Category Archives: Ultra Marathon

St Cuthberts Way 45 mile Ultra Marathon, Saturday, June 29, 2019

Simon Graham

It’s a quiet Friday afternoon here at work, and after some reflection I feel recovered enough to compile a run report. I’m not joking, this was a tough one and I’m still feeling it.

I’ll start at the Finish, When we finished fellow Strider Aaron Gourley was sat on the steps with his head in his hands having finished around 35 minutes before us. “That was one of the toughest races I’ve ever done” I recall him saying. It sticks with me because, Yes Aaron, It was a tough day on the course, and if someone like Aaron is saying that just imagine how I was feeling!

I ran this race in 2018 with friends and we finished around 3am, it was a real hot day last year and two of the five of us that started dropped out en-route. 2019’s event was to be even tougher, at least for me anyway. It was hot, but not blazing blue skies hot, there was plenty of cloud cover. It was the humidity that was to cause the pain and suffering in 2019.

Starting in Wooler and finishing in Melrose this was the shorter of two Trail Outlaws St Cuthbert’s Way events taking place on the day. The longer event, 100KM had started two hours earlier on Holy Island. Both events follow the St Cuthbert’s Way national trail. Now St Cuthbert might have been a good monk, but his sense of direction is terrible. Its only 35 miles by road to Melrose from Wooler and all pretty flat. The route his trail takes is anything but!

The first 20 miles to the checkpoint at Morebattle are tough. The vast majority of the courses 6700 foot (ish) of climb takes pace in these first 20 miles. The second half of the run (no chance of racing!) is much nicer for running with the exception of the last 2/3 miles which take you over the Eldon hills and in to Melrose. This year though for me there seemed to be far more up than down.

I’d agreed to run this race with my good friend and fellow Strider Dave Toth, agreeing to stay together from the start no matter how they day was progressing. Something I’d be thankful for in the later stages, as Dave pretty much dragged me round (more on this later).

From the start at Wooler you take in some of the fantastic views that the Cheviot Hills have to offer, heading towards the first CP at Hethpool at around 8.5 ish miles. This first part of the run was great fun, fresh legs, nice views, and some cloud cover to protect from the burning sun. We met up with our support crew for the first time just before the CP, ironically as I was walking up a hill eating.

Just after CP1 starts the real challenge, the battle to Morebattle. CP2 is at Morebattle and all I can remember of this section is it goes up, up a bit more, you think you’re at the top, then you swear a bit as it’s a false summit and you’re still going up. Eventually you do come down, but then there’s another climb before finally getting to CP2. During this section we caught up with fellow Strider Eric Green who was not having a good day Eric was with us for a while before dropping back. We found out later that Eric had stopped at Morebattle. This wasn’t his target event and in the days conditions probably the wise choice.

Our amazing support crew not only were on hand at CP2, but had ran out to meet us shortly after the delights of Wideopen Hill. The sight of full bottles of water was one I will remember.

Fresh t-shirt and socks at CP2 were the order of the day and that’s what I got. Now I normally always run in a compression top (to keep the bouncy bits in place), but today as luck would happen I had forgotten my second short sleeve one and had to go for t-shirt alone. I may have passed out with a compression top on as the humidity was so intense it was sapping the energy out of me like never before.

Not wasting any time we were off again towards CP3 at Bonjedward eating sandwiches as we left, at least I was. Elaine Bisson who was running the 100K event came into the checkpoint as we were leaving. She had ran about 19 miles more than us and was looking strong.

Around about midpoint between Morebattle and Bonjedward there is a newly built house next to a road, I have no idea where this place is, but it’s around 25 miles into the route. It was here that our support  crew were about to become life savers, not just to us, but other runners too!

The heat and humidity were by now really starting to get to me, and I was struggling to cool myself down, even walking and pouring water over my cap and buff wasn’t having the desired effect I was over heating and knew it. Knowing where the next place our crew could get to I called Jill up, the shock of the phone call from me probably sent fear through her, and asked them to meet us by the new house.

Elaine Bisson had not long passed us on her phenomenal run when we again caught up with her, she was in need of sugar to keep her going and Dave suggested that she meet our support and have his jam doughnut. I believe the crew offered gin, but the doughnut and water was enough. When we reached the crew I had ice packs placed on my shoulders, and water doused over me, this along with some cola seemed to do the job and get my body temperature down. Dave, as always, was fine or at least he wasn’t letting on if he was struggling. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen him struggle.

Onward we pressed, 5 ish  more miles to the next official CP at Bonjedward, seemingly all uphill from memory apart from the descent into the CP itself. Straight through this CP with a quick stop for melon, Red Kola (a constant on Trail Outlaws events) and a water refill.

The route to CP4 at Maxton Church is pretty much a blur. I can recall rivers, crossing a suspension bridge, making a navigation error, some fields, a speed camera (navigation error). Essentially fatigue was really starting to kick in now and the main aim was to just keep moving, and in the right direction.

Just before CP4 at Maxton we once again met up with our support crew who had ran / walked out to meet us, they accompanied us into the CP and set about doing their things. water refills, food stocks, etc. They really were amazing. I was ready for another change of shirt and socks  before the final push into Melrose, and it was here that the cramp kicked in…
As I sat on the passenger seat of Jill’s car attempting to remove my socks my left calf went into cramp, I started screaming, Jill started shouting. “I’m in cramp” I said in agony, “Well there is nothing I can do about it is there”, Jill replied. ” Stand up” she said firmly.
Eventually, socks on, shoes on, salt tablet taken we headed back out onto the course.

The final 8/9 miles, again are a bit of a blur, until the Eldon hills anyway. There’s lots of wooded sections, a village with a nice smelling Chinese takeaway, a river, a golf course and the constant throbbing that was the cramp in my left calf, that bit I can vividly remember. The thunder storm and ensuing down pour I can also remember. I had been wanting this all day! Wetness, freshness, coolness! We were leaving the golf course when this happened if anyone cares (or knows where I’m on about).

As we entered the final section and ascended the Eldon Hills the day’s heat and humidity followed by the thunder storm brought with it fog and mist in the woods, making visibility a real challenge. Fortunately, there was only one trail to follow. Dave, leading us up the hill as he had done all day, had the brightest light ever seen attached to the back of his race pack and I was able to ’follow the light’ up the hill, out of the woods and to the glorious sight that was Melrose town beneath us. We only had to descend and we were finished.

The earlier thunderstorm whilst being kind enough at the time to cool me off had also decided it would turn the trail descending in to Melrose into mud; adding extra weight to already tired legs. Descending carefully we entered Melrose to be greeted by the welcoming committee, our support crew and 11th placed Mark Dalton who was staying with us. From where we met the days ‘heroes’ to the finish is only around 300 metres up the high street past, our accommodation, and in to the rugby club. These were to be the fastest 300 metres of the day.

A fellow runner who we’d been running with, navigating on and off during the last section had over taken us whist we’d been enjoying our victories with friends. We weren’t going to be beaten by him, so a sprint ensued. It was probably more like a gentle jog, but felt like a sprint to beat this guy into the finish. We did it, and since Dave had lead all day he lead us home.

It had taken us until just before midnight to complete this epic challenge, but we made it. Starting and finishing on the same day. I was handed a ‘Gin in a Tin’ and sat down on the steps opposite Aaron Gourley. I was grey. I was exhausted. I felt sick. I was drinking that gin.

What have I learnt?

Well, firstly I couldn’t do anything like this without the support of my fantastic other half Jill and the rest of the day’s support crew. They were amazing. I would have DNF’d without them. Secondly I have realised that I don’t have the mental capacity to do an event of this nature on my own. Without Dave setting the pace and pushing on up the hills allowing me to give chase I would have slowed and just walked a lot more than I did. I would have ensured that I finished, but it would have been hours later. Lastly I have learnt that I can’t do events like this without having two recovery days after the event. This event took place on the Saturday, finishing just before Midnight. I was back at work on the Monday, lets just say it was a struggle and leave it there.

Official results click here.


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Last One Standing, Castleward, Northern Ireland, Saturday, February 16, 2019

Stuart Scott

During the Summer of 2018 I entered GB24, an event where you had to run as many 5.7 mile loops as possible, in 24 hours, I absolutely hated it and vowed never to enter a looped event ever again. Fast forward 7 months and there I am stood on the start line of Last One Standing Castleward a looped event with no pre-determined end.

The format of the race is simple every hour, on the hour, you set off to complete a loop of 4.1666 miles (meaning every 24 hours 100 miles is covered) once you have completed a loop you have to be ready to start the next on the stroke of the following hour. If you fail to complete a loop within one hour you are timed out, if you are not in the start area at the stroke of the next hour you are also timed out. The race continues indefinitely until only one remains, they are crowned the champion and everyone else is officially classed as DNF.

So why would I ever enter such an event when I hated GB24 so much? The reason behind this is I love pushing myself to the limit, big adventures and races that are a little different. One of the most famous extreme ultra marathons in the world called The Barkley Marathons is hosted by a guy called Lazarus Lake, this legend also puts on a race called Big Dogs Back Yard Ultra, Laz stated he would grant automatic entry to his race is you won Last One standing, I just couldn’t resist giving it a shot. Big Dogs Backyard Ultra attracts some of the best ultra runners in the world and I would be joining them out in Tennessee in October if I could pull it off, there were a number of events worldwide that could get you into ‘Bigs’ and the first two golden ticket winners did it in 104 and 129 miles.

