|A Blustery Start to the Hardmoors 110|
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|
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|
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|
|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!