Hips Don’t Lie

Oh hi, remember me? The one with the dodgy hip? As people keep asking me how it’s doing I thought I’d post a quick update. Thanks to everyone who’s enquired by the way!

I can’t quite believe it’s now nearly eight months since I took part in a running event. In that time I’ve done a bit of running, quite a bit of cycling (mostly boring turbo training) and have been trying to fix my ‘injury’ with all kinds of physio-prescribed strength work. I won’t bore you with all the details!

Anyway, as the hip still wasn’t feeling any better I recently went back to my GP for help. After waiting four weeks for an appointment, I was told it could be months before I could see an NHS physio and possibly be referred to a specialist, so in the end I bit the bullet and paid privately for an appointment with a hip specialist to get to the bottom of things. I guess this is a reflection of how much the NHS is struggling at the moment, and I totally understand I’m not exactly a priority, so am not moaning about this at all.

After an x-ray and consultation, the expert’s verdict is that I do definitely have osteoarthritis in my right hip. The differences between my right and left sides were quite clear to see on the x-ray. This was a bit of a blow, but in a way also a relief to finally have it confirmed what the problem was. It was also reassuring to hear that this wasn’t caused by running, but more likely by having a job where I’ve sat at a desk for 30-odd years. Or maybe some past trauma in the area (although I can’t think of anything). But it is exacerbated by running a long way. And so frustrating that it’s all on one side. Why?!

So now I have to work out how to deal with it. At the moment I can only run about 5K without drugs before things start to hurt. I know I should be grateful for that; a lot of people with arthritis are in a much worse state. Annoyingly, cycling doesn’t seem to affect it at all. I don’t mind a bit of cycling, but I don’t love it like I love running.

I’ve started taking a very expensive range of supplements; posh fish oil, glucosamine, chondroitin and turmeric (yes, I do rattle when I walk!) which seems a bit like clutching at straws, but I feel I have to give this a go to see if it helps. Arthritis can apparently be a strange thing. The specialist told me that some people have quite extensive damage but not much pain; others (like me) are the other way round, and I’m apparently a long way off being ready for any surgical intervention.

So for now I’m just going to do what I can. I’m entered into the Hardmoors White Horse Half in a couple of weeks, and I’m determined to get round that one way or the other (generous cut-off times!) but have no ambitions beyond that at the moment. After that I’ll see how things go, but I think maybe my ultra days are over. Or are they? Ultras are, after all – for most of us – a combination of running and walking, which I can still do. I’d be really interested to hear how other runners have coped with this, so please feel free to let me know or message me privately via the website if you’d rather not comment publicly.

I’m trying to stay positive for now,because even if I could never run another step I’ll be grateful to have had some amazing running experiences. Hopefully I won’t have to stop just yet!

On The Bench (well almost)

As the end of 2022 approaches, I realise I haven’t written many blog posts this year. There are various reasons for this, but I guess it’s mainly because I haven’t done a huge number of events to review and am ending the year slightly crocked so haven’t been up to much lately.

My last post was at the end of September, just after I’d completed the OCC. Six weeks later I took part in the Endurancelife North York Moors Marathon; in retrospect possibly not the best idea I’ve ever had, as I probably wasn’t fully recovered from the OCC, but I couldn’t resist as it’s one of my favourite events. I had a great day, but the hip niggle that has been bothering me a bit for about the last 18 months played up more than usual. So I had a couple of weeks off running to see if it would calm down. It didn’t. I was supposed to be running the Hardmoors 30 in January and while I didn’t think I needed to do loads of training for that I didn’t want to do nothing. However, after an easy ten mile run that ended with me walking much of the last two miles, I knew I had to stop pretending I wasn’t injured and take proper stock of the situation.

Back in January I did see an NHS physio about my hip. After an x-ray he thought the problem might be a touch of osteoarthritis, although the evidence apparently wasn’t conclusive. Various strengthening exercises were prescribed, but after months of doing these religiously as well as mainlining glucosamine and fish oil, nothing seemed to have changed. So I sought a second opinion from a physio I hadn’t seen before, based on the recommendations of a couple of friends. This chap doesn’t think I have arthritis, but rather some kind of hip impingement that can be fixed. So I’ve had a couple of torture (sorry, therapy!) sessions with him and now have new rehab exercises to do! I really don’t know what to believe any more, but feel I have to give this a go in the hope of being able to run pain-free. We shall see! For now I’m only allowed to do short, slow jog/walk sessions of no more than 5K.

