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I really have no idea what possessed me to enter a road marathon this autumn. After the hellish heat of last year’s London Marathon I vowed never to do another one; but then a few of my friends did them in the spring and I must have got a touch of FOMO! Anyway, for no particular reason I found myself heading for the Nottingham Christmas Marathon last weekend.

My training for this event hadn’t exactly been ideal. For a start, I’d done hardly any road running in the last eighteen months. I’d done lots of long trail running though and had plenty of miles in my legs, so at least the distance shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, this would be the tenth time this year I’d run marathon distance or further! After the Hardmoors 60 in September I had a week off and then thought I’d get stuck into some road training. My legs begged to differ though, so I had an easy week after that. Then I caught a horrible cold thing that hung around for about three weeks and wouldn’t let me do anything that involved breathing heavily (like interval training!) without coughing. So I’d been playing catch-up with the schedule ever since. I knew I wasn’t in anything like PB shape when race day came, but thought I’d just go off with the four hour pacer and see how long I could hang on – which I guessed wouldn’t be very long!

The marathon was part of a weekend of running events taking place at the National Water Sports Centre at Holme Pierrepoint Country Park, with the 10K and marathon on the Saturday and the half marathon, 5K and one mile fun run on the Sunday. The routes all consist of the corresponding number of three mile laps of a Tarmac path round a lake, so the marathon is about 8¾ laps. I set off from York at about 7 am on Saturday as the sun rose on what looked like it would be a beautiful day… until I got about a mile from the venue, when a thick, freezing fog descended! Ah well, I go better in the cold anyway. I arrived quite early and had no problem parking (although it cost a fiver!), but apparently things got a bit fraught later in the day and on Sunday. The 10K was already underway, with the marathon due to start at 10.15 on the opposite side of the lake, so I thought I’d better leave the car in plenty of time, especially as the fog meant we couldn’t actually see that far!

A arrow sign at the lakeside indicated it was 500m to the marathon start, so we obviously all followed it. Quite a long way. Obviously a lot further than 500m. When we eventually got to the start, it transpired that some wag had turned the sign round, so we’d all gone the wrong (long) way round the lake. Hilarious! I made it just in time. At least I’d had a good warm up! The start was slightly delayed as a result, but I know some people (including a friend I was supposed to be meeting) didn’t make it before we’d set off. Someone was speaking through a megaphone, but although I was only a short distance away it was so muffled I couldn’t make anything out. Suddenly we were away!

I trotted off with the four hour pacer and chatted to a couple of people en route. Runners had been encouraged to dress in festive attire, but very few seem to have bothered – although one woman had made a top effort in a full-length Christmas cracker costume! I made a gesture with a festive scrunchie and some tiny clip-on antlers.

Running a lapped course is not the most exciting thing in the world, but I was OK with that. In fact, I thought it might be good practice for next year’s Endure 24. There was one refreshment point at the place where we went over the timing strip at the end of every lap (i.e. every three miles) with water, electrolyte drink and snacks such as cake, chocolate and cheesy biscuits. We were handed paper cups (good) that had about an inch of water in them. At first I thought it would be good to have more, then I realised the water was so cold it was giving me brain freeze!

The pacer was a little erratic. Four hour pace is 9:09, and although you can’t expect people to get it spot on every time, my mile splits varied between 8:45 and 9:15. I was OK for about three laps, then as we got to about ten miles my legs began to feel really tired for some reason, and my enthusiasm/mojo/will to live started to drain away. I wasn’t feeling cold in my base layer, tights and gloves, but the fog made things a bit damp and depressing. You couldn’t see very far so there wasn’t really anything to interest or distract you. Spectator support was understandably a bit thin on the ground, although the event marshals were great at encouraging everyone on.

Trotting along, I realised why I hadn’t done a road marathon for so long; they are actually very hard work, in a different way to an ultra. In an ultra you work hard, but there’s variety; you run a bit, walk uphill, stop at checkpoints etc, and this is what I’ve become used to over the last couple of years. In a road marathon there’s no let up – they are relentless! So the problem here was me rather than the event. With 16 miles still to go, finishing was probably going to be more of a mental challenge than a physical one. Luckily my friend Katie (aka RunYoung50) who lives nearby had come out to support me, and seeing her popping up from time to time really gave me a lift. She’d even made a special sign to encourage me – what a star!

I decided to take my foot off the gas a bit and just try to enjoy it. I began chatting to people and also made an unscheduled loo stop at one point. There were portable loos at two points on the course, which was very handy! I’d never done a lapped event before, and it was interesting to see all aspects of the race as much faster runners raced past me and I passed some of the slower runners. My own laps gradually became a bit slower too, and my pony tail slowly transformed into what felt like a ball of tangled wool.

I was pleased to finish, although not particularly pleased with my finish time of 4:23, which is almost 30 minutes off my PB. There were only four FV55 runners in the field but I was the first, so I guess that’s something!

At the end we were presented with a fabulous snowflake design medal and a lovely felt Christmas stocking with a little Cadbury selection box inside. T-shirts cost an extra £15 and could be ordered in advance or bought on the day. I decided to get one as I can now wear it for running at Christmas every year!

Afterwards I wanted to treat Katie to a hot chocolate as she’d been so lovely and waited to see me finish, but unfortunately the onsite café had run out of milk! Seemed a bit of an oversight on a day when hundreds of extra people were visiting. I put on some warm clothes and got a recovery burger from the outside catering van while I waited for my friend to run her last lap. This closed about half an hour later, before everyone had finished running. If we’d been in the middle of a town this wouldn’t really be a problem, but as the venue is miles from anywhere else it seemed a shame that the last people to finish couldn’t get any food or a hot drink after being in the freezing cold for hours.

I seem to have done quite a bit of moaning in this review, but the event itself was fine. On a better weather day I’m sure it would have been more enjoyable, the parking issues weren’t the fault of the race organisers, and it’s certainly a good course to aim for a PB if you don’t mind the laps. I was initially disappointed with my time, but later realised it was probably because I hadn’t done enough specific training. If I ever want to achieve another Good for Age time I’ll have to knuckle down and do more of the right kind of preparation. But I’m not sure I want it that much when there are so many fab trail races to run!

So that’s my racing done until 2020. I’ve had a great year of running and taken part in some brilliant events. Time for a bit of fun running now until I start training for the Highland Fling.