At 12 noon on 16th February me, my good wife Susan and 127 others stood on the start line with no idea of how long we were going to be running for. Susan had only decided to enter 4 days previously and the plan was she would stay with me for as long as possible then help support me for as long as it went on for, we were hoping she would complete about 6 laps as she hadn’t run over 10 miles in ages and her distance PB was 26.2 miles.

At the stroke of 12 the race got underway and it just felt really weird as everyone was trying to go as slow as possible, everyone was stressing they were going too fast and people made comments about how stupid some were tearing off at something crazy like a 10 minute mile pace. There was a great atmosphere from the off and everyone was really excited about the prospect of going as far as they possibly could.

As there was 129 of us on relatively small forest trails everyone just snaked along, it felt as if we were part of a big club social run or something. Everyone was just chatting away, enjoying the scenery and getting to know each other it was really very pleasant. The first lap finished and this is when the stress began, we only had 10 minutes to eat, drink, queue then go to the toilet then get ready to start the next lap, it was amazing how fast those few precious minutes went.

The same pattern continued for the next five laps, easy going out on the trail and then a massive stress to get ready for the start of the next lap, completing a 4.1 mile loop in one hour is very doable for most club members however if you need the toilet on your break it can take up a few minutes and you constantly have this little voice telling you if you don’t fuel up properly its game over.

By lap 6 the head torches came out and Susan still felt great, this was a massive bonus for me, we just continued on around as if we were on a Sunday afternoon run out. The laps quickly passed by and as there hadn’t been too many early fallers Susan was determind to keep on going, we hit 10 laps and this is when she decided she had another 2 left in her, if she hit 12 laps that would be 50 miles and a new distance PB for her of 23.8 miles. Susan absolutely smashed it and we were both so happy she’d achieved such a massive distance PB.

Starting lap 13 felt strange, I was now out on my own, there was still a real social feel to the run as everyone is together at the start of each lap and most people are concentrating on going slower rather than faster, you chat a lot along the way. I found myself constantly trying to work out who my real competition were, I would strike up conversation with the people that looked like they were really good runners along with those wearing t shirts for seriously hard races that I intend to complete myself one day.

The laps steadily past by and I continued to feel great, I knew the race would go on a long time so had always just tried to think of the first 24 hours as the warm up, this probably sounds pretty crazy as 24 hours means 100 miles but so much is needed mentally to keep you in a race like this and I had to get my ‘warm up’ right.

By 6 am I was really ready for the night to come to an end as the morning meant I was within reach of my ‘starting point’. At about 6.30am I caught up with another runner who’s head torch had died, as I had a spare I lent him mine, he was very grateful, however unfortunately for me my battery failed 10 minutes after this meaning I was now in the dark without my spare! After 5 minutes of running in the dark, hoping the sun was going to rise any minute, another runner came to my rescue and I borrowed his spare to help complete the lap.

The first 7 minutes of my next break were going great when suddenly I got really bad stomach cramps, in any normal situation I would have headed straight for the toilet however the problem I had was the next loop started in 3 minutes and I simply didn’t have time, I carefully made my way to the start wondering how on earth I was going to get out of this predicament when all of a sudden I felt fine again panic over and off we went.

More time and loops passed by and before I knew it I was coming to the end of loop 24, the 100 mile mark and the long anticipated end of my ‘warm up’. We were told there was going to be a photo to the celebrate the 100 mile club so I spent the last 2 mins of my precious 10 desperately seeking out my striders vest for the photo, I think I made it to the start area with about 15 seconds to spare.

By the end of lap 26 I was on a total runners high, I was buzzing and asking Susan to dig out the head torches again as everything would need to be fully charged as I was definitely going for another night. I don’t think Susan was fully sharing my enthusiasm at this point, she had completed a massive distance PB herself only hours earlier and had, had virtually no sleep as every hour I would come storming into the tent waking her up asking where was this, that and the other, looking back now I don’t know how I didn’t get punched, think I’ve definitely got a good one there!

By the end of lap 27 things were starting to change and I could feel the dreaded death spiral looming. My lap times had all been pretty consistent but when you can hear the call for the next loop to start in 15 minutes and you are still about 10 minutes from the end of a loop it really starts to mess with your head. You are tired, you need a rest, the toilet, to eat, to drink to plan what your next move is but you also know you only have 5 minutes to do this before it all starts again. I finished my lap sat down for a drink trying to think straight then the call came that we had only two minutes to get to the start for the next loop, I could have cried!

My three children had recently arrived with my sister in law and although it was fantastic to see them it didn’t half cause me to have a roller coaster of emotions, when I first saw them I was so happy but then my kids wouldn’t come near me cause I was too smelly!

I started loop 28 trying to put on a brave face for the kids but I was now in serious trouble, I did the first 300 meters or so then my eldest two Oscar 6 and Katie 4 came running across the grass to meet me at the first turn I was way behind the other runners now and am not ashamed to admit I burst into tears when I saw them cheering me on Oscar’s face dropped asking what was the matter I told him I was trying my best and he should always do the same, he told me he would.

I was in a right state, I’d brought my phone on this lap I was listening to my favourite fearless motivation album, I started messaging a people I’ve spent a lot of time training with as well as looking through all the messages of support on the Striders Facebook page desperately seeking for motivation to pull myself out of this hole, I am very grateful to everybody who helped pick me up at this point. I ate a load of sweets, drank a lot of sugary stuff and continued on. My first two miles of this lap must have been really slow but I managed to pull it around somehow and caught a good few of the other runners up, much to their surprise, and finished the lap.

I pretty much knew I wasn’t going to make lap 29, within the hour, however I was never going to give up from the start line so my only option was to set off and hope I didn’t make it back in less than an hour as that would mean I would have to go again, it really screws with your mind!

After the first few hundred meters it was pretty obvious I didn’t have a chance in completing another loop within the hour so I just walked and stumbled round very slowly. I saw Susan her dad and the kids about a mile into this loop and told them it was game over, I think they were all relieved. I stumbled on to the second mile marker and hoped I could just cut back from there taking the final two miles off the course, I was informed this wasn’t allowed so if I did this I would lose the two miles I had done, I wasn’t going to lose these off what was already a massive distance Pb for me so I stumbled on like an 80 year old drunk.

As I stumbled on I came across a border collie that seemed to be with a man on a bike, the dog kept following me and I’ve got to say I quite enjoyed his company, five minutes later the guy on the bike returned to ask if it was my dog as someone had lost one. I told him it wasn’t mine but I took it by the collar and said I would keep walking the race route with it so to let the owner know if he saw her again. I found a piece of rope to make a lead and continued on with my new buddy kind of hoping the owner wouldn’t find me before the end so I could walk in with it for a cool finish photo. The grateful owner caught up with me 200 meters before the end and I was robbed of my ‘Big Dog’ finish

I think I completed lap 29 in about 1h30 and fell into Susan’s arms on the finish line, I was done but am proud to say I gave it everything I had. I waited to shake the hands of the remaining runners and was driven away completely in ore of the 8 remaining runners heading out onto lap 31 with no end in sight and much talk of a 200 mile plus race!

I ended up being 9th last one standing with just over 120 miles whilst the winner Peter Cromie went on to complete 41 laps and over 170 miles!!

Overall both Susan and I absolutely loved this event and we will definitely be heading back next year. It would be fantastic to see some other Striders over there and to have a team tent where we could inspire and motivate each other on to meet our own personal goals so if you fancy a bit of a Striders on tour event please get in touch if any of the following appeal to you:

  • You will most likely set a new distance PB
  • You have the opportunity to push yourself to your absolute limits both mentally and physically
  • You will be surrounded by like minded people in a very social setting
  • You will be massively inspired by being surrounded by so many people achieving huge personal goals
  • Speed means nothing, pacing and endurance is everything
  • You could get a few days in beautiful Northern Ireland out of it
  • If you bring your partner you can enjoy hours of quality time together even if you normally run at completely different paces
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Country to Capital Ultra, Wendover to London, Saturday, January 12, 2019

45 miles

Paul Evans

Cat: there’s no way this one’s getting into the FRA calendar

Reviewing my running in 2018 in November was, on the whole, a satisfactory experience: decent weekly mileage? Check, with only a few slack weeks due to injury or work. Getting some worthwhile XC and cat A/B fell races in? Check, with a handful I’d never done before slipped in. Knocking a bit of time off previous PBs on a couple of races? Check once more. The only real holes in what was otherwise a good year were the failure to get across to any of the Lakeland Classics and the 2x ultra, Did Not Starts, the former (Calderdale Hike) due to a bout of man-flu that hit me the evening before and saw me find out what a temperature of c40c feels like (not great, would not recommend), the latter (Bradwell) as a result of a shift over-running to the point that I’d not left work by the time my train pulled out of Central Station. As a consequence, whilst on a bit of a high after taking 6 minutes off my Pendle PB, I looked at the ultra calendar for something, anything, that I could knock off early in the year to get some big miles in my legs. This essentially boiled down to a choice of two southern ultras, the Peddar’s Way in Norfolk and the Country to Capital Ultra, the latter eventually chosen as it was easier to get to and less likely to be snowed-off in the event of a ‘Beast from the East’ reprise. Once booked, I did the logical thing and promptly returned to training by both running up and down hills, and doing some road-based interval work, managing to rack up a single run in the intervening period of 20 miles (I think), but definitely getting faster over middle-distance – a core ultra skill.

