Tuesday 23 March 2010

Hardmoors 55

I'll start at the start...


The inspiration to do this came in a pub. Not so much a drunken dare or bet, but a nudge from a fellow off-road runner on the fringes of Autumn 2009. She said "You should give this a go", and showed me a piece of paper. On it was the Hardmoors site address. Being between challenges - I'd just done the 3 Atlantic Coast marathons - I looked into this. A March ultra didn't seem unreasonable, but I knew this was a step up from my previous 30-something mile efforts.

Training proper commenced about Christmas time. Whilst the general public moaned about the weather I got out and ran around various snow-covered areas of Yorkshire clocking up over 15 most Saturdays in Jan, sometimes low twenties, with a Sunday run and good midweek mileage. When the LDWA calender "thawed out" in February I had a drip-feed of easy-going 20+'s to feast upon. I clocked up a record personal mileage in January and wasn't far off in February too. Training peaked in Feb with a good Rombalds Stride and then a 36m out and back hill-run just two days later. I survived.... confidence built.

This was to be my first experiance of an ultra without food stocked CP. It wasn't all out unsupported as it had two cosy village halls on route where drop bags would be distributed to and tea/coffee was provided. Sorting out in advance what I would carry, what would go in drop bags, preparing food, was more prep than I've ever done before and I'm glad I took a day off to get this sorted and mark up the map before I set off up North.


I've done some good running/walking/cycling in the North York Moors. Some good climbs, steep wooded-valleys and certainly many great views, are to be found - Langdale End area is good for starters. But compared to the Dales, Lakes and parts of Calderdale and the pennines they've often seemed slightly more tame, not so high, not so muddy. But they are still quite remote in places - inhabited just by tiny villages and hamlets - and have there own little weather patterns that can vary wildly from hour to hour and from the plains to north and west.

So then, could the Hardmoors 55, struggle to live up to its aggressive title? Well, for those who've done the Osmotherley Phoenix, the hilliest bit of that event - near the start - features after 22m of this.... and they've thrown in two extra climbs for good measure... and the sections either side aren't plain sailing either.

Due to the early start needed for this event I'd stayed over with Mark and family. So the early start to convoy to Guisborough - the end, dump a car and then travel back to Hemsley - the start, meant no rushing around following a 4am rise. Things were going well enough, well ahead of time, arriving about 50 minutes pre-start. I may have crippled a pheasent that tried to puncture my wheels near the White Horse, but life in the wild is harsh, which is appropriate for some sections of the days event along the exposed northern ridge paths of the Cleveland Way.

I faffed around at the start making last minute adjustments to my back pack contents and slinging some extra stuff into my drop bags and bag of warm gear for the finish. It was warm but raining so I added my best waterproof into my second drop kit bag, suspecting my starter might need a change by then if the rain kept up. It had been raining since the previous night so optimism off it stopping was outweighed by "gut feel" that it wouldn't. At least it wasn't windy. In contrast Mark seemed to be ready with half an hour to spare - I do envy those who can be so organised so quickly and without fuss. My tendency is to over-think, over-organise, over-pack and therefore end up muddling around last minute frantically checking the "small details" and often overlooking more important ones (more on that later).


With my warm clothes and drop bags safely stashed in the van for distribution along the route I was ready for the off. Jon Steele gave us an entertaining speel and then the manager/caretaker (?) of the Cleveland set us off -
and I want THAT job -
"Whats that.... a Cleveland way sign crooked near Sutton Bank..... I'll get my trainers on and I'll be there in 2 hours" :¬).

It was almost a dash through Helmsley to the official Cleveland Way start, it seems no matter the race length some people always blast off like its a 10k. Onwards and upwards along steady ascents and descents through fields and woodland. Scenic in a "parkland" sense, nothing hard or moor-like yet. The trend was upwards as we headed west, as I'd deduced in advance plotting the route on map. From Helmsley at about 250ft  we undulated until we arrived at Sutton Bank at 9m and 980ft. Then followed a loop of the "White Horse" on the hillside which involved a descent down wet stone steps to the lower car park and first CP, some wooded trail and a step climb back up. A challenging little loop just to bring us back to the Sutton bank car park we'd just left. On the way out to the White Horse the leader had floated past in the opposite direction towards Sutton Bank, no long distance shuffler I can tell you!

Not sure why, but it was here it occured to me that I had not packed any footwear in to my dry clothes bag for Guidborough - DOH!!!! - an illustration of what I had said before about my tendency for organisational mishaps.