I think this sign could definitely come in handy at Endure 24 next summer by the way…

 

One of the best decisions I’ve made this year was to join Tadcaster Harriers. It’s such a friendly and inclusive club, and everyone I’ve met from the chairman down has been lovely. As well as all the usual club training stuff there’s a brilliant Run and Talk for mental health session on the first Thursday of each month. Non-members are welcome to attend, there are running groups of different distances/abilities, and there’s cake and chat at the end! Years ago the Harriers used to organise a run in Tadcaster called the Tad 10 (miles). For some reason it stopped, but has recently been revived and is now organised by Racebest. My marathon training schedule for the day said twelve steady miles, so I thought ten miles at a slightly quicker pace would be a fair substitute, and it would be fun to be there with other Harriers.

 

The weather leading up to race day had been quite rainy, but fortunately the event is all on road and we were lucky enough not to get rained on. There was plenty of free parking in Tadcaster, as the organisers had arranged for the car parks of the town’s two breweries to be available in addition to the usual parking. Number pick-up was at The Barn, a community hub in the centre of town. You had to find your race number from a sheet on the wall before picking up your bib, which was a challenge for me as I hadn’t brought my glasses – luckily someone with better eyesight was able to help me! I arrived fairly early so got my number quickly, but the room became a bit congested later on. There were outside portable loos in addition to the Barn’s toilets, so queues for these weren’t too long. Billed as fast and flat, the Tad 10 attracts a lot of speedy runners. There was a great atmosphere, with around 700 people taking part altogether, including a good turnout from the Tad Harriers! The start time is a very civilised 10 am.

The race begins with a loop around the town, then heads out into the surrounding villages along quiet, winding country roads. I was planning to run at my target marathon pace, but ended up setting off too fast in all the excitement! I clocked my pace at the end of the first mile and reined it in a bit – not that I’m exactly in road PB form at the moment anyway after all the ultra running and training I’ve done this year. The race is promoted as flat, but that’s certainly not how I’d describe it – I think undulating would be more accurate. The course goes out of Tadcaster alongside the A64 to York for a short stretch, then turns left and takes a circular route through the villages of Catterton, Healaugh and Wighill, before heading back to Tadcaster. There are a couple of steady climbs along the way, but the last couple of miles are pretty much downhill.

Lots of Tad Harriers were marshalling, and it was great to see friendly faces and hear shouts of encouragement along the way. There were two water points at 2.5 and 5.5 miles. The finish was at the opposite end of town to the start, with lots of folk clapping and cheering us in. Runners received a very colourful medal together with a banana, flapjack (very good award-winning flapjack!) and a bottle of water. I really enjoyed myself and had a great time coming in a smidge under marathon pace at 1:29.

 

I thought this was a great event; a later start time than most road races, easy parking, interesting course (very similar the Vale of York 10) and a friendly atmosphere, with around 700 runners from super-speedy to first-timer taking part. My only small gripe is that another water point somewhere would be good, as five miles is quite a long way to go without a drink in a road race. Not the end of the world in cold weather though! I did hear someone complaining that there was no t-shirt, as apparently they’d been really good in previous years – I presume the organisers must have decided to do away with it for some reason. I’ve already got too many race t-shirts anyway, so wasn’t really bothered. Highly recommended!

Since the Tad 10 I’ve been tapering for the Nottingham Christmas marathon this weekend. This seems like a really fun, festive event and the weather forecast looks promising, so fingers crossed!

I was really excited in the run-up to the Hardmoors 60. I’d done several of the Hardmoors marathon series over the last couple of years, but had never completed one of the ultras. I did start the Hardmoors 55 in March, but DNF’d due to the horrendous weather conditions – you can read about that here. But the weather forecast for the 60 looked great (if a little too warm!) so it looked like it would be a grand day out. The Cleveland Way national trail in Yorkshire runs from Helmsley to Filey. In a nutshell, the Hardmoors 55 follows this along the North York Moors from Helmsley to Guisborough, then the 60 takes in the second ‘half’ from Guisborough to Filey, mostly along the coast and featuring around 3,500 metres of elevation. There’s also a Hardmoors 110 for anybody brave enough to do it all in one. These are all miles by the way, not kilometres!

My only aim for the 60 was to finish, and having done lots of hilly training and events this year I was reasonably confident of doing that. So imagine my disappointment when, three days before the event, I was struck down with a horrible sickness bug! I spent the whole of Wednesday in bed, throwing up and unable to eat – only the second sick day I’ve had off work in about five years. Great timing! My goal was then readjusted to making the start and just getting as far as I could!

I travelled up to Guisborough after work on the Friday, as we were able to register at Race HQ (Guisborough Sea Cadets) and have our electronic trackers fitted the night before the race. This is great, as it gives you an extra half hour in bed! Steve and I stayed at a B&B just a couple of miles away. It was good to meet up with my friend Mandy at the race briefing in the morning; she is an awesome runner who had already done the Highland Fling and Lakeland 50 this year.

As we set off at 8 am the weather was already sunny, but still nice and cool. The first mile was a little frustrating as we all had to queue to get over two stiles, resulting in a 17 minute first mile for me; but hey, it’s a long day out so not that important in the grand scheme of things. The second mile includes probably the toughest section of the day, up the Tees Link footpath to Highcliff Nab; this is a steep climb up to the Cleveland Way, gaining lots of height in a short space of time. Early in the day, but at least our legs were fresh! My poles were really useful there. By the time we’d hauled ourselves up there we were all certainly well warmed up.

After this baptism of fire we headed out to the coast at Saltburn along some lovely undulating woodland trail, heading ultimately down to the coast and the first checkpoint (9 miles). I had a drink of Coke and a handful of peanuts and cracked on. Almost immediately there’s another steep climb out of Saltburn up Cat Nab, after which we were up onto the coastal section of the Cleveland Way, where we stayed for almost all of the rest of the race. The scenery along here unfolds into one spectacular view after another, mostly featuring huge cliffs dropping down to beautiful beaches. Possibly not a great race to do if you have a problem with heights, but the path is always a safe distance from the edge.

I settled into a good rhythm and was really enjoying myself as the miles ticked by. The sun grew warmer, and I was very grateful that quite a strong breeze was taking the edge off the heat.

