 10k time in over 6 years just a couple of weeks before the race.
I also got myself out for two key recce runs, one from Helmsley to White Horse and back with Dave Cook which we ran at the effort I wanted to maintain during the race and carrying all of the kit I intended to carry in the race. The temperatures that day were sub zero and snowing.
The following week I did a similar out and back in icy conditions for the last section of the route, Guisborough to Kildale and back, starting at 9:30pm and finishing around 3am in order to do the final section on tired body and mind.
I then had a very long taper and planned my race around splits that I thought would be achievable on the day (but also understanding that something would blow that plan out of the water somewhere) and was aiming to finish in 14 hours.
I planned to camp at Guisborough Sea Cadets before the race and the night after, so in aid of making sure everything went right on that front, I camped out in the snow during my taper period, however as race week approached, the weather forecast made the prospect of camping look increasingly scary. My mind was taken off the race for much of the final week due to the eventual decision to part with my car, which had served me well since 2011 both as a family car and a race camper, but was pretty much falling apart at a rate of knots and buy a new car. Sadly, as much as I love the new car, a Corsa is not as easy to camp in as a Zafira, but at least the process of sorting the car kept my mind away from the usual mental stresses of tapering.
I travelled to Guisborough on Friday afternoon, arriving about 5pm to breezy weather 3 degrees with snow already in the air. Being the first vehicle on site, I headed into town for some food and returned to find another car had arrived containing Duncan Bruce. Shortly after, a gentleman from Guisborough Sea Cadets arrived and upon hearing our plans to camp in the field told us not to even consider it and sleep in the hall, an act of kindness that made sure that I not only got onto the start line without a difficult night of camping, but in hindsight, probably saved me from hypothermia on Saturday night.
After unpacking kit and getting myself set up near a radiator in the hall, I made a couple of adjustments to my kit choices in view of the howling gale that was driving snow against the window above my head and replaced my usual compression shorts with fleece lined thermal compression shorts (which I’d intended to use for camping) and added my waterproof socks to the pile of clothes to go on in the morning.
After a couple of mugs of hot chocolate, which I drank as the hall filled up with a couple more campers, I then tried to get my head down to sleep. I think I woke up pretty much every hour on the hour and at 4:20am, gave up the ghost and made myself a coffee to go with my porridge. I had only eaten half of my porridge and a banana when my stomach started churning and feeling awful. I made a dash to the gents and only just got there on time. This was not a good start to the day, but following my dash, I was able to hold food in, although I continued to feel queasy as I got dressed for the day ahead and stashed my kit in the Sea Cadets office we were kindly allowed to use to keep our kit in so we didn’t have to pack and then unpack after the race.
After getting dressed, I walked down to the bus pick up point and wandered around in search of Mark Dalton as I’d agreed to help with the bus marshalling. I couldn’t immediately see or hear Mark but spent some time chatting with a few familiar faces until he arrived. It wasn’t long before the coaches arrived and everyone was swiftly boarded. I spent the first few minutes of the journey checking names off against the register, which took my mind off my increasingly rebellious stomach for a short while then barricaded myself into a seat and sipped on Lucozade Sport all the way to Helmsley.
Upon arrival at Helmsley, I managed to pass through kit check and having my GPS tag fitted inside of 8 minutes, which was unbelievably slick, but also left me with almost two hours to kill so I found a side room with a few others, too off my warm jacket, hats and gloves and tried to chill out.
Helmsley to White Horse
Eventually it was time to go outside for the race brief and without too much ceremony the race was started under bright sunshine, but cold crisp air and a bit of a breeze, which as we turned west towards the Cleveland Way, became a nice tailwind. The first section leaving Helmsley is across two usually muddy fields, but today the ground was frozen solid and it was possible to keep a decent pace up to the gate that leads to the trail proper, as expected there was a bottleneck here before we could pass through and get running again. In a short space of time, I found myself running alongside a series of familiar faces, Paul Burgum, Dennis Potton, Tom Stewart and Angela Moore through Ingdale Howl and out onto the road through Rievaulx where a number of people were shedding the warm layers they’d put on before the start of the race due to the bright sun and becoming warm through exertion.