Thing started to get tougher out on the long northward stretch to Osmotherley. The Cleveland way sticks close to the high western escarpment edge of the North York Moors. On a clear day you'd have grand views over the lowlands towards the Yorkshire dales. Today, just mere snippets of this - like tree-lined Gormire lake visible beneath the murk as the path skirted the edge. We were surrounded by this low cloud for the whole section before Osmotherley. There was also a strengthening wind from the north-east gradually combining with precipitation to chill the left-hand side of my body. This section climbs very gradually towards Black Hambleton (1300ft) along about 10 miles of exposed moorland and often quite sloppy track. Mark and I had maintained a good pace, just slowing a little towards 20m, in truth we'd probably not taken enough food on in this early stage as we'd pushed on at sub 11-min/mile pace.

The turn off into Osmotherley was welcomed, dropping beneath the cloud and out of the wind raised our mood even before we got to the village hall and our first drop bag. I'd approached this as the first of three sections of the route. At 22m it was the longest, but also the first and had only really been made difficult by the weather. I dumped my wet t-shirt and sodden wind-proof top in the bag and changed for a long sleeved T and my lightweight "emergency" waterproof - my bulkyfull waterproof being at the Kildale drop, 20m away. It was nice to be dry again. I also gulped down the sandwiches and malt-loaf I'd planned to eat during the first section, washed down with tea and transferred drop bag food and drink top up into the backpack. We didn't hurry outside again, taking a luxurious 15mins indoors and heading back out with renewed optimism.

Section 2 - The climb out of Osmotherley mirrors the start of the Phoenix with a swift climb up to Beacon Hill (980ft) and then onto Scarth Wood moor - a return to no visibility, constant fine rain and wind. My early optimism that my thin waterproof would be upto constant "bombardment" was soon dashed. Following the drop to the start of Live Moor Plantation (456ft) there was an initial steep climb up onto an exposed Moorland ridge. This was a grim section. As it went on each flat section or minor drop would be followed by another climb. On the long north-easterly trek towards and then along Carlton Bank the wind was whipping over the ridge blowing masses of fine rain at us horizontally - like running through a carwash over and over again. It wasn't heavy rain, or strong wind, but it was constant and I was soaked by now. Is this what purgatory would feel like? Briefly I considered the possibility I may be forced to drop out, but I soon dispelled this, thinking "keep moving, keep warm". If I wasn't shivering I was ok, right? Others also fared badly here, some suffered so badly they dropped out later at Kildale. Towards the peak cairn (1340m) I pushed the pace for awhile as Mark had often been doing most of the lead running, but was possibly coping worse than me at this moment, not helped by having taken off his waterproof at Osmotherley. The steep descent towards Lords Cafe eventually came and gave us a little respite, chance to eat some food and for Mark to get his waterproof on away from the worst of the weather

An equally cold climb up to the Wainstones CP followed. We almost missed it in the gloom passing to the wrong side of the rocky outcrop, but were called back by the young lad of CP staffer. I felt for the guy stuck on this exposed, rocky outcrop. The Osmotherley to Kildale section was really packing in the climbs as the Cleveland way visited every ridge summit that it could. I did feel things could only get better, thankfully I was right. I'd mentally prepared myself for the Urra Moor crossing - the highest point on route and on the North York Moors with a trig at 1490ft - to be the worst. I was pleasently surprised, now away from the ridge there wasn't quite the same buffering by wind and rain. We reached another cold and single-manned CP at Bloworth crossing and turned north heading towards Kildale and off these damned hard moors.

It was a miserable uneven stoney track for a few miles, always a "pleasure" when you've done 20 miles, never mind nearly 40. I eagerly awaited reaching the tarmac road just for the smoothness and variety it would offer. When we did get to it I soon wished for softer ground as the descent started, the hard surface jarring my feet and knees. Things were soon better though, Kildale wasn't in cloud and the rain had ceased and the high moorlands were done with! 42.5m done.

There was a retiree at Kildale, she'd looked strong heading out of Osmotherley as we'd arrived, but now looked pale and cold sat down here, before she headed off to lay down. I believe there were several retiree's here. Though my lightweight waterproof had been inneffective on the moors it had dried quick, as had my T underneath - maybe it wasn't so bad up there? I had a warm tea, sorted my food for this stretch and had the luxury of a shoe and sock change. Mark and I left Kildale after about 20mins - a very long stop even by our standards on LDWA challenges. Increadibly the sun was out as we climbed from Kildale upto a hilltop woodland, now low in the sky it lit up the white buildings of Kildale a golden yellow. This meant for the first time today we were able to run in a single layer without discomfort. Climbing stiffly up to the Captain Cook monument I was tired but knew it was now a matter of "when" not "if" I would finish.