The route passed through some lovely fishing villages such as Staithes and Runswick Bay, where there was another checkpoint (21 miles) with the first of our two drop bags. The marshals at Hardmoors events (or Hardshals, as they are known) are always brilliant. As I approached, someone called out my number and someone else immediately presented me with my drop bag – fantastic! I’d packed a bottle of chocolate milk to drink here, as I think it’s a good way to take on calories without feeling too full. I don’t like to stay or sit at checkpoints for too long, otherwise I find it hard to get going again. So I took some crisps to eat on the hoof and headed off across the beach towards another steep climb.

We spent pretty much the whole day gaining height and then dropping down again. A lot of this up and down is done on steps, which I think makes climbing a bit easier, but descending a bit harder. The steps are mostly either rough and uneven or narrow and wooden, so not really possible to run down for most people. They’re also quite energy sapping and hard on the quads! I tried to remember to keep eating and drinking plenty and trundled on.

Just before the halfway point we passed through Sandsend and arrived at Whitby. By now it was afternoon, the sun was still shining, and the streets were crowded with people enjoying a day out at the seaside. We wove our way through them down into the town, then out the other side and up the famous abbey steps. I chatted with another runner who’d just bought some chips and kindly offered me a few – they tasted great! I saw another couple of runners queuing for ice creams by the abbey – great idea!

The third checkpoint was just past here at Saltwick Bay (31 miles). It was then only a few miles of gorgeous clifftop running from there to the next checkpoint at Robin Hood’s Bay (37 miles). Lots of walkers were out on the Cleveland Way, and most of them were lovely folk who were happy to let us runners pass and give us some encouragement – although they probably thought we were crazy! At Robin Hood’s Bay there was some fabulous lemon cake on offer, which was just what I needed to power me up for the next section. We climbed up more steps out of the village, followed by a bit of level running before a big uphill hike to Ravenscar. Luckily this is on a good quality path, so wasn’t too tough, but it did occur to me at that point that we were still only two thirds of the way to Filey! We deviated slightly from the Cleveland Way here to go to the checkpoint at the village hall (41 miles) which had our second drop bag. Hot food and drinks were also available here. I took advantage of this stop to go to the loo and change my socks, before grabbing some pizza to eat as I set off walking down the road.

With fresh feet and some food inside me I felt great, and seemed to be going quite well on the next stretch between Ravenscar and Scarborough. There was a lot of slight downhill incline along here, which obviously helped! Daylight began to fade after about an hour, so I stopped and put on my head torch. Over the next half hour or so there was a spectacular sunset, the sky aflame with pink and orange; then shortly afterwards the moon rose over the sea. It all looked quite amazing, and phone photos don’t really do it justice!

Runners had become quite strung out by this point, and I didn’t see anyone else – runner or otherwise – for quite some time. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about running in the dark so high up; but the path was clear and well-marked, I have a good head torch and the moon was bright, so it was actually OK and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. It was very quiet and I could hear the sea lapping gently far below, which was quite soothing. Eventually I caught up with a man and woman who were running together and stayed a little way behind them until we reached Scarborough. My Garmin died before that, so from then on I had no real idea of what time it was. The route goes along the seafront road at Scarborough, with about three miles of flat pavement. Sounds good in theory, but actually a bit sapping for the legs! I managed to run almost all of it. It was now mid evening and all the bars and restaurants were in full Saturday night mode. Right at the end of the seafront, the route went across a bit of beach, then up a hill to the final checkpoint at Holbeck (53 miles). I had to sit down to remove some sand from my shoes, then grabbed a quick snack before the final stretch to the finish at Filey.

Setting off from here, I realised that my quads and hips were starting to hurt quite a bit, and it was gradually becoming more difficult to run. Shortly afterwards we reached Cayton Bay, where a huge set of concrete steps go down into a wood, then shortly afterwards straight back up again. We’d been warned at the race briefing that anyone who missed this bit out would get an extra hour added to their time, so I sucked it up – and I think this section just about finished me off! I hauled myself up the steps with my poles and took a gel at the top, which I hoped would power me on. I knew there were only about six miles to go (hey, just a 10K!), but it became more and more difficult to keep moving forward at anything other than a walk. At one point I saw a light shining on the path ahead of me and thought it was a marshal, but lo and behold it was Steve with a torch! He’d popped up to give me a bit of encouragement and it was lovely to see him.

From that point I had to pretty much walk all the way to the finish. I wasn’t lacking in energy, but my legs were giving up the ghost. Now and then I broke into a bit of an ‘ultra shuffle’ but it never lasted for long, as my hips and quads were really giving me some grief. It was just a matter of toughing it out until the end! I thought maybe I should have used my poles more than I did, as I hadn’t bothered to get them out for all of the climbs. A lesson learned maybe? After what seemed like forever the path began to go down into Filey, where the final ‘treat’ awaited – another massive set of steps to go down, which my quads did not appreciate at all!. If I hadn’t had poles I think I would have had to hold someone’s hand! The official end of the Cleveland Way is at Filey Brigg, but the race finish is at the Methodist Hall, a short distance away up a hill. Steve met me at the seafront and encouraged me to run the last bit to the finish, but I could only manage a few yards as we approached the hall. I looked up at the clock on the building and was amazed to see it was half past midnight. Although I’d had a fantastic day I was very glad it was over!

People applauded as I entered the hall, which was great. My tracker was removed and someone handed me a medal and t-shirt. Food was available, but I really didn’t feel like eating at that point. I took a couple of snacks to have in the car on the way home, where I’d also stashed some more chocolate milk. I finally got to bed a 3 am!

Scores on the doors? My finish time was 16:31:53. So this 62 mile race took me over half an hour longer to complete than The Wall in June, which was eight miles further but had only about a third of the elevation. 250 runners started the race; 202 finished within the cut-off time of 18 hours, with a further eight finishing after the cut-off. So 40 runners dropped out along the way. I came 136th overall, 30th woman out of 60 (only about a quarter of the field were women) and 9th out of 15 FV50 runners.  There were some very strong athletes in the FV50 category, a couple of whom finished in the top ten women overall. So nothing to set the world on fire from me, but considering that three days before I’d been too poorly to even get up I was happy with that. Would I do it again? Probably not, as there are lots of other races I’d like to do, but I am very glad I did it – not only because I now have a very cool Hardmoors crossed swords ultra t-shirt, but also because there is a certain satisfaction in having completed such a tough event, no matter how slow I was towards the end! I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as a first ultra, as it is pretty tough – the fact that it carries four UTMB points is an indication of that. But if you love a challenge and a day out at the seaside, you should definitely do it! Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.

