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Race Review – Hardmoors White Horse Marathon 2018

I knew the Hardmoors White Horse Marathon was going to be tough. I’d done a couple of their half marathons (you can read my reviews of Saltburn here and Wainstones here), and they were pretty hard – as the name suggests! But that’s kind of the point of these events. For the uninitiated, Hardmoors runs take place in the area covering the North York Moors and the adjoining coastline, and are organised by the awesome couple Jon and Shirley Steele. Each event in the Hardmoors marathon series includes a 10K, a half and a full marathon – although distances are always a bit more than the standard. They’re really popular and sell out fast. Hardmoors also put on some pretty awesome ultra events of up to 200 miles. The Hardmoors mantra is basically Suffering = Fun, which pretty much tells you all you need to know! I thought doing a couple of these marathons at a steady pace would be good training for Snowdonia in October.

The White Horse starts and finishes at the visitor centre at the top of Sutton Bank; from here you can see all the way across to the Yorkshire Dales, a view that vet, author and local legend James Herriot described as ‘the finest in England’. The weather was a bit misty as I drove across from York in the early morning, but forecast to brighten up later. There was plenty of parking when I arrived and no queues at either registration or the loos. There is a mandatory kit list for these events, and your kit is checked before you can pick up your race number. As this was a daytime event in fine weather, the only kit required was a waterproof, a map of the course, a phone and the means to carry some drink. I also took arm warmers, a spare pair of socks, some plasters and a couple of gels just in case. I had a bit of a shoe dilemma beforehand; I thought if I wore my minimal Inov-8 trail shoes my dodgy ankle tendon might kick off, so took a chance with my Hoka road shoes as the weather had been dry for the whole week before the race.

About 120 runners lined up for the marathon. My main aim for the day was just to get round and hopefully not be last! The course is about 28 miles long. Does that make it technically an ultra?! I had no idea how long it would take me, but hoped maybe about six hours. After a race briefing from Jon we set off at 9 am (the half started at 10 and the 10K at 10.30). The mist was clearing a bit and we were nice and high up – but the route starts with a pretty much immediate steep descent down from the Cleveland Way to run around Gormire Lake and then climb (i.e. walk) straight back up again. So your legs have had a good test before you even really get started! Luckily the next few miles are gently undulating and really runnable. After about five miles we turned off the Cleveland Way and set out over the moors. You can check out the route map here.

Hardmoors events are a bit low tech. There’s no chip timing, but old school checkpoints, where your number is noted by a marshal as you pass through. These are all manned by lovely people who are mostly Hardmoors runners themselves, with water, coke, snacks and sweets available. I was helped along by some very good homemade flapjack and a fair few jelly babies!

The first half included a couple of big climbs that really tested most of us. My descending (never my greatest skill!) was slightly compromised by being in road shoes, but overall I think I made the right shoe choice. However, after about ten miles I began to feel my shoes pressing slightly on the inside of the balls of my feet. I’d no idea why, as I’ve worn them for over four hours on the road before with no discomfort. So at one of the checkpoints I stopped and changed socks to see if it would help.

The real beast of the day was a climb called Hawnby Ridge, which seemed to go on forever. The sun had come out by then and it was really warm. As I hauled myself upwards, sweat was literally running down my face and into my eyes. But the view at the top was spectacular. We ran along the ridge for a bit, then descended to a checkpoint that was almost at the halfway point. A few of us missed the path here and ended up wading through heather, but soon got back on track. Fortunately navigation at Hardmoors events is quite easy, with yellow tape at strategic points to show the way and marshals at significant points. Just as well, as my sense of direction isn’t up to much!

My feet were still bothering me, so I stopped again and put some plaster on them, which seemed to do the trick. I got to halfway in about three hours ten minutes, so realised this was going to take a bit longer than anticipated! A couple of miles after this there was a really long drag on the road up out of the village of Hawnby. My husband Steve was cycling out from home to see me a couple of miles from the end of the route, so I rang him and said I’d probably be later than we’d planned to meet! I ploughed on up the hill, jogging as much as I could, but it was hard work in the heat. Luckily after this there were quite a few miles that were easier going, so I managed to run most of that. There was just one more climb after the village of Rievaulx, not far from the finish, then I saw Steve in Cold Kirby, which gave me a nice boost. From there it was just a couple of miles over fields and through some woods to the finish. And boy, was I glad to finish! I did enjoy it though. At the end we all received a really cool technical t-shirt and a nice piece of bling. More snacks and drinks were also on hand.

I finally sneaked in just under six and a half hours. At first I didn’t think I’d done very well, but when the results came out a couple of days later (low tech, remember!) I turned out to be 64th out of 116 finishers overall and second FV50, so I’m happy with that. I can highly recommend the White Horse if you like a testing trail run; although don’t expect to see the actual famous White Horse of Kilburn en route!

The good news is that the White Horse actually has more ascent at 1,220 metres (just under 4,000 feet in old money) than Snowdonia, so I now know that I’ll at least be able to get round that one! It was certainly a brilliant training exercise – although my quads still feel like they’ve been run over by a train three days later! It was well worth it though. I’ve also entered the Hardmoors Rosedale Marathon in August, but luckily that only has about half the ascent of the White Horse – a mere walk in the park in comparison!

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