Blog

I was really looking forward to running Snowdonia. Twice voted Britain’s best marathon, its route is described as ‘demanding’ and ‘spectacular’ and I’d heard great things about it from those who’d done it. Very tempting! You have to be quick off the mark if you want to enter though, as it’s so popular it sells out in a couple of hours. I entered last December and was making it my main event of the autumn.

The marathon starts and finishes in the small Welsh town of Llanberis. It’s a beautiful little place beside a lake, with fabulous views of Snowdon itself. However, it’s also a pig of a place to drive to on a Friday afternoon during half term! A journey that should have taken us three hours took five, so it was pitch black by the time we arrived at around 7.30. The race is on Saturday, and number pick up is conveniently open until 11 pm on Friday evening. After a pasta supper in our camper van it was pretty much time for bed. People told me it always rains at this event, but the weather forecast for the next day was cold and dry – perfect! Rain battered on the van roof during the night, but was scheduled to stop by early morning. I really hoped so, as I suddenly realised I’d left my running waterproof at home – schoolgirl error!

Sure enough, Saturday morning (thankfully!) dawned freezing but bright. It had actually snowed on the high ground during the night, and the big mountain was looking spectacular. The marathon has a very civilised start time of 10.30, so there was no need to get up at the crack of dawn for breakfast. The start line is on the road just outside Llanberis and the finish is in the centre of town.

With about 2,500 runners taking part there were enough people around to create a buzz, but not so many that things were too crowded. I’d taken an old fleece to discard at the start (any clothes left there are donated to charity) and was wearing some old gloves I was planning to ditch en route. The wintry conditions were certainly a sharp contrast to my last road marathon, the boiling hot London one in April! Steve waved me off at the start, then set off on his mountain bike to pedal up Snowdon. And people say I’m mad!

The Snowdonia Marathon route is mostly on Tarmac, with just a couple of sections at around 10K and near the end on trail. There are three major climbs in it, at around 2 miles, just before halfway and a proper beast a couple of miles from the end!

Running a marathon is sometimes a strange thing. You usually set off feeling great and start to flag towards the end. On this day, I set off in a great mood, but soon started to feel what I can only describe as ‘rubbish’. My legs felt like they had zero energy; my belly was gurgling; I even had a bit of a headache. “Typical”, I thought, “the one event of the autumn where I want to feel my best and I’m struggling already. This is going to be a long day and I’m already wishing it was over!”. I dragged myself up the first climb, which was about two miles long; a gradual ascent that was pretty runnable really, but I was struggling. Fortunately after that we had a few miles of downhill; in fact, in this section you eventually end up lower down than the start! But I knew we’d have to get all that elevation back, and more besides, in a while. Just before six miles we got to the first trail section, which was great; but I still felt that if a car had drawn up beside me I would have happily climbed into it!

In a desperate attempt to give myself a boost I decided to take my SiS Double Espresso caffeinated gel, which I’d originally intended to save for near the end. Miraculously, about ten minutes later I began to feel loads better! I hadn’t had any coffee that morning as we’d forgotten to pack our cafetière(another schoolgirl error) and I suddenly wondered whether I’m so addicted to coffee I simply can’t function without it! Anyway, I perked up big time and really enjoyed the rest of the race.

Runners are really well supported on the course, with refreshment points  every couple of miles. All have water and jelly babies, and in the second half there are points with isotonic drink and High 5 gels. Some also had my current favourite race food, marshmallows. They slip down so easily! The first few miles of the course are traffic-free, but later on the road is shared with vehicles, so you do have to keep your wits about you. Marshals on bikes helped to keep us safe though. I was expecting another huge climb up to the second high point, but the course seemed to undulate rather than give it to you all at once, which was good for me. I was having a great time by now, enjoying the scenery and exchanging words with fellow runners. Then came the dreaded last climb! Initially it wasn’t too bad, but then it kicked up and probably seemed steeper than it actually was on tired legs. Nobody around me seemed to be running, so I didn’t feel too bad about jog/walking my way up it.