Having run this section in similar weather, I knew this warmth was only temporary (and partially false due to the wind being behind us) so took off my top buff and wrapped it around my poles with the two I intended to use later when it got really cold and unzipped my jacket a little. We soon hit the bottom of the first climb of the day, which starts as a rocky, muddy incline that leads onto a steadily climbing farm track towards Cold Kirby. As soon as we were out of the treeline, the wind made things feel a lot colder and snow began to fall, a lot of people then had to stop to put layers back on, while I simply zipped back up and added buffs as required. I passed John and Katrina Kynaston and said hi then cracked on further up the road until I reached what I affectionately call Dead Body Farm for no other reason that on a night recce of this section in 2015 Aaron Gourlay, Dave Cook, Dee Bouderba and I had climbed out from Cold Kirby to find two men manhandling a cylindrical shaped black bag out of a van here.
Once past the farm we dropped down into a gully that was ankle deep in water and for the first time I became glad of my choice to use the waterproof socks, on the way up into Cold Kirby the trail was slippy enough for a few people to take falls but I managed to get up and at the top decided to have a Chia Charge bar as the Wine Gums and salted nuts I’d been eating so far weren’t easing my iffy stomach.
Once through Cold Kirby the trail cut left and for the first time runner experienced the strengthening wind as a crosswind biting into the left side of our faces and driving icy snow at us. Thankfully the path soon turned right and we had a tailwind again.
Before long, we were approaching the horse racing stables at Hambleton where Wayne Armstrong was marshalling to divert us through Hambleton Plantation, a section of the route designed to keep runners safely away from the Cleveland Way path on the verge of the A170 near Sutton bank. Although less well travelled and a little overgrown, covered in snow, with heavy snow falling it reminded me of movies and documentaries set in places like the Ardennes Forest in winter. As I climbed out of the plantation, a team of marshalls saw us safely across the road and I took the opportunity of tree cover to answer a call of nature before picking up the pace for the steady downhill path that runs along the side of the glider station towards the White Horse at the same time, doubling up the buffs on the left hnd side of my face to protect my bare skin from the wind driven snow. The route diverted right on this path down a rocky, scrabbly and usually muddy steep path down the side of the escarpment and round to the back of the White Horse car park. On my recce run, this descent was frozen and it was possible to descend quickly, so I had it in my mind to push hard on this bit, however I was no more than two steps onto the descent when a pair of runners in front started slipping on ice and I decided caution was the order of the day.
As I reached the bottom of the slope, I was overtaken by Chris Lyons, who I ran and chatted with for the final stretch into White Horse, as we approached the car park, I thought I could hear drumming and assumed somebody had the car stereo turned up to 11. Upon cresting the final rise, we were met by a man in Druidic costume beating a drum for all he was worth and it brought a smile to my face as I hit the checkpoint bang on my target time of 1h:55m.
White Horse to High Paradise
At the checkpoint, I got my water bottle topped up as planned and headed up the steep steps that run by the side of the Kilburn White Horse with encouragement from Race Director Jon Steele ringing in my ears. I was now in a group that contained 1,000 mile club member Harriet Shields who kindly helped me get my headtorch out of my pack during my torrid day at Hardmoors 30. As we hit the top of the steps, I pulled a Snickers bar out of my pack to find that it had frozen solid and let it slowly defrost in my mouth while I fast walked/jogged back uphill towards the road and re-arranged my buffs to cover the right side of my face to provide protection against the prevailing wind.
Once across the road, I stayed close to the group containing Harriet through the first km of undulating and snow covered paths, content with my pace but not wanting to push much harder due to the continued unsettled state of my stomach. The group thinned out as the path turned into single track and gradually rose to the ridge line, once on the ridgeline, we were shotblasted with snow blown across the fields on the stiff breeze from the east. The view on this section is spectacular, on a clear day you can see right across to the Pennines, however my view of the world was now reduced to a small gap between my cap and my buffs. There were a couple of sections of the path which usually dipped and rose, but it was clear that walkers and runners had avoided these for a couple of weeks due to the pockets of snow that had drifted and remained in them since the ‘Beast from the East’ storm a couple of weeks ago.
I was now trundling along back and forth overtaking a couple running together but unable to really chat with them due to the strength of the wind carrying words away and not really wanting to lift my face to expose flesh to the bitter cold. I estimated that the windchill was already a couple of degrees below zero, but my clothing was keeping me comfortable and only exposed skin felt cold.
I passed through the Sneck Yate checkpoint on the three hour mark without stopping and was enjoying the cover provided by the trees in Paradise Wood, up to the point where I hit the Paradise Road, where the wind was catching the lying snow on the ground and in the trees and blowing it into me at great strength. I fast walked up the hill to High Paradise Farm and hit the Hambleton Road junction at 3h:17m, a good 3 and a bit minutes ahead of my target.
