By Paul Hughes
The Hardmoors 55 is an ultra-marathon starting at Guisborough following the Cleveland Way through to Helmsley. I’ve had a go at the Lakeland 50 a couple of times and a friend (Flip Owen) from the Elvet Striders has recommended the Hardmoors series so I thought I’d give it a go. There’s 2700m of accent/decent on the course, 300 less than the L50 and it’s generally regarded to be more “runable” – so I thought it would be a good challenge but not too extreme. How wrong I was!
The first difficulty I encountered (apart from remembering that I’d broken my water carrier the night before the race) was getting to the start. The organisers put on a coach to get you from the finish, where you can park your car, to the start at Guisborough. The coach leaves at 6am so it was a 3:30 am start. Thanks to the snow I got the car stuck on Sutton bank 3 times and it was only thanks to a fellow runner giving me a push that I made it on time. There was time for a bit of a snooze on the coach before we got to the start for registration and a kit check (a rucksack with full windproof/waterproofs, extra layers, map, hat/gloves, electrolyte drinks, gels, survival bag is mandatory for all competitors). 135 runners had made it through the snow for the start and in the race briefing we were warned of the risks of hypothermia by the race marshals.
The conditions at the start were cold, but with tracksters, a good base layer and windproof top quite manageable. The race started bang on time and we steadily worked our way up the first ridge and along to Roseberry Topping and the first checkpoint, it was a little windy but not too bad.
From there on to Kildale going stayed good with nice tracks and thanks to the cold weather all the mud was frozen. From this point on it got quite nasty, the climb up to the moor is runable but once on the top there was a 25 mph headwind and as the path got higher there was more and more snow until it became ankle deep after about 2 miles.
The remaining 4 miles to Blowarth crossing and the next CP were the nastiest I’ve ever run, the wind chill (-12) left me unable to feel my hands and snow drifts (up to waist high in places) made the track unrunable. There was nowhere to get out of the wind and put extra layers on so the only option was to keep ploughing forwards to try and keep warm – an attempt to have a drink at this point revealed energy drink I was carrying had frozen so not very much use. Thankfully the track dropped back out of the wind and the section over the next 3 crags was not nearly as exposed. At 32 miles the course goes into Osmotherly and there was a checkpoint in the village hall, a welcome chance to warm up and grab some food and a mug of tea provided by the excellent marshals.
The second half of the run has a lot less hills than the first so there was a chance to speed up a bit, though there were again sections with large snow drifts and high winds. By this point a few of us teamed up to help get each other to the finish and make sure we didn’t get lost along the way. This really helped me out as with about 5 miles to go my blood sugar levels had dropped quite badly and I was suddenly stumbling around all over the place. A chap called Doug got me to take a couple of gels and gravity started behaving again.
These last 5 miles were run in the dark but the route was well marked so we didn’t get lost. Finally at 8pm we jogged into Helmsley and across the finishing line in a fraction over 11 hours. Of the 135 runners who started all but 10 finished, the winner completed the course in 8 and a half hours, incredibly not too far off the course record. If anyone in the club fancies having a go at ultra marathons I’d definitely recommend this one, the organisation and the friendliness of the runners was excellent, just make sure you wrap up warm!