As one of my 12 Ultra’s in 12 months during 2016 I was keen to complete my first Hardmoors race, having heard lots of good stuff about them & seeing that the 30 was on New Years Day I thought this would be a great way to start the ball rolling. As par for the course my preparation was shoddy & I got MTSS (Shin Splints) at the end of November, requiring physiotherapy to get me to the start line. Add to this the dreadful flooding in York where we planned to stay & last minute problems with dog-sitters it got to a point where we almost pulled the plug on going at all. But go we did.
We arrived in York the night before, quite a bit later than hoped & had a meal at our hotel before sampling a few York Ales & spending Midnight with the crowds at York Minster before heading back while the fireworks were still in full swing to grab a much needed few hours sleep before race day. Like I said, preparation was shoddy.
I didn’t feel too bad (hungover) the following morning, but the usual nerves & doubt were setting in as I drove over to Robin Hood’s Bay & continued once I arrived. It was a freezing morning, with lots of ice patches dotted around the car park but it was dry & clear – almost perfect conditions for running 30 miles around North Yorkshire. The cursory kit check & number collection was quick & easy & then I sorted myself out ready for the race, pre race had a good atmosphere, but I was very aware that many knew each other well & didn’t find anyone to have a conversation with while waiting to go. The standard pre-race brief from Jon helped fill some time & before I knew it we were lining up outside Fylingdales Parish Hall ready to go, setting off at almost spot on 9.30am.
The route heads straight out of the car park, carefully avoiding the ice before joining the Cinder Track & climbing continuously up and up and up towards Whitby. I set off at a steady pace, feeling surprisingly comfortable and enjoyed the relatively easy going provided by the track, knowing we faced very muddy trails ahead. I hooked up with a guy running with poles for much of this section & enjoyed shooting the breeze with him, as he was local he became my guide, pointing out a few points of interest as we trotted over the aqueduct & caught glimpses of the Whitby Abbey before we took the first flight of steps down to CP1, about 5 miles in.I didn’t stop long, just took a couple photos & grabbed a few jelly babies before plodding off through Whitby.
And the 199 steps up to the Abbey.
These were despatched with aplomb… well, gritted teeth & many a swear word, but banter with the other runners, marshals & bemused spectators helped get me to the top. And once there it’s worth the effort with stunning views along the coastline, down to Whitby & of the Abbey. All this for just 199 steps, bargain!
From here the route picks up the Cleveland Way & winds along the cliff tops back towards Robin Hoods Bay, the going was muddy, very muddy and as you would expect from a coastal path it was undulating, with more steps making their appearance at various places. I had an absolute blast along this stretch, catching & overtaking many runners, I made decent progress. My experience on the slippy mud & confidence in my Salomon Speedcross paid dividends.
I’m far from an expert, but for what it’s worth my tips for running on mud are take little steps with fast feet, but you can’t beat experience as this is what gives you familiarity with your feet moving and sliding around underneath you so you don’t panic & over correct leading to a tumble.
The return section to the Parish Hall was much further than the outward leg & in my enjoyment I went too long without taking on food, leading to my energy levels plummeted in the last mile before CP2. I recognised it was happening but kept going thinking I would be at the CP soon, but it took longer than I expected so I was in a bad way when I arrived & my head was already in a dark place. Again I didn’t waste time, taking on some coke & grabbing a few sweets before heading off. But what a difference from the first CP.
The route again took the Cinder Track, but this time in the direction of Scarborough up to Ravenscar. And it was most definitely up. And up. And up. It climbed continuously for about 4 miles, not steep but relentless & with my dip in energy & negativity pulsing in my thoughts this was a long hard slog. Several runners that I’d overtaken on the more technical stretch went back past & I started to be filled with doubt. I tried to run. Knew I should run. But I struggled to just keep going, successfully convincing myself I was flagging. So I walked. And it took a frustratingly long time to cover the 4 miles up to Ravenscar.
Another quick stop at CP3 to take on some more coke & jelly babies I continued the slog along the old railway, my head still down & even though I knew I was in a dark place I couldn’t pull myself out of it. In retrospect I should have taken painkillers but I kept plodding onwards, I persuaded myself that once we turned back onto the trail I would be more comfortable and I’d make time up again. It seemed to take forever to reach CP4 at Hayburn Wyke, but I got there eventually turning into the pub I slumped on the bench & stuffed more sweets into my maw. I took a few minutes and a few sweets before setting off again and quickly found some cracking trails that I enjoyed trotting along for a while chatting to a runner from London until we reached a set of steps. Lots of steps. Reaching the top took it out of me & I slowed again for a while but at least my head was back in the game, I started running again at every opportunity and I even caught a few runners that had passed me, then cramp.
This was effectively the end of my day. I’d realised I’d left my electrolyte tablets at home when we travelled but had hoped in vain that as it was cold I would manage without them, sadly this was not the case and I think the amount of snot rockets I was producing left me lacking many essential minerals. I had about 7 miles left, but every time I tried to run I got severe cramping first in my right calf then in my quads. I tried stretching , in fact I had to stretch regularly but I couldn’t maintain a run for more than a few hundred metres at a time.
I carried on, getting progressively grumpier as I found going slow and hard as I really wanted to run on this beautiful cliff top path. The regular steps however weren’t beautiful. I called them many other names, but never beautiful. At this point it was only the knowledge that I had committed to completing 12 ultra’s in 2016 and the sponsorship I’d already received that kept me moving forward. Ravenscar eventually came back into sight and on advice of the marshal at CP5 I ate a few peanuts to try to replace the salt to aid the cramping, but I knew it was too late even if it did work.
From this final CP there is a cracking descent which could (and should) be fast and fun, however with my legs in pieces it was more of a hobble and a hop than a run and I was cursing the organisers for designing the route so that the biggest descent came when I was so broken. It’s almost like they plan these things.
The route meandered back to the coastline & the steps up & down continued, it had already taken me 6hrs 30mins – half an hour longer than I’d expected to finish in & it was getting dark by the time I reached Boggle Hole a delightful location for a Youth Hostel. And yet more steps. Robin Hood’s Bay was now in sight & getting closer with each stride, the lights of the houses twinkling like fireflies in the night, entrancing me like a moth. The delight taking the steps down the final descent was tempered by the knowledge of the climb back up to Fylingdales Parish Hall for the finish but I dragged my tired body up the hill before making a final effort to run through the car park to finish. I was a broken shell of my former self, but I’d finished. I could finally stop moving, well after collecting my finisher medal and t-shirt anyway.
With all I’ve written, would I recommend this race? This was the race that shouldn’t have happened for me and although it didn’t exactly go to plan, I’m very glad that I started my New Year with this particular statement of intent. It wasn’t difficult, but was tough, partly because none of the ascents are very steep so I probably ran more of them than I should have and partly because there are a lot of them. And partly because there are steps. Lots of steps. But it is a great route, I loved the first half & I’m sure if it wasn’t for my physical fragility & miserable mentality I would have enjoyed the second. There is a good atmosphere, lots of friendly people involved, fantastic views and a varied & scenic course.
So yes, it is recommended. Unless you don’t like steps.
Did I mention the steps?