The sun had set as we made the last significent climb up to Roseberry topping, short but steep to another remote CP. Heading down the rough steps we knew it was time to don headtorches. Unfortunately my dithering changing batteries cost us a few more minutes and I got cold again. But now we were all systems go for Guisborough. Progress was a bit slow through wet and spongy moorlands, but the torch did its job and we had no navigational issues. Into Guisborough woods and it was warm and the surfaces were easier to run. The town was a sea of lights, still far below and I thought this would be quite a nice place to run around on fresher legs. Glowsticks and one further checkpoint marked the route out of the woods. Now it was just a mile along an old railway track and a turn to the finish at Guisborough Cricket club. We arrived in 12hrs 36mins, which is 14 minute mile pace, most of our early pace was lost between Osmotherley and Guisborough, which was the hardest section of the event by a distance.


It would be pretty sadistic not to have a feast after such a long run and the Indian restaraunt in Guisborough obliged. Starter, curry, rice and nan washed down with a large beer. I didn't eat every bite, my hunger not matching my endurance today. No bad thing as I intended to eat and eat and eat for the next few days (and I have).

Learning the hard way?

It really wasn't that bad, the slow pace after Osmotheley meant my energy levels never went flat, I just got gradually stiffer throughout as expected. I started to feel a bit naucious at about 35m so I need further practice eating on the run. I also need a proper waterproof for future events, one that will keep me dry all day and night if required. I also need to remember to make sure I have dry footwear at the end, on this occasion I was able to partially clean and dry the shoes I'd worn for the last 12m sufficiently to wear them to the restaraunt - not ideal!

Thursday 18 March 2010

Time is Short, Eternity is Long

At the time of writing in 2 days I'll be 6 hours in to my first 50+ mile run - hopefully around halfway! I shouldn't be, but I'm more than a little nervous. Those who see this who are more ultra experienced than me will hopefully be empathetic, or tell me to "quit my whining" and "grow a pair" those who don't run beyond marathon will think were all mad - until they try this - anyway. I guess the scariest thing is the jump from a longest run of 37m to 55 miles. In marathon training you only fear an extra few miles on top of your longest run, but I wouldn't be sane if I ran a 45-50 in training for 55. So it is a fear of the unfamiliar. Although I am confident in my training mileage and variety and how I have physically coped with it.
A quick catch up...


My last long run was on Saturday. I arranged to join Mike Blamires for a section of the Wolds Way. I was spoilt for choice as to which section as Mike planned to do all of it - after all he is training for the Grand union Canal race. I chose the, hopefully picturesque, section from Wharram Percy to Nunbornholme - a section I haven't done before as its a good 30mins drive or more to either end point of this section.

I'd been at the car park a short while when Mikes support team - his dad Dave - turned up and informed me he was a little behind schedule. Not a pace issue, but he'd had navigational problems near the start, when it was pitch black not long after 3am. We passed the ruins of Wharram Percys ancient Church and climbed up the dale towards Thixendale - topping out at over 700ft. We ran a long for a few miles talking about mostly running. Mike was going well past 40 miles in but was suffering a niggle.

Unfortunately the niggle in his foot became a sharp pain on an ascent just before our Huggate checkpoint. After much discussion he tried to push on, but only gt another 200 yards before he decided it was not worth going on, this being training and not the target itself. It was a shame for Mike as 80 miles would be a great confidence booster for 145 miles - I can barely contemplate that distance on foot in one go. Dave and I did our best to reassure and Mike did seem ok about it.

It was a great running route with large dry dales and valleys, almost symmetrically scuplted out of the earth. After retrieving my car I coldn't resist heading back to where we'd left off for a few more miles. getting to about Millington where after having done one steep decsnt and climb I decided a few miles later at the top of the next to turn back. As usual the pictures don't quite seem to capture it - I suspect a camera which could do them justice may be too bulkly to cart around long distances. I'd ran through or into or over numerous beautiful and undisturbed dales today, many without the seemingly obligatory road through along the bottom that I'm used to in hiller areas. This all added to the sense of isolation and fulfilment.

In case you were wondering the title of this post is lovingly plagiarised from the clockface of a church on the Wolds Way.

Fight club

After noticing a sheep struggling with a lame leg a few weeks back I have been paying more attention to sheep [INSERT YOUR OWN JOKE HERE] - god knows I see enough of them! On the Wolds Way I saw several with a lame front or back leg, one poor blighter was running away from me at the top of the dale as fast as he/she could in tripedal fashion. Unfortunately I wasn't able to communicate my live and let live policy and persuade it to just stop and let me pass. Looking at them with their four spindly, narrow legs and large, fatty and wool covered bodies they look badly designed for hills yet always seem to hang around on them. With two strong legs us humans have no excuse.

