It’s New Years Day 2015, how many people are in bed supporting hangovers, doing the 5 mile Hangover race or their local Parkrun? How many people are in a little village hall at Robin Hoods Bay, North Yorkshire kitted up with long running tights, waterproofs, head-torch, gloves, hat, 500ml of water, rucksack full of Kendal Mint Cake and other lovely food? Oh about 200 of us.
2015 doesn’t get any better than this.
This is the Hardmoors 30 – a ’30ish’ Mile Ultra-marathon on New Years Day. It had always been a goal of mine to complete this event, a beautiful way to start off the new year.
I don’t like excuses, excuses open up weakness. This was not an excuse it was reality, I had a swollen toe, having dropped my mobile phone on my bare foot a few days previous, so I was not 100% sure I would complete the event. Dosing myself in painkillers I was silently determined to make the start line. Now that’s enough of the winging I am not making any more excuses.
After very sad news on New Years Eve – another victim of Cancer, I was determined to dedicate this race to that person, run every mile I could in memory of this very sad news. It made me realise I am lucky enough to be able to run, swollen toe or none swollen toe, it’s just a toe it’s not life or death – lets get on with this and just do.
There was already an unprecedented buzz in Fylingdales Village Hall – a quaint building nestled at the top of the hill overlooking Robin Hoods Bay. Was this atmosphere because it was New Years Day or was this an average Hardmoors speciality? I was about to find out being a virgin Hardmoors runner.
Compulsory kit checks were taking place, required head-torch, gloves, hat, full length trousers, waterproof jacket and 500ml of water. With a ‘Hardmoors’ stamp on my hand I passed and was let into the race. I collected my number with simple ease and milled around saying hi to fellow ‘Ring O’ Fire’ superstars Carol, Simon and friends, and Paul who I had met at Stuart Littles’ Bob Graham Round in 2014. It was lovely to see familiar faces.
The route was a figure of 8, first along the Cinder Track, an old disused railway along to Whitby, then back on the Cleveland Way coastal path to Robin Hoods Bay. The route then rounded up back on the Cinder Track again to Hayburn Wyke and finally turning back on itself to meet the Cleveland way coastline to Robin Hoods Bay. Some 30ish miles of dreamy heavenly running.
It was warm for the 1st January, a light drizzle in the air, but side winds could be tricky off the sea and onto the cliff edges. I stripped off my extra layer before I started and stuffed it in my rucksack. I was supporting long runners, a long sleeved black Raidlight top and my waterproof coat which has now seen better days. Zip has broken, pocket has ripped and it has lost its waterproofness, it must have been used a fair bit then? I am eyeing up the Montane Minimus or OMM jackets for future events. My feet were supported by Vaseline, toe socks, a bit of deep heat for poorly toe and my comfortable luggy inov8 ultras.
Just after 9.15 race director Jon Steele who I had never heard a bad word about (winner of ‘The Hill Ultra 2013’ and some other crazy events) called everyone up together for the race briefing.
Time to stop doubting and start believing – Jon Steel – Hardmoors RD
At 9.30 it was ready steady (or not so steady) and Go! And everyone shot off. I was mid pack settling into my happy pace. Once on the Cinder Track those that set off too fast slowed down. I don’t use my watch for pacing I use my head for pacing I soon settled into the race.
Toe watch, toe watch, I could feel the toe niggling just 2 miles in, I tried to ignore it, not now not 2 miles in, quitting right now is not an option. I began to pace up and overtake a couple of groups of runners. I had a chat with one guy as we ran together for about a mile. I reminded myself of the sad news of yesteryear, and kept on running. Foot, foot, foot you will not get the better of me.
The Cinder Track was somewhat ‘easy running’ sheltered and not too boggy just some 6 miles or so into Whitby. The coast always on our right as we ran. Runners in-front runners behind. This felt comfortable. The Cinder Track to Whitby felt slightly downwards and this coincided with a couple of fast miles (only to be realised after looking at my splits afterwards doing 7.20s for a few miles).
Run happy, grumpy, speedy, slow, a little, a lot – just run
As I passed others with a gentle ‘hi’ the miles were ticking on by. Steps down to the town of Whitby the end of the Cinder Track led nicely to the first check point. I was feeling in good shape at this point with just a slight niggle from my foot, but knew too well that anything can happen in an Ultra. I grabbed a handful of jelly babies and a piece of flapjack and ran onwards and downwards towards the seafront. Only a scattering of runners were now seen through Whitby. I was amused at the amount of people who were shopping at 10.30am in the morning on New Years Day, whilst they were amused that 200 or so runners were to make an appearance for just a few minutes on this little harbour town in North Yorkshire. The world is mad. Cute signs gave us all that extra motivation to push on through.