I’ve had a couple of running injuries in the past that I’ve managed to overcome, so I’m trying to remain optimistic for now and not be too grumpy. In fact, after having a high hamstring tendinopathy after my first ultra in 2015, I recovered well and went on to run all my best road times in 2016. I’m not bothered about speed any more, but would still love to be able to plod around long events. As Lizzy Hawker says about injury in her amazing book Runner, running is like a good friend – always there waiting for you. However, it does make me feel a bit sad to think that I was in pretty good shape (for me) for the OCC, but now feel fat and unfit. I’m eating all the mince pies but not running enough miles to burn them off! I think as an ultrarunner it’s inevitable that injuries will crop up from time to time and on the whole I’ve been very lucky – especially for an old bird! But as an oldie I do wonder how much longer I’ll be able to do ultras, and feel a sense of time running out. There are still some events I’d love to do. I had a dream of attempting the Hardmoors 110 in 2023, but think I’ll have to park that one for now.

Whatever happens I’ve been very fortunate to have taken part in two fantastic events in 2022, the Highland Fling and the OCC; both had been on my bucket list for ages. My programme for early 2023 is looking a bit thin at the moment – I’ll just have to see how things go. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas with lots lovely of food and running. I’m planning to do some long walks in lieu of long runs. A big hug to anyone else who’s on the injury bench – and all the best to everyone for 2023.

Race Review: UTMB OCC 2022

Many would say the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) festival in Chamonix is the holy grail of trail running. Races of varying distance and difficulty take place throughout the last week of August, contested by some of the best athletes in the field. In addition, there are thousands of other runners who (like me) have qualified to be there by gaining UTMB points at other races and then entering a ballot for places. It’s proper bucket list stuff. After five years, including three attempts in the ballot followed by a Covid-induced delay, I was finally here for the OCC (Orsières – Champex – Chamonix) race and couldn’t quite believe it!

Registration the day before the race at the sports centre in Chamonix was pretty efficient. We had to take along all our mandatory kit for this; some people were checked at random, most weren’t. We then collected our numbers, were fitted with a wrist band and given a really nice UTMB tech t-shirt by Hoka, who were sponsoring the event for the first time. I didn’t visit the race expo, as I think wandering around those can be quite energy-draining, but there was certainly lots of official merchandise on offer. I spent the rest of the day carb loading on fine French bakery products, plus a spot of sitting down sight-seeing on a chair lift up to see the Bossons glacier.

Although it’s the ‘baby’ race of UTMB week, the OCC is no pushover. With 3,500 metres of ascent over 55K, it’s a decent day out! The race starts in Orsières in Switzerland, from where runners make their way back to Chamonix. So the day begins with a 5.30 am bus ride to the start! There are various pick up points on two routes through the valley, and the campsite where we were staying had a stop really close by. The journey took about an hour and twenty minutes, during which time the sun rose spectacularly over the mountains. The weather was set to be hot, and although I’d tried to train in the heat when I could, I was nervous about it. There was quite a bit of hanging around after we’d arrived in Orsières. The race started in three waves at 8.15, 8.45 and 9.15. As I wasn’t off until 9.15 I had over two hours to kill. I can imagine that if the weather had been bad it would have been a bit miserable as there wasn’t really anywhere to shelter. Luckily I managed to find a café to grab a coffee and a croissant, and it was also nice to meet a couple of people I knew from Twitter.

By the time our wave set off it was already pretty warm. We were sent on our way with cow bells ringing and school children cheering; it was all very Alpine! The course is pretty much four climbs and descents with not much flat, so we were into the first (and shortest) climb up to the village of Champex Lac at about 1500 metres. There was a bit of congestion here, but not too much – probably thanks to the staggered start – and I go into a good rhythm with my poles. I was already sweating like a beast though! The valley floor began to fall away and I felt pretty good. I knew I’d have to take things steady though, as there was much more climbing to come.

At Champex Lac (7K) there was a drink station, where I had some Coke and cracked on. I really enjoyed the stretch alongside the lake there. I’d seen it on coverage of the UTMB races so many times and there was a lovely refreshing breeze. After descending from here we were into the next ascent up to La Giete at about 2,000 metres. Support was great as we passed through villages, with people ringing the biggest cowbells I’d ever seen! I was surprised that I was finding the climbing OK; it was good to know the specific ‘mountain legs’ strength work I’d done in training seemed to be paying off.

After a long and spectacular descent we reached Triente at 23K. As I approached the village, a young guy at the side of the trail saw me and shouted “Come on Team GB, f***ing ‘ave it!” which made me laugh. Triente was the first aid station with food, and I was interested to see what would be on offer. There was a range of both salty and sweet snacks, and I sampled some really nice local chorizo. Unfortunately there was nothing wrapped, so you couldn’t really take anything for later. I made use of the loos there and took a piece of cake to eat as I set off again, as I knew the biggest climb was coming up. Steve had ridden out to Triente to see me, which was a great boost.

