Race Review – Hardwolds 40 Ultramarathon 2021

The Yorkshire Wolds are often described as a ‘hidden gem’, and it’s true that they’re not as well-known outside Yorkshire as the Dales and the North York Moors; but for those of us who live nearby they are well-known and well-loved, providing a great hilly training ground with some fantastic trails. So when the Hardmoors folk announced a brand new event in the Wolds I couldn’t resist entering!

The first thing to say about the Hardwolds 40 is that it isn’t 40 miles long. Hardmoors events always offer great ‘value’ so the route was originally planned to be about 46 miles long. It starts in Beverley, and the first ten miles follow the Hudson Way trail, a former railway line. At Goodmanham the route picks up the Yorkshire Wolds Way, which it follows as far as Settrington Beacon. It then drops down to the village of Settrington, following the Centenary Way from here to Malton. In the week before the race the finishing venue had to be changed, adding about another mile to the route. Happy days!

In the run-up to the event I’d followed an eight week training plan that Kim Cavill had done for me, with five runs and two strength sessions a week, plus some yoga. I’d used the Endurancelife Northumberland marathon as my longest training run, with the Hardmoors White Horse Half a couple of weeks later. I felt my training had gone well, but four days before the event I hiked up and down Scafell Pike whilst spending a couple of days in the Lake District and did wonder whether I’d live to regret that!

I was really looking forward to this event, and got Steve to drop me off nice and early at the start venue, Beverley Rugby Club. As I signed on and got my tracker fitted there was a real buzz in the air. Apart from the face masks and staggered start it felt almost like old times, and it was great to chat with some of the Hardmoors family. We set off from 8 am in groups of 30 two minutes apart.

The main challenge for the first section was not to go off too fast. It’s ten miles of flat trail (the former rail line) and Tarmac to Goodmanham, with the first checkpoint at 8.5 miles. I kept my pace down to around ten minute miles, knowing I should conserve energy for the big hills later on. This wasn’t a road marathon! Lots of people flew past me, excited to be racing on easy terrain. I wondered how many of them I’d see later in the day. The weather was dull at this point, but quite warm already.

From Goodmanham the route undulated nicely for a few miles through grassy farmland and the lovely grounds of Londesborough Hall. The second checkpoint was at 11.5 miles – where this most flattering photo was taken! I was really enjoying the route and chatting to people along the way. At one point the group I was running with had to take a slight detour to avoid a group of cows and their calves that were blocking a gate we needed to go through, but it wasn’t too far.

The day began to warm up as we left the Wolds Way temporarily to descend to the next checkpoint in the village of Millington at 18 miles. This is a place I know well – I sometimes park here to do training runs along the Wolds Way. It was also the first drop bag point, and I drank a small chocolate milk from my stash and then ate a ham sandwich as I walked up the huge hill from the village back onto the Wolds Way. Hardmoors checkpoints are always really well stocked with snacks and drinks, and the drop bag facility means you never have to carry lots of stuff.

There then followed two quite steep descents and climbs before a nice, gradual descent on Tarmac towards the village of Huggate. After a road climb from here the route goes down into another valley, followed by a long, grassy drag up towards Fridaythorpe. It’s the sort of trail that looks flat, but is in fact a very gradual uphill. The sun was now fully out, the weather felt hot and humid, and the steepness of the Wolds valleys meant there was no breeze to take the edge of the heat. I was pouring with sweat and don’t think I’ve ever drunk as much during a race. People were starting to suffer, and one poor chap I passed was throwing up – he thought because he’d drunk too much. Luckily he was with a group of friends. At the next checkpoint at Fridaythorpe (26 miles) I really enjoyed some flat Pepsi, plus the thought that we were now over halfway!

Next up was beautiful Thixendale Wold (another descent and climb, obviously!) before arriving at the next drop bag checkpoint at Thixendale village hall (30 miles). I drank some more chocolate milk and picked up another sandwich, but couldn’t face eating it, so pocketed it and pressed on. I did have a bit of Perkier peanut bar and some Clif Shotblok on the way out of the village though. I really love a bit of Shotblok when I need a boost!

