Written by James Campbell - https://jamescampbell78.wordpress.com
This was to be my third and final attempt at completing Hardmoors 60. The only race that has beaten me and done so twice was getting ticked off this year or not at all.
In addition to all I had learned in previous years races, I’d gathered thoughts on what had worked, what didn’t work and where I was strong or weak from my previous three ultra efforts this year (a night run from Staithes to Clay Bank in January, the Cleveland Hills Challenge in April and the Lyke Wake Challenge in July).
With the exception of the newly added section of the course just after Staithes and the section between Robin Hood’s Bay and Ravenscar, I’d run the entire course this year, some of it multiple times and the Robin Hood’s Bay to Ravenscar bit I’ve done a number of times before anyway.
Planning and Preparation
I started pulling my race plan together in July, almost immediately after the Lyke Wake Challenge and I had decided on breaking the course up into chunks in the same way I did last year, but this time, I’d used an idea that is popular in the triathlon/cycling world that you only have a finite number of matches to burn during a race, each match being a hard effort.
Looking at my strengths/weaknesses I’d decided that I probably had four matches available to me over the course of the day if I paced them right and spaced them with enough rest in between. This was something I’d played around with on the Cleveland Hills Challenge when looking at which order to run the hills in and how much effort to put into travelling between them all.
After I’d completed all my recce runs in August, I finalised my decision on where the hard efforts would be focused.
- Highcliff Nab to Saltburn – Mainly downhill on good quality trails with only a couple of climbs to contend with.
- Deepgrove Wyke to Whitby – After the steps down from the clifftop, there is a gently downward sloping section of disused railway to Sandsend, followed by a tarmac section of road and path (albeit uphill road and path) that a faster pace could be maintained on.
- Ravenscar to Hayburn Wyke – Again, mainly downhill, but late in the race. If I was to make the most of this, I’d need to conserve some energy. To that end, I planned to fast walk most of Whitby to Ravenscar, only running if it was possible to do so at an easy effort. Walking Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay wouldn’t lose me a great deal of time as it’s very technical and contains a lot of steep ascending and descending where my running pace wouldn’t be significantly faster than my fast walking.
- Scarborough Sea Front – This was chosen mainly because when I recce’d this section with Dave Cook on the hottest day of the year, it was grim going avoiding tourists, running on tarmac after trails and generally boring. The sort of section that you need done quickly after a long day. Again, if hard efforts were needed at 80km in, I’d need to buffer it with a rest, so I chose to fast walk the section between Hayburn and Scalby Mills, which was also savage in terms of the number of steep steps in such a short section.
The recce of Hayburn to Scalby also changed my mind on the use of poles. I’d trained all year without using poles, but the sheer amount of steps that late in the race made me reconsider. I’d trained all summer during 2015 with them and was quite happy that I’d stayed proficient in their use and still had enough upper body and back strength to make them work for me, so I decided to take them.
With all the above considered, my plan was more or less formed. Run hard to Saltburn, rest on the climb between Skinningrove and Hummersea then pick up to a steady pace on the descent to Staithes and maintain this through Runswick Bay and on to Deepgrove Wyke where I’d start the next hard effort to Whitby. After the rest to Ravenscar, I’d push on again to Hayburn Wyke, rest to Scalby and work hard through Scarborough and anything left after then would be poured into the finish.
Based on previous race times, recce runs etc, I’d worked out that I could finish in 17 hours, allowing me an hour buffer on cut off for things going wrong if I paced it well and reached my defined marker points by the target times below:
Saltburn CP: 2h:05m
Skinningrove: 2h:55m (00h:50m split)
Staithes: 4h:15m (1h:20m split)
Runswick Bay CP: 5h:05m (00h:50m split spending no more than 10 mins at the CP)
Saltwick Bay CP: 7h:30m (2h:25m split)
Robin Hood’s Bay CP: 9h:00m (1h:30m split)
Ravenscar CP: 10h:25m (1h:30m split spending no more than 15 mins at the CP including changing clothes)
Hayburn Wyke: 11h:35m (1h:10m split)
Scalby Mills: 13h:25m (1h:50m split)
Scarborough Spa CP: 14h:15m (00h:50m split)
Finish: 17h:00m (2h:45m split)
I travelled down to Filey on Friday afternoon with Natalie and we hit the local chippy for food before heading to the caravan where I prepared my food for the race and added the last minute items to my drop bags.
I planned to start carrying 500ml Lucozade Sport in a hard bottle, 500ml Lucozade Sport in a soft flask and 500ml water in a hard bottle. The bottles were to be carried in my pack, the soft flask in my back pocket.
