I first heard about the Hardmoors events a couple of years ago when I started trail running, and to be honest I thought they sounded pretty scary. Just look at the name! Hard. Moors. Scary! I imagined wiry fell runners in vests and tiny shorts bounding up and down vicious hills like mountain goats. Not for the likes of me! But then a couple of friends assured me that they weren’t scary events at all; in fact they were very inclusive and varied in distance from 10K to ultra, so there was something for everyone. So when I started preparing for Race to the Stones I thought I’d give one a go for hill training purposes and entered the Hardmoors Wainstones Marathon. I thought it would be a good dress rehearsal for the big day. However, when my dodgy hamstring started playing up after the London Marathon I decided to play it cautiously and downsized to the half marathon.
The Wainstones events (10K, half and full marathon) all start and finish at Chop Gate near Helmsley. The drive over there from York on a sunny Sunday morning was beautiful and I was really looking forward to it. There was plenty of parking and I wandered over to the village hall to sign on. The marathon runners had just set off at 9 am. Participants had to carry mandatory kit of a waterproof jacket, hat or buff, a route map and the means to carry 500ml of fluid. Everyone’s kit was duly checked before they were allowed to pick up their number. This was all very quick, so I had plenty of time to get ready and went to the loo about three times, just because I could! The weather was perfect – dry but not too warm. We set off on time at 10 am.
We’d run no more than about 100m when we came to a stile that everyone had to climb over, so that held things up quite a bit! “Never mind”, I thought, “It’s not a road race – time and pace don’t really matter”. After the stile we started to climb up a massive hill straight away and everyone slowed to a walk. The track was quite narrow and lots of people seemed happy to stroll up, chatting and taking photos as they went. This was a bit frustrating, as one of the things I’ve been practising is walking uphill as fast as I can, so I wished I’d placed myself a bit further up the field at the start! But I tried to chill and take it all in. We gained a lot of height in a short distance, and some people seemed to be struggling a bit even at this early stage. We eventually got to the top and the track widened out so we could start running. I clocked the first mile at around 25 minutes! The descent from the first hill was great, a gentle gritty trail that gave me some time to take in the amazing view.
It wasn’t long before we were climbing up another hill. In fact there were five hills in all, so not much flat on the course. It was tough going at times, with a couple of rocky, technical descents as well as testing uphill gradients, and it was really windy on the tops! One of the hills had the Wainstones themselves perched at the summit, through which we scrambled with a gale force wind blowing us along – great fun!
The route went along some of the Cleveland Way, which skirts the edge of the North York Moors and is paved in parts. The views were quite spectacular, but there wasn’t much time to take them in going downhill, as you had to be really careful where you placed your feet. The last thing I wanted was to sprain my ankle – or worse – so I was super cautious. I wished I was better at descending as I stood aside to let various people fly past me. I guess it takes practice! But I did notice that I passed quite a few people walking uphill, so I must be getting better at that.
I went through halfway in 1:37 and couldn’t help thinking that if this was a road half I’d be nearly finished – but I know I have to lose that kind of mentality on the trails. There were two checkpoints en route offering water, Pepsi, jelly babies, peanuts and Jaffa Cakes. I took a couple of Jaffa Cakes at each point and they went down really well. I’d brought a piece of homemade flapjack with me, but the Jaffa Cakes actually sat better on my stomach. We had to check in at each point, and I kind of liked the old-schoolness of a marshal shouting out people’s numbers as they approached. For the last few miles we were on moorland trails, which were quite boggy. I tried to keep my feet as dry as possible, but at about ten miles we had to go through a stream, so that was that! The last mile or so was a really nice descent back down to Cop Gate, finishing actually inside the village hall to give our numbers to the time keepers.
We received a really nice t-shirt and medal, and there were savoury snacks, cakes and drinks on offer. Cracking! I haven’t seen any official results yet, but I timed myself at about 3:12 (I think – I forgot to stop my Garmin when I finished – possibly because I was distracted by the sight of cake!).
Just after I’d arrived back the first lady marathoner finished in what must have been about four and a half hours. This really impressed me, not least because the marathon course was actually 28 miles long! Apparently long courses are a Thing with Hardmoors events. That day’s 10K was actually ten miles(!), although the half was pretty close to normal at 13.2 miles. All in all it was fab event. People I’ve spoken to have all said they think Wainstones is the toughest of the Hardmoors courses – one described it as ‘brutal’! It was certainly very testing terrain, and my legs are still feeling it two days later; but it was great training for Race to the Stones. Hardmoors events do fill up quickly, so don’t delay entry if you fancy doing one. I’d really recommend it, and I’d definitely like to do more in future. Recovery fish and chips in Helmsley were a must on the way home!