The middle section of the OCC course had been changed this year from previous versions. The new route now goes up the Col de Balme, where it crosses the French border, and maintains height for a while before descending to Argentière; the old route had gone a different way via Vallorcine. As I trotted along a flattish road section out of Triente, I spotted a British runner coming back in the opposite direction. When I asked if he was OK he said “I got to the start of that steep climb and thought ‘My legs aren’t having it’. It’s just not my day. I’m going back to the aid station”. This was slightly disconcerting, as I then saw two other people doing exactly the same! I knew this climb was going to include over a kilometre of elevation, but got into my ultra mindset of ‘Just keep moving forwards’ and it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought – long, but not super tough.

I think the heat was getting to a lot of people at this point; I saw a fair few folk sitting at the side of the trail or slumped over their poles looking pooped. Maybe they’d set off too fast or not drunk enough. I was surprised it hadn’t affected me more and just kept plugging away.

The Col de Balme at 33K is the highest point of the course at 2,200 metres. Just before the top we had to climb up a steep rocky slope with a via ferrata-like chain attached at the side for support. Not ideal if you’re afraid of heights! I’m not really, but felt it best not to look at the steep drop on the right at this point.

The next section, along the top of the col, was tricky for me as it was quite technical – a few miles of very rocky undulating trail, including quite a bit of scrambling. Definitely not what I’m good at. I stood aside many times to let people pass me, but at least I only fell over once and didn’t get hurt! I’d been doing pretty well (for me) up to this point, getting to halfway in under six hours, but this part really set me back. It was such a relief when it was over.

At the aid station at the top of the col a few people were lying on camp beds wrapped in foil blankets, and one guy who’d obviously taken a tumble was having medical attention to his bleeding face. “Well”, I thought, “I might not be fast but at least I’m still going!”. It was quite windy, up there, so I didn’t hang around.

The descent from here was probably my favourite part of the race – a long, sandy, curvy trail that was really runnable. Although not many people seemed to be running it. Had they battered themselves too much on the rocks? No idea, but I tried to make the most of it!

It felt great to make it to Argentière at 44K, as I thought that even though I’d be slow, at least I knew now that I’d finish, barring disaster. From here there was just one last big climb up to the ski station at La Flégère before the final descent to Chamonix. I had a couple of snacks at the aid station and set off in the company of a young American chap called Josh. As we chatted and plugged our way up the mountain I was surprised that I still felt pretty good. It wasn’t easy, but I did overtake several people on the way up. It was sunset by now, and the pink light on the snowy mountains looked amazing. As it became darker, people stopped to put on their head torches. Soon there was just a snake of lights moving up the climb towards the illuminated building at the top, which was the final checkpoint. I took a mini Snickers and started the descent. The first few hundred metres of this were good, smooth trail, but then everything got very rocky and rooty, and I lost my head a bit in the dark. Not being familiar with the route, or good at technical descents, I was really worried about tripping over, so proceeded really slowly. Many people passed me and once again I lost lots of time. I could see the lights of Chamonix down in the valley, but they never seemed to get any closer! However, I did hear later that the leading woman had gone flying here in broad daylight, so felt a bit better after that.

After what seemed like ages, we reached the lower slopes of the mountain and I was able to run properly. As we came into town the atmosphere was amazing; hundreds of people lining the route clapping, cheering and ringing cowbells as we ran through the streets. It felt fantastic to finish under the famous UTMB arch as the announcer called my name. The OCC was tough, and ultimately it was slow, but I’d finished! My finish time was 13:17. I’d hoped to get closer to 12 hours, but it wasn’t to be.

At the end there were snacks and beer, and we were all given a fleecy Hoka gilet. A lot of people didn’t seem to be keen on this, saying they would have preferred a medal, but I really like it.

So, was I glad I came? Definitely. This race had been on my bucket list for years. Having said that, if I’d known how tricky (for me) it was in some places I might not have entered! Straight after I’d finished I was disappointed with my time, but now I realise it’s an achievement just to finish and to rise to the challenge of getting through something I’m not great at. I’ve always had a lot of respect for people who take on the big UTMB race, but that’s gone up to a whole new level now! So the qualifying, the ballot attempts, the Covid delays, the travel to France and the getting up before dawn were definitely worth it.

