Tag Archives: Jonathan Hamill

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

31 miles 3000ft elevation

Jonathan Hamill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relive link.
Strava

(Visited 44 times, 1 visits today)

RAF Spadeadam Half Marathon 100 Year Edition, RAF Spadeadam in Cumbria, Sunday, September 16, 2018

Jonathan Hamill

Apparently, the previous organisers had turned to a local race organiser (Trail Outlaws) for some help to ensure the future viability of this race. I decided at an early stage to support it. It was to form part of the RAF Centenary celebrations on 2018 and let’s face it, you don’t get the chance, every day, to run around a historic base that was part of the UK’s missile project during the cold war.

I was also lured by the description of, “stunning views along its length, winding its way around and through Spadeadam Forest with views over to the Lake District and Sycamore Gap on Hadrians Wall. With numerous RAF practise targets and tanks along the route..”. I figured the RAF wouldn’t be doing much practicing on the day!

I set off to drive the ~1.5hr journey, stopping off at a national chain of coffee purveyors on the outskirts of Hexham for a latte and luxury fruit toast – an army marches on its stomach (oops – wrong service!)

Leaving the A69, I headed toward the base along minor roads and then encountered a tail-back – cars and passengers dealing with the security measures to access the base. Fortunately, this gave me time to stretch my legs, and don my offending compression socks (I’m amazed they let me in!).

Once through the gate and parked up, I collected my number (if only every race organiser insisted on seeing a form of photo ID, we’d avoid Bill running as Ben and so-on). I then decided a warm up was in order and being a bit of a radio geek, and noting the additional hazard at one point of non-ionising radiation above 2 metres, I decided to keep my head down!

There was a bit of delay to proceedings with many a pre-race photo opportunity but before long we were lining up. Now having run an Ultramarathon a fortnight ago, and with another a week away, I decided my plan was to throttle back a little and enjoy the sights. Then we were off, up the hill past the parked cars, and up, up, up – in fact the first few miles were definitely ascent territory. Once off the tarmac, we were on lumpy gravel paths for the majority of the remainder, which were ok on the uphill (plenty of that) and on the downhill corners, enough scree to catch you out.

I remember being pleased with myself and thinking that 53 minutes for the first 10km was half sensible and then there was another series of leg-pulling uphills.

The wind was truly formidable – trees were uprooted and it was hard to run straight at times – I remember thinking that the wind would excite a RAF pilot. The highest point was around 13km and I heard one runner say something about it all being downhill from that point. Now I’ve been to a fair few of these events, and whereas there were some fast downhill stretches there were many uphill sections, including one hill near the end which caught a few folk out.

I was hitting a ~1:55 half marathon by distance, again half sensible but from my earlier warm-up, I knew I was about a mile from the finish – a typical trail race then in terms of value for distance. I decided to drop a gear on the last mile and 7 min/mile pace to the finish, feeling the value of my Hoka Speedgoat 2 cushioning.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, managed to stop for a few obligatory selfies, and actually managed to appear in the race photos looking remarkably presentable for once. In summary, not an easy route, but a great experience, with amazing views and I’d do it again in a flash.
Congratulations to Robert Allfree who was 1st Strider home and all the other Striders!

Many thanks to RAF Spadeadam for their hospitality, Hippie Nixon Photography for the photographic memories and Trail Outlaws for a great event, and a rather cool medal!

Name TimePositionGen. pos. Cat.Cat. Pos
SteveRankin
(Unattached)
01.33.1211M1
LisaTang
(Tynedale)
01.43.1181F1
RobertAllfree01.58.113733M4015
JonathanHamill02.02.414944M4022
KathrynSygrove02.09.59709F502
EricGreen02.16.499377M5015
LouiseBarrow02.19.2810521F3
LisaSample02.21.2811024F5
MalcolmSygrove02.34.14161108M5022
JaneDowsett02.38.2417563F5015
JillYoung02.38.2717664F13
MatthewCrow02.46.59201124M32
GillianGreen02.52.3120984F5020
KarenMetters03.06.4622799F4050
HelenThomas03.06.49228100F4051
(Visited 126 times, 1 visits today)

Harrier League, Wrekenton, Saturday, September 29, 2018

Grand Prix Race - click flag for current league tables. Mud King/Mud Queen Race - click flag for more information.

Jonathan Hamill

Ready.

Faugh-a-Ballagh!

I offered this battle cry ahead of our first Harrier League fixture – it means clear the way (for the might of the purple and green).

The sun shone, cakes on top of tables and club flags blowing in the breeze – sounds idyllic and would tempt many an unsuspecting Strider to enrol for Cross-Country duties?