So is it the rugged landscape that causes the biped and occasionally, grizzly, ex-sheep you pass on a long country jaunt. You could be forgiven for thinking so - but alas no. On my travels I have heard Sheep from neighouring dales have often strayed to there neighbours to communicate the time and place for sheep Fight Club. Its a grizzly, to death or dismemberment battle that would eliminate our imaginings of these four-legged death machines as being cute and cuddly forever - should we ever see it. However we never will, so I can only speculate and imagine on.......

Sizing up my opponent

Mothering Sunday took family and I to Over Silton (pronounced "Ov-aa"). This is a tiny village just to the south of Osmotherley with about the most remote and inspiring little church ever. I know this area through my Grandma being buried here, its not your average graveyard as picture aludes - with my Dad and other Gran posing near my trusty chariot. I've loved this area since my first visit for her funeral a decade ago. Which shows I've always been a lover of the outdoors, despite not knowing it back then. Whichever approach you take to the church you have to slop through mud and follow invisible paths up the grassy hill, The church itself could be mistaken as abandoned - no power and no running water as far as I'm aware. Also due to the tiny local population some of the graves are centuries old and some of the locals lived to good ages in what I'm sure were harder times.

This trip also gave me a chance to size up my opponent. Less than a mile east the Cleveland way passes on its way over Black Hambleton (399m), up above, and from a distance on the approach you can see the ridge towering up above the flatter land between Yorks dales and North York Moors. In fact if your doing the Phoenix this year - and you should - the large Plantation to you left just before the turn off down to Osmotherley at the end is planted on Nether Silton Moor.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

"Headlong" into Spring

There are lots of good arguments for Spring having sprung, or not, but for me it started this weekend. Sure, last week looked nice, but that was only from behind my desk and 10ft of collidor and windows half obcured by tatty, broken, blinds that won't fully wind up. After a nice early start on Saturday it was nice to see temps of about 5c on the dashboard LCD dislay. This, and the lack of wind, made me decide to do the Trollers Trot in just a single, sleeved t-shirt layer....

The start of spring = the end off multilayer faff* in my outlook.

* "faff" is a technical term that has many meanings and uses, but in this case refers to the need to keep unzipping/zipping wind jacket or worse still removing it, stashing, removing and reapplying. Also apply the same to gloves and hat.

My decision was justified, I only really started to get cold descending passed the Barden resovoirs and then soon warmed up when into the river valley after the next CP. It was a lovely day for off-road running with little wind, no rain and aforementioned warmish temperatures. This more than justified a 4:45am rise for breakfast and a near 2 hour and 92 mile drive. The drive passed quickly enough. Queen Greatest Hits 2 had long since begun its second revolution of the journey and the fast tempo of Headlong** kicked in for the second time as I hit the winding, country, B road to Grassington. It seemed quite appropriate and a metaphor for my 2010 training so far, what with my goal being my first double-marathon length run.

** And you're rushing headlong, you've got a new goal
And you're rushing headlong, out of control
And you think you're so strong but there ain't no stopping
And there's nothin' you can do about it, nothin' you can do
No there's nothin' you can do about it
No there's nothin' you can, nothin' you can nothin' you can do about it

Seems like the sort of song that could be well used in a soundtrack to a video of some "all action" fell race and it returned to me at various moments throught Saturday's event. For most the route though, me and Mark discussed plans for events going forward what with Hardmoors imminent and future plans for even tougher stuff. At a point late on the course we passed a guy who - jokingly? - commented about our how we were maintaining constant conversation as we passed whilst he was struggling just to keep running.

Its been quite an exciting few weeks what with race instructions coming through the letter box, in some cases small booklets with maps and lengthy route descriptions. An early reminder of one of these today was seeing the snow-capped peak of Ingleborough on the horizon, which led to discussion of an upcoming recce of the potentially difficult Fleet Moss section across the boggy stuff. On a lighter note we also agreed about 4m in that it would be a good idea to hit a curry house in Guisborough following the Hardmoors to replenish a few thousand calories. We even speculated on a time, it will be interesting to see if we can follow thisn plan on the day when all the gory detail is placed within the high-level plan in my head.