Funnily enough given the above, I was not 100% confident when 12 Jan 19 came around that I had the necessary miles in my legs, and upon getting to Wendover early on the Saturday morning, had distinctly mixed feelings about what was about to transpire, repeating to myself the mantra ‘be like Anna (Seeley, the only ultra-runner I know who makes it look easy),’ as this was the only way I could see myself finishing – set a pace, stick to it, don’t think about going too fast etc; essentially, run metronomically for hour after hour after hour. Oh, and stop and take whatever food and drink is on offer, whenever it is on offer. With this plan, I registered, collected my EMIT tag and number, dropped my bag at the van that would take it to the finish, used the portable loos repeatedly and then set off in the middle of the 2-300 runners down Wendover High Street hoping to get to Paddington in around 7 hours or a little less.

The first mile was easy, and essentially a tour of a fairly pretty market/commuter town before mile 2 saw us hit the first, and biggest hill of the course, a pleasant walk up a wooded track, which would have been very runnable were it not for the facts that a) everyone else was walking and I was stuck b) there was still a VERY long way to go. We got to the top and I started running again, keeping a pace of 8:20 – 8:50 min/miles dependent upon terrain (largely wooded/farmland and rather pleasant), with a brief dip sub-8 on a nice long road descent, and hit CP1 at Chesham, 7.7m in for water, a bit of cake and the knowledge that the leader had gone through in around 53 minutes; I was impressed, though the occupants of this outpost of Betjeman’s Metroland appeared less-so, carrying on normal Saturday morning life as a stream of runners trickled through their town centre, through a nature reserve and past youth football training, en route to CP2, Horn Hill, 17.3 miles in and again, most of it nice-if-unremarkable green countryside with the occasional village to break up the greenery.

After leaving CP2 it was straight downhill through more fields to the M25, which I must confess to feeling slightly awed by, running high over it on a bridge that appears used largely by animals and tractors (judging by the underfoot matter) and feeling viscerally the speed and relentless roar of the many lanes of constant traffic underneath.

Straight after crossing I actually had to apply my brain a little, as several of us became temporarily confused by the correct route out of Maple Cross, eventually finding our way down to the A41, which we hand-railed for the next mile. This loose agglomeration of half a dozen of us was to last for a few miles, taking us off the main road and up a steep wooded embankment to skirt Denham aerodrome and cross a golf course, thankfully both holes crossed having people putting rather than giving it their all with their drivers. Into Denham itself, the railway station served as a convenient landmark (we had to run under it) as well as the halfway point and, also, a marker that the fun was nearly over. One of our remaining trio (two had dropped away and one other had picked up his pace) had reconnoitred the second half of the route, running from Paddington to Denham and taking the train back, and simply said ‘welcome to the Grand Union Canal, in its’ bleak majesty. It all looks a bit like this from now on.’ He was not wrong.

Before things became truly unpleasant there were highlights, however: CP3 was only a further 4-5 miles in, marking marathon distance (3:46hrs) and being equipped with water, mini-sausages and mini-beef-and-veg pasties, which hit the spot very nicely as I walked away (again, figuring that losing a bit of time was better than accidentally inhaling pastry and provoking a coughing/vomiting fit – it has been known).

Food taken, I trotted on, solo now for the rest of the race as my companions were looking to run in at 9-9:30 min/miles from here, whereas I was still feeling comfortable at c.8:30 or so and knew I had one more piece of navigation to accomplish, this being taking the Paddington canal branch at a white bridge 3 miles on, with a sign pointing and saying ‘Paddington’ on it. Backing myself to manage this, I followed the water, occasionally changing sides as the towpath switched at locks, urban London starting to intrude more as the greenery beside the canal became dotted with fly-tipping and the quiet of the countryside was disturbed by the hum of concrete plants, distribution warehouses, rakes of freight wagons on lines running parallel and over and then, finally, commuter and tube trains announcing we were definitely in the capital. Having passed through Southall, the highlight being a bouncy floating bridge carrying the towpath past a building site, CP4 came at 33 miles, then was followed a mere 4 miles later by CP5, the organisers bunching them closer to allow for the fact that later runners would be finishing in the dark, paired after 1500hrs. I was still at a pace that felt comfortable breathing-wise through both, but was starting to slow slightly after CP5 and both feet were beginning to get rather sore; if honest, whilst the backs of factories and warehouses are of interest in some ways, this was not the scenery I’m used to and the lack of reason to change pace or watch my foot placement was strangely hypnotic, the daydreams being disturbed only by occasional cheers from passers-by, the smell of skunk at fairly regular intervals and the odd grunted hello to a competitor as I ground past them. Truthfully, even a day later I can’t remember how many people I overtook in the last 10 miles of the race, but it was a handful and all appeared to be suffering a little, with just finishing clearly being the aim. Again, all I tried to do was maintain rhythm and pace, step-by-step, mile by mile, and the repression of my earlier instincts to run faster made this possible.

Finally, Little Venice arrived, the finish being hidden from view until 20 yards away by a bridge, and all the more wonderful for the surprise. EMIT handed in, confirmed that I’d managed 6:22, and was apparently 22nd overall, the winner having managed sub-5hrs. After that, tea, water, reclaim baggage and stroll to the tube with a couple of other finishers, doubtless smelling a bit ripe, before a quick wash in a pub toilet prior to getting the train back north.

Thoughts? Good event, though even stripping out the fatigue effect, the first half is much nicer running than the second. Well-organised, the pleasant-seeming organisers being ex-military, which is always a plus, and serious runners themselves, with the CPs being spaced sensibly and the cut-offs neither too tight nor too likely to lead to disaster.

Overall, despite this being some distance outside my comfort zone for pace, terrain or distance, I enjoyed this more than I expected. Indeed, I’d even recommend it to Anna, whose way of doing business essentially got me around, next time she wants some long-distance, canal-based fun.

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Hardmoors 30, Ravenscar, North Yorkshire, Tuesday, January 1, 2019

30 miles

Mark Kearney

Epilogue

The plan was coming together in early 2018. A friend and I were talking of taking on the Hardmoors Marathon series in 2019 after several 10k and half marathon races in 2017 and 2018. The aims of increasing the distance, the elevation, the number of events over a 12-month period were all challenges we believed we were up for….and as part of the training in advance of the first ‘Chapter’ of the Hardmoors series we thought it would be good to take on the New Years Day Hardmoors 15. 15 I hear you say, but the title says 30…. there must be a mistake, a typo in the report which needs correcting…..alas no. The only error occurred by me failing to log on in time to secure a spot in the 15 being forced to sign up for the 30. The cursor hovering over the payment button longer than usual given this was on New Year Day…..however it was not enough to deter me, we pressed proceed and we were in, booked up for 30 Hardmoors miles.

Mark Kearney running along coastal path with lighthouse behind him.

Generally having a good weekly mileage behind me I was confident I could manage the distance but with little hill work other than races in December I went into Christmas wanting to know what I was getting into. A recci of the route a week before helped me understand the areas I thought I could gain time against the ‘mountain goats’ in the race and have a better understanding of the terrain and stages of the race.

An early morning start as usual for the race with the long drive to Robin Hoods Bay for the 9:30 klaxon. As usual the registration area was already busy, seeing some familiar faces and already feeling the warmth and positivity which these races and the runners seem to have in bucket loads. I collected my number, passed the mandatory kit check (and was asked if I was running with my travelling back pack…scary), packed up the hydration vest and started to go for the warmup and congregation on the starting line.

As the competitors gathered on the starting line around me I often reflect on the why, the what and on the where did all this seem normal. A near 40 year old man, wearing compression tights, a race vest, hydration pack and even packing walking poles and a compass…. On New Years Day in 2000 if I could have saw into the future of 2019 I would have reached for another beer to take the image from my mind.

I knew the route, I had completed the research, first 6-7 miles was along a cinder track to Whitby, through the town and up the steps to the abbey. I new this would be a good stretch for me, solid footing, slight incline but steady pace would have me in a good position I hoped a quarter of the way into the race. As the race started there were 4-5 of us in a pack for the first mile…. steady pace until the lead runner picked up the pace and started to kick out 6:30 min/miles towards Whitby. I responded by increasing slightly but knowing we had 27+ miles to go wasn’t interested in a foot race this early on in proceedings and stuck to a slightly revised version of my plan.

After the climbing of the steps I had opened up a gap behind me to the third placed runner but had no sight of the leader. Thinking he had kept his pace going I kept the best rhythm possible on the contours of the Cleveland Way on the route back to Robin Hoods Bay for the half way check point. The ground and weather to us were kind in equal measure as we ran along the cliff tops, the ground hardened since the previous weeks recci which I was extremely glad of which allowed me to make good time over the first 13 miles.

