Feb 28th 2015 a local 26 mile challenge run. My A#&e is served to me on a plate as the mud of the Duke of Rutland’s Southern Pad gives me a timely kicking as if to say “hay fat lad don’t get cocky. There is still work to be done”. February was a big month I had done the Grisedale Trail 26 and Night Runner in a weekend, run a 1:49 half marathon and after bullishly suggesting I would give it the beans on the Belvoir Challenge it all caught up with me and I found that the I wasn’t quite as good as I thought. Plus it highlighted a gap. I had done a lot of runs up to 10 miles specifically 6 to 10 miles and I had done a few 26 mile events but precious little in between.
I should explain that I was/am a long distance walker and I could happily churn out the miles walking and that is where my base fitness came from but a runner? No, not really so Training up had been a slow process from jogging the down hills on the L50 I had progressed. But my training plan for the Hardmoors 55 was still “Just” a Marathon one as I knew there was no point putting together a plan for 50 odd miles there wasn’t enough time. I had been blagging trail marathons “Ultra Style” and that was still the plan for the 55.
The concept of the A race.
I now have an appreciation of the concept of the A race that I didn’t before. I had a lovely plan but there were some key flaws. Namely The Grisedale Trail 26 and the Belvoir Challenge and a twisted ankle which occurred just as I was starting to put in a long run above 12 miles. This meant that rather than filling February with those crucial longer runs I spent it Hobbling Round either from Injury or recovering form blagging another long race ……. One race at a time! So where does this little cock up leave me? Well not in a bad place as it happens, this is an Ultra and I have a long time to do it and being fitter than I was last time I did a 50 I will complete god willing. Will it be as fast as it could have been? No. Will I enjoy it and have a great day out? Well I better do otherwise why am I here?
Being the weekend after my Birthday I treated myself to a nice B&B within staggering distance of the finish and head up to Helmsley the day before the race. Having a pleasant afternoon in the sun, pottering round testing out the various tea shops it’s all part of the carb loading strategy honest. Before booking in to the B&B and spending several hours sorting out my kit….. Again. Once all is good and the morning to do list sorted it’s time for tea. Fish and Chips seems like the order of the day and the Chippy off the market offers Standard or Whale sized. Well it would have been rude not to. Once devoured I roll back to the B&B for some more kit faffing and an early night.
Why do these races always have such early starts? At 5 am the alarm goes off. I get kitted up and sorted out. Collect the Jam Sandwiches that the B&B Had kindly left out and head off to catch the bus. There are quite a few people out and milling around mostly with some telltale sign that they are in the race, pair of speedcross here, a race vest there. I make my way up to the Football club and visit the coffee stop for a brew and 2 Cheese and bacon muffins (these are awesome) which will be breakfast on the bus. A very smart looking bus arrives and we all pile on board. I am sat with a Lady who has entered this as a qualifying race for the Thames path race, making the journey up for Essex as this was the only race left for her to qualify. I think she made it. There are quite a few regulars on the bus and various bits of the route are pointed out after we cross clay bank. The coaches finally arrive at Guisborough sea cadets and we all pile in for registration, the place is rammed. Kit check and registration passes without a hitch and I just manage to find a space bent under the stairs to fix my number to my bag and re pack my kit after having the cunning plan of not squeezing my kit in to my race vest only to have to unpack it all for kit check to repack it all again. Kit check is a though affair, not surprising given its March and cold and windy. Kit sorted I join the queue for the loo and it a big one it takes nearly 40minutes to get in! Finally in I am also able to change shorts that I had rather optimistically put on for tights having a Superman moment in the shower. Now Dressed for action I go out to hand over my finish bag and can’t get back in to hear the race briefing there is just not space for all 250+ of us to squeeze in. People start to pile out so it must be over. Last minute faffing is the bag done up, is Strava ready on the phone. And I just about hear a 3 2 1 ½ ¼ Go! The crowd lurches forward and stops as were funneled up on to the disused railway line. As we thin out I start a steady jog someone behind me says it’s 10 min mile pace I really must get a GPS watch. Mr Vernon is pointing us up hill and in to the first up of the day the steady climb leads us up to Highcliff Nab. Settling in to small groups another runner asks about my gaiters which I suggest are good but look a bit daft of course the bright green shoes, tights and running vest don’t do that at all. I follow the Crowd as people swap places and we all manage to avoid the old chap who is waving a running pole in the air like a lance. Having avoided being skewered but not avoiding Mr. Sport Sunday who is hunkered down at the side of the track I give it a bit of acceleration and cheese for the camera. It’s not long before Rosebury topping comes in the view looking like a Real Mountain in Miniature and as this is an out an back we passing the quicker runners coming the other way. I joint the crocodile of people on the way up give my number to the Marshall stationed on the summit and continue on to tap the trig point well I have come this far. There are a couple of options for down I choose left and skip down the steep fell side back to the wider path. And complete the back, passing Mrs. Sport Sunday snapping away it’s then a steady jog downhill to Checkpoint 1 to top up water Paul Nichols appears asking if he’s first. I congratulate him on is 2nd place as I’m here I must be first? I lose a H5 Tablet and faff with my bottles and its away up and over Captain Cooks Monument and then the long and steady decent down to Kill dale and my Drop Bag. I feel a little uneasy running through Kildale as the check point is nowhere to be seen but no one around me looks worried and plodding out of the village it comes in to view but no Drop Bags! Da Da Dah!
