Running 55 miles and 2700m Ascent Non-Stop

A few weekends ago I headed up to the Yorkshire moors as I had entered an event called the Hardmoor 55. It is a 55 mile running race over 1 day along part of the Cleveland way and unbeknown to me the hilliest course I have done. It started with an epic drive on a Friday night where I joined thousands of others getting out of London before flying up the motorway. This was done whilst chomping on some tortellini that I had cooked up the previous night. I hadn’t really spent much time looking at exactly where the event was but was slightly surprised when I saw my usual turn off on my route home to Scotland.

I arrived at the B&B/ pub full of people and asked about my room. My mind quickly turned to the much more importantly issue of breakfast. It turned out the cooks had gone home which meant I couldn’t even get some bread or cereal for the morning. Not the most helpful answer. Going upstairs I quickly laid all my kit out, there was a rather excessive food pile for the race and certainly far too much to eat over the space of 1 day. But in it all went split equally for the 2 bag drops allowed in the race.

I was anxious and excited about what the next day would involve as it was much longer than I had run for a while, in fact the longest had been 10 miles plus a bit of cycling and swimming. I wasn’t too concerned though as I knew that my only target was to enjoy the day, get some miles done and finish. This didn’t exactly help for a restful night sleep as I twist and turned with an over active imagination. It wasn’t of winning the event...

5.40 am came round quickly.

I wanted to ensure I arrived early after strict instructions from the race organisers (I was to find that everyone took them seriously) that we had to be bang on time otherwise no lift to the start line. I turned up to the waiting point with all the racers already clad in lycra and I was still munching my breakfast of hummus and pitta bread. However the organiser was late. Everyone one  had one thought only “Could have had longer in bed”.

Chatting with some of the racers on the drive over there was a good mix of newbies and experienced ultra runners, some of whom I had met briefly at previous events. I spoke to one individual who claimed although he hadn’t done the whole course the Yorkshire moors aren’t really that hilly. I was pretty happy with this, although he did point out he was from the peak district, the alarm bells should have started, as not that hilly for a fell runner is certainly different to running round London.

Exiting the bus we were quickly ushered in for a kit check and handed the finishers t-shirt at the start. The race seemed to come round incredibly quickly and my plans of looking at the route quickly vanished with last minute bits and pieces, including the usual huge queue for the bathroom. We were soon off trudging along at a brisk pace up the first few inclines, experience told me that this pace would soon drop off. Or at least that is what I hoped for. The day had started much warmer than expected and within a short time I was dripping. Plus my rucksack which was far too large for a one day event, (being the same that I would use for 7 days) wasn’t setup rightly and the pouches on the front were slapping into my sides.

It was a beautiful day, slightly overcast but running through fields, forests and passing confused looking walkers was a great feeling. On the way to the first check point I foolishly followed a couple of guys in front of me, not knowing the way myself only to realise very quickly that it was the wrong way and had to turn back. Although going slightly off track seems a common theme in these longer runs its still frustrating as all the people you had passed trudge past in a slow version of the tortoise and the hare.

Chatting to some of the competitors passed the time including a guy who was in the middle of his 75th marathon a fantastic achievement in 2 years.

I found out that the first check point we had to go back on ourselves but the views were spectacular as we made our way out onto a plateau with patches of mist rolling in and views across the valley opening up as we got closer to the edge. We dropped down to the 1st checkpoint where I found us standing in front of the Yorkshire moors Kilburn white horse. A top up on some water and a quick bite of flapjack. The race was on.

It is amazing especially with hindsight how quickly the miles get eaten up but it went surprisingly quickly up to the next checkpoint. I ended up running by myself for a large portion of this section as my pace settled into a rhythm that I could maintain. It still felt a bit too fast. We continued a long rolling hills dropping down, before climbing and continuing a long ridges. The 2nd checkpoint was down a long decline which helped with passing a few runners. I also found out that this section of 22 miles was the quick section as what was to come would certainly slow everyone down. Not exactly what I wanted to hear as the hills we had already passed seemed quite large.

