Well. On the one hand I’m totally speechless. On the other I have so much going through my head about this race.
We knew the weather was going to be interesting. The debate leading up to the race was whether to start with waterproofs on; what to wear, what layers to pack. I really don’t mind weather so long as I’m prepared for it. And I was. I knew I was going to run; I wasn’t going to hang around, so wore my long sleeved merino hoody under my OMM Kamleika, long merino socks under tights, with my inov-8 waterproof ultra light over-trousers. At no point did I regret my clothing choice, except for wishing I had more at the very end.
Anyway, to the race. Once I realised the usual arrangement of meeting a coach at the finish of the race first thing in the morning and taking it to the start had been changed, I arranged for a taxi to take us from the finish to the start. The rain had woken me at 2.30am and by the time we drove across the moors to Guisborough, the roads were fully flooded and we were very grateful for our grand Land Rover Discovery taxi as it ploughed through the waterlogged roads.
Our registration passed without comment and my friend Con and I hung around like you do, waiting for the start. We said hello to another Hardmoors old hand, Nige Hargreaves and was supposed to meet up with Chris Randall too but the Scout Hut got busier and busier, eventually forcing us out of the main hall and into one of the side rooms. We found Helen and from there we got hotter and hotter so decided to go outside to wait for the start at 8am, which was only 5 minutes away. It was raining hard outside and we quickly became wet and cold, getting restless as 8am came and went and nothing seemed to be happening.
Eventually, at 8.18am, something happened at the front and people started shuffling forward. We were off!
Down in Guisborough, although the rain made itself known, the wind was quiet and we had an uneventful mile or two to the bottom of Highcliff Nab. I have gone up here once before at the start of Hardmoors 60 but the mud surpassed my memory and much mincing and swearing ensued as the still closely grouped runners slipped and staggered up the steep hill.
Photo credit: Conrad Wild
When we reached the top the wind hit us and we staggered at its force. Wow, ok. So this is what it’s going to be like. We set off down the flag stones, with the next stop Roseberry Topping.
In case you don’t know about the Hardmoors series, check out their website here. Hardmoors 55 is a race run between Guisborough and Helmsley along the Cleveland Way but this was a special year; not only was it the 10th anniversary of Hardmoors 55, but it was also the 50th anniversary of the Cleveland Way so the director Jon Steele decided to make this year’s race “special”. The race was reduced to 50 miles (he is notorious for all his races being over the advertised distance) and we spent the entire race trying to figure out where on earth he had changed the route to make it supposedly shorter. However, the one obvious difference was Roseberry Topping. We had to climb it twice. Great!
The actual climb up it isn’t so bad in my book, but the wind at the top took our breath away. Take a look at my periscope clip to get an idea of what it was like. Then we had to descend off the right side of Roseberry Topping (the phone got put away as I saw it meant climbing down!) and down we went, fighting the wind as it tried to snatch our footing from us, dodging people coming up who were already on the return trip. This descent was never ending! Down the stone path, through a gate, down a muddy path, switch back, all the time making way for runners coming up (we are all still bunched up at this stage), down through the woods to a checkpoint at the bottom. Turn straight around and go back up! Ugh.
It was a long ascent but eventually we got back up underneath the trig and off down the path returning the way we had come. Con flew off as he loves whizzing down the descents but I was more lady-like (of course). Not only was I wearing Hoka Challengers but I was cautious to pace my legs as I knew there was nearly 10,000 feet of elevation coming up and I wanted to keep my powder dry.
Next stop was Kildale, a drop bag checkpoint. When I was arranging our drop bags the night before, Con questioned why a drop bag point was only 10 miles in. I didn’t know the answer, but I did think that I wouldn’t need to carry any food at the beginning and any weight saved is a bonus to me, considering the fairly hefty mandatory kit we had to carry. As we ran, however, I realised we had had breakfast at 5.30am and by the time we arrived in Kildale at 10.45 we would be hungry. I was looking forward to my cheese and pickle sarnies and stuffing my vest with goodies to see me through Bloworth Crossing.
I knew the next 8 mile section very well. I had done it in both directions, and had also waited anxiously when I was crewing for a friend on the other side of it. I knew it was a long slog and mentally a tough challenge even in calm weather. Once we had climbed up onto the moor again, it was a long rocky track to Bloworth Crossing itself – a convergence of trails and tracks up on the moor. This was where American Werewolf was filmed and you can see why the lads were advised to stick to the path.
