The Hardmoors Princess Challenge provides a choice of distance, with each option providing a challenge in their own right. The Short n Sweet (8.5 miles), the One in the Middle (17.5 miles) and the Ultra (31 miles). These races are not just for princesses, although wearing tiaras, tutus and pink garb is encouraged. I had a tiara set out but my daughter sat on it, although I did pack a pink Trail Outlaws buff as an alternative!
Photo L-R: Jonathan Hamill, Kathryn Sygrove, Andy Greener, Kath Dodd
The Ultra was billed as a circular route, starting at Ravenscar, dropping South to Hayburn Wyke along the Cleveland Way, then along the Cinder Track (disused railway lines) via Ravenscar, continuing North to Whitby. Taking in the 199 steps up to Whitby Abbey, the route returns along the Cleveland Way to Robin Hoods Bay, and finally back to Ravenscar. It’s a toughie in terms of elevation!
I’m no mountain goat 🐐 but recently I’ve been falling more for trail than road. I can’t put an exact finger on the cause but it is connected to my endless pursuit of ‘fast’ times. I enjoy the sensation of running quickly and trying to beat my times. I had a great year in 2016, breaking all my targets (e.g. 5k, 10k, HM). Earlier this year my focus was on completing the Paris Marathon (oops, I’ve just remembered that I haven’t yet written a race report!). I started to wonder what happens if I go sub 4 hours? Do I then aim for sub 3:30, and do I keep going, or is there something else out there?
I’d never considered myself to be capable of running ultramarathons – maybe that doubt alone provided sufficient motivation. In any case, the prospect of the Hardmoors Princess 👸 Challenge captivated me. At 50km, it seemed a logical step up, and mindful of the added challenge of terrain, I entered the event with Andy (who had conquered the race last year).
In terms of prep, this differed substantially from my rigid and detailed 12 week Paris Marathon plan. I run a fair bit usually and had done a 30km run (probably too fast) before going on holiday to France. Fortunately, I managed to keep the legs turning a fair bit during my holiday (probably too fast) but in the few days between my holiday and the race, I had a feeling of being a little underprepared.
After a shopping trip on Friday afternoon to equip us with various snacks for the day, we agreed to set off at 0600hrs on Saturday morning. Andy was in charge of pacing, and my responsibility was to ensure we navigated adequately. Having bought an OS map, and armed with the route description, I set about marking up the map late Friday evening. I think I had just over 5 hours sleep (a little less than usual – the excitement aplenty) and then the alarm went off – fortunately, I managed to silence it, and cancel the reserve, and the 2nd reserve alarms prior to tiptoeing around getting my stuff together.
And we were off – and in a little over an hour and a half, we were the second car into the parking field near to Ravenscar village hall. We had a few moments, so we examined Andy’s extensive shoe collection in his boot, and he opted for a trusty pair of well broken in Brooks road shoes, and a length of gaffer tape (just in case). A short walk to the village hall next, and we subjected ourselves to the mandatory kit check, prior to collecting our race numbers. You do have to take mandatory kit lists seriously given the terrain, and environment but I did think that if we really needed a head torch, we’d be in a bad place.
Compared to road races, there was no limbering up, no strides, but there was a coffee van parked outside for those who required a shot of pre-race caffeine. Having packed and adjusted my vest, we were summoned to the race briefing outside. We then lined up on the road, had a quick photo taken, and we were off!
I remembered all the advice from accomplished ultramarathoners of not setting off too fast, yet our initial downhill kilometre was 5:47/km. We slowed as we joined the Cleveland Way and headed South. The weather was fine and by the time we hit CP1 at Hayburn Wyke, the sun was out. I had two 500ml soft flasks and had only drunk half of one (note to self, drink more early on), so the option for some Dandelion & Burdock drink and a handful of jelly babies seemed in order.
