Category Archives: Simon Graham

Coxhoe Trail Race, Sunday, September 22, 2019

10km

Simon Graham

Courtesy of Kev Morson

I can’t remember the last time I entered a 10K race. Sure, I run 10k’s as training runs, but they are normally at a nice comfortable pace. I made the decision after my last Ultra to give up on distance for a while and just focus on getting my love for running back with some shorter stuff with my ‘Long runs’ being around 10 miles unless I was at an event.

The Coxhoe Trail 10k was just a random event that I knew would see a good Strider turnout. It was local, cheap (£10), and had a nice t-shirt. It was the T-Shirt that sold it for me.

Registration was quick and easy at the Active Life Centre (formerly the Leisure Centre) in Coxhoe itself collecting race number and event t-shirt. It is then a miles walk uphill to the actual race start location. This worked quite well as a bit of a warm up.

At the start area a huge strider contingent amassed and led by Captain Michael a number of us headed out for an out and back warm up. It was at this point I was starting to feel like the odd one out. I had chosen, as I always do, to wear my striders t-shirt and not club vest. everyone else was of course in their vests. Since I don’t like wearing a vest I’d just have to be ‘unique’. Back from the warm up and now assembled on the start line we were ready to go, though I soon realised that I was far to near the front of the pack.

The 10k route spends a lot of its first mile running downhill, and starting to near the front, I of course got swept up in the initial stampede.

Running a 7:30 minute mile downhill is all good and well if you can sustain it onto the flat, I, in my current shape (round), cannot. For long anyway.

As more and more sensible runners passed me having already reached their appropriate cruising velocities I reluctantly eventually reached mine. This was after thinking about a mile in that I was on course for a 10k PB on the flat, never mind off road. Reality soon kicked in and forced me to slow to the far more comfortable 8:30ish pace on the flat.

After the initial downhill sprint (and delusions of grandeur) the Coxhoe Trail 10k course is actually really nice. It’s an out and back loop course, so head out along the flat trails, which I assume are a former railway line, drop down, and then at around 2.5ish miles start a long steady climb up to Quarrington Hill. Several runners were struggling on this climb, but I felt strong. Anyone who has ever ran a Hardmoors event would probably only consider it a minor blip on an otherwise flat section, but to those who haven’t I can understand why it was a struggle.

As said, this is an out and back with a loop, and what goes up must again come down. As I approached the summit of the climb I passed fellow Striders Ian Jobling and Lesley Charman, who obviously weren’t loving the climb as much as I. They both caught up with me as we descended, and Lesley kept with me for the majority of the rest of the race, though I kept both of them in my sights.

Down the hill, back along the flat former railway line (please someone tell me if I’m wrong) and back up the hill which I flew down at the start. Going up the hill, I again felt strong, perhaps because my delusions of grandeur had long since passed and a PB was now just a passing memory. As I eased my way up through the field I was about to pass Lesley when she suddenly let out a huge scream and pulled up in pain. Concerned I stopped to make sure she was ok, she assured me she was so I pressed on with Ian Jobling now in my sights.

I passed Ian, again on the final hill, and noticed Anna Mason was just ahead, she too looked to be struggling on the hill, and as we approached the top I shouted some words of encouragement to her “Don’t get beaten by a fat lad”. I suspect it didn’t work since I didn’t see her again.

Slightly cruel, but to finish this race you actually have to almost run past the finish and into the woods for a final loop, I did this and entered the finish field to see the Strider finish staff doing their jobs admirably.

Ok, so lessons learnt; Hills for strength, Track for speed. Guess where I’ll be headed alternate weeks on Wednesdays, even though I dislike track (sorry Allan). 
I really enjoyed this race, even though I’m not used to ‘racing’ and would recommend it to anyone.
Special Congratulations to Gareth Pritchard for 1st male and Emma Thompson for 1st Female, and to all the other Striders for some great efforts.

Click here for results

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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 Eildon 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 Eildon 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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Hardmoors White Horse Half Marathon, Sunday, June 9, 2019

Simon Graham

I wasn’t going to write a run report for this one, mainly due to being busy with other things going on in my life. However I couldn’t let you lovely lot down, so here’s a very quickly written one…

A week after completing parkrunathon, followed by Sunday to Friday away training with the army probably wasn’t the best way to prepare for a Hardmoors event. I was never going to be competitive though. I’m all about the completing, not the competing!