If you give up now you could be relaxing in the pub pretty soon – Sign on the Hardmoors 30
A kind runner by the name of Michael Rafferty made the GPS file of the route available to the Hardmoors Facebook group. Thank you Michael, so kind. I had the instructions printed out and had analysed the route map but the extra GPS gave me that safety net and a confidence boost to know that I was to turn across the bridge and to the left running on the cobbled streets and up the 199 steps to the abbey. The written instructions stated ‘You MUST run all the steps’ so I did, I didn’t want to be disqualified! Reaching the top a photographer was there snapping away at those anguished runners, along with some happy encouraging claps at the top of the churchyard.
There were three or four guys a little way infront, and a few behind. I took this opportunity to take some photos of the steps and the beautiful Whitby Abbey . No rush, anything can happen in an ultra. A friendly passer by clapped me through and commented that I even had time to take photos ‘good on you’ they said – Yes I replied ‘ still got 23 miles to go plenty of time’, anything can happen in an Ultra.
Onwards on the windswept cliff top paths of Cleveland way I ran. The stunning scenery blasting up ahead, the ground muddy and tricky in places, already beaten up by the day walkers and runners ahead. As I climbed up a banking of steps, I took the opportunity to take a couple more photos. I was really enjoying this, pace was comfortable, foot almost forgotten about with just a slight bite hitting my second toe.
Running reminds me that I am alive
The delightful Cleveland path was scattered with New Year day walkers by around 10 miles, cheering us on or allowing us to jump over the stiles first. I was glad I had chosen my inov8 ultra’s rather than my beloved hokas. They sustained well in the swathes of mud. Until Hoka make a more aggressive trail shoe for muddy trails its the inov8s even though I love Hokas.
I overtook a few guys and one girl en route back to Robin Hoods Bay, feeling grounded and contented. My thoughts drifted to other things, to friends who hadn’t made it to see through 2015, to people who just can not do this sort of thing, my own troubles so insignificant right now. I was lucky that I could put one step in-front of another, and another and another and to be here able to attempt this. I was overwhelmed with the gratitude for life. It may sound corny but on such runs, you spend a lot of time within yourself and your mind makes you think and appreciate. I can do this and if I can do this I can get through my own woe-some troubles however insignificant they may be.
When all else fails, start running
Just before the turn off back to Fylingdales Village Hall (you are not even half way yet!) a few ‘spectators’ shouted out I was ‘second female’, really? But really, ok keep the head on, and keep going. There was no dropping out here however easy it may have been. Foot check – OK, not grumbling too much, I can continue.
Into the village hall I ran, despite the delightful spread of goodies, I wasn’t tempted with the delicious cakes and goodies on offer instead I grabbed a quick top up of water, some deliciously ‘seedy’ flapjack and a handful of sweets and went on my way. With a friendly chat to another guy before I sped off down the lane. The GPS route came in handy just around this point as a comfort blanket to ensure I had gone down the correct lane. The route was marked further down the lane directing runners back onto the Cinder Track. The course wasn’t really marked apart from in a couple of ‘tricky’ bits. This wasn’t a bad thing, not at all, its all part of the Hardmoors experience. If you want a marked course go and run ‘The Wall’ Ultra, go and pay £200 rather than £20 or something like that.
Decide to continue, decide to succeed decide to reach your goal
The Cinder Track continued to use the old railway line connecting Whitby to Scarborough, it is relatively ‘easy’ trail, however the odd channel of mud, gate and loose rocky stones certainty gave it that added challenge. It was about 4 or 5 miles to Ravenscar, as the Cinder Track wound its way upwards, a drag more than anything but all runnable. I was running on my own but could see a few guys in-front of me. I passed one or two with a momentous hello, asking how they were doing. It’s what Ultra runners do.
The rather remote Raven Hall Hotel perched on the top of the hillside marking the tiny hamlet of Ravenscar. Here a car was driving down the lane I was about to run up. Someone stuck his head out of the window and asked how we were doing, this I believe was to be race organiser Jon. Such a lovely friendly touch.
Onwards to check point three where I stocked up on Jelly Babies then hit the only bit of road on the route. Again the GPS was a little handy here just to meander around the village green. A runner was going the wrong way, had I gone the wrong way? Then I saw he was walking, hobbling back a little. I shouted back at him to ensure he was ok, he informed me that he had just DNF’ed but was OK. OK, good, the checkpoint was literally 200 metres away. I continued my journey from Ravenscar to Hayburn Wyke.
The stretch of track was a little tedious but a few gates to open and dog walkers broke up the long drawn track at 18 miles plus. The miles ticked on by, as my mind wandered back to profound thoughts. With just two or three guys just in view ahead of me I was very much on my own.
Life sucks, and then…You Run.
I caught them up at the 4th checkpoint at Hayburn Wyke. A delightful spread of sweets, cake and fresh fruit awaited us. I took some Jelly Babies and a piece of melon. I had never had melon before on a run so this was experimental. Leaving the checkpoint there were now 4 or 5 of us, running down the lane I munched on the melon but it wasn’t going down well, it then slipped from my hands onto the muddy ground, well I won’t be doing melon again on an Ultra. I put it in the bin and ran on through a very boggy field.
