Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Hardmoors 55 2011 - Same, but Different...

I'll get straight to the point. Last year I DNF'd the HM55 at the Wainstones because I got lost and was too slow. This year I DNF'd at Kildale (around 40 minutes after the checkpoint cut-off)because I was just too slow. I still thoroughly enjoyed the race though, especially as this was the furtherest distance I had ever run before. No official result, but growing satisfaction in the simple enjoyment of running a distance that the majority of people consider beyond their means.

I won't bore you with a long and detailed race description, but I will say that the race and series is still friendly, supportive, well organised and bloody hard work with tight cut-offs for us mere mortals! The day I complete the journey from Helmsley to Guisborough in under 15 hours will be a happy one indeed!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Another crack at the HM55

So here we go again...3 weeks till my second attempt at the Hardmoors 55. Training has been going fine - milage actually less than last year, but more relaxed about training, and strangely my times are faster and I have more confidence in maintaining my overall pace. I put this all down to completing my first ultra on New Years Day (HM30) and being pushed on a 20 miler recce with my new training partner, Pat. I knocked a full hour off what I usually do a twenty miler in!

All this and running with a GPS has pushed me into a zone where I actually believe that it is possible for me to not only finish a 55 mile trail race, but maybe, possibly finish it on time! Just maybe, hey? Watch this space...

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

My First Ultra – The Hardmoors 30

So, after the worst possible preparation I can think of for a race of any distance, let alone my first ultra I rocked up at Ravenscar Village Hall with local ultra runner Pat and a horrible sense of deja vu. I could foresee a lot of pain occuring for the rest of the day.

I soaked up the atmosphere before the start, recognising a bunch of other faces and said hi to another runner I’d met at the HM55 – I almost felt like I was starting to belong to this ultra scene. Obviously aside from the fact that I’d not actually finished one yet! Some words of wisdom about the route from Jon and we were off!

This time I was better dressed following the maxim of ‘start warm, finish toasting’, rather than ‘start cool, finish warm’ that I’d used before. I’d been here on Tuesday and the weather was Baltic. I didn’t want to bugger around putting on another layer with numb fingers. I also decided not to be quite so conservative in my pace and push slightly to at least tail some back runners for as far as possible. I also didn’t go overboard with food and drink like I did on the HM55 – I seem able to go longer than I gave myself credit for on a bit less food/drink intake. So that was the basic strategy.

Got to Hayburn Wyke with the last runners and was fine. Cue Jons car and a muddy field at Checkpoint 1 - of all the things I didn’t need it was to be losing time (& calories!) pushing a car out the mire of a North Yorkshire meadow! Still, it was good for a laugh. Well, it was until half of said field was spun onto the five of us that were pushing this car! I seem to have got the brunt of it though (wouldn’t have it any other way!) and I looked a right state! Think Mr Bean does ultras. We finally got the car out and went on our muddy little ways, and reached Ravenscar Checkpoint 2.

Onwards to Robin Hoods Bay then, with 2 other runners, Flip and Dave, who I tried to stay with for their pacing. The views all round are stunning, and makes you glad to be able to run like this. Unfortunately Flip rolled his ankle and had to walk, so me and Dave went on to the checkpoint ahead of him. I found keeping up with Dave a bit hard at times, but didn’t want to go solo just yet, so tried my best to keep up.

At Robins Hoods Bay my wife, son and father-in-law put in a cameo appearance, which was nice, although this caused me to lose Dave. The three lady marshalls were outstanding, putting on a good spread with coke, water and flapjacks available, and just the sort of attitude you need as last man in. Faultless!

And now the time I was dreading...the solo run from Robins Hood Bay to Whitby and back to Ravenscar. There was no way I was going to catch up with anybody (Ha!), so I was fully expecting this bit. What I was worried about was my shite navigational skills. I had bought a Garmin 401 Foretrex since my last debacle, but I find it wanting in certain situations. Still, apart from going on a main road for a bit before rejoining the railway line behind a pub (don’t know how?) I got to Whitby Checkpoint fine. Another fine job by the marshall here!

