What else would you rather be doing at 8am on New Year’s Day than arriving in a very gloomy Robin Hood’s Bay ready to spend the day running 30 miles along the North Yorkshire coast? It goes to show how much my love of ultra running has changed my life that to me (and around 300 other nutters) this seemed the perfect way to kick off 2017!
The Hardmoors 30 was the first step of my big goal for 2017: the Hardmoors Grand Slam. This involves completing all of the ultra races organised by the Hardmoors team within a calendar year (30 miles in January, 55 in March, 110 in May and 60 in September). It is a significant undertaking not only to complete each of the tough individual races in their own right, but also to recover well and remain fit and healthy across the whole series. It will certainly provide a significant challenge for me throughout the year.
I had fond memories of Robin Hood’s Bay from my only other visit at the conclusion of my Coast to Coast walk in 2010, although arriving this time in the dark and wet it was not showing itself at its finest. Through a very efficient kit check and number collection and I was quickly ready to go, so I grabbed a seat and familiarised myself with the route while waiting for the start. The Hardmoors 30 uses a combination of the disused railway line (known as the Cinder Track) and the Cleveland Way to form a figure of eight route with Robin Hood’s Bay at its centre and Whitby and Hayburn Wyke at the top and bottom.
At 0930 we were off. There was a strong wind and the occasional wintry shower, but it was not actually that cold. I decided to risk not wearing my waterproof at the start on the grounds that I might get a bit damp without it, but would feel too hot with it on, and despite the ever-threatening clouds was actually fine like this all day.
We all set off along the Cinder Track into the northerly headwind, with the normal excited chatter in the bunched field. The relatively flat and stony track made for good progress and the field had spread out quite considerably before we all reached Whitby around 6 miles in. A quick stop at the first checkpoint for coke, jelly babies and flumps (possibly my current favourite running sugar rush!) and I was heading down the road through Whitby. I normally avoid running through built up areas as much as possible, but actually loved this part of the course taking in the attractive harbour and cobbled streets of Whitby and answering questions about what we were doing from bemused pedestrians out for a New Year’s Day stroll. I psyched myself up for the 199 steps up to Whitby Abbey, sadly not fulfilling Race Director Jon Steele’s instruction that we were required to run up these, but nevertheless managing most of them two at a time, so in no time at all I was at the top and enjoying the stunning views of the Abbey and out along the coast.
The race now joined the Cleveland Way which we would follow all the way back to Robin Hood’s Bay to complete the top loop of our figure of eight. I had been prepared for conditions to be trickier on the Cleveland Way and I was certainly right. Between trying to avoid being blown over or into a barbed wire fence by the strong wind and desperately watching the ground to avoid slipping over on the very muddy path, I had little time left to appreciate the views. I did however notice and enjoy the Happy New Year signs from the Sport Sunday photographers who were waiting on this section. Thank you, it was a great touch!
I was glad to have been mentally prepared for this section and as a result enjoyed slipping around in the mud and the wild, windy weather. After all, you can’t enter a winter race and not be prepared for these sort of conditions! The waterfalls blowing back up over the path were certainly a pretty incredible sight! Arriving back into the indoor checkpoint at Robin Hood’s Bay provided a welcome respite from the weather; it was way too warm and cosy though so I got myself out again as quickly as possible before I developed any reluctance to get back outside!
I had completed the first loop of around 13 miles in a faster than expected 2 hrs 44 minutes so this provided a good incentive to keep working hard and pushing for a good (for me) time. We now set out on our second stint on the Cinder Track which would take us through another checkpoint at Ravenscar and on to the final turning point at Hayburn Wyke. I was very grateful to a runner I had chatted with earlier on the course who had warned me that it was all uphill from Robin Hood’s Bay to Ravenscar. Although the Cinder Track provided good going underfoot, in place of the flat easy running I had anticipated it was instead a constant incline all the way to Ravenscar, climbing around 160m in the next 4.5 miles. Not a significant climb in itself, but enough to make running it all a challenge, without any one part providing an obvious steep place to walk. I settled myself into a steady rhythm, switched off my brain and focused on plodding along. I was therefore pleased when Ravenscar drew closer and I realised that I had in fact managed to run all the way. As I came through the Ravenscar checkpoint some of the leading runners were coming through in the other direction on their way back to Robin Hood’s Bay and it was great to see them and the speed they were going (probably faster than I would manage for much over 100m!).
From Ravenscar the Cinder Track now began a gentle descent to Hayburn Wyke. This made for easier running again, but by now I had had enough of the relentless stony track and this section just seemed to go on forever. Approaching Hayburn Wyke, my mood was however lightened when I saw the strange sight of the runner ahead of me surprising two men emerging from some bushes at the top of the bank adjacent to the path. No, nothing untoward going on, it turned out they were merely out for a spot of geocaching!
The atmosphere at the checkpoint in Hayburn Wyke was very jovial; lots of cheerful marshals offering words of encouragement and happy runners relieved to have finished with the Cinder Path. There was now just the small matter of around 9 miles of muddy Cleveland Way between us and the finish!
Setting out from Hayburn Wyke required negotiating various steps and ladder steps through the gullies and up onto the top of the cliffs; from here though the going became easier again. This section of the Cleveland Way did not seem quite as muddy and slippery and my legs still felt quite good so I made good progress. It was a relief to be back on undulating grassy tracks and off the relentless Cinder Track. It was great to feel strong and still be passing lots of people.
Once back through the Ravenscar checkpoint all the runners around me were in good spirits and enjoying the run back towards Robin Hood’s Bay. We were treated to a stunning sunset as the sun began to sink rapidly below the horizon, but I was pleased to realise that I wasn’t going to be needing my headtorch today. A final sting in the tail with some steep stepped sections to be negotiated around Boggle Hole, but I was still going strongly and as I began the final approach to Robin Hood’s Bay I started to think about my finishing time. I didn’t think that sub 6hrs 30 was going to be do-able, but it gave me a target to aim for and so I picked up the pace. Down into Robin Hood’s Bay, envying the families buying their chips which smelt amazing, and it was time to face the final climb up through the main street of the town. I resolved to run as much of this as possible and made it to around the last two or three hundred metres before I was reduced to a walk. I spotted the tape leading us up the road and began to run again, before a strong run through the car park and into the hall to finish in… 6hrs 29 minutes and 56 seconds! The effort in that last climb had been worthwhile and I had finished considerably quicker than I had anticipated in the conditions.
All in all a great start to the year and to my Grand Slam quest. I’m looking forward to my next day out with the Hardmoors family at the Hardmoors 55 in March.