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!

One Reply to “Race Review – Hardwolds 40 Ultramarathon 2021”

  1. Brilliant run and awesome blog, as ever.
    Sounds a great route.
    You have convinced me with the strength training, something I have been putting off (all my life!)
    Great work 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *