I had travelled over to Helmsley (the finish) on Friday night in the camper van, heavily laden down with sleeping bags and quilts in anticipation of the freezing nights. By the time I got there and parked up in the sports club car park, I only really had time for some food, one final kit check and go to bed. It was going to be an early start with the coach taking us to the start leaving at 6am.
|Yet another kit check|
After a surprisingly good nights sleep and a quick breakfast, I joined, what seemed like, the majority of the field on the three coaches to the start. I enjoyed a nice chat with Jason Highland on the way and the journey seemed to pass really quickly.
|Stunning views of the sunrise from the coach|
As soon as the coaches arrived, I met up with my good friend John Kynaston and we chatted as we made our way through the kit check and registration process. Before the race briefing, I had time to catch up with Tony Holland at The Ultra Runner Store, sizing up a new pair of Hokas which he sent me after the weekend.
|On the start line|
My race plan was test out my tentative attempts at speed work, going off slightly faster than I normally would, but still keeping enough in reserve to put in a strong last third. Within a mile of the start we had our first snow/hail flurry, just to remind us this was, in all reality, a "winter ultra" and I'm sure, like me, everyone else had a wry smile. I settled somewhere in the top ten and felt pretty good running through Guisborough Woods but did not really want to go with the pace of the leading few runners as I felt that might be a bridge too far at this early stage of the race.
|On my way up Roseberry Topping|
In no time, I reached the short but steep climb up Roseberry Topping and tried to count the places ahead of me on the out and back section (9th I think). John and I had thought we might video each other as we crossed on this out and back section, however, I had a couple of technology meltdowns at this point; stopping my watch on top of Roseberry Topping and then somehow managed to turn my video camera on and then off again as I tried to film John (sorry mate).
I was careful to take the correct track off from Captain Cook's Monument to reach the road marshal before making the drop down to Kildale. During my recces of the Hardmoors 110 route (in the opposite direction to this race) I have tried to look back at various junctions to visualise the route for the 55 race and this drop through the woods was one of the spots I was concerned about, so I was pleased to get it right.
To keep things nice and relaxed, I was trying (only half successfully) to be fairly chilled at the checkpoints rather than my usual mad dash pitstop. I figured that the more relaxed I could be at these points, the less pressure I would place on myself whilst actually running. The marshals were very helpful and supportive at all the checkpoints - they are so important at unsupported races and did a fine job of getting me through this event.
I left Kildale (1:37 hours, 8th place) and started the long road section up onto Kildale Moor and then on to the track heading to the self clip checkpoint at Bloworth Crossing. On the climb I met up with Andy who is a regular reader of this blog and, in fact, recognised me from when I ran the Tees Barrage Parkrun a few weeks ago with my niece - small world and all that!
|Andy and I on the climb from Kildale|
I made very good time across the moors to Bloworth Crossing, slowly pulling away from Andy and closing the distance to the next runner, Gareth, but never managing to really catch up and latch on. Gareth had a metronomic rhythm and just seemed to cover the ground with a minimum of fuss and though I felt I was closing, it never materialised into a catch. I took a quick bottle refill at Clay Bank and was suddenly onto the roller-coaster section along the Wainstones et al, briefly recalling the night race from January.
|Climb up Hasty Bank to the Wainstones|
|Jayson at Lord Stones|
I caught up with Gareth again and we ran well over Carlton Bank and made the drop down to Heathwaite. It was on this drop that I started to feel that things were just starting to become hard work. I think I was still covering the ground at a decent pace but I was suddenly having to put in that much more effort. Gareth pulled away and I drifted off mentally, getting a bit down on myself. It was while I was in my dark place that Mr and Mrs Cock-up came to visit. As I trudged along the lane out of Heathwaite, with Gareth some 100 yds further up the road, there was a sudden alarm bell ringing at the back of my mind. I pulled out my map and did a quick check, establishing that we had missed the small track into the field. Aagghh!
|Climb through the woods after navigation error|
I had probably only gone 300 yds too far, but with the run back down the lane, that was maybe 4 minutes lost. As you can imagine, this did little to lighten my mood, but I did try to put the mistake from my mind. Just to kick a man when he is down - it started to hail/sleet/snow as Gareth and I (along with another runner who had caught us during the nav. error) made our way up to the self clip point above Arncliffe Woods. The only positive I could gain was that I managed to pull away from the other two but I think that was more a case of me trying to generate enough heat to keep warm than any other reason.