Back into Robin Hoods Bay check point at mile 13/14, shouted out my number, gave a wave to the marshal, grabbed a handful of jelly babies and off I went. Next stop Ravenscar and Hayburn Wyke for the third quarter of the route. Again I knew this was back on the cinder track, firm footing but a steady climb to Ravenscar before flattening to Hayburn, chance to push on to see if I could see the leader…..all to no avail but knowing I had tried left me confident I shouldn’t have lost time on third place. Here I filled up my water for the first time since the start before the last push back along the coast and the Cleveland Way to Robin Hoods Bay. Taking on more fuel I prepared for the technical part of the race, a series of climbs and descents from cliff top to bay, down stone steps, boggle holes and the like as we raced back to Robin Hoods Bay; wind in our faces as we made our way over the cliff tops and through the tree lined trail.

Running down through the steep descent through Ravenscar to the Alum works, remembering this on the recci and the route to go through the works on the Cleveland Way through to Robin Hoods Bay…. or was it straight past the Alum works? I kept going knowing it shouldn’t be that much of a detour, only to come out and turn around and see third place behind me…. from nowhere. Immediately the pace picked up as I passed multiple tourists walking along the coast for a New Year’s Day stroll, a million ‘excuse me’s’, ‘runner coming through’ and ‘sorry’s’ later I was down at the base of Robin Hoods, no sign of third place…..on reflection given how bad I thought I would smell after the best part of four hours running you would think they would move quicker out of my way. Ill forgive them though due to the breeze and the fresh sea air combined with the previous nights copious amounts of alcohol.

One last push I knew, a sting in the tail, a steep climb on tarmac from the bay to Flyingdales community centre. A push and drive of the legs up to the crest and a turn back to see no one behind me…a chance to relax, gather and refresh the legs before the climbs levelled off allowing a few minutes to find rhythm before the finish line and put on a brave face….. and finally seeing the first placed runner again.

The clue is invariably in the race series title that these will be Hard but the spirit of the organisers, competitors, marshals and supporting families make these fantastic races and extremely popular for all ages and abilities and something I would recommend to anyone.

Overall a great race, great day and great way to start 2019. 4 hours of running, over 2000 foot of climb in a beautiful part of Northern England….and happy to come away with second place.

p.s. it was also great to see Dave Toth picking up his 1000 Hardmoors Mile in the 15 event…impressive if punishing running!

results

posbibtimenamecat
11394:04:30Phil Jones (Shropshire Shufflers)MV40
21404:09:27Mark KearneyM
581145:50:08Eric GreenMV50
621135:52:09Aaron GourleyMV40
(Visited 61 times, 1 visits today)

The Montane Cheviot Goat Winter Ultra Run, Ingram Village Hall, Breamish Valley, Northumberland, Saturday, December 1, 2018

55miles, 95% on trail/fell, 9500ft ascent, 24 hour limit

Elaine Bisson

A 55 m ultra run will test all your abilities as both your body and mind are placed under stress in this unforgiving environment.’

The Cheviot Goat takes you to ‘the last wild places in England where population count per square mile is the lowest to be had.’ Well if that doesn’t grab your attention, perhaps read Stuart’s 2017 race report! Last year at this time I’d just finished reading it, it was a scary report, particularly those last few miles, but the sense of the immense challenge and satisfaction remained with me. A month or so later entries opened for the 2018 race and with it, a flurry of messages from Stuart… ‘You’re not chicken, are you?’, was the one that really wound me up (think Marty Mcfly!)

And so it was that I stupidly entered. I regretted it the second later. Anyhow, I had the ‘Bob’ to train for and recover from after, so this was a race that gave me nightmares, which strangely excited me and one that I’d rather not face. I was honestly planning NOT to be on the start line. A little more coercion from Stuart and I was out recceing the route. It’s fine, it was just a training run…one that we’d managed well, taking time to map read and successfully navigate until the last 4-miles, when somehow we’d convinced each other that the compass and map, and all logic, was illogical…but then after 30mins of studying the map and the clearly visible landscape, we’d followed the compass and found our way home.

This worried me enormously but yet again a week later I was out at 8:30 pm on that same hill in the dark with Stuart, Sam and Kim ‘mastering’ the last section so I’d be fine come race day. We’d ‘aced’ it, returning to the car at 2 am to return home and collapse on the sofa only to be woken again at 7 am by the kids prodding me!

This running through bogs in the middle of the night lark sure beat my student partying days!

I invested in new kit, good, warm kit. I spread all of my kit options out on the bedroom floor and weighed each piece then decided between items to pack. My kit bag, come race day, needed more than the minimum. I get cold quickly and, if I were to get injured in this race, I’d need them until I was found… which potentially could be a long time.

I got a few messages, most implying I shouldn’t race. The thought of challenging myself trumped the fear and that strange and wonderful excited/nervous/incredibly excited feeling returned that I hadn’t felt since the Bob.

My worries were:
• Will I get lost… well I’d recceed most of the route, the rest appeared fine (+ GPS packed as the last resort.);
• Will I get hypothermia?…so I packed loads of extra layers;
• Will I die in the dark in Hedgehope bog after my head torch has packed in? (spare head torch battery packed, portable battery charger packed, extra head torch packed with extra batteries!).

And so it was, my bag was packed, picnic packed, waterproof map packed and cut to size (200g saved!), drop bag packed with a change of clothes, trainers, extra food and drink. The downside of all this packing, for every eventuality, meant that my bag weighed a tonne.

Friday night I moved out to the spare room and set my alarm for 3 am, Stuart was to pick me up at 3:45, registration was until 5:30 am. Game time, 6 am.

We travelled up listening to motivation clips. Stuart was on an incredible high; he kept repeating ‘Game Time’ in a crazily giddy way. It cheered me up immensely. We registered in the village hall, my beautifully packed clothes had to be unpacked and checked prior to getting my number.

I started to panic, I always do. I look around and convince myself I don’t belong, that all these fit runners will see through my facade and laugh that I’d even attempt it. Stuart said my nervousness reminded him of me pacing around the Moot Hall before the Bob. ‘Game Time’ he kept repeating until it rung in my head. A few trips to the toilet and some fell running legend spotting (secretary of BGR club, Jasmine Paris, Kim Collinson, Carol Morgan, Tom Hollins…), then we gathered on the start line ready for 6 am. It was pitch black and frosty and who was to stand next to me but Jasmin Paris, the only one dressed in the tiniest of shorts. I chatted briefly to her about running and children before we were off and away.

Stuart kept with me here, I was relieved to finally get started and to follow the tracks, loads of people and head torches lighting the way. It seemed that lots flew past as I stopped to climb a stile (and they jumped the gate). I was worried that we were already at the end of the pack. Stuart reassured me that we weren’t. ‘Look back at the top of the ridge and you’ll see all the lights’…I did and it was so pretty, a string of fairy lights stretching across the dark landscape.

We soon hit a flat track and Stuart sped off; I’d thought I’d kept him in range only to realise the pack I thought was Stuart belonged to another runner. I was slightly disheartened as I enjoy his company; I thought that was the last I’d see of him until the end.

It wasn’t long until the sun started to streak the sky with pink and orange. I’d been enjoying myself; I knew this section of the route. It felt wonderful to start the day running through the landscape knowing most people were wrapped up in their beds. I was looking forward to the challenge, to see if I could get myself around. I turned off my head torch as soon as I could, not long before the second checkpoint, trying to save precious battery for later.
The end of the section we’d recceed came too soon; Nagshead Knowe is where we’d cut through the forest to join the second half on our recce. Strange to think how long it would take to reach the Border Ridge when now it was barely half a mile away.

Now onto the first of the bad bogs up Bloodybush Edge. I’m sure Stuart’s ears must have been burning as I cursed him repeatedly. The fog closed in as we climbed and it was pretty unpleasant up there. Down and up to Cushat Law and I spotted a ponytail. I wondered if this belonged to a man or a woman only to realise it was Carol Morgan (winner of the Spine) along with Shelli Gordon (I reckoned these must be 2nd and 3rd ladies) and low and behold my mate, Stuart!

I tagged onto the group and kept with them for quite some time. It was pretty tough underfoot, either bogs or thick heather without much of a trod anywhere.

We soon dropped down out of the mist and you could see for miles over the rolling fells. The tracks became grassier and easier going. I’d tucked myself nicely into a pack and had 2nd and 3rd ladies in clear sight. I started chatting to another runner, he’d marshalled at the DT series and had run the tour last year, we kept together for quite some time. This ultra running was quite sociable!

I was bursting for a wee and with very little cover I dived behind a rock; this is when Stuart, Carol and Shelli sped off. I’d been complaining about my snack choice (I was obsessing with yogurt…reminiscent of Stuart and his rice pudding!). I was having difficulty swallowing anything else; Stuart kindly left me a yoghurt on the track. I was also dreaming of hot sweet tea (always a bad sign, a sign that I’ve had enough.)

There was a lovely descent down Copper Snout, although the huge black cows made me nervous, especially as we’d been warned that there were mad cows en route that liked to chase people! The descent then changed to a steep grassy ascent onto Shillhope Law. I was running by myself here, navigating was not a problem and soon I was dropping down to the food checkpoint at Barrowburn.

A lovely little stone house welcomed us with a roaring fire, ladies handed us tea and soup and our bags were waiting ready for a quick change and top up of supplies. I’d briefly chatted to Stuart, Shelli and Carol but they’d left perhaps 10 minutes before me. I changed my top half as quickly as possible, talc-ed my feet (and left behind a great pile of talc dust) and changed my trainers. Then, tea in hand, I started out of the door.

