Category Archives: Aaron Gourley

Tour de Helvellyn, Askham, Lake District, Saturday, December 15, 2018

38 miles (shortened route 27 miles)

Aaron Gourley

The warmth of the village hall was soon forgotten as I headed out the door and into the morning darkness for the start of the Tour de Helvellyn. The weather forecast had been the subject of much debate the previous day on Facebook between the small group of Striders that were due to take part in the race.

. The weather forecast had been the subject of much debate the previous day on Facebook between the small group of Striders that were due to take part in the race.

With Storm Deirdre bringing winds in excess of 60 miles per hour and wind chill down to around minus 10 degrees, the day was certainly looking to be a challenging adventure. Thrown into the mix were freezing rain, a rare occurrence in the UK, and snow for later in the day to further add to the hazards we’d face. The weather brought the dilemma of what kit to start the race in and what to carry in addition. I opted to start out light and add layers as the day went on meaning I’d be carrying a fairly heavy pack.

I arrived at Askham Village hall in good time to register and prepare ahead of the race which I’d decided to start at around 7:30 am. Getting out of the car it was immediate how cold it was going to be and headed straight to the hall to register. Upon entering I happened to notice a small handwritten note which read that the route was to be shortened by around 12 miles, cutting out the loop around Helvellyn due to the weather.

At registration, this was confirmed and although I was slightly disappointed, I was relieved that I wouldn’t be out in the mountains for as long as I’d thought. This also meant I could ditch a small amount of the extra kit I was carrying and lighten up my pack a little. As I did so, Elaine, Geoff and Juliet turned up to register.

Out on the open moor, it was starting to get light as I moved at a steady pace having set off at 7:45 am. The wind was blowing but nowhere near as strong as expected and, despite the initial shock of the cold, I was happy with the number of layers I had on. The first few miles cross Askham Moor are pretty straightforward to navigate. I ran with a girl from Penrith and we chatted as we steadily made our way towards Howtown.

The ground was quite hard underfoot and there was the odd patch of ice but nothing too treacherous. At Howtown there’s a choice of routes you can take to get to the first checkpoint at Martindale Church – either continue straight across the trail and arrive at the back of the church, or cut down past the adventure centre and run up the road to the church. It’s noted that the road is the quicker of the two and is the route I took on my previous running of this race. Today, opted for the trail.

Checking in at Martindale Church, I moved swiftly through to the next section which is a long road run up the valley to the start of Boredale Hause. From here the route climbs to the col which then leads to the village of Patterdale on the other side. The next checkpoint is at Side Farm at the foot of the pass on the edge of Patterdale but you cannot pass through until this opens at 9:30 am so timing your run is vital. This meant that there were a lot of runners on this section as I arrived just after the opening of the checkpoint.

Inside I grabbed a few treats then made off for the next section through Glenridding and up towards our turn around point at Swart Beck Footbridge, just below Sticks Pass. The weather was still ok on this side of the valley but the howl of the wind could be heard and every now and again there’d be a strong gust that would take you by surprise. Still taking my time, I ran into Glenridding and up past the Traveller Rest pub to the Greenside for the start of the steep climb up to Swart Beck. The route climbs steeply here, often the need to use all fours to make progress. It was getting colder and the wind was stronger as I made my way up. For the very short moment I dared lift my head I spotted Elaine making light work of the descent having already been to the checkpoint and turnaround point. The girl is a machine and had passed me somewhere on the route as I knew she’d started after me.

I eventually got to the point where that path levelled off and made my way across to the checkpoint before turning around and making my way back. On the way back I passed Geoff who has been running immensely strong this year and again, I knew had started after me so was making good time. It was now a battle to try and stay ahead of him.

The run back off was taken with caution as the ground was covered in loose rocks. I slipped and pulled a muscle in my left shoulder, nothing serious but was quite painful at the time. Retracing my steps back through Glenridding to Side Farm, I enjoyed the run in the shelter of the valley. I checked in at Side Farm and took a moment to grab a nice hot cup of tea and a biscuit. Rather than wasting time, I set off with my tea (you have to bring your own mug if you want a drink), as I left Geoff came running in, he was closing the gap on me.

I made my way up the steep climb back up to Boredale with my tea which seemed to be retaining its heat a bit too well. The climb was slow and laborious but eventually, I reached the top, stashed my now empty cup and made for the long descent back to Martindale Church. At the foot of the pass, I went to open a farm gate but a gust of wind howled in and trapped me, I had to wait until it eased to get myself free. I ran/walked up the road eventually arriving back at the church. I checked in and decided to head back across the trail rather than take to road route through Howtown.

The wind was picking up and my body temperature was dropping as was my pace. I was feeling really tired all of a sudden and running was becoming difficult. The ground was getting icier heading back to Askham and the tracks were becoming more hazardous. Hopping the tracks and ice was energy sapping and because of this I misjudged a jump and ended up flat on my back. I lay for a bit as I slowly tried to comprehend what I’d just done before trying to get up which was much more difficult than it should have been.

It was now raining but it didn’t seem too heavy. This was freezing rain however and I was now soaked and very cold. With about a mile and a half to go, I decided to just keep moving and get back to the finish as quickly as possible. Eventually, I made it back and was so glad to be warm. Elaine was already relaxing and Geoff was back getting changed. He’d managed to pass my due to route choice at Martindale Church, I’d taken the high road, he’d taken the low.

In all, I’d enjoyed this race but was pretty relieved that it had been shortened – even though it was still a 27-mile race. I made hard work of it as I seem to have with all my races in 2018 but it was a good experience again. The journey home was just as eventfully however as the A66 had been closed meaning a diversion up the M6 and across the A69 was needed to get home.

