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.
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…
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!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I love running in the autumn! As well as the best kind of running weather on a good day (sunny and cool), autumn has loads of great events on the calendar – and all those crispy leaves to kick through! It’s also the cyclocross season for my husband, and I love supporting him on pit duty at these races, which are really exciting.
My own autumn events started on 1st September with the Hardmoors Princess Challenge. This was a fun event and I really enjoyed it, even though I took a wrong turn at one point! Despite chip timing there are still no official results for this nearly four weeks later. I’m not sure why, but I’m not really bothered as I just did this one for training purposes.
About a week after the Princess I came down with a cold, as almost everyone seems to at this time of year. I always go by the above/below the neck rule when considering whether to run or not, and as I felt achy I was sensible and rested for a week. This interfered with my planned training for the Snowdonia Marathon, but I think if you try to push on when you’re ill it just takes you longer to get better. Your body can’t fight germs and recover from a two or three hour run at the same time!
In the middle of September I started training to be a sports massage therapist at York College. This is something I’ve wanted to do for years, but haven’t really had the opportunity until now. We’re only a couple of weeks in at the moment, but I’m really enjoying it. With working full time and marathon training it’s a challenge to fit everything in, and I’ve had to get a bit more organised, especially with regard to food preparation, which is obviously vital.
This Saturday is my 55th birthday (eek) and I’m celebrating/blanking it out by running at the Endurancelife North York Moors event – back at beautiful Ravenscar, which is fast becoming my second home! I originally signed up for the marathon distance, but am now planning to switch to the ultra on the day, as it’s only a few more miles and carries three UTMB points. My friend Mandy ran the OCC (baby UTMB) this year and it looked amazing, so I’m trying to amass enough qualification points to enter the ballot for next year.
I need six points, and have four from last year’s Race to the Stones that would count, but still need to collect another two by the end of December. The Endurancelife ultra would do that nicely, and the weather forecast looks perfect too. Whether I’ll have any energy left for birthday celebrations in the evening remains to be seen!
On the first weekend in October I’m taking part in the Forest and Moors run at Dalby Forest. This event, organised by the fab Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team, has a choice of distances. I’m doing the half marathon here as part of my taper for Snowdonia; I figure the more hills I can pack in before then the better! I think spaces are still available in this if anyone else fancies it (although you can’t enter on the day).
It’s then three weeks until my big autumn event, Snowdonia! I’ve heard so many good things about this marathon I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a road race, but hilly, so I know I’m not on for a PB, but apparently the scenery and atmosphere are amazing. It’s sold out, but lots of people seem to be selling places on the event’s Facebook page, and official transfers are possible until 30th September, so it may still be possible to get in.
Earlier in the year I thought I might have a final go at trying for a sub 50 minute 10K this autumn – maybe at the Yorkshire Coast 10K in Scarborough or the Leeds Abbey Dash – but I don’t really think I’m up to that at the moment. I think I’ve done too much trail running this year to go for faster times on the road. Or maybe I’m just getting too old to go any faster! So that’s something I’ve put on the back burner for now and might reconsider in the spring. Speaking of spring, I applied for a place in the Tokyo Marathon, but wasn’t successful in the ballot, so may do a different road marathon then – Edinburgh is currently looking to be the favourite. I keep saying I won’t do another road marathon and then getting tempted back!
The only other event I currently have booked in for this year is the Hardmoors Roseberry at the beginning of December. I’ve entered the half, but might upgrade to the full marathon depending on how I feel nearer the time, as these are great training events. But you never know, I may squeeze in a couple more things before Christmas!
What events or training do you have planned for the autumn? I’d love to know.
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.
“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!”
“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!”
“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.
“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!
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!