 

I’ve been a bit slack on the blogging front this year because life has been really busy. Between work, training, doing up a house and studying sports massage therapy at college, there hasn’t been much time for writing. But I’m still here and still running! So here’s a bit of a catch-up post. I haven’t had time to blog about most of the races I’ve done this year (although some I have reviewed in the past), but if you have any questions about any of them, please feel free to shoot them over.

 

I did quite a few events in the spring as training for the Hardmoors 50 and The Wall ultras. I wanted to pack in as many long, hilly runs as possible, and doing those as events means you get variety, support and people to chat to, which I think just makes training much easier and more enjoyable. Among these were regular favourites such as the Temple Newsam Ten, Harewood House Half, Daffodil Dash, Vale of York 10, Ravenscar Half and Top of the Wolds 10K; plus some new races like the Hardmoors Saltburn and Wainstones Marathons, Endurancelife Northumberland Ultra, Helmsley 10K and the Hardmoors 110 (as part of a relay team). I also did the North Lincolnshire Half (a road event) for fun with a friend who hadn’t run for a while.

 

 Sadly I DNF’d for the first time ever at the Hardmoors 50 in horrendous conditions (more on that here). I felt bad about it at the time, then discovered that many others had also pulled out, so fortunately got over that pretty quickly. However, I had a great day out at The Wall and really enjoyed it. My review of that is here.

 

 So what’s next? I had a week off after The Wall followed by a couple of easy weeks, because I think it’s really important to let your body have some recovery time after a long event like that. Even when the DOMS have faded, your system is still recuperating. But I have the Hardmoors 60 coming up this month, so did a couple of hilly half marathons for fun to get me back into the swing of things; the Conquer the Forest Challenge at Dalby Forest and the Yorkshire Wolds Half, which is part of Bishop Wilton country show. This is such a great, low key event, and you get a lovely handmade pottery mug at the finish. I can’t think why more people don’t do it!

  

Last month I did the Hardmoors Farndale marathon. I say marathon; this is a Hardmoors event, so of course it was actually 30 miles! It wasn’t an easy day, as it was really hot and there was lots of climbing, but it’s a beautiful course so the amazing views make it worthwhile.

 I also did the Princess Challenge at the end of August with a friend, because it’s great fun – and when else will I get the chance to wear a tutu and tiara at my age?!

 

Back in the spring quite a few of my friends did road marathons and I must admit I suffered slightly from FOMO. After the furnace that was last year’s London Marathon I said I’d never do one again, but I now have a bit of a hankering to have one last shot at Good For Age and have entered the Nottingham Christmas Marathon at the end of November. Over the last year or so I’ve focused on endurance rather than pace, so after I’ve recovered from the Hardmoors 60 I’m going to have a go at switching that around a bit. I got my PBs at 10K, half and full marathon in 2016 and I’m not sure I’ll ever better those, but maybe it will be fun trying – or maybe not, we’ll see! Oh, and I’ve entered the ballots for the London and Tokyo Marathon, although I don’t hold out much hope of getting into either. Now I’m really looking forward to autumn, my favourite season for running. I’m currently enjoying tapering for the 60 and making some plans for next year – and hopefully now blogging more frequently.

Anyone else up for a Christmas marathon?!

 

Like Race to the Stones two years ago, The Wall was one of those events I’d had my eye on for a while, but hadn’t dared to enter. As with all Rat Race events, it’s not a cheap affair. But it did look brilliant as it’s a great route, well supported and not too far from home. So after last year’s event I thought “What the hell” and nabbed one of the slightly cheaper early bird places, which was still not exactly peanuts at £175, but less than the full price of over £200. I basically had a whole year to prepare and look forward to it!

The route of The Wall runs for 69 miles from Carlisle to Newcastle; across the country, but not quite coast to coast. You can either do it all in one day or half and half over two days; I took the one day option. The event’s name gives the impression it follows the route of Hadrian’s Wall, but it only does that a little. The course is about 80% road with a few trail sections, and some of this is near to sections of the wall, but don’t come expecting to follow it completely! There is some climbing, but the elevation is only about 1,100 metres – similar to Race to the Stones or (to a Hardmoors runner) about the same as the White Horse Marathon over more than twice the distance. Because you cross the Pennines, the general trajectory is upwards during the first half and downwards during the second. I followed the same training plan as I had for Race to the Stones, basically trying to pack in as many long, hilly runs as I could in the months beforehand.

Registration takes place the day before the race, and I travelled to Carlisle by train, having booked an AirBNB in the centre of town. I got chatting to a few other runners on the journey. None of us had ever run so far before and some people were quite nervous! Sign-on at Carlisle Rugby Club was all very smooth. Our photo ID and mandatory kit were checked, and we were all given a tracker to carry. As well as being a safety feature, this is really handy for supporters, as Steve was coming to pick me up at the finish the next day. I tried to get an early night, but found it hard to sleep as I was so excited. I got up just before 5 am and had my porridge breakfast, then left at 6 am to walk to the bag drop and start at Carlisle Castle.

There are two drop bag points along the route; a small, disposable one at around 24 miles and another one at 44 miles, from where the bag is transported to the finish for you. You can also have quite a big bag sent from the start to the finish, which is really handy if you’re there alone. The weather was pretty spot-on; dry and fine but not sunny, although with a few showers forecast for around teatime. After a race briefing we set off at 7 am. The start was quite dramatic, from a square inside the castle grounds, over the drawbridge and out through a park. It was quite congested at first, but soon spread out a bit. The first ten miles is actually pretty flat, with just a couple of slight inclines, so a good warm-up.

There are two kinds of aid stations along the race route. Five of these are called Pit Stops, and are stocked with various kinds of food and drink. There are also six Checkpoints, which just have water and sweets, and where you cannot fill bottles or bladders. So you do need to make sure you top up your fluids at the Pit Stops. I was a bit concerned that two of the Pit Stops in the second half were about 18 miles apart. This might have been more of an issue had the weather been really warm, but luckily it wasn’t. I felt pretty good and at the first Pit Stop (15 miles) was pleased to see some pains au chocolat on offer! I ate one of these and took a bag of crisps for the road. I think crisps are my favourite ultra food, easy to eat and salty. I do get a bit fed up of sweet stuff after a while! The Checkpoints all had little bags of sweets such as Skittles and Haribo, which were really easy to grab and pocket. I try not to spend too much time at checkpoints, as it can add up considerably over a long race, but it’s important to refuel, and there was a good variety of food on offer at all of the Pits Stops, including a range of sandwiches. I thought it was lovely that people clapped and cheered as you entered the Pit Stop areas!