2018 Results

PosNo.NameClubCategoryTime Taken
1251Jim MannDurham Fell RunnersM05:42:46
5126Katie Kaars SijpesteijnNorth Leeds Fell Runners1st F06:16:53
12236Scott WatsonMV5006:41:57
96115Mike HughesMV4008:42:02
9755Geoff DavisMV5008:43:12
11985Aaron GourleyM09:06:35
138172Juliet PercivalFV4009:24:58
13856Mandy DawsonFV4009:24:58

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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.

(Visited 69 times, 1 visits today)

Steel Fell Race, Lake District, Wednesday, August 8, 2018

AS / 3 miles / 400 metres

Aaron Gourley

So the previous Saturday I’d timed out at Borrowdale Fell Race. On Tuesday, after a few days of rest (I was on holiday after all) and cursing my:
a) navigation mistake; and,
b) my climbing ability,
I decided to go out for a run-up and down Skiddaw – as you do.

On Wednesday evening, after a day exploring Ambleside and Grasmere, I dropped my wife and daughter off at the Kings Head Inn at Thirlspot and headed back to Steel Head Farm for the Steel Fell Race.

This is a tough little 3-mile race which takes you up to the summit of Steel Fell turn around and run back to the finish. I parked up, registered, then went back to the car to get changed. It was then that I realised I’d forgotten my Striders vest, and more importantly, my fell shoes!

If there’s a race where you need grip, this is it. I had my Adidas Kanidia’s which have a fairly aggressive sole but nothing in the way of the Walshes or Inov-8’s. And I had a tech t-shirt but, as you can imagine, I looked a bit like a fish out of water surrounded, once again, by the fell running skeletons of the Lake District’s clubs.

This is a peculiar race. There’s no entry fee, no kit check and there are no prizes, but it’s seriously competitive with just over 100 runners taking part. On the stroke of 7:30 pm, we were off, up the path for a gentle warm-up run before turning sharply onto the slopes of Steel Fell.

Once more my I found myself head down, hands on knees marching upwards. This time though, I was holding my place, breathing well and seemingly feeling good, but 1.5 miles of solid climbing takes its time.

Eventually, the climb starts to shallow a little but as I look up, I see the first placed runner, Keswick’s Carl Bell, making his way back down. He’s phenomenally quick. I look at my watch which confirms this. I’ve been climbing for over 12 minutes; he’s on his way back down. This is why he was one of Killian Jornet’s pacers for his record-breaking Bob Graham Round, although he narrowly missed out on a win at Borrowdale Fell Race, being beaten, by only 5 seconds, in a sprint finish from a rejuvenated Ricky Lightfoot.

Anyway, back to my race, and with the vertical now shallow enough to stand up straight and run, I made my way to the summit turn-around point. I managed to grab a few places from those that were still recovering from the climb whilst trying not to get in the way of the returning front-runners.

Once at the summit, it was all-systems-go to get back to the finish as quickly as possible. The runoff across the plateau is just shy of half a mile, climb a fence then onto the steep slope back to the finish field. It is here that makes or breaks the race, and my usual confidence and exuberance on the downhills was gone with the worry of the grip of my replacement shoes.

A heavy downpour earlier in the day had made the slopes greasy, so I was worried that if I let fly, I’d end up coming down in a very unconventional manner but one that’s not uncommon – on my arse!

Normally, I’d take places on a downhill, but today I was losing them which was really annoying but I kept going as fast as I could and eventually reached the gate to the road for the final few hundred metres of running to the finish. With legs of jelly, I put in everything I had to hold my place and not get caught in the final straight.

I finished in 87th place, in 34:20mins, just shy of a minute slower than last year but feeling much better and considering my exertions the previous days, I was very happy with that time. Looking at my Strava data I was also surprised to find that I’d actually descended faster than the previous year despite the lack of proper footwear, so I just need to work on getting up the hills faster and I’ll probably become a better fell runner.

(Visited 58 times, 1 visits today)

Borrowdale Fell Race, Saturday, August 4, 2018

AL / 17 miles / 2000 m

Aaron Gourley

Timed Out

I never really got into running to be fast or win races – I’m far too slow for that. What I do love is an adventure which is why I very rarely venture out onto the roads. I love the trails and the freedom you have to explore and go at your own pace and often your own way. But it’s this freedom to choose your own way that got me into a bit of a pickle within the last few miles of Borrowdale Fell Race.

Borrowdale is one of the classic long Lake District fell races and the race that inspired me to take up fell and trail running. In the start field just off the main road in the village of Rosthwaite deep in the Borrowdale valley, I stood waiting patiently for the start of the race. Around me, as per usual, are the skeleton-like bodies of the local fell runners. There’s also the stars of the genre gathered – Ricky Lightfoot, Carl Bell, Nicky Spinks and Jasmine Paris to name but a few.

The route is approximately 17 miles and totals around 2000 metres of climbing across some of England’s roughest terrain and its highest peak, Scafell Pike. With kit checked, the 250 plus runners shuffled forward, and following a short word from the race director, we were off.

I took up my place towards the back of the field, keen to take it easy along the valley and through the farms before the tough climbs begin. The field stretched out before me in a long line, the front runners making the most of the shallow incline and single-track to make progress on the rest of the pack.

Before long the route takes a sudden and sharp turn beyond a gate which is, once again, being held open by fell running legend and Borrowdale resident, Billy Bland. From here it’s a head down, hands on knees march up the incredibly steep slope to the first peak and checkpoint at BessyBoot.

I take my time as my biggest weakness is climbing; I just haven’t got the lungs for it. But this is a race and there’s a balance to be had between taking your time and beating the cut-offs which are strictly enforced.

Although my progress is slow, I’m still moving well but I’ve lost a lot of ground on other runners who I’ve come to recognise in these races. The summit of BessyBoot seems to take an age to reach, but once there I check-in then make my way off to try and catch up some of the ground lost on the climb.