At the top we were back onto trail, which undulated for a while; then about the last mile and a half was downhill all the way to the finish! The first part was on trail, which was a little slippery and muddy, so hard for me to let go properly in road shoes, then onto Tarmac as we returned to Llanberis. The road was quite steep, but I was loving it. I still had my ‘disposable’ gloves on, but didn’t want to be wearing them in my finisher photo as they were a bit ratty, so took them off and tossed them to a slightly bemused spectator. As I came to the flat ground in town I suddenly felt twinges of cramp in my calves, but refused to stop and walk at this point. I crossed the finish line feeling elated, as the day had turned out far better than I thought it might four hours previously!

My finish time was 4:45:48 – interestingly, about the same as the flat but hot London! I finished in 1,345th place overall (just over halfway), 284th out of 690 women and 10th in the FV55 category. In the second half of the race I’d moved up over 200 places, which I was quite pleased with. I think participating in quite a few hilly events (mostly Hardmoors) over the last year or so has improved my ability to keep pushing when things get tough.

 

There’s no medal at Snowdonia; instead you get a coaster made of local slate, which I think is a lovely souvenir. We also received a great t-shirt and drink bottle. The post-race refreshments consisted of tea and biscuits in a room so crowded it was impossible to move, but that’s my only very slight niggle in an otherwise excellent event. Would I do it again? Possibly, but maybe not next year as I’m quite keen to do the Loch Ness Marathon, which is around the same time. And I’d allow more time for the journey there!

Entry for Snowdonia 2019 opens on 1st December. If you want to see what it looks like, there’s an S4C highlights programme online here (with English subtitles available). But I guess it might rain next year!

 

I love Dalby Forest. Steve often goes mountain biking there, so I sometimes tag along and have a trot round the trails while he’s riding. However, as I’m a bit navigationally challenged I don’t usually wander very far; so when I heard about the Forest & Moors Challenge, the opportunity to do a longer run at Dalby that’s fully waymarked was too good to pass up!

This event is organised by the Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team, who also provide such great back-up to the Hardmoors trail runs. There’s a choice of distances: 10K, half or full marathon. I was tempted by the full one, but having done an ultra the week before I plumped for the half as my last bit of proper hilly training before the Snowdonia Marathon.

We were so lucky with the weather on the day. Although the first ground frost of the season meant we were de-icing our car windscreen when we set off from York, the day turned out to be perfect running weather – cool and sunny. The race fee also includes entry to Dalby, which normally costs £9, so that’s a great saving and means any non-running friends and family can enjoy the forest facilities at the same time. Obviously Himself brought his bike along! The run starts and finishes at Adderstones Field. There was plenty of parking, sign-on/number pick-up  was quick, and portable loos had been brought in for the event. The half and full marathon started at 9.30, with the 10K at 10. There was no announcement or gun, it was just a case of “Oh right, we’re off then”!

After leaving the field the course went immediately down and then up a steep and quite technical single track through the forest, so there was a bit of congestion; but after that it opened up onto wider paths through the forest and across fields. There was quite a lot of downhill in the first couple of miles, and we soon paid for that with quite a steep uphill hike! From about five miles onwards the course was lovely and undulating, mostly trail but with a bit of Tarmac from time to time – perfect training for me. For a few miles we were out on the open moorland with some spectacular views, especially near the Hole of Horcum. You can check out the route here. It was so well marked there was absolutely no chance of getting lost, even for me!

There was no mandatory kit for the half marathon, so as the weather was fine I was travelling light (i.e. with just an emergency gel!). There were  refreshment points at around 3 miles, halfway and 11 miles, with water, Coke and jelly beans – and I also had a mini gingerbread man at the halfway point! For a couple of miles after the last one the route was a lovely gentle downhill – combined with the gorgeous weather and the fabulous scenery, it was the sort of running that makes you feel lucky and grateful just to be there doing it. Looking at my watch I hoped I might finish in under two and a half hours, but just before the end there were two wicked little climbs, and the total distance was closer to 14 miles, so I just missed out. But I enjoyed it so much I was kind of sorry to stop anyway!

At the finish we all received a very colourful medal, and there were snacks (including big slices of flapjack!) plus hot and cold drinks on offer. I finished in 2:31, 47th out of 96 runners overall, and was pretty happy with that. I thought my legs might be a bit reluctant after the CTS North York Moors last weekend, but they seemed fine. All in all I thought this was a brilliant and great value event. I’ll definitely be back next year if I can – maybe for the full marathon. So now I’m officially tapering for Snowdonia!