At around ten miles there was a sign saying something like ‘That was the easy bit’ and sure enough, most of the hilly stuff is in the middle section of the race. I started to flag a bit at around 20 miles and decided to have one of the gels I’d brought with me. I don’t like to take lots of gels during an ultra, as my stomach prefers real food over a long distance, but sometimes have one when I need a boost. It did make me feel a lot better, and I realised I probably should have started eating a bit sooner.

The elevation in this event wouldn’t really trouble anyone who’s used to running on hills, it’s more the length of it that’s the challenge. That and the fact that the route is mostly road, as I do think Tarmac is much harder on the legs than soft trail. In fact, I think courses that have gentle inclines rather than steep hills are harder in a way, because you’re more tempted to run them, whereas you’d walk up a steeper gradient. Anyway, there was certainly some spectacular scenery to occupy the mind en route, with photographers popping up all over the place to snap you. I got the impression going round that quite a few people had done The Wall before, some multiple times, which I guess says something about it.

The main drop bag Pit Stop is at Hexham, 44 miles in. It started to rain just before I got there; not much, but enough to make me stop and put on my cap. As I was eating at the Pit Stop (excellent sausage rolls!) whilst dressing a small blister that was forming on my left foot, the rain started to fall a bit harder. Luckily we were able to shelter inside a marquee. This had a bit of a refugee camp vibe about it, with people sitting on chairs or the grass, some sorting out their feet and trying to decide what to eat/wear, and others clearly trying to decide whether to call it a day. It was tempting to linger here a while to see if the rain stopped, but as it eased a bit I decided to put on my jacket and set off. I just find the longer you sit down the harder it is to get going again!

The rain continued to fall, but it wasn’t cold and I was really warm in my jacket, so took it off when the rain eased a bit. Runners had now become quite spread out, but the route is so well marked there was never any danger of becoming lost – and I’m quite navigationally challenged! We passed through some pretty villages, and there always seemed to be some people out to give a cheer, which was great. Things definitely became much harder as the miles went by. I managed to keep eating and drinking, which always becomes more difficult as time goes on, and my feet weren’t sore, but I felt I had a lot less energy in the last 20 miles or so. I had a bit of a walk at around 50 miles and phoned Steve to make sure the tracker was still working OK. My Garmin died shortly after this, but it didn’t really matter as I wasn’t aiming for any particular pace, I just tried to keep moving! It took a lot of mental effort to keep pushing on, but I managed to keep running (slowly) on the flat and downhill sections. Looking around I could see that many people seemed to be feeling worse than me! I passed quite a few, including two fit-looking guys at around 55 miles who had already decided they were going to run a minute/walk a minute until the finish.

The last Pit Stop was at Newburn, 62 miles in. I wasn’t expecting to see Steve until the end, but had a lovely surprise when he popped up here, which gave me a bit of a boost. I was struggling to eat by now, but managed to force down a small chicken sandwich that I really didn’t want. I had no idea what time it was, but apparently it was 9.15 and, as twilight was approaching, we were made to put on our head torches before leaving for the final stretch. This was all Tarmac, and I adopted a run/walk strategy for the last seven miles, as I was now feeling quite fatigued and my ankles were starting to ache a bit. Darkness fell as I reached the approach along the Tyne into Newcastle, but I could see the bright lights of the city ahead of me and knew the finish wasn’t far away. Running into the city along the Quayside was great. Lots of people seemed to know what was going on and cheered us on; I felt a bit like a celebrity! Another female runner passed me from behind and I tried to hang onto her as we turned left across Millennium Bridge to run to the finish on the Gateshead side of the river. I finished just before 11 pm, a total time (including pit stops) of 15:59:08. I was so glad it was under 16 hours!

 

 

Most people seem to have measured the run at 70 miles rather than 69, and I see it is billed as being 70 miles long for next year. Not sure where the extra mile came from, but 70 sounds more impressive than 69 anyway! There was hot food and showers at the end, but I really wasn’t up to eating curry or chilli at that point. I never feel like eating much until a couple of hours after a long run, so a sandwich to take away would have been good. In the end I got one from a petrol station on the way to the hotel we’d booked for the night. At first I was a bit disappointed with my time, as I’d hoped for closer to 15 hours, but when I looked at the full results I realised I’d done OK. I was 133rd overall out of 501 finishers and 21st woman out of 107, so satisfied with that. Unfortunately there were no age group results, which seems a shame, as they must be fairly easy to produce when you have everyone’s date of birth. The race medal was great, and also included a really cool key ring, which I obviously started to use the next day!

I’d really recommend The Wall, especially as a first ultra of this sort of distance. It’s not cheap, but very well organised and supported. I might not do it again, as there are so many other events to try, but am certainly glad I entered. My only gripe is regarding the t-shirt. We were given a generic Rat Race one at registration, but if you wanted an event-specific one you had to pay extra. For an event that costs this much to enter – and considering how cheap t-shirts are to produce in bulk – I think this should be included. We were also told there would be a free finishing photo, but the only photos I’ve seen are the official ones that are available to buy. But overall a great event!

People keep asking me if I’m going to go even longer now, but I’m not sure I could have carried on any further. Although maybe if it was a run on soft ground… Let’s say we’ll see! I’ve had a bit of a break over the last week or so, but training for the Hardmoors 60 in September starts next week.

Many years ago, before I was a runner, I used to do quite a bit of cycling and even bagged a couple of Alpine cols back in the day. I hesitate to call myself a cyclist these days, as my bike handling skills have become a little shaky (quite literally!) but I still have my road bike and cycle on holiday sometimes. Even though I’m all about running these days, and my OH is the proper cyclist in our house, we both love to watch bike racing and have been to the Tour de France many times, as well as the Giro d’Italia and a few of the Belgian spring classics.

It was amazing when the Tour de France visited Yorkshire in 2014, even though I had to work there on the day it came to York, as I was then part of the sports team at City of York Council. Following that we have the fantastic legacy of the Tour de Yorkshire each year. And now there’s the huge excitement of the UCI Road World Championships coming to Yorkshire; nine days of world class bike racing running from 21st – 29th September. As a truly global event, it’s an even bigger deal than the Tour de France!

