Hardmoors 60 - 2013
The Hardmoors 60 follows Yorkshire’s Cleveland coastline from Guisborough in the north to Filey in the south. The coastline is picturesque and interesting but with 3300m of up and down between cliff tops and shoreline, and in and out of alluring fishing villages and towns along the 62-mile route, it can be hard on the legs.
As mentioned in my last blog, there is a wedding on the horizon; personal training in north London has accordingly become my top concern. Next to that I have also just part-organised a dance music festival and acted in a play. All of which had pushed running training down the list of priorities. So instead of quantity, I went for quality in my training and approached the start for this race in a relaxed mood. In the past I have been guilty of being too blasé about races, assuming that I would get around them because I had done so before. I now try to approach each race as it deserves to be treated, with respect and a bit more focus.
On the back of a 05.30 start my patient and generous mother gave me a lift to Guisborough where I was met by regular faces of the ‘Hardmoors family’. (I am wary about this ‘family’ idea as it would make race director Jon Steele our metaphorical dad.) There they were, applying the usual mix of deep heat, vaseline and ibuprofen gel and poring over OS maps. I met my mate Robbie Dolan who was looking as nervous as a rugby league prop is ever going to look. As we made our way up Highcliffe Knabb, then down into Skelton and onwards to the first checkpoint at Saltburn, we caught up over recent goings on and plans for the future. Robbie is moving to Australia, which I thought an unnecessary step to avoid my wedding. However, since it sounds as though there is some serious ultra running to be done over there I decided to let him off.
As we hit the coast it was shaping up to be a glorious day. At the Saltburn checkpoint I had the usual five-minute banter about techno with Pat Mullins. From there we had a really good section through Skinningrove and then into Staithes. At Staithes I did have a borderline gripe with some of my co-runners who we found emerging from a side street. I presumed they had taken a wrong turn, but they told us that had been using a tap that they had discovered. At first I presumed the house belonged to one of the runners, but it seemed more likely that the tap was attached to a private house. Which I thought a bit presumptuous. Indeed, this flags something I have noticed over the years, namely that taking on a tough challenge does not entitle you to expect or demand other people to offer you their assistance or facilities. If they do, then you should be humbled by their willingness. And while I am on the subject, be polite and friendly to volunteers at checkpoints who give their time for free to help you – and shut the bloody gates! Nothing says ‘I’m not from round here’ more loudly than a wide open gate and a lycra clad runner in the distance.
Back to the coast. As we made our way out of Staithes and on to Runswick Bay the sky was blue and the breeze was perfect. We passed a lot of people on this section, including veterans Andy Norman, Sarah Booth and Steve Walker, all in quick succession. It was nice to see them, if only for a fleeting ‘How is life treating you?’ At Runswick Robbie got his drop bag and tackled some issues he’d been having with his feet. I was feeling sharp, so I wished him well and pressed on across the bay and past a massive pile of dead crabs.
I was surprising myself with my pace across this rugged and scenic stretch. I was looking forward to meeting my friend Lars at Sandsend. The plan was that he would be there with a car full of food. I accordingly pushed hard, expecting replenishment at the end of the section. With the sun high I was dripping with sweat. Come Sandsend, however, there was no Lars. A quick phone call found him delayed by heavy traffic. Not to worry, I thought as I used the checkpoint supplies. We arranged to meet a few miles on at Whitby Abbey. In Whitby I threaded my way between the throng of chip eaters, goths and daytime drinkers and sprinted up 150 of the 199 steps. Again, no Lars. And the expected van full of veg samosas and energy drinks wasn’t there either. This was a bit more of a problem: the next meeting point was another hour or so further on, at Robin Hood’s Bay. I rummaged around in my rucksack and gathered enough change for a can of Lilt. After 30 miles, the 199 steps and the gentle heat of the day, this was the nicest can of Lilt I can remember in a long time. I drank it next to the van and explained my predicament to the van’s owner. In doing so I was in no way angling for the free Crunchie that she gave me, but I was extremely grateful and touched that she did. If you are ever in Whitby buy a hotdog from the white van next to the abbey.
