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!


  1. Hi Andy really well done!! and thanks for pushing my car out of the field would probably be their still!! You did a great job of your first Ultra!! Be proud of yourself mate!! that was 30!! hilly miles!!!

  2. Great write up Andy. Don't underestimate your achievement. The 'return leg' all the way back from Whitby was tough. Good luck at the HM55! Look forward to reading your report after you've finished that one ;-)