We came into the small wee village of Osmotherley where our first bag of goodies had been dropped off. I reached the checkpoint had my card stamped to say I had arrived and then started rummaging around for my 1st bag of goodies. It was missing. There was other food on offer but I was looking forward to my nuts and soreen. There was however homemade sausage rolls and after speaking to one of the organisers I managed to get hold of some soreen too. Definitely a positive point.

The race quickly slowed. Exiting the village we worked our way back up onto a long plateau where we could already make out the penultimate checkpoint. Unfortunately it was a lot closer than the route we had selected which took the form of a long sweeping curve. We could also make out most of this path too. Slightly depressing when you can see the whole route practically laid out in front of you for the next 5 or so hours. Regardless of this a group of us trudged on chatting about a whole host of things, as one man described it “anything to take his mind away from the agony”. I’m not sure he was having such I great race as the others all seemed in good form. We covered some spectacular scenery traversing stoned paved paths, up steep side hills, through rocky out crops and the odd sheep or fellow competitor. This was interspersed with periods of cramp an affect from the morning heat. I unfortunately hadn’t managed my electrolytes resulting in these random but uncomfortable twinges as cramp set in.

Fortunately I had packed a few packs of dioralyte which I have found great for rehydrating on long races, though the one major drawback is it doesn’t taste great but it is cheap and works for me. This started getting me back on the road to recovery. I ended up running with 2 others for what was to be the rest of the race. For a few miles we had been constantly playing cat and mouse as I caught up on the up hills before they passed me on the down. That was until the hail started. What had been a blue skied day suddenly turned very cold and dark. The hail bounced off our hands, faces and hoods of our waterproofs. It was certainly a motivator to keep moving forward as we shuffled in silence with nothing but the pitta patta of the hail on our heads. Reaching the second bag drop was fantastic, especially as my food was actually there this time.

We all collapsed in some chairs kindly put out by the staff and tucked into the food in our packs, on the tables and anywhere else we could find it. I also had my first and hopefully last cup of special tea. The recipe for which is 1 strong cup of milky tea, add several heaped teaspoons of sugar and 1 of salt. Pretty disgusting but I hoped this would help with the cramp which still seemed to be plaguing me.

We left the checkpoint shivering uncontrollably, the cold had caught up with us during the short break. But with full bellies we started to make our way towards the goal which we had been so close yet so far all day Roseburry Topping, a single peak that we would first have to make our way to the bottom before scaling it to the summit before going back the way we came. The plan had been to make this in daylight but it was becoming apparent that this was not to be the case as we donned head torches as dusk set in. All you could see was a small patch 3 feet in front of you, the steady stream of people making their way up to the top and back and a glimpse of people’s faces illuminated in an unusual way from their foreheads. After a slog up we made it to the top with views out across the evening landscape. It is amazing the amount of light that is created from all our street lighting and this area felt relatively rural.

The last section was made slightly trickier by the lack of light and the criss cross of paths that went their separate ways. We negotiated our way towards the final push up to a plateau before dropping down towards the finish. It felt tough as hills we weren’t expecting suddenly seemed to appear and as our legs tired what was classed as a hill at the start of a day was very different to that towards the end as each slight incline became an excuse to go that bit slower. Yet finally my legs had stopped cramping and I was still raring to go as the course dropped down towards the finish. Potentially a sprint one. We reckoned that we would have to seriously pick the pace up to beat the 12 hour mark but as it would make little difference to our finishing position we decided to just enjoy the final couple of miles. As we started to sense the finish though we realised that we could still make it and the final meters did become a sprint into the hut to ensure we beat the 12 hours. We were greeted to a round of applause by the competitors who had already finished and a welcome chair. We finished in 11 hours 53 mins joint 43rd overall. I got changed into some clean clothes and the quickest top that came to hand was the finishers t-shirt. I checked it out before putting it on it was bright blue with a bold statement “55 miles and 2700 m ascent”. No wonder my legs hurt so much. I was definitely glad I hadn’t read it before the start line that would definitely have made it more daunting.

Overall another race, a lot learnt but certainly an awesome race to be repeated.