The next section is a roller coaster of ups and downs. It’s surprisingly boggy in parts given how dry it’s been but nothing like in previous years where there was a real danger of being sucked in up to your waist. The route skirts around the back of Rosthwaite Fell and under the peak of Glaramara, the steep slopes of Stonethwaite Fell add to the jeopardy of a misplaced step to my left.

I’d forgotten just how long and tough this section can be, my breathing is heavy and legs are working hard to keep up any kind of pace. The sun is beating down but over to the north across the summits of the Gables, there’s a thick mist hanging ominously.

Soon, I reach the col around Allen Crag and pick up the path to the second checkpoint at Esk Hause. From here you join the hoards of walkers making their way to the summit of Scafell Pike. But fell running is about efficiency and direct lines so the most direct route took me off the well-worn path and straight up across more rocky ground that cuts out a more commonly used path from Great End to Broad Crag.

The previous weekend I’d been here supporting a Bob Graham round. The weather was foul and with almost no visibility and winds that forced us to stop and sit for moments, it had been a tough slog. Today was the total opposite, with blue skies, warm temperatures and good visibility all around.

I made the most of this and was happy to be making my way over the boulder field towards Scafell. There’s a steep drop then a solid climb to the summit but I was moving well and was relieved to finally reach the summit checkpoint which was teaming with walkers. There were glorious views to be had but that mist still hung ominously over the Gables. From here the real fun part of the race begins – the direct drop down the scree slope to the Corridor route.

As fun as it is, it’s still incredibly tough and quite dangerous, not so much to me, but to those below and the danger of dislodging rocks that could roll down onto them. Once at the bottom, I took the time to empty my shoes which had filled with stones on the descent. Whilst doing so, I was struck with cramp in my right calf trying to get my shoe back on. This was not good and set me back a little.

Once I’d recovered I began my quest to get to the next checkpoint at Styhead Tarn as quickly as possible. Here is the first point where you can be timed out. The problem with this one is that you’re still at around 500 metres above sea level and around 2 miles of rough ground from the nearest road so it’s not a good place to be dragged off the course.

Taking the runners line off the Corridor route, I eventually made it to the checkpoint, grabbed a few jelly babies form the marshal and set off for the steep and unrelenting climb to the summit of Great Gable. I was still moving well but fully aware that I was pressed for time.

I was now in the cloud that had been hanging over the Gables for most of the day. It was cold and damp and a stark contrast to the warmth and sun I’d enjoyed in the start of the race. Once again my weakness in climbing was laid bare as runners around me started to pull away but I knew that if I just kept going I’d be ok.

Eventually, after what seemed an age, I reached the summit and the checkpoint, dibbed my dabber and made off. The mist was thick and visibility was very low. My glasses were covered in dew which made seeing quite difficult. I was on my own now, I couldn’t see anyone else, runners or walkers, but knew where I was heading, down and back up Windy Gap and skirting below Green Gable and on towards Brandreth. From here it’s across open ground to Grey Knotts to cut through for a direct descent to Honister Slate mine.

Sounds easy, it is easy, but the thick mist and my increasing fatigue played a trick on me and instead of taking the path that would have led to the right of Grey Knott, I took the line that swung me out left. As I ran I got the feeling something wasn’t right. I stopped and checked the map but because of the lack of visibility, I was unsure as to exactly where I was so I pressed on.

Descending out of the mist it became apparent I was on the wrong side of the peak. I’d gone too far to turn back and knew that I had to keep moving forward as I was now seriously under pressure to reach the last checkpoint before the cut-off.

Blue line is my route, the red line is where I should have gone.

Cursing my mistake, I made the descent off the high ground down the grassy slopes. To my left, there was the path that led back down to the slate mine, but I choose to keep moving right and try and get back on to the more direct line that I should have been on. Eventually, I made it back on track but knew that I was probably too late to continue beyond the checkpoint.

Once at Honister, I marched up to the marshal who informed me that my race was over. I’d missed the cut-off by 5 minutes. I was gutted but not surprised. I’d been running tight to the cut-offs and my navigation mistake cost me what time I did have. After around five minutes I was given a lift back to the finish where I handing in my race number and dibber.

I’ve never been timed out in a race before so it was a strange feeling but one that I have to accept. Had it not been for that simple mistake I’d have gotten around, probably last, but finished none the less. But this is why I love the trails, there’s a sense of adventure and jeopardy. Part of the race was bathed in sunshine and glorious views, the other half thick mist and cold temperatures. I’ll be back next year with the aim of being more competitive – but then again, I said that that last time I ran this race and ended up doing worse!

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Skiddaw Fell Race, Keswick, Sunday, July 1, 2018

15.4km/961.6m (9.6miles/2700ft)

Aaron Gourley

It was hot when I arrived at Keswick football club on Sunday morning – the type of heat you expect when you step off the plane upon arriving at your summer holiday destination. Stepping out of the air-conditioned car made it feel even more intense.

I’d arrived with the family in tow so they set off for a wander around Keswick while I made my way over to register for the race. The usual fell club vests were on display, hanging loosely from the skinny bodies of those whose playground the high fells of Cumbria belong.

I paid my £7 and went back to the car to get changed. I’d last run this race in 2015, in cooler conditions and had had a blast. For the unknowing, this is a fast out and back race up to the summit of Skiddaw, starting and finishing on the field between the football and cricket club of Keswick’s Fitz Park.

The race was due to start at 12:30 pm with around 100 runners gathered awaiting entry to the start pen following a very thorough kit check. It may have been hot with no chance of conditions changing but the organisers were fastidious in ensuring everyone was carrying the required kit set out in FRA rules.

Once everyone was checked in the start area and following a quick brief from the race organiser, we were off.

