Hardmoors 60, 21st September 2013

The Hardmoors 60 is a 65 mile ultra with 3500m of ascent from Guisborough to Filey along the Cleveland Way, a 110 mile walking trail. There’s a full Hardmoors 110 and a 55 from Helmsley to Guisborough which Paul Hughes did earlier this year. Apart from the short bit from Guisborough to Saltburn, the course is on cliff top coastal trails with gorgeous views of the sea. The Hardmoors series is organised by Jon Steele, a fitness instructor and amazing ultra-runner. A few weeks ago, he ran the entire 110 on his own just to recce the route!

110 mile Cleveland Way

I stayed overnight in FIley at a B&B and took the coach from the race finish at FIley School to the start at Guisborough. The field was quite small compared to the Lakeland 50, just 150 runners, most of them Hardmoors veterans and seasoned ultra-runners. Almost everyone I talked to was in the habit of doing a 100 miler every few months and a few were going for the Grand Slam, completing the Hardmoors 30, 55, 110, and 60 in one year. Very intimidating company indeed! Hopeless at map reading, my biggest worry about doing ultras is navigation. In Lakeland, because of the size of the field, there was always someone to stick with. For this, the small field would spread out pretty quickly but the route was simple enough, keep the sea on your left and you can’t go wrong. Plus, it’s entirely on the Cleveland Way and well signposted.

There’s a steep 1000ft climb in the first two miles up to Highcliffe Nab in the moors but from there, it’s mostly undulating to Saltburn on the coast. The course is very runnable, being mostly on grass and gravel trails which makes it that much harder because you’re forced to run for long periods. With a 16.5 hour time limit and steep cut-offs at various checkpoints, you can’t waste time walking for long. From Saltburn, you follow the cliff-top paths dropping into fishing villages and towns like Staithes, Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay, Ravenscar, and Scarborough. If there’s one word to describe this race, it’s this: steps. There are hundreds and hundreds of them! The trails along the cliff tops are mostly flat and you can get a good rhythm going but then there are sharp descents and climbs from cliff to cliff on steps.

Nutrition-wise, I learned my lesson in Lakeland and this time snacked regularly which is why, apart from the hills, I pretty much ran the entire way, even if it was dead slow. I kept getting passed by faster runners but they didn’t seem able to maintain the pace and I would catch up with them eventually. Because the course is so runnable, and the views, while spectacular, lose their novelty value after a while, it’s easy to get ground down mentally. It’s quite demoralizing when you can see the next checkpoint on the headland in the distance but it doesn’t seem to get any nearer. Still, I felt great and although the punishing steps were turning my quads into mush, I didn’t mind doing 10 min miles, just slogging it out, concentrating on the path in front of me.

I was going really well and thought a 14 hour finish might be possible but at around 52 miles, as I approached the checkpoint at Scarborough sea front just as it got dark, it all fell to pieces. I went a little overboard on the coke at the checkpoints, sometimes filling both my 500ml water bottles with the stuff and unlike Lakeland, it wasn’t left to go flat. So now I was bloated and very nauseous. My legs were fine but every time I started running, I felt like throwing up. The last 13 miles were a real struggle and took three hours. A few of the guys around me were also struggling so we decided to grind it out together. I got to Filey School just after midnight in 16 hours and 8 mins, 59th out of 91 finishers. Jon was very lenient and let people get a time even after finishing an hour and a half after the 12:30 cut-off.

This race had about as much ascent as Lakeland but a lot of it was very runnable. Because I ate well and managed to keep to a consistent pace, I found it a lot easier but the steps were a nightmare. I’ll never take an escalator for granted again!