Back to Trollers though. Really good conditions for what could be the final running of this event. Its a great round, challenging but not harsh, hilly, but mostly runnable. You start with a climb west out of Threshfield, up fields and onto a bit of muddy moor - this is where you can see Ingleborough. At Winterburn reservoir you turn south along a good track before a few minor roads and the first food CP at Rylstone. Soon after this is the biggest climb of the day onto possibly the driest and mostly runnable moorland path ever. This leads to a massive, steady descent past two reservoirs towards the next food CP. Then a bit of river valley as you head back north, eventually leading to a lovely green and steepsided valley where you find Trollers Ghyll, which inspires the name of the event and another climb to the last food CP. After this its a westward run on road, track and path, towards and into Wharfedale. From here its another stretch of flat river valley to the end. Mark and I agreed this year that the miles just flew by and I also remembered that this is one of the only events I've done where I feel I've "beat the banker" when it comes to hills - with short sharp climbs, but mostly steady and long descents.

I ran a 4:19 for 25m, which I am pretty pleased with because:
  • previous runs here have been over 5 hours;
  • I had a larger and half-loaded backpack on - as a fellsman prep exercise. Though only half loaded I reckon I had 3/4 what I'll carry on that day;
  • we started steady and patiently queued for a few stiles early-doors;
  • legs felt a bit toasted beforehand after months of bigger miles than my usual;
  • we took our usual luxurious food breaks at CP's;
  • I never really "hurt" or felt I operated at full capacity;
All good signs,nothing negative from the day at all :¬)

Great to see the usual suspects Claire and Mark, as well as Nick (Ham) and briefly Nick (Mellor), Daz (the slug - forum name, not an insult) and Chris Brown.

Sunday did nothing to sway my feeling for Spring, warm and cloudless again. I had a little run out in t-shirt and shorts. A plethora of cyclists, other runners and, pleasingly just the, one ipod wearing, stern-faced, nike-uniformed runner out there too (who I just had to overtake).

Wednesday 3 March 2010

The Trollers Trot...

...is this coming Sunday. Barring the Rombalds Stride this is my most revisited LDWA challenge, and one of my favourites. Lovely mix of hills, moor, countryside, good views and best of all its not really a trudge as the ground underfoot is by and large solid.

In the meantime I've been mixing it up. I went out running in the dark Monday night. Not feeling bothered to trudge around town I got my headtorch on and ran into the Country Park about a half mile away. Its only a small triangle of land wedged between the Humber, higher ground in Hessle and the Humber bridge. Originally part of this was a quarry, which means it has multi-level cinder paths and steps for an intense workout. At some stage post quarry an entire woodland has grown up within this park making it a nice place to run on a hot or rainy day. While I have this on my doorstep I can never truly complain, some people are miles from parkland or countryside, seperated by miles of concrete. I can drag out a single loop of this park into about 2m.

It also makes a slightly intense place to run at night, not much light gets in so I was like the "Blair Witch" project in fast forward. Looking around in the slightly green vision the light beam creates is quite spooky especially when you catch a reflection off water out the corner of your eye or when you see yellow eyes staring out at you from a few yards into the tree's. Though overall I reckon it was probably me putting the frighteners on the local fauna :¬)

Tuesday was a return to shorter distance and fast running. Ran up the hill to the humber bridge car park and the start point of the club's handicap league fixtures. Off a fair handicap I started strong, getting past the starters 15 and 30 seconds ahead within half the 2.9m distance. Its good when your running well enough to do this - demotivating when it happens to you. Anyway I pushed on through the overall downhill first two miles, breathing going from hard to animalistic by the final straight. The poor girl I overtook here, quite new to the club, probably thought some derranged lunatic was running up behind her. I hit the final straight and glanced at my watch - all I had to do was keep going to beat my course PB set last year. The fastest guy on the night passed me here, quite effortlessly, quite without grunts and growns, I figured I'd try my best to chase him home.

I lunged across the line and kept on running through the volunteer marshalls, watchers, and other finishers as I felt almost sick so seeked space. I regained myself and checked the watch.... and.... the result was good, 18:02, a PB by 18 seconds and my best time in this winter league season by 32secs. Competitive as I can be I was just slightly disappointed I hadn't, somehow, pushed harder mid-race to crack 18. Overall though, very happy, I sometime wonder if all the long slow running may be hampering any future attempts at shorter distance, but it seems the opposite is true. It seems only one hard-paced session a week works for me and I certainly get more out of that session because of this. Almost like the few fast twitch fibres I have, relish there day and appreciate being carried by the slow-twitchers for the rest of the week.

So only halfway through the week and its been a good one so far, maybe I'm appreciating the reduction in mileage with the Hardmoors less than 3 weeks away now. Also, I've just taken delivery of my new OMM Adventurelight 20 pack. Pleasingly, a lighter weight pack than my current smaller capacity one and lots of features to explore. Ninety-nine red baloons go by....