Everything above is true. Then to the race itself – a lap-based route mainly on grassy surfaces, and gravel paths, with some testing hills. I was lucky, as a Veteran Man, I got to run three laps – a total distance equating to ~9.2km or thereabouts.

I attended with the full blessing of the Minister for Home Affairs (who I suspect has hidden my offending socks) and indeed, given this was the first fixture in the Harrier League, it seemed appropriate for the Chairman to lead from the front (at least for half a metre).

I really do encourage the whole club to subscribe to our XC activities – it unites us and the team spirit is truly fantastic. Of course, we’d like folk to run and you need not be the fastest runner – every performance counts. That said, the performances of many are enhanced by the valiant efforts of our enthusiastic supporters who provide encouragement aplenty.

Far too many watches there ...I won’t lie – I found today a bit tough. Perhaps it isn’t advisable to run a race like this so soon after an ultramarathon (exactly one week to the day I was running in the Causeway Coast Ultramarathon in Northern Ireland). I decided my best my best option today was to try to run briskly but steadily (mainly because I feared that if I went off too fast with the after-effects of last weekend, I’d come unstuck on the third lap).

And so, I managed to run with even(ish) splits and a half-reasonable average pace of 5:01/km (8 minute-mile in old money) until the final couple of hundred metres when I put in a distress call to the engine room which responded with a slight surge to the line. 46:22 on the results and position 420 from a field of 594 runners and a warm glow as my reward. See you at one of the next fixtures.

(Visited 15 times, 1 visits today)

Bridges of The Tyne 5 mile Road Race, Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Jonathan Hamill

Photo courtesy of AJ Running Photos

Bridges of The Tyne, or BOTT as we fondly refer to it, is a go-to race for many Striders, where the standard of competition is high. Most importantly, Tyne Bridge Harriers put on a consistently excellent event, and are renowned for the enthusiastic, cheerful marshals (thanks all concerned!).

I had an extended day in the office because I thought it was easier than trekking home and back. The closure of the Scotswood Road due to a burst water main provided an additional challenge but thankfully traffic subsided to near normal levels and the drive to the Tyne Bar (Race HQ) was relatively straightforward.

In stark contrast to the perfect racing conditions of the previous year (damp and cool), the weather this time was comparatively tropical. I collected my number, and decided to rest outside the Tyne Bar, resisting the urge to have a cool beer! I’m not good in the heat, so had decided to just have a steady run out – mentioning my plan to running buddies Dave and John who had already run 5km to pick up their numbers! That plan changed a bit on the warm-up run over to the start as I realised the temperature had dropped and the river breeze was welcome!

Last year I’d had a decent run, with a gun time of 38:30 and I thought maybe chipping a few seconds off that would be ok in the heat. Then in the pen, Fiona reminded me that I’d had a decent run at the Hartlepool Marina 5 miler. The fuse was lit and all restraint and notions of a steady run went out the window.

I struck out a little too sharp but managed to settle myself. Anna was off like a rocket and Fiona and Katy were in front of me gaining ground. I saw Dave Coxon ahead of me too and decided to put all ideas of chasing him out of my head! I saw our fast lads approaching, and knew I was close to the turnaround slope. I managed to utter a few yells of support which mentally told me I wasn’t overcooking the goose at that point.

I dropped a few seconds on the slope to the turnaround, and the marshall was yelling “nil-nil” which I think referred to the progress of a soccer tournament, rather than my running progress. On the drop back down to the river, I didn’t relent, mindful that I could recover those lost seconds. On the return, the marshals continued to provide ample encouragement and it was good to see Rob calmly standing his ground hastening folk on. I remember giving Rachel Toth a big yell, and then I go to work, picking folk in front of me one-by-one and it wasn’t too long before I was on the Quayside again. My mind flashed back to the torture of last year’s finish when I got buzzed by Robin on the line and I had a sneaky look behind to check for any advancing purple vests. Then the finish straight – the best bit! I heard some of our fast lads already finished shouting and I increased my pace to cross the line.

Gun time 37:22 and a course PB – I’d indeed managed to shave a few seconds off, job done! I stayed to cheer the others in and then given my lack of interest in watching the soccer, I beat a retreat home. A great race with some gutsy Strider performances all round!