I fill up with Coke and Water and more H5 and leave with my hopes of a podium finish in tatters* I will have to wait for Clay Bank some 10 miles hence for my Rice Pudding and extra bits and bobs.
*that’s not strictly true.
I leave the Check Point and head up the climb towards the open moors I team up with Paul Nichols and we chip away at the distance to Bloworth crossing, were moving well and catch up with another group all is going well until the topic of discussion turns to Food. 2, yes 2 of the group will eat pickled eggs and 1 of them has some with them! That is I am off! This is just wrong on all levels. I arrive at Bloworth to find all sorts of acrobatics to facilitate the somewhat high self-clip. And here I break form my egg bound companions and trot off across the moor and the decent to clay bank where rice pud and fruit Yoyo’s wait. As we descend Paul over takes me whooping to his MP3 player. There is a bit of faff here as there is a lack of water. I had dealt with the drop bag first and then the bottles finally some water is found by a marshal (Dennis?). Many thanks to him. I am off again on the climb up Wainstones and over Cringle Moor we are clocked in Just on the way Up Hastly Bank before dropping for the Pull up Wainstones here I go in to 4 wheel drive with the poles coming out to play. My He-man pole set up works well and exclaiming by the power of Gray Skull! I am on my way to see Hardmoors very own Skeletor John Vernon dutifully ticking us off out of his tent I only seem to see John at inhospitable places he says it’s because Jon likes him, The climb and tricky decent over cringle moor follow and the views from here are pretty spectacular you can see right back along the route to Roseberry topping and out to sea. And it looks a flipping log way. Dropping down to lord stones Car park the cheerful marshals fill water bottles and we discuss the pros and cons of Coke mixed with water that’s the brown soft drink for the record.
I leave knowing that the next checkpoint is the Self-clip at the TV station above Osmotherly and I can see a giant antenna in the distance to my left which is the TV Station above Osmotherly surely? Only we go right…. Continuing on I join back up with Paul the field is spreading out so actually navigating is becoming more necessary. We drop down towards Huthwaite and I have my first need to pull out the map cut short as a shout from behind says go right there is some more checking as we enter the woods. I catch up with Ady Benn easy to spot from his bare feet, it’s one thing to run 55 miles its quite another to do it in sandals Ady also ran a 10 mile race on the Sunday WFT! I have another Map moment cut short this time by Ady and turn on to the long drag to the TV Station where I have a bit of a low, and I am over taken by a few people as I walk and decide that munching cocktail sausages is the way forward after a couple the hands full of these I hit the TV station sat tucked In to the hill side with little squat towers the Mahoosive tower from earlier is still way over to the left there is a good steady drop down to Osmotherly where I over take the Footwear Odd Couple She wears Hokas He wears Vibram 5 fingers and you don’t get much further apart than that. Then passing a group of walkers, and finally down the main street in to Osmotherly. The Village Hall is located and Drop Bag 2.
There has been much discussion on Face book about drop bag contents a time to talk of many things of Pot noodles, Socks and Sandwiches. I sorted out my kit changed my base layer and decided that what was going on in boots could stay in boots and stashed my spare socks along with more fruit Yoyo’s cocktails sausages and pork pies. Apply some more body glide and lose my buff. Bugger. Sink a couple of cups of tea I feel I faffed to much here the odd footwear couple catch me up and I finally head off but off to where? I Faff again with the route description but this is cut short by the exit of some other runner who I shamelessly tag on to as we make our way out of Osmotherly though basically someone’s house. An entry leads to some ones back garden and away on to the long steady climb to square corner and over Black Hambleton. The group talked rubbish and got updates on the 6 nations as we climbed toward Oak Dale reservoirs and fragmented on the flatter section my running efforts were starting to get a little harder to maintain so I mostly marched from here on and stopped at square corner to layer up temporarily losing my hat and wondering how to explain that away if I got kit checked before finding in at my feet. Hat on I was a way marching the track over Black Hambleton it was here I join up with the Runners I originally named the footwear Odd Couple who turned out to Be John (Vibram Five Fingers) and Marie (Hokas) and we made our was to High Paradise farm accompanied but a stunning sunset and now being passed by some other groups including my “friend” from earlier using his pole as a lance jousting his way to the finish. I was feeling comfortable at this point and those competitive pangs started to twitch at this point as people started to pass us. Should I push on? Or should I stay with the group? As it happened we stayed together. Along this stretch it was officially declared dark and head torches we broken out shortly before the checkpoint. Tim “the Chia Man” Taylor and team are filling bottles and handing out flapjacks and other assorted goodies I was a bit flapjacked out at this point so declined the mini chia bars on offer.