This weekend I’m off on holiday to France for a fortnight, spending a week of that in the Pyrenees. Hopefully I’ll find some more great hilly trails to train on!
Last time I wrote about training for Race to the Stones I was worried because I was a bit behind schedule. I’d had a hamstring niggle after the London Marathon that didn’t seem to be going away. I was also having a bit of pain from time to time in my right calf and felt like my high hamstring tendon problem might be coming back. But instead of panicking I decided to try a new physio and booked in to see Dave Baxter at Tadcaster Physiotherapy. I noticed on his website that Dave was an ultra runner himself, so felt he’d understand where I was coming from! I’ve seen Dave’s colleague Millie for sports massage before and always felt it’s done me good.
I had an initial assessment with Dave where we went through some range of motion exercises. He also popped me on his treadmill for a bit and had me doing lots of one-legged bridges on his couch! For some reason it appears my right hand side is weaker than the left, so Dave gave me some exercises to do at home to try and help with this. He used an app to film me doing them and emailed this to me, which was really useful. He also advised me to use hiking poles for the hills on my long run to give my legs a bit of support, which I did on my next Sunday outing along the Yorkshire Wolds Way.
I went back to see Dave two weeks later and felt that things had definitely improved in the meantime. I’ve done some long, hilly runs and felt OK afterwards, and also did some speed intervals for the first time in ages last week. On the last two weekends I’ve done back to back long runs and feel pretty much normal now – although getting hungrier than usual! I’m really glad I went to see Dave; apart from his physiotherapy he’s also a great source of ultra running advice, and suggested I get some shoes with more cushioning than my Inov-8 Trail Talons for covering 100K on hard trails. I’ve ordered some Altra Lone Peaks to see how they compare. Seeing Dave has really brought home to me the importance of doing strength work to support my running; something I’ve not been very good with in the past, but will definitely do more in the future.
I’ve been experimenting with different sorts of food in training recently. I find it quite hard to eat and run, but I know I’m going to have to eat some real food to get round Race to the Stones, so have tried various things over the past few weeks, including homemade flapjack, salty crackers and baby food pouches! Flapjack seems OK if I chew it really well; I thought salty snacks might be good if it’s a hot day; the fruity baby food was nice, but I’d have to eat (and so carry) quite a lot to get enough carbs. The best thing I tried was a Tribe Infinity bar, which I got in a sample box I ordered a while ago. When I opened it I thought it looked like MDF and was a bit dubious, but it tasted fine and (most importantly) was really easy to eat and sat well in the belly. I think I’ll have to order some more of those!
It’s now less than six weeks until Race to the Stones (eek!). I’ve just started a three week period of what’s called ‘Peak’ training on the plan, followed by a three week taper. This weekend I’m taking part in my first ever Hardmoors event, the Wainstones Half. I’ve fancied trying one of these events, held on the North York Moors, for ages, and thought this would be a good training exercise. Then we’re off on holiday to the Pyrenees at the end of next week, where the OH is taking part in the Ariégeoise cyclosportive and I’m hoping to be able to take to the mountainous trails to get some good training done. I’m already finding hills a lot easier than I used to, so hopefully those French mountains will make my legs even stronger. Also: I’ll need to work off all the fabulous French pastries, cheese and wine!
The London Marathon was a fantastic event, but Race to the Stones is now looming on the horizon, so I need to start preparing for that. I’ve already been including hills in some of my long marathon training runs, and also completed a couple of hilly events, like the Temple Newsam Trails half marathon. Hopefully that will have set me off to a good start, but I know that I now need to do as many hills as possible and work on building strength rather than focusing on pace and speed. My post-London plan was to have an easy week immediately afterwards, then start to follow the training plan on the Race to the Stones website, which looks like this:
So after just a short recovery run mid-week I headed to my new favourite training ground, Temple Newsam, for a few easy trail miles a week later. And midway through the run I felt a little niggle in my right hamstring – the same side as I had my hamstring tendon injury nearly two years ago. I gave it a little massage and a stretch and hoped it would settle down. But during a short run on Monday it felt no better, so I took myself off to see Jeroen at Jorvik Physiotherapy. After a bit of poking around Jeroen told me it was the muscle on the outside edge of the hamstring group that was the culprit (the one on the right in this picture) and that it was good news as it didn’t seem to be the tendon this time; it was just a bit tired and sore post-marathon.