The UTMB qualification system has recently changed and is more costly and complicated now, but if you fancy having a go it’s explained here. Cheers and good luck if you go for it!

Training for the UTMB OCC

As I write this it’s ten days until the UTMB OCC and I can’t quite believe it’s actually happening! It’s been a long journey to get here. After three attempts in the ballot I finally got a place for 2020; then all the UTMB races were cancelled due to Covid. I could have done it last year, but as foreign travel was still tricky and the event was much reduced, I decided to defer my place to 2022 so I could have the full-on big race experience.

After the Highland Fling I took a bit of recovery time, then at the beginning of May I had a catch-up with coach Kim Cavill, who came up with a 16 week OCC training plan for me. The first half concentrated on building aerobic fitness, including interval sessions and hill sprints, and also incorporating some of our local 10K summer league races.

The second half focussed more on preparing for the actual event, so there were specific strength sessions twice a week, and the introduction of weekends where I would do a long run on Saturday and a hilly hike on Sunday. I really enjoyed these, but it didn’t leave much time for anything else other than training for a few weeks! Luckily Steve has also had to put in some long training hours for a cycle sportive he’s doing in the Alps a few days after the OCC – the GFNY Vaujany – so at least it was the same for both of us.

For two weeks in the middle of my training plan we were on holiday in France, and I had permission from Kim to freestyle a bit. I got in a few hilly runs, but also did quite a bit of cycling and walking. After having croissants for breakfast and baguette for lunch pretty much every day for a fortnight I was amazed when I got home to find I’d lost a couple of kilos! I don’t really get hung up about my weight, but I had put on a few pounds during lockdown that I was more than happy to shake off – a bit less to drag up those mountains!

I haven’t done many races in the last couple of months as I didn’t want to risk upsetting my dodgy hip in the run-up to the OCC. Just two half marathons that I love: the Ravenscar Half and the Hardmoors White Horse Half. Both good, hilly training exercises! And fortunately the hip has behaved quite well.

I’ve really enjoyed the strength work I’ve done over the last couple of months. On Wednesday I’ve been doing a session I call Mountain Legs, which is basically various different types of squats and lunges. Then on Friday I’ve had a kettlebell session; this was something completely new to me, but I’ve loved it. I think it’s really made a difference, even after just a few weeks – I definitely feel stronger and am a bit more toned all over. I’m aiming to keep this up going forward. After kettlebell Fridays, long run Saturdays and hilly hike Sundays, I’ve always been ready for my Monday rest day! I find Yoga with Adriene’s Yoga for Tired Legs session really helps me to recover on a day off.

So now I’m tapering, feeling tired but stronger, and with just a few easy sessions to do over the next ten days. Plenty of time to fuss about what to wear and pack on the day! If I’m honest, the thing that’s bothering me most now is the prospect of a very long, hot day in Chamonix, which is more than likely. I’ve tried to acclimatise a bit by forcing myself to go out and train sometimes when it’s been hot. Then again, it could rain! Ah well, what will be will be. At 55K, the OCC isn’t long (the baby race of the UTMB festival) but it does have 3,500 metres of ascent, so it’s no pushover, and will be a long day out. I’ve completed a race with that much climbing before – the Hardmoors 60 – but that was over almost twice the distance. The time limit for the OCC is 14.5 hours; although apparently the winner will take around 5.5 hours – wow! I’m a long way out of my comfort zone with this one. I just hope there will be some nice people to chat to at the back of the pack.

If you’d like to watch any of the UTMB races live you can do so on their website here. Although I doubt very much I’ll be on camera! And if you happen to be in Chamonix next week and see me, please say hi and wish me luck. I’ll certainly need it!!

Race Review – Highland Fling Ultramarathon 2022

Well hello! It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. The reason I haven’t posted much since last autumn is that I haven’t actually done much! But what I have done is learned to manage my dodgy hip, which had been bugging me for ages. I won’t bore you with all the details of how I’ve got to this point, but luckily I’ve never actually had to stop running, which is great. I cut down my mileage and increased my strength work over the winter and then felt able to take part in the Temple Newsam Ten and the Snake Lane 10 – both great local ten mile events which helped to restore my enjoyment of running.

As an ultramarathon, the Highland Fling at the end of April had been slightly hanging in the balance for me, but I decided to start training for it in January and see what happened. I had been scheduled to take part in 2020, but the race didn’t happen for the last two years due to Covid. All was going well until I (ironically!) caught Covid at the start of what should have been my biggest block of training. I didn’t run at all for about ten days, and it took me another couple of weeks to feel normal again. I really wasn’t sure what to do, so at the beginning of April I took part in the It’s Grim Up North Roche Abbey Marathon as my longest run before the Fling, and I told myself if I got through that I’d go to Scotland. It turned out surprisingly OK and was actually a great event, so the Fling was on!