Race for Life came to York last weekend as was as epic as ever! There’s no other event quite like it. I’ve taken part as both a runner and a marshal over the years and loved seeing it from both sides. Rather than reviewing it myself again I thought it might be more interesting to gather some thoughts from a few of my friends who took part this year. I think they prove that Race for Life is for everyone, no matter what their age, ability or pace.

Rachael

“I did the event as a motivator for exercising, to raise money for charity and to set an example to my kids. I love the way the event brings lots of different women together for the same cause, and the atmosphere on the day is so supportive and encouraging. It doesn’t matter how fast you do it or if you walk it all. I went with the run some/walk some approach!”

 

Hannah

“I have run Race for Life for many years in memory of my beloved Granddad. This year I walked it with my daughter of 15 weeks with friends and their children. I would like her to be part of my fundraising ways. We loved the atmosphere, and of course dressing up in pink!”

Rachel

“I had never entered a Race for Life before so was excited to see what they were all about. It was lovely to see women of all ages and abilities come together to help beat cancer sooner. It was a really fun day with a lot of fancy dress. When you read the messages on the back of people’s tops you realise the importance of events such as these. It was a great day to be part of!”

Rachel is a really experienced runner and has a great running blog, Run With Rachel.  – check it out here.

 

Michelle

“I took part because I’m a beginner runner and am trying to better my performance in terms of speed, distance, pacing etc. I’ve found running hash helped with my asthma, stress and general wellbeing, and hope to keep at it. I liked that there was a very social atmosphere. Total strangers were talking to each other before and during the race. There were times when it was clear that people had ‘hit the wall’ or were just struggling a bit, myself included. But total strangers were stopping to say to each other “Are you OK?”. They weren’t worried about times or getting a PB. I slowed down myself to pace and encourage a lady who was struggling. She’d not run 10K before and had hit the wall at the 9K marker. I also loved that even when people looked totally beat they were still smiling!”

Race for Life events take place all over the country; see here for details.

Hope to see some of you at Race for Life in York next year!

Angela

As you’ll know if you’re a regular reader here, I’m a big fan of Hardmoors running events. The Princess Challenge isn’t a Hardmoors race as such (in as much as it isn’t organised by Hardmoors legends Jon and Shirley Steele), but is organised by a lovely visually-impaired runner and all-round good egg called Kelly Jackson. It’s a really fun occasion when everyone is encouraged to dress up to run (even the men) and many people get princessed to the max! I first became aware of it when last year’s event took place and thought it looked fab.

The Princess Challenge offers a choice of three distances: the Short & Sweet (8.5 miles), the One in the Middle (17.5 miles) and the Ultra (31 miles). As my Snowdonia Marathon training plan had my long run at 17 miles that weekend, the One in the Middle was the obvious route to try. All distances start and finish at the village hall in Ravenscar and, like the Ravenscar Half, the Princess is supported by, and in aid of, the Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team, who provide so much essential support at Hardmoors races.

Obviously an important part of my race preparation was planning my outfit! Most princesses were plumping for pink, but I wanted something that would match my running kit, so ordered a turquoise tutu costing £5 from Ebay and also managed to acquire an impressive plastic tiara with blue stones from Boyes for a bargain £1.49. I imagined both would become uncomfortably annoying at some point along the way, but could stuff them in my Camelbak when they did!

The weather on race day was gorgeous; bright and sunny with a refreshing sea breeze to keep things cool enough to enjoy. Kit check and number/chip pick-up was quick and efficient, although I had a bit of a panic when I realised I’d left my whistle attached to my Camelbak bladder at home. Luckily a lovely lady called Lauren was able to lend me a spare one. Panic over! Kit checks are very strict at Hardmoors events, and rightly so; although I did wonder if a head torch was really necessary for a 17 mile race in August. The Ultra and the One in the Middle started at 9.15, with the Short & Sweet setting off at 10 am. The Ultra and the OITM both consisted of figure of eight routes, passing back through Ravenscar in the middle, while the S&S was a circular route out to Robin Hood’s Bay and back.

