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.Continue reading “Race Review – Hardmoors 55 Ultramarathon 2020”
As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader here, I’m a big fan of Hardmoors running events. The Princess Challenge isn’t a Hardmoors race as such (in as much as it isn’t organised by Hardmoors legends Jon and Shirley Steele), but is organised by a lovely visually-impaired runner and all-round good egg called Kelly Jackson. It’s a really fun occasion when everyone is encouraged to dress up to run (even the men) and many people get princessed to the max! I first became aware of it when last year’s event took place and thought it looked fab.
The Princess Challenge offers a choice of three distances: the Short & Sweet (8.5 miles), the One in the Middle (17.5 miles) and the Ultra (31 miles). As my Snowdonia Marathon training plan had my long run at 17 miles that weekend, the One in the Middle was the obvious route to try. All distances start and finish at the village hall in Ravenscar and, like the Ravenscar Half, the Princess is supported by, and in aid of, the Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team, who provide so much essential support at Hardmoors races.
Obviously an important part of my race preparation was planning my outfit! Most princesses were plumping for pink, but I wanted something that would match my running kit, so ordered a turquoise tutu costing £5 from Ebay and also managed to acquire an impressive plastic tiara with blue stones from Boyes for a bargain £1.49. I imagined both would become uncomfortably annoying at some point along the way, but could stuff them in my Camelbak when they did!
The weather on race day was gorgeous; bright and sunny with a refreshing sea breeze to keep things cool enough to enjoy. Kit check and number/chip pick-up was quick and efficient, although I had a bit of a panic when I realised I’d left my whistle attached to my Camelbak bladder at home. Luckily a lovely lady called Lauren was able to lend me a spare one. Panic over! Kit checks are very strict at Hardmoors events, and rightly so; although I did wonder if a head torch was really necessary for a 17 mile race in August. The Ultra and the One in the Middle started at 9.15, with the Short & Sweet setting off at 10 am. The Ultra and the OITM both consisted of figure of eight routes, passing back through Ravenscar in the middle, while the S&S was a circular route out to Robin Hood’s Bay and back.
We set off along the Cleveland way in the direction of Scarborough. The conditions were so perfect it was an absolute joy to be running. Unlike the Hardmoors marathon series, the Princess events aren’t fully marked or taped, but there were some marshals along the way, and princessy pink tape was placed at strategic points. The first part of the course was gently undulating along the coast, with the first checkpoint after about four miles. There were three checkpoints en route (more on the ultra), all well stocked with water, fizzy drinks and sweets. The lovely marshals helped us all to top up our bottles. At Hayburn Wyke the course looped back to Ravenscar along the cinder track, a former railway line that’s now a bike and footpath. This was mostly a slight incline, but nothing that wasn’t runnable.
At the halfway point we passed back through Ravenscar, and I took advantage of this to visit the portable loos outside the village hall – what a mid-race luxury! The route then went out along the cinder track on the other side of the village, towards Robin Hood’s Bay – in effect following the Short & Sweet circuit. This was a brilliant section; a gentle downhill with fabulous coastal views for pretty much five miles – the sort of running you dream about! I chatted to various people along the way and had a great time. My tutu and tiara turned out to be surprisingly comfortable and it was easy to forget I was wearing them. Sometimes I wondered why other path users were smiling at all the runners, then I’d suddenly remember we were princesses! Unfortunately on a circular route, what goes down must also go up, so from Robin Hood’s Bay the route was pretty much uphill all the way back to Ravenscar! Some of this was up steps, which I quite like because I think you seem to gain height more easily and quickly this way than walking up an incline.
The sea views were still amazing though, and there was lots of friendly camaraderie along the way. However, a couple of miles from the finish I found myself alone when I came to a junction in the path where the Cleveland Way went off to the left. Going straight on seemed a more direct way back to Ravenscar to me, but I’d asked a marshal at the Robin Hood’s Bay checkpoint if we just followed the Cleveland Way all the way to the end and he told me we did; so I merrily climbed over a stile and trotted off to the left across a grassy field. Just as I got to the other side I heard voices behind me, and saw two girls waving and shouting at me “You’ve gone the wrong way”! So back I went, very grateful that they’d spotted me. My instincts had been right after all, which is most unusual, as I’m usually pretty navigationally challenged. I think my little detour added over half a mile to the distance, but as I was just using this event as a training exercise I wasn’t really bothered.
After a few miles of climbing it was good to get to the end. The best thing about the Princess is the glitzy finisher’s medal and t-shirt – both are super sparkly!
The post-race refreshments were pretty good too, with chip butties, hot drinks and masses of cake available in the village hall. We also got a goody bag of sweeties!
I’m not sure what my official time was, but I timed myself at around 3:45. No results seem to be available yet, which seems a bit odd over a week later, as we were all wearing timing chips. But all in all the Princess was a top day out, and I’ll definitely come back next year if I can. I’m looking forward to returning to Ravenscar later this month for the North York Moors edition of the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series. I’m doing the marathon distance and it’s on my birthday, so what better excuse to eat All The Cake!