Steve and I travelled up to Scotland last Friday, as the race was taking place on the Saturday. Free long term parking was available for participants at the local rugby club, just ten minutes’ walk from the start, so we parked our motorhome there for the night. After a carb-loading tea from the local chippy, registration took place at a nearby pub. All runners had been asked to provide evidence of a negative lateral flow test taken that day, which had to be presented before registration was allowed. We were then issued with a race number, a timing ‘dibber’ and a wristband. It’s an early start for this event – 6 am – so we tried to get an early night; but for some reason I was paranoid about oversleeping, so didn’t actually get much sleep at all! The alarm went off at 4:15, and it felt bizarre to be applying sun lotion in the dark and cold, but the forecast was set to be warm and sunny.

The race follows the first half of the West Highland Way, so covers 53 miles from Milngavie (just outside Glasgow) to Tyndrum with 2,330m of ascent. You can see a map of the route here. I knew that the first quarter or so would be pretty runnable, then the hard work would start after that. I guessed I wouldn’t be at my best after missing a few weeks of training through Covid, but was happy to give it my best shot. Steve’s plan was to drive to the finish at Tyndrum, go gravelling and wait for me to arrive. There was a real buzz at the start, and I managed to say hello to Ironman legend Chrissie Wellington, who was also taking part – starting a bit further up the field than me! We set off in perfect running weather, bright but cool, bang on 6 am, complete with a piper to send us on our way.

I really enjoyed the first 12 miles to Drymen – good quality trails and a few tiny bits of road, with some undulations to keep things interesting. There were various timing points along the way where we had to insert our old-school dibbers to check in, rather than wearing trackers. I covered the 12.6 miles to Drymen in 2:19, which is pretty good for me in an ultra.

Shortly after that came the first big climb of the day, Conic Hill; from the top of here we got our first good view of Loch Lomond, along whose shores we’d shortly be spending a good part of the day. It looked amazing in the spring sunshine!

The descent down the other side was quite steep and rocky (although I say this as someone who isn’t confident on this type of terrain!) but actually most people seemed to be avoiding the official path and just bombing down the grass at the side.

The weather was warming up now, and the next checkpoint was Balmaha, where the route met the loch at 19.8 miles and we had the first of our three drop bags. The marshals at all the checkpoints were really well organised, shouting out our race numbers and having our bags ready for us as we arrived. Unusually, no food is provided at any of the Fling checkpoints, just water, with Coke at two of the later ones. However, there is a table for people to deposit any food items they decide not to carry with them, and there was a good selection of sweet and savoury snacks at each one.

After this the hard graft really began! The route follows the lakeside, constantly undulating, with steep climbs and descents on narrow paths full of boulders and roots. There were only short sections that were actually runnable, and there was also a lot of scrambling over obstacles, often using hands as well as feet! I knew the lakeside section would be hard, but don’t think I’d fully twigged just how hard, or how long it would go on for.

I reached the halfway point at Rowardennan in six hours, but my pace had slowed considerably and I honestly wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to finish. But I had a word with myself and thought I hadn’t come all the way to Scotland to drop out at the halfway point, took on some more fuel and pushed on.

For the first twelve miles or so of the race my average mile pace had been between 10 and 11 minutes. Now it was dropping to between 15 and 20, with a few miles even over 20 minutes. I could tell the second half was going to take a lot longer than the first! The relentless lakeside path went on and on for almost 20 miles, and is certainly the most energy-sapping stretch of running I’ve ever done. I felt I was doing really badly, and was only comforted by the fact that everyone else around me seemed to be in the same position! At least there was the amazing scenery to take our minds off the pain a bit

My quads, knees and ankles were mashed by the time I reached Inverarnan at the top of the loch – from where there was another big climb!

After that there was finally some nice, undulating runnable path, but my legs were so tired I really felt like I was running through treacle and I began to wonder if I’d actually make the cut-off times. So it was a real relief when a lovely female marshal at the final checkpoint, Bogle Glen at 47.5 miles, shouted at the top of her voice “COME ON ANGIE, YOU’RE DOING THIS – YOU’RE GOING TO FINISH!” I filled one of my bottles with Coke (magic stuff!), necked my last gel, and cracked on as best I could.