After a walk up a couple of big hills after Thixendale all the steep climbing was behind us (thank heavens!) with some lovely, runnable terrain towards the medieval village of Wharram Percy. The amazing Wolds scenery helped to ease the pain of the climbs! I passed quite a few people on this section, many of them slowed down by the effects of the heat.

The route from here undulated gently and passed through the grounds of the Settrington estate to reach the final checkpoint at Settrington Beacon (39 miles). More fabulous views all round! There was a bit of a party atmosphere here, with music and cowbells, and more gratefully received flat pop! From here we left the Wolds Way and descended down a road for a good mile (yay!) into the village of Settrington. Here we turned off the road and onto the Centenary Way for the final part of the journey to Malton.

I was slightly apprehensive about this part of the course as I hadn’t managed to recce it and it wasn’t well-marked, but tagged on behind two guys who looked like they knew what they were up to. After a mile or so we reached an unmarked crossroads of trails and weren’t sure which way to go. While we were pondering whether to get the map out, another chap caught us up from behind, looked at the GPS on his watch and confidently said it was straight on. After we’d been running for about half a mile he changed his mind and said we should have gone left! So back we went. We must have wasted 10-15 minutes here. I don’t blame the bloke who sent us the wrong way, as navigation is everyone’s individual responsibility, but it was frustrating.

We were only about three miles from the finish now, but my calves were starting to cramp up and I was ready to stop. I had my last square of Shotblok and tried to push on. Luckily the way through Malton to the finish at the sports club was well-signed (if a little uphill!) and I managed to pick up the pace and smile as I came in. My finish time was 10:27:57. I’d originally hoped to get close to ten hours and cursed the extra off-route minutes. I really thought I hadn’t done very well as it had been a tough day – much hotter than forecast – but in the end I was happy to be 63rd out of 185 overall, 17th out of 51 women and 4th FV50 out of 12. According to my watch the distance (including the two unscheduled detours!) was bang on 48 miles. Despite the heat, I did feel stronger than I have done towards the end of previous ultras such as the Hardmoors 55 and 60, so hopefully the regular strength training I’ve been doing since last October is now beginning to pay off. I just need to make an effort to eat more towards the end of races. When I stopped running I suddenly realised I was actually quite hungry and wolfed down the sandwich I should have eaten nearly twenty miles earlier!

Steve was waiting for me at the finish, but Covid rules meant we couldn’t really hang around. The race swag was a fab wooden medal, a coveted crossed swords t-shirt (love the colour!) and a drinking bottle. Fortunately Malton is only about 40 minutes from home, so I was soon enjoying recovery KFC and a well-earned cold beer whilst watching the highlights of the first day of the Tour de France. Parfait!

So what’s next? My big challenge for the summer was supposed to be the UTMB OCC in France, but I’ve deferred my place due to travel restrictions, so now I’ll be doing the Hardmoors 55 in August, postponed from March due to Covid. Hopefully it won’t be even hotter! The Hardmoors Farndale Marathon on 1st August will be my longest training run before that.

Happy summer running folks!

Race Review – Hardmoors 30 Ultramarathon 2021

The Hardmoors 30 traditionally takes place on New Year’s Day, but was postponed this year for obvious reasons. The event usually starts and finishes at Fylingdale Village Hall, near Robin Hood’s Bay, but due to Covid regulations it started and finished on this occasion in the car park at Whitby Abbey. The route forms a kind of skinny figure of eight through Ravenscar, down to Cloughton then back to Whitby, following parts of the Cleveland Way and a disused railway line trail known as the Cinder Track. It’s 33 miles long rather than 30, but that’s Hardmoors value for you! There’s also a 15 mile option. Both are well marked and marshalled.

This was the first race I’d taken part in since I did the Hardmoors 55 six months ago and I was really looking forward to running and racing with other people. It was also my first day out at the seaside since I can’t remember when! It was brilliant to catch up with friends I hadn’t seen for ages at the start. The weather was perfect for running: cool and fair, with not too much sun or wind. The race was organised under strict Covid event regulations and we were all warned to be on our best behaviour and remember to socially distance! All runners had been asked to predict how long the race would take them, then given a start time based on this. We were called up to the start in socially distanced groups of six, where we had our temperature taken and told to remain masked until we set off.

