Finally I got to run this race this year after injuries saved me from the vile weather of last year on the inaugural running of the event. Trying a brand new event for me would add spice to my schedule. I had been responsible with my food and drink of late, I had been running to work, I was back down to my racing weight of 10 Stone from the first ever high of 10.5 Stone and I was quite raring to go. I drove over to Guisborough on Friday afternoon in beautiful sunshine with crystal clear blue skies, the pyramidal Roseberry Topping drawing me to my destination. In stark contrast to last year, a good weekend was forecast.
I had half an hour to spare before checking in at The Fox Inn so I walked an out-and-back to reconnoitre the final leg along the disused railway line to the finish at Guisborough RUFC, braving the groups of teenagers with their 2-litre bottles of White Lightning. They were quiet and no trouble, but it was still early and there was time yet. After checking where the bus pick-up would be to take us to the start in Helmsley the next morning, it was check-in time round the corner back at the pub, followed by fish and chips from the parlour next door. The landlady offered for me to eat in the pub, on a plate with knife and fork. I was impressed by such friendly hospitality. (The pub didn’t serve food in the evenings, which may explain it.) I thanked her by ordering a pot of tea to wash it down. It was the perfect pre-race fuelling as used on many occasions before The Fellsman and various other Ultras.
As I stuffed my face, Julien Pansiot, another Hardmoors runner, checked in. I would have liked to have chatted for longer but I needed to go upstairs to sort my stuff out and read my Tracklogs maps and route description before getting an early night. As I did so the first warning blast was felt, which lasted perhaps 5 seconds. The bedroom vibrated and hummed violently, followed by animated human utterances from below. No, I hadn’t farted (though I have been known to indulge in such activity on occasion, but not this violently.) I had observed big loudspeakers and big amplifiers being carted into the pub when I arrived. There would be a ‘disco’ tonight. I felt a great sense of foreboding. I received another blast of nightclub proportions, then another; just testing, obviously. My head was on the pillow and I was beginning to doze when the onslaught proper finally commenced at 20:30, then followed three hours of vibratory massage as I listened to the bass playing tunes in the room, each note vibrating a different area or item. The clothes hangers were particularly excited. I had to avoid putting my ear on the mattress to avoid deafening myself. However I did find myself smiling at the prospect of feeling the quality tunes earlier on when I heard them start, especially The Proclaimers’ ‘walk song’, but it all too soon degenerated into the inane thump-thump-thump trash which usually involves auto-tuning ‘vocoders’ and brainwashing you with a 10-second sample for 10 minutes.
Everything suddenly went quiet at 23:30, after which I got a good 5 hours’ sleep. I trust they have an in-house structural engineer to check the integrity of the building every weekend. They did not give advance warning of the disco. Now I know why they asked for full payment upon arrival. If you want an early night in Guisborough, steer clear of The Fox Inn, since night club and sleep don’t go.
The bus left from the cricket club around the corner at 06:45 to take us to Helmsley football club for registration, kit check and the start. After last year’s hypothermia-inducing conditions, the compulsory kit list was strict this year, good forecast or not. We soaked up the warm morning sunshine outside the pavilion as we waited for the 09:00 start. Race organiser Jon Steel had a lot on his plate and would need the full support of his helpers, since he was running in the race as well.
After announcements we were sent on our way a few minutes late to join the Cleveland Way to Guisborough. The faster runners would set off half an hour later at 09:30. It soon became very warm in the sunshine as we settled into our respective rhythms. I don’t know how the runners with full leg cover, long sleeves and head cover coped. I would have been walking or else I would have been on my back with heat exhaustion. I was already hot in just shorts and T-shirt.
The Cleveland Way rolled through green and picturesque countryside before emerging at the T-junction at Sutton Bank. The expansive 180-degree views from the escarpment were spectacular. Here we turned left on the out-and-back to Checkpoint 1 (9.1 miles) near the White Horse. As we ran, gliding club to the left and big drop to the right, we got to see some of the faster runners on the return leg.
The long escarpment run back from CP1 took us past the T-junction where we came in and past Gormire Lake way below to the left. Not long afterwards the first 09:30 runner came gliding past effortlessly – none other than Jim Mann [he who smashed the Winter Bob Graham Round record just 19 days earlier with a 20:39 finish (previous record was 22:08). He even had to run some of the night section solo]. We joined the Hambleton Road (track) which eventually brought us past Black Hambleton and onto the finishing miles of the Osmotherley Phoenix. The moors were less green than I am used to in July, but it was good to be running a familiar route without having to bother about navigation.
As always, we found ourselves swapping back and forth with other runners as we each experienced our relative highs and lows. I had run with Garry Scott and David Rayson for a while, then I overtook Shirley Colquhoun again on the technical descent towards Osmotherley. I recall doing exactly the same last year as we neared the end of the Osmotherley Phoenix. However this time there was still a long way to go and it would not be long before she would retake her rightful place ahead of me for good.
The route to Checkpoint 2 (22.1 miles) at Osmotherley did not have too many climbs and descents, which may have led me into a false sense of security. The village hall checkpoint was the location for our first drop bags, which were necessary in view of the minimalist runners-not-walkers-type support. I was surprised to see Chris Webb sitting down in the hall, since he’s a lot faster than I am. A sore knee made him retire to avoid doing unnecessary damage before something far more important in a couple of months’ time – a Bob Graham Round.