There is a stark beauty to these moors and when you look in detail at the flora and fauna around you it is stunning, but taking in the big picture I find it very bleak; moors stretching in all directions to the horizon, the wind whipping across with no natural features to stop it until it hits you. And that’s on a calm day. On this day it was anything but calm and the rain lashed across us horizontally, the track flooded with water, turning it into a river and the immensely strong gusts of wind trying to push you over.
The race director had sent an email out before the race suggesting that some sort of goggles might be a good idea in case the weather was similar to the previous year (heavy snow). However, in these windy conditions I was very grateful for my goggles and put them on. Although my vision wasn’t great with them, the footing wasn’t precarious enough to matter and the sharp needles of rain on my face were very painful. By pulling up my buff and tucking them under my goggles, I was protected. Con said I looked like I was about to fly a biplane but frankly I didn’t care!
I knew once we reached Bloworth, we were more than halfway to the next checkpoint so I was pleased when we finally reached that point. Con and I couldn’t talk in this weather so we had been running along together in silence and sometimes another mate of ours Dennis would catch us up, chat for a bit, and keep going. He was struggling with an injury but when he was running he looked very strong and always ran past us but then we caught him as he kept stopping, I assume to stretch.
Finally we descend down, out of the wind (how is it possible it was in our faces the whole way??) and to the Clay Bank checkpoint. Another memory point – both of my previous DNF at HM110, when my mate Gav was crewing me and was at the gate to meet me with a cup of tea, and also the place where I, in turn, had crewed him and waited anxiously for his arrival off the moor in the dead of night.
The first of 3 Sisters after the Clay Bank checkpoint. Con looking well chuffed!
And now we had the 3 Sisters to look forward to – 3 sharp little hills which somehow weren’t nearly as impressive as I remembered from before. Perhaps training in the Peaks really has helped me. As I came to the top of each hill, I was still strong enough to immediately set off at a trot and although my legs had complained crossing the moor, suddenly they felt loose and running at a good trot came easily.
I knew Con was struggling with foot pain and he dropped back slightly but I wasn’t concerned. I knew he’d get his second wind soon enough. However, a couple of miles from the next checkpoint, Scugdale (these place names are so glamorous), I glanced over my shoulder to check he was there but found myself staring at a complete stranger behind me. Oh no, it’s ok, that must be Con behind him. No. My gaze slipped back to each figure along the flagstone path, searching for the fairly easily recognisable silver overtrousers but he wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Shit!
I was appalled and instantly felt guilty. We were mates and were running this together and somehow I had dropped him without even noticing. I got my phone out but it was soaking wet and although I keyed the right password in, it said I hadn’t and locked me out. I turned and started running again; without him in sight I must crack on. I had an agenda and even despite that, you absolutely couldn’t stop for long without getting very cold, very quickly.
I pause when I reach the checkpoint, try my phone again and get locked out for even longer – ffs!! I wanted to check the tracker to see how far back he was. But again, I didn’t dare hang around long and cracked on towards Osmotherley.
The next few miles passed without me noticing much – all my focus was on running while my legs felt good. Walked the steep hills, jogged the creepy-uppies, run everything else. I was leap frogging with a couple of friendly guys who I’d had a quick shoe chat with (imagine!!) and came down with them into Osmotherley, 30 miles in, 20 to go and the second drop bag checkpoint.
By this point my brain was starting to fry I think and although I was compos mentis enough to produce my headtorch at the spot kit check, when I retrieved my drop bag I looked vaguely in it and stared at the food laid out on the tables and had a momentary brain shut down. I wanted to push on. I had said to Con when we got here I’d take my shoes off and give my aching feet a rub, wring out my socks etc but my feet were feeling fine and I had this sense of urgency to move on. I grabbed a sandwich and bag of fruit out of the bag, put the bag back in the pile for Con to retrieve later, and left within a few minutes.
I was now surrounded by strange people, not the familiar ones I had been frog hopping with for miles before. It’s funny isn’t it how you get used to the people around you even if you don’t talk to them. But my new companions were a miserable lot so my head went down again and now my focus was purely on getting to the White Horse checkpoint before dark. Once I was there, it was 10 miles downhill to home. Easy.
We looked happy at the beginning!
