The Hardmoors race follows the Cleveland way (more or less) from Helmsley in North Yorkshire to Filey on the Yorkshire coast. Its a 110 mile race of continuous hills.
This time last year I found myself freezing on the North Yorkshire Moors, looking at the brilliant starlight at midnight, waiting for M and Dave Robson to appear on her mad 110 mile race. Dave and I had answered M's call out on fetch everyone for support runners some months before without really knowing anything about this amazing race or much about M really. Dave and I had come up with the plan of both running 10 miles each and then seeing how things went.
Unfortunately as Dave approached down the first lethal hillside steps of his first support run, I jovially asked if he was OK only to find he wasn’t! His ankle had gone again. Dave had turned his ankle quite badly a few weeks before but thought it was OK but five miles of this terrain had knocked it again and with a quick ‘grab you backpack flip’ I was off into the night with M
I ran 28 miles, ( a coincidence to be had for later on) the furthest I had ever ran at the time, meeting along the way a my now good friend and Hardmoors training partner Shirl (now Shirley Steel the RD's wife ) who joined us for most of the night until sunrise over the coast at Saltburn, From here Shirl went off to win the ladies race and I stopped exhausted and shell-shocked wondering how on earth M could run on for another 57 miles after already completing 53 miles of steep uphill and lethal descents.
Later just before Scarborough on a pitch black and lonely section of cliff tops, with many steep ravine stair climbs and ascents some guy had ‘freaked out’ M and her support runner Mel so I joined them again and stayed with them to the finish. I remember thinking she was truly amazing (she is and fully fit I expect her to blow this achievement away with another extraordinary running feat.). Her time of 31 hours was good enough for 7th place and 2nd lady. (and incidentally the time JohnK a 19hour whw er this year matched on this run.) Soon after I assured (and threatened should she dare leave us out) we would be there for her again but alas her legs haven’t been right and as soon as knew I was not required to support I told Dave I was going to run it myself. I think Dave Robson said ‘I never doubted that’
My support team of Dave Robson, later to be joined by Dave Walker and Anna Seeley and I arrived in Helmsley a late September afternoon and soon found the scout hut race HQ. There was not that many there but I did recognize some faces from the recent whw race where I had supported Karen Doughnut on in her her amazing 27 hour run. Quick chat to Jon Steel the race organizer and a kit check and we picked up out number. A bite to eat, race briefing and we were all gathering in the Market square for the pep talk. Bumped into my good friend and Hardmoors training buddy Shirl who was going to be sweeping for the first 55 miles with Jezz brag doing the rest.
Looking around there seemed so few runners. The race was down to 19 and I was number 19- how prophetic! All looked like good ultra runners and I was just starting to think there is nowhere to hide in this race before reminding myself that this is my first time over 53 miles and that was only in April. This time last year I had just done a couple of marathons!
So late September at 7pm Friday night we all marched from the market square in Helmsley along official start of the Cleveland way and we were off.
Chatted to a few runners as we headed into the dusk but ended up with two youngish lads whose talk was of the recent Gobi desert challenge and other ultras. Not especially keen on this section – a bit of woodland then some country road but it starts to get real with a good climb up thrugh spring wood and the small village of cold Kirby where I saw Dave for the first time but didn’t take anything. Had a word with myself about this – Karen (Doughnut) and George’s (Reid )insistent advice was that I must eat every time I could and I missed the first one!. It’s not about being hungry –it’s about fuelling! It funny remembering the first training run with them from the Drovers Inn up to Tyndrum in the deep snow and having to eat soup and a bread roll before running back. Hated it (the eating , not the run) but this was part of the training and it was soon drummed into me that unless you can eat on these long runs you just won’t last home. I had thought when making my sandwiches I had enough to feed Africa but by the end I had scoffed the lot !
I let the lads go here – to fast for me and way to fast for my target time of 31 hours (Mandy’s time last year). An easy enough climb up past the gliders and onto the top of Sutton bank and the first checkpoint. (time 20:30) Took a sandwich and drink and went straight on. I was surprised that my hamstrings on both legs seemed to be giving a bit of gyp. I thought there was a slight twinge at the Round Norfolk relay the week before when I ran my half as hard as I could but nothing since. I just hoped they would ease off.
I know the way to Osmotherly well and found myself with another runner for a while. Along the tops the rutted tracks of boltby scar, through paradise farm and onto Osmotherly. Shirl caught me up her and I realize I was already in last place! Shirl assured me most were going far to fast and I should stick to my pace. She was right. Shortly before the next checkpoint at cod beck I passed three runners. Time 23:45.