My starting food would be a bag of wine gums, a bag of salted peanuts and 6 mini Snickers bars. As usual, wine gums to be consumed at quarter past and quarter to the hour on the race clock, peanuts at half past the hour and Snickers on the hour.
In my Runswick Bay drop bag, I had a fresh bottle of Lucozade Sport to top up my bottle with, a can of Red Bull to be drank at the CP, a protein gel to be taken at the CP, a bag of Hula Hoops to go in my back pocket in case I needed a change of flavour/texture, some Jaffa cakes for the same reason and more wine gums, nuts and Snickers.
My Ravenscar drop bag had Red Bull, protein gel, Pom Bear crisps, Fig Rolls, wine gums, nuts, a Chia Charge flapjack and Snickers for pretty much the same reasons.
I laid my kit out ready for the next day and went to bed at 8pm, aiming to be awake for 3am so that I had time to eat breakfast, stretch, tape my feet and get my clothes on in good time to get to Filey early to ensure no car parking mishaps as per last year and to be ready for the bus when it arrived at 5:45am. I got to sleep fairly quickly but woke up naturally around 2am. After trying to doze back off for nearly an hour my alarm clock went off and I got up, eat breakfast and began the process of getting ready. The weather forecast all week had been favourable in my eyes, temperatures around 15 degrees, overcast and strong northerly winds. The caravan had been battered by wind all night so I was optimistic that the forecast would be correct, however I’d fallen foul of bad forecasting in this race before, so had prepared for cold weather but given myself provision to strip layers off if the need arose.
I got into the car with the wind still howling and drove to Filey. Normally when I arrive around 5:15am, I’m one of the first there, this year there were lots of people there ahead of me, showing just how much this race has grown in the three years I’ve participated. I was glad of anticipating some messing about at the car park. Last year, the parking meter would not accept debit card payments, so this year I arrived with a bag of coins, which the machines would not accept. Eventually one of the runners in front of me worked out that it was only accepting debit card payments so I duly returned to the car to fetch my card and paid for a ticket. Ticket paid for, I then caught up with a few runners I knew in the car park having brief chats with Ady Benn, Dave Cook and Dee Bouderba before boarding the bus. On the bus, I bumped into Paul Roach, who had generously provided me with some of his excess flapjack to compliment my breakfast of bananas and porridge. I was also now onto my second bottle of Lucozade Sport that morning, on top of a cup of coffee and several days of pre-hydrating, so the bus ride was spent mainly back and forth to the toilet much to the amusement of Kelly Brearley.
Once at the start line at Guisborough Sea Cadets, I passed quickly through kit check, picked up my race number and joined the huge queue for the gents alongside Gary Thwaites and Aaron Gourley which killed the 20 minute wait before the race brief nicely.
With the race brief done, we all headed outside and got ready to start. I managed to get myself lined up alongside two (or is it three if you count a certain “inner” persona?) of the most talkative guys in the race John Freel and Dave Cook and without a whole lot of ceremony the race was off.
Start to Saltburn
As the race started and the huge mass of bodies headed up the road towards the woods, the first thing I noticed was that the wind had dropped, a lot and it was warmer than I’d initially thought it was going to be. I’d started the race with my armwarmers on but rolled down and decided that if it stayed warm, I’d take them off and back pocket them once on the coast, where it’s always cooler. As we arrived at the edge of the woods, the race slowed to walking pace as the increase in grade, combined with the bottleneck at the first stile took effect and it allowed a couple of minutes to make last minute adjustments to kit to make sure it was comfortable. I had brought my MP3 player and headphones in case I ended up running alone for long periods and the wire was annoying me so I spent the time waiting to get to the stile tucking them away, where they stayed for the entirety of the race.
Once over the stile, I fell in behind Dave and John listening to their banter, trying but failing to think of a way to wind John up as we passed over a field and into the woods proper and onto the forest trails. I was in a small group with Dave and John but thought the pace was a little fast for me and decided to drop back, conveniently this was just before the 900m climb to Highcliff Nab which rises around 160m from the bottom of the climb so I removed my poles from the pack as I slowed and had them ready as we hit the climb. Normally, this climb is ankle deep in cloying, thick mud, but the recent dry weather had left it nice and firm which made for a fast ascent and started to string the field out nicely.
I finished the last half of the climb with Aaron Gourley who lives just up the road from me and chatted about the various challenges of work/ultra balance. Once up on top of the Nab, I found myself running alongside Brenda Wilkin, who I’ve run with a few times. Brenda is often faster than me so was an ideal pacer to get me to Saltburn. We talked all the way to the Fox and Hounds at Slapewath and the first hour flew by really quickly. Sadly, climbing away from Slapewath, Brenda mentioned that she wasn’t feeling great and dropped off as I climbed up the steps and onto Airey Hill (I later learned that she’d pulled out at Boulby with a nasty aggravation of an old ankle injury).