The weather for this event looked great given the downpours in the preceding days, the sun was shining as we left Durham and would continue to shine throughout the day. I say ‘We’ because joining me in the car for the journey down were my ‘better’ half Jill, and our friends Debbie and Bill. Debbie was doing her first event of this year’s series, and Bill probably just wanted to actually finish one.

We arrived just as the Marathon Runners were starting at 9am. Registration was, as always a very straightforward affair. Name, ID, Number. We were then waiting around to start, making the most of the sun before we (Well , more, me) started cursing it for being too hot during the race!

10am, race start. The start of this race is at the top of Sutton Bank, at the Visitor Centre. Starting on the road you make a swift left turn onto the trails leading towards ‘Britain’s best view’ overlooking Gormire Lake. In the Full Marathon and the 10K you drop down about 1000 foot to actually run around Gormire Lake. Fortunately in the Half you stay on top of the hill overlooking it.

White Horse Half is surprisingly runnable, unlike the previous event in the series (Wainstones), meaning that a comfortable pace can be held throughout the majority of the race. It wouldn’t be a Hardmoors event if there wasn’t some elevation and sure enough shortly after the first checkpoint at Sneck Yate there is a climb up to High Paradise Farm. On a normal day, feeling fresh, or wanting to go for it I would probably have attempted running up this climb, but today I just couldn’t be bothered. I could see everyone else in front of me walking so I joined them.

From High Paradise Farm the route takes you off into the fields, down a steep technical descent, and off towards CP2. It was just after the descent that myself and another became confused as to which way the route went. There seemed to be tape going both left and right. Just as we were about to get maps and route descriptions out another runner with an expensive watch pointed us in the right direction (I paid £60 for my TomTom watch and it usually sees me right!). Off we headed now with CP2 in sight.

CP2 was a quick water refill and off up a tarmac section. I can’t recall much about this section other than the downhill parts were real quad burners and we crossed over a ford. After crossing the ford and climbing up hill it was off into a wooded section which took us towards Rievalux Abbey. The previous day’s rain had made this wooded section ‘interesting’ in places and at one point my foot (and half of my shin) disappeared in some mud. It wouldn’t be a proper trail race if there wasn’t mud!

Approaching Rievalux Abbey (12ish miles) my left hip was starting to really give me some grief so I moved to a run-walk strategy. This was to continue for the rest of the race. Probably best given that the last four miles of the race are all uphill following the Cleveland Way back to Sutton Bank.

At 13.1 miles, I know because I had just checked my watch, I heard someone fast approaching. I turned, looked and said out loud “I might have known”, ” Well done Mark”* (*Might have been an expletive in between have and known). It was Marathon Winner and fellow Strider Mark Kearney whizzing past as though out for a Sunday jog. His passing spurred me to run for a bit. It didn’t last long.

Onward I plodded, run-walking to the finish, eventually getting there in a time of 3:20:22 (16.7 miles). Mark had completed the Marathon in a time of 4:01:25. He was the only Marathon runner to beat me home, so what if they’d ran 9ish miles more.

Bill finished about 4 minutes after me, only just being beaten by the 2nd place Marathon runner (who had run a 40-mile Ultra the day before apparently). Jill, Debbie and fellow Strider Jane finished around 3 hrs 50, having ran the whole route together.

Next event in the Hardmoors series – Farndale, where I will finish the half before Mark Kearney wins the full!

PlaceNoTimeNameCatClubFirst in Group
12722:10:05Phil HughesM-1st M
42382:13:54Samantha DaviesFV40Easingwold Running Club1st F
742553:20:22Simon GrahamMElvet Striders
1203763:53:07Jill YoungFElvet Striders
1212403:53:08Jane DowsettFV50Elvet Striders
1322873:59:45Deborah MannFV50Elvet Striders

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Hardmoors Wainstones Half Marathon 2019, Sunday, May 12, 2019

Simon Graham

I did not enjoy this race.

Any race report which begins with the above statement usually means lots of complaints and whinging about the event. I can’t fault the event, the route or anything else. I simply had a bad day.

Anyone who has ever ran a Hardmoors event will be aware why they are called ‘Hard’moors. They are not easy events, nor are they designed to be. The North York Moors is not flat and each event in the series comes with bonus miles to give you more value for your money, or so Race Director Jon Steele says. I could have done without the bonus miles at this event. On second thoughts, the bonus miles weren’t too bad. It was the main event I struggled with.