I now decided to put on all my warm kit and headtorch, and have some scoff and a drink on the assumption that I wouldn’t be able to feel my fingers in an hours time. Good call. I looked like a right numpty covered from head to toe in mud throwing Mars Bars and lucozade down my neck but I was feeling happy. My legs were in clip now, but I knew I could finish.

Sorry Jon, but there was no way I could run up those bloody stairs to the Abbey, as stated in the rules! I was about an hour ahead of my guessed lighting conditions, so forwards to Robin Hoods Bay again. Just as well, because my legs soon just gave up totally on me. Walking and trotting was now all I could really do and my average speed plummeted. By the time I got to Robin Hoods Bay it was impossible to finish under the 7 hour cut-off and the lovely marshalls had just begun to walk up the route to look for me! Thanks ladies ! There was no way I wasn’t going to finish now though, regardless of the drizzle and wind or my tired legs. Serves me right for not doing any training! So, after some much-needed directions to my next track off I went.

Enter my crappy navigation...I got to the beach bit fine, but ran straight past the cut up to the Cleveland Way, which is what it sounds like a few other runners also did. Unfortunately for me I was about two hours slower than anyone else, so I ended up running up the beach (the very rocky and painful beach) in the dark. My thinking was it may be like Runswick Bay and I could cut up to the Cleveland Way, even if I have to climb. This idea soon turned out to be a bad one, as I soon reached a point (Boggle Hole, maybe?) where a rocky outcrop prevent any further running, and you either had to scale around or run back. I nearly did some amateur rock climbing, but if I’d have fallen off I’d have gone straight into the sea, and I couldn’t tell how deep it was, or how quick the rest of tide was coming in blah blah...So I ran back on myself looking for somewhere to scale up to the Cleveland Way. I made one attempt at climbing but the muddy tar was outrageous, so I thought: bugger this, I’m already late, just rectify your mistake back where you last knew you were last correct. This all took about 20 minutes.

The cut is easy enough to find when you look for it properly, so off I went on my final leg (and legs!) towards the bright lights of rock ‘n roll Ravenscar. For the shortest leg it felt like the bloody longest though! Down to sea level, back up some stairs...mind you don’t slip...oh, good, more stairs...I started hoping I wouldn’t get back to find the village hall locked up at this rate! And then, this hill comes out of nowhere – the final assault on my weak and tired legs! Finally, I recognise the route from earlier! My pace picks up (only a fraction, but it felt great!) and at long last I enter the village hall at Ravenscar to finish my first ultra marathon. I’m wet, muddy and exhausted. The time is 19:21pm (minus 20 minutes for pushing Jons car!), so I finish my first proper 30 miler in 8hrs01. I am also a full hour over the cut-off of 7hrs, but none of this matters to me for this race. I have completed something I set my heart on a long time ago and had a great time doing it.

As for the organisation of this race, as last man in I never once felt like people were hanging around wishing I’d hurry up and arrive at any of the checkpoints (although that must’ve been the case!), everyone was supportive of me and I still had a hot stew and drinks waiting for me courtesy of Jon, the race director when I eventually made an appearance at the end! I’ve chatted to a few more great ultra runners and can’t wait to rerun the Hardmoors 55!

If you’ve ever thought of entering any of these races – do it! The scenery is beautiful, the competitors are a good bunch and the organisers and marshalls are all brilliant. The course is tough and the conditions can just be plain brutal – but that’s why we love it!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Hardmoors 30 - the preamble...

In March 2010 I attempted my first ultra, the Hardmoors 55. This all ended in tears due to lack of endurance and crap map reading skills. I was then going to do the Osmotherley Phoenix 33 but didn't bother, as I was totally demotivated by my first DNF. I carried on occasional running, but not with any goal or purpose in mind, just as recreation.