A couple of the guys came skipping past me on the decent down the cliff. I commented that I was not very good downhill but they insisted I would catch them later (and they were right).
The miles flew on by as I ran smoothly on the cliff edge, windswept face, mud drenched feet, happy face. Dark clouds loomed ahead, as I resumed to put my jacket back on through the spitting rain. The lads who had powered on downhill were just about to get chicked, one guy commented to another ‘You are about to get chicked and there is nothing you can do about it’, then ran on determined not to get chicked himself. I followed his footsteps as he told me to ‘walk up the hills to conserve energy’. But I was feeling a bit too lively and was about to get him, there were no massive hills if you are used to hillage, the walkable bits are really merely the steps. I made my move on the flat and scooted past him with a cheerful and encouraging ‘well done’ from him.
I mean, have you been to your local 10k recently and heard of anyone being chicked?
My watch was beeping at each mile but as of yet I had not looked at pace or time, for it was fixed on the route line only. I got slightly worried as I saw a crowd of runners going the other way. I wondered if I was off route despite following the clear signs of the Cleveland Way. I could no longer see any runners ahead of me. The watch was telling me to go straight ahead, so I realised I was back at Ravenscar and the crowd of runners were at around 17/18 miles still to conquer the Hayburn Wyke loop. I was now at 26.2 miles – I had done a marathon
The rules of running: Start where you are, go where you want, take as long as you like
Back at Ravenscar Check Point I was told first female was only a few minutes ahead. I saw the first lady running way in front but my fight to chase her for the remaining 4 miles was not there. If I was to catch her out of fluke then I would take it but my head and heart was maxed out and I was beginning to feel the distance. My toe felt like it was swelling as it pounded well trodden trail. My fight was to maintain 2nd place and the pace and try and stick with the guys surrounding me.
When I do the best I can with what I have, then I have won my race. – Jay Foonber
A ‘secret’ checkpoint about a mile after Ravenscar was positioned to ensure that no one cheated and took the Cinder Track back ‘home’. Personally I would prefer the coastal route anyway, much more fun, challenging and muddy.
The last section was purely caked up in mud. I was sliding about not even my beloved ultra shoes could take this mud. Along with strong coastal winds, at one point I had to grip onto the wired fence to prevent myself from falling down the cliff face. I was now fighting on the remaining miles. Imagine cross country, put it on a coastal path, add a dollop of strong coastal wind and a marathon and that’s were I was.
On the descent down to Boggle Hole I caught up two other guys and ran with them for a moment or two until they escaped as their powerful legs strided up the steep steps at Boggle. There was just over a mile to go, but as much as I tried to keep up with the two guys, the steps got the better of me and my energy levels had depleted. I had eaten all my Kendal mint cake and could have done with an extra jelly baby. Although I had supplies in my rucksack with just over a mile to go I wasn’t going to faff around now.
You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.
Just before descending into Robin Hoods Bay, a guy held the gate open for the runners, and told me the first lady was a mere 200 metres ahead and jokingly added that she ‘could get lost’ even though we were less than half a mile from the finish. I really didn’t feel that I had the fight to get that place, I was happy as I was.
Robin Hoods Bay was heaving with tourist by now. I had to wait to allow some pensioners to scramble up the steps. ‘No rush’ I said as they politely commented that ‘another runner was coming up’. Patiently I walked to the top of the flight of steps then faced the last hill. Oh just like my road at home, no problem, no problem at all *cough*, what a way to end a 30 mile trail race.
I ran half way up because I could. Someone asked how far I was going, just to the top I replied, its not how far I am going now its how far I have gone.
Further Faster Forever
At the top I marched into a jog and then hit it properly as it levelled off and the car park finally came into view. Kind Marshals cheered me on as I took a turning right left into the car park as the village hall came into view once again. To the right, to the right I was informed as I entered the hall to finish my first delightfully tasty Hardmoors event. I had done it, a fantastic New Years treat. I had come in at 4 hours 40 and 46 seconds for what my Suunto said was 29.95 miles – 30 will do ok?
People congratulated me, placed a medal around my neck, gave me a lovely white Hardmoors 30 t-shirt and informed me I was indeed 2nd female, placed just one and a half minutes behind the leading lady.
The awards were already taking place as Jon handed out the trophies for the HM15 and then the HM30. It was a pleasure to see Paul Nelson (Friend of friend who I had met at a helping of a Bob Graham in the summer) to place 3rd Male.
What a well organised event, a superb atmosphere, ample amounts of variety, of mud, of fun. Well marshalled, friendly, in an amazing location. A fantastic buffet welcomed us all at the end, hot soup, sandwiches, picklets, cakes, more cakes more cakes and lots of free tea. Possibly my favourite run of the year!
- Time: 4.40.46
- Postion: 2nd Female | 20th out of 197 finishes