John’s Blog

I’m sure many of you will be aware that John devastatingly had a very unexpected heart attack at the start of January 2021 and sadly did not recover. We (his wife Katrina and daughters Jo, Emma, Laura and Hollie) have been overwhelmed with all the messages and tributes we have received over these last few months. It has brought us so much comfort to hear how highly his friends and supporters thought of him.

John was so proud of his blog and especially how his posts would encourage and help runners. He loved ultra-running and wanted his blog and YouTube channel to be a place where runners could learn from his experiences. He spent hours working on his videos and posts and loved to hear how people had watched or read these and how it had made a difference to their races or encouraged them to progress their running.

We will keep John’s blog and YouTube channel open so that runners can continue learning from him and his infectious enthusiasm, positivity, optimism and encouragement.

Thank you again for all your kindness and messages of support. We know that John would be so touched and thankful.

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Plans for 2021

I love to plan ahead and so I have entered a number of races for 2021. Some of them were postponed in 2020 and carried over.

So here is my plan for the year

January – Virtual Montane Spine Race

I was keen to have something to get my teeth into in January to kickstart the year. I wanted to up my miles a bit and when I saw the Spine race was doing a virtual race I decided to enter and have a go.

268 miles is a lot further than I normally do in a month. Infact it will be the furthest I will have ever run in a month since I started running ultras in 2007. So I’m under no illusion that this is going to be a tough challenge for me.

I have set out a plan to get it done!

Saturday 6th March – Blacks to Beacons Ultra (50 miles)

I’ve not done this race before but I know the area fairly well and so I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully it will be able to go ahead but we’ll see!

Saturday 1st – Monday 3rd May – Great Lakeland 3 Day Event

I loved this event in 2019 so it will be so good to take part again. I love the fact that it is in a different part of the Lakes each year. It is very different to other races I do in that you have to work out your own course which adds to the whole event.

Saturday 12th June – South Downs Way 100

I’m really looking forward to this race as I’ve never done any of the Centurion races before and I’ve been told this route is excellent.

Saturday 21st – Thursday 26th August – Deadwater 6 day event

I’m really looking forward to this event which I’d planned to do in 2020. The race starts just inside Scotland at Deadwater and finishes near Chester. I will have to carry more gear than the Dragon’s Back so I’ll be training with that in mind.

Saturday 18th December – Tour de Helvellyn

I did this 38 mile race in 2019 and I planned to do it again in 2019 so I’m looking forward to taking part at the end of this year.

I’m also looking to volunteering at various ultra races throughout the year including the Cape Wrath Ultra (8 days) in May, West Highland Way Race in June and the Skyline Races (3 days) in September.

I’m hoping to be able to attend other ultra races for ‘Run to the Hills’ to do some live videos of the events as well as our regular weekly podcast.

Obviously all these events are dependant on how things go with the ongoing virus situation.

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Review of December 2020

When my final race of the year Tour de Helvellyn was cancelled I decided to spend a few weeks working on my speed rather than miles so my total for December was less than normal but I enjoyed the challenge and feel I did get some speed back in my legs.

I ran a total of 117.51 miles in December. Here are my stats and breakdown

In 2020 I ran a total of 1,799.17 miles and here is a breakdown of all my runs

I fell 220.83 miles short of my goal of running 2020 miles in 2020 but I was happy with my effort overall considering the majority of my races were cancelled.

I’ve been looking at my monthly totals since I started running ultras in 2007. Here is a summary of my mileage for the last 14 years

2020 was my second lowest yearly total after 2017 when I was injured and couldn’t run for 5 months.

I’m going to aim for 2021 miles in 2021 and hopefully I’ll make it next year!!

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Review of 2020

2020 has been a very unusual year for everyone with the Covid-19 pandemic affecting every aspect of our normal life. Sadly many people throughout the world have died or are suffering long term effects of the virus whether that is physical, mental or financially.

So it seems trivial to be worried about not being able to run the ultra races I had planned for this year and we as a family are very grateful for our health and the fact that the virus hasn’t affected us as badly as many people throughout the country and the world.

I’ve been able to keep running this year but I feel I have been ticking over rather really going for it. During the lockdown in April/May I reduced my weekly milage as I was keen to get some much needed exercise without risking injury or illness.

There are three events that stand out as I look back over the year.

  1. Virtual West Highland Way Race – Friday 12th – Sun 21st June

I’ve never done a virtual race before and I wasn’t too sure about it but I’m on the committee for the West Highland Way Race and so I thought I really should take part and I’m so glad I did!

I really enjoyed the challenge of running 95 miles over the 9 and half days we allocated for the challenge. Loads of people took part and we had an online celebration evening at the end of the challenge which I hosted with Ian Beattie.

