|Roseberry Topping from the North|
Those of us who ran the inaugural Hardmoors 55 last year will remember more about the conditions than the course, because for the middle twenty-five miles or so at least they were pretty bleak, very cold, continuous rain and visibility down to a few yards. It was was with some expectations and not a little relief then that I drove over to Guisborough on Friday afternoon under a cloudless sky with a promise of more of the same for the Saturday. I knew that I would be finishing through the potentially tricky Guisborough woods in the dark so I walked up to Highcliffe Nab, the last summit on the course, and back over the final three miles just to check it out again, only to find that Race Director Jon Steele had marked all the turns with orange tape so I needn't have worried.
|And we're off - well I will be when I've put the camera away|
It was the first event of the year for me and a nice feeling of anticipation to be on the go again after the winter. At 9am the start was scheduled an hour later than last year so even getting up for the bus ride to the start wasn't traumatic. Checking in I started to see many faces I hadn't met since last autumn, Jon was able to do his briefing outside in the sunshine, and at about five past nine we were under way. A field around twice the size as last year and great weather, I'm sure this will really establish this as the great event that it is for some years to come. It's actually a 54 mile trip (well 55 or so for me but more of that later) across some great lonely countryside, with about 8800 feet of ascent just to make sure you have to work a bit. I had no specific goal for the day other than to finish in good shape in somewhere around the 12 hour mark, and to enjoy the day.
The first nine miles are across rolling farmland and occasional woods to the white horse carved into the face of Sutton Bank, no fierce hills but gradually climbing for a total rise of about 1400ft. I try a little experiment here and run faster than I normally would, nearer to 9 minute pace rather than my usual 10's. I'm sure the few minutes it gained wasn't worth it, I was having to concentrate on the speed rather than just cruising along enjoying the view and chatting to people, I won't do it again. I run a couple of miles with Jon - the Race Director participating in his own race while he'd got a lot of willing volunteers doing all the hard work - that has some style - but he's going faster than me so I leave him to it.
|Along the escarpment from Sutton Bank|
From the white horse along to the first major checkpoint at Osmotherley is probably the easiest section of the route, following the top edge of the moors escarpment for most of the way, 13 miles with only 1300ft of gentle ups and soft grassy tracks for much of the way. On the climb from the white horse checkpoint up to the edge I catch up with Sian and Alison. I remember Sian from the Hardmoors 110 last September which I helped to marshal, she came third in 28 hours or so, a brilliant run in the really trying weather conditions of that race. We will pass and repass each other for a lot of the day running together at times until she finally shows her class over the last 15 miles and goes on to finish as second lady. This section to Osmotherley is where it started to become clear last year that we were in for a bit of attrition, but this year it's a joy to be here, all easy cruising and great views across the plain to the north, although the visibility also means you can see the track a long, long way ahead into the distance!
|A long way into the distance.....|
I'm not checking my watch all that diligently but I think I get to Osmotherley a bit quicker than last year, and it's good to get a quick cup of tea. Everyone around me is walking up the steepish road hill out of the checkpoint so I do the same, but after about half a mile or so I realise that I've left one of my water bottles back in the village hall. Not wishing to incur the wrath of the Big Director should the promised kit spotcheck materialise - nor wishing to cover the next 10 hilly miles on only half a litre - I go back down for it and get to do the hill all over again, costing about 15 minutes but I'm not too bothered, today's not about times.
From Osmotherley to the high point of the North York Moors about 15 miles further on, the course starts to show some teeth, climbing nearly 4000ft in a series of 500ft-ish ups and downs, the well-known "roller-coaster" section of the Cleveland Way. Rocky staircases and hard moorland tracks make it hard on the feet but the weather compensates, there's a bit of cloud and breeze now, perfect. Marshals on Scarth Wood Moor and Carlton Bank clip our tallies and wave us on our way, no huddling in tents for them today. On the descent to the Lord's Cafe carpark I can't understand why we were so glad to have a GPS last year, it all looks so straightforward. Then
|Down towards the Lords Cafe road crossing|
it's on over the Wainstones (how many more ups, we're asking each other by now) and finally to the last ascent to the high point of the course.
From here it's gradually down hill all the way to Kildale, the second major checkpoint, but it's a featureless seven miles across the moors, past the checkpoint at Bloworth Crossing. This year it's a self-clip on the tally to prove you've got there, and if Jon carries on with this method in future events then Murdo tM, John V and I (and there must be one other) will not be joined by any more questionable individuals who have carried their tent out to marshal at this lonely spot.
I'm starting to find it hard on the feet across here and my pace is slowing, but I'm not the only one because I catch Julien who I chatted to on the bus this morning who is walking a stretch. We pass and repass each other and arrive in Kildale more or less together.
It's good to have a cup of tea and I sit down for maybe five minutes while I eat a rice pudding and have my water bottles topped up. The day's getting on now and the temperature will be dropping fast before to long so I put on a lightweight fleece over my shirt. Inevitably this brief period of inactivity causes a certain creakiness starting out again, but after the first few yards out of the checkpoint there is a long uphill which I walk with four or five other people and that warms us all up again.
The major climbs are over now but the course still manages to pack another 1900ft of ascent into the final 12 miles. Up to Captain Cook's monument, down again, then up to the scarp edge above Roseberry Topping. You only have to lose and regain about three hundred feet to get out to this isolated summit checkpoint but I'm starting to tire now and the rocky staircases seem hard enough - and then you have to do it all again to get back to where you started from! Just before the Roseberry Topping excursion two guys who I have been more or less with since Kildale pull away quite quickly. One of them looks my sort of vintage and it means he'll probably beat me for the V60 win; I think of competing but my plan is not to get worn out today so I let them go - Tony beats me home by more than twenty minutes, good effort.
Last year the bad weather had gone by Kildale and we had a wonderful view from Roseberry Topping, but with the hour or so later start and a bit of cloud now, even though I'm going a bit quicker the light is starting to fade. On regaining the main edge I stop to dig out my headtorch and drink half a bottle of fizzy full fat Coke - wonderful stuff. So it's dark across the moor to Highcliffe Nab and on the last up hill stretch, after keeping dry feet all day, I find myself knee-deep in a foul-smelling section of bog - and me in my best shoes as well. Julien who was with me when I stopped for the torch has pressed on and there are no lights as far as I can see behind so I wander on with my own company up the final little rocky staircase then down the easy three miles through the woods. I probably lose a lot of time here, would definitely go faster with someone else there, but I'm just enjoying the final moments of a lovely first day out for the year, before I have to tumble into the bright lights and face the music.
My watch stopped for a few minutes earlier in the day so I didn't get an exact time but it was around 11 hours 22minutes - half an hour faster than last year, would have been better but for my double excursion out of Osmotherley, but I'm happy enough. Most of the systems worked well, clothes, shoes, backpack. I ate about 200 calories an hour steadily through the race, gels, bars, milkshakes, rice, etc. One thing I didn't get right was hydration; I don't get thirsty but by doing a couple of sweat tests I reckoned I needed about a litre every three hours, which is what I planned and what I drank. After finishing, I went for a shower then came back into the Rugby Club bar to wait for the prizegiving, where I drank a pint of lemonade and lime followed quite quickly by a pint of beer. I needed a pee, and it only then occurred to me that it was the first since the start of the race......a bit more calculation on the hydration rate needed I think!
A super event, thanks to Jon, Flip and the team for a great day. I'll be back next year.