Come September I had volunteered to man the Highcliff checkpoint on the Hardmoors 110, which meant I had to tab up there after work; and having left the army many moons before I promptly knackered my left knee. All perfect preparation for a 50km race in a few months time!

Anyway, as soon as I found out about the expansion to the Hardmoors series, which included a new 30 mile race on New Years Day I managed to refocus and registered to try and finish my first ultra.

I now only had about 12 weeks to train, but was hoping that my training from the HM55 would still benefit me a bit. What I didn't count on was some pretty disruptive snow in November. Cue my second little injury - a bad right ankle (I blame Roseberry Topping in the snow). The HM30 was starting to look as good an idea as the HM55 did back in March! All in all, I must've only done around 160km of focused training from October onwards! Hardly the stuff of champions, but it just seemed that every run was turning into a painful chore where I was developing a new compensating injury. Very demotivating. By Christmas I had just about gone off the idea of bothering with the race at all. Sod the entrance fee! But I still kept reading the site updates and knew that the HM30 was the perfect chance to complete my first ultra marathon. I knew that I could run 47km in 8hr30, it was just whether I was still capable of it. Especially with the bloody snow!

So off I went to Ravenscar to do a recce of the first 9 miles of the course. What I found didn't fill me with much joy either - ankle thick snow/slush/ice made the going slow, which would push me into around 9hr territory. Bugger! No where near the 7hr cut-off! Much easier not to embarrass myself among proper runners and just get hammered after work with the rest of the staff on New Years Eve! However, did I really want another FULL YEAR of more regrets?

So that, and an inspirational chat with Sharon Gaytor at her book signing in Guisborough was how I conned myself into turning up for the Hardmoors 30 miler on the first day of 2011.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The Hardmoors effect on a first timer...

After my dismal DNF in the Hardmoors 55 I've started to refocus on my next ultra attempt - the Osmotherley Phoenix 33 miler. Two things are becoming quite apparent.

1) I need to become mentally and physically stronger if I wish to finish any challenging ultras. Remotivating myself after my first DNF has been quite hard, as I've been sulking for the last few weeks.

2) With a bit of extra mental belief I seem to be able to maintain a slightly faster pace overall on all my training routes. All my times have improved significantly, and I recently knocked 20 minutes off my half marathon time in dismal weather conditions. I think this is down to me knowing a bit more of what is required to make the cut-offs in a race like the Hardmoors, and how much more effort it will take on my next ultra. I also think that my body is slowly adapting to running longer distances, and that the 12 hour run I did on the Hardmoors is now translating into real running improvements.

Hardly Tim Noakes for you there, but that's my take on things anyway!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Hardmoors 55 Race Report

I knew I was pushing my luck by actually just signing up to attempt this race. Having never done a marathon before, the Hardmoors 55 miler (88km in English) would be the longest run I had ever done, so I was more than a bit apprehensive. But an ultra marathon along the Cleveland Way that finishes two minutes from my home – you’ve no excuse not to enter really. That was the thinking, anyway.

So come daft o’clock on Saturday morning, March 20th I found myself walking up to Guisborough Cricket Club wondering about the day ahead. I soon met my first runner of the day who couldn’t find the cricket club and got a lift with him (thanks Nigel!). Standing at the start I recognised a few of the other runners from the official website photos and linked blogs. Now I was getting a bit nervous. When the poshest bus I’ve ever travelled on arrived I grabbed a seat upstairs and tried to clear my mind. This wasn’t easy when all I could hear around me was West Highland Way this and MDS that! I might have felt fit around my non-believing work mates, but around this lot I was feeling truly inadequate!