Here are my stats for the challenge …

2. Virtual Lakeland 100 – Monday 20th – Sun 27th July

Having enjoyed the Virtual West Highland Way Race I decided to join in with the Virtual Lakeland 100 as well. This one was, like the actual race, is harder than the West Highland Way.

The challenge was to run 105 miles in a week. I don’t think I’ve ever ran 100 miles in a week in training before so I was looking forward to the challenge.

Fortunately I had the Monday off work so I ran 30 miles from Balmaha to Inversnaid and back which gave me a good start.

Then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I ran 10miles, 15miles and 10miles on the Gleniffer Braes setting off just after 6am each morning to get it done before starting work. I had Friday as a rest day before running just over 31 miles on the Saturday. My good friend Neal Gibson joined me which really helped. Then I finished the challenge off with a final run on the Gleniffer Braes.

I really enjoyed being part of the virtual race and each evening Marc and Terry hosted a live Foxcast on Facebook which I helped to broadcast.

3. Hardmoors 55 – Saturday 24th October

I was able to run in one ultra race in 2020. The Hardmoors 55 is one of my favourite races and I had planned to run in March as usual. It was moved to October and I decided to take part.

When I ran the race I was also still hoping to run the South Downs Way 100 two weeks later so I decided to try and run it very easy especially early on.

It was a time trial style event with runners going off in groups of 5-6 every 2 mins. It was very well organised by Jon & Shirley and their team of volunteers.

I started with my good friend Andy & Sarah and we ran the majority of the race together which made it very special.

At the start with our bespoke face masks!
Approaching Kildale – photo thanks to SportSunday
Descending one of the three sisters – photo thanks to Phil Owen

I enjoyed the race and it was great to be able to take part in a race again but I did struggle over the final 20 miles and I was pleased to see the finish!

At the beginning of the year one of my goals was to run 2020 miles in 2020. Once we were in lock down I decided not to worry too much about that and I would see were I was in the Autumn. I never really caught up and so decided this was one goal that I would let slip this year.

With one day to go I have ran 1,788.48 miles which leaves me 231.52 miles short! I’ll try again in 2021!

There have been lots of other highlights family wise especially with the birth of Ethan in June. He is our 7th grandchild so we have so much to be thankful for.

Another big change in 2020 was when I took on hosting the podcast ‘Run to the Hills’ with Edwina Sutton. It is sponsored by Chia Charge which means I’ve been to drop down to 4 days a week with Active Schools and I have Friday to produce the podcast.

We have now produced 20 episodes and we are looking forward to sharing more in 2021. We also have a YouTube channel so if you have not subscribed to one or both then please do!

Podcast …

YouTube Channel

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Post on Kit

Here is my latest blog post about kit on our Chia Charge website …

Running is a cheap sport. ‘All you need is a pair of running shoes and you are away’

While that may be true every runner knows it is not the full story! As you move up in distance from 5k to 10k, to half marathon, marathon and into ultras the kit list and the amount you spend goes up and up.

Here are just some of the kit that we runners will have bought …

  • Shoes – several pairs! Road, trail, cushioned, zero drop, good grip etc
  • Socks – basic, cushioned, two-layer, blister free, toe socks etc
  • Shorts / tights – again a whole range of length, style and colours
  • Compression tights/tops
  • Tops – vests, short sleeved, long sleeved, different thickness and material
  • Buffs/hats/balaclavas
  • Gloves/mits – lots of different styles and thicknesses
  • Running vests/packs – again loads of styles and sizes for all needs
  • Watches – from a basic stopwatch to having a computer on your wrist!
  • Waterproofs

I could go on and on and we haven’t even started on multi-day events like the Spine or Dragon’s Back race.

On our ‘Run to the Hills’ YouTube channel we are doing a series called ‘Countdown to the Spine with Stephen Brown’ were we are following Stephen’s training to his 6th Spine race in January. Each episode we discuss a key topic and in the last episode Stephen shared his thoughts about kit.

Stephen divides his kit into two groups

  1. essential kit that if anything went wrong with it, he couldn’t complete the race
  2. compulsory kit that he has to carry but probably won’t use.

Stephen will spend time and money on the essential items and will often have back-ups in case of damage whereas for the second category he will try and buy the cheapest items.

I think that distinction is helpful and for each of us we need to work out what is the key kit that we need to have to be able to complete a race in as much comfort as possible. It is worth spending a bit more on these items as it could make all the difference to finishing a race or not.

For example, I would say my shoes and socks are essential for me to enjoy and be able to complete an ultra. So, I buy the best shoes that suit me. I’m not willing to sacrifice that to buy any pair of shoes because they are in a sale.

