Race 11 of 12 in the 2012 Runfurther series.
Moonrise over the North Sea.I rolled up in Filey just after 5am to catch the full-sized, luxury, 05:30 double-decker to Guisborough. The 3am rise had been a bit of a shock, and I'd lodged overnight halfway there (thanks for the floor space, David), so the 1.5 hour coach journey to our race start went quickly as I slumbered a little.
Registration and kit check at Guisborough Sea Cadets HQ had a long queue, as did the single toilet. In the end race organiser Jon Steele thoughtfully delayed the start by half an hour to allow the nervous-bowelled ultra runners to finish clogging the bog.
The day was cool and sunny but with the forecast strong wind already making itself felt as we listened to Jon's 10-second (and some with the fractions and decimals thrown in for good measure) countdown to the arbitrary start time of 08:35 or thereabouts. I jogged up the road at an easy pace with the masses while trying to remember the pre-race route-finding instructions. The main one was to follow the Cleveland Way signs. The fiddly bits through the towns I'd work out when I got there. There's no way I could remember them because I had no points of reference; the entire route was new to me so I'd follow the signs, route description and my printed Tracklogs maps as appropriate. In practice that became follow the signs (that always worked), follow other runners (sometimes worked) and follow the route description (oh dear).
[Tracklogs mapping software shows this year's route without navigational blunders to be 63 miles with 10,820 feet of ascent. That's a significant challenge within a 16-hour cut-off by anyone's standards.]
Checkpoint 1 at Highcliff Nab (1.9 miles) involved an out-and-back. The front runners were soon heading back towards us. I was poised with the camera, while the morning chill had long since been counteracted by the by-product of my efforts: I was burning up. I became lazy and promptly tripped over an invisible rock as it stopped my right foot dead. Within a second I was horizontal and skidding along the track, camera bouncing along in the mud a couple of yards ahead and both drink bottles pirouetting after it. Oh poo and multiple choice words to stronger effect. Those around me asked if I was alright. I could stand, so presumably yes. The mishap was soon forgotten, though I did run the remaining 62 miles with two scraped thighs and blood trickles from my right knee. I wasted little time in getting rid of the windproof into my rucksack to banish any further risk of lethargy, and continued the plod towards personal victory (meaning finish to keep Runfurther Grand Slam 3 alive).
Out-and-back to Highcliff Nab.
I was captivated by the slim elegance / brick-saving penny-pinching minimalism (take your pick) of the railway viaduct we passed beneath before Saltburn. How it has remained standing with seemingly so little structure I will never know. The engineer who designed it obviously knew his stuff.
Bricks must have been expensive 'back in them days'.
At checkpoint 2 (Saltburn-by-the-Sea, 9.9miles) I was greeted like a long lost friend by Pat Mullins. Great to see you Pat, and thank you for volunteering for us. Get well from your injuries and I hope to be seeing you back in the events next year. Osmotherley Phoenix in July. Engrave it in your diary!
Saltburn is where we hit the coast and turned right. Now out of the woods and into the open I was expecting the wind to be a hindrance from our right, but it seemed to be more from behind and an assistance for most of the time. I appreciated our good fortune.
Shortly after Saltburn the single track railway makes a big loop around Warsett Hill and joins us above the coastal cliffs for a short while. It takes its leave again adjacent to something that can best be described as a giant Romany earring with extra dangly bits. What, why, how, etc. Enlightenment is eagerly awaited.
Henry climbs the steps from Runswick Bay.
Checkpoint 4 (Sandsend, 26.7 miles) was a luxurious 5 miles away (only) and was approached via an old railway track bed, which our path joined just after it emerged from a blanked-off tunnel. The final stepped descent to the concrete terrace provided welcome relief as different leg muscles were pressed into energetic use. Here was my first drop bag. Bring on 0.7 – 1.1 litres of full sugar Coke fuel supply to keep the fire burning. Ken Wyles and Mark Dalton, among others, were enthusiastic volunteers here, complete with sun glasses to shield the glare, not from my grinning teeth but from the warming October sunshine! The sandwiches and pork pies in my drop bag were decidedly tepid but I survived to tell the tale.
After Sandsend we had the delights of Whitby, its whale jaw arch and its crowded streets of aimless browsers and inebriated wanderers with their slurred conversation. There were two of us at this point, weaving our way as quickly as we dared without making bodily contact. One was heard to comment to another: “Oh, he must be a walker”. How very dare you. We were wearing running numbers and we couldn't run because you were blocking our passage. I thank you. In my case at least the passage-blocking allowed brief respite from the effort so the 'running', such as it was, could recommence for a while.