When we drove past Roseberry Topping and all I saw was a wall of fog I knew the day was going to be a tough one. Anyway, cheers to the bus driver for dropping us off in the middle of Helmsley, rather than at the actual race start – the walk to the Race HQ in the rain was much appreciated (knob). I enjoyed the atmosphere while I was getting ready, and really can say that ultra runners are far friendlier than a lot of other sportsmen. When a few people found out this was my first ultra they genuinely seemed chuffed for me, and that includes the eventual race winner.

So after the pre race brief and talks we were officially off on the inaugural Hardmoors 55! After many years of dreaming about doing an ultra, here I was in the pissing rain attempting to run from Helmsley to Guisborough in under 15 hours! I was happy as a pig in the obvious.

Which after a few hours of running was how I looked and smelt as well. I was now running with my new best mate Mark, the official sweeper. I could’ve told you this would be the case at the start, as I’m not fast at the best of times, let alone over 88km. My longest run had been a slow 47km from Guisborugh to Whitby in 8 odd hours, so I was still very worried about making the cut-off times. Mark was brilliant in getting me to Checkpoint 2, and even had to help dress me in the woods, as I had foolishly taken off my base layer at the start, thinking the weather would be clammy as the day went on. Fool! The moorland stretches were brutal with the rain and wind just torturing you.

I caught up with 2 other runners, who turned out to be brothers, and would be my new best mates for the rest of the race. I then got into Osmotherley 10 minutes after the cut-off, but the marshal didn’t seem too concerned because of the weather. I had 7 hours to the next cut-off in Kildale, and from there I knew I would be able to finish as I knew that area pretty well, and had run it dozens of times during the few months before that. So far so good, I would just replenish with food and drinks, change my socks and head off after a quick rest. That’s when I had my first hiccup – my drop bag wasn’t there, and had probably been taken to the wrong drop off point! That would be one of my few criticisms of the race. Not ideal for a first timer, but I was offered some scoff by the marshal (which I didn’t bother with).

After that everything went tits up. I lost 15 minutes running around a tiny chapel in the woods out of Osmotherley, and then lost more time with the two brothers trying to find the TV station. After that we ended up in another wood and went off for about 4 miles in the wrong direction, before asking directions off two farmers we happened to pass. So more than an hour later we were back where we started! Why didn’t we use a map or GPS? Well, we did, but the older model GPS seemed to be affected by the weather, and showed North to be in at least three different directions, and I think at first we just found stopping and map reading too cold to do too often. Looking back we should have just run back to the start of the woods before the TV station and just took our time and made sure we went along the correct route. Maybe we would’ve finished later than 15 hours, but at least it wouldn’t have been a DNF.

By the time we got to Wainstones above Great Broughton it was decision time. To carry on would’ve meant finding our way to Bloworth Crossing in the dark with only two head torches between three of us, as one numpty had left his head torch in his drop bag at Kildale to save on weight in his pack (I won’t do that again!). I didn’t have much isotonic drink left and we were already 2 hours behind schedule. That and it was awful weather. I decided that the sensible thing (though I wasn’t happy with myself) was to get down into Great Broughton and bum a lift to Guisborough off my uncle John, who happened to live there.

And so ended my dreams of ultra glory. After 12 hours of running (best guess of 40 miles/ 60 km) through mud, moors, rain and wind all I had to remember was a big fat DNF. I was gutted! To be honest with myself I could’ve done with another 3 months of serious running and more discipline throughout my training. On the other hand, on a glorious day, barring crap map reading I know I would’ve made Kildale by around 7pm. From there I probably would have finished in around 15hrs or so. I did learn a few things along the way about better kit preparation and I obviously need more mapping reading experience! After chatting with Mark and Jon the director after the race I am more determined than ever to finish both versions of this brilliant race. I am glad I took part and could never go back to ‘normal road running now!’ What a snob!

Thanks to Jon, Mark & the rest of the marshals for taking the time to put on an excellent event!

My first blog...

Greetings. Welcome to my new blog on all things running, and my foray into the slightly crazy world of ultra marathon running.