The Hardmoors 60 was a very significant race for me, not just as a challenge in its own right, but because completing this race would mean I had successfully completed the 2017 Hardmoors Grand Slam (finishing all the Hardmoors Ultras in one calendar year) having already finished the 30, 55 and 110 mile races this year.
Truth be told, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this race. I’m not a great fan of running on coastal headlands and would normally pick a race in the moors or mountains over this sort of run; plus, after a year of focusing on the Grand Slam it felt as though there was a lot riding on this race. However, I knew that it needed to be done if I wanted to achieve my ambition of completing the Grand Slam and previous reports of the race as a bit of a jaunt along the seaside with some chips and ice cream thrown in suggested it should be a relatively pleasant experience. It didn’t quite turn out that way though…
Start: Guisborough Sea Cadets to Checkpoint (CP) 1: Highcliff Nab (2 miles)
The day started with torrential rain and high winds and all the runners were reluctant to leave the shelter of the Sea Cadets Hall and make our way to the start. In fact, some were so reluctant that they hadn’t made their way out before the race organisers set everyone off and some of the faster runners had to slalom their way through the field in the first couple of miles!
I was glad to have my waterproof on as we made our way out of the back of Guisborough, before meeting our first obstacle of the day, a B&Q delivery lorry completely blocking the narrow lane, which meant the whole field was forced to scramble round through the nettles at the side. Having managed to avoid getting stung there was then some nice running across fields and on firm forestry tracks to contour round underneath Guisborough Woods, before starting the long and steep climb up to Highcliff Nab. The climb was very muddy and slippery, but I was feeling strong and kept a good steady rhythm, passing lots of people struggling on the steep slope. We were now encircled by the low cloud but were at least sheltered from the high winds by the thick forest. I kept plodding up and fairly quickly reached the top of Highcliff Nab; we couldn’t admire the views because of the cloud, so pushed straight on along the clifftop to start the descent down through Guisborough Woods.
CP1: Highcliff Nab to CP2: Saltburn (7 miles)
We now had a long series of downhills, interspersed with the occasional climb, to take us all the way to the sea at Saltburn. This made for fast running and it was very tempting to go too quickly at this stage. I got chatting to Harriet, who was also hoping to complete the Grand Slam, and the miles flew by as we discussed the year’s races and I picked her brains about the Spine Challenger (my next big goal race and one that Harriet completed this year).
As we neared the end of Guisborough Woods we came down out of the clouds, the skies started to brighten and I was able to take off my waterproof jacket.
Coming down into Skelton just before Saltburn, there was a sign of things to come as the runner in front of me slipped on the greasy stone steps and took a nasty fall. He got up and carried on, but took quite a bang; hopefully he made it to the finish… I almost fell as well in my efforts to avoid him, which provided a good reminder of the care needed in the conditions. Thankfully I soon arrived at the Saltburn checkpoint without any further incidents. I had some coke and water, as well as a handful of jelly babies and quickly got going again.
CP2: Saltburn to CP3: Runswick Bay (12 miles)
I had the boost when heading out of the Saltburn checkpoint of seeing my parents for the first time as they had come across to support me for the day. Then it was up the steep steps to join the headland and the coastal path. Here we were fully exposed to the strong winds for the first time; sometimes blowing from the side and sometimes as a headwind they made progress difficult on this stretch. I kept a steady rhythm though and maintained a decent running pace as the path climbed gently up to the stunning Charm Bracelet sculpture and the old railway, before descending back down towards Skinningrove.
The main aim through Skinningrove was to avoid getting too much sand in my shoes along the edge of the beach, before another set of steep steps took us back up onto the headland. There was then more easy running around the cliffs, before descending down to Staithes. This section was very exposed and the strong northerly winds were bitterly cold; all the supporters waiting here were wrapped up in winter coats and woolly hats!
I enjoyed running through the picturesque fishing village of Staithes, but the sharp climb out of the village was hard going and it was a very pleasant surprise to find an additional water station at the top with some hardy marshals trying to hide from the wind. There was then some more undulating running around the headland, before coming in to Runswick Bay and the opportunity to access the goodies in my first drop bag.
CP3: Runswick Bay to CP4: Saltwick Bay (12 miles including diversion)
At Runswick Bay the Cleveland Way runs along the beach for a while, before climbing onto the cliffs, but this route can be blocked at high tide. High tide today was at 1.30pm, but I had hoped that I would make it through before this; as it was I left Runswick Bay at about 1pm as planned, but unfortunately the strong winds and waves crashing against the shore had meant that the beach had already had to be closed and I had to take the race organisers’ planned diversion.
As I left Runswick Bay I passed a friendly race supporter who made me chuckle as he relaxed in a chair with a table full of goodies set up ready for his runner. I was to pass “Mr Buffet” as I christened him many more times during the race and I was grateful for the support that he and all the other Hardmoors followers gave to all the runners.
Although the diversion follows an easy route along a disused railway line, it adds over a mile, gently rising all the way. My legs felt tired, so I adopted a pattern of running for 100 (double) paces, then walking for 50 and this kept me making reasonable progress. It was very dull though and it was a relief to reach Kettleness and escape the monotony of the cinder track.
At Kettleness we rejoined the coastal path before heading around the cliffs and down yet more steps at Deepgrove Wyke to meet the road at Sandsend and follow this to Whitby. My parents were waiting for me at Sandsend and, despite not being accustomed to running, my Mum did a sterling job of running with me as far as Whitby Golf Club while plying me with coke and melon and listening to me rant about the boring diversion, the wind and the mud!
I didn’t have long to complain though as it was time to head off on my own and focus on dodging the sightseers through the craziness of an afternoon in Whitby, while answering lots of questions from bemused tourists about what all these runners were doing.