High Paradise to Osmotherley
I rewarded myself for being ahead of time with a short walk break and had just started running again when I spotted a familiar dog headed towards me and realised that Jayson Cavill was out running on the course with his dog Indie. I shouted a quick hello that I hoped wasn’t lost in the wind and cracked on, popping a couple of Wine Gums into my mouth in the hope that pushing food down my neck regularly would deal with the stomach issues. As I got toward the end of Boltby Woods, I fell in with Andy Nesbit and Emma Giles who were running together and aiming for 14 hours too. I saw it as a good omen to be running with Andy on Hardmoors 55 on this particular section of the Cleveland Way, as it was on Black Hambleton we joined up and ran all the way to the finish together in the 2015 edition of the race. We went through phases of fast walks and running as the terrain and weather allowed, passing through a series of squally snow showers and enduring some turns into the strengthening wind. We hit the section where the terrain began to rise towards Black Hambleton around the 4 hour mark and I squeezed a protein gel down my neck which seemed to be more palatable to my stomach than the Wine Gums and Snickers. At this point I decided to stick to Chia Charge and protein gels on the hour for food rather than the more sugary treats I was trying to eat every 15/20 minutes. We had now hit a section with a wind in our backs and although uphill, we were running to make use of the tailwind.
As we reached the top of Black Hambleton, a really heavy squally came down and reduced visibility to almost zero and I was glad to be started to lose altitude as there seemed to be a definite worsening of conditions above a certain height. As the snow abated slightly, I pushed hard down the hill, picking up a nice fast pace of 5m:30s/km to 6m:00s/km and reached Square Corner at 4h:25m with my head down and missed Ann Brown taking this amazing shot of me.
Photo courtesy Ann Brown
As we descended down the hill towards Oakdale reservoirs, the snow on the ground bcame patchy and less frequent and it was possible to move quickly along the flagstones. Once over the Burnthouse Bank road I found myself running with Harriet Shields again on the greasy, slippery and muddy descent towards Cod Beck, however Harriet pulled away from me with ease on the steep steps after the beck on the way into Osmotherley, where runners were being greeted enthusiastically by marshalls and spectators. Once inside the checkpoint, I picked up my drop bag, binned the Wine Gums and nuts from my pocket and debated leaving the new bag of Wine Gums on the table for someone else, but decided to take them just in case. I downed my can of Red Bull and re-stocked my pack with Chia Charge bars from my drop bag but left my bottle of Luczade Sport on the table, opting instead to top my bottle up with checkpoint cola to see if that had a more positive effect on my stomach. I spotted Dave Cook who was marshalling and said hi before heading back out up the road bang on the 5 hour mark, about 10 minutes behind plan, but not too worried by this.
Osmotherley to Scugdale
I had originally planned to get my poles out in the Osmotherley checkpoint, but decided on the hoof that my legs felt pretty decent and that I could run at a decent pace on the downhill section between the TV transmitter and Scarth Nick if I didn’t have the poles in my hands being blown around by the wind. To that end, I kept them stowed in my pack and fast walked up the muddy climb towards the TV transmitting station. Once up on the top and in the shelter of the drystone wall that runs by the path, I got a steady jog on until I hit the top of the descent then I started running at a steady pace down the side of Scarth Wood Moor, as I did so, I bumped into Marc Short and we ran together across Scarth Nick chatting as we went. The wind had seemed to calm and the sun was shining as we ran together through the woods heading towards Scugdale, dropping through the field before the Scugdale Road, we pulled apart again and after the beck I got my poles out ready for the climbing that lay before us in the next section. As we arrived at the Scugdale checkpoint (6h:10m) I realised I’d run my fastest Hardmoors marathon (I passed 42.2km at 5h:54m) but even better I spotted that the checkpoint had both cola and dandelion and burdock where I’d been expecting only water. While the marshalls topped up my water and cola bottles, I managed to gulp down a cup of D&B and noted that my stomach was feeling OK now. Once the bottles were topped up, Marc and I moved off to start the really big climbs of the day.
Scugdale to Lordstones
As we climbed up through Live Moor Plantation Marc, and I chatted about various things and caught up on bits and pieces from each other’s lives, since the last time we met a couple of years ago but once on the top, conversation became impossible in the face of a block headwind that must have been blowing 30-40mph. Again, the peak of the cap came down and the buffs went up as we pushed hard against the wind for little return. Marc pulled away while I plugged on behind just trying to maintain a steady pace, using the poles to keep myself steady in the buffeting wind but my work rate had increased a lot for very little return and as we climbed higher, the wind seemed to get stronger, with some odd swirling effects as the wind deflected of various escarpments and cliff faces. Once back above 350m, the snow returned and driven into the small gap between my cap and buff, it was stinging. As I passed the weather station by the old glider runway, I noted the wind gauge was turning at a ridiculous speed and I wondered how the weather station stayed anchored into the ground in the weather that hits up here.