The pack spread quickly as the route snaked its way out of the park and up the lane towards the bridge crossing the A66. From here the gradient begins to steepen up through the woods. It was also nicely shaded here.
The path winds its way up out of the tree line to a car park at the foot of Skiddaw. From here the route hits the wide path that leads directly to the summit. A few little ups and downs the bang – straight on to the slope. The path steepens sharply as it zigzags its way up and mine, and everyone else’s pace drops dramatically.

It’s now hands on knees for the long slog to the top. There is no air; it’s hard to catch a breath. Sweat begins to pour off my head, into my eyes and off the end of my nose. I look up; I’ve not gone very far. Ahead of me, there are just headless bodies, everyone is doubled over marching their way up the hill with hands on their knees.

My breathing is swallowing, my legs are trembling and I’m having negative thoughts. I’m pretty sure I can’t make it to the top. The last time I was here was with Stuart Scott in November training for his BGR. It was cold, windy and covered in snow that time. What I’d have given for those conditions right now.

I pass two walkers (turns out it was Steph Piper) who shout encouragement and it gives me a temporary boost. Onward I march until eventually the gradient levels out enough to stand upright, catch a breath and break out into some kind of run once again.

Just as I’m approaching the gate at the foot of Skiddaw Little Man, the lead runner comes hurtling past on his way back down. He’s got a huge lead on the second place runner who also beats me to the gate.

Eventually, more runners come past on their way back down as I make my way to the final short sharp climb towards the summit plateau. It’s still hot but there’s a mild breeze blowing behind me, which helps a little as I make my way over the rocky path to the summit and turnaround point.

I’m greeted by two marshals, directed around the summit cairn and then it’s back the way I came off the mountain. The views are stunning and it’s hard not to gaze, but full concentration is needed to get back off quickly and safely – those rocks ready top trip you over at any time.

Slap, slap, slap go my feet as I try to make my way down the steep slopes quickly and efficiently. There’s a skill to downhill fell running, one that I think I’m fairly good at, but it takes a lot of concentration and nerves of steel to trust yourself and your foot placements. If only I could get up these hills quicker I’d have a fighting chance of being competitive.

The heat and my breathless assault to the top have left me exhausted so coming down is not done with my usual vigour. My thighs are burning and I’m struggling for breath. I pass some of the more cautious downhillers whilst those with more energy fly past me.

Eventually, I reach the bottom of the slope and have the run back through the car park and into the woods. This should be a relatively straightforward run back but I just haven’t got any energy left and the heat has taken its toll so my pace is slow as I make my way back to Fitz Park.

Finally, the finish field is in site and I cross the line and slump to the floor under the shade of the trees.

I check my watch for the first time during the whole race – 1hr59mins – 19 minutes slower than my previous effort. I knew this was going to be slow, given the heat, but I was disappointed at just how much slower it was. And so my struggles continue as I try and find some kind of form but I’m hoping it won’t be too long before I can take in a race with some real effort.

2018 Results

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Alwinton Three Tops Fell Race, Saturday, June 16, 2018

15 miles, 2400ft

Aaron Gourley

“You know the bag with your running shoes it,” asked my wife over the phone as I pulled up at the lights near the Duke of Wellington on my way to pick up Paul Evans.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Are they supposed to be outside the front door?” she said knowing all too well what the answer was going to be!

I’d forgotten to pick up my shoes so I had to make a decision on whether I had enough time to drive back and get them? I was already running late but thought I’d better go back. I picked up Paul and off we sped back to Wingate to get the shoes before hurtling up the A19 and onto the A1 hoping we’d make it to Alwinton, just north of Rothbury, in time to change and register for the race.

It was cut fine but we made it with at least 14 minutes to spare, a quick change and dash to the pub to register and we were ready.

Geoff and Jack were already there looking relaxed having had a more sedate journey north.

The conditions were about perfect for running a fell race with good visibility and a light wind to keep the temperature down as around 51 runners gathered for this annual fundraiser for the North of Tyne Mountain Rescue Team.

After a short brief and a “3,2,1 – off you go”, from the race director and race was on. I was feeling a little leggy still from my Hardmoors 110 exploits and still suffering from tight muscles around my left knee so the plan was to just take it easy and enjoy the route.

The first mile or so is a steady climb but I immediately fell behind most of the pack as I watched Paul, Jack and Geoff shoot off into the distance.
The trail, whilst not particularly steep, was a drag and I found myself really struggling before it eventually levelled off ahead of a long descent and double back on the roadside ready the first really significant climb of the day.

As I approached I looked up and knew this is going to be a tough day. And so it proved, my knee hurt but even worse, I just didn’t seem to have any energy at all. The next few miles were torturous as the hills rolled up and down.

The tussocks made for uneven running and with my knee hurting, I found that I was struggling on the downhill where I would normally have had fun and been able to claw back some of my lost time. It was fair to say I wasn’t really enjoying this race for the majority of it. But I stuck in; I knew this was my first real race of this type for a long time so it was a case of sucking it up and getting on with it.

The checkpoints along the way were marshalled by Mountain Rescue staff who were very cheery, which made for light relief and before long, the route dropped onto the forest track where the gradient shallowed and the path levelled enough to actually find some sort of rhythm when running. I was starting to feel much better now, as I was able to maintain a relatively even pace.

Up ahead I could see a few runners that had gone past me as I struggled on the hills, and as the trail continued I began to slowly draw them in. One by one I began to make a bit of progress, and eventually, I’d clawed back at least four lost places as we hit the final checkpoint before the long descent back to the finish.

After what seemed an eternity, I finally dropped back onto the road we’d run up at the start of the race, before turning the corner to see the finish up ahead.

Paul was stood waiting at the finish, having had a blistering run coming in first Strider and 8th overall and Geoff had a beaten Jack who’d admitted to having had a pretty miserable time out on the course himself.