Once up on Airey Hill I found myself intermittently running alongside a group containing April Corbett and Wendy Colling of the Quakers Running Club and being passed by several of the faster runners who’d started slowly and were gathering pace. As we descended from the farmers field, a couple of mountain bikers went past and asked how far we were going, upon hearing the reply of 60 miles, one of them nearly fell off his bike and we had a chuckle at the “first one of the day”, one of those little things that amuses me (and hopefully others) are the reactions of people who find out rather unexpectedly what you are up to and this was a classic.
Coming down through Skelton I noticed that some of the runners passing me were sweating heavily and I noticed that my clothes were already damp, I made a mental note to keep on top of my drinking (I’d made a good dent in the soft flask of Lucozade and some of my water already), take a salt tablet every hour and also gave myself a good slosh across the arms, head and neck with water to cool off. At this point, I felt that my cap was keeping my head too warm, so that went into my back pocket.
I arrived at the Saltburn checkpoint feeling good and strong, grabbed a quick refill of my water bottle courtesy of Ray Wheatley and was away from the checkpoint at 2h:01m.
Saltburn to Skinningrove
Passing through the Saltburn checkpoint quickly, I headed out
out into the Valley Gardens running alongside Gareth Barnett and told him I was looking to slow down a little as I was running ahead of pace and he concurred that he thought I was going faster than normal as he’d had to work hard to catch up coming through Saltburn Woods. Gareth peeled off at the Cat Nab car park to get a change of shoes from his crew, while I got my poles out ready for the climb above the Ship Inn onto the clifftop. I made my way up the steps slowly and walked up the cliff slope noting that there wasn’t much wind here and the sun was quite warm. I yanked the armwarmers off, shoved them in my back pocket and continued to drink heavily from the soft flask.
I was overtaken by large groups of faster runners who’d spent longer than me at the checkpoint along this stretch, including Ady Benn who wished me well as he passed.
The path soon levelled out and I was running again, finding that I was close behind the group containing April Corbett and Wendy Colling and it wasn’t long before I’d arrived at the charm bracelet sculpture to note that most people were opting to take the low path round this little monument on the Cleveland Way. I took the opportunity to climb up to it and touch the star charm for luck and clang the hammer against the side before running on.
Soon I could see Skinningrove in the distance and it wasn’t long before I was descending the steps to the beach and found myself back behind Ady Benn. I took the chance to ask the stupid question of how his sandals dealt with the sand, and found out they simply shed the sand off once back on terra firma.
As we approached the jetty, Aaron Gourley and Jennifer O’Neil fell in behind us and did me the kind service of putting a children’s TV theme in my head (cheers guys).
I arrived at Skinningrove at 2h:50m tracking 5 minutes ahead of plan still, as I passed through the village, I got my poles out for the climb onto Hummersea cliff ahead and passed Dave and John again who had taken advantage of “local contacts” to have a mini checkpoint at a “local house”. As the road tilted up towards the cliff steps, I took a swig out of my bottle and looped my poles onto my wrists for the climb.
Rob Hartley’s photo of me arriving in Skinningrove
Skinningrove to Staithes
As I climbed the steps onto the cliff, I was once again overtaken by the Wendy and April group and again jokingly warned of consequences should I misuse my poles near them. They soon pulled ahead as I set a more leisurely pace uphill, saving my legs for more serious work later.
Further up the hill I spotted SportSunday photographer David Bradshaw and managed a smile as I passed trotting along with my poles, forewarned, I kept an eye out for SportSunday gaffer Laura Bradshaw who I’d promised a pose for a few days earlier. As I was running uphill, the best I could manage was something basic, none of this jumping around that Mr Freel prefers.
Photos by SportSunday Photography
Soon the path turned past the farm on the hillside and tilted seriously uphill, I was suddenly aware that it was very warm and that the promised wind had not materialised. I was sweating heavily and made conscious efforts to drink regularly. As I reached the top of the climb, I noted that both water and Lucozade levels were low. I’d been taking salt tablets on the hour, every hour and as I cruised along the top of the cliff, I decided to pop an extra tablet to make sure I was on top of my electrolytes.
At this point, I noticed that my shoes were a bit loose and decided to tighten the laces before the descent into Staithes to avoid a stupid injury from a twisted ankle. As I got going again, I was passed by Jeremy Sylvester and had a brief chat as I moved on.