As part of the championships there’s also a cyclo sportive on Sunday 22nd September that will give amateur riders a true taste of the race. There’s a choice of route lengths: short (72K), medium (98K) and long (145K), so it’s a challenge for cyclists of all abilities. The ballot for this is now closed, but if you fancy taking part you can still secure an entry through Leeds Cares, the official fundraising partner of the event.

Leeds Cares works in partnership with Leeds Teaching Hospitals to deliver health and wellbeing services to communities right across Yorkshire and beyond – including getting more people active and on their bikes, which is always a good thing. Local cycling champ Lizzie Deignan is one of their ambassadors. And Leeds Cares has a limited number of extra places in the sportive! If you pay a deposit of just £50 and then pledge to raise an additional £395 (£445 total) by 31st July you can still be part of the action and do good whilst having a great time. You’ll also receive an exclusive limited edition Leeds Cares branded Santini cycling jersey to wear on the day. I have some Santini bib shorts and it’s top quality kit. I’m really not worthy of them!

I’m not being paid to tell you this by the way – and I’m certainly not up to the job myself – but I have lots of cycling friends who I think might be disappointed if they miss out in the ballot. If you’re interested you can find all the details here.

You can tell these championships are a big deal because the legendary annual Yorkshire Three Peaks Cyclocross race has been moved from its traditional date of the last Sunday in September so it doesn’t clash. I once spent the whole day on my birthday supporting the OH at that event in sideways rain – but that’s another story!

Last weekend I had my first ever DNF, at the Hardmoors 50. At the time I was massively annoyed with myself. I’d followed a plan, my training had gone well and I thought I was prepared. But, as it turns out, even the best of training can’t prepare you for the worst of weather, which is what did for me on the day. A few hours after I’d abandoned I found out that many others had done the same, or been timed out, so I didn’t feel so bad. So I can’t give a proper race review, but I can explain how the day panned out for me and lots of other people there!

The weather forecast looked great the week before the event, but gradually deteriorated until it became clear that race day would involve continuous heavy rain and very strong wind. Combined with the height and exposure of the North York Moors, this wasn’t a promising omen. It was possible to sign on the night before the race, so Steve and I travelled up to Guisborough on Friday evening, where I registered at the Sea Cadets hall. I was asked to show two items from my mandatory kit, then had my photo taken to be fitted with an electronic tracker.

I’d booked a bargain room for the night at the Travelodge in Middlesbrough, just a few miles away. I always sleep restlessly the night before a big race. I woke up at around 3 am and wondered if it had started raining. I looked out of the window and it was already pouring down, which it continued to do so for the rest of the night and most of the next day. When the alarm went off at 6 Steve told me I didn’t have to go, but I really didn’t want to wimp out and DNS after all the hard work I’d put into training.

The next morning it was heaving in the Sea Cadets hall as hundreds of runners and their supporters sheltered from the rain. We all just wanted to get going! After a detailed briefing we set off slightly late at 8.15 and headed up through Guisborough Woods to the Cleveland Way.

There are a couple of stiles to negotiate in the first mile or so, which involves a bit of frustrating queuing, then it’s up the dreaded Tees Link to Highcliff Nab. This was the first race where I’d used my new Leki running poles, and they proved invaluable on this steep, muddy track.

I got into a good rhythm here and, although I was walking, managed to overtake several other people who were sliding around. Although it was raining heavily, working hard kept us warm in the first few miles, as there’s a lot of climbing!

Shortly after this came the double ascent/descent of Roseberry Topping, aka the Yorkshire Matterhorn. The poles were really useful here too, not least because the wind was so strong near the summit they helped me to remain upright! We passed through the first checkpoint at Roseberry Lane. I heard my number being shouted out, but noticed later that for some reason my time for this leg wasn’t recorded on the tracker website; this means that had I managed to finish I would probably have incurred a time penalty for missing a checkpoint, which would have been really annoying. It had taken me about an hour and 45 minutes to cover the first five miles!

The course climbed up again after Roseberry, to Captain Cook’s monument. I took advantage of the slightly easier uphill gradient to have some flapjack, as I’d become aware I hadn’t eaten anything since the start with the terrain being so challenging. The course undulated a bit, but after a few more miles there was a very welcome long descent into Kildale, where the second checkpoint (at ten miles) was at the village hall. It had taken me three hours to get there, and it was nice to be inside for a few minutes, although it did make me realise how wet I’d become. I retrieved my first drop bag here, and ate a bag of Mini Cheddars while I emptied some rubbish out of my shoes. While I was doing this I realised that a couple of people were already retiring. I refilled my bottles, took a Chia Charge bar for the road and headed out again. It wasn’t easy to get going again after the warmth of the village hall. There’s a long climb on Tarmac out of Kildale, and I tried to run as much of it as possible in an attempt to warm up.

What followed turned out to be the longest/slowest ten miles of my life! After climbing out of Kildale to the top of the moors we maintained our height for several miles, on a very exposed stretch including Bloworth Crossing. There wasn’t any hard going along here, but the weather was so brutal it made everything seem massively difficult. Horizontal rain was lashing us so hard it felt like hailstones. The wind was so strong it was impossible to run on ground that would have been totally runnable on a normal day. Ankle deep streams of icy water crossed our path. I was literally soaked to the skin, and freezing cold because I couldn’t move fast enough to warm up. My waterproof mittens filled up with water(!) When I took one off to empty it I couldn’t get it back on properly. My race number, fixed on with four safety pins, blew off my leg at some point. It was impossible to get food out to eat. I did manage to keep drinking, although I didn’t much feel like it in the cold. There was absolutely no point stopping, because there was nowhere to stop! We all just had to keep plugging on until the next checkpoint at Clay Bank – 20 miles in.

At some point I during this section I decided I wanted to call it a day. I’m a pretty tough old bird and don’t consider myself a quitter, but the conditions had become horrendous. Had we just been doing a marathon I could have toughed it out; but I couldn’t bear the idea of another 33 miles of mostly walking because it wasn’t possible to run. I wasn’t equipped for walking, and was getting so cold it would probably have been a stupid idea to try and finish. I was hugely frustrated because, despite the difficulties I had been overtaking people, but it just wasn’t sustainable. I reached Clay Bank after about six hours, and told a marshal I wanted to stop. He asked me if I was sure. I was. My tracker was removed and I climbed into a marshal’s car to shelter until the checkpoint closed, when I’d be taken to the finish at Helmsley.