Pos.Bibno.Finish timeChip timeParticipantCategory
121526:33:0026:30:00Stephen Jackson(M) Senior
226529:24:0029:22:00Michael Littlewood(M) 40-44
348229:29:0029:27:00Mark Warner(M) 35-39
41131:18:0031:16:00Matthew Archer(M) 35-39
52534:49:0034:42:00Anna Basu(F) 40-44
623336:26:0036:20:00Fiona Jones(F) 40-44
717237:22:0037:16:00Jonathan Hamill(M) 40-44
847837:38:0037:32:00Katy Walton(F) 35-39
910437:54:0037:40:00Sarah Davies(F) 50-54
1039938:14:0038:05:00Chris Shearsmith(M) 40-44
1118338:49:0038:35:00Peter Hart(M) 40-44
1238439:39:0039:16:00Michael Ross(M) 45-49
135839:52:0039:34:00Karen Byng(F) 45-49
1414239:57:0039:45:00Mark Foster(M) 35-39
152340:38:0040:16:00Louise Barrow(F) 35-39
1626442:27:0042:12:00Robin Linton(M) Senior
1741943:03:0042:39:00Lee Stephenson(M) 45-49
1834643:40:0043:25:00Joanne Patterson(F) 35-39
1938943:54:0043:30:00Lisa Sample(F) 35-39
2026645:54:0045:40:00Wendy Littlewood(F) 40-44
2150147:17:0046:52:00Kimberley Wilson(F) Senior
2219552:56:0052:29:00Carol Holgate(F) 45-49
2347252:57:0052:31:00Sue Walker(F) 60-64
2445759:25:0058:50:00Rachel Toth(F) 40-44
2526301:00:4001:00:04Helen Linton(F) 55-59
(Visited 18 times, 1 visits today)

Laufen mit TriAs Hildesheim, Saturday, January 20, 2018

18km

Jonathan Hamill

What else after a rather pleasing outcome at the Georgengarten parkrun? Suitably re-fueled by coffee and cake, I was looking forward to running with the TriAs triathlon club (http://www.trias-hildesheim.de/index.php) in Hildesheim, courtesy of a kind invitation from work colleague, Nils.

“Come along, it will be fun, 12km or so at a steady pace”, was what I heard. The first bit was certainly true!

We met at the DJK Sportplatz at Hildesheim, where the club also has use of a track – more on that to follow.

With introductions made, we ran over a couple of bridges and followed a riverside path in a loop – a shade over 8mm pace. That seemed to be the warm-up, and we then headed for the hills, literally! We climbed up a gravel path through the Steinberg woods, past a zoo and taking in a great view of the surrounding area. At this point, I lamented my decision to opt for road shoes – my new Saucony Koa STs which I’d left in the car would have provided a bit more traction on the muddier bits.

We dropped down back to the DJK Sportplatz hitting 13km. Most people said farewell at this point but there was a (very good) plan b, partly for one of the members who was training for an Ironman event. We bolted on a 5km sight-seeing tour of the old town. Hildesheim is renowned for its historic churches, and we passed St Mary’s Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We also passed a whitewater canoe course which looked amazing, prior to returning to our starting point.

I joined in a “warm-down” with a twist, as we headed to the track for some drills which included some sprint efforts! Just over 18km, an average pace a shade faster than 9mm, and we were done. The mixed grill and isotonic Weißbier tasted really good when I got back to the hotel!

An amazing bunch of people, and a capable triathlon club who put on a fantastic running tour – thanks all, and you will be very welcome to run with us if you visit Durham.

Here’s the relive overview of this run: https://www.relive.cc/view/1366364016

(Visited 8 times, 1 visits today)

Georgengarten parkrun #8, Hannover, Germany, Saturday, January 20, 2018

Jonathan Hamill

Photo courtesy of Georgengarten parkrun

Having enjoyed a visit to Georgengarten parkrun during a business trip in December, I found myself in a similar position during January.

Arriving at the Herrenhäuser Allee, I met the friendly core team again. I also met a couple of visitors from London in apricot parkrun t-shirts and Nina from Ireland who told me about some other running options in the local area.

The temperature was a mild improvement over my previous visit but it was still cold! Putting it another way, I was in a clear minority wearing shorts. I took a warm-up along the tree-lined avenue and observed that the Georgengarten had survived Storm Frederike well, with only some damage to the trees towards the Willhelm Busch Museum.

We lined up, and I had the advantage of knowing the course this time – basically just over a mile of straight gravel path towards Hannover, and then a switch back to follow the twists and turns of the Georgengarten park back to the start/finish at the beginning of the Herrenhäuser Allee.

And we were off! I ran down the tree-lined gravel path, perhaps a second or two faster than my previous attempt but on the twists and turns, I found the going tough with the accumulation of miles in my legs from and after Brass Monkey Half Marathon the previous weekend.

Photo courtesy of Dirk Große (Georgengarten parkrun core team)

I managed to improve my time and placing finishing 5th and 1st VM40-44, in 23:05 (from 7th finisher and 23:28 in December). Perhaps the lack of Christmas markets and obligatory Glühwein helped.