I actually think staggered starts work really well, as it avoids congestion on the course. The first few miles were along the Cleveland Way, and it was great to take in the coastal scenery and breathe some fresh sea air. The trails were really hard, as the weather had been dry with no rain for at least a couple of weeks. I’d worn hybrid shoes rather than full-on trail ones in anticipation of this.

The route undulates for a few miles, then descends into Robin Hood’s Bay, where we picked up the Cinder Track. The first checkpoint was seven miles in at Fylingdale.

The track is flat for a while, then starts to climb very gradually to the highest point of the course at Ravenscar, one of my favourite places. It’s fairly easy running for a while, although the Cinder Track can be a quite gravelly and dusty in places, making your feet and legs really dirty! After about three miles we turned off the track and onto a road – a really steep road – leading up to the ancient beacon monument above Ravenscar; the second checkpoint at 11 miles. This was hard enough to walk up, never mind run! So it was very slow progress for a bit, followed by a drop down through a field to the village. Here we picked up the Cinder Track again, and the terrain was very slightly downhill for about five miles. This is a good opportunity to make up a bit of time, and I clocked several miles at well under ten minute pace. Turning off here towards the coast leads to the checkpoint at Cloughton Wyke, which is just over halfway. I arrived here in just over three hours. All the checkpoints are well stocked with water and other drinks such as Pepsi and Irn Bru, as well as a range of sweet and savoury snacks. The Cloughton point also had Tailwind energy jelly.

One of the Hardmoors mottos is ‘Suffering = Fun’ and the ‘fun’ in this race really starts in the second half. Heading off up the Cleveland Way back to Ravenscar, the route is like a rollercoaster! It’s constantly climbing and descending steeply, sometimes right back to sea level, via steep steps or stony tracks that really give the legs a battering!

Technical descents are really not my forte, so it was slow progress along here for a few miles, and my calves began to complain. Spending lockdown in York with no access to big hills certainly wasn’t ideal training for this event!

From Ravenscar to Robin Hood’s bay the terrain is slightly more forgiving, mostly gentle undulations. Howerver, the descent into the village is immediately followed by a vicious steep climb up the hilly main street to re-join the Cinder Track for a couple of miles. This is uphill, but gently so, and quite runnable if you take it easy. A sharp right turn down a grassy track through a field then leads back to the Cleveland Way for the final few miles back to Whitby.

By now it was mid-afternoon and the trails were busy with walkers and dogs, but most were happy to let us runners pass and give some much-appreciated words of encouragement.

After a few more smaller climbs we were almost back at Whitby Abbey, and I realised that if I sped up a bit I’d come in at just under six hours. It’s amazing how you can find that extra bit of energy when the clock is against you!

My finish time was 6:58:34. I was 120th out of 222 runners overall, 29th out of 76 women and 5th out of 19 in the FV50 category. Considering my lack of hill practice I felt OK with that, but there is definite room for improvement now we can travel to train! We had a choice of a metal or wooden medal, so I plumped for wood in the hope that it was the more eco-friendly option. I also think it looks really attractive. There was also a choice of t-shirt colour, featuring the all-important Hardmoors ultra crossed swords.

Although I’d been cursing the tricky ups and downs in the second half of the race, I really did enjoy myself. The weather was perfect and for a few hours it felt like the world was getting back to normal. Hopefully it won’t be too long now before it does!

Running’s Coming Home!

Has anyone found this third lockdown a bit tougher than the previous ones? Maybe it’s been the sheer Groundhog Day monotony of it all, the bad weather, the dark evenings… as someone who works in public health I know it’s been necessary, but I think we’ve all just had enough now. I’ve never lacked motivation to train during lockdown – maybe because there’s always been an event on the horizon and I’m a hopeless optimist – but mostly because running with some structure has been my main means of staying sane. I was disappointed when the Hardmoors 55 had to be postponed (understandably) when it was due to take place on 27th March, just two days before it probably could have happened, but there we are. Hopefully these blocks of training will pay off in the long run!