We set off along the Cleveland way in the direction of Scarborough. The conditions were so perfect it was an absolute joy to be running. Unlike the Hardmoors marathon series, the Princess events aren’t fully marked or taped, but there were some marshals along the way, and princessy pink tape was placed at strategic points. The first part of the course was gently undulating along the coast, with the first checkpoint after about four miles. There were three checkpoints en route (more on the ultra), all well stocked with water, fizzy drinks and sweets. The lovely marshals helped us all to top up our bottles. At Hayburn Wyke the course looped back to Ravenscar along the cinder track, a former railway line that’s now a bike and footpath. This was mostly a slight incline, but nothing that wasn’t runnable.

At the halfway point we passed back through Ravenscar, and I took advantage of this to visit the portable loos outside the village hall – what a mid-race luxury! The route then went out along the cinder track on the other side of the village, towards Robin Hood’s Bay – in effect following the Short & Sweet circuit. This was a brilliant section; a gentle downhill with fabulous coastal views for pretty much five miles – the sort of running you dream about! I chatted to various people along the way and had a great time. My tutu and tiara turned out to be surprisingly comfortable and it was easy to forget I was wearing them. Sometimes I wondered why other path users were smiling at all the runners, then I’d suddenly remember we were princesses! Unfortunately on a circular route, what goes down must also go up, so from Robin Hood’s Bay the route was pretty much uphill all the way back to Ravenscar! Some of this was up steps, which I quite like because I think you seem to gain height more easily and quickly this way than walking up an incline.

The sea views were still amazing though, and there was lots of friendly camaraderie along the way. However, a couple of miles from the finish I found myself alone when I came to a junction in the path where the Cleveland Way went off to the left. Going straight on seemed a more direct way back to Ravenscar to me, but I’d asked a marshal at the Robin Hood’s Bay checkpoint if we just followed the Cleveland Way all the way to the end and he told me we did; so I merrily climbed over a stile and trotted off to the left across a grassy field. Just as I got to the other side I heard voices behind me, and saw two girls waving and shouting at me “You’ve gone the wrong way”! So back I went, very grateful that they’d spotted me. My instincts had been right after all, which is most unusual, as I’m usually pretty navigationally challenged. I think my little detour added over half a mile to the distance, but as I was just using this event as a training exercise I wasn’t really bothered.

After a few miles of climbing it was good to get to the end. The best thing about the Princess is the glitzy finisher’s medal and t-shirt – both are super sparkly!

The post-race refreshments were pretty good too, with chip butties, hot drinks and masses of cake available in the village hall. We also got a goody bag of sweeties!

I’m not sure what my official time was, but I timed myself at around 3:45. No results seem to be available yet, which seems a bit odd over a week later, as we were all wearing timing chips. But all in all the Princess was a top day out, and I’ll definitely come back next year if I can. I’m looking forward to returning to Ravenscar later this month for the North York Moors edition of the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series. I’m doing the marathon distance and it’s on my birthday, so what better excuse to eat All The Cake!

The Hardmoors Rosedale Marathon kind of snuck up on me! When I got back from my holiday in France I realised it was only a week away. I was really looking forward to it, but at the same time kind of wishing I hadn’t spent the previous fortnight consuming my own weight in pastry and wine, although I had also managed to run up and down a few hills. I was hoping the weather would cool down a bit beforehand, but unfortunately there was no sign of the heatwave ending any time soon.

The Rosedale races start and finish at Hutton-le-Hole, a pretty village near Pickering. I arrived about an hour before kick off, got through kit check and number issue at the village hall very quickly, slathered myself with P30 sunscreen and had plenty of time for loo visits! A sign outside the building stating ‘Fun Run Registration’ made me chuckle. At the race briefing, Hardmoors head man Jon Steele announced that the marathon was 28 miles long. One of the great things about Hardmoors events is that you always get ‘value for money’, because the distances are always longer than they should be. Of course, trail events are rarely measured to the millimetre, but part of the fun at Hardmoors is finding out exactly how far you’ve actually run at the end.

We set off at 9am. The air temperature was really pleasant at this point, but I realised it was set to get a lot warmer and needed to remember to drink plenty. I hadn’t taken my Camelbak bladder, as I knew there were checkpoints every few miles where I’d be able to refill my soft flask, but I did take some High 5 Zero electrolyte tabs with me to add to my water. The first few miles of the course were really enjoyable with gently undulating hills, some of which were runnable. I idly wondered whether I’d be able to finish this one a bit quicker than the White Horse in June, which had twice as much elevation.