The exit from Whitby involved the climb of the ancient steps to the church and the ruins of the Benedictine Abbey beyond. More extreme effort, and again I was captivated. I had never been here before and the brightly sunlight history before my eyes simply blew me away. It looked attractive now in the sunshine, but in less ideal (more usual?) conditions it makes a perfect Dracula setting. Indeed, this place was the inspiration for the Dracula stories.
Whale jaw arch with Whitby Abbey across the valley.
From Whitby onwards I found myself mostly alone. I continued along the cliff-top path past the fog horn station, which is now disused. I learned afterwards from someone who camped at the nearby campsite many years ago that the ground used to vibrate when it sounded. Shortly after that came the lighthouse. The long, lonely two-hour drag from there to the next checkpoint brought an interesting foliated arch along the way.
I enjoyed my first experience of Robin Hood's Bay – an impressively quaint, old settlement squeezed into the coastal valley. I should have taken pictures but I was feeling strong to make good progress and I needed to concentrate on the route description for the micro navigation: “.....take the second narrow street on the right (Albion Street)”. I came to Albion Road and continued in search of Albion Street. A kindly member of the public, who seemed to know what I was up to, pointed me back to Albion Road: “You need to go up there”. I thanked him before climbing up the lane then stone steps to the left between the ancient dwellings built into the hillside with their raised walkways, access steps and multi level entrances.
The path was now twisting and turning more through woods and up and down ravines, so instead of following my nose I kept more of an eye on the route description with no indication of distances within. This is when I really began to flounder, mind muddled with doubt. Am I there yet? Is this the feature I'm supposed to be looking for?
I floundered a little in the dank woods leaving Robin Hood's Bay.
Upon descending to Boggle Hole I turned right up the track without first crossing the footbridge. The fact that it wasn't a road made me turn back. I got caught by the next runners.
“The trail descends once again to sea level at Stoupe Beck....”. Is this it? It's not sea level though; we're at least 20' elevation.
“On approaching Ravenscar a drainage ravine turns the trail away from the cliff top....”. Boy, this is taking a long time. I can see a bit of a valley coming up. Perhaps that's it? No. I can see buildings on the skyline. Perhaps that's Ravenscar. They're not getting any closer. Ah, another inlet coming up. Is that it? No! I shuffled on in hope, waiting for the next dashing.
I had resorted to rationing my water. At 14 miles this was the longest stage so far through the hottest part of the day and I had underestimated how much water I would need. Half a litre of water and half a litre of Coke was not enough. Perhaps that was the reason for my muddled thoughts. A fellow runner saved the day by donating some of the contents of his bladder (that would be the water bag in his backpack, in case you were concerned) as we climbed through the woods before Ravenscar. I didn't get his name but, whoever you are, thank you. You halted a minor meltdown.
The afternoon was drawing on and it was getting cool by the time I arrived at checkpoint 5 (Ravenscar, 40.8 miles). It was nice and warm in the village hall. “The cold will hit when I re-emerge”, I thought to myself. I really needed to recover and refuel here, just like on a Hundred, so I spent 20 minutes restocking my supplies from my drop bag (more sandwiches, more water and Coke to bring the essential fuelling of low pH brown liquid up to 1.6 litres). A cup of tea and a cup of soup to wash down my sandwich saw me fit to venture back out into the cold evening air. The sun was nearly setting. I rolled the sleeves of my base layer down for the first time since 9am and put Buff around neck to keep the chill at bay. I was soon too warm so Buff moved back to wrist, where it remained until the end.
Ravenscar Village Hall as I leave.
In the distance I saw lights, some coloured and rotating; must be a funfair, probably Scarborough. Winding in and out of the inlets they took their time in getting closer. I saw a head torch pointing in my direction and closing. It was Mick Cooper out waiting for wife Jacqueline (he had been supporting her along the way). Apart from Mick's, there had been no other head torches behind or in front since nightfall. I was well and truly alone.
I descended to 'civilisation' and knew to keep the sea on my left. However now I would need the route description again because Cleveland Way signs are not to be seen around these parts. I had not had a chance to properly commit the map route to memory beforehand so I sat cross-legged on the promenade to adjust my A4 sheets to show the Scarborough portion of the route and concentrated on the route description once again. With the following instructions swirling around my head I continued running somewhat hesitantly, though feeling physically strong and ready to maintain the lead I had built up on those chasing me (according to Mick around half an hour).