OSMOTHERLY TO WAINSTONES, BLOWORTH CROSSING AND ONTO ROSEBERRY TOPPING.
Left the check point with I guess about 5-7 now behind me down a short bit of moorland road. Sharp turn right into a pitch black Clain wood. I remember having to find a way across a moorland here – just a short stretch but in the dark I was a little unsure. Found the path and a decent climb brought me to another steep rocky descent down to a road and lords café. Dave Walker joined me here) for his 16 miles.
Fed and watered and again straight on. A little tricky finding the way but soon on it and soon onto one of my few navigational errors. Chatting away to Dave who was running on my right I missed a way mark on the right. Daft because I knew there was a right turn coming up but there you go. We came to a forest track opening that split into three tracks. We could see head torch lights high up on the hill but I knew we had gone wrong. Whipped out the race instructions and the os map and sure enough it was apparent we had gone to far. A short double back and found the way. Lost about 20 minutes and overtaken. Round hill, Carlton bank (where I took on fuel) Kirkby bank, Cold moor and a rock climb of sorts through he eerie Wainstones to the checkpoint at the top. More steep rocky climbs and descents saw Dave and me both ‘ganning our length’ at various times. One of the features of some of the way is the gullies that cross the paths. Just big and deep enough to break your leg and spaced every 10 -12 meters or so. We spent a fair while with me running in front and shouting ‘gully’ to avoid going down one. This didn’t always work and it’s lucky I have legs like a Rhino!
A long moorland path took us to Bloworth crossing. I think it was somewhere along here we turned our head torches of to admire the brightness of the stars. Well if you can’t take time out for these wonders more fool you. Checked in by Murdo (third place last year ) and told there was a message for me from George Reid. ‘Happy days?’ I said, ‘Yahoo’ possibly?– no ‘ move your arse!’- Was the reply. So we did!
Tidy brown hill, and down into Kildale. More fuel from Dave and up the big hill to Bankside farm , through Mill bank wood. It started to get very cold now and but dawn was just around the corner and by the time we climbed to the top of captain cooks monument and we could see the peak of Roseberry Topping in the distance and the next check point manned by Jezz Brag.
Dave and I race down a steep hill to a moorland road crossing where Dave had ended his sixteen or so miles. (many thanks Dave , the company was much appreciated.). The time was approx 6:15 am. I had run roughly 45 miles. The hamstrings problems were gone, the sun was coming up & I’m starting to feel my way into this. I feeling great and can’t wait to get to Roseberry topping and the coast..
I left Dave small sandwich in hand and headed across the dale road and started the next sharp climb to make the 750ft climb up the to Great Ayton moor. Its strange how you forget how many climbs like this there are. As i crested the top I caught a glimpse of my nearest rivals. Why on earth at this stage I was thinking of them as rivals is beyond me but there you go.
In my head i was near the gate/turn for Rosebury topping but the moor gate signalling never seemed to come. Again its one of the tricks of the mind. Its just around this corner syndrome or even worse ‘nearly there ‘A later look at the map seeRoseberry is over a mile away from the top of that climb. Fell gate reached i round the corner to see the fantastic sight of the steep descent and sharp rocky climb to the top of yet another long climb. As i reached the top, UK 100K Camp Jezz brag was there to welcome me. Gave over my number and Jezz says oh you’re Flip, like it’s me that’s one of the best ultra runners in the world and not him! Cool !
We have a bit of craic and a quick photo. He says I’m looking good and really truthfully I’m feeling great. I’ve just run 50 miles of hills the sun is shining and Jezz brag is the f*ing marshal. Fantastic. The pursuers are just at the just coming down the hill as I lash down Roseberry .(Roseberry is and out and back section) Yes I know you should conserve energy but I can’t help myself on rocky downhill. I want to go as fast as i can and the trickier the ground the better. I’ll break something someday (See footnote : )
Now it’s a straight forward run for the coast, or so I think. As I entered the gate for Roseberry there was a sign on the gate with an is arrow pointing ahead for Roseberry which was fine but an arrow to the right saying this way after Roseberry (i.e. turn left after the gate). This throws me as i know its straight on and since when is there arrows on the course? But after a bit of deliberation I follow the arrow. I come across another runner looking lost. Maps out and I just know this is the wrong way but should meet up with the other path. When we come to where they join up again some other runners are just getting there but it’s not the 3 lads behind me it’s the ones way behind them! bugger! I’ve lost about 25 minutes. I laugh at this now after what happened but i was pissed about it then. Even more ludicrous i start to chase them down, increasing my speed and running quite hard. I romped through Guisborough woods and down to Slapewath. I collar Jon the RD about the sign but he doesn’t seem to understand and slump down in a chair for the first time as I have decided to change socks and top etc here.