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Hardmoors 110, Cleveland Way National Trail, Saturday, May 26, 2018

110 miles

Aaron Gourley

“Don’t you dare sit down,” barked my support runner Gary Thwaites as we reached the final checkpoint at the White Horse in Kilburn.
It was too late; I’d seen the chair and was in it before he’d finished the sentence. I’d come so far, it was so hot and I just needed a few minutes to regroup. I was miles behind my planned race times but knew I was still on track to finish comfortably within the 36hrs cut-off. I’d passed the magical 100-mile mark (102 miles with 10 more to go).
White Horse was a moment to reflect. I knew that this was the final stretch of a plan dating back years. I’d always thought of this moment from my first foray into the world of ultras, and in particular, Hardmoors ultras.
This was the race that I wanted but couldn’t get into my head the mentality needed to enter it. I’ve so much respect for everyone who attempts it – whether they enjoy success or fail – they put themselves on the line.
After years of running the Hardmoors 55 and 60 races, it was time for me to finally take on the challenge. Last year’s West Highland Way reduced my fear of the distance but at 16 miles longer, the Hardmoors 110 would represent and much sterner challenge.
Like all best-laid plans, training went a bit astray from March onwards. I was still putting the miles in but life had dealt me a crap hand, which left me with very little spare time to focus fully on the training I’d planned.
However, after all the months of training and planning, the day finally arrived.
I’d arranged a crack support crew of Gary Thwaites from the start in Filey to Saltburn, where he would hand over to the O’Neill gang for the night shift who would then hand back over to Gary and my wife from Osmotherley the next morning.
All my kit, food and drink supplies were packed neatly into boxes in the car, route instructions and a loose timetable were drawn up so all that was left was for me to get on the start line and fulfil my destiny (or dream, or madness).
The morning was cool and fresh, almost perfect for running as we gathered on Filey Brigg awaiting the countdown from Jon Steele. At 8:03 am we were off. I found myself, as I did at the Hardmoors 55, among the front-runners, so quickly found a space on the grass verge and let the faster runners stream past. There was a long way to go, so I didn’t want to get carried away.
The miles ticked by, and I chatted to a few people including James Campbell who looked in good shape and was plodding along at a good pace.
The first few miles gently rolled by towards Scarborough before dropping onto the seafront for around 2 miles of flat running to Scalby. Here I met Gary once more to fill bottles and grab some food before heading off for the long stretch to Ravenscar, the first major checkpoint.
I was enjoying the views looking north up the coast and yo-yoed with several groups of people along the way. The temperature was starting to rise slightly but I was fine with what I was wearing. The route drops into Hayburn Wyke where a diversion was in place following landslip earlier in the year. The diverted route, while a little longer, cut out the steep climbs and was a joy to run. It reminded me of Castle Eden Dene.
At Ravenscar the route heads up the hill to the village hall where the checkpoint was buzzing with runners and support crews. I took my time here to apply a liberal coating of Vaseline to my feet, which were starting to swell and rub in my shoes. I also took a bit of food and drink here but knew Gary was just down the road with my own supplies, so didn’t stay long.
On the way back to the Cleveland Way I passed Gary and grabbed a bit more food and refilled my bottles before setting off for Robin Hoods Bay.
This is a relatively short section and takes in some of the best parts of the route for views and little gems like Boggle Hole before dropping into Robin Hoods Bay.
It was on this stretch that I caught up with Lyndsey Van Der Blyth who was running the Hardmoors 160. She was smiley and chatty and seemed to completely defy the fact that she’d been running since the previous evening having set off from Sutton Bank along with 16 others. We chatted as we made our way up the steep road to the top of the bay and I felt inspired as we parted when I met Gary once more for a quick restock of fuel and drinks.
The next section gently rolled by towards Whitby. The temperature was starting to rise still and a pop-up water stop at Saltwick Bay caravan park was a welcome relief with its ice-cold water on offer.
Onwards I pushed into Whitby, which was as busy as ever. I ran down the 199 steps with no real problems and into the narrow street where everyone came to a halt. Someone had decided to park their car in the middle of the road and so no one could get past. After a few minutes of pushing and shoving I managed to break through only to turn onto the main road and find the bridge was closed to allow boats through. Once again I was held in the crowds and had to fight my way through once the bridge had reopened.
I made my way up past the Whale Bones where I heard the cheery voice of Dave Robson who was supporting another runner and then onwards to Sandsend for the next checkpoint at 36 miles. Here I took a bit of time to refuel and use the toilets before pressing on. From here the climbs up the cliffs get steeper and longer and start to take their toll on weary bodies but I still felt comfortable and was just about on target for times.
The next section rolled by to Runswick Bay but the climb down to the beach and back up to the checkpoint at the top of the car park is cruel. I pressed on to the next point of interest – Staithes. I was starting to feel a little ropey by the time I reached this lovely little fishing village and I met Gary who ran on ahead to the car to get some food and drinks prepared, along with a warm top as it was getting cooler on the cliffs. As I made my way up the final hill out of Staithes it happened. I was sick. I have a real problem with sickness in long races and it was back.
I met Gary feeling really sorry for myself and doubts had started creeping into my mind as to whether I could do this now. But I pushed on, the next section to Saltburn being rather tough taking in some of the highest east-facing cliffs in the UK.
I was sick a few more times but managed to keep moving at a fairly steady pace. My legs and body felt generally fine, I was just struggling to keep food and drink down.