Dropping down the front of the cliff quickly and efficiently I found myself running comfortably, so skipped a planned walk break across the field before Cowbar and kept going until I was onto Cowbar Lane. It was great to be feeling really strong at this point, especially as this was where I began to feel really dire last year. A female runner (Meltem Akarsu?) fell in line with me and we walked and talked together for a minute, before she was off and running again.
As I got running again, I went into my pocket to fish out some money, as I’d decided to nip into a pub to top up on fluids. I arrived in Staithes at 4h:04m, now 9 minutes ahead of plan, depite trying to slow down.
Staithes to Runswick Bay
As I passed the Royal George, I glanced through the window, saw that there was no queue at the bar and dived in through the door, ordering a bottle of Coke to go into the now empty Lucozade bottle and asked the barmaid to top up my water. That done, I jogged out into the street with the coke bottle fizzing and popping into my face. I got my poles out for the steep climb back out of the village, conscious that I needed to have my wits about me because at the top of the climb, the route of the Cleveland Way had changed in the last week or so and we would be routed onto the new section.
The surface of the new section was a very nice mown grass path that gently undulated and I made decent time moving along it but I could see the sting in the tail ahead. The original route out of Staithes has a very steep climb, coming at it from the new section, the path goes up the side of that climb and is slightly steeper and longer, the poles came out again and I did a very slow march up to the top being passed by groups of charity walkers coming down the opposite way, exchanging words of encouragement to each other as we passed.
Up on the top, the poles went away and I got into running mode, taking a swig of Coke and feeling the benefit of the ice cold sugar and caffeine hit almost immediately I took off aiming to run the whole section, barring the odd set of steps in the middle. I passed through Port Mulgrave quickly, this section seemed to be popular with walkers and it was good to have people to constantly speak to along the way, the time flew by quickly and before I knew it, I was turning the sharp right that led into Runswick Bay. I looked at my watch and saw that I was still ahead of plan and had a real chance of hitting the checkpoint in under 5 hours. I pushed harder along the path and turned onto the steep road down toward the checkpoint, which was in the bottom car park by the beach.
As I pushed on down the hill, I felt a twinge of pain in my right knee, “bugger!” I thought knowing I was being silly running fast downhill. I slowed up and hoped the drop in pace would ease it off. I walked into the checkpoint at 4h:59m, a full 6 minutes ahead of plan.
As Paul Hamer topped up my water and Coke bottles, filled my soft flask back up with Lucozade and I emptied my pockets into the bin, Sadie Pattison told me that there was a message from Race Director, Jon Steele in my drop bag. Immediately all kinds of things ran through my mind, had I done something wrong? Left something behind? Had Natalie been trying to get in touch? Then I read the words…..”Quit and you die!” I laughed out loud and told myself again, there would be no quitting from me today.
I was out of the checkpoint quickly, leaving at 5h:03m, overtaking a large number of runners who’d taken the opportunity to sit down, eat and drink while I’d simply downed my can of Red Bull, chased it with a cup of water, then taken a protein gel on board, chased it with a cup of Coke and loaded my pockets with more, wine gums, nuts, Snickers and some Hula Hoops then scarpered.
Runswick Bay to Saltwick Bay
I jogged onto the beach joining a group that included Jason Highland and Joe Williams before walking along the beach with them, getting my poles out for the steps that had pretty much done me in last year.
As we left the beach, I soaked my buff through in the stream coming down from the cliffs, and put it on my head so that I would have cool water dripping down my body for the whole climb. Joe did the same with his cap and we headed on up the steps. It seemed to take no time at all to climb the steps (10m:10s actually) as I was chatting with the group as I climbed, pointing out the spots where I passed out last year. As we reached the top of the climb, Ady joined the back of the group and he noted my poles and asked me to keep them away from him, relating his experience in the Alps earlier in the year when he’d had to grab a fellow competitors pole just inches from his face.
The group strung out again and I was soon on my own until I heard a familiar Scottish accent shouting “Jamesey boy!” in the distance behind me. Dave and John must have also been enjoying a nice long break at Runswick Bay. They caught up with me just before Kettleness, as did Paul Roach and Jo Barrett and we chatted briefly before they jogged on ahead. Just after Kettleness, about 5h:45m in, my knee was still making noises at me and I decided to take some precautionary paracetamol. I had just got moving again when I heard a Bob Marley tune playing behind me, I turned to see Gareth Barnett jogging towards me and he had a bit of Bob playing from a loudspeaker.
We ran on together for a bit, passing the charming little sign that points out the current distance between the two trailheads, before Gareth pushed on ahead.