As i take off my sock s i notice my feet are a bit pruned. Bit like when you come out the bath after a fair while. This is not usual at all and although there was the odd bit of wet it’s mainly been a dry course. I decide to change into my sportiva’s from my ino8’s and see how it goes.
The others are gone and i heads up another hill and towards the coast. I hit the North Yorkshire coast descending onto a sea front care park at Saltburn.. I amazed that the others are using this as a change point. Makes sense on a good day like today but on a windy day it would be raw. As I’ve just changed and eaten ( I grab something ever time i see Dave) , all I do is refill some water and off i go . I’m soon way ahead of a fair few and guess I’m in 7th -8th place ( out of the 19 that started). I’m feeling good. The sun is up and its a great day. I have to borrow a hat from Dave its that hot. It going to be scorcher.
A drive hard over to Skinning grove rising up the cliff and a sharp down into the small village before another tough climb. Its here i catch another runner and we run together for a while. Then it happened. I put my foot down and ouch. Real ouch. I could not run . I pulled up and could feel blisters across my feet. I bade the other farewell and sat down and took the sock and shoes off. Nasty sight. Big blood blisters on both feet. Not just a bit but all the way along both feet. Heck ! First time I’ve ever had any bad blister to write home about. In fact i always thought i was one of those peeps lucky enough not to suffer from them. For the first time ever i get the fell first aid kit i put together for my fell running. I took a pin from my number and opened up both blister. Blood flowed from them and i cleaned them up with a sterile wipe. Large blister plasters over them and i set of again I’m at about 63 miles before Boulby .
I have 43 mile to run.
I text Sandy and pop I pop painkillers.
Running wasn’t easy but the pain stayed even for a good while. More painkillers were had and I started the long slog to Staithes harbour @ 65, miles and onto Runswick Bay. I knew i had to hit the beach there before (I think) 3pm or the tide stops you getting to the steep steps up from the beach there at Hobb Holes. I ran as hard as i could but very slowly the pain increased and then some more. I slowed and other runners passed me. Every stone i hit was now agony and running was getting very difficult. When i go through Boulby , I tell Dave I fancy a pint. Its red hot and I’m pissed off. The beautiful little town is a lovely sight and i pop into a pub but everyone seem s to have had the same idea and its to busy for a swift one so dreaming of beer i run on trying to control/forget/pretend the pain is not there.
More steep ups and downs and stunning scenery take the edge of it a bit but the temperature is getting boiling hot as well and I've never been good in the heat. Finally i get to Runswick bay and there’s a pub on the corner and Dave has a cold pint ready for me. I rest the feet for a few mins just before the checkpoint in the car park next to the beach. Its 2:15pm. Another runner comes along. A young lad looking knackered and hobbling a bit with Jezz and Simon just behind sweeping. The git drops out the race |!So I’m last as all the rest of the field has dropped out. Even with the state of my feet i think i will catch a few.
The climbs up are tough and my feet get worse. There really bad now. At one of the steep stair climbs down to the beach i realise in now have to take them one at a time leading with my right foot, I can feel all the skin underneath moving independently of foot. I descend down to sands end and by now the pain in excruciating. I get texts from Loon . Take drugs ! I do .
From Sands end a fairly easy path towards Whitby. Here i lay down on the grass and inspect my feet. Blood is pouring from them and i hack away with the pint to release it. I drain them as much as i can and put my shoes back on and just for a second lay back on the grass and let the pain subside a bit. Whitby is just along the road at 76 miles or so. I know there is a big checkpoint there with tea and physio and stuff because i was waiting there supporting rhino last year on her amazing adventure on this races inaugural year. Only 34 miles to go . I still feel relatively OK apart from the massive pain. I text updates . texts come back. Don’t give up . take drugs. I almost nod off.
Jezz and Simon come along sweeping . You ok flip ?
I know it’s childish but i like the fact he knows who i am. You not giving up are you. I tell him of the blood blisters across both feet but i said I’m just resting them. He nod s. Yeah , I’m told you won’t give up. Oh fuck no pressure there then!!
We all run to Whitby. Probably Jezz ‘s slowest run ever. They pop it to get fish and chips ( well its Whitby) and i push my way through the crowds. A young lad tell me there are 109 steps to the castle. I count more. Each one shooting pain through my feet.
Murdo is at the checkpoint. You ok ? gonna finish aren’t you . Plenty of time. I’m told you will finish. I see the hand of loon our good friend in this. I tell him about my feet but I’ve just seen to them so refuse any treatment. I’m aware if they see all the blood I may be taken out the race.