I joined some of the finishers and core team across the road at the Steinecke bakery for post-run coffee and cake before saying goodbye.

Once again, a hugely enjoyable parkrun in Germany which seems to be attracting more runners. Thanks to the volunteer team for their efforts!

 

(Visited 13 times, 1 visits today)

Georgengarten parkrun #3 Hannover, Germany, Saturday, December 16, 2017

5k

Jonathan Hamill

Impressive levitation skills from the Chairman.
Photos courtesy of Georgengarten parkrun

I was staying about an hour South of Hannover during a business trip and with the weekend spare, I decided to fit in some running. I had heard that parkrun had recently made a start in Germany, and when I realised I was within striking distance of one of the recently established events, I set my alarm!

I jumped on the metronome train and headed North to Hannover. A quick tram ride took me directly to the Georgengarten area, where the temperature was the wrong side of zero. A bunch of hardy runners were assembled beside a gazebo, and I got chatting to the Run Director Bettina as I gradually removed layer after layer of Strider kit. This was event number three, and I listened with some trepidation during the course briefing, “27 turns” and “if you don’t see a marshal, just keep going straight ahead’.

I met a visiting Australian couple (Alex and Naomi Wallace) who were working their way around Germany and the UK with some parkrun tourism in mind. We surveyed the long straight ahead, and I thought the 27 turns mentioned would make the 2nd half a twisty affair.

Front row - centre stage. Doing us proud. And off, a shade quicker than sensible, I soon realised the long tree-lined straight (the famous Mansions Allee) was just over a mile. We turned right to initially follow a fairly straight path but the twists and turns followed. I had a local runner (Frank from Hannover Runners) who had inched ahead of me on the first mile but I held my nerve and caught him in the twists and turns and he stayed on my heel until the end.

To my right, I started to see the gazebo and start/finish area and knew I was close. I remembered the instruction about turning around the last marshal and then I had a short distance to the finish during which I hastened as much as I could, and got a few more yards away from Frank. I crossed the line and was pretty pleased, (not least considering my Glühwein intake the previous evening) with a position of 7th finisher in a time of 23:28.

We strolled across to the nearby bakery to have a coffee and I then left to catch my return tram and train, bidding farewell to the friendly core team and wishing them well for the future. Maybe I’ll manage a return visit one day!

(Visited 8 times, 1 visits today)

Border Harriers 66th Brampton to Carlisle 10 mile Road Race, Sunday, November 19, 2017

Grand Prix Race - click flag for current league tables. Endurance Champion Race - click flag for more information.

Jonathan Hamill

Running the Strider funnelAlthough some may not see the appeal of a wintry run along main and minor roads which are not closed, I relish the prospect of this, the oldest 10-mile road race in Britain. Slick organisation, a net downhill course (albeit with a few negative decline challenges!), friendly atmosphere and the lure of a carvery afterwards – what’s not to like? As B2C is a firm favourite on the club GP calendar, this also ensures a good purple contingent.

Last year I had a good run, which left a time of 1:20:33 to beat. My plan this time was to nudge just under 5 min/km pace, which would break 80 minutes. Above all, I told myself to avoid the error of my ways last year – setting off like a scalded cat, which caught up with me later in the race.

There had been some planning ahead of this day in the spectator department too – my Son Patrick was really looking forward to spending the day with Lewis, and watching the racing. The Strider bus weaved along the countryside to reach Brampton and upon arrival at the William Howard School, there were earnest discussions about the prevailing conditions, and whether long or short sleeves were the order of the day. I settled for my club vest but with the comfort of my gloves, beanie and as I’d had a niggle in my left calf, my fetching compression socks.

Compulsory posing (Mr Hart)After the team photo, we moved towards the start on Longtown Road. Having been before, I knew to expect a ‘surprise start’ – the road closed at the last minute, and a starting pistol fired rapidly to despatch some 500 runners on their way.

The first stretch downhill with a sharp right turn to join the Carlisle road has a habit of encouraging a bit of an overly keen pace. This year was no different, and as I ran along for the first 4 km or so at ~4:30 min/km with Graeme Walton, we remarked on how we had diverted a little from the plan. I knew the climb up to the Newby back road would settle me down, and it did.

As I ran along these minor roads, thanking the volunteers on my way, I reflected on the remarkably dry conditions compared to the wading experience of the 2015 race. Natalie was in front of me and provided me with a purple vest to keep within my sights – try as I might, however, I could not catch her.

