My First 60 Miler
So here we are…21 weeks training and I finally got to run the Hardmoors 60. I’d marshalled the first edition of this race with my wife, but had never actually taken part in it before. I’m not sure how I got persuaded to take the plunge, but I seem to remember Jon Steele, the race director being involved.
I was actually feeling reasonably good about running this race. I had done four decent long runs in my build-up, which included the Saltburn Trail Marathon and the Princess Challenge. I was really chuffed with my personal performances in both of these races, and I had also done some good training runs, which included some nasty little hill sessions up and down Highcliff Nab. In short, I had done some training which I felt to be genuine, had built some confidence in my abilities, and was actually raring to go!
I knew the course up until Hayburn Wyke from previous races, but after that the course was alien to me. And failing a recce, I did the next best thing, and tried to memorise landmarks and features on Google Earth. Handy, but nowhere near ideal. I wasn’t going to dwell on anything negative though. Keep the sea on your left and look out for people in hi-viz vests waiting around in car parks…
Now, I hate motorists at the best of times when I’m running, but the first incident of the race took it to another level. Flying the flag of arrogance for the good folk of Guisborough was a local resident, who decided that instead of waiting for literally three minutes while the runners quickly disappeared into Guisborough Woods, she simply lost the plot and tried to drive her car through 111 runners to get to her house! She pretty much charged runners with her vehicle, beeped and raged and made a total fool of herself. The runners in front of me were very fortunate not to be hit by her car. I was speechless! Other runners weren’t, and she was sworn at, had her vehicle struck by runners trying to defend themselves and even had her door yanked open and her car keys removed from the ignition and thrown on the road by a furious lady runner. As the lady said afterwards, she should have thrown them into the field! I really am surprised nobody had their legs injured. It makes me ashamed to live in the same town as such ignorant lunatics.
All this drama and we hadn’t even reached Highcliff Nab yet! The route up to Highcliff is really simple to follow, just run past the crazy woman’s house and go up. And up…two climbs right after each other totalling about 300m. Proper climbs over tree roots, that let your calves know they are in for a long day out. Another steep climb, and then up to Highcliff for a stunning view of Guisborough and the surrounding areas. No mad motorists this far up either. The sky was clear, the weather was warm and the company was great – where else would you want to be on a Saturday morning?
The staff help out
I had arranged to have some of my staff at the Vista Mar open the restaurant early to set-up the Saltburn checkpoint and help out with marshalling. So I was extremely relieved to receive texts from the girls (thank you Sophie, Megan, Lauren, Debbie and Katy!) saying that the checkpoint was good to go, and that they weren’t still in bed with hangovers. I would have hated to fire them on such a nice day. When I did run down Saltburn Bank the veranda was packed with activity. Runners, supporters and marshals everywhere. Even Pat Mullen put in an appearance. It was all good to see. The atmosphere at races is important to my enjoyment, so I was happy to see that everyone seemed to be having a good time. The Hardmoors race series has a fantastic ethos, is very welcoming to newcomers and has amazing volunteers. I am glad I was able to chip in a bit.
Back to the race though, and as I said to Debbie, our cleaner, ‘the hard work starts now!’ The coastal path to Whitby and beyond offers some spectacular views, and passes through some lovely little areas and villages, but has some deceitfully harsh climbs to go up and down. Again, I ran with some really pleasant people from all over the country from time to time, including two men who didn’t believe in drop bags, the owner of a local sweet shop and a bloke who had a crispy apple set in his sights as his post race reward…I was loving the moment! Off I plodded down the coast towards what I hoped would be my final destination in Filey. Now I’ll be honest. Based on what little ultra experience I have, I secretly wanted to better my HM 55 time of 14hrs21, and actually thought it was possible on the day. I mean, I was definitely fitter, marginally stronger and I knew the route up to Hayburn Wyke…it should be achievable, right? Fool.