As I waited, quite a few other people made the same sad decision and joined me in the car. Everyone was saying they’d never experienced weather like it in a race. We were all sad, cold and wet, but trying to cheer each other up, chatting and sharing food and drink while we waited. About an hour later a lovely marshal called Drew ferried us to the finish. It was hard to pass through the entrance of Helmsley recreation ground and see the Hardmoors flags flying; I should have been running through there hours later. Inside, people were laying out the finishers’ t-shirts and medals, which I wouldn’t now pick up. I heard the first runner was due to arrive in about half an hour and marvelled at their powers of strength and resilience. We were offered hot drinks and even a shower, but I just wanted to get home. Steve came and picked me up shortly afterwards. Bedraggled and miserable, I dont think I was very good company at this point!

At home later, when I’d warmed up and eaten, I kept checking in on the race online as I sorted out my sodden kit. A lot of people either abandoned or were timed out at the 30 mile point, Osmotherley. It seemed that pretty much the only people who were able to finish were those with support crews and/or the opportunity to change their clothes. The cut off time for the end of the race was midnight (16 hours). Trying to understand the finish rate afterwards, it seems that around 500 people were on the list of entrants pre-race. Of those, there seem to be 287 finishers on the results list and (by my calculation) around 120 people who retired – so for whatever reason around 100 people didn’t actually start. I didn’t feel quite so bad once I’d got to grips with these figures. And my lovely boss made me this medal to make up for not having collected the official one!

Do I regret entering and starting the Hardmoors 50? People have been asking me that quite a bit this week. The (maybe surprising) answer is no, I don’t. Despite the atrocious conditions I turned up and had a go when others didn’t. I feel that retiring was the right decision for me (and many others) on the day, and I have nothing but respect for those who managed to finish. I learned a lot about taking on an ultra in the winter, and met some lovely people. Would I go back next year? I haven’t decided yet. I’m also entered into the Hardmoors 60 in September. If I manage to get through that I might have to come back to complete the Cleveland Way circle…

 

 

 

 

Last September I spent my birthday at the Endurancelife North York Moors Ultra. It had lots of climbing, but was a great event and we were blessed with fine weather. I enjoyed it so much I decided to enter the Endurancelife Northumberland Ultra the weekend before last. I’d been following a 20 week training plan for the Hardmoors 50, and this was the perfect distance at the perfect time to be my longest run before my taper for that.

Like all the Endurancelife runs, there are 10K, half/full marathon and ultra events all taking place on the same day with different start times. For the marathon and ultra runners sign on at Bamburgh Castle, are transported to Alnwick Castle by coach, then run back up the coast to Bamburgh. It looked like a great route on paper. People doing the ultra complete an additional loop of around eight miles to make up a distance of just over 35 miles.

I travelled up to Northumberland from York the night before the event. Accommodation in this area can be expensive, but I managed to find a really cheap Airbnb in a quiet village just a few miles from Bamburgh. Venturing into Seahouses for some carb loading chips at teatime, I noticed several Endurancelife course markers around town.

The next morning I headed out at 6.30 am to register at Bamburgh Castle by 7am. It was pretty cold at that time, but the weather forecast for the day was dry and bright. After a rather lengthy race briefing (fortunately inside a tent!) we boarded our coaches to Alnwick. The sun was rising over the sea and the whole area looked beautiful and a little mystical. I couldn’t wait to get going!

After disembarking at Alnwick Castle we set off at around 8.20 am.

The first six miles of the course were inland, mostly flat with a few undulations; a great warm-up, heading out towards the coast and the first checkpoint at Alnmouth. There are five checkpoints along the course, approximately six miles apart, where you have to dib in with your timing device.

Refreshments are available, but are somewhat limited, with just water to drink and jelly beans/custard creams to eat. I did get a bit fed up of custard creams by the end of the day! Participants are warned in the event manual that food and drink is limited, but I think for the entrance fee a couple more options could be provided.

However, that’s a minor quibble about what is otherwise a fantastic event. Once the course reached the coast, it gradually wound its way northwards, through picturesque villages such as Boulmer, Crastor and Beadnell. Quite a few miles are on sand, which I was a bit worried about as I thought it would be really hard work; but it was so firm it was actually quite nice to run on. We got our feet a bit wet in places; I’d carried a spare pair of socks in anticipation of this, but my Inov-8s dried out pretty well. The weather was perfect – cool and bright – and the scenery was amazing. We also had a tailwind for most of the day, which was brilliant.

After a while the leaders of the marathon (which had started about an hour after the ultra) started to come past us. It was amazing to see their pace! In some places the trail was quite narrow and we had to stand aside to let them by, but as I wasn’t gunning for time it was no great hardship. A little while later we started to mingle with runners in the half marathon and 10K too. I had some lovely chats with people along the way, which is always one of the best things about ultra runs. Not many people are in a hurry!

The added ‘ultra’ loop at the end of the marathon had quite a bit of road in it, but it was very quiet so not really a problem. We kind of ran in a big circle around the castle, which never seemed to get any closer until the last mile! Looking at my watch on this last section, I was determined to finish under seven hours, and just managed to squeak in at 6:59:48. I later received an email from the organisers to say I’d won my category. Sounds impressive, but there were only two FV55s in the ultra! I’m still taking it as a win though 🙂

The t-shirt and medal for this one aren’t really anything to write home about, if you’re bothered about that sort of thing. But having done two now, I can say that Endurancelife events are well organised and supported, and so well signed it’s virtually impossible to get lost. Northumberland would be a great first ultra, as there’s only 396 metres of elevation. It’s also a relatively easy way to acquire two UTMB points. My prize was a voucher for £10 off a future Endurancelife event, so I may well be back here next year!

 

Hello! I know, it’s ages since I’ve written a blog post. Life’s been pretty hectic since Christmas: the combination of work, house renovation, college studies and ultra training have left me with very little free time. But I have still been running, so thought I’d just post a very brief update on what I’ve been up to. I’m currently training for the Hardmoors 50 in March, but have done a few hilly events along the way as I think it makes long runs a bit more fun.