I felt that I needed a bit of a regroup and somehow try to get myself back in the game. I promised myself a few minutes in the checkpoint at Osmotherley, reached in 5:11 hours (5th place) I thought I would change my thin Pertex jacket for the warmer OMM jacket in an attempt to run warm for the last few hours, all I could do to make myself more chipper. Gareth came and went, so I thought I had better get off after him.
|Climb out of Osmotherley|
I felt that this was the home turn and I was back on the route I had recced back in January. I hoped I could hang onto Gareth on the long slog up the hill from Osmotherley and perhaps even recoup a little. Towards the top, Gareth started to pull away (or did I drift back?), however, I decided to make the decision to let him go; with still the best part of 20 miles to go, I needed to run my own race at this point.
I slotted in to a steady grind along the open track to High Paradise Farm and the checkpoint at Sneck Yate Bank. Gareth was long gone and out of sight, but I was happier with how I was running and starting to feel like I was getting my race back on track. After a quick chat with the marshal, a swig of Coke and a fresh water bottle, I was underway and feeling more positive about things, ready for the short section to the White Horse.
I had definitely come through my "patch" and was ready to push on again. I find it amazing how the body can feel like it is ready to give up and suddenly you are back on your game and good to go. Along the escarpment, I had a few glimpses back and could see a few other runners, probably closing on me, but I did not panic and was just pleased with the way I was running; if they are that much faster than me, good luck to them, I will just try to control what I can do. Just to prove the point, I was passed by Paul Peacock, who looked in great condition as we approached the White Horse checkpoint. I was quite happy to let him go after a few words of encouragement from each other.
|White Horse checkpoint|
On other occasions, I might have got down on myself at this point after seeing someone scoot past me so easily, but here I was really starting to enjoy myself again and looking forward to the final push to Helmsley. It probably didn't actually happen but I felt that the pace went up a bit once I had made the climb up the steps and a couple of miles later I caught sight of Gareth once again. Suddenly, that was my only target - could I catch him before the finish?
|Final mile into Helmsley|
I finally made contact on the road section before Rievaulx Abbey and tucked in behind Gareth, who was still covering the ground well. As I was feeling good, I decided to make a push as we climbed up through the woods before the final drop down to Helmsley, just about managing to run the whole climb. At the top, I had opened a small gap and felt it was possible to hold this if I had a good scoot down to the finish. I really enjoyed the last km into the village, knowing I had managed to turn round a potential disaster from 3 hours earlier.
I finally crossed the line in 8:57 hours, finishing in 5th place. At the time I thought I was 6th, but later found out that one of those ahead was a relay runner, so 5th place it is and my highest finish in a full ultra race; well chuffed with that :-)
|Looking worse than I felt!|
There were some seriously fast places at the very front of the race, with a new course record being set by Bert Goos (Belgium) but I was only 4 minutes off the podium and managed to hang on relatively well to the fast finishing Paul Peacock. In a further positive, I was not in complete bits at the finish, though I was getting cold so I got some extra layers on and walked back to the van, got even more layers on and came back to the finish to catch up with John and see how his race developed (very well, it turns out), spending the remainder of the evening chatting with John and Katrina in the Youth Hostel.
Thank you, as ever, to all the marshals and helpers and a big thanks to Jon and Shirley for their tireless efforts which make this such a great event - I will be back!