On the way to Robin Hood’s Bay I enjoyed the high cliffs and the calm sea below. On this stretch I was asked many times how far I was running. The mixture of bafflement (‘In one day?’) and positive reinforcement (‘Good for you, son!’) was tempered by a bloke whose unimpressed expression and sarcastic ‘Hmmm’ implied ‘So what. I could do that’. He did not look as though he could.
I finally connected with Lars at the Robin Hood’s Bay checkpoint. Here – and if any of my personal training clients are reading, please ignore this next sentence – I replenished with a cheese and onion pasty, veg samosa, jelly babies, chocolate, and a can of Red Bull.
On to Ravenscar. The terrain here is tough and the three to four miles are among the most arduous of the route. With the sugar spike of diabetic proportions that I was now experiencing I made good time, although my body, high on the refined sweetness I had just introduced it to, craved something a bit more natural. I stopped briefly at a blackberry bush. A walker coming the other way asked: ‘Is it OK to eat them?’. I ran on to Ravenscar trying to decide if they knew something I did not about the local geochemistry, or if they had genuinely never seen a blackberry before. Both were alarming prospects.
Occupied with these thoughts, I did not notice a bit of Cleveland Way route modification which now takes you down on an out and back route to the old Ravenscar Alum Works. If anyone is interested, alum, which is used to cure leather, was extracted from rocks burnt over bonfires for months at a time before having large volumes of human urine poured over them. As the population of Ravenscar was small, the urine here had to be imported. Adding in not just extra mileage but ascent and descent too, I remember thinking at the time that this out and back to the old factory was taking the piss. In retrospect I am more concerned about who first established the alum extraction process.
Lars met me at Ravenscar. I got some more food inside me, did not stick around and pushed on towards Scarborough. I had a good stretch of running here, as I did during my last completion of the Hardmoors 110, and enjoyed the beautiful sunset. I also came across a rather large and magnificent slow worm wriggling on the path. And I was really pleased to see one, then two, then ten, then hundreds of swallows flocking and flying along beneath and above the cliffs and around over the fields through which I was running. It was an uplifting experience which in context (they being at the start of their however-many-thousand-mile migration to Africa, me running to Filey) made everything seem a bit easier as I approached mile 50.
After Hayburn Wyke and a brief chat to Lars who had intersected me about four miles short of Scarborough, I finally approached the grand old seaside town just as the last light of the day had gone. I decided to walk the sea front as I did not think my knees deserved the punishment that this long stretch of unforgiving concrete inflicts. In hindsight this probably cost 15-20 minutes on my overall time, but in my book, that is a price worth paying for being able to walk comfortably the week after a race. I chatted to a couple of other runners. We moved along the front, discussing the race and the relatively short distance left to go.
Scarborough checkpoint was a bit earlier than usual, at the Spa Complex where the cheerful high-vis marshals were a welcome sight. Gratitude once again extends to these people who so generously give up their time to help us. Nobody gets to run these races without them. Lars was due to meet me here, but a call to find out where he was found him trying to win a Churchill dog from one of the claw grabbing games in a Scarborough arcade. He turned up, annoyed that he hadn’t won the dog, I restocked and then pressed on for the final stretch. I was pleased to note that I ran past one of the comedians from Peter Kaye’s Phoenix Nights, standing at the back of the Spa Complex and smoking a tab. He was as surprised to see a running man with a headtorch as I was to see somebody from the telly in the middle of night on the edge of Scarborough.
After some meandering and lots more steps, the route returns onto the clifftops and is runnable almost all the way in to Filey. Enjoying the fantastic moon bathing the sea in is yellow light, I ran and ran and ran all the way back to Filey Brigg, passing seven or eight other competitors on the way. I really enjoyed this final stretch and was almost disappointed when it came to an end. Down into Filey, I caught up with a couple of lads who had passed me at Hayburn Wyke and tagged along with them down to the end of the seafront and on to the finish at Filey High School. At the end of the Hardmoors 110 I spent the longest hour of my life trying to locate this finish. This time I walked the last mile, paying attention to every single step as I went. As I approached the school friendly support teams clapped me in. I jogged into the sports hall and the finish in 15 hours and 45 seconds. I was well pleased with this time and very happy to finish 36th out of 100+ starters.
More importantly, after DNFing last year’s 60 (30 miles short of the Grand Slam) and having DNF’d this year’s 55 and 110, I was delighted to put this shocker of a run of Hardmoors races behind me.