Through Low Crosby, we re-joined the A689 towards Carlisle. I knew there were a couple of undulations to come, and I told myself to keep calm – last year I’d developed a horrendous stitch in the last 2 miles which had been hard to recover from.

Bobble hat brigadeI could see the houses on the outskirts of the City, and pressed on. To my left and ahead, I started to see the River Eden, and finally the Eden Bridge. I passed Andy and Mike who spurred me on, just before the final descent to the Bridge. On the Bridge, I was determined not to let the chap in front beat me, and to my left, I saw a welcome sight of two bobble hats – Patrick, and Lewis. As I got closer I realised this was a Strider funnel, and I gave it everything I had left to get ahead of the white shirt in front. I rounded into the finish funnel and smiled from ear to ear – job done! A hugely enjoyable race, with a PB of 1:15:37 and well done to all Striders who ran!

Probably the best post-race carvery in the worldNo medals for this race – I think I got a pair of socks in 2015, a lovely coaster last year which is on my desk, and this year’s prize was a race mug. Thanks to the organisers who also let Patrick and Lewis have a mug each for their cheering efforts.

 
Position NumberNameCategory Position Time
1527Robert Danson
(Wesham Road Runners & Ac)
M150:06
28344Sophie Cowper
(Rotherham Harriers And AC)
F156:24
22406Stephen Jackson54:45
64420Michael LittlewoodV4091:00:27
73301Matthew Archer1:01:11
103459Phil Ray1:03:50
21223Michael BarlowV40341:11:44
230507Graeme WaltonV45281:13:09
253309Natalie BellL371:14:54
267382Jonathan HamillV40361:15:37
300386Peter HartV40401:17:44
312315Jean BradleyL6011:18:58
364366Mark Foster1:21:40
366480Chris ShearsmithV40441:22:02
427318Alex BrownV45491:25:39
432475Lisa SampleL35241:26:20
506492Debra ThompsonL50161:33:01
558512Karen WilsonL45331:46:16
562353Sophie DennisL1931:47:25
573494Margaret ThompsonL6551:59:45
(Visited 25 times, 1 visits today)

Causeway Coast Ultra Marathon, Causeway Coast & Glens, Northern Ireland, Saturday, September 23, 2017

64km, 2666m elevation

Jonathan Hamill

Finn McCool had a bit of a problem with the Scottish giant, Benandonner.  Finn didn’t take kindly to Benandonner’s assertion that he wasn’t a good fighter.  Enraged, Finn tore pieces off the cliffs and threw them into the sea, creating a causeway to Scotland.  Once across, Finn realised the error of his ways, as Benandonner was bigger, uglier and nastier.  A capable runner, Finn beat a hasty retreat back home.  Benandonner came 2nd in that race but Finn’s Wife Oonagh had hatched a cunning plan.  Oonagh placed Finn in his baby Son’s cot, and introduced Benandonner to ‘Oisin’.  A worried Benandonner legged it back to Scotland, fearful of how big Finn must be compared to his baby Son, and he tore up the Causeway as he went.

 

Growing up around the Causeway Coast and Glens, this tale and many others like it captivated me as a boy.  I’d hiked the route many times as a boy (not all in one go!) and returning to tackle it in this setting was a source of much excitement and trepidation.  It isn’t every day you get the chance to run over the eighth wonder of the world, and so the Causeway Coast Ultra Marathon had been on my list of ‘must do’ runs.

It follows an ‘out and back’ route, over trails, beaches and the coastline of the Causeway Coast Way. Starting on Portstewart Strand, the route passes Portrush, Dunluce Castle, Portballintrae, the Giant’s Causeway, Dunseverick Castle, Portbradden Harbour, White Park Bay, Ballintoy Harbour, turning at Larrybane Quarry (just prior to Carrick-a-Rede Rope bridge), to return and finish at Portballintrae.

To say the scenery is spectacular would be a massive understatement.  The Causeway Coast and Glens are recognised the world over as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the Giant’s Causeway is a World Heritage Site.

Our tale follows.  Andy and I arrived at Belfast International Airport on Friday afternoon, and having squeezed into our petite hire car, we ventured North to touch down briefly at the lovely house we had rented, which overlooked the route, between Portstewart and Portrush.  After a quick trip to the local supermarket for essentials (e.g. bread, peanut butter and gin), we headed over to Race HQ at Portballintrae Village Hall to collect our numbers.  A fairly typical Northern Irish relaxed approach was evident with regard to the route – the advice being to keep the sea on our left on the way out and on the right on the way back!