Early in January I took part in my first ever cross country race, the Yorkshire Championships at Lightwater Valley. I was just there for the experience, but obviously many club runners take it very seriously, and there were some great performances from the top athletes – including Jonny Brownlee! We did five laps of an undulating course and  I loved it, even though it was really hard work and I wasn’t far off the back. Unfortunately diary clashes with other events meant I wasn’t able to do any other XC races this season, but I’d certainly like to do more next winter. I’d really recommend it to anyone. Don’t be afraid to give it a go – although you do have to be club member to enter.

The following week I ran the Temple Newsam Ten (miles, that is). I love this event, and have done it twice before. It’s great fun and good hilly training at the same time. I was amazed that I finished twelve minutes quicker than last year; then I remembered that last year I was just coming back from injury and had a cold, so that would explain it! The goody bag is always great here, with a long-sleeved top, medal, chocolate and crisps!

As I’ll be finishing the Hardmoors 50 in the dark I thought I’d better get some head torch practice in, so at the end of January I took part in my first ever dark race, the No Ego Challenge in Dalby Forest. This was a five miler on fire roads and forest trails which was quite steep and muddy in places. It poured down with rain throughout, but once I’d warmed up I didn’t really notice that and really enjoyed it. I’m back at Dalby for another dark run at the beginning of March which is part of the Dark Skies Festival.

Two weeks ago I gave myself a good beasting at the Hardmoors Saltburn Marathon. I did the half version of this last year. There’s always plenty of mud and some very steep hills! I felt absolutely done in at the end, but I’m sure it was excellent training!

Last weekend I ran the Harewood House Half – another event I really love and do each year. The course is hilly and beautiful, and the weather was great on the day, which is always a bonus! I expected to be a bit slow as my legs were still tired from Saltburn, but actually came in a bit quicker than expected, so hopefully all this hilly training is starting to pay off!

The day before Harewood I’d been to an ultra coaching day put on by Jayson and Kim Cavill, two amazing runners who are Cavill Coaching. It took place at the Yorkshire Cycle Hub, in the remote and beautiful location of Fryupdale on the North York Moors. Around 25 of us attended, and the day covered topics such as training, core/strength work and nutrition, as well as a social run round the gorgeous countryside where I got to try out some running poles. I really enjoyed it and certainly learned a few things I can put into practice, especially on the strength and conditioning front. I’m also going to get some poles. By the way, the Hub has a great café with excellent coffee and cake – I can certainly recommend it if you’re passing!

This weekend sees my longest training run before the Hardmoors 50, which is now scarily only three weeks away. I’m taking part in the Endurancelife Northumberland ultra, which is 35 miles along the gorgeous coastline from Alnwick to Bamburgh. The weather forecast looks superb for February, so I can’t wait to get up there.

And after that it’s a three week taper til the big 50. Yikes!

 

I love Hardmoors events, so as soon as Roseberry Topping opened for entry I was in. Only the half this time mind you, as it would be December and the weather might be rubbish. At that point I hadn’t even looked at the route, so didn’t twig that we’d actually be going up and down Yorkshire’s own Matterhorn not once but twice. And I didn’t know about the Tees Link either, a steep, muddy slope that we’d have to go up on the way out and down on the way back. But, as someone once said, ignorance is bliss, isn’t it? It was only in the week before the event that I found out about the double ascent, descent, and noticed folk on the Hardmoors Facebook page saying that heavy rain had turned the Link into a sea of mud. OK then!

The race starts and finishes in Guisborough, at the Sea Cadets HQ. As usual, there was a marathon, half and 10K setting off at various times. After several days of rain, the weather on the day was gorgeous; bright and cold with only a little wind. We set off on a gentle incline out of town and through Guisborough Woods.

Much of the race takes place on the Cleveland Way, and to get up there the infamous Tees Link has to be negotiated. On this particular occasion the rain had turned it into a sea of mud.

Not only was it impossible to run up, it was quite a challenge to simply remain upright – and a fair few people didn’t! We slithered our way up, making very slow progress. I thought to myself how much easier this would be with poles to give you something to hang onto. We finally (literally) hauled ourselves over the top onto the Cleveland Way at High Cliff Nab. The view to the sea from the top was spectacular though. Myself and a girl I’d been chatting with couldn’t resist stopping to take photos of each other. And have a breather!

From there it was easier progress for a couple of miles, then we approached Roseberry Topping. This was an amazing sight, rising up against the blue sky with its distinctive curved summit. We ascended one side of it, went down another, came back up the same way and then descended a different route on the other side.

The whole thing was only about a mile, but took me nearly half an hour! Going up isn’t actually that bad, as there are large stones that almost form steps. Going down is a bit more treacherous, especially as the stones were wet, there were runners further ahead coming back up as we went down, as well as members of the general public with dogs/children etc to contend with. But it was quite fun! I didn’t hang around on the top, as it was quite windy and I didn’t want to get cold. Again, I wished I had poles for the descents. We then had some lovely downhill for a while, before another climb up to Captain Cook’s monument.

The course then undulated for a few miles until we turned back towards Guisborough. I was finding it tough and felt more tired that I thought I would. I was really glad I was only doing the half and not the full marathon! I began to wonder if I should have entered the Hardmoors 50 in March, which would be along similar terrain but a lot longer. I knew there was still time for me to withdraw my application and get most of my entry fee back. The kind of negative thoughts that creep in when you don’t feel too good!

At one point I got cramp in my inner thigh, which I’ve never had before and was horrible! Luckily it went off after a bit of rubbing, and towards the end I rallied a bit after taking a gel.

We then had the fun of coming back along the Tees Link, with more slipping and sliding down the slope. Everyone was in good spirits though, and we had a nice downhill run back into Guisborough. I even managed a bit of a ‘sprint’ finish! My time was 3:47 – my slowest half marathon ever, but also the hardest! I thought I’d been rubbish; then I found out later that my friend Robyn, who would normally knock off a road marathon in around three hours, had taken 6:20 for this one (and was third woman!) so I didn’t feel so bad. Everyone received a coveted Hardmoors t-shirt and medal, and the tea and mince pies afterwards were very welcome.

This is a great event, but one not to be underestimated. It’s a tough course, with a ten hour cut-off for the marathon, so don’t come expecting a PB. But if you like big hills – and mud – it’s a winner! I’m sure it must have been brilliant training. The day after, I woke up with a sore throat, which developed into a stinking cold, so I’m hoping that’s why I didn’t feel brilliant while I was running. I haven’t withdrawn my entry to the 50. But I am hoping Santa will bring me some good poles…