Friday, May 31, 2013

Hardmoors 110 Race Report

A Blustery Start to the Hardmoors 110 
You know the feeling. It’s happened to all of us at least once. You’re toeing the starting line of a race and you just know you shouldn’t be there. Perhaps you’re undertrained. Perhaps you’re ill prepared in terms of the difficulty and challenges of the course. Or perhaps, your head for any number of reasons just isn’t in the right place. As I toed the start of the Hardmoors 110 this past weekend I knew I shouldn’t be there, I was a man out of my country, both figuratively and literally.

The Hardmoors 110 ultramarathon follows the dramatic Cleveland Way National Trail encircling the North York Moors National Park and the Cleveland Heritage Coastline. The course begins in Helmsley and passes through the North York Moors before following the stunning Cleveland Heritage Coastline visiting the coastal towns of Saltburn, Runswick Bay, Whitby, Robin Hoods Bay, Ravenscar and the seaside resort of Scarborough before finishing in Filey. And in case this means nothing to you (which until recently it did for me), it’s in Northern England.

More Stuff than I'm Used to Carrying
Running the Hardmoors 110 was a bit of a whim for me. I was going to be in London for work, I was looking for a race to hopefully redeem myself for a poor run at the Salt Flats 100 several weeks prior, and I just had the itch to race. It was a dandy plan until the day of the race when I realized the errors of my compulsiveness.  I didn’t know the course, I had brought the wrong race kit, I hate running in the rain, a 5:00 pm start is not too many hours distant from my bedtime, and 113 miles with 26K vertical is a long way!

After resisting thoughts to bag the race and enjoy a weekend lounging in a hotel on the Northern Coast of England the race was on. Immediately Shelli Gordon was off the front running a blistering pace. It would be later in the race that I would learn that Shelli is one of Britain’s most talented female trail runners. I fell into the lead group behind her with Simon Deakin and Neil Ridsdale, arguably the UK’s fastest and most badass 50+-year-old runner. Both Simon and Neil knew the course well and freely shared beta about what to expect over the next 100+ miles. What they shared confirmed my sense that I was a man out of my country.

While I knew the course was not flagged, RD Jon Steele had given me some confidence that it would intuitively make sense. Wrong! Immediately I realized that it would require considerable time and effort to navigate using both the map and course description that was included in the mandatory race kit. Quickly and unequivocally I knew what my race strategy would be – DO NOT GET DROPPED!

I found the course to be surprising, interesting and stimulating in that the terrain was all new to me – the fells, the rollers punctuated by steep descents and ascents through drainages, and technical rock that looked like fungi magnified by a factor of 100. Yet while the terrain was new and interesting – it was also foreign and unnerving, making it difficult to go into the zone and just run.

At one point Neil alerted me that soon we would be running on “magic grass,” sod that literally hundreds of thousands of people over the years had walked across yet had left no trails or tracks. I reached the “magic grass” and immediately slipped, becoming covered in magic mud. Why was I here?

As the sun set I finally found my rhythm. I found that other place. We climbed in the fog over four peaks and it gave me a chance to assess the strengths of Neil and Simon. I was stronger on the climbs. Both were much better descenders. At about 35 miles we reeled in Shelli and became a group of four. We ran together through the night arriving at the coast (Saltburn AS – mile 58) just before dawn.

Dawn on the Cleveland Heritage Coastline
At the aid station I suddenly realized Neal was gone. I panicked. I yelled at myself, “DO NOT GET DROPPED.” I was out the door in pursuit of Neil. As the first light was hitting the coast I could not see Neil. I was impressed at how he had put the hammer down and put so much distance on me in such a short period of time. My only hope was that he would pay later for pushing this hard so early in race. I plodded on worried that I would loose considerable time having to refer to my map to navigate. After about 30 minutes I reached an intersection in the trail and had to stop to determine which was the correct way. As I looked behind me I could see Neil and Simon off in the distance. Somehow I had left the aid station ahead of them and had been pursuing the ghost of Neil. I hopped back on the Simon & Neil train.

As we ran along the cliffs over the sea, dropping every few kilometers into a drainage before climbing back up on the cliffs, I could tell Neil was struggling. Slowly Simon and I pulled away. As we pulled away I could tell we were complementing each other – Simon knew the course, and I was feeling good and was able to push him just a bit harder than he would be running on his own. Soon we could no longer see Neil.

Dropping into Runswick Bay AS

Running along the coast was just stunning. The green fields up on the cliffs. The ancient fishing villages with stone houses and cobbled roads below. The smell of salt and the noise of birds. Simon gave me a history lesson and pointed out notable sights along the trail including the birthplace of James Cook (AKA Captain James Cook), the abbey that inspired Dram Stoker to write Dracula, and remnant bunkers built into the cliffside from WWII. He even schooled me on the art of efficiently using stiles to cross over fences and the intricacies of different kinds of English gate locks. As to the usefulness of the information – I’m uncertain. But as to its value in passing the miles – priceless!

Pushing it through Scarsborough
By the time we reached Ravenscar AS (mile 91) we were told we were approximately 45 minutes ahead of Neil, but that Shelli was about to catch him. Both Simon and I acknowledged that a race between Shelli and Neil meant that we had to move fast in order to not give up our lead. We pressed hard to Scarborough (101 miles) where after clocking sub 8-minute miles on the concrete promenade we both seemed to run out of gas and slowed down considerably as we climbed back onto the cliffs for the final 12 miles. We did mental math and convinced ourselves that we would be hard to catch. Then we saw Neil. From plodding along thinking we had nothing left in us, we realized the power of the mind when we both started clocking fast miles again in an effort to maintain our lead over the final 4 miles.  While we both had felt we had nothing left, we clearly did. We worked our way through Filey Village – down along the beach, up the hill into town then to the far side of the village were the race finished at a school. In the final kilometer we had the silent conversation that we had both been having for the last 12 hours or so – would we finish together  - or would it be a sprint for the finish. In that final kilometer we acknowledged that we had worked as a team, that each of us as an individual would not have been able to complete the course as quickly, and that we should finish together. We entered the school gymnasium at 21:13. As we watched for Neil, we were told that he was at least an hour out and that Shelli was now in front of him. I had yet again experienced the ghost of Neil.

Simon Deakin
A big thanks to RD Jon Steele and his partner Shirley Colquhoun and all the volunteers and race marshals for making me feel like I was a man in my own country. The hospitality, encouragement, and kindness made the adventure meaningful and memorable.

Can a Sword be Carried Onboard?
So here’s the best part. The first place winner gets a sword with the names of all the past winners engraved on it. Quite fitting for a run through Yorkshire. Good thing Simon lives within driving distance and didn’t have to explain to airport security why he wanted to take a meter long sword onto the plane!


peter said...

Way to go Jay. That explains the toenail.

Christian said...

Nice work Jay! Just wondering, have you seen Neil lurking around you since you finished the race?

jun said...

Unbelievable Jay. It's a dream of mine to race in the UK. Very jealous. Congrats.

Brian Beckstead said...

Awesome! Add another race to my bucket list...