I knew about 3-4 miles of tarmac lay ahead. It wound around the River Coquet. There were a few signs on the other side ‘warning danger of death’, ‘do not touch bomb shrapnel it may explode and kill you!’ I kept passing two pairs of runners; they seemed to be supporting each other. Everyone’s thoughts were the same. The hard track reverberated through our bodies; it was tough and boring.

Finally, we headed up to Deel’s Hill. I’d been quite happy navigating around the road. There was absolutely no chance of losing the way, but at the ridgeline, the fog descended and the paths crisscrossed everywhere.

I stopped briefly, pretending to get something out of my bag, but really to sidle myself between the two pairs of runners. I wanted to make sure I didn’t go off track and I didn’t want to use up precious GPS battery power until I really needed it. This did mean my pace slowed.

Finally, I hit the start of the Pennine Way. Happy now that I was on target, I stopped the pair in front just to check with them where I thought I was on the map was actually where I was. In agreement with me, I picked up my speed only to realise one of the pair had been doing exactly the same. He then kept with me, pretty much, all the way to the end. He’d been relying on his GPS, which had failed miserably, so now we were both maps in hand urging each other on. His company was appreciated; he’d started singing and whistling, which in the midst of now sideways rain and really cold biting wind was extremely comforting.

At Lamb Hill Stuart had left a message with the Marshall… ‘I’m sorry’.

I’d asked how much ahead he was, ‘Oh not far. 10 minutes at the most.’ I genuinely thought he was underestimating it to cheer me up.

On up to Windy Gyle and the freezing wind, horrible rain and bog underfoot were really taking its toll. It slowed my pace, which again made me colder. I planned to stop with the marshals, top up my water but more importantly, add on some layers and put my better gloves and hat on. Honestly, I should have stopped before, as, by the time I stopped and switched, even though the marshal had helped as my fingers were now ice cold, I was really feeling cold and was concerned.

As soon as I got moving again I made a concerted effort to pick up my pace and warm myself up. At just the right time, when I was feeling pretty low, through the mist, two men appeared. I was surprised to be greeted by Kevin (Geoff’s friend, who I’d met on JNC recces). It’s funny how these brief meetings can boost your mood.

I continued to push on; worried if I’d slow again I’d really suffer. Thankfully the wind dropped and with the solid paving on this section, my pace increased. The light started to fade on up to the Cheviot.

I knew I wanted to stay without my head torch as long as possible to preserve batteries but I also wanted to get them out before I couldn’t see at all. I bargained with myself that I’d stop at the next checkpoint with the marshals. They came sooner than expected. I stopped and they helped light up my bag. They laughed as I donned my head torch, stuck an extra battery pack in my pocket and then got out my spare head torch. ‘How long are you planning to be out…you’ve only got 11 miles left, you’re on the home straight, you won’t need all of those’.

I’d told them my nightmares of Hedgehope bog in darkness and they continued giggling as I set off towards the summit.

I kept the torch off, as when it was on, the light bounced off the fog and I couldn’t see a thing. I could actually see the stones better in the fading light. A few runners passed me on the out and back, then I saw a light, turned my head to the side so I wasn’t blinded only to hear Stuart’s voice, ‘Elaine?! You legend! Hurry up, the summit’s just there, catch me up and we can do the last bit together!’ I can’t tell you how much that cheered me up, but the summit seemed a long way off.

By the time I got back to the descent, I thought he’d be long gone. I turned on my head torch, now unable to see a thing. However, I was totally disorientated, visibility was so poor; it was at most a few meters. I headed straight for the fence line and was feeling quite scared. I knew the route, I knew I could use the fence as a handrail for the next 4 to 5 miles but I really couldn’t see a thing beyond my feet. Thankfully my companion had waited for me. He knew I’d recceed this section and he had waited to finish it with me.

We made pretty slow progress then hit the bottom. Overexcited, he’d followed another runner who had shot off in the wrong direction towards Langleeford. I’d shouted after him to go back to the fence and thankfully he’d turned back and had kindly stopped again near the horrendous peat hags to help me up the incredibly muddy banks. I can’t tell you enough how wonderful the gesture of someone holding out their hand to haul you out of the bogs feels!

We heard shouting here; I couldn’t make it out at all. But all of a sudden a head torch was facing us and I could hear ‘Elaine I’m waiting for you.’

That was just the thing I needed, my heart lifted and I knew I could finish safely.

The bogs were so saturated I sunk past my knees, far too many times and it was really had to pull against the suction to retrieve my legs again. And so we three became four as another man joined us. We started chatting again and I started feasting on mint cake. Both eased the journey. We even managed to find the lovely bouncy mesh path that we’d stumbled across on one of our recces, saving our legs from the bogs for at least 100m!

Reaching the top of Hedgehope the marshals said the 3rd lady wasn’t far off. I’d really thought they were kidding, a nice way to encourage me.

Descending again we almost went off course…there’s a bit of bog that you naturally head to the right to avoid and if you’re not concentrating you end up heading down the wrong fence line instead of climbing over the stile. We did this on a recce, not far, but enough for us to know immediately our error.

Two lights ahead told us that someone had done just that (from the dot watchers I think it was Shelli). I struggled on the descent, the mist was making visibility really poor and our lights just reflected back on us. We were pretty confident of the route until the crags, trudging through wet and slippy mud and bogs.

On up to the final checkpoint and someone stuck their head out of the tent to welcome us by. Stuart was convinced by now that Shelli was close; he thought we’d passed the man she’d been running with. Anyway, we had more pressing concerns, getting us safely across the last moorland home.

At the crags we’d agreed we would head for the sheepfold then the fence, taking bearings and using our map and compass only. The fence led us straight to the house at Reavelyhill and from there it was easy going. However, between the now 6 of us, we had 3 working GPS units all directing us the same way…odds that all 3 would fail were low so we settled in with this group and slowly we crossed the last moor, on to Reavelyhill.

From the house, it’s an easy run across a grassy path through a gate and up over a stile, across a few farmers fields and onto the road back to Ingram.

Now we were 4 again, urging each other on. I struggled on the road, I’d really had enough but soon there were finish signs. We had to wind back on ourselves and this switch back annoyed me. Stuart was giddy with excitement though and he kept shouting at me to hurry up. He slowed and said, ‘Right let’s get this exactly right so that we cross the finish line together’.

We had our group photo taken, Stuart who had got me into all this boggy madness, Paul who had virtually accompanied me on the final half and another Paul who had joined us at Hedgehope.

It really is wonderful the camaraderie and support from strangers that you receive in these races. I’m proud to have finished 4th; the top three ladies are pretty talented (Jasmin Paris, Carol Morgan and Shelli Gordon).

Into the cafe and a chair was pulled out for me, hot soup and buttered bread brought over. As I happily tucked in Stuart had headed off to another part of the cafe. It was reasonably busy so I thought he’d just sneaked in on another table. After filling my belly I thought I best find him, as he was my taxi home.

Now I won’t divulge the entire story, as I wasn’t party to it, suffice to say I would have been giggling endlessly. I was to find Stuart wrapped in a mountain rescue jacket, a girls scarf, and a blanket with hot water bottles on his feet and hands. His clothes and contents of his bag were strewn all over the place. I do believe from his tale that some of the runners enjoyed quite an unexpected sight amidst their soup and bread! Relieved he was well, we had a few cups of tea and lemonade and we were off home, phoning our spouses to let them know we were in fact still alive and well and would bless them with our company shortly.

So The Goat, it certainly lived up to expectations and that buzz I was missing has certainly returned. Someone said, in the middle of the run, about the law of diminishing returns and how the input becomes ever greater…I believe I may have just started on this path. I am also wondering whether it would be wise to block Stuart from all future correspondence, otherwise, I’ll be on the start line of the Barkley Marathons before too long!

In all seriousness though, it is a well-organised and planned event. However, it should not be attempted as a first ultra and certainly not without good experience on mountains in all weather and self-sufficiency in these wild places. I’d also advise recce-ing the route. A GPS is good as a backup but can’t be relied upon solely. If you did go off track (it is not waymarked until the last 100m) and then got injured, it could be a long time until you were found.

I finished in 13hrs 43 minutes and was relieved to be away from the elements. Some of the runners were out for the full 24 hours! To be out in those conditions, and I know it could have been a lot worse, would not be fun. So … enter with caution.

(Visited 209 times, 1 visits today)

Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra Marathon, Jedburgh, Saturday, October 27, 2018

38 miles

Aaron Gourley

This is a race I’d had my eye on for a number of years but never seemed to get round to entering. This year, with me being home alone as the family went away on holiday, it fell perfectly for me to run the race then have time to get home, changed and be back at the airport to pick them up later that evening.

At 38 miles, Jedburgh 3 Peaks is a pretty serious race – but only in distance. From an organisational point of view, this is as fun as it gets. From the encouragement to wear fancy dress for the opportunity to win a spot prize to the YMCA warm-up ahead of the start, this race is a lot of fun. This is very much like the Hardmoors Princess challenge but with unicorns!