Sign showing distances to the trailheads
I reached the marathon point of Deepgrove Wyke at 6h:10m and as I slowly descended the steps I chatted with a guy, whose name I didn’t catch, who had been reading my blog from last year and as we reached the disused railway line I intended to use for one of my efforts, he wished me well. That thought in my mind, I pushed hard, the knee still reminding me of my mistake at Runswick, so much that I decided to adopt my now, usual positive thinking tactic, repeating aloud “I am running well, I am running pain free.” over and over.
The old railway line into Sandsend
After 15 minutes or so, the pain started to subside and I was descending the steps to the car park in Sandsend where I spotted Paul Roach taking a breather talking to Jon O’Connell (who stopped me from taking a wrong turn at last year’s Goathland marathon), I was disappointed to find out he had pulled out at Runswick Bay. There were quite a few runners who’d met with crew at Sandsend and had stopped, I pushed on moving quickly onto the main road as planned. I was soon overtaken by Dave, John and Jo who’d had another long stop and were off and running again. Jeremy, was close behind me and we kept overtaking each other back and forth as I ran intervals between groups of traffic cones and road signs, Dave, John and Jo stayed roughly the same distance ahead of me so i was confident I was holding a good pace.
I reached the turn for Whitby Golf Club at 6h:45m and headed down towards the sea front, joined again by Gareth. We made our way back up to the cliff top together before he pulled away. I continued to trade places back and forth with Jeremy all the way to the Whale’s Jawbone, where I stopped at the Trillos ice cream van to buy, simply the best tasting orange ice lolly that I’ve ever had. I walked down the steps, through Khyber Pass and along the crowded quayside sucking the lolly, bringing my body temperature down very nicely and distracting myself from the crowds that prevented me from running. Once across the swing bridge, I spotted another runner ahead, drinking a cup of tea or coffee. I tried to keep sight of him through the crowded street while carefully getting my poles out without impaling a passer by. I caught him at the bottom of the 199 steps and used the poles all the way up to the Abbey having a chat along the way before he pulled ahead on the Cleveland Way track that leads to Saltwick Bay. I kept the poles out, as I planned to use them all the way to Ravenscar from this point and jog/trotted along to the checkpoint, arriving at the checkpoint at 7h:33m now 3 minutes behind time but not bothered in the slightest. I was feeling strong. I disappeared into the bushes to answer a call of nature while Shaun Burgess did the honours with refilling my bottles, again with water and Coke. I also got my soft flask topped up with water, just in case I needed a bit extra.
199 Steps, Whitby
I headed off again fast walking as planned. As I passed the Whitby Foghorn, I heard Ady (who I’d again passed in the checkpoint) calling out to me as he’d found a piece of trekking pole on the trail and asked if it was mine. A quick check revealed mine to be intact, so I thanked him and chatted, giving him a quick time and distance check before he climbed the next steep hill ahead of me. I was content to take this section nice and easy and strolled along at an average of 11m:49s/km. I heard the familar voice of Dee Bouderba somewhere behind me, when I looked, she was in a group some 500m behind, but was caught by a bloke I often meet at this point in race (I think he’s called Gerard?) and he was telling me about how he now can’t pass Penshaw Monument without thinking about me doing hill reps up and down it after I told him about doing so the last time we met. We hopped over a couple of stiles together and he was off.
The path evened out for awhile so I decided to jog on slowly, passing a woman carrying a pair of trainers back along the trail , then I fell in with a group of hikers as the next climb started and I chatted with them about the race and how their day had gone, then as the path flattened out, I wished them an enjoyable rest of their walk before jogging on.
Ravenscar in view across from Robin Hood’s Bay
I was caught by the group, containing Dee just before the Rocket Post field just outside of Robin Hood’s Bay and followed them into the checkpoint arriving at 9h:13m, now 13 minutes behind time, but at this point I didn’t even check time. The checkpoint had music and Dire Straits were playing, so I sang to myself while I grabbed some food and topped up my water bottles. They didn’t have Coke so I topped that bottle up with water and added some “Squirty Squash” I’d been keeping in my pack, just in case. I also added a sachet of salt and two sachet of sugar to the mix. before jogging on singing Tunnel of Love, I stopped singing to nip to the gents on the way down the hill then got myself going on the way to Ravenscar.
Robin Hood’s Bay to Ravenscar
As I climbed the steps out of Robin Hood’s Bay, back onto the trail, I was caught by two ladies who’d been part of the group Dee was in, Elaine Wilde and Ingrid Hainey.
We chatted all the way to Boggle Hole, before they pulled away on the descent as I took it nice and easy down the steps. I passed through Boggle Hole, pretty much at full high tide, on a full moon day and the power of the water in such an enclosed space was impressive and noisy. I poled my way up the steps, back out of Boggle Hole efficiently and got jogging again once on the level path. I was being tortured by flies at this point and it was still very warm so I soaked my buff with water and put it over my head in the hope that it would both keep the flies away and keep me cool.