We climbed up into some forest, then came steeply downhill. It was after 6 pm by now and the landscape was bathed in a gorgeous golden light. We’d been so lucky with the weather. The last couple of miles were a lot easier to run on, and I actually overtook a few people who were walking on the last section through Tyndrum Park to the finish, buoyed on by the sight of Steve appearing to ring a cowbell and shout at me. And what a finish it is – running down an actual red carpet with people cheering and shouting, and a commentator too. I was so pleased to hear him announce “Angela Shepherd, Tadcaster Harriers!” as I crossed the line. it was finally over!

I was ushered into the finishing area to have an official photo taken, then given an excellent goody bag containing a race medal, t-shirt, buff and bottle of Highland Fling prosecco. Fabulous! My official finish time was 14:23, so the second half had taken me two and a half hours longer than the first. I felt really slow, but later learned that almost a quarter of those who started had dropped out at some point, so in the end I was actually pleased just to have finished.

Overall I was 269th out of 315 finishers, 76th out of 98 females, and 16th FV50 out of 24 (9 FV50s DNFed). Frankly I was just relieved not to be last, and other runners were still coming in up to an hour and a half later. There was some very welcome soup for us at the end – unfortunately I wasn’t in time to enjoy the ice cream, baked potatoes and beer that the faster runners got! Then I staggered the short distance to the campsite where we were staying.

On reflection… am I glad I did this? Yes, and pleased that although I found it really hard, I didn’t quit. But if I’d realised exactly how tough it was I might not have entered in the first place! I think it was the hardest race I’ve ever taken part in, but also kind of proves that you’re capable of more than you think. I felt like I’d been run over by a truck the next day, but strangely my dodgy hip didn’t feel too bad. I feel fine now, apart from my right big toe nail, which took a real hammering, and I expect it to leave me at any time! If you love a tricky, technical route, you’ll love the Fling; but if gentle forest trails are more your kind of thing, it’s probably not for you. I couldn’t fault it on organisation, friendliness and atmosphere though.

So now I’m having a couple of easy weeks of walking, yoga and riding my new bike, before starting to train for the big one this year, the OCC – eek!

With M Nidderdale Guided Run & Brunch

January. It’s a bit ‘meh’, isn’t it? We all deserve a little treat to get us through the greyness. So I was delighted to be asked to attend a Run and Brunch event last week in beautiful Nidderdale. It was organised by With M, a new company owned by private chef Michaela Hanna, who you may have seen on Masterchef: The Professionals a couple of years ago. Experiences With M offers getaways where people can immerse themselves in their passion for running, cycling or walking whilst also enjoying the fabulous food that is Michaela’s own passion. Trail running and amazing food, what’s not to like? I was there like a shot! The day dawned crisp and clear as I drove over to Pateley Bridge and I couldn’t believe how lucky we were with the weather.

Whilst Michaela takes care of the catering, she calls in the sporting experts to lead the activities. Our running guide for the day was Hannah Rayner, a UK Athletics Coach in Running and Fitness who also runs her own local business, HR Running Coach. A lively group of ten runners assembled, then Hannah took us through a warm-up session. Honestly, how many of us do that every time we go out? It was a good reminder that’s it’s actually quite important.

We then set off down the high street and onto the hills. Runners of all abilities are welcome here so long as they’re comfortable with running 10K – pace isn’t important.

Our route was about five miles long, and pretty much all of the first half was uphill, climbing up to meet the Nidderdale Way Great training! I haven’t really done any big hills since Hardmoors Goathland in November, as I’ve been taking it easy with my dodgy hip, so it felt good to do some hard work.

Every so often we stopped to regroup, and Hannah made sure nobody was left behind. It was great to have a guide; with no need to think about navigation, we could just enjoy the amazing scenery.

The high point of our route was a trig point with fabulous views of Nidderdale. Such a clear and sunny day!

Fortunately what goes up must come down, so the second half of the run went downhill through Guisecliff wood on trail that was interesting but still runnable. Techical downhill is not my strong point, but this was great. We then followed the river back into Pately Bridge. After a group cooldown and stretch, a fantastic feast awaited us! In our absence Michaela had magically created a sumptuous brunch that looked so good it almost seemed a shame to eat it. But not quite… we were all starving!

To start there were various fresh juices, yoghurt, homemade granola and fruit, including some beautiful new season pink Yorkshire rhubarb.

Next up was a fabulous smoked salmon frittata. I’ve tried to make frittata a couple of times with no success, so Michaela kindly offered me some tips on getting it right! Eggs Benedict were also on offer – very luxurious.

I think the brunch highlight for most of us were the pancakes. Gorgeous, fluffy, American-style stacks that were unanimously voted the best ever! I had mine with salted caramel sauce and they were simply divine.