I drink coffee, have a sarnie , rest up and go. Anna is meeting me at Robins hood bay. She is running me in. I take in the step climbs and descents all the time my feet becoming unbearable but i sort of find a way to run . If I hit my feet very flat, almost slapping the ground the pain is sort of evenly spread out and i pick up speed as this sort of numbs it. Every now and again i hit a rock and the pain is searing and i howl. This isn’t all bad as it makes the other pain of seem less. I’m numbing my feet.
At robin hoods bay i have more coffee and Anna s a welcome sight. Up till now my body is holding out well but it’s now getting colder. 34 miles to go. Then steep steps down a place called boggle hole. . I now have to use the side of my feet on step as for some reason i can run and numb my feet with pain but i can walk on them. This causes my shins and calves to hurt. Down to the sea and up the high cliffs again. We climb, we climb and climb. We meet a walker with a sprained ankle but they wont let us help them down because I’m in a race. I say i don’t think i will win you know. lol
We plod on towards Scarborough. Its getting dark but my spirits are lifted by bomb running with me and the terrain being a bit easier for a while. We make good progress along beast cliffs, nearing Hayburn Wake. Here we hit a wooded section as it gets dark. I hit a rock in the dark and howl like a werewolf. We can see light over the hill. Steep climb down wooded step and again its one at a time. Its pitch black and there seems to be some kids there sitting round a campfire. I growl and climb the steps again.
Dave is meant to meet us at Cloughton but he has said it’s a bit difficult to find. We keep running and I’m doing well. The pain is massive but numbed by the running. It only gets unbearable when i hit rocky ground or hit a rock. Each time i do this the skin on my feet moves away from the tissue. This hurts. Fuck i never knew blister could hurt so much! After a while of good running something happens that has never happened before. I stop and I need food. Anna says we should see Dave soon but i say no , i mean i need it right now , right this minute. Now! I sling my back pack off and grab my emergency food. Flapjack’s, not one , not two but all of them . My body eases back from its crisis. Not sure what that was but i don’t want to see it again.
We realise we must have missed Dave when I see way maker signs with Scarborough on. I text Dave and head on.
At Scarborough we come of the cliff and onto the prom. Straight away I know I can’t run on the rippled concrete. It’s too painful.
Dave goes ahead and the waiting Marshal ,Dan drive to the North end of the prom to check me in . He smirks in a nice way at me gingerly walking on the concrete. The prom is long . Not sure how far but the end takes an age to get to . Near the end we look for the path up . Dave is waiting up top as we know this bit is tricky to find. This is the bit last year where loads went wrong (John K refused to move on ..but did ) and because of that they just got rid of the checkpoint but we still can’t find the way back up from the prom.Dave leads up the correct route.
We climbed the steep stairs and along the top and then back down more step stairs that i had to take one at a time. Anna and Dave guided me back to the coast and Dave went off to Filey and the end. I was looking at my watch now. Progress was painfully slow. A track along the cliffs was fairly straight forward until it became gravel and that hurt like hell. Each stone was burning my feel but looking at the time ebbing we ran most of the way.
This is where the year before, M kept asking ‘is that Dave’s head torch' as i ran her in and Dave waited. Now it was me looking out for Dave’s head torch. We ran for what seemed like an age until finally Dave appeared. At first i was overjoyed as i thought we were at the brig but only to find out Dave had run for 50 minutes to get there.
Time was getting on and the cut off 36 hours loomed. The constant running on decent track, despite the gravel was numbing my feet so we ran and ran. At last we were at the brig. Dawn was breaking and we heading down the brig to the last Marshal. He laughed when I apologised for being so late then we ran back and headed to the finish. Dave had two options of getting down to the beach. One the cliff path that took us onto the beach but a long walk or run over stones or another step staircase further along.
I took the staircase down to the beach and then we walked in the new dawn light, past the fishing boats to and through the town to the finish.
I finished 3 minutes inside the cut off.
Quite a naive blog but honest at the time.
I rarely take any drugs in ultras now and NEVER ibuprofen EVER Even one can feck your kidneys during during an ultra. Don't risk it.
The socks i was wearing were what I had always worn , Thorlos socks. I bought new ones for the race. It was only a year after discussing the massive blister across both feet, a friend mentioned another runners blog the same sock and problem. Neither of us had washed our new socks for our races. Was there some sort of residue on the NEW unwashed socks that caused the blistering?. I don't know but its never happened again since and I still use the same socks.In fact i still rarely get blisters.
I had a dull ache in my foot for a while before this race. A month or so after i found i had a stress fracture and the foot went on to break another 3 times in the next 2.5 years. I still blame the footy though.