Well, I'd like to say that this was the most carefully planned blog on the t'interweb, that as I approached my 100th post, I was looking to make the write up extra special with a winners race report and everything just fell into place perfectly. If I did say all that - I'd be telling porkie pies!
On the plus side; this is my 100th post and it is a winners race report!
Jon Steele, ultra hero and race director of the Hardmoors ultra series, had put on a training weekend with the aim of helping runners with their build up to the races within the Hardmoors series. I didn't attend the training camp, but have read all the comments on Facebook and can see that the agenda was thorough, well prepared and, most importantly, very useful. As part of the weekend, Jon had decided to put on a night race to give the runners an opportunity to try running at night on rough, but typical Hardmoors, terrain. He sent out an invite to anyone part of the Hardmoors family and I jumped at the chance to test my newly trained speed and make a full weekend with a visit to Tracey's sister and another recce on the 110 route the following day.
I expected about 30 runners to pitch up for the race and, like most folk, was quite shocked to find myself on the start line at 6pm with 100 other idiots. The weather might have helped as it was a beautiful evening, not a cloud in the sky and the stars for company. The route was a 2 lap circuit, following the Cleveland Way over three short climbs (Cringle Moor, Cold Moor and Hasty Bank) before returning to the start/finish area along a VERY muddy track to the north of the hills. About 10km for one lap, half marathon for two laps. You could choose whether to do the 10km race or the HM, the only snag being, on the first lap, you had no idea who was doing which race.
It was a fairly swift start and I settled into 5th place going up the first climb, with the leading 2 really pushing on, though, I was feeling fairly comfortable and enjoying racing at a faster pace. By the top of the climb I was up to 4th and closing on 3rd but I didn't want to overcook things as I had done in the Red Bull Steeplechase a few months ago. I made a decision to try and catch up 3rd on the next climb and ran most of the way up just staying on the good side of the red zone.
The image of this race that will stay with me for a long time was the view behind as I crested the 2nd climb; a long string of lights, snaking back over two hills. For someone with the right camera equipment, this would have made a wonderful shot.
Ahead, I could just see the leading 2 runners as their torches lit up the ground, though, it was difficult to gauge how far ahead they were. I climbed well up through the Wain Stones and set about trying to close the gap on 2nd place.
At the turn, I estimated I was about 25 seconds down on 2nd, but had no idea how far ahead 1st was as he was out of sight and obviously going full bore. I ran the return leg along the muddy track well, trying to be smooth and not fight the mud, getting the occasional glimpse of the second placed runner and most importantly, starting to feel like I was closing.
Things got interesting once back at the end of the first loop. As I approached the start/finish area I passed the second placed runner as he was on his way out to start the 2nd loop, but saw no sign of the leader. It was only as I reached the turn round point that I discovered that the leader was doing the 10k race and was finished. Congratulations to Paul Williams who won in 56:40.
This meant I was 2nd in the half marathon race with the leader just 20 seconds ahead. I later found out that the leader was non other than Jayson Cavill, who has been burning up the NE ultra scene for a while, recently setting a new, and very impressive, course record in the Hardmoors 30. At the time, Jayson's identity was a mystery to me and this probably helped me. I wonder, if I had known that it was Jayson that I was attempting to chase down, would I have thought twice, should I be running in such illustrious company? This is an interesting thought and I'm sure some of you out there will have some views on this - I know my confidence has been helped from this experience and it may have an impact on how I race in the future.
With a push on the first climb, I caught Jayson at the top and we ran together right to the turn round point. What struck me immediately was the smoothness of Jayson's gait; there was no fuss, nothing was strained, all very smooth and I think that helped me to settle into a nice smooth cadence. Jayson obviously knew the route well and picked a couple of great lines on the drops, warning me when to look out for rocks (thanks!).
At the turn, with about 3.5 miles to go, Jayson stopped for a few seconds to take a drink and I pushed on up the gentle climb from the checkpoint. Part way up this climb, I glanced back and saw that I had a lead of about 20 yards and thought to myself that this was the significant moment; if I could hammer the next mile and 'break the elastic' I might win. So that is what I did!
With about 1.5 miles to go, I started to lap a few folk which meant that when I looked back I no longer knew if Jayson was catching me or whether it was the lapped runners torches I could see so I basically ran scared for this final section but I was eventually able to enjoy the run in, safe in the knowledge that I had secured first place, finally finishing in 2 hours and 31 seconds. Well chuffed with that!
Jayson finished 2nd in 2:08, though to be realistic, he had been involved with the training camp all day and, I think, had marked the night race course with glow sticks, clocking up some serious mileage before he had even started!! In my defence, I'd walked round the shops in Darlington for 45 minutes; you choose.
I had a chat with Shirley and the other finish officials, but they were obviously having to deal with other finishers, so left them to it. I tried to hang around to have a chat with Jayson but the sub zero temperature and rapidly freezing sweaty clothes killed that idea; I needed to get back to the car and out of my kit. Engine on, heater on, aahh!
Once changed, I went back to the finish to say thanks to Jon and Shirley (though Jon was still out on the course) and was quickly warned of the ice on the steep drop down Carlton Bank when you exit the car park, so with a warm, inner glow, I headed back to Yarm, well happy with my evenings work.
Results here Hardmoors night races