Suitably stuffed on the finest fare, we continued to chat and drink coffee until it was sadly time to leave. To be honest, I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning. I’ve also been inspired to try and make some granola, recreate those pancakes and have another go at frittata.

If the thought of fabulous running and food appeals to you (and why would it not?!) With M has more events coming up over the next few months. The next Run & Brunch is on 26th March, and tickets are available here. Don’t worry about going on your own if you fancy it – I didn’t know anyone when I went, but everyone I met was really friendly and chatty – although I should probably have saved the oxygen for climbing hills!

For a more immersive experience, there’s also a full Feasting and Running weekend in early March and a whole week of Feasting and Mountain Biking in April if that’s more your thing. Details on the With M website here. A fantastic time in great company is guaranteed!

Race Review – Hardmoors Goathland Marathon 2021

Hardmoors Goathland was an event I’d really been looking forward to, mostly because it was the only Hardmoors marathon I hadn’t yet run. I was supposed to do it last year, but like many events it was postponed due to Covid. At that time I ran a virtual Goathlands half marathon with my friend Jason, which was a great taster for the real thing.

Goathland is a beautiful village near Whitby on the North York Moors, and will be familiar to those of a certain age as the setting for the TV series Heartbeat. It seems very remote, and I was surprised it only took me an hour to get there from home near York. The race starts and finishes at the village hall, and it was fab to have indoor registration/kit check and toilets – just like old times! As usual at Hardmoors events, half marathon and 10K options are also available. The marathon route is only 27 miles, probably the closest marathon to 26.2 miles Hardmoors do; but the route had to be changed slightly this year to take account of a car rally going on nearby. Unsurprisingly this added a couple of miles to the distance!

We set off at 9 am. The weather was dry to start, but forecast to turn showery and very windy later on. After a nice downhill start the route started to climb through some woods, before a descent and slippery, rocky scramble past the Mallyan Spout waterfall.

This looked great, but I was too busy concentrating on not falling over to appreciate it very much!

A climb up out of the woods was followed by a short road section, then a long stretch of moorland track, including the first of two visits to the standing stones at Simon Howe. The sections on top of the moors were definitely the hardest part of this route; the combination of really soft mud, water and hard tussocks of grass made it difficult (sometimes impossible) to run in places.

There was another woodland section after this, including a lovely descent, followed by another muddy stretch alongside the North York Moors railway line. Whilst eating a snack along here, and not paying full attention to where I was putting my feet, I managed to fall over sideways into a big muddy puddle. I was unhurt, just pleased nobody had seen me!

A short, steep climb then took us up to the edge of the spectacular Hole of Horcum, where we maintained our height for a while. A steady climb on good, grassy ground led to the romantic ruins of Skelton Tower. The views over the moors in every direction from this high point are quite spectacular, and I stopped for a moment to take them in. I was feeling pretty good at this point and optimistic of finishing in just over six hours.

The route then undulated through the woods around the village of Levisham before climbing up to Levisham Moor, partly following the route of the Tabular Hills Walk. We passed by the Hole of Horcum once more, on a different path this time, before heading back in the direction of Goathland.

Much of the last few miles followed the same paths over the moors as on the way out, but even tougher this time as the ground was now more churned up! It started to rain, so I stopped and put my jacket on – obviously it then stopped about two minutes later! But the wind was getting up and making it feel quite chilly, so I was glad of it anyway.

We climbed back up through the woods we’d descended through on the way out, then retraced our steps across the boggy moor. This included a long, hard drag uphill into a strong head wind for about a mile and a half that seemed to take ages, finishing with our second visit to Simon Howe. I was feeling really tired by now and realised my finishing time would be closer to seven hours than six! At least from here the route to the finish was mostly downhill, albeit on very rough narrow tracks.

I couldn’t see anyone in front of me or behind, just miles and miles of moorland. I’m quite happy with this on a route that’s well marked. Remote but beautiful! However, at one point I accidentally kicked a rock with my toe and tripped over – into soft heather, so again unhurt – but immediately got really bad cramp in my left calf. I sat at the side of the trail for a couple of minutes, swearing loudly as my calf spasmed painfully. Luckily there was nobody around to hear me! After giving it a rub for a bit I managed to walk it off and carry on running.

Trail turned into road as I arrived back in Goathland and trotted through the village to the finish. It was around 4 pm by now and daylight was starting to fade. My eventual finishing time was 7:12:21 (damn cramp!), a bit disappointing, but it was quite a tough day. I did a fair bit of walking in this race and felt I’d been really slow, so was surprised not to be nearer the back. I was 52nd out of 79 finishers, 11th out of 21 women and 3rd FV50 out of seven. Despite this being a tough race I was really glad I’d done it. The scenery was amazing, the weather better than forecasted and all the Hardmoors marshals as brilliant as ever. This isn’t an easy event to get into, as capacity is quite small, but well worth the effort if you love big, rugged landscapes. Or mud!