“Descend the steps and cross the footbridge over Scalby Beck, turn left, and follow the North Bay Promenade to reach the northern end of Scarborough. Follow the road side path right.” I thought we had to turn left to head for the southern end of Scarborough so that was what I was doing, but with niggling doubt.
“Continue on the seaside road past the former swimming pool.” How far? What does it look like? Should I have turned right after all?
I continued through the bright lights (though not as bright as I had been expecting) and out the other side into comparative darkness. I must have gone wrong. Concerned that I would have to backtrack all that good running I had done along the promenade I sat cross-legged once again to call Jon for directions. He passed me over to a very nice lady who knew her stuff. I was still on track! She gave me additional instructions about passing the harbour and the old Victorian spa building. With thanks and counting my lucky stars I continued through the roadworks and temporary one-way section to emerge into the real bright lights of Scarborough. Bingo!
I continued running out the other side of the neon while looking for the Victorian spa. I never found it, but how could I when it's dark and I don't know what it looks like? I got shouted at from a fast-moving 4-wheeled boom box with sewer pipe for exhaust and what sounded like a large rent in its silencer. The words “Follow the road side path right” were still knocking around in my mind. It hadn't applied so far so perhaps that instruction was still waiting to be used. When a roadside pavement appeared on the right-hand side of the road I crossed dutifully. I passed an old circular building on the right, which turned out to be a museum rather than the elusive spa. The road veered uphill to the right under a railway bridge. I remember the helpful lady mentioning a bridge. I must be right then. I crossed a roundabout and knew we had to fork right at some point up to the checkpoint. Had I passed it already? I seemed to be going out of town and saw a footpath rising to the right into the darkness. I didn't trust it. The cross-legged seating position was adopted once again while I called base a second time. Now I had gone off route, big time. I hung up and cursed times ten. Piggin' route description my arse!
I ran back down to the sea front to continue following my nose into the dimly lit unknown. I had now been caught by Jacqui with Mick and some other of my pursuers. I felt angry and frustrated at all the time I had squandered, especially when I could have done it justice at this point with some strong running. I ran ahead once again with vigour, but soon gave up because I didn't know where I was going. I needed my pursuers who had reconnoitred the route to show the way.
As it turned out, all we had to do was run along the sea front for as far as we could go without descending the slipway to the beach, then take the only path right uphill to the checkpoint. If the route description could have said this without the eloquent detail that led us into a false sense of security while telling a tenth of the story, there wouldn't have been a problem. So, for anyone considering doing this event, ignore the route description. Just follow the Cleveland Way signs, and when you reach Scarborough, run along the sea front until you can go no further. It'll take a while.
We arrived at checkpoint 6 (Scarborough, 53.6 miles), which had run out of water. Luckily I still had enough to last the final 9.2 miles. Here was my final drop bag so I was able to bring the essential brown acid, caffeine and sugar fuelling quotient up to 2.1 litres. I scoffed another of my sandwiches to add substance to the fire.
We set off back into the darkness and single-track Cleveland Way. I was still feeling strong and went ahead. Foolish mistake. I hit a caravan park and went round in circles until the others caught up to point the way along the nicely mown strip (I hadn't wanted to trespass). From there I ran on Coke while waiting, almost in vain, for Filey Brigg to arrive. My pursuers were never far behind. Mick's head torch was spied ahead as he came up the cliff-top path to meet Jacqui.
Finally I reached the fingerpost, left to Filey Brigg and right to Filey. We would turn right. Mick kindly led the way across the green to the steps down to the beach. The tide was out so we ran across the rock-strewn sand to the slipway up to the promenade, while Mick fell back to run with Jacqui to the finish.
I ran alone along the front to the 'paddling pool' and the reflective jacketed marshal to get the final clip and instructions to Martin's Ravine. I overtook a couple more as I ran the track up the ravine, left to the golf club and right further than I expected to the main road. I turned right uphill on the main road, still running. I glanced behind me. There were no torches in sight. I looked upwards and saw a sky full of stars. The air was cool and calm and I was about to finish another ultra challenge. I felt fulfilled once again.
I turned left into the school and a round of applause in the school hall. Tea and food was followed by luxurious slumber in the sports hall, during which the wind rose once again, the cloud rolled in and the rain fell. Someone tell me we weren't lucky.
After clearing up on Sunday morning, many of us went down the road to the local café for a slap-up breakfast. The camaraderie of that final fuelling event put the cap on a fantastic weekend. Thank you Jon and team. I want to return with the benefit of some route knowledge to do it justice. If I do and with my luck, you will be guaranteed nice weather.
Here are the pictures I took.