I arrived in Saltburn around an hour behind my planned time but I wasn’t too worried about that. Here was where Gary would depart and the O’Neill’s would take over. It was great to see them and I spent a bit of time getting changed into clothes for the overnight section. I had some chips and a cup of tea, which were a struggle to get down but hit the spot.
Jen had decided to run with me from here to Slapeworth so we set off up the hill. I was feeling refreshed and revived at having changed and picking up the company but that all changed in an instant when I found myself back on my hands and knees being sick once more. The next few miles to Slapeworth were a drag and I was feeling really low.
At Slapeworth the crew was waiting once more, I was feeling dispirited but knew I had to keep going. I saw my poles by the side of the car so decided to take them. I think they would become my comfort blanket for the rest of the race. Jen was stopping here so that she could run the next section from Gribdale to Clay Bank so off I went on my own into the darkness of Guisborough Woods.
I know this section relatively well but the darkness coupled with a thick fog meant you could see no further than a few meters which made this a very difficult section. I was confident I knew where I was until I spotted a sign pointing down to the Tees Link footpath.  I immediately cursed myself knowing I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere and that meant a stiff climb back up to High Cliff Nab to get back on track.
Back on the right path, I made my way towards Roseberry Topping, for the out and back. It was a tough climb up and at least 10 people were on their way back down as I made my way up. I got the top where the marshal was buried deep inside a tent, which was being battered by the cold constant wind. I shouted my number and made a hasty retreat off.
I made my way to Gribdale where my crew were waiting for me. It had taken me a lot longer than expected but I was feeling much better now. Jen was ready to run so after a bit of a rest we set off up to Captain Cooks Monument and towards Kildale which we reached at around 2:50 am, about an hour and fifty minutes behind schedule but well within the cut-offs.
Kildale is a little oasis in these races, be it on the 110 or the 55, and Sue Jennings was there to welcome us in. I made the effort to have something to eat, pizza being the food of choice here, and took time to plaster Vaseline on my feet once more. It really was helping.
After nearly 20 minutes we set off for what is a mind-numbing section towards Bloworth Crossing. We made good steady progress up what is a long arduous climb on a bleak road to, well, nowhere! Marching, chatting, one foot in front of the other was the order of the day on this long section. Eventually, the track levels out as you reach the high point.
Along this section, we caught up with two guys who were running the 160 race together. They looked strong and again gave me a lift from their spirit and determination. As we headed towards Bloworth Jen noticed a pile of orange peels shaped into an arrow, then the words ‘Help yourself’ spelt out in stone to which someone had left a pile of oranges on a big rock. It’s little things like this that really do make you smile and the efforts that people go through to give you a bit of comfort never ceases to amaze me.
Onwards and upwards, we finally reached Bloworth Crossing and in the distance, to the east the sun was starting to rise which was showing us how beautiful it can be up here. I felt privileged to be running in such on such a beautiful morning in good company but also knew I had a long way to go and had better put a bit of pace into my legs.
Eventually, I reached Clay Bank at 5:41 am, 79 miles in. This is the start of probably the toughest section of the race over the ‘Three Sisters’, which include Wainstones. These were tough climbs but the views from the low hanging cloud and inversions took my mind of some of the pain. I was beginning to feel quite tired and was feeling the effects of a lack of food caused by my nausea.
I passed through Lord Stones Country Park and headed up the final steep climb of this section to Carlton Bank before the long downhill into Scugdale. It was getting warm now as the sun began to rise further and from here it was the long, but a relatively straightforward drag to Osmotherley Square Corner.
By the time I reached Osmotherley, the sun was beating down so I sent Jen to the shop for an ice-lolly. This lifted my spirits for a bit but I struggled on the final climb to Square Corner where my wife and daughter were waiting with Gary to take over for the final section. It was such a relief to get there. I was now 3hrs down on my plan but I didn’t care at all. This was 90 miles and I knew I had only 22 miles left to finish. My legs felt good but my depleted energy levels and the rising heat were starting to get to me.
After changing into a light t-shirt and shorts I said good-bye to the O’Neill’s and to Jen and set off on the final stretch with Gary who would run the last bit with me whilst my wife took up crew duties. Gary, for all his efforts, had probably the worst job of the day trying to keep me motivated over the 9 or so miles to the White Horse. He was patient with me as I huffed and puffed and generally ignored everything he said and ask me to do over this part of the race. (Sorry Gary).
Eventually, I reached Sutton Bank where my wife was waiting with the sun cream, which I so desperately needed now as the sun beat down on my exposed skin. I had all but 10 miles to go. I knew I had it done now, I knew I was going to finish, the question was, how quickly could Gary get me to the end?
The final part of the race is a meander through farms and villages on the way to Helmsley. Very easy running normally but I was happy to just keep plodding until finally, the castle appeared on the horizon.
I’d done it!
The final mile wormed its way into the village; I took a moment to touch the Cleveland Way marker (finally I’d conquered it), before making my way to the finish at the sports club. My daughter was there at the end but she quite clearly couldn’t decide if playing on the swings with her new found friends was more important than running the final few meters with me –typical!
After 34hr02mins, I crossed the finish line. It was the moment I’d waited for. It hadn’t gone the way I’d hoped, there’d been lots of ups and downs – quite literally – but I’d finished the race and at that point, my legs gave up and I lay on the ground in a warm glow of pride and muttered ‘never again’ (maybe!).
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Hardmoors 55, Helmsley to Guisborough, Saturday, March 17, 2018