Continue reading Hardmoors Wainstones Half Marathon 2019
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Kielder Dark Skies Run, Kielder, Northumberland, Saturday, March 23, 2019

26.5 miles

Simon Graham

Having completed the Hardmoors 50 the previous Saturday, and just about regained movement and feeling in my legs by the Wednesday on Saturday the 23rd of March I found myself on the start line of the Trail Outlaws Dark Skies 26.5 @ Kielder.

In contrast to last weeks storm Hannah, the weather at Kielder looked good, and there were mutterings of the Northern Lights making an appearance around 9 pm. It was looking promising to be a great night for some star gazing, plus a little 26.5-mile run.

In 2017 I had completed this event as my first ever Marathon. Having entered 2016’s event and broken my foot three weeks before. Back then (for the 2016 event) a storm had hit and I was actually pleased to be injured. The 2017 event provided clear skies and fantastic star gazing opportunities but sadly I didn’t make the most of them. This was my first marathon and I wanted to push hard to prove I could do it.

2019’s event was to be a different experience altogether. No pressure, just go out and enjoy it; taking in the ‘dark skies’.

The route itself runs in a clockwise direction around the perimeter of the Kielder Reservoir, which is, strangely enough, 26 miles (it’s like they planned the reservoir around a marathon route!). Starting out at the Hawkshead Scout Centre a quick loop around the grounds allows the field to thin out from the mass start and the fast lads (and lasses) can fight their way to the front. We were doing no such thing and started out at a comfortable pace, although this was somewhat faster than I had planned in my head. I say ‘We’ because I was joined on the start line by my better half Jill, Dave Toth, Crook AC’s Bill Ford and Sunderland Harrier Tony Erskine. Fellow Striders Eric Green and Club Chair Jonathan Hamill were with us on the start line, but within seconds of the off, they had disappeared.

Starting with a mile’s loop around the Hawkshead Scout site where you then run back through the start ‘funnel’ and head downhill towards the road before taking a right which takes you onto the lakeside path (Technically its a reservoir path but lakeside is easier to spell!). The first 6.5 ish miles to the first checkpoint follows the lakeside path up and down, up and down. I should point out that on this course you are either going up or going down, there are almost no fully flat sections.

The first three miles we’d been running at a quicker pace than I would have liked, and at some point, I knew I’d need to slow. It wasn’t a fast pace by any means, but the weekend before’s efforts had taken its toll. Heading up one of the (many) inclines I remember saying to Dave that I thought we were going a little fast, Dave agreed, but we didn’t seem to slow. Both Dave and Tony had also completed the Hardmoors 50 a week earlier. Gradually as we approached CP1 we did slow down and arrived at the Checkpoint in good spirits ready for some of the famous ‘Trail Outlaws Red Kola’. At least that was what I thought. After getting my cup of ‘Kola’ a very green looking Bill declared that he’d had enough and was off home. He did not look in a good way. We tried the usual “Come on”, “You’ll be fine” things, but his mind was made up. We later found off that Bill did continue for another couple of miles before turning around and returning to the Checkpoint. Something I was very great full for later on.

On we pressed out of CP1 and up the hill. Five had become four, and we had slowed things down. Anything bigger than a slight incline was now being walked.

Just after 7 pm at around 9.5 miles the light was fading and with dusk well and truly upon us, I made the decision to get my head torch out of my packs front pocket and onto my head. I turned it on to try it. It came on. Seconds later it went off again never to come back to life. I still haven’t looked at why the head torch failed on me.

I’d changed the batteries in my head torch just the day before, having used it extensively the week before. I couldn’t believe it, no head torch. Just what I needed. Part of the mandatory kit for the race was a head torch and spare batteries. Fortunately, I had a spare head torch, this was just at the very bottom of my race pack, having put it there on purpose since I hadn’t planned on needing it. As it was not yet fully dark we headed on to CP2 with the intention of using my spare head torch from there onward. None of the others were yet using their head torches, so I was ok for now.

At CP2 my priority was to get to the spare head torch and get it on my head, I did this, repacked my bag, refuelled with more ‘Red Kola’ and pretzels and we were off on our way. I tested my head torch to make sure it worked and thankfully it did. What I hadn’t done with this torch though was changed the batteries. I’d used it in the past but not for long periods, so hoped it would be ok. With this in mind, I opted to allow the light from others torches guide me round to save the batteries in mine for when I really needed it. This worked great for me apart from in the darkened forest parts when I really needed the extra light.