At around 9 miles I passed through the second checkpoint, where my friend Mandy was helping out, and missed a right hand turn. Hardmoors courses have yellow ribbons tied in strategic places to show you where to go, as well as marshals at some turning points. It’s actually quite hard to get lost at these events, which is one of the reasons l like them; but I ran too far down a hill, realised I was totally on my own, ran back up again and saw where I’d gone wrong. This probably added on about half a mile and really annoyed me! Nevertheless, I got to the halfway point in about three hours, so was cautiously optimistic about finishing in around six.

Timing is pretty old school at Hardmoors events; no chips, just marshals ticking off your number on a clipboard as you pass through the checkpoints. These were all well stocked with water, peanuts and jelly sweets; I ate a few of each at every point. In the second half they also offered Pepsi, Irn Bru, ginger beer and biscuits. Pepsi or Coke always goes down well with me! The marshals were lovely, helping to fill water bottles and checking everyone was OK in the heat. There were also a couple of unofficial supporter points, one of which featured a massive inflatable dinosaur!

The second half was much tougher than the first, and I did quite a bit of walking. Not only was it hotter, but the route became more hilly and less shady in the full sun. Many of the paths were quite hard and stony underfoot, and there was also quite a lot of single track through heather moorland that was really narrow and scratchy; not easy to run on, even going downhill. But the spectacular scenery more than made up for the difficulties, and I was really enjoying myself despite the heat and hills.

With only just over 100 people running the marathon we got quite strung out in the second half, and I found myself running pretty much on my own for much of the time, but I didn’t mind. It was quite nice and peaceful to be alone amidst the blue sky, swathes of bright purple heather and dramatic moorland views, but still have the comfort blanket of a marked course.

As I reached the last checkpoint, at 26 miles, a marshal asked me if I’d like to refill my water bottle. “But it’s only a couple more miles now, isn’t it?” I asked. “Four from here!” he replied. Four? Surely he must have got that wrong if it’s 28 miles. But no, he was right, and it turned out to be 30 miles – extra value for money! Fortunately the sky had clouded over a bit by now and it was slightly cooler. The last couple of miles were a lovely gentle downhill through some woods and along the road back to Hutton-le-Hole. As we ran through the village, runners who had already finished and other people who were around clapped and shouted encouragement, which was great. I’d absolutely loved the run, but was also really glad to finish!

We all received a really nice t-shirt and medal at the end, and there were refreshments in the village hall. My official time was 6:57. I was a bit disappointed with this at first, but soon realised that everyone had struggled with the heat and been pretty slow! I was pleased to discover I’d come second in the FV50 category and 64th out of the 113 marathon finishers.

I really recommend Hardmoors events. Don’t be put off by the name! They are very friendly and inclusive, well organised and marked, and very popular – you need to be ready to enter as soon as places go on sale. There are always marathon, half marathon and 10K options available. I’m already signed up for the Hardmoors Princess in September, the Roseberry Half in December and the Hardmoors 50 next March (eek). I’ll also be entering the Saltburn Marathon next February when it goes on sale later this month. All good training for my big challenge next summer… watch this space!

When I entered the Burn Valley Half a few weeks ago it seemed like a good idea at the time. I thought a hilly half marathon would be great training for the Hardmoors Rosedale Marathon in August and, ultimately, the Snowdonia Marathon in October. Also, the race starts and finishes in the Yorkshire Dales market town of Masham, famed for its breweries, and we’d been promised beer at the finish. But that was before the heatwave! And then the woman who runs the nearby campsite where we stayed the night before cheerfully told us she believed Burn Valley to be the hardest road half marathon in the UK. So when the day came I was kind of dreading running up and down hills under a scorching sun on baking Tarmac. Oh well, what doesn’t kill you etc…

 

I travelled to the start with my friend Colin, an age group duathlete who didn’t seem unduly bothered at the prospect of the hills or the heat; but then he is currently training for Rat Race’s City to Summit and knocking out brick sessions all the time. Obviously in a different league to yours truly! I’d heard a few days previously that over 300 people had entered, but there were only 227 finishers on the day, so clearly some people had been put off by the weather forecast. I approached it as a training exercise and decided I’d be happy to plod as slowly as necessary to avoid keeling over with heatstroke. Signing on at Masham Town Hall was quick and efficient, with minimal toilet queues.