Soon, the path dropped into the shade of the woods again, down the steps to Stoupe Beck, the change in temperature in the shade was noticeable. When I was about halfway up the steps out of Stoupe Beck, I heard the familiar clack of tungsten on concrete behind me and looked around to see another runner closing behind. We drew level at the top of the steps and we got chatting, I’d now met Paul Riddell, who it turned out lives just up the road from me in Hetton and knows a couple of my Coalfields clubmates.
As I continued to walk, Paul jogged on (having received fresh shoes recently from the lady I’d seen running back along the trail) and I tracked a couple of hundred metres behind him along the path that leads to Ravenscar. You can see Ravenscar looming on the hill for miles and it’s easy to dwell on the fact that it never appears to get close until you are actually there. I focused on the path a few metres ahead rather than looking at Ravenscar, I was starting to go through my checkpoint drill in my head. I wanted a cup of tea, with lots of sugar in, I planned to drink it while I changed out of my now sweaty and soaking wet cycle jersey. I didn’t think I needed my base layer as it was quite warm, although the forecast was for it to get quite cold. I’d decided to keep the base layer handy in my pack and just be prepared to stop and put it on if needed.
The rest of it was all about switching the drop bag food in and the old food out. The “Squirty Squash” was tasting vile to me, so I decided that would be the first to get binned, I wasn’t enjoying the taste of Snickers anymore, so I planned on taking only four of the six bars in my drop bag and to eat Pom Bears every half hour and on the hour instead.
I checked time as I climbed the long ascent into Ravenscar and I was on 10h:25m and was actually feeling quite strong. I was still a bit behind time, but I was going to arrive a long time before my equivalent time from 2014 and had a hard running section planned ahead.
As I walked up through the village, I dumped the contents of my pockets into the bins by the side of the road and emptied out my bottles, planning to have them filled fresh at the checkpoint, an idea popped into my head about taking tea in my soft flask, I decided to give it a go with half tea and half cold water.
I arrived at the checkpoint on 10h:43m. Tony McGonnell did the honours of filling my bottles up with water, Coke and tea (black, four sugars) respectively and made me a matching cuppa in a china cup.
I quickly stripped off, dried my top half and packed away my wet jersey and buff, swapping them for a clean, dry buff and my Coalfields cycling jacket. My cap went on and the head torch went on my head ready for when it was dark. I took my protein gel, downed the can of Red Bull from my drop bag in one, packed my food into my pockets, dumping the excess Snickers onto the table for someone else to have and eating three or four pieces of melon at the same time. Dave Toth made me some cold rice pudding, then mopped up the mess I made when I knocked my cup of tea over. Having caused chaos at the checkpoint, I followed Paul out of the door 14 minutes after I’d arrived, under my target time for being in and out of the checkpoint.
Ravenscar to Hayburn Wyke
A few metres down the road, Paul stopped to put his jacket on as he’d immediately felt the cold. I felt chilly too, but decided to give running a go first. I text an update to Natalie as I jogged and as a result was overtaken by Elaine and Ingrid.
Although the sun was setting, it was still light and I pushed the pace, giving myself the mental aim of getting to Hayburn Wyke before it got fully dark. I overtook the ladies as the route re-joined the Cleveland Way as they were doing running repairs to feet. I put my head torch on early and ran on as much as the path allowed, which was quite a lot as it was mostly downhill.
The ladies overtook me again and pulled steadily away, before stopping at a junction, I shouted for them to carry straight on and battered on myself. As the sun dipped below the western horizon, the tip of the moon rose over the sea in the east and for the next 20 minutes or so, I was treated to the glorious view of a full harvest moon rising.
I could still see the trees of Hayburn Wyke growing closer even after sunset and pushed harder, resolving to myself that from now, every step forward would make me stronger, ever climb I met would make me harder and repeated it in my brain. Just before Hayburn Wyke, I pulled out my poles ready to take on the next section of the course that was riddled with climbs, steep steps and stone steps of a random nature.
I arrived at the top of Hayburn Wyke at 11h:52m, now tracking 17 minutes behind plan, which I decided I could live with.
Hayburn Wyke to Scalby Mills
I followed the ladies down the steps into the Wyke, catching glimpses of the rising moon on my left and enjoying the weird light it cast on the woods. As we climbed out of the Wyke, I noticed a campfire and lamps hung from the trees on the right and thought whoever it was had picked an amazing place for a wild camp tonight.