Soon I had passed he trig point and was descending towards Raisdale road with another runner. I remember saying to him ‘At least the flagstones are dry and free from ice’, which of course was a total curse as about 30 seconds later we rounded a bend and hit a patch of ice that sent me flying down a couple of steps. I turned to pick myself up and retrieve my poles, (which I had instinctively thrown away from my body as I fell) then had another comical slip on the same patch. Having got up and dusted myself off, we were able to warn a couple of following runners of the ice before moving on more cautiously. I eventually crossed the Raisdale Road on 7h:10m tracking around 20 minutes behind my goal time, but knowing that I was certain to lose a lot more time in the next few hours.
Lordstones to Clay Bank
The next section of the route contains the most climbing per km than any other part of the route and even on the best of days, is hard, slow going. Today, in snow, high wind and with icy surfaces, it was going to be a big tester. Running through Lordstones Country Park I rejoined Marc and we made our way up the side of Cringle Moor together, Marc being faster and lighter pulled away from me again, but once on the top we found ourselves running together into the savage wind and snow. At some point we were caught by John and Katrina Kynaston and a loose group formed just before the descent which, on the flagstones, was ridiculously icy and almost impossible to descend without slipping. We took the decision to use the grass and heather at the side of the path, which had a covering of snow and offered more traction and a softer landing in a fall and made our way down into the lee of Cold Moor and out of the worst of the wind. We jogged between the hills, making use of the reduced wind until we reached the base of the next climb, which for me is the hardest of the climbs on this stretch.
I looked up and noticed the clouds scudding over the ridgeline ahead at great speed and realised that the weather was now far worse than the forecasts I’d seen in the days before the race. Again, Marc gapped me as we climbed the hill, but the group came back together at the top and on the descent, which was far more icy and treacherous than the Cringle Moors descent (all snow that was hitting the flagstones was now freezing on contact and I noticed it was doing the same to my leggings and jacket). At this point, we had merged with the group that contained Harriet Shields and we all descending very slowly and carefully. About halfway down, I decided to take a sip of my water and was frustrated to find that the water had frozen in the nozzle of my bottle and I couldn’t get any water out. I tried the coke and thankfully, that was still flowing, albeit with ice crystals in.
As we reached the bottom of the hill, we were again in a weird calm spot sheltered by The Wainstones/White Hill and due to the slow pace, the group had gained a few more runners. I looked up towards the ancient rocks as I was climbing, hoping to get a sight of the Eagle Owl that has been seen nesting here, but even the owl had enough sense to hunker down and ride this storm out.
Going through the rocks on the Wainstones, I encouraged everyone to maintain three points of contact with the rocks to reduce the risk of slipping, which made things slower, but at least I was hopefully going to avoid a repeat of the arsebruise I picked up here while spectating last year’s 55. At the top of the Wainstones, a runner whose name I didn’t catch helped me up out of the rocks and did the same for a few others in the group. We got moving again and along the plateau at the top of White Hill, I noted a real change in the feel of the temperature. I checked my watch and saw that it read 3 degrees. Given that it was on my wrist and usually read a few degrees above the real temperature due to my body heat, I judged the air temperature to be several degrees below zero and the wind chill much more than that. All this considered, I still was not cold anywhere apart from my nose. I pulled my buff up over my nose and noticed the front of the buff had frozen solid so I spun it back to front and the unfrozen part that had been on my neck was now at the front. As we descended off the side of White Hill, several runners, including myself resorted to sitting down and bumping down steps to avoid slipping on the ice. About halfway down, it was possible to run with caution and Marc and I did so, eventually reaching the checkpoint at 8h:46m. My original checkpoint plan was to spend a couple of minutes getting my bottles filled up and my headtorch out ready for the next section.
I handed the marshalls my bottles and noticed they struggled to open the water bottle as the top couple of inches of water was entirely frozen in the bottle. The coke was in better state, but still had chunks of ice in. While the marshalls sorted my bottles, I asked Marc to help get my headtorch and a spare pair of gloves out for me, as I expected it to get colder after dark. I stripped off my outer gloves and put the new gloves in between my skin layer and put the outer layer back on over them. Marc was also putting extra gloves on, but was really struggling with them. While we were at the checkpoint, a heavy snowfall blew over and dumped about an inch of snow on the road in the 10 mins or so we were there. I stuffed another Chia Charge bar down my neck and checked all my buffs to make sure the absolute minimum skin was exposed and we eventually moved off.