Between CP2 and CP3 there are a lot of quite steep climbs followed by descents, so by now the pace was definitely slowing and I could feel the high mileage in my legs. Power walking uphill was fine, running the descents was destroying my right knee with each step. I could feel my body changing the way I was landing to minimise the impact. I started to drop back from the other three in our group at times downhill, catching them up as they slowed to a walk on the up.

Fellow Strider Sarah Fawcett had joined our little group by now, and I can’t recall if we’d caught her or her us, but she was not having a good race. We all stayed together to CP3, at 16 miles and the Dam. Sarah set off ahead of us. Over the Dam is the only fully flat section of this race and makes a nice change from constant climbs and descents, but for me, by now the damage was done. I was tired and could feel myself slowly falling behind the others, but then pushing on a bit to keep with them. On towards the 17-18 mile CP we went. We had again caught up with Sarah, who seemed to be really struggling. She would admit this though. I wasn’t going to admit that I was tired and starting to need to slow the pace even further.

The five of us (Myself, Tony, Jill, Sarah and Dave) reached CP4 almost as a unit, though Dave and Tony were ahead of us. Jill was sitting comfortably in the middle of the pack and I was at the rear with Sarah. I recall saying to her that I wasn’t going to get any faster than this, so she should just try and stick with us to the end.

Leaving CP4 as a group Dave and Tony were pressing on ahead and I knew that we needed to just let them go, for a few miles the distance was only metres, but as the miles increased they got further and further away. Sarah was still with us though and although struggling we stayed together with Jill and I overtaking Sarah, then her passing us.

The wall…

Somewhere between mile 20 and 21, Jill hit a wall. Not the mental ‘I can’t go on’ kind of wall, but her body had clearly depleted all of its energy stores and she was feeling sick. Despite refuelling, at each checkpoint, your body depletes energy faster than you can put it in during a marathon and Jill’s was definitely depleted. Jill was stumbling, almost falling into a ditch. Fuel was needed and fast. Fortunately, Jill had picked up a banana at the previous checkpoint and ate this and some cashew nuts she was carrying. We walked whilst she tried to get fuel into her body. Jill wasn’t giving in though and despite us walking she was power walking. Please just slow down for a bit I was thinking, as much for her as for my own tired body (I can’t walk as fast as Jill either).

We walked and ‘ultra’ shuffled for a couple of miles, still with Sarah nearby. Dave and Tony had by now long since left us, and were happily running their own race. I’d said all along that I wasn’t leaving Jill and despite her still struggling we pressed on. Not finishing was never an option.

By the time we had reached the woods that bring you into Leaplish and the 24 mile CP Jill was again feeling strong and we were run (shuffle) walking. By this point we had lost Sarah further behind us, she was by now really struggling. In order for us to finish, we had to do what was best for us and kept moving. Not at a fast pace, just moving forward.

At the Leaplish CP, we had a quick water refill and were off 1.7 miles to go. By now Jill had replenished her energy supplies and was again feeling strong. I, on the other hand, was tired and starting to really struggle. I didn’t let on though. From what I can recall we ran large sections of the last 1.7 miles to the finish, Jill was leading me along. At the final hill to the Scout site, Jill was about 10 meters ahead of me shouting “Come on”. I’ll not say what I was thinking at the time.

Up the hill, around the corner and into the hall to finish. We had done it. 5 hours 47 minutes. Nowhere near PB times, but the end goal had been achieved.

At the finish, we were greeted by Tony, Dave and Rachel Toth who were conveniently standing next to the Jelly Babies. I ate a lot of Jelly Babies! Bill Ford joined us looking rather refreshed. He’d been changed, had a massage, watched the first finishers come in, but most importantly of all he’d been to collect Jill’s car from the overflow car park and brought it to the finish meaning we could make a quick getaway. We said our goodbye’s, saw Jonathan Hamill eating cake and were off for pizza and drinks.

I found out the following morning that Sarah had made it to the finish after stopping for some rest at Leaplish. Sorry we didn’t hang around!

As a footnote, the Northern Lights didn’t show up and we saw very few stars since it was cloudy.