After a race briefing including the news that an extra water point had been put on (thank God) we set off bang on time. After a circuit of the market place we ran out of town and started climbing up to Swinton Castle. That one wasn’t too bad on fresh legs. After dropping down from the castle the route winds through the Burn Valley, taking in several decent climbs along the way. The biggest of these comes at about halfway, with a gradual climb of about a mile up to a war memorial to the Leeds Pals. I must admit I wasn’t feeling too good at this point. Apart from being hellishly hot and sweaty, my belly felt a bit weird. But fortunately we then turned left and began a gentle descent down Colsterdale with beautiful views.

I’m not sure whether the second half was easier than the first or whether I just felt a bit better! We climbed up and down through the villages of Healey and Fearby. I’m sure all the runners were really glad of the numerous water points laid on by the lovely marshals. I drank a bit and poured some water over my head at pretty much each point. Locals also turned out to support, some of them spraying hoses across the road. It was then back up to Swinton Castle again, where I inflicted a rather sweaty hug on my friend Phil, who was marshalling there. From the castle it was downhill for about the last mile and a half back to Masham. I was pretty glad to see the 13 mile marker, and a shout of “Come on Knavesmire” powered me round the square to the finish, where my husband had cycled out to meet me. At the end we received a banana, some Yorkshire tea, a can of beer and a t-shirt.

My finish time was 2:16:44, reflecting the tough route and the heat. I was 169th out of 227 overall, 53rd out of 92 women and 13th out of 24 in the W50 category. I was a bit narked that there were only large t-shirts left when I finished. I wasn’t fast, but I was a long way from last. It’s not much use for me to wear, but at least it has the course profile handily printed on the back for future reference!

 

Overall I’d really recommend this event. It’s really well organised with a fun, challenging and very scenic course. I’m really surprised more people didn’t sign up for it. Masham also has some great pubs and cafés for cooling post-race beer and/or ice cream. I’d love to do it again next year. Hopefully it will be a bit less hot!

I love running. And I love wine. In fact, one of the reasons I started running was to work off some wine calories; although after a while running became more important to me than wine! So when I heard about the first Dove House Hospice Wine Dash it seemed like a bit of a no-brainer. Running, drinking and raising money for charity – I mean, why wouldn’t you? The event took place at Little Wold Vineyard at South Cave near Selby. I must admit, before I heard about this event I didn’t even know there was a vineyard there. It’s part of a farm and has apparently only been producing wine for a short time.

There were two different levels of entry fee – boozers and non-boozers. Fortunately I’d arranged for my OH to cycle out there and chauffeur me home! It was certainly a gorgeous day for the event as I drove over there to meet my friend Karen. Parking was on quite a rough field (good job I’d left the Ferrari at home!) and from there a short walk up a hill to registration. There were three start times: 11 am, 12 noon or 1pm, and we’d plumped for 11. In the start/finish area there was a really nice bar in a marquee, a coffee wagon, some toilets and some hay bales to sit on. There weren’t that many people waiting to start, but I guess the later times may have been more popular. One serious-looking chap lined up with a Camelbak and we wondered whether he was planning to fill it with wine!

The run was a 5K trail route with four wine stops on the way round, themed as different countries: France, Italy, Australia and Spain. Each station had appropriate wines and complementary snacks. At registration we were given a wristband and a card to get stamped as we had our refreshments – water was also available for non-boozers! The wines were all really nice and I believe had been donated by a local wine merchant. The matching snacks were an inspired touch; pizza and garlic bread at Italy, salami and olives at Spain, brioche at France etc.

The undulating trail took us on a scenic route through woods and fields. Most people were jogging very slowly or walking and just enjoying themselves.

Karen and I spent a while at the wine stations(!), chatted to various different folk and had a marvellous time. The weather was glorious, and the views from the top of the hills were fabulous.

We took about an hour and were kind of sad when it was over! At the finish we were given a glass of pink fizz produced at the vineyard, which was gorgeous. A percentage of the purchase price of this goes to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, so of course we had to buy some to take home! We also received a lovely wooden coaster as a memento and a tube of wine gums.