Clay Bank to Bloworth Crossing
We were only about 400m out of the checkpoint when my fingertips started going numb and I realised that using my poles was leaving my hands exposed to the bitter winds. I needed Marc to help me stow them, such was the speed at which my fingers became useless.
Once my poles were stowed, I grabbed a handwarmer from my back pocket and activated it and also used the plastic bags I’d carried my spare gloves and headtorch in and used them to cover my hands to create a bivvy bag effect and alternated that hand warmer between hands as we marched further up the hill toward the highest point of the moors (Round Hill 454m), it slowly got dark and much, much colder. The wind was now howling and even running did not feel much more than walking. Conversation between Marc and I was reduced to:
‘Fancy trying to run?’
‘Yeah, let’s go’
‘I’m knackered, let’s walk’
‘How far do you reckon Bloworth is?’
‘I dunno, I can normally see it, but this snow man…’
‘Fancy trying to run?’
This continued for a few kms and when we turned our headtorches on, visibility didn’t improve much and all we really got was the same view as the cockpit of the Millenium Falcon as it enters hyperspace. Despite all this, I wasn’t feeling bad or weak. I’d done very little running since Scugdale and the legs felt willing, I was just hoping that at Bloworth, turning side on to the wind would allow some running. The plastic bags and handwarmer had done their jobs and my fingers had feeling again and were warm through. We hit the slight downhill into the dip that crosses a beck about 400m from Bloworth and the combination of the downhill and the positive landmark in relation to Bloworth got me running, for all of 10m before I hit some ice and ended up on my backside just short of the beck. I was busy scrabbling around making sure I didn’t lose my handwarmer and Marc came up behind to see if I was OK and went flying himself. Satisfied we were both OK, we got up giggling and cracked on to Bloworth, turning the corner at 9h:57m.
Bloworth Crossing to Kildale
Once round the corner at Bloworth, the wind was at our back and side and we got through more prolonged stretches of running, although I did at one stage try to point something out to Marc and realised that I could not straighten my arm because the right sleeve of my jacket had frozen solid. Taking water was pointless as the bottle had frozen and I was only getting coke out by holding the nozzle between my lips to de-ice it before sucking the slushy coke through. I was feeling strong and each walk break was done at a decent pace, each time we ran, we overtook groups of runners. At some point we passed Andy and Emma, I only really noticed due to Andy’s distinctive reflective jacket and Marc and I turned our attention to cut off times. We knew cut off was 12 hours and that we’d been moving a lot slower than usual. I estimated that we were about 7km from Kildale and I made the time at 10h:15m so we would likely land comfortably ahead of cutoff. Marc told me he’d just talked himself out of quitting at Kildale and wanted to have a decent stop there to have a pork pie and phone his wife. I told him that ideally I wanted to move through the checkpoint quickly, but I’d wait for him and take the chance to have a hot drink.
We pushed on with the increasingly shorter walk breaks and increasingly longer, faster and more downhill running stints and it seemed like no time at all before we hit the unusually welcome tarmac at the top of Battersby Bank. At this point, another heavy squall blew in and at some point I’d fast walked away from the group we were in and before I’d realised it, I’d done at least two stints of running and walking on my own. I looked over my shoulder and there were headtorches about 300m behind me so I made the assumption that Marc would catch me if I took it easy. At the start of the descent into Kildale, I started to run again but halfway down, my bladder (which I had been holding since Clay Bank, not wanting to expose myself to the wind) forced me to attend to attend to the matter or have an accident. I stopped by the roadside and created some worryingly yellow snow and as I sorted myself out, Andy and Emma passed, but no sign of Marc. Still thinking he was just behind me, I pushed on.
