I first heard about the Hardmoors events a couple of years ago when I started trail running, and to be honest I thought they sounded pretty scary. Just look at the name! Hard. Moors. Scary! I imagined wiry fell runners in vests and tiny shorts bounding up and down vicious hills like mountain goats. Not for the likes of me! But then a couple of friends assured me that they weren’t scary events at all; in fact they were very inclusive and varied in distance from 10K to ultra, so there was something for everyone. So when I started preparing for Race to the Stones I thought I’d give one a go for hill training purposes and entered the Hardmoors Wainstones Marathon. I thought it would be a good dress rehearsal for the big day. However, when my dodgy hamstring started playing up after the London Marathon I decided to play it cautiously and downsized to the half marathon.
The Wainstones events (10K, half and full marathon) all start and finish at Chop Gate near Helmsley. The drive over there from York on a sunny Sunday morning was beautiful and I was really looking forward to it. There was plenty of parking and I wandered over to the village hall to sign on. The marathon runners had just set off at 9 am. Participants had to carry mandatory kit of a waterproof jacket, hat or buff, a route map and the means to carry 500ml of fluid. Everyone’s kit was duly checked before they were allowed to pick up their number. This was all very quick, so I had plenty of time to get ready and went to the loo about three times, just because I could! The weather was perfect – dry but not too warm. We set off on time at 10 am.
We’d run no more than about 100m when we came to a stile that everyone had to climb over, so that held things up quite a bit! “Never mind”, I thought, “It’s not a road race – time and pace don’t really matter”. After the stile we started to climb up a massive hill straight away and everyone slowed to a walk. The track was quite narrow and lots of people seemed happy to stroll up, chatting and taking photos as they went. This was a bit frustrating, as one of the things I’ve been practising is walking uphill as fast as I can, so I wished I’d placed myself a bit further up the field at the start! But I tried to chill and take it all in. We gained a lot of height in a short distance, and some people seemed to be struggling a bit even at this early stage. We eventually got to the top and the track widened out so we could start running. I clocked the first mile at around 25 minutes! The descent from the first hill was great, a gentle gritty trail that gave me some time to take in the amazing view.
It wasn’t long before we were climbing up another hill. In fact there were five hills in all, so not much flat on the course. It was tough going at times, with a couple of rocky, technical descents as well as testing uphill gradients, and it was really windy on the tops! One of the hills had the Wainstones themselves perched at the summit, through which we scrambled with a gale force wind blowing us along – great fun!
The route went along some of the Cleveland Way, which skirts the edge of the North York Moors and is paved in parts. The views were quite spectacular, but there wasn’t much time to take them in going downhill, as you had to be really careful where you placed your feet. The last thing I wanted was to sprain my ankle – or worse – so I was super cautious. I wished I was better at descending as I stood aside to let various people fly past me. I guess it takes practice! But I did notice that I passed quite a few people walking uphill, so I must be getting better at that.
I went through halfway in 1:37 and couldn’t help thinking that if this was a road half I’d be nearly finished – but I know I have to lose that kind of mentality on the trails. There were two checkpoints en route offering water, Pepsi, jelly babies, peanuts and Jaffa Cakes. I took a couple of Jaffa Cakes at each point and they went down really well. I’d brought a piece of homemade flapjack with me, but the Jaffa Cakes actually sat better on my stomach. We had to check in at each point, and I kind of liked the old-schoolness of a marshal shouting out people’s numbers as they approached. For the last few miles we were on moorland trails, which were quite boggy. I tried to keep my feet as dry as possible, but at about ten miles we had to go through a stream, so that was that! The last mile or so was a really nice descent back down to Cop Gate, finishing actually inside the village hall to give our numbers to the time keepers.
We received a really nice t-shirt and medal, and there were savoury snacks, cakes and drinks on offer. Cracking! I haven’t seen any official results yet, but I timed myself at about 3:12 (I think – I forgot to stop my Garmin when I finished – possibly because I was distracted by the sight of cake!).