Name TimePositionGenderGender PosCatCat Pos
JonathanHamill04:37:51140Male118M4047
EricGreen04:45:09164Male134M5024
BobMetcalf04:51:05188Male148M4063
CorrinaJames05:08:04227Female59F4023
LouiseBarrow05:22:41274Female83F40
LisaSample05:22:44275Female84F41
DaveToth05:23:58280Male195M5039
AshleyPrice-Sabate05:39:52318Female105F5017
JillRudkin05:43:34329Female113F4045
KarenMetters05:45:30334Female116F4048
HelenThomas05:45:03335Female117F4049
JillYoung05:47:09337Female118F48
SimonGraham05:47:20338Male220M78
SarahFawcett05:56:32349Female122F5020
KarenWilson06:14:33377Female133F4056
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Hardmoors 55(50), Guisborough,North Yorkshire, Saturday, March 16, 2019

55 miles

Simon Graham

Having run a few marathons in previous years, 2018 became the year of the Ultra. My other (better) half, Jill, decided that we should run Paris Marathon as a training run for the Dukeries 30 miler, which in turn was a warm-up for the St Cuthberts Way 45 miles.

Upon completing St Cuthberts I found myself looking for another challenge. Did I want to ‘just be’ a marathon runner in future? I decided that since I prefer the challenge of off-road to pounding the miles on tarmac racing, after a time, and having felt I had more to give after Cuthberts, that I’d go for it. The Hardmoors 55.

This year the 55 became the 50 to commemorate 50 years of the Cleveland Way (along which the race is run). The route was shortened (to 54 miles) and an extra trip over the summit of Roseberry Topping added for ‘fun’. To make things even more appealing the route this year ran from north to south meaning the big climbs would be in the first 30 miles. The second half is by no means flat.

I spoke with my friend, fellow Strider and Hardmoors 1000 club member Dave Toth about doing this with me and sticking together throughout, as I had no intention of plodding around the moors alone. Dave agreed, and I knew he would keep me right pace-wise. I have a history of going out far too fast and blowing up!

Roll forward months of training and miles and the day arrived.

At 6 am in Durham I opened the front door of the house to discover heavy snow falling from the skies. ‘Great’, I thought, just what we needed!

We arrived at Guisborough Sea Cadets at just after 7 am. It was a wet and miserable 4 degrees. Storm Hannah had decided she was going to make an appearance bringing with her 50 mph winds and driving rain. This was at a low level, what on earth was in store for us when we hit the tops of the moors I thought. We started the race in full waterproofs and were to need them all day.

A few minutes delay to the start meant that waterproofs were already coming in useful as we assembled outside of the Sea Cadets in Guisborough. At 8:20 (ish) we were off.

With Dave knowing how to pace these things, I was very careful of not getting swept away in the rush, jogging out of the Sea Cadets and up the hill towards the stile where we would go off-road. Over the stile and through the woods was a good place to start just gently running towards the first big climb of the race, the Tees Link, up to High Cliff Nab, where we would join the Cleveland Way. This was the first real challenge. The Tees Link was a bog fest and staying upright was the challenge. At least the woods provided some shelter from the rain.

And then the wind hit…

At High Cliff Nab, already wet and covered in mud we were greeted by Hannah and her 50mph winds. Undeterred we pressed on towards Roseberry Topping with rain coming at us sideways driven by the fierce winds. Climbing up Roseberry was tough, descending for the first time even tougher. The front runners were already flying down Roseberry for the second time as we went up for the first, the wind not seeming to affect them. These guys are machines I thought.

So, up to the summit of Roseberry Topping, down the other side to the marshals who then told us to simply turn back around and ascend Roseberry again before rejoining the Cleveland Way and heading off to Captain Cooks Monument.

At the summit of Roseberry, we were greeted by a familiar face. My better half Jill (who was acting as support crew for the day) had climbed up from the car park at the bottom to provide some much-needed cheer! I’m not sure who was crazier, me for entering this race, or her for going up there to see me for 20 seconds!

The section from towards Captain Cooks Monument and from there into the checkpoint at Kildale is mainly downhill (apart from the climb to the monument itself) which allowed some actual running to be done but by now after a tough start, I could feel my legs hating the constant force that running downhill puts on them.

Kildale to Clay Bank, from what I can remember of it, is mainly just a huge climb up to the top of the moors followed by a long slog across the exposed moorland. We attempted to run parts of this but the wind and horizontal rain were simply making it all seem rather pointless with little progress being made. It was here, somewhere near Bloworth Crossing, we were passed by someone wearing snow goggles. There had been lots of discussion on Facebook about snow goggles in the days before the race, but I hadn’t actually expected to see someone wearing them! Onwards we plodded, power walking and running, or at least attempting to, towards Clay Bank.

At Clay Bank Checkpoint there was Jill again with coffee and a much-needed food resupply.

Onwards we pressed over the ‘Three sisters’ (even though there’s four of them). Climb up, run a little over the top, descend and repeat three times before coming into Lord Stones Country Park.