We paused at the Harbour Bar in Portmagic (Portrush) to say hello to old friend Willie, who over a Guinness, wished us luck for the challenge ahead.  Next,  some final carb-loading, at the handily located pizzeria opposite our house overlooking the golf course. A final bit of race strategy discussion in our house over a log-fire, a sea view and a steadying gin, and we retired for some rest.

0455hrs reveille!  Ouch!  Having completed our final preparations in the kitchen – boiled new potatoes with salt to tuck into our vests (which turned out to be an excellent alternative to a certain brand of energy bars, which I find too hard to eat on the move), and drop-bag ready, we slipped into the darkness to drive over to Portballintrae Village Hall.  Compliant with the instructions, “Don’t miss your bus transfer to the start”, we arrived in good time for the billed 0630hrs bus, which arrived just after 0700hrs (the advertised race start time).  There isn’t much to do for a pair of lycra-clad runners at that time of the morning in Portballintrae but eventually, we were off, in a Translink double-decker bus resplendent in ‘Game of Thrones’ livery.

Portstewart Golf Club was our drop-off point, and we walked down with some apprehension to the beach where we could hear music emanating from the 26 Extreme start van/disco.  A short speech followed from the race organiser, as the drone flew overhead, and the morning brightened.  And we were off!  Towards the Bar Mouth (opposite direction) initially, and a turn around the Race Director’s pick-up which chased us up the beach after the start. A little too keen in pacing terms but glad to be moving against the cold, we pressed on, ascending the steps at the end of the beach and onto the coastal path.  Along the promenade, past Portstewart Harbour, over the headland, past the Herring Pond, we continued through the Golf Course, passing our house (could have dropped in for a cup of tea..) we continued on to Portrush.  Over the footbridge and past the Harbour Bar, quiet at this early hour.

Then up Ramore Head, and around to the East Strand at which point we became delusional – surely Michael Littlewood was not warming up for Portrush parkrun?  The distinctive yellow beanie like a beacon on the beach but alas, an imposter!

A quick shout out to Mervyn (Run Director of Portrush parkrun) as we ran along the beach ahead of parkrun starting (DFYB, even on an Ultra!), and around to the White Rocks, our legs heavy from the sand where we climbed up to the road, passing Dunluce Castle before reaching half marathon distance as we dropped into Portballintrae.  The marathon had left as we passed the village hall (their start), and we continued around Runkerry House, and a quick hello to some old family friends who were out walking, the view of the Giant’s Causeway opened before us.

Wow.  We dropped down the road to the Causeway, pausing for another obligatory photo opportunity, prior to joining the path and (many) Shepherd’s steps up to the cliff path.  The wind was formidable on the top, the gusts making running quite challenging.  The cliff paths were narrow, and slippery given the usual wet weather which preceded the event.

We passed Dunseverick Castle and negotiated a stretch of very slippery rocks and seaweed prior to a lengthy stretch of White Park Bay beach.  I was delighted to see Ultra, Marathon and Half Marathoners coming towards us, and old school friends Sean and Faye running the half. Another section of slippery rocks led onto Ballintoy harbour which was in full swing with tourists. We climbed the twisting road past sword-wielding Game of Thrones re-enactment enthusiasts, and eventually reached Larrybane Quarry comfortably ahead of the 26-mile cut-off time.  At the checkpoint, it was explained that given our delayed start, the cut-offs wouldn’t be rigidly enforced anyway.  Cake for me, and some isotonic drink, and we were off back along the same route.

On the way back, the wind which had been in our faces for most of the time on the way out had strengthened and switched direction to compound our challenge.  The cliff top paths that had been slippery on the way out were now in places treacherous, the cumulative result of over a thousand pairs of feet.  On the tops, the wind was strong enough to blow you off your feet, and care was required on the very exposed sections.  At this point, talking was futile as we couldn’t hear each other – had Kathryn been with us, she’d have had to sing up!  We pressed on, and ran for a while with Emma who we’d met earlier – tackling her first Ultra Marathon!

I remember hitting the 50km mark between Portbradden and Dunseverick, and yelling to Andy that we only had 3 parkruns or so to go (seemed like an appropriate measure at the time).  The wind continued to pick up, and we then saw a Coastguard helicopter overhead.  My initial thought was that it was nice of them to support our event.  After a short time, however, we were stopped by the Coastguard.  We joined other runners to watch the rescue operation underway, to recover a lady who had fallen on the cliff path ahead of us.  The Coleraine and Ballycastle Coastguard Rescue Teams had been mobilised, supported by a Coastguard helicopter from Prestwick – these guys do an amazing job often against the odds, and in all weathers.