Up and over the top of the Wyke, it was now full dark and I’d planned to take this section slowly, but decided that I now needed to make up some of the lost time. I knew, on fresh(ish) legs, I could do this section in around 1h:10m, I reckoned that I could maybe do it now in 1h:40m instead of 1h:50m and get to Scalby at about 14h:30 then make a really decent fist of the sea front to get back on track.
As the ladies pulled ahead, I tried to keep their head torches roughly a constant distance ahead, given that I knew they’d been moving faster than me. A couple of times they stopped to check directions and we had a chat before they pulled away again. I kept swigging at the tea in my back pocket which was still both beautifully warm and tasted amazing, with the added benefit of being in my back pocket and keeping my body warm too.
I was munching on my mixed bag of wine gums and fig rolls, often ending up with wine gums and fig rolls in my mouth at the same time. This combo sounds vile, but works really well, the taste and texture was very different to the now sickly sweet stuff I’d been having and was quite nice. I was now running using my poles and feeling quite fast, however I was very aware that at night, you always feel faster than you actually are and with using the poles, it was difficult to keep checking pace on my watch. Each time I reached a descent, I checked time and was happy I was eating into the deficit.
Each time I reached to the bottom of a set of steps or a climb, I was mentally saying “Bring it on!” I was now wholly bought into my mental game of getting stronger and stronger for each step forward and each metre climbed.
Just before Crookness, I overtook another runner, who told me he was thinking of giving up. I told him that I’d given up not far from here a couple of years ago and it felt shit, told him to get to Scalby but not to make up his mind there, then get to Scarborough Spa but not to make his mind up there either. I’m not sure what he did in the end.
When I reached the steps where I’d binned it in 2014, I found the ladies again trying to decide on the right path, I pointed them up the next steps and told them these were the last steps till Scarborough.
Having done the same thing as with Ravenscar and avoided looking at Scarborough for about 10km I could now see the lights of Scalby closer than Scarborough and hauled myself along towards them. I could now fully understand why purists think that using poles is cheating and some race organisers ban them. I felt very fresh on my feet with no pain in the knees or thighs and only minimal pain in my ankles and feet. The distribution of weight was spread more evenly and the additional weight in my shoulders and back, was now useful weight, providing the power to the poles rather than just being extra to carry.
As I approached the steps down to the Old Scalby Mills pub, I gave Natalie one final text update before I heard the dead battery warning sound on my phone. I’d got their at my new target time of 13h:30m and now needed to hammer the sea front. The poles went away and it was time for some interval running.
Scalby Mills to Scarborough Spa
As I’d approached Scalby Mills, I’d noted that the entire sea front had street lights so my plan became, to run for 10 lit street lights and walk for 5 lit street lights, dead bulbs did not count.
During my first set of 10 I overtook one runner and could see another pair in front. I slowly reeled them in to find that it contained Jason Highland. I said hi before running off again. I then caught up with another as I passed the castle headland, and another shortly after that. I was mostly trying to run on the road, as the surface was more forgiving than the concrete paths, but there were a lot of boy racers charging up and down the sea front too.
The paths weren’t crowded, with just the odd small group of set of couples walking around and only one person acted like a twat. It seemed like no time at all before I was past Valley Road and on the final run in to the Spa checkpoint. I ran the entire length of the road, disregarding any street lamps and arrived on 14h:12m. I was now back ahead of my original plan by 3 minutes!
Scarborough Spa to Finish
My bottles were topped up quickly by Wayne Armstrong and I was off again running along the last bit of promenade towards Holbeck Hill. It was obvious that the high tide had been higher than usual as the path was covered in pebbles and sand. I was caught by Elaine and Ingrid halfway up Holbeck Hill, where I had the poles out again. We were met by Phil Owen and another marshall, who’d kindly glo-sticked the route away from Scarborough and I tried to keep pace with the ladies, but by the time we passed Cornelian Bay I dropped back off. Poles or no poles I was slowing up, despite feeling good.
I fast walked up the hill into Osgodby and got a jog back on down to the next turn down the steep steps into Cayton Bay. I briefly rejoined the ladies before they pulled away again, as I reached a gate in the middle of Cayton Bay, I was overtaken by a group containing Paul Munster, who’d passed me back and forth several times all day, but I only recognised now because of the red light on the back of his pack, everything else being in total darkness.
I let the group through the gate ahead of me then followed on, taking the climb out of the bay slowly before letting the steep descent through the next field to the beach path pull me along in terms of speed. I took the next steps quickly again mentally gaining strength from them and feeling that Filey was growing ever closer. I looked behind me and saw a couple of lights. To keep me moving, I vowed that I wouldn’t let those lights catch me and pushed harder up the hill, chasing the lights in front of me. I was now on very familiar ground, having run this section several times over the summer, often, I’d see the group in front falter, perhaps checking maps or doubting directions while I simply piled on. I knew where all the runnable flats and descents where and poled my way along them, I new where the tricky bits to take care were and slowed down.