At Lord Stones, or what I thought was about the halfway point (turned out to be only 22.5 miles), we met Jill and our friends David and Debbie who has driven down to provide some support. I think the support was as much for Jill, spending the day sat driving from place to place and waiting, as it was for us. A quick change of clothes into a fresh dry kit, a food resupply and again we were off, this time up the ‘fourth’ of the ‘Three Sisters’ Carlton Bank and towards the indoor checkpoint at 31 miles in Osmotherley where I knew there was freshly cooked pizza waiting. Well, there was for me anyway. Vegan Dave could have whatever he wanted, I just looked forward to warm pizza!

Leaving Osmotherley we walked to let the food settle in our stomachs, and since it was uphill to Square Corner it would have been silly to run. The rain seemed to have eased by this point and the wind had died down making the conditions much nicer, or at least it would have had it not simply soaked the ground through so much that what would have been solid, was now just pure mud. We did some ‘Ultra Shuffling’ on the downhill bits we found, but mostly it was power walking uphill to see Jill, David and Debbie again at Square Corner. From Square Corner is another big climb up Black Hambleton hill, fortunately, this is a long and steady climb which was actually somewhat of a relief to me following the previous big steep climbs.

Back on the tops of the moors it was head torch time, and although this section was pretty boring with no scenery (it was dark) it did allow quite a bit of running (shuffling) to be done towards High Paradise Farm and the descent into the disco (yes, they had a disco going on with lights and everything!) checkpoint at Sneck Yate. Straight through this checkpoint and onto Sutton Bank Visitor Centre where once again we met with our amazing support crew, took a few minutes to refuel and pressed on to White Horse.

The Hardmoors Run Director Jon doesn’t like to make things easy, and so rather than simply being allowed to head towards the finish at Helmsley from to top of Sutton Bank, he put in an out and back section to the car park at the bottom of the White Horse. Yes, you go from the top to the bottom and back again climbing loads of stairs along the way. It’s like Roseberry all over again. Once you’re back at the top of the White Horse stairs though you know you’re on the home straight with about 9 miles to go.

From the White Horse to Helmsley is almost all downhill, with no significant climbs left to do. Unfortunately, its also on a lot of grass and tracks which had been turned into what can simply be described as a mudfest by the preceding runners. Thanks for that fast lads (and lasses), as if I wasn’t slow enough I now have to slip and slide my way to the finish!

So, it’s muddy, it’s slippy, it’s dark, I have tired legs and Dave is a power walking machine up any hills. I said its mostly downhill, but not all. I chased him up pretty much every climb on the course.

We pressed on knowing that the end was in sight and that we should just make the cut off of 16 hours. Before we started, and in good condition, I had thoughts of being able to do this in around 14 hours. How wrong was I. The end was in sight though and leaving the mud and hills behind we descended into Helmsley where Jill, David and Debbie had walked to the top of the track at the end of the Cleveland way to meet us and see us to the finish.

Solid ground and tarmac was a delightful sight, but this was a Hardmoors event and it wouldn’t be complete without one last hill to the finish at Helmsley Sports Club. It’s really just a gentle incline that normally I wouldn’t think twice about running up, but this was mile 54 and there was no running up any inclines going on!

We had done it. Finishing in a time of 15 Hours 48 minutes. Dave for his 6th (I think) time, me for my first (and last!) time. Jill, being the amazing support that she was had even got our beers for the finish (She’s a keeper) and boy did they taste good.

What have I learnt, and what’s next?

Well, I have learnt that whilst I have the time to go for long runs on a Sunday morning, what I don’t have the time for is all of the other miles. The back to back long runs, the cross-training that is required for an event of this nature. Running 18 miles on Sunday is all well and good, but doing it again on a Monday after a full day at work, now that’s hard!

What’s next? I have the remainder of the Hardmoors 26.2 Half Marathon series to look forward to. The longest ‘Half’ Marathon is around 17 miles which are comfortable and doable on my planned training schedule of a couple of 10k’s, a parkrun and 10 miles/ hm’s on Sundays. During the long-run training, I’d forgotten just how much fun and enjoyable a 10k (or about an hours run) can actually be and I look forward to enjoying my runs again, not being permanently tired, and being able to get out of bed without aching again.

Oh, and I have also promised to return the favour for Dave Toth and accompany him on the St Cuthberts Way 45 miles. Guess those pain-free mornings are just going to have to wait.

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