Now we have a roadmap, spring is in the air and (all being well) real races are going to happen in a few weeks’ time! The first one on my calendar is the Vale of York 10 on 18th April. This was cancelled last year, and it’s still not certain at this point whether it will go ahead, but hopefully we’ll know soon. To be honest I’m doing it because it starts and finishes in our village! Even if it goes ahead I’ll just be trotting round, because I’ll be tpaering for the following weekend when it’s the Hardmoors 30 at Whitby, which should have been on New Year’s Day. We’ll probably have staggered starts, but it will be great just to be up on the Cleveland Way by the sea with the Hardmoors family. I’ve missed that so much. Another event on the spring schedule is the fabulous Endurancelife Northumberland in May, which had to be postponed from February – so should hopefully be a bit warmer than last year!

Endurancelife!

As the year progresses, the schedule starts to get a bit crowded with events that have been postponed or rearranged following the pandemic, such as Endure 24 in July, which I was planning to run solo. My main concern at the moment is that the Hardmoors 55 has been provisionally rearranged for 21st August, which is the same week as the UTMB OCC – which it took me three attempts to get into, but I finally did! Obviously I can’t do them both within a few days; but will the OCC happen? Will travel to and from France even be possible? The French are well behind us with their vaccination programme, so it’s hard to say at this point. I guess the picture will be a bit clearer in a couple of months. The idea of running the Hardmoors 55 in summer weather is very tempting, but I may never get into the OCC again. First world problems, hey? I know I’m very lucky really, and do appreciate that.

I’ve really been missing big hills during lockdown. During this time I’ve personally felt it’s not right to travel to go for a run, but it’s given me an opportunity to really get to know the trails in my local area, and I’ve worked out routes of varying distances that I regularly run.

Luckily there are a few undulating bits! My training plan for the 55 from coach Kim Cavill featured some regular tempo hills sessions, which are basically longish hilly interval reps. They’re hard work, but hopefully helping my legs to build some stamina. I also think the strength sessions Kim has given me to do have helped me to run better and feel stronger. I’ll certainly always include this sort of work in my training from now on. I can’t wait until 29th March, when we’ll be allowed to travel out of our local areas. I’ve booked the week after Easter off work and will definitely be heading for the North York Moors and the Wolds for some ‘fun’ runs!

How’s your 2021 schedule looking?

Stay safe and keep running folks, the end is in sight  🙂

Lockdown 3: Carry On Running!

Well, here we are again – back in lockdown with all events cancelled and no idea when they can start up again. Obviously in the grand scheme of things there’s far more important stuff to deal with just now (like an ongoing global pandemic!) but for those of us who love running and racing it’s a sad time in some ways. Thankfully we can still have our daily outdoor exercise though, and I get the impression that’s keeping many people sane at the moment. Since my training plan for the (postponed) Hardmoors 30 finished I’ve been trying to carry on running four days a week and do two strength sessions a week to keep me ticking over, but not doing any really long distances.

I was supposed to be doing the Endurancelife Northumberland Ultra again at the end of February, but that has now understandably been postponed until the end of May. So I now have nothing in my diary until the Hardmoors 55 at the end of March. In my heart I know this probably won’t go ahead either, but I want to train for it anyway; there’s an outside chance it will happen, and a good block of training is never wasted. I ran the 55 last year (it was postponed from March to October) but the weather was so wet the course turned into a mudslide for about the last 20 miles and I’d love to have another go in better conditions. So I recently had a catch-up with Kim Cavill of Cavill Coaching and she’s created me another training plan for the next eight weeks to take me up to the event. The basic structure is the same as my previous Hardmoors 30 plan, but as the 55 is a much longer, harder event so there’s more mileage.

The major challenge I face during this cycle of training is that the 55 is a very hilly event and here in York we don’t really have any hills. Normally when training for an event like this I’d be heading out to the Cleveland Way or the Wolds Way for long, hilly Sunday runs, but with current restrictions in place I don’t feel that driving somewhere to run is the right thing to do. I know others think otherwise, but each to their own – I’ll be running from home until lockdown has ended. However, Kim has adapted my new plan to take account of this, with specific strength work and, from next week, a weekly session called tempo hills; this is to be done on pretty much the only decent hill I can run to from home and sounds a bit tough! But hopefully it will do the job.