On the final stretch down toward Kildale, I noticed two sets of blue flashing lights heading slowly up the road towards Kildale from the direction of Easby. A fire engine passed by as I hit the main road and I commented to the runner beside me that I was glad it wasn’t an ambulance as I was worried that an ambulance would be for a runner. As I arrived at the checkpoint, I noticed the fire engine stopping further on in the village, but an ambulance car was outside the checkpoint. This was not unexpected since we knew the race did have ambulance cover. What I did not expect were the scenes in the checkpoint. I checked in with Andy Norman who was marshalling and immediately bumped into Paul Burgum, whose first question was ‘Are you going back out?’ My answer was ‘Of course I am. I’m feeling great, why wouldn’t I?’ and Paul told me to look around the room and at the huge pile of GPS trackers on the table handed in by retirees. The room was full of people in foil blankets taking on warm drinks, some shivering, many having discarded kit and clearly not intending to continue. I got a bit of a negative vibe from this and decided I wanted to be out of the checkpoint quickly. I quickly got my dropbag, ditched the untouched Wine Gums, downs my Red Bull, loaded back up on Chia Charge and put my dropbag fig rolls into my pocket before battling off the frozen top of my coke bottle and topping it up. I moved to get a coffee, but there was none in the coffee flask on the table so I left it be. I looked up and saw a frozen looking Angela Moore being looked after in a side room and was a little shocked, Angela is a tough cookie with a lot of seriously hard race completions under her belt.
There was a group of runners preparing to leave, including Tom Stewart who invited me to run with them, I agreed, and said I’d wait by the door for them, I wanted to keep moving so as not to cool down. On the way to the door, I saw Marc arrive and I told him I needed to move on fast to avoid cooling off, we wished each other well and I moved to the door. The other group seemed to take forever to get organised so I shouted to Tom that I was going to move on and that they’d probably catch me on the climb and at that I headed out of the door. As I did so, I saw a Mountain Rescue Team member heading into the Village Hall, which should have triggered alarm bells (and perhaps did subconsciously).
Kildale to Finish
I jogged out of the checkpoint and down the road, noting that the clock time was now 8:32pm, I saw the fire engine further down in the village, I thought it was dealing with an RTA, but I was more focused on the firefighters, I had a vague feeling that they would try and stop me running off into the night. I ran hard down the road towards the railway bridge and got out of sight of the village. I decided to have a fig roll, sip of coke and some paracetamol. I also took a salt tablet, which I’d been taking about every 90 minutes during the day to keep my electrolytes in check. I made up my mind to run to the bottom of the hill, then keep setting myself targets all the way to the race finish.
As I approached the start of the climb, I noticed a sole runner ahead, I caught him quickly and on the snow covered road, I thought he was taking a wrong turn (he wasn’t) an led him on a detour through the driveway of a farm house by the road. Once back on the road, I noticed another group about 400m ahead and decided to bridge across to them with a fast walk/jog up the hill. I decided this would be my mental game to get me through to the finish. I’d found during the Lyke Wake Challenge in 2016, that playing mental game gave me a bit of extra motivation to keep moving quickly in the later stages of a race. The premise being that unless I had a mechanical injury, I was fairly capable of moving at a decent pace and that the only blockers are those from the brain telling me that I’m tired or my legs hurt. This game was simple, bridge to the group in front, overtake them, bridge to the next group and continue this until the finish. As I turned left into Pale End Plantation, the group in front was only 100m ahead. I jogged on and caught Paul Burgum among the back markers with another runner (Andy Cole?). I had a really positive conversation with Paul and I wished him well before running off chasing half of the group who’d broken away. I pushed hard following them up towards Captain Cook’s Monument, just before the final steep bit I was only 50m or so behind, so I walked and stuck my hand into my pocket and realised that my fig rolls had gone. Even that didn’t bother me, I just hoped somebody behind me would find them and make use of them.
I pushed on harder and as I hit the top of Easby Moor I used the howling tailwind I picked up once out of the treeline to get closer and noticed that all took the short angle cutting inside of the Monument. I never do this, not because it’s wrong or anything, it’s just I have some sort of superstition about always going around the Monument, the same as I have about NEVER skipping the out and back to Roseberry Topping (after an infamous run of bad luck on a night when Brenda Wilkin, Dave Cook, Dee Bouderba and I did exactly that). Rounding the Monument, there was a ferocious roar of wind through the railings on the Monument and the wind was clearly still as strong as it was earlier.
Now round the Monument, I bounded down the descent towards Gribdale Gate. The group in front had split into a pair and two single runners. I overhauled the single runners quickly and went after the pair. Close to the bottom, the pair were stopped by a man walking up the hill. As I got closer, he asked if I’d heard. ‘Heard what?’ I asked and he told me that Roseberry Topping was closed and to just turn right at the gate and head to the finish.