An example of compulsory kit that I don’t plan to use is waterproof over trousers. I really don’t like wearing them and in my 51 ultras to date I can count on one hand how many times I have put them on. So, I have bought the cheapest pair I could find that meet the race specifications.

We are all different and you will need to work out what are the essentials for you and once you know that buy the best you can. How often do we buy a cheaper version only to find it doesn’t last or work well and we end up having to spend more money on the item we should have bought in the first place!

With Christmas coming up now is a good time to think about kit. In this week’s ‘Run to the Hills’ episode I interviewed Shelly and Lee who own ‘Let’s Run’ and they gave lots of great advice about kit and ideas for Christmas presents.

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Review of November 2020

November ended up an easier month as I recovered from the Hardmoors 55 and with the cancellation of the South Downs Way 100.

I decided to do some more speed work to see whether I can improve my basic speed as I feel that ever since the Dragon’s Back in 2019 I’ve been getting slower!

In November I ran 102.62 miles. Here are the stats

All my runs in November
Summary from Strava
Graph of all runs per day
Summary of all my runs in 2020 by type
Aim for 2020 to run 2020 miles

In 2020 I have run 1,681.66 miles which is at least 200 miles behind the goal of running 2020 miles. I have decided to let this goal go as I don’t want to try and run 338.34 miles in December! Maybe next year I will make 2021 miles but it will always be a secondary goal to other things I’m doing.

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Chia Charge Blog Post

Here is my latest blog post written for our Chia Charge website …

One of the good things that has come out of lockdown and the cancellation of many of the races we love is the rise of virtual races. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I’d never thought about how a virtual race would work and what was the point. But now I’ve been involved in a couple over the summer I can see they are a great way to keep motivated during this year when our normal races have been cancelled or postponed.

On our Run to the Hills Facebook page I asked members to share their thoughts about what motivated them to take part in a virtual race this year. Here is a summary of their answers. I think it gives a good cross section of what has been motivating us during 2020.