With my alarm set at 4 am, I set off on the long drive up to the Scottish Borders. The morning was cold and the first snow of the winter was falling quite heavily as I drove up the A19, which was a little disconcerting.
Upon arriving at the rugby club in the centre of Jedburgh, it struck me as to just how cold it was going to be, so I immediately put on an extra layer then headed to registration. Before long we were all back outside at the start-line waiting to get going, but not until we were all made to dance the YMCA as part of the pre-race warm up. Such was the silliness that I forgot to set my watch and before I knew it we were off on the long run up the road and out of the town.

After a mile or so the route swings out to the river which is followed for another mile or so before crossing a very bouncy bridge which felt as though it was winding up to fling-off anyone who dared try and run across it. The route then meandered its way across fields and tracks and back along the riverside for a few miles, mainly following the St Cuthbert’s Way route. The recent high winds had felled a lot of old trees, which provided obstacles for us to negotiate.

The day was bright and the sky was clear and blue, but there was a bracing wind and it was extremely cold in the shade. I tried to maintain a very steady pace and not get carried away by running too fast on what was a fairly flat and very runnable surface. I’d set myself the goal of completing the race in 8hrs. This was a very comfortable amount of time for the distance but meant I could enjoy the race without overcooking it. Given how badly I’d crashed in my other races this year, this was all about pacing and keeping my heart rate low.

The route was proving to be quite spectacular in the cold late autumn sun and the colours of the leaves added to the overall beauty of the route. The lack of rain over the summer meant sections that would normally have been a quagmire were fairly dry which those veterans of the race around me commented on.

I didn’t stop at the first checkpoint at Maxton Church, but continued my run over fields, along tracks, through plantations and across roads until eventually reaching the second checkpoint at Rhymer’s Stone where I had a drop bag waiting with some supplies such as a milkshake and a few energy bars. I grabbed my bag, stashed my food and drinks and made off as quickly as possible as now, up ahead, were the Eildon Hills which form the 3 peaks in this race.

At the foot of the first, I looked up to see a long line of runners making their way up the side. I joined in the trudge up the steep climb until eventually reaching the summit. Ahead lay the second and third peaks, which got respectively lower. I made my way across them before dropping off the third and circling back around underneath them and into the woods that leads to the third checkpoint at Bowden and the ‘Play Park of Doom’!

Silliness is dished out by the bucket load at Bowden where, following an ambush by someone dressed as a bat (or at least I think that’s what it was), runners are funnelled into the play park where they must negotiate the obstacles which are essentially the climbing frames and slides of a children’s play park.

From Bowden, the route retraces its steps back to the finish and I was running well at this point and really enjoying the race. I was still making good ground on those that had been drawn into running too fast at the start but always conscious not to get carried away.

The run back was pleasant and I arrived back at the final checkpoint at Maxton to grab my last drop bag which had a few treats in to see me through the last 10 miles. I’d been starting to tire in the run back here so I set off at walking pace to try and conserve a little energy. The route, back retraced our steps from the start of the race and before long I was heading back across the bouncy bridge for the final few miles back into town.

I shuffled my way up the road with the finish in sight, which was as lively as it had been when we left. There was music playing and supporters lined the finish funnel to greet runners as they wearily made their way to the finish line.

As I crossed the line I was handed my medal and a goody bag, which was probably one of the best I’ve had in a race – mainly because it contained beer and a fine t-shirt. I’d highly recommend this race to anyone who is looking to step up to ultra-distance but worried about the challenge and the seriousness of the runners. This is a fun race where runners get lots of support in a beautiful part of the world.

Results http://www.kitst.co.uk/jultra2018.html

 

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Hardmoors 60, Guisborough, Saturday, September 15, 2018

60 miles

Aaron Gourley

There’s always the potential for me to have a disaster in the Hardmoors 60. My record with this race leading into it was as follows: run 4, finished 2, DNF 2, so I had this year’s race down as the decider.

I was not going to be beaten this time – Hardmoors 60 is a Beauty and the Beast race. The course is stunning beginning in Guisborough following the Cleveland Way out to and down the North Yorkshire coast through places like Saltburn, Staithes, Runswick Bay, Whitby, Robin Hoods Bay and Scarborough before finishing in Filey.

There are long sections of coastal running which weave in out of inlets and up and down steep ravines. There are sections across beaches and climbs to the highest east-facing cliffs in England along paths that run precariously close to the dramatic and dangerously crumbling cliffs.The towns and villages provide an assault on the senses after the solitude of the open countryside – Whitby being particularly tough to negotiate at midday on a Saturday.
I have a love-hate relationship with this race for the reasons already stated. Each running, successful or not I’ve said never again, only to return. This year I had my sights set on completing the Hardmoors Triple Ring – finishing three of the organisation’s ultra races in a calendar year. For this I’d already completed the 55 in March, the 110 in May, so I had to finish this one to complete the challenge.

However, my running this year has taken a dip – in fact, it’s been a tale of personal worsts.

From poor displays in cross-country early in the year, to fell races that have been DNF’d or were hugely slower than in previous years. Then there was the Hardmoors 110 which became a battle with my body to complete. It’s like I’m stuck at the foot a steep-sided valley with long distance running on one side and speed on the other, with the bridge to the gap above me, whilst I walk underneath it.

My training throughout the year has been particularly good, or at least consistent, but on reflection not particularly specific to any specific event. However, life has gotten in the way too often so maybe that has played a part, but that’s not to say I haven’t done enough.

Going into the Hardmoors 60 I’d been able to get out on some fairly lengthy runs in the Lakes – not particularly long distances but long hours and lots of elevation being the main focus. The week before the race I’d ran the Great North Run and recorded a course personal worst by 11 minutes. Not particularly anything to do with my running but more from where I started the race and the inability to run the pace I’d have liked due to the number of people – in all I wrote that race off as a bad experience on the roads.

So at 2:45 am, on Saturday 15th Sept I woke, got quickly ready and headed off down the road to Filey for the 5:45 am bus back to Guisborough for registration which was efficient as ever. There was a lively buzz in the room and after a short delay, we were moved outside ready for the start of the race. At 8:15 am, we were off.

My mind was set to start conservatively, run my own race and not worry about being passed as the route headed west into Guisborough Woods before swinging south up the very steep Tees Link path to High Cliff Nab to join the Cleveland Way. From here we headed east to the coast at Saltburn.

I’d started near the front so I was aware that I’d be passed by a large number of people, but I had to stay focussed to maintain my own pace. The first few miles were about finding a rhythm and my natural place in the field. It’s around 9 miles to the first checkpoint and I was feeling in control and enjoying the morning. The temperature and conditions were almost perfect for running.

At Saltburn, I made swift the chance to refill bottles and grab some treats before setting off for the climb out onto the coast. From here the route meanders south along pleasantly rolling cliffs. I was enjoying myself, still taking it steady and was feeling good as I made my way to the next major checkpoint at Runswick Bay, 21 miles-in where I grabbed my first drop bag.

Again I stopped only for as long as required to pack the extras from my drop bag and refill bottles before making off down the road to the beach, crossing to the ravine that leads sharply back onto the cliff tops. Onwards I pressed eating and drinking well.

Into Staithes I rolled and back out towards Sandsend, happily chatting to other runners and Cleveland Way walkers, keen to know what we were doing.

At Sandsend the route drops to sea level and joins the road route to Whitby which is a steady climb but nothing major to worry about. But then my toils began. Near the Golf club I came a cropper – once more nausea got the better of me. 29 miles and in turmoil – the battle between my body and mind began.

I made my way to and through Whitby at a snail’s pace but with determination to reach Saltwick Bay checkpoint. Once there, I didn’t stop, and pressed on – my mind was now focussed only on getting to Ravenscar. If I could get there I could rest and recoup. But first I had to negotiate the 5 miles to Robin Hoods Bay then the 4 miles to Ravenscar via Boggle Hole – possibly the toughest section of the whole race in my opinion.

It took an age to reach Robin Hoods Bay. The checkpoint at the top of the village provided welcome relief and another opportunity to refill and refuel. I stayed for a few moments longer than I should have and set off hoping to make it to Ravenscar in good time, but my body had other ideas. Not my whole body though, just my stomach.

In fairness, my legs felt fine. I was clearly benefitting from the long hours out on the fells. Although I was in a state, I felt strong climbing and descending, my only problem was pace. Anything beyond a slow walk made me feel ill. It wasn’t pleasant.

Eventually, I made it to Ravenscar, 41 miles in and the only indoor checkpoint on the race. Like Kildale is on the 55, Ravenscar is a little place of sanctuary. I slumped into a chair, and after trying some of the soup on offer and a cup of tea, I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
I woke with a jolt, I looked at my watch and it was approaching 7 pm, I’d been in the hall nearly 50 minutes so I grabbed my things together and made my way back out. I felt much better but still conscious of the nausea that had plagued me over the last few hours.

I’d made a decision. I wasn’t being beaten by this race, my only option was to keep going and walk it in. It wasn’t how I envisaged the race would turn out but I knew I had plenty of time to do it.

It was now dark as I made my way through the diversion at Hayburn Wyke and back onto the cliff tops towards Scarborough. This section is unforgiving – Scarborough Castle sitting prominently ahead in the distance never seems to get any closer. It’s a 10 mile stretch from Ravenscar to the next checkpoint at Holbeck car park at the southern end of Scarborough and it was 10:49 pm when I finally arrived at the checkpoint.

I knew I had the race complete now, just 10 miles left to go but was pressed for time. However, I knew I could make it before the final 2 am cut-off. I felt strong despite my earlier woes but knew I couldn’t run or risk being waylaid by sickness.

