Fruit Flies and Bleeding Nipples…
I never planned on entering this race, but after a quick think I decided it would be a perfect training run for the Hardmoors 60 at the end of the month, as well as a good substitute for the Hardmoors 30 that I missed on New Years Day. Unfortunately entries were postal, and not online, so I would have to enter on the day, which gave me some scope for changing my mind. Amazingly though, come Sunday morning of the race I managed to drag myself out of bed and drive myself to ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Ravenscar’ nice and early, and registered for this (possibly) one-off Hardmoors Princess Challenge 30 miler. The race was fund-raising for Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Service, so I was pleased that I could contribute in some way, as these sort of services generally get naff all from the government, which is shocking.
As always, I loved the pre-race greetings, the kit checks and rituals, and the general build-up to the start of the event. It was a bit chilly outside, so I stuck a shirt over my long sleeve top as a bit of a wind breaker. I also changed from shorts to a pair of tights – I hate running cold, and besides, I was hardly going to run fast enough to overheat, was I! My new strategy I have copied off some of the far more experienced runners of taking a kitbag full of everything you may possibly need on race day is working well for me. It allows me flexibility to faff on endlessly before I run, generally with what I’m going to wear. This gives me piece of mind.
So, onto the race brief, where we are reminded that the race director Jon Steele should be passing through our direction sometime soon on a personal HM 110 attempt. A few more words and we were off! The conditions underfoot were far dryer and kinder than when it is run on New Years Day, and progress for me was casual and steady to Hayburn Wyke. I love the stark beauty of the cliffs that you run along, but you need to be careful of the paths here because they aren’t the most ankle-friendly in the world. Hayburn Wyke is very pleasant to run through as well, although you don’t get much time to appreciate it in a race. I often come out on the wrong side of the Hayburn Wyke Inn / CP 1, so I was pleased to arrive from the right direction this year. Glad to see the 3 vintage bikes (Yes, there are definitely three!) are still there as well. They always bring a comment or two. The run up to the old bridge that takes you up to the road leading back to Ravenscar Village Hall went fine. Last year a bunch of us ran straight past it thinking it was the wrong bridge, so I’m glad I didn’t repeat my mistake.
At the village hall Mr Steele himself made a cameo appearance with Shirley Colquhoun and the rest of his support team. He looked pretty spaced out and was hobbling around with one leg doing it’s own thing. A stark reminder to me of how much more training I need to do if I ever want to finish the 110. The hall provided a huge array of snacks, including some really tempting Swiss roll! Hardly a good source of slow release fuel, but I took a piece anyway. A flapjack in one hand and a slice of cake in the other, I emerged from the village hall; the picture of athletic excellence, and walked onto the next stage of my little journey.
I ran with another runner who said this was his first 30 miler, which is always nice to hear. Ultra running has some great characters in it, and I hope another one has just been added to its ranks. We soon joined another few runners and all got into the Robin Hoods Bay checkpoint around the same time. Some more excellent marshalling here with enthusiasm, encouragement and lots of coke, water, biscuits and flapjacks. You never feel like a hindrance with Hardmoors marshals, even when they have to put your checkpoint card back in your bag for you because you can’t do it yourself! Now the leg to Whitby. I have taken the Cleveland Way path instead of the Cinder path before, but not this time…I actually knew where I was going. So off our group went at roughly the same pace. Then something strange happened…
I usually fade out quite a bit on the leg from Robin Hoods Bay to Whitby, but today I was feeling strong. So after walking a long, gradual incline I felt really refreshed and eased into a steady jog. I steadily crept ahead of the rest of the group. And once I was ahead I didn’t want to stop! Once I’d crossed the road ahead and joined the final part of the Cinder Path into Whitby, I just got this urge to open up my pace a bit, which I did. All in all I think I ran well beyond my previous limits for at least 40 minutes. Silly boy…although I managed a really quick pace to the Larpool Viaduct I was soon to pay the price for going so fast so early on. I developed heavy legs with a dose of cramp thrown in for good measure.