After the helicopter had taken off, we continued and I was pleased that the route didn’t take us down the (many) Shepherd’s Steps to the Giant’s Causeway, and instead we followed the cliff path.  We continued on the coastal path around Runkerry House, at which point running was futile, the wind so strong that inching forward was a massive challenge.  We got some shelter as we picked up the path beside the tramline adjacent to Bushfoot beach, and we reached the welcome boardwalk to the bridge over the Bush River.  Then the final climb up the path to the finish, and the crowd hastened us as we crossed the line, picking up our medals – the Causeway Coast Ultra Marathon complete!

We retreated (gradually) to Portballintrae Boat Club for a soothing Guinness, before returning to our house, where we were extremely grateful that our kind host had left some Epsom bath salts.  Warmed, we returned to the Harbour Bar again, where Willie rang the bell, silenced the bar, and summarised our adventure, with a loud ensuing cheer.  The Harbour Bar is a regular haunt of many a Northern Irish celebrity, and it was great to see James Nesbitt, famous actor, and fellow Coleraine man join in the cheer!

What an amazing experience!  I’d recommend the Causeway Coast Ultra Marathon without reservation.  It is a challenging but beautiful route, and the tagline of the organiser 26 Extreme provides a cautionary note #wedontdoeasy

Check out a bird’s eye view!

 

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Hardmoors Princess Challenge Ultramarathon, Ravenscar, Yorkshire, Saturday, September 2, 2017

31 miles / 50km

Jonathan Hamill

The Hardmoors Princess Challenge provides a choice of distance, with each option providing a challenge in their own right.  The Short n Sweet (8.5 miles), the One in the Middle (17.5 miles) and the Ultra (31 miles).  These races are not just for princesses, although wearing tiaras, tutus and pink garb is encouraged.  I had a tiara set out but my daughter sat on it, although I did pack a pink Trail Outlaws buff as an alternative!

 

Photo L-R: Jonathan Hamill, Kathryn Sygrove, Andy Greener, Kath Dodd

The Ultra was billed as a circular route, starting at Ravenscar, dropping South to Hayburn Wyke along the Cleveland Way, then along the Cinder Track (disused railway lines) via Ravenscar, continuing North to Whitby.  Taking in the 199 steps up to Whitby Abbey, the route returns along the Cleveland Way to Robin Hoods Bay, and finally back to Ravenscar.  It’s a toughie in terms of elevation!

 

 

I’m no mountain goat 🐐 but recently I’ve been falling more for trail than road.  I can’t put an exact finger on the cause but it is connected to my endless pursuit of ‘fast’ times.  I enjoy the sensation of running quickly and trying to beat my times.  I had a great year in 2016, breaking all my targets (e.g. 5k, 10k, HM).  Earlier this year my focus was on completing the Paris Marathon (oops, I’ve just remembered that I haven’t yet written a race report!). I started to wonder what happens if I go sub 4 hours? Do I then aim for sub 3:30, and do I keep going, or is there something else out there?

I’d never considered myself to be capable of running ultramarathons – maybe that doubt alone provided sufficient motivation. In any case, the prospect of the Hardmoors Princess 👸 Challenge captivated me. At 50km, it seemed a logical step up, and mindful of the added challenge of terrain, I entered the event with Andy (who had conquered the race last year).

 

In terms of prep, this differed substantially from my rigid and detailed 12 week Paris Marathon plan.  I run a fair bit usually and had done a 30km run (probably too fast) before going on holiday to France.  Fortunately, I managed to keep the legs turning a fair bit during my holiday (probably too fast) but in the few days between my holiday and the race, I had a feeling of being a little underprepared.

 

After a shopping trip on Friday afternoon to equip us with various snacks for the day, we agreed to set off at 0600hrs on Saturday morning.  Andy was in charge of pacing, and my responsibility was to ensure we navigated adequately.  Having bought an OS map, and armed with the route description, I set about marking up the map late Friday evening.  I think I had just over 5 hours sleep (a little less than usual – the excitement aplenty) and then the alarm went off – fortunately, I managed to silence it, and cancel the reserve, and the 2nd reserve alarms prior to tiptoeing around getting my stuff together.

 

And we were off – and in a little over an hour and a half, we were the second car into the parking field near to Ravenscar village hall.  We had a few moments, so we examined Andy’s extensive shoe collection in his boot, and he opted for a trusty pair of well broken in Brooks road shoes, and a length of gaffer tape (just in case).  A short walk to the village hall next, and we subjected ourselves to the mandatory kit check, prior to collecting our race numbers.  You do have to take mandatory kit lists seriously given the terrain, and environment but I did think that if we really needed a head torch, we’d be in a bad place.