Just after I’d arrived back the first lady marathoner finished in what must have been about four and a half hours. This really impressed me, not least because the marathon course was actually 28 miles long! Apparently long courses are a Thing with Hardmoors events. That day’s 10K was actually ten miles(!), although the half was pretty close to normal at 13.2 miles. All in all it was fab event. People I’ve spoken to have all said they think Wainstones is the toughest of the Hardmoors courses – one described it as ‘brutal’! It was certainly very testing terrain, and my legs are still feeling it two days later; but it was great training for Race to the Stones. Hardmoors events do fill up quickly, so don’t delay entry if you fancy doing one. I’d really recommend it, and I’d definitely like to do more in future. Recovery fish and chips in Helmsley were a must on the way home!
This weekend I’m off on holiday to France for a fortnight, spending a week of that in the Pyrenees. Hopefully I’ll find some more great hilly trails to train on!
The London Marathon was a fantastic event, but Race to the Stones is now looming on the horizon, so I need to start preparing for that. I’ve already been including hills in some of my long marathon training runs, and also completed a couple of hilly events, like the Temple Newsam Trails half marathon. Hopefully that will have set me off to a good start, but I know that I now need to do as many hills as possible and work on building strength rather than focusing on pace and speed. My post-London plan was to have an easy week immediately afterwards, then start to follow the training plan on the Race to the Stones website, which looks like this:
So after just a short recovery run mid-week I headed to my new favourite training ground, Temple Newsam, for a few easy trail miles a week later. And midway through the run I felt a little niggle in my right hamstring – the same side as I had my hamstring tendon injury nearly two years ago. I gave it a little massage and a stretch and hoped it would settle down. But during a short run on Monday it felt no better, so I took myself off to see Jeroen at Jorvik Physiotherapy. After a bit of poking around Jeroen told me it was the muscle on the outside edge of the hamstring group that was the culprit (the one on the right in this picture) and that it was good news as it didn’t seem to be the tendon this time; it was just a bit tired and sore post-marathon.
Jeroen gave me some ultrasound treatment and told me to take it easy for a couple of weeks, which basically means no speed work, no hills and no racing. Thankfully I can still run, but if the muscle starts to play up I’ll have to back off and rest it. I can cycle if I want to, but I’d rather not if I can run. This isn’t great news training-wise, but it could have been worse, and I have to do everything I can to ensure I reach the start of Race to the Stones injury-free – especially as many people have now kindly donated to my Just Giving page for Cancer Research UK.
I was really disappointed to have to miss the North Lincolnshire Half on Sunday. I did this race for the first time and it’s fab – you can read my review of it here. I managed to achieve sub 1:50 for the first time thanks to their brilliant pacers, and was looking forward to having another go (and getting cake at the end again!) but it would have been stupid of me to dose up on ibuprofen and do that – I might have put myself out of action completely. But I still have the Vale of York Half in September to look forward to. Instead I went out for a very slow, flat two hour trot. I’m going to practise eating various foods on the hoof over the next few weeks, especially savoury ones, as I think I’ll get sick of sweet stuff over the course of 100K. Yesterday it was salty crackers, which went down really well – easy to digest and I think the salt would be useful on a warm day in July. Isn’t ultra running all about the eating?! Anyway, here I am chomping one down – my selfie skills don’t get any better!
So that’s where I am for now. This week I’m planning to do just a couple of very short, gentle runs to keep my legs turning, but also go to flow yoga twice to try and build some extra strength and flexibility. Then I’ll see how I feel next weekend. It’s frustrating and a bit worrying not to be training completely how I should be for now, but I’m hoping my cycle of marathon training will stand me in good stead fitness-wise. I don’t need to get any faster, just stronger!
In the past I’ve done quite a bit of running for charity; the first time was back in 2009 when I first started running and the OH and I both did the first ever Run for All York 10K in aid of the Jane Tomlinson Appeal. That was a big deal at the time! I also did the Great North Run for Martin House Hospice. Then, as I started to do more and more running, I realised that I couldn’t expect people to cough up every time I took part in an event.
So I thought I should give it another go; but as nobody is that impressed when I run a marathon any more (and rightly so!) I knew I’d have to go the extra mile this time to get people to part with their hard-earned cash. Actually, quite a few extra miles…
I’ve been tempted to enter Race to the Stones ever since I heard about it last year. It’s a hilly ultra of 100K (or 62 miles in old money) that takes place in July and follows the Ridgeway trail from Lewknor to the ancient stone circle at Avebury. Not only does it look like a great event, but Cancer Research UK have charity places, so it was an ideal opportunity to take on my first 100K and support a cause that’s very close to my heart at the same time. Here’s why I’m running for CRUK.