Now, there is no sexy way of saying this, but I was also chaffing my nipples a lot, which was annoying because I had put plasters on them in the morning. I guess having a hairy ginger chest doesn’t help, as when I checked my chest the left plaster had disappeared. I tried to get some comfort with the ‘pulling your shirt up and out’ method, as well as the ‘pulling your shirt tight’ method. Neither worked.
At the checkpoint in Whitby I said hi to Hardmoors regular Ray Wheatley and greedily chucked liquid and solids down my neck. I got a plaster for my nipple, but my chest was soaking and I doubted that it would stay on very long. I had absolutely no intention of running through Whitby, so I just enjoyed the walk and made sure I didn’t get stopped by the swing bridge. A slight trot up the 199 steps (only because the civvies were looking…) and then back onto the Cleveland Way.
I really wasn’t expecting the next thing I saw…the two runners I had been running with earlier on had caught and passed me going through the Whitby checkpoint. They were both now at the top of the 199 steps…waiting in a queue to buy ice lollies! I just had to laugh at them! It was almost surreal – these two experienced ultra runners about to finish a 30 mile run in relative ease taking time out to enjoy an ice lolly! One runner even offered to buy me one. These are the things in ultra running that I really appreciate – the quirky moments that make all the sense in the world.
It was a pretty nice day too – no recent rain, no gales and I wasn’t lost; so the return to Ravenscar should have been easy. However, I now started to feel the folly of thinking I was some well-honed long distance machine, and progression got slower and slower. Eventually I ended up mainly walking. I knew where I was and how far I had to go, but I just couldn’t get my legs to do more than a mincey trot from time to time. My nipples were catching and irritating constantly now. And the fruit flies…! I’ve never peeled so many from my cornea in one day. At one stage they were bouncing off my skull as well! They must have mistaken it for an orange. And that’s how I got to Robin Hoods Bay. Slowly and painfully. Holding my man-boobs in pain.
Into the checkpoint. Quick whinge about cramps again. Water refill and back out. Hobbling a bit. And then a very slow and tentative walk down the (very) steep hill into the old village and onto the path that leads to the Cleveland Way. Last year me and a married couple went a path to early and ended up on a 10 minute detour through somebody’s farm. Not this year – I might be struggling, but it was still light and I threw a derisory look at last years mistake. I joined the Cleveland Way, and carried on. This bit of the route has quite a few stairs to go down and back up, but I knew this, so I took my punishment as best I could, and just kept putting on angry songs whenever the going got harder. Past Boggle Hole (love that name!) and on towards Ravenscar now. Then a bit of confusion: A signed path that stated ‘Cleveland Way Alum Works’ in a direction that I could see would make a long detour, or at worst add an unnecessary out and back leg that I didn’t need. So I ignored it, and, on this rare occasion I was totally right to do so. There is only one place you can mess it up now and that is where the path splits. The correct route is to the right and up. And I do mean up! The last hill is a right morale sapper! It’s even worse in the daylight because you can see how long and steep it is. But after you flatten out at the top you just put your foot down and try and finish in some sort of style. Unfortunately for me I have none, and the race photographer has now got two cracking shots of me looking like a haggard sweaty mess, which is exactly what I was.
So, I missed the HM 30 on New Years Day, but got to do the course as a race nine months later anyway. I also beat my previous best time by nearly an hour an a half to finish in 6hrs37. Result! I love this course, as it was my first ultra finish, and to be able to support a worthy and relevant organisation such as the mountain rescue services was a privilege. Hats off to the organisers of the race for their vision. The marshals are always brilliant at Hardmoors events, and today was no different. Cake at a checkpoint, ice lollies at Whitby Abbey, fruit flies in my eyes, a blood-soaked shirt from hardcore cripple nipple and 10 miles of constant cramp – why would you want to do any other sport!