 

Compared to road races, there was no limbering up, no strides, but there was a coffee van parked outside for those who required a shot of pre-race caffeine.  Having packed and adjusted my vest, we were summoned to the race briefing outside.  We then lined up on the road, had a quick photo taken, and we were off! 

 

I remembered all the advice from accomplished ultramarathoners of not setting off too fast, yet our initial downhill kilometre was 5:47/km.  We slowed as we joined the Cleveland Way and headed South.  The weather was fine and by the time we hit CP1 at Hayburn Wyke, the sun was out.  I had two 500ml soft flasks and had only drunk half of one (note to self, drink more early on), so the option for some Dandelion & Burdock drink and a handful of jelly babies seemed in order.

 

We joined the Cinder Track and returned to Ravenscar, with Kath who was suffering from jet-lag having just returned from the other side of the world, and Kathryn who was suffering from a bout of giddiness, so much so that we banned her from any more cola at the next checkpoints.  Undeterred, Kathryn sang her heart out to provide some musical accompaniment, the ‘bam-ba-lam’ of her tune keeping our cadence alive.  We approached CP2 at Ravenscar village hall and paused briefly for some water and refreshments.

 

And on we pressed, where my first navigation test presented itself – left or right.  Intuitively (as the map was well tucked away), I called left, and we joined the Cinder Track to Robin Hoods Bay and CP3, located conveniently beside some Public Toilets.  Prawn Cocktail crisps were gladly received at this point.  We then had some more Cinder Track miles which felt hard on the legs, and we were pleased (understatement) eventually to reach Whitby, where having amused some good tourist folk as we dashed through the town, we had the 199 steps to climb to Whitby Abbey.  The race instructions said we had to run them, and foolishly I did initially but with the wind taken out of my sails, I settled for a more sedate pace (walk) to the top.  Battling the urge in passing the ice-cream van, we pressed on along the cliff path, and we gladly reached CP4 just past the Saltwick Bay mini-market.  The marshalls at CP4 were delighted to see us, and we replenished our stocks of water, prior to continuing along the cliff top path.

 

The next stretch seemed to go on forever, and we ran past cows, up hills, up more hills, and eventually reached CP5 (which was the earlier CP3).  It was at this point that I thought the CP team were doing a weird dance, waving their arms – in fact, they were trying to describe the horror of the ups and downs that lay ahead.  Then the downhill stretch into Robin Hoods Bay – torture on the legs because although part of me wanted to cover the ground faster, my sensible side told me that a gallop downhill at this point would end in disaster.  What goes down must go back up, and we ascended countless steps up onto the Cleveland Way, heading to the delightful Boggle Hole – a lovely Youth Hostel apparently but a tortuous descent and ascent to escape towards Stoupe Beck.  Our route description said simply, ‘Ascend the steps’ but there was nothing simple about this.

Our pace had suffered on this stretch – the challenge of multiple descents and ascents taking their toll.  At one point, I became delirious that we had passed the marathon distance, and promptly took an unplanned dive for the deck.  Pride dented, we pressed on, and Ravenscar was in our sights but still some distance away.  There were some fairly brutal climbs, the worst perhaps being past the Cleveland Way Alum Works but we emerged past the National Trust centre at Ravenscar to familiar territory and the short climb up to the village hall.  We managed a graceful trot to reach the welcome sight of Ravenscar village hall and the finish (in 7:23:58)!  Those present (including Kathryn who had fled from us in the final section) gave us a clap and a cheer, and with medals in hand, we enjoyed a fantastic chip butty with salt, clapping and cheering for Kath and Claire (who had joined us earlier in the race) stormed through the door.  We bid our farewells and headed for the hills!

 

I’d urge anyone with ultramarathon curiosity to have a go at the next Princess Challenge. Sure, it’s a tough race with over 1100m of climbs but what makes it easier is the camaraderie of the organisers and marshalls who do a fantastic job – most are accomplished ultramarathoners in their own right.  The cola, dandelion and burdock, food and friendly cheer served up at the various checkpoints would galvanise the weariest of souls.

 

I really enjoyed the feeling of isolation, particularly on the cliff paths, with the odd reminder of us being in Yorkshire, as friendly hikers passed in the other direction with the odd, “Eyup”.  I learned that next time, I need to drink more early on.  I also might experiment with my choice of Cliff bars – I had two during the event but found the dry consistency challenging.  Yes, it was tough and hurt in a different way to a road race but on 2nd September, I became an ultramarathoner.  I’m grateful for the support of Lesley, Andy, this club, and Kelly and her team, including Scarborough & Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team who make the event happen.

 

The Princess Challenge is a fundraising event for the Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team.  If you can support their vital work via a donation, please do so here.

You can also relive the route via this link.

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