55 miles

Aaron Gourley

Photo courtesy of Chia Charge

This race received a lot of negative media attention – most of which bordered on hysterical – mainly from the masses that I would assume are the same people that claim Health & Safety has got mad!

Yes, the forecast had told us that the ‘Beast from the East’ was set to return, but one thing is for certain, we (Hardmoors 55 runners) all knew what to expect and were well prepared for it.

Jon Steele’s rambling emails in the lead up to the race drove home the point that mandatory kit and checks would be strictly enforced, but a new addition for this race was the inclusion of a GPS tracking device that all competitors were to be given at the start. Not only do these trackers allow friends and family to see where you are but they also add another layer of safety for the race organisers who can keep track of all on the course.

So with the impending weather on my mind, the night before the race was a bit of a nervous time, selecting kit to wear, what to carry and what to place in my two drop bags. After a few hours of faffing and constantly checking the forecast, I finalised my gear and then headed to bed.

I woke just before my 4 am alarm so set about getting ready and took an easy drive down to Guisborough to meet my running buddy Jen and where the buses would pick up the mass of runners all huddled behind a public toilet block in a car park and take them to the start in Helmsley.

Once at Helmsley we were deposited from the buses and made our way to the sports club where a slick kit check and registration process left me with nearly two hours to kill before the race start. There was far too much time to allow nervous energy to build but thankfully ample to allow for a good toilet break before the start of a long day.

Finally, as 9 am approached we were ushered out into the cold where Jon gave one of his now legendary rambling race briefs. At 9:10 am the race finally started and I found myself at the front with all the speedsters as they dashed off down the road towards the start of the Cleveland Way footpath.

I checked my watch and noticed I was pushing 7:10 mm pace so I eased right off once on the official start of the Cleveland Way and watched Jen make her way up the field. I was quite happy to drop back and allow the faster runners to go past but not too many did.

The weather at this point was cold with a strong intermittent wind but there were no real signs that the ‘mini-Beast from the East’ would be anything more vicious than an angry puppy whose toy had been snatch from it.

The route makes its way from east to west out towards the first major checkpoint at the White Horse near Sutton Bank, which meant the wind was behind us. There were a few flurries of snow, some driven by the intense wind, but cleared quickly each time to sunshine.

I reached the White Horse in a good, steady time had a quick drink and refill of water bottles before setting off once again. I saw Jen at the top of the steps and thought I might catch up but that would be the last time I’d see her for the rest of the day.

Photo courtesy of Chia Charge

From here the route headed north to Osmotherley across higher, more exposed ground so the wind was driving in across more starkly now but was still bearable with the kit I had on.

I was happy with the way I was moving and despite a few people passing I seemed to be holding my position well. I was adamant not to get sucked into running to keep up with people ahead. As the route made its way towards High Paradise Farm, the wind started to pick up and drive in the snow again, but luckily we were sheltered from the worst of it here.

Upon reaching High Paradise Farm I caught up with a woman who, for the next few miles to Osmotherley, I would trade places with several times. She had a brilliant ultra-plod and made up ground really quickly and then I would catch her as she began to walk.

This section brought us out on to the first real exposed moorland stretch of the Cleveland Way and the wind made its presence felt driving across the snow and trying to knock over anything or anyone in its path. It was a case of head down and keep moving.

Eventually, the wind eased as we dropped down to Osmotherley Square Corner before making our way to the first indoor checkpoint at Osmotherley Village Hall. Here I picked up the first of my drop bags which contained a couple of corned beef sandwiches and a few other treats to see me through the next, and in my opinion, toughest 20-mile section to Kildale.

The village hall was a warm retreat from the four-plus hours of freezing cold temperatures I’d endured to get there but I didn’t want to hang around so made a quick exit once I’d had a refuel.

I walked out of Osmotherley and back out towards the TV mast before dropping into the woods heading to the next checkpoint at Scugdale. Cutting across a very muddy field I slipped and went sliding for a few meters – luckily the ground was very soft and no damage was done other than a dent in my pride and having my whole backside covered in mud.

At Scugdale the route begins to rise again up onto the moors as it heads towards Carlton Bank and Lordstones Country Park. The wind was still blowing hard and the exposure of this section meant there was little respite. I felt ok and was never too cold as long as I was moving.

The ground here was noticeable hard from the cold and coming down the flagstone steps, was made treacherous by the ice that covered them, which made for slow progress. I opted to take a fell runners line on all the descents along this section gaining as a result plus it was far easier to negotiate.

I still felt I was moving well. I began my crossing of the ‘Three Sisters’ which includes Wainstones, a tough little rocky outcrop made more difficult by the wind, snow and ice.

Interestingly, an Eagle Owl has decided to make this section its home and had been attacking runners and walkers in the weeks leading up to this race so all eyes were on the sky in the event of an attack. Instead of an Eagle Owl, however, at the top of Wainstones, a marshal stood armed with a camera taking pictures of weary runners.

From here there is a run across more open and exposed high ground which the wind and snow driving across was making difficult. Teasingly in the distance, when the snow stopped, the peak of Roseberry Topping would come into view – so near yet so far.

The route then dropped to Clay Bank where there was another checkpoint. Here I refilled my bottles, which had started to form ice in them. In fact, the one I’d had orange juice in had started to freeze like a slush puppy. Not hanging around I crossed the road and back up the steep path towards Blowarth Crossing. This is a long and arduous section and one of the most exposed parts of the route.

I was still moving well, walking the ups and plodding the flats but Blowarth has a reputation and form in this race – in fact when I first ran this race back in 2013 (in the opposite direction) Blowarth was probably the toughest few hours of running I’d ever encountered.

Today it didn’t disappoint. The wind picked up and brought with it the most intense snowstorm of the day. The puppy was maturing and bearing its teeth now. It was unrelenting as the route took a turn right into its throat. But I, and those around me, had our heads down and kept moving. Eventually, the turning point at Bloworth appeared and took us out of the direct force of the wind so that it was cutting across east to west once more and on to a flatter section where it was easier to run.

But the wind and snow kept coming, and the path seemed to never end. I contemplated stopping to put on an extra layer but decided it was far better to keep moving and get to Kildale where I could take stock.

Pressing on for what seemed like an eternity, I finally made it to the road leading into Kildale. The snow was being blown intensely and the road was covered. I got to the village hall at 6:38 pm and was relieved to be out of the wind for a few moments.

Here, Sue Jennings and Denise Hughes were on hand. I grabbed my drop bag, which contained a spare top and a pair of fresh socks whilst being handed a slice of pizza and a bowl of rice pudding.

From Clay Bank to here I’d been debating in my head whether to change my socks (you’ve got to think of something when running long distances!). I had already decided to put on my waterproof layers as they would give me a bit more protection against the wind and change my top so I decided I was definitely going to change my socks. The only problem was, I couldn’t get the changed pair on, so I spent far too many minutes struggling with them.