I was able to maintain a decent paced walk as the route dropped and rose along the coast at Cayton Bay before hitting the final stretch into Filey. Headtorch beams ahead made for targets to catch and those behind to beat. There was a bit of yo-yoing with others over the final stretch until eventually, I reached the official end of the Cleveland Way out on the Brigg.

The route then takes a final turn along tops and down onto the beachfront leading into the Town Centre where I managed to catch a group of four and pass them before breaking into a little trot so that I could open up a gap between them and me. The final push up the hill to the finish was done with a smile – I’d completed the race.

I got my t-shirt and medal. It was a personal worst by a (Hardmoors) mile. It took me 17hrs13mins – a good 3 hours slower than my best time but in keeping with my long line of other terrible results this year. But I’ve come to accept that there’s been toil, things haven’t gone my way, but each run I’ve done this year I’ve tried not to let it bother me. I’m out for the adventure and the satisfaction of running and being free. I know things have been better and I’ve run quicker but I think I’ve enjoyed this year more despite the toil.
However, I know there are things to fix; my nausea in races is a major problem that I will now work to solve and overcome. I have my plans for next year in place and the hard work starts now but I will try to ensure I continue, above all else, to enjoy running and never let things get me down if they don’t go to plan but to be positive in the knowledge that I can still take part in such an open and inclusive sport like running.

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Hardmoors Princess Challenge, Ravenscar village hall, Saturday, September 1, 2018

31 miles 3000ft elevation

Jonathan Hamill

The Princess Challenge is simply a marvellous event, which raises much-needed funds for the Scarborough & Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team. It sees a range of distances offered – the Short n Sweet, the One in the Middle and for me, the Ultra. I ran this event in 2017 as part of my training for a longer event and followed a similar plan this year.

The summer had been warm, and although I had run plenty, it had been a blend of shorter distances. On holiday in France, I knew the Princess was indeed going to challenge me if I didn’t prepare adequately, so I started to step things up. Upon returning to the UK, and some two weeks out I did a long training run of 30km, having gradually worked my way up. Training was going well, and I felt confident.

To throw another couple of things into the mix, I had decided to buy some new shoes (Hoka Speedgoat 2) and christened them on a 6km trail run during the week running up to the Princess. I also had just taken delivery of a new watch (Garmin 935) and the evening before the race, I experimented with it walking a couple of km to and from the car park at Kynren.

I wouldn’t say I was that well-rested – apart from the late evening before the race at Kynren, I had also just returned from a mid-week work trip to Germany. On the morning of the event, I woke, got some porridge down and set off to the event nice and early (the rest of the house still in bed).

After parking up I entered the village hall and saw Carole helping with the registration – I must have looked a sight, and felt still half asleep. I submitted myself to the necessary kit check, fastened my number and settled my head, reflecting on the announcement of the day before, “…there will be cattle movements on part of the Ultra and Middle route! This will be at 10 am on part of the diverted route! If you get there after that you will be held by the marshal at Pittard Point until safe to proceed. It means you have to run the first miles…Sorry”.

Deliberations were suspended as we lined up, and Kathryn joined me, keen as ever for a selfie!

So, in contrast to my original plan that this was to be ‘just a training run’, I decided to set off a little more swiftly to ensure I didn’t encounter the cattle. I was definitely a bit further up the field than I should have been as I looped back to pass the Village Hall (start point) when I remembered I’d forgotten to put my gels in my vest – I had a 30 second argument with myself about whether I could make do, and then to the amusement of Kelly and the team, left the road, to dash into the hall, grab my gels and run back off down the road.

I soon caught up with runners from one of the other races that was underway and plenty of encouragement was exchanged along the first bit of the Cleveland Way, and then I was running solo for quite a while – without my wingman this year.

I think it was after CP3 I met a chap who I ran with for a while towards Whitby. He had a groin strain but was ok to continue. The temperature was getting up, and I remember running into Whitby which was in full swing with fish and chips, wasps and ice-cream (in no particular order).

I knew that 199 steps lay ahead up to the Abbey and also that they would hurt. I decided my treat would be an ice-cream at the top – motivation aplenty! I made short work of the ice-cream and pressed on along the cliff path to CP4 at which point, I thought I was hearing things when the marshal told me I was 5th – ‘from last’, I quipped but he set me straight. Now, I knew I’d been pushing on a bit early in the race, and I also knew it was now warm and the terrain was to get a bit more challenging on the return. At CP5 (was CP3 on the outbound) I paused for more water and some amazing dandelion and burdock drink.

The descent into Robin Hoods Bay total torture on the legs, I’m sure I looked a real sight to tourists seeing me thunder past, resplendent in my rather bright compression socks (and other clothing thankfully). No rest for the wicked and once at the bottom, the Cleveland Way beckoned again, past the aptly named Boggle Hole and Stoupe Beck with the many, many steps.

With the benefit of having run the route before, I pressed on and was passed by a couple of runners at some stage – most notably on the final ascent past the Alum Works to Ravenscar by a very capable lady who was no stranger to ultrarunning. I could not maintain her pace, but kept going, climbing past the National Trust Café and up to the Village Hall – I rounded the final corner to see Kathryn again who hastened me towards the finish.

The finish – it was confirmed I was 6th male, 9th overall with a time of 6:17:42 and a PB of over an hour! To say I was delighted was an understatement.

Thanks to the SRMRT, marshals and organisers who give up their time to run such an amazing event.

Relive link.
Strava

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Lakeland 100, Friday, July 27, 2018

Juliet Percival

Sitting poised at my computer on September 1st last year waiting for online entries to open for the L100 2018, I browsed the website with a few minutes to go …

The Lakeland 100 ‘Ultra Tour of the Lake District’ is a circular route that encompasses the whole of the Lakeland fells and includes in the region of 6856m/22,493ft of ascent. The event is continuous in nature, the overall time available for the route is 40 hours but time is not on your side. The climb, descent, rugged terrain, darkness and tricky navigation generally ensure a 40-50% failure rate over the 100 mile course. Seasoned ultra runners have tried and many have failed, a finisher’s medal in the Lakeland 100 is possibly one of the most treasured possessions you will ever receive.

At 9am on the dot I rushed to enter online. In just three and a half minutes, all the places had gone, and to my amazement I had bagged one of them. A few months off due to injury meant I had recently missed out on some special events, so I was chuffed to have a new training focus and the prospect of lots of Lakes adventures in 2018.

I put a shout out to some folk for help, and started planning Lakes trips towards the end of last year. The race organisers put on a series of organised recces ahead of the event, splitting the route into x4 chunks (you are left to your own devices, using the map and written description to navigate around the course, with cut off times in place). The buses that run you from the finish to the start make travel logistics MUCH easier, and these recces gave me the chance to see if I could run the route quickly enough. My first reality check came mid November when Elaine Bisson kindly accompanied me on the first recce (Coniston to Buttermere) as part of her Bob Graham preparation. Allocated 9.5 hrs, we completed it with only 30 minutes to spare…and I struggled. Blaming my relatively unfit state on my recent injury, I just hoped that by next year I would be fitter, and it would feel easier … if I felt that tired after just 26 miles, how would I cope with 100?

I drew up a training plan, and over the next months gradually built up my mileage … incorporating multiples of a 15m off road local loop and shorter tempo runs into my week (thanks Geoff Davis) … a painful contrast to the hours spent plodding.

With the help of Joan and Mandy from the club, I ran routes on the N York Moors, visited the Lakes over New Year, and in February ran the Yomp and Howgills marathon routes on consecutive days. The idea was to run long miles on tired legs, and as Spring approached, the back to back weekends became more frequent and included memorable adventures … an autumn pie pit-stop in the bracken above The Rigg at Haweswater, ploughing through thigh-high snow in Durham and Ostmotherly, sitting by Lake Windermere in the evening warm sun, eating mid marathon giant hotdogs in Wensleydale, or re-fuelling on mid run chips at the Wasdale Inn, to name just a few.

I signed up for more official recces in late March and May, and upon each of these and other visits to the Lakes and events elsewhere, did two back to back days running 25-30 miles each day. The LDWA Yorkshire 50 on July 7th was my longest single training run, and during the 3 week taper I did a couple of shorter days in the Lakes to check the navigation on a couple of the route sections.

As event weekend approached I had mixed feelings … at times it seemed ridiculous to have signed up for a race in the Lakes that relied on others providing transport for the training and event itself. I knew that no amount of plodding around Durham and doing reps up and down Redhills like a loonie would alone be suitable preparation for Lakes terrain, but hoped that combined with the training trips I’d had, would be just enough. By mid July I felt as fit as I had ever been, I had trained to the best of my ability, so I knew that it was now or never.

Continue reading Lakeland 100
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2018 Mizuno Endure 24 Leeds, Saturday, June 30, 2018

125 miles in 23 hours 21 min

Gareth Pritchard

For someone who has always trained for fast and flat, PB times and the love of tarmac, this report is truly something I never thought I’d write. The blame/credit for this lies squarely at the feet of my amazing other half, Catherine Smith, and 2 super tough female Striders, Kerry and Anna.

