My First (Kinda) Proper Marathon
I was never planning on writing about every race I enter into – I’d hate to bore anyone! However, seeing as this is the first time I’ve actually run a proper marathon event I thought I’d give it a quick write-up…
The HM 26, Saltburn is part of the new Hardmoors Trail Marathon Series, which is five race events consisting of a 10km, half marathon or full marathon. The events taking place at Osmotherley, Wainstones, Rosedale, Saltburn and Goathland respectively. Being a Hardmoors race you are never going to be on the roads much, and are bound to be running up and down hills and across the moors before too long. This race was no different. It also counts towards the newly formed Hardmoors 1000 Mile Club…one for the future hopefully!
I always love the start of races: everyone arriving focused on their own personal goals for the day, the variety of different people of all ages and abilities, soaking up the atmosphere of like-minded fellow runners, it makes all the effort worthwhile for me. I’m hardly a regular racer, but after registering I said hello to the handful of people that I knew, and then just settled down out of the way watching everyone arrive, register and top up on their fluids and go through their other pre-race rituals. The obligatory rush for the toilets was next, followed by a quick race brief by the race director, and then we were led outside for the race start. A quick countdown and we were off!
I was reasonably confident of most of the race course, but still settled for my usual pattern of starting at the very back and letting everyone settle into their own natural pace and position. I was in no rush, this was a training run for a 60 mile race in September. A week ago I had done a similar run in 7:12hr, although I was carrying a lot more weight and fluids then, so my aim was to try and at least knock off 13 mins from that time to come in at 6hrs anything. The weather forecast was for a hot day with some wind and a probable rainstorm sometime in the afternoon. Dehydration was one of my main concerns, but so was weight, so I settled for carrying 2 x 500ml sports drinks with a view to topping up one of them at a checkpoint when it was empty. ‘The best laid plans of mice and men…’
So anyway, I plod through the first kms / miles (I’m more of a metric man) at a very conservative speed, then start to find my place among similarly paced runners. When we leave Skelton and hit the first set of farms I see Checkpoint 1 and a familiar face from previous race checkpoints. It’s at this point that I make a schoolboy error – a bunch of plastic cups have been blown away from the checkpoint and onto the track right in front of me. In all good conscience I can’t just trod over them, pretending they aren’t there, so as smooth as silk I scoop them up on my way past, putting them in the boot of the car at the checkpoint. After a thank you from the marshall, and my good deed done for the day I quickly attend to the second task that needs to be done: a pee in the adjacent woodline. I finish, and swiftly run off to catch up with the runners I had recently overtook. And then I have a strange feeling, something doesn’t feel quite right, so I have a feel around, and suddenly get a horrible sinking feeling in my stomach as I realise that I have lost one of my sports drinks, probably about five minutes ago at the checkpoint. Do I go back and look for it, did I lose it having a pee, jumping back onto the road or picking up the litter? Or was it earlier? How much time in total would I lose looking for it and would I even find the bottle? Is it worth it? My split second reasoning said no, I still had one bottle and I was now running lighter. I would just have to be more conservative with my fluid intake and drink more at the checkpoints. I just had to not allow this setback to disrupt my race.
By the time we hit Guisborough Woods I’m nice and settled, warmed up well, but still fuming about my bottle mishap. However, the course soon takes my mind off things, as we soon leave the paths I’m familiar with and take a sharp left straight uphill through thick foliage that says no walkers have been up here for a long time. I have a good inner chuckle as I think to myself ‘yup, definitely a Hardmoors race!’ My skinny little legs get whipped by all manner of thorny undergrowth and snaggly branches and the incline gets steeper and more muddy. I start to wish I had put my gaitors on, which are currently sat snuggly in my kitbag back at Saltburn Leisure Centre. And then the top levels out and we are sent hurtling downhill, on a zigzag cross country path over logs and rocks, through the woods and onto the North York Moors. This was actually one of my favourite bits of the course, as I felt like a kid again racing down paths, then up again, with every chance of tripping over and ending up with a mouthful of mud, yet managing not to. I almost feel like a cross country runner! Every time I passed a yellow tape marker I felt a small bit of relief in that I was actually running in the right direction. It was an exhilarating feeling! I was also quite pleased that my first marathon was through an area like this, and not through a set of traffic lights in some generic town or city, being stared at by the curious.