Ha. Perhaps this is where I went wrong. I was so focused on getting to White Horse, that when I did, the wheels kind of exploded off. I did slow down in the last couple of miles and I did have to get my headtorch out just before I reached it but the descent to the checkpoint took its toll, and the never ending track to the checkpoint itself through the woods, a nasty muddy track, slowed me to a walk. My back was aching, my stomach was aching, my arms were aching. I was simply exhausted.
After staring blankly at the checkpoint marshals, I pushed on but just before climbing the steps out I stopped and got out my microfleece. I knew I was struggling, it was now full dark and it would get very cold. I did a bit of a sort too and emptied the pockets of my stuffed vest into my dry bag in the back and set off again. Once I had climbed back up (I may have used the handrail here), you had to run back along the same track you had run in on and here I passed several headtorches on their way to the checkpoint. I looked at them all carefully in case one of them was Con but they weren’t.
Don’t get me wrong – I can and do races by myself but when you enter with friends, so long as everyone is roughly of equal pace, you stick together and keep each other going. It is one thing to enter a race alone, mentally geared to running alone, but quite another to suddenly find yourself alone when you had been running with your best friend. Coupled with the fact I was feeling guilty anyway, I did feel a bit sorry for myself at this point (ok, I threw my toys out).
Soon enough I had to turn off the escarpment path and turn east for Helmsley. I got a little lift when my watch said there was only 9 miles to go – I thought it was 10 so that was a bonus. But my heart sank when the path turned to very wet, very thick mud. I slid and staggered along, my feet getting very cold and wet again (in the last 5 miles or so the rain had stopped so I had pretty much dried off under my coat and leggings.
My back was sore. My feet were sore. My stomach was sore. My arms were sore. My poor biceps had been carrying my forearms in the 90 degree position for 11 hours and they weren’t used to it!! I thought I would design little slings on my vest that I could hook my arms into to rest them. Yes, as you can see, my poor brain had gone.
My death march continued on, getting passed occasionally by people still able to raise a jog. I arrived at a road and again stared blankly around me. Where to go? I remembered I had a watch that could helpfully tell me this important information and I consulted it and continued on, staggering down a road into the face of an oncoming car. I managed to avoid getting squished.
I didn’t remember this bit at all but my only memory of this section was from 3 years earlier in reverse, so I wasn’t surprised I didn’t know where I was. I heard footsteps behind me and I exchange a few words with the chap who joined me, then I heard a familiar sound. The sound of a breath being forced out sharply, as you do when making an effort. Con!! I turned, saw him coming up behind me and gave him a huge hug.
We exchanged our stories; he had dropped so far behind because he had waited at the checkpoint thinking that perhaps I had gone to the loo but he had started feeling much better quite quickly after losing me and when comparing our split times afterwards you could see him reeling me in as the time between us dropped from 20 mins to 8 mins at the previous checkpoint.
I explained I was done in and death marching in. Whilst slipping in this infernal mud. I might as well have worn road shoes but I still didn’t regret my shoe choice. I had to keep stopping to stretch my back, my feet were still incredibly cold and painful and whenever I tried to jog when it wasn’t muddy, I immediately felt nauseous. It was a very long, very painful slog back and took us 3 hours to cover that 9 miles. You’ve all been there and I don’t need to describe it further.
When we got back we found out there had been over 100 DNFs out of the approximate 500 entries. The provisional results show 300 finishers so that means there were about 100 DNS. It was very cold and if you couldn’t run, I can see how there would have been many casualties. On our march back to Helmsley I got very cold, miserably cold but I knew the end was in sight so kept walking fast (something to thank Chris Randall for!).
Although I was utterly miserable for those last three hours, and disappointed that I had imploded so much after running so well and strongly to the White Horse checkpoint, I have only taken positives away:
- I am much stronger going up hills.
- I am much stronger mentally at running along the boring flats.
- I went into this race knowing my endurance wasn’t great so I am not surprised that I only made it to 40 miles. But I made it to 40 miles very well considering the conditions and elevation and that was the point of this race after all; to boost my endurance.
- Although my back went again, I had been managing it throughout most of the race well. It had been twinging during the drive up so I suspected it would give me trouble but I was able to keep on top of it. Everyone has their weaknesses and when you are exhausted from battling 40 mile an hour winds, when every muscle has been tensed to fight the next gust, if I didn’t have a back problem something else would have started hurting to slow me down.
- I finished. With these sort of races, I think finishing is something to be proud of.
So, the first part of my training for Lavaredo has gone to plan and completed successfully. Next up? Watch this space ;0)