There’s always been quite a lot of cancer on my mum’s side of the family. She and her two sisters (my aunties) all had breast cancer at a relatively early age, and her brother (my uncle) had prostate cancer. When my cousin also developed breast cancer recently she was offered BRCA2 genetic testing because it was suspected that we might have it in the family. Unfortunately her result came back positive, so we knew for sure that BRCA2 was around and that there was a 50% chance others would have it. That left me and my siblings and cousins with a decision to make. Should we also get tested and find out if we had the gene? For me it wasn’t a hard decision to make. I try to live (mostly) healthily to reduce my risk of developing long term health conditions. We all know that you’re less likely to get cancer if you don’t smoke, maintain a healthy weight and exercise. But you can’t fight genetics. Having the BRCA2 gene seriously increases your risk of developing breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. However, women with the BRCA2 gene have the option of undergoing risk-reducing surgery that ultimately makes them less likely than the general population to develop breast cancer. For men it’s a bit trickier as there isn’t much you can do to prevent prostate cancer apart from keep an eye on things.
Rather than living with uncertainty, I felt I had to know. I saw a genetic counsellor at York Hospital, who was lovely, and had a simple blood test. Fortunately for me the result came back negative. I felt a strange mixture of emotions at hearing the news; obviously happy and relieved, but at the same time a bit guilty that I’d ‘got away with it’ when my cousin hadn’t – although the good news is that she had the surgery and is doing really well, and another of my female cousins has, like me, tested negative. The bad news is I won’t get a free ‘Angelina’ boob job on the NHS! Others in my family haven’t yet taken the plunge to find out. It’s a difficult decision to make, so I respect their choice, but obviously it affects future generations as well as yourself.
So that’s my very personal reason for supporting CRUK, although I’ve been lucky so far. Well known for their ground-breaking research – the BRCA2 gene was actually discovered by a CRUK-funded team – it also does a lot of brilliant work to support those affected by cancer, as well as educating people about cancer, which is why I’m supporting them. Even though you can’t change your genes, educating people about how to avoid cancer is so important. CRUK also has a wealth of useful resources on its website that anyone can access.
Thanks for reading this far if you have! I’ll be blogging a bit about my ultra training between now and Race to the Stones on 15th July. If you’d like to donate to my Just Giving page and help CRUK you can do so here. We’d both really appreciate it!
It’s a long time since I’ve done a run for charity, mainly because I discovered that you can only ask your friends for money so many times before they start to cross the road to avoid you! But as me and Himself are both now in the year of our half century we thought we should do something special to mark it – and make it worthwhile at the same time.
In July Steve will be taking on L’Étape du Tour, the amateur stage of the Tour de France. The 148km route incorporates two huge classic Tour climbs, the Col du Tourmalet and the Hautacam. I like cycling, but rather him than me on this occasion – I’ll be following in the camper van! In September I’ll be doing the Berlin Marathon, which is (happily) completely flat and probably the best shot I’ll ever get at a sub-4 attempt. We thought we’d like to combine our efforts for charity – but which one to choose?
Our local paper, the York Press, has recently featured several stories like this one about young children who’ve sadly died after battling rare forms of cancer. Apparently around 3,600 children are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK. This touched a chord, so we’ve decided to raise money for Children with Cancer UK, the leading national children’s charity dedicated to the fight against all childhood cancers. CwC aims to help find cures and provide care for young people suffering from cancer. Every year it invests millions of pounds in essential research, welfare and campaigning programmes to save young lives. We think it’s a really worthwhile cause.
Steve’s already well into his training for the Étape, and my training programme for Berlin will begin properly on 9th June. The thought of raising money for Children with Cancer will definitely motivate Team Shepherd to do as well as we possibly can! You can find out more about CwC’s work and read some really inspiring stories about how they’ve helped sick children on their website. If you’d like to support us (and them) by making a donation you can do this on our Virgin Money Giving page.
Thanks for reading and watch this space for training updates!