A bit more technical running on dodgy moorland paths, and before you knew it we were approaching Commondale. There was even a little stream crossing to make sure you got your feet wet. ‘That was quicker than I thought!’ So, after throwing much liquid down my neck at the checkpoint and emptying Guisborough Woods from my new Brooks Cascadias it was a big down, followed by an equally steep up and back onto the moors. Next stop the Birk Brow car park.
I must mention the other runners at this point. Every runner without exception was either friendly and chatty, or courteous and polite. I am not naive enough to believe that it is always like this, I know that there are a lot of…umm…people that require extra effort in the sport. It was just really pleasant spending an afternoon among people of similar abilities that were also appreciating the setting, challenge and camaraderie as much as I was. And if you haven’t run a Hardmoors race before, this is more the norm than the exception, which I would credit to the race organisers and their team.
So back to the race…I’m on the moors, I’m a bit crampy and scared to drink any more sports drink until the next checkpoint, but I’m alright. And then the promised rainstorm approaches… After a bit of indecision I soon have my rain jacket on before the sky throws its best at us! Regardless of the jacket, I am drenched in about 3 mins and wonder why I put it on in the first place. I get to the Birk Brow checkpoint and scoff and drink while I take off and stow away my soaking jacket. The 5 or 6 runners I had passed earlier had caught up with me and set off again, so I got a move on and tagged along with them. Not so much to beat anyone, more as to force myself to keep pace with them for a half decent time. I think at this point we had done about 13 miles, so we were halfway round. 2:30 – 3hrs I think it was – better than I thought. We all meet up again as we debate which path is the right one to take, the first navigational error of the day. More farms, more trails and another one of those fifty / fifty route selection choices. So naturally, myself and a pleasant lady I was currently running with, blissfully blasted off down the wrong path, content with our thoughts and our music, unaware of our error. It was only when I heard what I thought was a shout (‘that’s not part of the song?!?’) that we stopped and realised that we were running in the wrong direction. Booboo number two…
I now knew that we wanted to be in Skinningrove, and roughly where we should’ve been running, but did it heck ever feel like we were getting any closer! Our group had grown to about 8 members now, stretching out, and then coming back together again. I was generally left behind on the straights or downhills (thanks to my unstable, dodgy left knee), but tabbed back into the group on the uphills. I went ahead before Skinningrove, and was lucky to see the markers before I ran past them. Often my mind wonders and before you know it I’m 3 paths past where I should be. Enter the local chavs…
It seems the locals thought it would be funny to steal or move some of the tape markers, which caused a lot of confusion on the day at this particular point of the race. In my case I ran up to the cliffs, didn’t see any tape, went back to check myself and rejoined the rest of the group again. A local resident pointed us in the right direction, but we were not too confident now. We reluctantly took her advise, which was thankfully correct. This probably cost us all about 8 mins, but to be honest I’m usually running by myself for most races anyway, and usually lose the same amount of time due to navigational mishaps regardless! So homeward bound…
I took a mental stock of how I felt, refuelled myself and started to accelerate. I must say, this was the best finish I’ve had in a long run since last years Hardmoors 55. I knew where I was and what was ahead, so I just opened up and gave it everything I had. It felt great! I zipped over the hills, and when I got to Huntcliff I was elated to see that I would definitely finish under 6 hours…a personal best.
My knees were starting to feel battered and I was getting a stitch, but I held it off as I dropped off the cliffs (not literally, obviously…) and into the last checkpoint. I didn’t bother with any food or drink here, I just cracked on. Before long I was running next to the Valley Gardens, before a quick entry onto the garden paths and coming out where we had entered at the race start. I flew into the leisure centre as fast as my breath would let me, got applauded by some spectators and then into the hall and finish. I couldn’t breath! 5:30:45! I was disappointed not to break 5:30hrs, but the time was far faster than I ever thought I could achieve, so one can’t be too greedy, can one? I got my first ever marathon T-shirt and medal and went for one of the best showers I have ever had in my life! By the time I had finished the rest of the group I had spent most of the day running with were milling around in the hall as well, so it was nice to see everyone had made it, including a gent who had been hit by cramps pretty badly.
The Saltburn Marathon was a thoroughly enjoyable race, new friends were made, old faces seen and this raggedy old body of mine well and truly surprised me! I can’t wait for the Princess Challenge and the Goathland Marathon. Not to mention the beast that will be the Hardmoors 60 in a few weeks time. Anyone who reads this and fancies a crack at an enjoyable marathon (you know who you are!) take a leap of faith and surprise yourself!