This was my last event of the year apart from the Tadcaster 10 next weekend, which I don’t know if I’ll do yet due to the niggle I’ve had in my right hip for the last few months. I’m not sure a ten mile pounding on the road would do it any good. I’m following a strategy of running a lot less miles and doing more strength work until the end of the year in the hope that will help it. I have some big plans for next year, so want to be right for starting training in the new year!

Race Review – Hardmoors Fryupdale Marathon 2021

I couldn’t wait to run Hardmoors Fryupdale. Postponed from last year due to Covid, it was one of the few Hardmoors marathons I’d never done. It has a smaller capacity than the other events, so I was delighted when I eventually managed to get a place. Driving over the moors to the tiny hamlet of Fryup on the day the sunrise looked amazing and the weather forecast was perfect. It’s one of the longer Hardmoors ‘marathons’ at 31 miles, so I was set for a great day out!

The race starts and finishes at the Yorkshire Cycle Hub; a perfect venue with loads of parking, showers and a great café. There was a real buzz at the race briefing, and we set off bang on 9 am straight into a zig-zag uphill via the Cycle Hub’s mountain bike track.

After a couple of miles of undulating trail, with a fair bit of slightly congested singletrack, we launched into a huge hill. That got the calves burning, but was the only really steep climb of the day. Although there’s over 1,000 metres of elevation on the course, most of it comes from longer, more gradual inclines, which actually suit me better.

After the second checkpoint, the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge, there was a bit of quiet road until we turned off on to High Blakey Moor. This was one of my favourite parts of the course; good quality trail that went very gradually down then up, accompanied by amazing views. With bright blue sky and brilliant sunshine, but a cool temperature and a slight breeze, I really couldn’t have been happier. I felt very lucky, as apparently the last time this race happened it rained all day!

We continued along moorland tracks, through fields, over streams and railway lines, skirting the edge of Castleton and passing through the village of Danby. Quite a bit of the route followed the Esk Valley Walk, waymarked with a fish symbol. I would love to explore this more some time.

Just before Danby a small group of us started running together and having a bit of a chat, which is always a great part of any ultra. From Danby we all jog/walked up a long, steep road climb to Danby Beacon, which was really impressive. The 20 mile checkpoint was here.

After this our group fragmented a bit – some dropped back and others tried to push on, leapfrogging each other and exchanging a few words from time to time. From the Beacon there was a fantastic gradual trail descent for a couple of miles to the village of Leaholm. After that was a rollercoaster of three (or was it four?) long, gradual climbs and short descents – the kind of terrain that I’d probably run the whole of in training, but that really saps the legs when you’ve already been on the go for about 25 miles. There was some walking! But the reward was then another long descent to Glaisdale Rigg.

From the last checkpoint at 29 miles I could see another descent coming up and was really looking forward to coasting to the finish. But this turned out to be a steep hill of slippery mud and rock that was impossible to run, so not really any respite! It had probably been churned up a bit by the faster runners in front. This sort of stuff is really not my forte, and I minced down super slowly. The final mile or so was along the road back to the Cycle Hub, but with more uphill, and then a final steep little grassy climb to the finish line – no let up until the very end! Steve had cycled out from home to meet me and was at the top shouting encouragement, but my legs were finally out of running.

It’s always hard to know how you’re doing in a long race where runners get quite strung out. I was absolutely knackered at the end of this and, because I’d done quite a bit of walking, thought I must be somewhere near the back. However, towards the end I’d been determined to get under seven hours and pushed as hard as I could. My official finish time was 6:55:58, so I just made it! I was surprised to learn that I’d come 44th out of 87 finishers overall and 11th woman out of 28 – better than expected. And I’d missed out on being 1st FV50 by just 46 seconds. I might have pushed a little bit harder if I’d known that! But all in all I was happy with the result.

Just like most Hardmoors events, this was a tough but fantastic race and I really enjoyed it. Half marathon and 10K options are also available for non-masochists! Fryupdale is a bit of a hidden gem that I’d recommend visiting even if you don’t want to run round it, and the Yorkshire Cycle Hub is well worth a trip if you love cycling. I’m now really looking forward to the Hardmoors Goathland marathon next month, another one that I haven’t managed to run yet. Then that’s me done for this year!

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!