I had heard about crazy ultra running and been totally amazed for years about what people achieved, but none of it ever really seemed real or understandable. When someone said they just ran a 40, 60; 100-mile ultra it just did not compute to a roadrunner. I had no comparators. I know what 5k hard felt like and I had experienced the massive wall at 20 miles on a marathon. I had no idea what ultras would involve.

What’s a good time for 50 miles? 100 miles? Everyone always told me you can’t do both. You run long, your speed will suffer. Say goodbye to racing the distances I love. Those were the thoughts running through my head when someone mentioned ultrarunning. My perspective now has certainly changed.

In June 2017 Leeds held their first Endure24 race and our very own Anna Seeley and Kerry Barnett both took part. Catherine and I decided to help them set up, giving us our first glimpse of the ultra world. Soon after we both signed up for the 2018 Endure24 Leeds event.

So what is Endure24?
You have 24 hours to cover the greatest distance you can, run, walk, crawl or just endure till you can’t give any more. The race starts at midday Saturday and ends 24 hours later. It’s a tough mixed terrain 5 Mile lap, chip timed and supported. You can stop/start whenever you like until the cut-off and eat, sleep, change clothes, and shower. Your battle is against yourself, the ticking clock and your desire to achieve the impossible.

My build-up to this was unconventional, to say the least; I am not an experienced distance runner in any way shape or form. My main goals were London marathon and Windermere marathon, so it was well into May until I even seriously considered Endure24 a goal/target to train for.

I’d run two 50k events as a test, earlier in the year, to see how I’d react. The first, 50k was way too fast and I’d suffered. The second was just over 4 hours and I absolutely loved it. I even managed a cool down 5k lap with Catherine after. Those 34 miles remained my distance PB right up to the day of Endure24.

I’d always wondered if I could run 100 miles in a week; my normal weekly distance is about 30. This is very low for a marathon runner. I have always focused on quality rather than pure miles in my training. This works well with my lifestyle commitments and I strongly believe it’s why I’ve been injury free for a couple of years now, But Endure24 required more.

To up my mileage, I decided to run to Blaydon start line, and finish the race with Catherine for my first ever 100 Mile week. It worked out perfectly. 20-miles from my doorstep to Newcastle, then a fun Blaydon race experience. 100 Mile week done and followed up with a 90+ week. I felt good. 2 weeks to go and time to relax, race hard and of course taper.

In the weeks before Endure24, I ran a low 17 min 5k at the first Cotsford fields parkrun and set the course record, placed 2nd at a very hilly Gibside marathon in 3:25 and I also placed 2nd at Keswick half marathon, a tough race on a boiling hot day, but what I was most pleased about was 3rd place at Lambton 10k with a 2 min course PB of 35:48. I’d proved to myself I could still run fast while training for an ultra, but the ultimate test was about to come, Endure24 was now one week away.

I’d picked up some tips and advice by accident and chance. Chris Callan gave me a Torq apple crumble running gel as payment for a post-Blaydon drink. Catherine decided to order a box of them after I raved so highly about it after a training run. This turned into a total godsend.

Another happy accident was winning New Balance vouchers at Keswick half marathon; I bought their 1080 shoes with them. These proved to be perfect for Endure24, with wide toes, comfortable, light and lots of padding. Perfect for churning out the miles and protecting my feet. The 3rd important part was discovering Mountain Fuel, energy system. This was after talking to an impressive collection of ultra runners at the Northeast Marathon Club’s Gibside marathon and 24-hour event.

So my training started late, a distance PB of 55k, one 100 Mile week and, surprisingly, I felt extremely confident. I felt in great shape. Maybe not sub-16 for 5k, but definitely in good form. I could train long and still felt fresh, fuelling was good and I knew I had an amazing support team around me for the event.

The Friday came, car loaded and off we set for Leeds with camping gear, all our food and most of our running gear.

The camping area is the same place as Leeds festival; Endure24 is described as the Glastonbury of running for a good reason. We pitched our 3 tents together near the start area and settled in. The race HQ is something special, a massive catering area, beer tents, pizza cooking, ice cream van, mobile coffee van, music DJ, massive banners, and flags flying. A total festival feeling and everyone in such high spirits. I must admit I felt a bit out of my depth, with semi-professional ultra runners strutting about, all the gear, total pros but everyone was great and we soon saw people we knew. It’s a small world the running one, and I love that fact when the nerves kick in.

Our goals? Catherine 50, Kerry and Anna to beat last years distance, and for me 50+ with a perfect day achievement of 100 miles. We also wanted to fundraise for Great North Air Ambulance, a great charity, close to our hearts. Anyone who has seen me race will know I’m a competitive sod, I love to race hard and a target or goal really does motivate me. Everyone who achieves 100 miles gets a special t-shirt, so that was my goal. Me being me, I also looked up the course record, 120 miles… just ridiculous.

It was forecast to be hot, and it was when we started on Saturday but we were prepared. Factor 50, hat on and all our kit ready. The solo runners have an area to store our food/gear just after the start/finish line. We had packed iceboxes, change of clothes and what we thought we needed. The midday start was great. You had a good sleep and breakfast and some runners even arrived in the morning, choosing not to camp. Pairs and teams of up to 8 were also running as well as us solo runners. This confused and annoyed me in equal measures but again turned out fine.

We decided not to walk the route on the Friday. The first lap was supposed to be run/walk easy and learn the route. So, of course, I decided to run the whole thing and stupidly quick. Well into my 3rd lap I remembered it was a 24-hour race and I really needed to slow down.

So what does the 5 Mile lap look like?

You start on a long grassy straight, not flat. Short gravel downhill, twist sections on gravel, uneven woody climb, and awesome dance party station with energy drink. Hula dance cheer station, more up and downs, uneven ground. Long sweeping covered wood section, amazing checkpoint just before 5K with singing support team and the best-behaved children and best marshals ever. The important toilet and gels were in supply at this station too. Then it opens out to more climbs and grass fields, before a long climb at 7k. At the top, you’re welcomed with the sight of the start/finish area in the distance and a cheeky climb to the end. May not sound it, but it’s absolutely perfect for clocking the miles, I ran the good bits and walked the hills. Every section I soon had my markers as to when I’d start running or walking, and it just made it so much easier.

The dreaded relay teams also helped. They whizzed past constantly, so you always had people around you. I was very rarely on my own through the whole event. I had my music and phone all ready to go but never used them once. Another big bonus was catching up with people on the laps; I would stop and take a break with Catherine, Anna and Kerry on the way. This helped to keep me sensible and a check on my mental well-being.

After a few laps, I started to realise I was in the lead. The DJ would shout my name out as I crossed the line and I’d try not to look too embarrassed. People must have been thinking who is this idiot going around so fast, just a matter of time before he blows up, clearly has no idea what he’s doing. This was my thinking at the time, but I kept to the run/walk and concentrated on the 50 Mile, 10 lap goal; soon that was ticked off, then 75!

With night drawing in, the head torches came out. I loved this change; the pure focus on the path ahead, the sheer beauty of the sunset and the night sky with a giant moon, a total privilege to see. During the night temperatures dropped significantly and I went through some seriously rough times for sure. As Catherine achieved her 50 miles target around 3 am, I caught them up. My memory is hazy but I definitely must have looked in a bad way. I hadn’t eaten anything solid for hours and couldn’t keep solid food down. Mountain fuel and apple crumble gels were all that was keeping me going. A few angry eyes from Catherine & instructions from Nurse Barnett and I stormed off to the catering area for some chips and a hot chocolate, a total lifesaver.

I went back out refreshed and still unbeaten, somehow I kept going and the 100 miles neared at 5 am with the sun on the way. A very special feeling crossing the line knowing I’d just run 100 miles, the DJ was still tucked up asleep and it passed in silence but inside I was dancing. Catherine was there to capture the moment, I was fully winter running clothed and looked beat up, it had been a hard night but I’d done it! I’d hit the target, scored the sought after tee shirt and could tell everyone who had sponsored us I’d achieved my ultimate goal!

As the sun came up I changed into shorts and t-shirt, put sun cream on and started to feel human again, I wanted to keep going. Catherine was awesome, supplier of hot food and various treats she pulled from the cool boxes. Rob, Kerry’s partner also helped with a surprise chocolate ice cream and the coldest best cola drink ever when I really needed it.

On my 110 Mile lap, I started to realise I could really win this thing and go for the course record of 125 miles. I was still running ok, everything hurt but I was getting used to that. I worked out that if I ran a decent 115 and 120 lap I would still have 1h30 easy for a victory lap with Catherine. So that was it, head down and ticked off 2 sub hour laps with 120 miles done. Refreshed and ready with Catherine, we started – lap 25 for me and lap 11 for her.

It’s hard to put into words just how special a moment this was. The pain of every hill. The stopping and starting. Everything hurting, but never once did I think of giving up. We thanked everyone on that last lap and the cheers at the end were amazing. Kerry captured the moment perfectly. 125 miles in 23 hours 21 mins, course record and I was not quite broken, even though it was a distance PB of 90 miles!

Catherine achieved a distance PB of 55 miles with more in the bank for sure, Kerry achieved a fabulous 60 miles, distance PB and Anna achieved an amazing 90 miles, distance PB.

A truly special event, exceeding all expectations. Will we all return? Some of us definitely will, it’s back to the short and fast for me, but you never know. I’m happy to report Ultra and speed can survive together.

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