I wasn’t sure if this was a wind up and wasn’t sure what to make of it. I pushed harder and overtook the pair just before Gribdale Gate and pushed hard up the steps onto the path towards Roseberry, opening up a gap quickly. I noticed a pair of headtorches about a km ahead and decided that they were the next target to bridge to and that I’d see what they did at Roseberry and follow suit. I pushed hard along the path and took about 20-25 minutes to get to Roseberry Gate. The pair of headtorches were nowhere to be seen, but if they’d done Roseberry, by rights, they should be coming back down or be on the way back to the gate. They weren’t so I pushed on over towards Hutton Moor Gate. There were no targets in front, so I decided to give myself a new target of creating an unassailable gap on the headtorches behind me.
As I arrived at Hutton Moor Gate, I noticed a pair of headtorches way off course over towards the Hanging Stone, I flashed my torch at them a few times in the hope of bringing them back on course, then forged on towards the Black Nab path. Halfway along the path, I met a male runner heading back along the course, presumably to meet someone and as he passed, I looked over my shoulder to see the pair of wayward headtorches back on course and about 500m behind me. I clattered along the slushy path towards Highcliff, walking only where the surface or grade forced me to, again having to shield my eyes from the snow before eventually turning off the path and into the treeline before Highcliff Nab. I climbed the steps up the Nab following the tape laid the night before by Lorna Simpkin and the reflective stickers Jon Steele had used to provide direction and made the top at 13h:02m.
I looked down and saw two headtorches emerging from the treeline below Highcliff and took off like a scalded cat into Guisborough Woods, but found it hard to see due to the Millenium Falcon effect of headtorch and snow. After about a minute, I realised that the ambient light from Guisborough and the lying snow meant, that I could get better visibility by turning my headtorch off (a couple of years ago the woods were so dense that this wouldn’t have worked), so I decided to do this and gained an immediate increase in pace. I was pushing hard through the woods, finding it hard to gauge what progress I was making against the lights behind me due to the twisting nature of the trails. Occasionally, I could see a group of 4 or 5 torches, other times just a pair, so I forced the pace as hard as possible. About halfway through the woods, the trail forks left and right. Both routes come out at the same place, but one, the official Cleveland Way, takes a pointless down and up. I was hoping and praying that the tape would stay on the fire road, but Lorna had been taking instructions to the letter and the more cruel route was taped. I endured this section then pushed hard through the darkness on the steep downhill that followed. The trick to running without a headtorch in the dark, is to not look directly at what you want to look at. The parts of the eye that interpret colours are toward the centre of the eye, the parts that interpret black and white towards the edge. These are the bits that are used in the dark and therefore, if you look slightly above, below or to the side of your target, you see it clearer. Your peripheral vision is your friend and the longer you run in the dark, the more your night vision adapts.
Because of this, I now avoided looking behind me or towards the town or roads to try and preserve my growing night vision and was only focused on the trail ahead and not missing the sharp right turn up into the bush and onto the next fire road up. I found it easily and crossed over to the next trail before cruising all the way downhill to the concrete farm road which leads toward the final stretch.
On the concrete road, I was back out of the wind, so I put my headtorch back on and chanced a look back along the trail. I could see several groups in the woods, but not the pair I thought were behind me. I bashed my way down the hill to the disused railway line.
I now knew I was only 2km from the finish so I walked for 60 seconds, then run for 60 seconds. I did this twice then upped the intervals to 120 seconds. At some point I saw the lights of the farm on Belmangate and just kept running, over the railway bridge, down the steps, down Belmangate and into the Sea Cadets Hall stopping the clock at 14h:03m.
As my tracker was taken off me and my time taken, the sudden stop from running hard, the heat in the hall and probably a bit of emotion all hit me at once and I had a bit of a wobble. A paramedic came over and I insisted I was OK. The next few minutes were a bit confusing because Harriet Shields and the group I’d last seen her in at Kildale were all there helping me to a chair and someone said ‘Well done for escaping Kildale’. Marc appeared and explained that after I’d left, all runners had been held at Kildale, the details of that I will go into shortly. I sat and had a hot drink and just sitting in that group of people in that hall gave me a great feeling of contentment, friendship and satisfaction. One of the race finishes, I will remember for the rest of my life.
After awhile, I got showered and changed and sat and had a beer with Paul Burgum, who finished shortly after me, Mark Dalton and Duncan Bruce while we waited for the hall to empty so that Duncan and I could sort our sleeping arrangements out. In that time, I observed the interactions between the race team and Mountain Rescue that allowed me to piece events together, further information became available over the next few days and tonight I had a further chat with race director Jon Steele to clarify exactly what happened.
Most people reading this will have seen the negative press coverage of the race. In my opinion, almost all of those reports were exaggerated and were very selective with the facts.