We joined the Cinder Track and returned to Ravenscar, with Kath who was suffering from jet-lag having just returned from the other side of the world, and Kathryn who was suffering from a bout of giddiness, so much so that we banned her from any more cola at the next checkpoints. Undeterred, Kathryn sang her heart out to provide some musical accompaniment, the ‘bam-ba-lam’ of her tune keeping our cadence alive. We approached CP2 at Ravenscar village hall and paused briefly for some water and refreshments.
And on we pressed, where my first navigation test presented itself – left or right. Intuitively (as the map was well tucked away), I called left, and we joined the Cinder Track to Robin Hoods Bay and CP3, located conveniently beside some Public Toilets. Prawn Cocktail crisps were gladly received at this point. We then had some more Cinder Track miles which felt hard on the legs, and we were pleased (understatement) eventually to reach Whitby, where having amused some good tourist folk as we dashed through the town, we had the 199 steps to climb to Whitby Abbey. The race instructions said we had to run them, and foolishly I did initially but with the wind taken out of my sails, I settled for a more sedate pace (walk) to the top. Battling the urge in passing the ice-cream van, we pressed on along the cliff path, and we gladly reached CP4 just past the Saltwick Bay mini-market. The marshalls at CP4 were delighted to see us, and we replenished our stocks of water, prior to continuing along the cliff top path.
The next stretch seemed to go on forever, and we ran past cows, up hills, up more hills, and eventually reached CP5 (which was the earlier CP3). It was at this point that I thought the CP team were doing a weird dance, waving their arms – in fact, they were trying to describe the horror of the ups and downs that lay ahead. Then the downhill stretch into Robin Hoods Bay – torture on the legs because although part of me wanted to cover the ground faster, my sensible side told me that a gallop downhill at this point would end in disaster. What goes down must go back up, and we ascended countless steps up onto the Cleveland Way, heading to the delightful Boggle Hole – a lovely Youth Hostel apparently but a tortuous descent and ascent to escape towards Stoupe Beck. Our route description said simply, ‘Ascend the steps’ but there was nothing simple about this.
Our pace had suffered on this stretch – the challenge of multiple descents and ascents taking their toll. At one point, I became delirious that we had passed the marathon distance, and promptly took an unplanned dive for the deck. Pride dented, we pressed on, and Ravenscar was in our sights but still some distance away. There were some fairly brutal climbs, the worst perhaps being past the Cleveland Way Alum Works but we emerged past the National Trust centre at Ravenscar to familiar territory and the short climb up to the village hall. We managed a graceful trot to reach the welcome sight of Ravenscar village hall and the finish (in 7:23:58)! Those present (including Kathryn who had fled from us in the final section) gave us a clap and a cheer, and with medals in hand, we enjoyed a fantastic chip butty with salt, clapping and cheering for Kath and Claire (who had joined us earlier in the race) stormed through the door. We bid our farewells and headed for the hills!
I’d urge anyone with ultramarathon curiosity to have a go at the next Princess Challenge. Sure, it’s a tough race with over 1100m of climbs but what makes it easier is the camaraderie of the organisers and marshalls who do a fantastic job – most are accomplished ultramarathoners in their own right. The cola, dandelion and burdock, food and friendly cheer served up at the various checkpoints would galvanise the weariest of souls.
I really enjoyed the feeling of isolation, particularly on the cliff paths, with the odd reminder of us being in Yorkshire, as friendly hikers passed in the other direction with the odd, “Eyup”. I learned that next time, I need to drink more early on. I also might experiment with my choice of Cliff bars – I had two during the event but found the dry consistency challenging. Yes, it was tough and hurt in a different way to a road race but on 2nd September, I became an ultramarathoner. I’m grateful for the support of Lesley, Andy, this club, and Kelly and her team, including Scarborough & Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team who make the event happen.
The Princess Challenge is a fundraising event for the Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team. If you can support their vital work via a donation, please do so here.
You can also relive the route via this link.