Jeroen gave me some ultrasound treatment and told me to take it easy for a couple of weeks, which basically means no speed work, no hills and no racing. Thankfully I can still run, but if the muscle starts to play up I’ll have to back off and rest it. I can cycle if I want to, but I’d rather not if I can run. This isn’t great news training-wise, but it could have been worse, and I have to do everything I can to ensure I reach the start of Race to the Stones injury-free – especially as many people have now kindly donated to my Just Giving page for Cancer Research UK.
I was really disappointed to have to miss the North Lincolnshire Half on Sunday. I did this race for the first time and it’s fab – you can read my review of it here. I managed to achieve sub 1:50 for the first time thanks to their brilliant pacers, and was looking forward to having another go (and getting cake at the end again!) but it would have been stupid of me to dose up on ibuprofen and do that – I might have put myself out of action completely. But I still have the Vale of York Half in September to look forward to. Instead I went out for a very slow, flat two hour trot. I’m going to practise eating various foods on the hoof over the next few weeks, especially savoury ones, as I think I’ll get sick of sweet stuff over the course of 100K. Yesterday it was salty crackers, which went down really well – easy to digest and I think the salt would be useful on a warm day in July. Isn’t ultra running all about the eating?! Anyway, here I am chomping one down – my selfie skills don’t get any better!
So that’s where I am for now. This week I’m planning to do just a couple of very short, gentle runs to keep my legs turning, but also go to flow yoga twice to try and build some extra strength and flexibility. Then I’ll see how I feel next weekend. It’s frustrating and a bit worrying not to be training completely how I should be for now, but I’m hoping my cycle of marathon training will stand me in good stead fitness-wise. I don’t need to get any faster, just stronger!
Ooh, it’s been a while since I blogged about running. What have I been up to recently? Well, I took it easy for a while after the Leeds Abbey Dash in November and also did some cross training during November and December – mostly turbo training on the bike, plus a bit more yoga than usual. I think it’s good to do this a couple of times a year to give the legs and feet a bit of a break from pounding out the miles. I also find it helps my running mojo to keep working; when I’ve had a break from ‘proper’ running I find I can’t wait to get back on it!
I’m now four weeks into my training schedule for the London Marathon. I’m following the Asics Sub 4 plan again, which has worked well for me both times I’ve used it in the past – for the Manchester Marathon in 2015 and York last year. I know some people think you should try different plans, but as I enjoy this one my view is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”. I’m not massively bothered about running a PB at London, because having finally got in via Good For Age I really want to savour and enjoy the whole experience and not beat myself up if I find the pace slacking a bit from sub 4. Just as well really, as I came down with a stinking cold this last weekend and didn’t do any running at all! I was so excited to hear last week that Jo Pavey is doing London this year too. She’s such a hero and inspiration of mine that it really gave me a boost to know we’d be running in the same race – even though we’ll be miles apart!
A couple of weeks ago I ran the York Brass Monkey Half Marathon, which has become a bit of an annual tradition now. I’m never at my best form so early in the season, straight after the Christmas holidays (who is?!) but it’s a fab event that I love to take part in – and you always get a really useful long-sleeved technical top at the end. I was a few minutes off my PB at 1:53, but if nothing else the Monkey is always a good wake-up call! I’ve also entered the North Lincs Half in May, which I did last year and really enjoyed – not least because I ran sub 1:50 for the first time thanks to the brilliant pacers! Coming two weeks after London I hope the fact that I’ll have trained for a marathon and then recovered for two weeks will mean I have another shot at a PB. Oh, and they give you cake at the end!
My main goal for this year is going to be my biggest challenge yet – the Race to the Stones 100K in July. I’ve watched this event with interest over the past couple of years, not daring to enter. But then I thought to myself “Hell girl, you’re not getting any younger – if not now, then when?” and finally took the plunge! My training strategy for this (based on nothing more scientific than instinct!) will be to follow my marathon schedule until London and then (all being well) switch to the ultra training plan that’s on the Race to the Stones website. I’m also aiming to do more core work than usual to build strength, plus run up and down as many hills as possible. This can be a challenge living in York! I’m trying to enter one hilly event a month to help with training, the first being the Harewood House Half on 26th February. I did this two years ago and it was great fun.
I’ve been running a couple of times recently in the grounds of Temple Newsam House near Leeds and am planning to use the nearby Cleveland Way and Yorkshire Wolds Way for some training routes. I’ve also started walking the two miles to work and back instead of cycling, as I figure the more time I spend on my feet the better! And in June I’ve entered my first ever Hardmoors event, the Wainstones Marathon. I thought this would be a good dress rehearsal for RTTS – I hope it won’t put me off as it’s allegedly very hilly!
I’m really excited but also a bit scared about the prospect of running 100K – I just hope my poor old legs will hold out! What are your running plans for 2017? I’d love to hear about them.