I never planned to run an ultra on my birthday. What sort of idiot would do that? Especially one they hadn’t trained for. No, I’d only planned to run a marathon on my birthday! Albeit a hilly trail one. So what happened there then?
I’d had the Endurancelife North York Moors event in my diary for a while when I watched a lot of the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc race weekend live online about a month ago. Obviously it’s very exciting to watch elite athletes like the legendary Kilian Jornet take on the most prestigious race in the trail running calendar; but behind them, and in the shorter races, are thousands of everyday runners taking on the challenge of a lifetime. The shortest of these is the OCC which, at 55K, is a kind of baby UTMB. I had actually qualified for the OCC last year, but having picked up a lingering foot injury at Race to the Stones I didn’t enter the ballot. My friend Mandy took on the OCC this year and convinced me it was fabulous. My four points from RTTS are still valid for this year’s ballot in December, but the amount of points needed to enter has been increased from four to six. Completing the ultra distance at the Endurancelife would give me three UTMB points, so I opted to upgrade at the last minute to hopefully get these in the bag.
Endurancelife is a series of coastal trail events that take place all over the UK. Each has a choice of 10K, half/full marathon or ultra. I entered the North York Moors marathon mainly because I thought it would be a fun thing to do on my birthday, but also good training for the Snowdonia Marathon in October. The event starts and finishes in Ravenscar, which I love, and takes a figure of eight route encompassing part of the Cleveland Way and surrounding area. As the ultra was only 33 miles but had 3 UTMB points I figured there would be lots of up and down, and I wasn’t wrong!
The weather on race day was fabulously sunny and cool – with just a bit of wind to keep things interesting! There was plenty of race parking in a field just by the start area. Not many people were around when I signed on, so it was all nice and quick, and my upgrade to the ultra was sorted with no fuss (although I did email to check it was OK in advance). We were issued with our numbers, ‘dibbers’ attached to wrist bands to time us through checkpoints, a Tribe bar and an Endurancelife t-shirt. The race briefing for the ultra took place at 8 am, then there was a short break before we set off at 8:30. The organisers had twigged that it was my birthday, and the announcer got everyone to sing Happy Birthday to me, which was a lovely touch.
It was pretty cold at the start, so I set off wearing a base layer, t-shirt, lightweight waterproof jacket and gloves. All mandatory kit anyway, so it saved me carrying it! The first part of the course was pretty familiar to me. In the past few months I’ve been one way round it at the Ravenscar Half, and the other way at the Hardmoors Princess! Out along the Cleveland Way towards Cloughton the overall trajectory is down (and very scenic). Needless to say my jacket and gloves came off after a couple of miles, although I kept my base layer on all day. After turning round at the first timing point we headed back towards Ravenscar on the Cinder Track, a former railway line now used as a foot and cycle path – a slight uphill drag all the way back.
Just after 12 miles we passed back through Ravenscar and then headed out the other side towards Robin Hood’s Bay. I thought we might just keep along the Cinder Track for this, but we went back onto the Cleveland Way, going up and down hills and steps at various points. By this time the leaders of the marathon, which had started at 9 am, had begun to overtake us. The speed some of them were going up and down those steps was seriously impressive! I felt my progress was steady but OK; I wasn’t running for time. Lots of walkers were out on the path as we approached the village, and most wished us well, which was lovely.
We passed through the second timing point at Robin Hood’s Bay. All the checkpoints en route offered water, jelly babies, crisps, biscuits and pieces of banana. From here we followed a loop out along the Cleveland Way north towards Whitby, then after a couple of miles turned inland, went up a huge hill, and caught up with the Cinder Track again. This took us back down into Robin Hood’s Bay (a lovely gentle descent for a couple of miles) and through the same checkpoint a second time. From here it was a few miles along roads and moorland tracks, through Fylingdales and Fylingthorpe back to Ravenscar – with lots climbing! This second loop of the figure of eight was also the route of the half marathon. A lot of people were feeling the strain of all the hills at this point – me included! But I managed to keep plugging on, with walking breaks on some of the uphill sections. I would have loved a drink of Coke at this stage, but there was only water on offer, to which I added High 5 Zero.
The second passing through Ravenscar marked the end of the marathon distance. But for those of us doing the ultra it was back out again to finish by running the 10K course – a shortened version of the first loop we’d done. It was very tempting to stop, passing by the finish area! But on I trotted, thinking of the UTMB points. And actually, the last few miles were a lot less difficult than the second half of the marathon. I saw hardly anyone on this final stretch and began to wonder if I was last! But no – I eventually finished in 7:24, 55th out of only 62 finishers in the ultra – appropriate for my 55th birthday! Interestingly, there were also nine DNFs in the ultra – I think most of them had decided to call it a day at the end of the marathon. I didn’t mind being nearly last as I was the oldest woman in the race – and the points were in the bag!
The ending was fairly low key as most other runners had finished and gone home. There had been 77 entries in the 10K, 167 in the half marathon and 66 in the full one, so not massive numbers – although the event was said to be sold out. There was some nice bling, and overall I really enjoyed the event and thought it was well organised. The signage around the route was excellent – it would have been impossible to get lost, even for me! The only small gripe I have is that it would have been nice to see some slightly more calorific snacks at the check points (e.g. peanuts) and maybe some Coke for a bit of a sugar/caffeine boost. We were warned in the pre-race blurb that snacks wouldn’t be plentiful, but at £55 for the marathon entry I don’t think a bit more refreshment would be too much to ask. Other than that I thought this was a great event and would highly recommend it.
The pre-race blurb also stated that there were prizes for each age group category, including V55, so I’m expecting to hear from the organisers soon; because surely if I was the only category entry in the ultra I must also be the winner, no?!