I enjoyed springing up the 199 steps (at least these ones weren’t muddy and slippery), but I started to feel tired again coming down to the Saltwick Bay checkpoint. Some good banter with the marshals about how they’d given all their spare legs to the lead runners and a piece of chocolate cornflake cake soon had me in good spirits again though and I set off happily towards Robin Hood’s Bay.
CP4: Saltwick Bay to CP5: Robin Hood’s Bay (6 miles)
I enjoyed the next section of the Cleveland Way heading across the fields and around the lighthouse, but (other than a pristine new set of steps) from here the headland got muddier and muddier and the next section to Robin Hood’s Bay seemed endless. By the time we got to Robin Hood’s Bay my hips and legs were very tight from all the sliding around and it was a relief to have a sit down on a little wall at the checkpoint and have some melon and custard to pick me up.
CP5: Robin Hood’s Bay to CP6: Ravenscar (4 miles)
I was mentally prepared for the next section to be tough, with some of the biggest climbs of the coastal path, but in the event it actually provided a nice change from sliding about on the muddy headland and was one of my most enjoyable parts of the course. Leaving Robin Hood’s Bay there are two big descents and subsequent climbs through the ravines of Boggle Hole and Stoupe Beck, before a steep ascent to Ravenscar itself.
All the climbing actually helped to loosen up my legs and I felt better coming into Ravenscar than I had at Robin Hood’s Bay. This improvement was further helped by discovering a new ultra running rocket fuel in the checkpoint; I think it was cheese and potato flan, although my taste buds were slightly off after around 43 miles so I am not totally sure! Either way it was delicious and I ended up just eating this and not touching any of the goodies in my drop bag! I also took the time to put a warm top on here as although the wind had dropped it was now around 6pm and starting to get quite cold.
CP 6: Ravenscar to CP 7: Scarborough (12 miles)
I left Ravenscar with around 21 miles to go and feeling in good shape. We had to follow the road for just over a mile after the checkpoint and I jogged along happily admiring the beautiful rainbow directly ahead. There was a light rain shower, but not heavy enough to need to stop and put on my waterproof.
I soon rejoined the coastal path and joyfully discovered that this was a dry and mud-free section. I made good progress from here to Hayburn Wyke, skipping along and practically jumping for joy at the good running conditions.
I was relieved to reach Hayburn Wyke in the daylight. A tricky set of steps and ladders lead through the woods to descend into the gorge and climb the cliff on the other side and it would have been very slow going in the dark.
Sadly, from here the ground only got progressively worse and the slippery muddy paths meant progress was frustratingly slow. I had a nice view of Scarborough Castle before needing to put my headtorch on and then could see the lights of Scarborough which for a long time did not seem to get any closer. I rounded headland after headland and went up and down many very muddy and greasy steps, before finally descending down yet more steps to cross the footbridge at Scalby Ness and join the start of the Scarborough seafront.
My Mum had agreed to run from here to the CP with me and I was very glad of the company as the seafront was almost deserted, other than groups of local youths racing their pimped up motors along the road. I also enjoyed the opportunity to have a whinge about the mud and my slow progress, after which I felt much happier!
The climb up to Holbeck Hill checkpoint was bigger than I was expecting, but I was soon at the top and after a quick handful of jelly babies I was ready to set out on the final leg.
CP 7: Scarborough to Finish: Filey (9 miles)
I set out from Scarborough feeling positive. Other than the first section of path leaving Scarborough, the ground was awful, but I kept trying to run as much as possible, even if I was struggling to maintain a decent running pace. On the outskirts of Scarborough I saw lots of foxes out hunting, their eyes reflecting the light of my headtorch as I passed, and could hear owls hooting in the trees as I approached Cayton Bay.
It was great to see the pop-up party checkpoint at Cayton Bay. They have been a lovely feature at all the Hardmoors ultras this year, spreading good cheer with their lights, music and blow up dinosaur! The glowsticks in the ground to mark the tricky right turn shortly after the checkpoint were much appreciated.
From Cayton Bay to the end was in all honesty a total slog. I could now see the flashing beacon of the lighthouse at Filey Brigg, but it never seemed to get any closer. The clouds had cleared and a multitude of stars twinkled overhead, but I wasn’t in the mood to appreciate them now. I managed to pick up the pace and went past quite a few people, but I was still sliding about on the mud and getting frustrated.
Finally I reached the stones marking the end of the Cleveland Way and began the welcome run downhill through the Country Park to reach Filey. There was a final sting in the tail though with several sets of steep steps to negotiate through the ravine on the edge of town.
I willed my tired legs down the last set of steps onto the seafront. By now I just wanted to get it done and I really picked up the pace along the promenade. I tried to keep running up the last hill into the town, but it was just too steep and I had to slow to a walk. Then it was a short run along the road and I reached the church hall to a great cheer from the supporters gathered outside, before heading into the hall to the sound of more clapping and cheering and the usual warm Hardmoors welcome.
I had finished in 16 hours 3 minutes, pretty much bang on my pre-race target. I was thrilled to have finished, but this race had been a slog. While the race had the usual excellent Hardmoors organisation, great marshals and friendly atmosphere, I found the coastal scenery rather repetitive and dull. It was not helped that the race this year was a windy mudfest, rather than the jaunt along the seaside with blue skies and ice cream reported from previous years!
I was however pleased that I had kept my mental focus throughout the race, even at times that I was not really enjoying it. Finally and most importantly, completing the Hardmoors 60 means that I have completed the 2017 Hardmoors Grand Slam – I can’t wait to receive my hoodie!