View over the Three Sisters on the Hardmoors 55 route.

I’m optimistic that trail races will be able to run again soon in the socially distanced way they did for a while last year, although I can’t see mass participation road races happening for a good while yet. Our Yorkshire summer 10K road race league has just been cancelled for the second year running, which is a shame as they are such fun inter-club events. I have a solo place in Endure 24 in July, deferred from last year, but will have to wait and see whether that will go ahead. As I write this I’m waiting to find out whether I have a place in the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc OCC race in France in August. I’ve entered the ballot for this twice unsuccessfully, so there’s a good chance, and if I get in that will determine my training schedule between now and then. In the meantime I’m just trying to stay positive and hoping to come out of all this madness a stronger runner.

Hope everyone is still managing to enjoy running despite these crazy times. At least there is now light at the end of the tunnel. Keep on keeping on folks!

Working With a Running Coach

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to work with a running coach? I certainly have from time to time. I’ve thought it might be good for me to get a training plan tailored to my own requirements – especially as I’ve got older, as most plans don’t take account of age – but then I realised I’d actually have to be accountable to someone who might judge my cake and alcohol intake, so I didn’t take things any further. When I used to train for road marathons I’d follow my trusty Asics Sub 4 plan. Now that I’ve moved on to longer, off-road events I generally use the plan I took from the Race to the Stones website when I ran that in 2017. Both seem to work pretty well. But lately, at times such as when I’ve started to fade towards the end of an ultra, I’ve wondered “Is there a way I could do this better and finish stronger? And if so, what would I need to do?”.

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Race Review – Hardmoors 55 Ultramarathon 2020

The Hardmoors 55 is billed on its website as ‘one hell of a race’, and that’s no exaggeration! Following the Cleveland Way for 55 miles from Guisborough to Helmsley, it has over 2,000 metres of ascent (including some pretty brutal hills) and takes in the highest, most exposed section of the North York Moors. Because of this, and because it’s usually in March, the weather always plays its part in the proceedings. In 2018 the race took place as the Beast from the East swept the country and was officially stopped halfway through during a blizzard. Last year featured torrential rain, freezing gale force winds and horizontal hail, and many runners dropped out – including me! The wind was so strong we couldn’t even run on some flat sections. Soaked to the skin and dithering with cold, I’d had enough after a horrible 20 miles that took me six hours. It was the first time I’d ever DNF’d in a race, and afterwards I felt really annoyed about it, even though I know it was the right decision at the time.

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Getting Back To ‘Normal’

Hello folks, it’s been a while! How are we all doing? I feel like we’ve all been in running limbo for the past few months. In my last blog post, at the end of April, I wondered if things would be back to some kind of normality by the summer, but as it turned out that was a tad optimistic! So many events have been cancelled or postponed until next year that my 2021 schedule is already looking pretty busy.

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Running in Lockdown

I last posted here in mid-March, and in the relatively short time since then the world has changed beyond recognition. At that time I’d just run the Golden Fleece Circuit as part of my preparation for the Highland Fling race, my main target for spring. Not long afterwards we were in lockdown and everything was cancelled. One by one the events I was planning to take part in over the spring and summer fell like dominos: the Daffodil Dash, the Helmsley 10K, the Vale of York 10, the York & District clubs summer 10K league, the Fling, the Windermere Marathon, Race to the Castle, Endure 24… right up until July. I don’t have anything in the diary until the Hardmoors Farndale Marathon in August now. But who knows whether life will be back to anything approaching normal even by then? It was all totally understandable, but so disappointing.

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Race Review – Golden Fleece Circuit 2020

I love running ultras, but preparing for them properly does involve doing quite a few long training runs, which can sometimes be a bit boring. So I love it when I can find an event to enter that’s about the same length as the long run I need to do on that weekend. It’s far more interesting to run a new route with other people than to just go out and plug away by myself. Last weekend’s Golden Fleece Circuit was a great opportunity to combine some Highland Fling training with a good day out.

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