The Wine Dash was a well-organised, really fun event and I hope it raised lots of money for the hospice. Hopefully if they hold it again more people will attend and raise even more money!

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!

I recently decided that I have two goals for the autumn; to have a last attempt at a sub 50 10K, and the Snowdonia Marathon. The first is because I figure if I don’t have a proper crack at sub 50 now it will be too late because I’ll be too old. The second is because I’ve heard such good things about Snowdonia that I decided to do that instead of an autumn road marathon. Besides, I’ve started to find road marathons a bit boring and have also realised that many hours of pounding on Tarmac doesn’t do my dodgy hamstring tendon any good. So I’ve decided that to prepare for these two goals I need to run more 10Ks and lots of hills; the Top of the Wolds Challenge seemed a good way to do both at the same time! I love the Yorkshire Wolds Way, and did quite a bit of my Race to the Stones training there last year.

Organised by the Yorkshire Wolds Runners, this race starts and finishes at a village called Warter and is basically a tour of Nunburnholme Wold. It’s a fairly bijou affair and has only about 300 places available. With a very civilised starting time of 10 am, I left home in York at 8.30 and got there with plenty of time to spare. Number pick-up was on the day, and signing on at race HQ, Warter Community Centre, was very efficient. There was ample parking on the field next door, and plenty of toilets, some in the hall and some temporary ones outside. I paid a visit, warmed up, then went to the loo again just because I could. I must admit when I entered I didn’t realise how seriously people take this race and, looking round, realised I should probably have worn my club vest. We were started by the town crier of Pocklington, which was a novel touch!

The route is a mixture of road and trail. I’d plumped for road shoes, as there didn’t seem to be any technical terrain on the route map, and that worked out fine. The first couple of miles were on undulating Tarmac – a couple of inclines, but nothing too testing. Then we got to The Hill. Nunburnholme Hill is what this race is all about really – I think that’s why it’s called a Challenge rather than just a 10K! It goes on for about a mile (although it feels more like about three when you’re going up it) and is quite steep in places. After a while everyone runs out of steam and adopts a walk/jog approach for the rest of the climb. I say everyone – I’m sure there were some super fit types at the head of the field who ran all the way up, but nobody in the middle of the pack with me! Luckily there were some motivational signs like this to help us along.

The weather certainly wasn’t helping us – so warm and humid, I was actually wishing for a bit of rain before I got to the top. In typically cruel fashion, the race photographer, Tom Flynn, was lying in wait at the top of the hill and captured my best tomato face! The view was spectacular though.

Fortunately what goes up must come down, and the overall trajectory for the second half of the race was downhill. It also involved a lovely bit of trail, through some woods and across some fields, with two water points en route.

There was a final vicious little uphill as we came back into the village, then ran round a field to the finish, by which time I was a proper sweaty mess. I really had no idea how long this race would take me, but was very happy to squeak in just under the hour at 59:06; 151st overall and 16th out of 48 in the F45 category – another event where there is a V50 category for men but not for women. Why?!

After crossing the line we were given a fab medal and a ticket for some tea and cake in the community centre. I think the cake was provided by a local deli, and it was fantastic!

Overall this event was brilliant – excellent value, well organised and marshalled by lots of lovely, friendly people. I’d definitely do it again. Also great training for my next event this weekend – my first Hardmoors marathon, the White Horse. Eek!

 

I must admit, I wasn’t the best prepared I’d ever been for the London Marathon. Injured for the second half of last year, and only starting proper running again in January, I was a long way off being fully fit. Then, a couple of weeks before London, I developed a horrible cold. I didn’t run for ten days before the marathon, and even considered deferring. But as it turned out, I don’t think anything short of a Kenyan training camp could have prepared us all for the conditions on the day anyway!

I travelled down from York on Saturday and went straight to the expo to sign on; a feat of endurance almost as challenging as the marathon itself! It’s a long, energy-sapping walk in a mass of people from the station to the bib pick-up and back. I didn’t spend much time looking around the stands as I didn’t want to be on my feet for ages. The weather was really warm, and with the forecast for Sunday the same I focussed on keeping well hydrated all day, drinking lots of water and High 5 Zero, as well as adding some salt to my food. After a pasta dinner in a restaurant near my hotel I got an earlyish night and actually managed to sleep quite well.