I was roughly an hour ahead of schedule, having some good spells of running, and eating my way out of any bad ones. Everything was okey dokey. However, when I got to the climb out of Skinningrove I passed Grand Slammer Roy McDougall, and was disappointed to note how dreadful he looked. I didn’t think he would finish in the state he was in. I cracked on and managed to stay ahead of schedule, keeping a nice steady pace. Until Runswick Bay, anyway. It’s not that I creamed in as such, more that my body got a reality check and just started to take the strain really quickly. My running was soon replaced by a sulky trot, which continued until Sandsend. John Vernon and Jo Barrett were marshalling here, and it was nice to take a little break while Jo refilled my Camelbak. As always, slick skills by the Hardmoors marshals. Onward to Whitby, at what pace I could muster. I perked up a bit here as I caught up with two ladies I had seen in Saltburn Valley Gardens. One of the ladies had done a couple of successful Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blancs, and I listened with interest to her stories of this classic, including the hallucinations! There are some very normal people out there who have accomplished some truly remarkable feats, and it is very inspirational to speak to them.
Whitby & ice cream
Most people worry about the pedestrians in places like Whitby, as a bit of sunshine brings everybody out to the seaside, but it doesn’t bother me. One, it’s a good chance for a break, so why hurry? Secondly, I find that running in the middle of the road is generally the quickest way of navigating through the masses. Of course, you have to remember to dodge the traffic and the odd bus, but it works for me. I forgot to bring ice cream money again (see Princess Challenge Report) – when will I learn! Finally, I made it to the Robin Hoods Bay checkpoint, which was held in Fylingdales Village Hall. It’s a great sight when you have been running on your own for a while to see other people leaving a checkpoint – you feel that little bit less alone and slightly encouraged that there are people not that far in front of you. And what a cracking checkpoint the village hall was! Chairs, loads of food and drinks, other runners with painkillers…it was difficult not to overstay your welcome! I was really hot, and downed 7 (yes, seven!) cups of juice / cola; sod the possible stitch. I talked a bit to the runners inside until sadly my time to leave came, and I walked out through the car park on my way to the bottom of the village. And low and behold, who do I see coming into the checkpoint, but a totally rejuvenated version of Mr McDougall! There was nothing wrong with him! I was chuffed.
I caught up with Mr Ice Cream man from the Princess Challenge, and found out his name was Nick Ford, and he was going for his Grand Slam. Unfortunately for him he was having a terrible day at the office, and was being plagued by constant cramps. Regardless, we got to Ravenscar about 40 minutes ahead of schedule, meaning I was slowing down. It was still light and I still knew where I was, so I found some reserves from somewhere and hoofed it to Hayburn Wyke, getting there just as it got dark enough for me to need a headtorch.
I was now in new territory, because I had never been this far down the Cleveland Way before, so everything was unfamiliar. Nick had also run on ahead. I have previous for getting lost at the most inopportune moments, so I needed to take note of where I was going. I was also about to run further than I had ever run before, so I was very nervous about messing up this stage of the race. My body was taking the strain more now, with a blister forming at the top of the balls of my left foot, and the muscles behind my right knee and top of the calf were really beginning to hurt now. I soon slowed down to a miserable walk.
I made my way south, keeping the sea on my left feeling pretty sorry for myself now. If it wasn’t for a running mate who was currently texting me through bad patches I really would have been a pitiful sight! It wasn’t long before I notice a pair of torch beams behind me, and would you believe it, Roy McDougall and Anthony Corbett had caught up with me again and were steaming ahead with determination. Nobody was running anymore, but Roy’s speed marching pace was relentless! Straight away I did the sensible thing and decided to tag along for the ride for as long as I was able to keep up. And then we pick up another passenger – Nick Ford on his quest for his Grand Slam. Nick was very evidently going through hell trying to keep up some sort of pace, and every now and again you would hear a not-so-muffled curse, followed by a snort or a groan – the man was full of sound effects, which would’ve been really funny if he hadn’t been in so much pain. Some more runners ahead, some more miles completed, what more could you do aside from move forwards as fast as possible? We even caught up to the two men I had met before Saltburn who didn’t believe in drop bags! Their sense of humour had gone nowhere, which was really refreshing considering how crap we all felt.
