Roseberry Topping Hardmoors – 30.5 miles / 4660 ft – 08/12/19
There are lots of proverbial metaphors at hand for ultra runners. Most relate to pain and suffering. Some even add in the euphemism of length. To be honest I’ve always been unsure of exactly where trail ultras differ from long fell races. But I’d always been vaguely interested in discovering if the former did have the ultra appeal. And for as long as I’d been running in Leeds the Hardmoors series over the North Yorks Moors had somehow been flickering on my radar.
Rewind back almost 12 months. I found myself stood in the cold and dark somewhere above Ravenscar cliff tops on the Yorkshire east coast. I’d lost the feeling in my hands before dusk. And I was about to lose the plot too. My girlfriend, Rose, had suggested we volunteer as marshals – rebranded as Hardshals at all Hardmoor’s events – and this would gain us a complimentary entry to a future fixture. This triggered the obvious interest and raised eye-brow reaction from a prudent Scot. After all it’s at least £40 for a trail marathon. What wasn’t quite fandabbydozy mind was a requirement to be at race HQ before silly o’clock. And the event was on New Year’s Day.
Still, the day was very good natured. We were positioned with a handful (fool?) of others at a checkpoint and feed station. The first 10 all skimmed through without more than a 5-10second grazing of sweets or sausage rolls. I was however somewhat perplexed by other ultra runners who would stop at our feed station for up to 5-mins. This is a race, right? And some competitors would even sit down on camp chairs while others ask marshals to fetch stuff out of their packs: gloves, painkillers and poles. I quietly wondered if I should try this at a checkpoint during my next AL fell race? Yes all good natured, but leaving Leeds at 6am and not returning home until way after 7pm seemed an expensive way to gain a free entry.
Fast forward to race day. The alarm sounds at 5.15am. Zombie stumbles and fall into race gear. Half asleep drive north, up the A19 to Guisborough near Middleborough. The weather forecast wasn’t great. The weather forecast predicted a moderate chance of showers plus 40+mph windy gusts.
The first half of the route was a mix. Within the first mile as the route skirted the edge of Guiseborough Woods I’d regretted not wearing shoes with a bit of cushioning. The Tees Way here covered a stone bridleway with each step firing through the soles of my fell shoes. A friend had suggested there wasn’t much tarmac so best to wear very grippy shoes. Minutes later I was glad of the grip as I trudged half a mile up a sodden clay track.
Here and there I did chat with a few other ‘ultras’ for the odd mile. Some had tackled the full series throughout the year, while others were returning to the race after previous attempts. From about mile 17 onwards I was on my own. Probably my chat about politics. Or maybe the complex task of combining a snot-rocket with high winds? I was left to absorb the wild heather moorland on all sides while following the periodic yellow tape marking. Jaffa cakes were consumed and Hardshals thanked. Mercifully, the wind seemed to dissipate as the route dipped in and out of the villages of Westerdale and Commondale.
For a bit I’d seen a runner way ahead, appearing and disappearing among the moorland and gorse. He was something to aim for. Or was this just a heathery hallucination? Eventually, about 22miles on the clock, I caught and passed him. I’d hoped to stay together as this would perhaps make the miles tick over. Unfortunately, the poor fella was just starting to suffer from cramp. Through gritted teeth he politely declined any need to help. And in true fellrunning camaraderie I left the poor bugger to suffer!
At the final checkpoint I filled my water-bottle and removed an electrolyte tab, carefully stored in some foil. I say carefully stored, but this really translates as stuffed and ignored in the bottom of my bumbag for over two years. The tab was black. Like an ounce of something dodgy (so I’m told). It should’ve been a light peach or faint orange colour. Needs must though. Initially it just bounced in the transparent water like an unwanted item in the deep end at the local swimming baths. Maybe I would be the poor sod who’d soon suffer?
The final stretch of moorland was covered with a silent mantra: Get Moorland Done. Maybe the best race pace wasn’t applied here. I had no target to chase and nothing pushing me hard towards the end. No other competitors for 10-minutes ahead or behind But regular reminders were echoed to perform a strong economic technique. Just me versus the heathery headwind from hell. I could’ve yelled out my mantra while stripped down to the hairy wobbly bits (hold that image, Merry Christmas, a gift to all…).
Fully clothed, the final mile was a brilliant muddy descent. First down through a sheltered conifer forest before a solitary shimmy along a residential street to reach the finish. Clocking off just over 30-miles (Hardmoor marathons always offer extra value to the distance) was something of an anti-climax. The loneliness of the previous few hours had maybe taken its toll. I was quietly chuffed though as I’d run for more distance than ever before while avoiding any excessive pain and suffering.
A positive for the Hardmoor’s ultras seem to be that they’re very inclusive events. The cut-offs are very lenient and a high proportion of entrants adopt a slow, steady pace to get round. Getting everyone round safely is a top priority. Many regular competitors appear to know each other. This can give the feeling, I’d imagine, of being part of a cult though. But is this any different to parkrun or fellrunning? I wasn’t blown away other than what nature had to offer. I’m not sure I’d be rushing back to pay more than usual to run slowly for longer, while mostly on my own. Go hard or go home? I’ll just go home, ta.