It felt cold as I left the village hall but I knew I would soon be hot. A couple of minutes was all it took. Cloud had already rolled in to mostly hide the sun, so it was not as hot as it could have been now. The route continued along the familiar Osmotherley Phoenix route. It felt strange to be slogging over familiar ground in such a tired state when I have only ever before run it energetically at the beginning of the event. As a result I took in more scenery and failed to recognise some of it because I have always had my head down, getting on with the job of running at this point. My slower pace also made it seem much further. After Green Bank the easy low level route familiar to the Phoenix was strictly out of bounds. We would take the steep, up-and-down high level route with three stiff climbs via Cringle Moor and Wain Stones. I had always wanted to see what this route was like but I would never elect to take a tougher route choice than necessary on the Phoenix. Now was my chance. It was tough. Some minor rock climbing was needed on the final assault of Wain Stones (CP4, 29.2 miles).
The water refill after Wain Stones was down at the road crossing and it was almost empty. I know I’m slower than most but I was not at the back of the pack. Luckily I needed hardly any, but I pitied the runners behind me. It would have been a 20+ mile leg without water, which is simply not on.
The climb up Urra Moor, still on the familiar Phoenix route, seemed weird compared to what I am accustomed to. I was alone and seemed to have the moor to myself from horizon to horizon. The day was coming to an end and shadows were lengthening. It was in stark contrast to the bright summer sunshine and line of runners I usually see around these parts. On that section, David, who seemed to have much more energy to spare at that stage, caught up with me again. We followed the ancient relics (boundary stones, engraved signpost monolith, etc.) to the self-clip at Bloworth Crossing (CP6, 36.4 miles), where we finally departed the Phoenix route with a sharp left turn towards Roseberry Topping.
Roseberry Topping had been tormenting us all day as our route along the Cleveland Way meandered randomly towards it. In the early hours it always looked conical. Now from a different angle it looked like a ramp with steep drop-off. (Apparently the collapsed face was caused by over-mining.) It has its unique signature, just like Ingleborough and Shutlingsloe.
At this point, my attempt at running was just about keeping up with David’s walking. As soon as the track eased downhill, he started to run and was soon disappearing (see picture above for proof). I had slowed seriously even though I had been eating and drinking (including Coke). I took out more food and ate and drank as others caught up and overtook, then proceeded to shuffle my way down towards Kildale.
There was still daylight left as I arrived at Checkpoint 7 (42.3 miles) at Kildale Village Hall. Our second drop bag was here and I needed mine. Although this was ‘only’ a 55-miler I treated this checkpoint as if I were doing a Hundred. My feet were getting sore and I needed to change my socks (a very good move). I needed decent food, tea and electrolyte. I took my time to take care of business, put a long-sleeved top on (only after removing the short-sleeved top otherwise I would have overheated) and get my head torch on. While I faffed, Garry arrived to say he never thought he’d be seeing me again. The world’s full of surprises, Garry. People slow down. I’m particularly good at it.
Garry and I left at the same time, by which point it was completely dark to reveal a magnificent full moonrise – a big hazy orange orb shining through horizontal streaks of high cloud. Without pre-planning, we teamed up for the final 12 miles to the finish. What a good move that turned out to be; ultra-runners’ camaraderie to the fore. Garry knew the route like the back of his hand so I did not have to worry about this most difficult of navigational stages in the dark. I just put all my efforts into running, as did Garry. He said that he would not be doing so much running if I was not there running too. We made the perfect team for a hopefully speedy final 12 miles.
The climb up to Roseberry Topping just reminded me of a Longmynd Hike scenario, where we were presented with a looming dark mass against the night sky with a head torch light at the top (belonging to the marshal) which we had to climb towards. We passed other runners picking their way gingerly down the roughly stone-flagged trail as we climbed to the summit (CP8, 46.8 miles) for a bit of a chin-wag with the marshal. When it was our turn to return back down the path we realised why the other runners had been taking it so carefully as Garry slipped and sat down too rapidly for comfort. Quite understandably the air may have taken on a blue tint but it was too dark to see it. Some more near misses were had before we got back to the bottom. As we descended we could hear the voices of following runners drifting across the moor in the calm cool night air. (Isn’t it strange how the breeze always drops after sundown?)
After profuse thanks for reminding us, Garry and I, perhaps with a mild pang of guilt after their good deed, overtook the pair of runners, but this time we did not leave them standing. They were running as well and were holding their own. We ran as fast as our tired bodies could sustain along the final flat 1+ mile along the railway bed. I glanced sideways every so often to see how close the lights were in my peripheral vision. They were never far behind but they did not seem to be getting any closer. The extra effort was making me hot again. We passed over the road bridge and turned right down the steps to the rugby club, to a 12:41 finish and a very satisfied feeling for a job well done. Looking at the results we had a very fast final 7 miles after Roseberry Topping, making up half an hour on other runners’ times with similar paces. Thanks for your navigation Garry. What a team!
Free leg massages were given by students afterwards in the club house as part of their “hands on” (literally) experience for their professional course. It was well received. I had a long chat at the finish with Jim Mann, who was hobbling very stiffly. His recent massive efforts had left his legs crying for mercy on Hardmoors, resulting in a dramatic slowing down in the later stages. Even so he still managed to finish 4th with a time of 8:57. The winning time was 8:44 (Dan Shrimpton). I don’t know how they do it. They are so made differently to me. Jim’s Winter Bob Graham report is here (scroll down a bit for the link). It makes impressive reading.
Many thanks to Jonathan Steele and helpers for a brilliant new Ultra experience on a brilliant day. All the pictures are here.
That's 2 down, 10 to go (in the Runfurther series).
I returned late to the pub to sleep in my 'night club' bedroom. You guessed it, the onslaught was at full strength again. This time it stopped at half past midnight, by which time I was just about ready to retire, so not too bad.