Our team headed off on the next section and was being towed along at this point by John who put in a superb shift keeping the pace up and navigating the route backwards form memory from his 110 attempt last year meaning there we’re only a few stops to dig out the map and one for pork pie from a marshal at low paradise farm. We were making a solid walking progress. This continued all the way to Sutton Bank after the road crossing we then started to mix up the walking with a little shuffling to mix up for the hurting muscles I was still feeling OK and began to realize that both John and Marie were far more accomplished runners than me but suffering a bit more hence why we were fairly evenly paced. Along the edge towards White Horse we shuffled at a decent pace to the turn down to Checkpoint and what can I say it was Mr. Steele at his sadistic best. Steep narrow and slippery. Though the enchanted forest with its green snap lights I was quite glad I wasn’t on my own at this point this place could be quite spooky. John was starting to flag from his efforts and I was pulling away a little bit but we all regrouped at the checkpoint refilled bottles and snacks and we were away up the stairs. I now understand why we were sent on the little detour and it maybe because Mr. Steele was, whisper it being nice the steps as incredibly steep descending them would not be fun at all. I tripped over a step about half way up and shout a warning. Marie acknowledges me then falls over the same step and the process is repeated by John. Is the step out to get us or are we getting a bit tiered? Probably both. Back on the flat we have another shuffle to give some different muscles a workout again for a bit and I nearly miss the turning thinking we we’re going back to Sutton Bank. We cross the main road and join a large group we and head past the shut Hambleton Inn and proceed to get lost round Hambleton House but seeing some lights on the correct route and find our way back on to the straight and narrow I mentally slap myself on the wrist and start to take a bit more notice of my navigation. Cold Kirby comes and goes with some more shuffling and we attempt to start a sweep stake on the colour of the T-Shirts at the finish John went Blue then Yellow I went Green I don’t remember what Marie said. We steadily make out way down towards Rievaulx Abby there is another spooky section through the woods and on to the road we are passed by several cars and another big group and then pass a support group which turns out to be for Mr Frostbite 30 Rob Jarman. Looking at this on the map it doesn’t look very far but it felt like a long way I had still been feeling quite strong after White horse but leaving the road at Abbot Hagg the next section took its toll on my legs as they stiffened up. There was a particularly painful dip in and out of a gully before the steady pull to the top of the last rise and we finally saw the lights of Helmsley signaling a final shuffle down in to civilization and a “sprint” well slightly faster shuffle finish to finish at the town hall all together in 14:04. Epic.
The final twist in the tale is that you then have to go upstairs for your finisher’s medal, food and kit bag. Ouch that hurt! I collect said medal and Yellow T-Shirt (well guessed John) enjoy the 15 seconds of fame and acknowledge the applause and enter my usual post-race daze and wander round aimlessly for a few minutes before having Photos with Marie and John. I spot Paul who I ran with earlier and congratulate each other and then finally tuck in to some bean chili and crumpets washed down with some tea. Suitable revived I find my kit pull on my warm clothes and decide to head off to the B&B but first I have to negotiate the stairs! Oh god this hurts I am completely seized and I contemplate descending on my backside but no I make it only to discover the true crux of the day. My shoes…… It’s a strict shoes off policy so now to get them back on god this hurt but finally there on and hobble off and shiver uncontrollably all the way to the B&B Creeping back in for a hot shower and bed. The day is done.
What a great day out I chose Cake not death after Osmotherly and was maybe a bit slower than I could have been but it was great fun which is far more in important. The winner completed the course in some silly time like 7:39:08 which is just incomprehensible top, top effort to them. The weekend was rounded off with a superb breakfast at the B&B which it turned out for hosting 3 other 55 runners and a wander round Helmsley castle to get the legs working again. The little radio guide tells me that this was the central residence and an estate of the Duke of Rutland in times past It would appear that his grace had gone far easier on me this time round.
My name is Richard Martin and I almost an ultra runner.