I followed the group up the hill to the Flower of May caravan park, I saw the group stop ahead of me then move on again, at Blue Dolphin, I pushed harder knowing that Filey was about to come into sight on the right but even in the daytime, this section feels like a long drag, even though it’s only 3km from Filey Brigg. For about an hour there’d been patches of low lying fog and Filey was shrouded in it, giving the weird impression that there was sea to the right as well as the left until a patch cleared and you’d see an island of lights amongst the fog.
I slowed to a fast walk on the final uphill, knowing from my vaiours training runs in the area over the last 10 summers, that at the top of this final climb, there was a bush that signifies that it’s all downhill to Filey Brigg. As I reached the bush, I noted time at 16h:30m with about 3km to go. In my head I wasn’t sure if 17 hours was still achievable but if someone had offered me 17h:10m or even 17h:59m at the start line I’d have taken it.
I drove on with the poles feeling like I was hurtling through the darkness, I passed the rocket post on my right knowing that I was almost at the Cleveland Way sign noting that Helmsley is only 109 miles away. I saw the group up ahead and figured they’d stopped to take photos at the sign then saw they’d stopped again, presumably to do the same at the Filey trailhead marker.
I slung the poles away for the last time and ran off the Brigg, down the gentle grassed slope towards the last set of steps, seeing the set of head torches disappear down them in front of me. As I reached the steps, I heard voices further down and took the steps two at a time.
I dropped onto the yacht club slipway an noted that the marshalls had glo-sticked the router back up the next set of steps that, according to the route description were optional. I knew that if I went up this last set of steep steps, I’d have to descend another set of awkward, uneven steps at the other end. I also knew that the tide was out and after many, many tests over the summer, knew the beach, followed by Coble Landing was the faster route.
I jogged along the beach, careful to dodge any rocks, headed up the Coble Landing slipway and hit tarmac, passed the amusement arcade and the lifeboat house. I spotted and acknowledged the marshall on the corner then saw the blinking backpack light of Paul Munster running up the road, I followed suit, hearing the voices from the group just behind me as they exited the steps.
Adrenaline now had hold of me and I ran along the sea front and turned right, slowed for the ridiculously steep Cargate Hill before picking up pace again at the police station, gaining speed past all the closed shops, Filey Methodist Church firmly in sight. I stumbled through the door to applause and a finishing time of 16h:59m:58s. Almost exactly on target.
I was met by Jon Steele and presented with my T-shirt and medal. The next few minutes were a bit of a blur as my mind caught up with my body. I was given pizza and a cup of tea.
Race Director, Jon Steele showing how photogenic he can get at the finish
I took my shoes off and sat next to Dave Cook as I gathered my thoughts. I’d finally cracked it. Three years it had taken me to finish this race and the way I’d run it this year, I’d have not changed a bit. Nothing worthwhile is gained without effort and this journey has taught me so much about myself, as well as allowing me to meet a whole host of wonderful people along the way. I’ve yet to meet an ultra runner who isn’t a nice person and everyone is always willing to help one another.
Jon and Shirley Steele have a very, very special race series here, being ultra runners themselves, they know what makes a good event and their ability to relate to people and look after them means that they always have a hardcore of volunteers, helpers and marshalls at events who are experienced runners. There is a real family atmosphere here and it’s addictive. It’s quite normal for a back of the pack runner like me to finish a marathon or an ultra and the race winners will still be around applauding runners home.
At this point, I’d like to thank, everyone who has wished me well for this race, there are loads of you and I have taken all of your kind words and wishes on board as part of this race. I used them to fuel my energy.
I’d also like to thank those of you who’ve given me time and advice freely when I’ve asked and especially those who’ve come out with me on training runs, we’ve had some mental, crazy and funny times along the way. Things that forge lifelong friendships, like being stuck in a dead car at 3am after spending 9 hours running through deep snow or sleeping in the back of a car in the middle of nowhere so your runner has a warm drink and something nice to eat when they arrive.
Most of all, I must thank my wife Natalie. She has stuck by me through this obsession with completing this race. Three years of me being out running instead of doing the various DIY jobs that need doing on the house or spending time with her and the kids. At times, I’ve been quite selfish in trying to prepare for this race and she’s understood and let me get on with it, even when she’s found things difficult herself. Now she’ll be getting some well deserved payback. She’s an absolute gem and I love her to bits.