When I ran London last year I stayed in a hotel near Cannon Street railway station, jumped straight onto a train at 8 am and was at Maze Hill in no time. This year I was near Kings Cross, so the journey took longer. I had to take a tube from there to London Bridge, then transfer to a train. This took ages! There was a massive crush of people at London Bridge, with trains only about every 15 minutes. In the end I didn’t get to the Green start area until about 9.30. If I ever run London again I’ll definitely revert to the Cannon Street option! Luckily I didn’t have a bag to drop, so got straight into the toilet queue. It took me about 20 minutes to get to the front, by which time people were mostly in the starting pens. I had no time for a proper warm-up; I tried to do a few exercises in the queue, but it wasn’t ideal.

The Queen set us off bang on time at 10. The Green start is much smaller than the Red or Blue, so you’re over the line in just a few minutes. The weather was already warm, with the full sun blazing down and not a cloud in the sky. I was sweating in no time! I knew it wasn’t going to be a day for a PB, and was fine with that, but set off at my usual nine minute mile pace just to see how it felt. After the first 5K it became clear that wasn’t going to be sustainable in the heat, so I backed off a bit, figuring I’d be happy with anything under 4:30 on a day like this.

I’d never run a marathon in hot weather before, and found it hard to put a finger on exactly how or why running seemed much harder in the heat. Nothing really hurt, everything just felt like a massive effort. I was drinking and pouring water over my head at every water station, but the cooling effect didn’t seem to last long. As I took my first gel at an hour in, I realised I’d lost one somehow, so had to reassess my nutrition plan – not the biggest deal as it turned out, as my whole race plan went belly up anyway! I’m sure it felt the same for everyone; we’d all trained for months in the freezing cold and were then presented with what turned out to be the hottest London Marathon day ever! The air temperature rose to 24 degrees, but the crowds and the heat rising off the Tarmac made it seem like more.

I went through my roughest patch just before halfway. If there had been a car for me to stop and climb into I would have been really tempted! At ten miles I saw a man lying on a stretcher at the side of the road and realised pace didn’t matter any more because I didn’t want to end up like that; it was just a question of getting to the end and trying to enjoy it. The one benefit of the good weather was that it brought out loads of spectators. I was amazed by the numbers last year, but this year was just insane – there were huge crowds and a total wall of noise pretty much all the way round the course. This really does give you a boost, especially the points with bands or music, like the amazing Run Dem Crew and Run Mummy Run areas, as well as the many lovely local people giving out sweets, fruit and even ice pops. The downside to the chaos was that I had absolutely no chance of spotting Steve at Canary Wharf!

As the miles progressed, just putting one foot in front of another and keeping going turned into a massive challenge. I was literally jogging between water stations, then walking through them, then trying to get going again. I did enjoy it in a way, but was also very glad when it was over! As I turned into the Mall I could see Kathrine Switzer being interviewed on the big screen and suddenly wondered whether she was at the finish line. To my amazement, she was! I couldn’t believe it when I came face-to-face with one of my idols. Kathrine looked immaculate, and not at all as if she’d just run 26 miles in blazing heat. Exhausted as I was, I certainly wasn’t going to miss the chance to speak to a living running legend. I approached Kathrine when her interview was finished. All I could think of to say in my heat-fuddled state was “Thank you for making this possible for all women”. Kathrine was so lovely, it totally made my day. Unfortunately I didn’t have my phone with me, so there’s no celebrity selfie! I actually felt quite emotional at the time – I think partly because I was overawed to meet Kathrine, and partly sheer relief that I’d finished running!

Initially I was really disappointed with my time. I’d normally expect to take about four hours to complete a marathon, but eventually finished in 4:46. However, when I caught up with friends who’d also taken part, I realised that everyone had performed way below their best. Having trained for months in the freezing cold, we just weren’t prepared for what turned out to be the hottest London Marathon ever. Obviously the sad death of Matt Campbell has since overshadowed pretty much anything else to do with the day. When I thought about it later on, I came to the conclusion that everyone who’d managed to keep going and just finish will have become mentally stronger because of it; something we can all take into future events.

Did you run London last week? If so, how was it for you? I’d love to know.