Whilst running over Bloworth both my water bottles had frozen solid so I’d not had a drink for a while. Denise took them and filled them with warm water which would at least give me a bit more of a chance to have a drink as the temperature was dropping as darkness fell outside.

It was around 7 pm when I went to leave the village hall, but as I made my way to the door, Andy Norman who was on timing duties stopped me to inform me that the out and back to Roseberry Topping was no longer part of the race due to the conditions outside.

I was slightly disappointed as I’d been targeting this for most of the day as it loomed in the distance but I could understand why the decision had been made and I was sure I’d be thankful at the end of the race.

Back outside, it was really dark now and as I made my way through Kildale, I noticed a group of head-torch lights heading down a path that was off track. I gave them a quick shout and made sure they were aware they’d gone wrong before making my way through the woodland and back out towards Captain Cooks Monument.

From here the route skirts around Roseberry Topping. The wind was still howling but the snow had stopped. As I looked over to Roseberry, I could see head torch lights on its slopes. I wondered if we were still going up and down it? Eventually, I reached the gate at the start of the out and back where a marshal pointed me away in the direction of Guisborough Woods.

I was definitely not going up Roseberry Topping and felt guilty that I was taking the places of those last few that had gone through before the decision was made to close it. From here the route winds its way up to High Cliff Nab providing extensive views of the lights of Guisborough and Teesside below.

The route takes a cruel detour through the woods and away from Guisborough before dropping onto an old railway track which heads back towards town. With a mixture of walking and shuffling, I eventually reached the bridge above the Rugby Club before dropping on to the road towards the finish at the Sea Cadets.

It was such a relief to turn the corner and head into the hall where a young lad was ringing a bell to signal the arrival of runners. I was handed my t-shirt and medal and went to sit down feeling exhausted but elated.

I must have looked a sight as Shelli Gordon came over and gave me a nice hot coffee and a thick sleeping bag to warm up in. I swear I felt ok, but what I didn’t realise at the time was that the race had been stopped. It was 9:31 pm when I finished but over in Kildale, the race had been stopped due to the deteriorating conditions.

It wasn’t until I got home and woke the next day that I found out what had unfolded. I could totally understand the decision and as the day progressed and news spread it became apparent that this was going to spill over. I couldn’t say what happened in Kildale but from my experience, Jon & Shirley who organise Hardmoors made the right decisions throughout the day.

I ran this race in 2013 in what were probably worse conditions underfoot with deep snow and high winds, what was different this time was the unrelenting nature of the wind, the colder temperatures and the amount of people on the course towards the end of the race.

Of those ‘rescued’’, most if not all, would have completed had they been able too, but on sound advice of Mountain Rescue, and the conditions on the roads the decision was made to call it a day which was a shame for those not able to get back out in time.

If you look at the Hardmoors website, it clearly states ‘Do not underestimate this race!’ It’s a winter race – it’s the conditions that make it appealing to me. If you want to be mollycoddled then look elsewhere.

I entered this race in the full knowledge that the weather could throw anything at us. In fact, I’ve done this race four times now and each in completely different conditions, but each time in the full knowledge that my safety and that of other competitors is of paramount importance to the organisers.

What happened on the 17th March has put this race on another level in the ultra community and I’m sure its appeal will only grow as a result.

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Steel Fell, Lake District, Monday, August 7, 2017

AS / 5km / 400m

Aaron Gourley

My legs feel like jelly…in fact they don’t feel like they’re mine anymore as I hit the road for the final chase into the finish. There’s a Keswick AC runner up ahead whom I’d eyed as a potential catch to gain a vital place in this short but incredibly tough little fell race but my legs have other ideas. My brain can’t decide what to do with them, they don’t feel real.

32 minutes earlier, I’d been on this path heading up the hill to the start of the off-road climb up Steel Fell. From the farmer’s field at West Head Farm just off the A591 beyond Thirlmere, over 70 runners gathered – Keswick, Ambleside, Helm Hill, Bowland and Kendal are some of the vests synonymous with fell running that are donning the mostly lithe, athletic and clearly fit for the fells, runners.

I stood cutting a lone figure in my purple Striders vest – the Lone Strider – tipping up for this summer fling as I happened to be on a week holiday in the area.  The fee? free for 3 miles of fell running fun.

The premise of this race is easy – wheeze your way to the top of Steel Fell, run around the summit cairn then leg it as fast as you can back down the same way. How hard could that be?

With heads down and hands on knees we make our way up the steep slope on a beautiful summer evening. Every now and again I look up to see what progress I’m making and to see if the front runners are on their way back down yet – they’re not! How far is this race again? Surely they must be heading back, I’ve been climbing for what seems like ages!

Eventually I reach the plateau where the gradient levels off. Now I can see up ahead the summit cairn and turn around point. I can also see the front runners on their way back, they’re like gazelles leaping effortlessly across the rough ground.

With the field well stretched out now, I make my way slowly to the turn around point before the fun of the downhill starts. There’s about half a mile of easy running before the gradient drops. I run to this point, take a moment to savour the view of Thirlmere and the valley stretching out in the late evening sun, then, with a sharp intake of breath, hurl myself down the slope.

I’ve eyes on a couple of people who I think I can catch. My legs are pounding and arms are held aloft to keep balance as I pass two guys taking tentative steps. Then I spy another target, which I manage to take. My legs are really taking a battering now but there’s not far to go and I’m enjoying the experience.

Then up ahead is the Keswick runner, I think I might have this place but it’s going to be a battle. Back onto the road and the battle is lost before it begins. My only hope is no-one catches me from behind as I try to maintain my form for the final stretch to the finish.

Job done but my legs have took a serious battering from this little beauty of a race.

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