What actually happened was that all runners got off the moors by themselves, but at the Kildale checkpoint, after stopping, a number of people cooled down rapidly and suffered minor hypothermia symptoms. Between 8pm and 9pm there had been significant snowfall onto already icy roads in the Kildale area and many were only reliably passable using 4×4 vehicles. Mountain Rescue were in the area to assist a driver whose vehicle had been stuck in the snow and being aware of the race, they stopped by the checkpoint to check up on things.
A joint decision was taken at around 8:30pm to stop all runners at Kildale due to the risks imposed by the weather conditions.
Race Control suddenly had a situation where they needed to transport anyone who’d stopped to the race finish 5 miles away in Guisborough. This would normally be done by the volunteer marshalls and race control support vehicles (I’ve actually used this support twice myself and it works well), however due to the state of the roads, the support of Mountain Rescue was needed to help transport people to the finish safely and provide additional minor medical assistance to some runners.
All runners in this race had GPS trackers and Race Control knew to within 10 metres where we all were so were able to quickly close the race down in a controlled manner.
By the time I’d run from Kildale to Guisborough (2h:40m according to the tracker), all runners who’d been stopped had been transported to the end, which to me is an awesome logistical feat.
At no point did I feel that my safety or that of others had been compromised and nobody needed any hospital treatment.
I slept at Guisborough Sea Cadets following the race and the Race Director, Jon Steele sat in the same room and personally made numerous telephone calls up to around 1:30am to satisfy himself that not only were all runners OK when they left Guisborough, but that all had got home or to their accommodation for the night and were fine.
To top all that, Cleveland Mountain Rescue praised runners for their equipment and preparedness and the race organisers for their contingency planning. To me, the Mountain Rescue praise, speaks volumes.
My race did not go exactly to plan, however, I’d have been very, very surprised if it did in those conditions, I did however improve my 50 mile Personal Best by just over 6 minutes to 13h:15m:42s. More pleasing was being able to overcoming stomach trouble that dogged me for over 30km, something which would have stopped my race a couple of years ago and that all of the recce work I did to test kit in foul weather paid off. That means the awful 6 hour slog in knee deep snow over Bloworth in December, the icy night runs over Highcliff x2, Roseberry x2 and Captain Cooks x2 in Feb and all of the other grim, awful training runs were worth every second because I learned a lot about mental toughness and self management.
I also give credit to the speedwork and speed endurance sessions on the treadmill. Whilst I have been a huge detractor of the treadmill in the past, the consistency it has offered has clearly improved my overall ability to move at a faster pace for longer.
For those who are interested, the kit worn on the day was :
Thermal Cycling Vest
Windproof Fleece Lined Cycling Jacket
Fleece Lined Compression Shorts
More Mile Lycra Leggings
Adidas Kanadia TR8.1 Shoes
Buff used as gaiter between base layer and neck
Buff used as gaiter between jacket and neck
Buff wrapped around face
Buff wrapped over cap and head
Skin Layer Gloves: Wilkinsons Full Finger Cycling Gloves
Outer Layer Gloves: Karrimor Running Gloves
Mid Layer Gloves added at Clay Bank were Karrimor Running Gloves too
All other kit, including compulsory items were carried but not used.
Thanks and Acknowledgements
I owe a continuous debt of thanks to my wife Natalie and our family for their continued forbearance with the long hours of training and weekends away.
I’d like to thank Guisborough Sea Cadets, without whose hospitality in allowing me to sleep indoors, I probably wouldn’t have started the race, I certainly wouldn’t have finished and if I’d stayed outside on Saturday night, I’d have probably been in a bad way by Sunday morning.
As always, Jon, Shirley and their huge family of helpers have put on a great race and dealt with adversity on the day with so much strength and organisation and afterwards with grace. I keep saying that this race series is special, it’s special beyond words. The friendships made and the experiences had at these events are beyond value. The way the Hardmoors family has pulled together this week should be a message to all involved about how highly regarded and valued Hardmoors is by a lot of people.
Thanks also to Cleveland Mountain Rescue and Yorkshire Ambulance for their help in ensuring that the race ended as safely as possible.
Thanks to everyone I ran with or spoke to out on the course, you guys helped make this event what it is. In particular, Marc Short, one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, thank you for your company and I’m certain that you saved my race by helping sort myself out when my fingers went numb. I’m gutted that you were stopped while I managed to continue, you had the finish in you and I wish we could have finished together. Also thanks to everyone, even though my memory is hazy, who helped me at the finish when I went all wobbly.
I look forward to seeing you all at Hardmoors 110!