And speaking of sense of humour, what’s the deal with Cayton Bay? Did we really need to be sent down all those steep, soul sapping stairs, in the pitch black, only to have to climb up yet more steps up the side of a mountain to get back to pretty much where you were fifteen minutes ago? Thanks Jon…
Eventually I saw a sight to behold – the bright lights of Scarborough! They looked beautiful. Unfortunately, like a mirage in the desert they soon disappeared. According to Roy we were miles away yet! To say I felt let down is an understatement. We kept on with Roy’s crazy pace, passing each other, regrouping, getting shouted at by Roy, and then reforming again. That might sound harsh, but Roy was truly the star of the show at this stage, keeping us all together and setting a good pace. Surely we must be getting close? We past Ray Wheatley (also on track for his Grand Slam) and another runner and cracked on. Then I heard an almighty shriek of pain. There is the shout of pain, like when you stub your toe on a rock, and then there is the real deal, which sounds awful…this was one of them. When we heard the commotion we were just about to drop onto the Scarborough promenade. On turning around we saw that Nick had collapsed in a heap on the trail and was holding his legs in agony. I really thought he had broken something. ‘Push my feet back! I can’t move for cramps!’ I was closest, so I obliged. ‘Push his feet all the way back. Give him some pain.’ was Roy’s medical advise. It kinda worked, and off we went again, onto the promenade. Roy and Anthony had a support crew waiting for them, and Nick was sorting himself out, so I tried a bit of running. Time was virtually gone for the next checkpoint, and a time-out looked inevitable. At half nine I hadn’t even got around the castle yet, and I stopped running. I felt like a ride back to Filey in a marshals car was just around the corner. I was gutted.
Nick caught up with me, and then went on ahead, I couldn’t fathom how he could keep going under such discomfort. We stopped at the ferris wheel and I scrounged some pain killers off him. He was well aware that we could be timed out, and that he might not make his Grand Slam, but he was adamant that he was going to finish. ‘no DNF tonight mate!’ And that jolted me out of the downer I was going through. Yes, a late finish would do me fine.
I don’t know what all the fuss is about with Scarborough seafront and it’s masses of curious, and sometimes annoying pedestrians. The promenade was virtually empty when we went along it! Apart from being long and tedious it was an uneventful journey. And then finally, right at the end, a car with some friendly faces and some liquid refreshments. The question on everyones mind: Are we timed out, or can we go on to complete the race? No, anyone making Robin Hoods Bay could go on to finish. Excellent! Another half marathon of hell and we were done! And so we went off.
No more dramas, just a long, hard slog. Up to a caravan park with a Cleveland Way sign saying that Filey was five miles away. Five bloody miles! You must be joking – it was at least eight miles plus! Then another sign; again, saying Filey was still five miles away. We managed to laugh at this though. And then we were in Filey! Apart from the concrete steps that did their best to break my shins it was a wonderful feeling. Well, it was until Roy informed us that we still had a long trek to the end of the promenade and the last checkpoint. If you look at Filey from the distance the lights curl around to your left for miles and miles. I was thinking that if this was where we had to go I wasn’t going to be a happy bunny. But I didn’t want to check this with anyone else in case this was actually the case! And then, small mercies; John Vernon appeared at the end of the promenade, far closer than I thought he would be to clip our route cards! The man had recently completed a 330km ultra called the Tor des Geants, and I remembered to congratulate him at this checkpoint. Amazing achievement.
We were virtually done now and I could smell the finish. The four of us went on as quick as we could, then regrouped down the road from the school. We entered the grounds together, and with a last draw on our reserves tried our best to run with some sort of purpose past the gym windows and into the hall, and the end of our journey. It was more like a hobble, but in we went to great applause from the other competitors, who were milling around or already in their sleeping bags. It felt brilliant! Shirley Colquhoun was at the finish taking times down – did we want to share the same time between the four of us? Of course we did. The four of us shook hands, and went off to refuel and admin ourselves. All I could manage was to collapse in a chair and take off my shoes. Personally, this race finish is up there with some of my best memories. My time was 17:05:40, an hour over the official time limit. But like my very first thirty mile finish, the time was irrelevant. I had completed a gruelling sixty mile (which has been measured in true Hardmoors fashion from 62 up to even 66 miles!) trail race on my first attempt with a stack of great memories. I have also met some more running faces I will be sure to say hi to in the future. And a prolific three races in one year – I almost feel like a real runner!