  • I was surprised how much I enjoyed doing it virtually and even got a 20 min PB on the course which really surprised me and since I’ve ran 3 other virtual races. (Kelly Sullavan)
  • I liked seeing all the different ways people were getting up to the 96 miles over the 9 days my motivation to do it was I was coming back from injury so the time to walk run was a good mix and doing it over the 9 days really took the pressure off and made it a more reachable goal. (Derek Chambers)
  • I’ve only ran one virtual race and that was a 50k during lockdown round my local golf course. I DNF’d an ultra a few weeks before lockdown and felt I had a point to prove to myself, so I went out and smashed it. (Mark McDonald)
  • I haven’t really got into the virtual races, had a couple of injuries and haven’t found them massively motivating, but the couple I did enter it was about community and getting caught up in the group online. Both times the Facebook group is very active with lots of chat and support (and lovely silliness), and the race organiser has been really good at whipping everyone up into a frenzy and leading it all. (Jo Barrett)
  • I did the Centurion One Community and The One Up combined with Lakeland 100! I love Centurion races and I was due to do Lakeland so it was an easy decision to enter the virtual races. I loved the whole community spirit of these virtual races. I am quite picky about which ones I do but have entered the centurion 100 for the end of the month (of course!) I think the motivation for me is committing to the distance and knowing my friends are in it with me! A Facetime chat with my pals during a long run is great! (Jane Stephens)
  • I like the motivation that it gives me to consistently get out there and run even though there’s nothing specifically to train for at the moment. Also, some of them have had great community involvement online. (Ross Beveridge)
  • I ran the virtual UTMB in the summer. Although there was the remote chance of a prize entry to the real race, the real motivation was to give some focus to the running I was doing. Enjoyment came from the actual challenge (I am quite goal orientated) and as a bonus I liked that I won a £300 discount voucher from Columbia, UTMB sponsors. (Mike King)
  • They are a different kind of hard and that I was surprised to love. I’ve done two, Kielder marathon and the Lakeland L100. With both I was working a full day’s work and commute, so fitting stuff in and around that was the ultra-challenge. This took a little planning and I found splitting the days running into a before and after work run perfect. But also fitting family life around it too, I found running when everyone was sleeping wonderful, so I would run for two or three hours from midnight and loved that most of all, nobody about except a few fishermen, it then became more real, head torch, stars, crazy hours running, such a running high . Never the same and certainly lacking the hills where I live but this new none normal v running thing actually gave me back my running mojo under strange times. (Tony Allen)
  • My running club has held a whole series of virtual events, lots of variety of different events /distances/ strategy. All events have had a few weeks to do them so have fitted in around life. Points have been awarded for each event for our club competition. Event 13/14 currently in progress! Kept my motivation going all year! (Georgina Phillips)
  • I have only done a couple. With the most recent being the Fryupdale full. I absolutely love the enthusiasm and efforts of the organisers to keep us moving. As always motivation breeds motivation and this combined with an opportunity to get out, enjoy the country, test your self-discipline & bag 30 plus miles of Yorkshire wonderfulness then why wouldn’t you. (Paul Richardson)
  • I used to think ‘what’s the point’ but have to admit that they have motivated me to get out over lockdown when I might have been less eager. I’ve done a few which have specific climbing goals as well as distance and this has really pushed me to try some harder stuff than I would have ordinarily done. (Helen Munro)
  • I did the Hardmoors Fryupdale virtual. I liked it because I got the chance to do it on the actual course and the motivation was that the miles counted towards the 1000 mile club in addition to the fact I knew entries were supporting the organisers and providing some income for local volunteer groups eg mountain rescue. We need to work together to support the organisations that cater for our weekend fixes to ensure their longer-term survival. (Simon Middleton)
  • Enjoyed UTMB. Was nice to have a race as a challenge after so many were cancelled. (Stuart Macfarlane)
  • I did the Cockbain Accumulator in May when we were not meant to travel to exercise. The local paths round here don’t really thrill me, so it was extra motivation as well as the challenge of the event itself. I also got involved with Covid trig challenge and cycled and ran to lots of trig pillars and other trigs. It was interesting to explore places local but up to now ignored. I set myself a challenge, the Lancashire Witches Way 52 miles over some hills. I hope to do Cockbain The Hill, I might do his 6in 6 but not sure about the tarmac running. I might do Escape from Meriden 24 hr release. Have been doing lots of MaprunF Orienteering routes and getting back into navigating. Again, a challenge, a chance to explore and a reason to run when it would be easy not to bother. (Karen Nash)
  • I love the Lakeland events. I love how they raise so much money for the charities. I entered the Lakeland 100 to motivate me to get out for miles in the legs for events that could possibly go ahead. But then I entered the 50 as well just for a donation really. Then I started to think 155 miles was doable. And it was. The virtual event with the charity donations helped me. I have done a couple of Hardmoors events to support the organisation. If we don’t do this. They may not be there in the future. I am already entered into the Lakeland Lapland and the double is in my thoughts. (Mick Browne)
  • I did a Hardmoors virtual ‘fry up’ half marathon around the actual course. For a change I liked the idea of doing a shorter hard route where you can throw yourself around and it not worry about saving anything for the last 20 miles. The route was completely unknown to me and as I was on my own with no other runners to follow it felt more of an adventure. The fact that it was a virtual, although not competitive and not just a training run definitely helped me give a little bit more. For motivation I like medals. I like T-shirts. I like the idea of supporting races through difficult times. I like the fun element of trying to match a virtual race and its elevation in a more familiar local training area which I’ve just done for the Hardmoors virtual Goathland full marathon. I just couldn’t find another 500 feet from anywhere to cover the actual elevation but never mind, the intention was there. (Kev Gay)
  • I’ve completed a few different virtual races since lockdown including the WHW relay and the Manchester Marathon. Primarily I’ve enjoyed the fact that you can set your own route and start time. As well as being able to plan and complete the “race” with my favourite running buddies. It has provided focus and motivation to train, explore some while exploring some beautiful new trails in Scotland. Importantly it has also helped with my mental health. And of course, who doesn’t love a medal. (Adrian Abbotts)
  • I’ve ran 2 virtual ultra-marathons. The princess challenge ultra and Hardmoors Fryupdale Marathon both 32 miles. I ran the princess ultra with my two babies in the buggy. I love the fact that even virtual races like Great North Run and the wall (done over 2 weeks) I have been able to do with the boys something you can’t do in live races. My toddler even did the princess short and sweet virtual race 8.5 miles over a couple of weeks. I love how inclusive they are. I’m currently doing the Pennine way I’m 80 mile in I have until March. (Deborah Jefferies)
  • What I liked most, was seeing parts of the country side that is outside my door. My motivation is simple, I enjoy being fit, healthy and active – but most important I felt connected with my WHW family. I’ve only ever done one “virtual run”! (Yan Horsburgh)
  • Loved the Centurion One Community event in May and doing it again this time. Nothing can beat the energy of an actual race, but with bed to event being approx 10 mins, with familiar trails and an unfamiliar goal, with family support cos frankly they are usually too busy doing their own stuff to come to a race, it’s the perfect way to do a multi-day event!! The motivation, well I could do it any week that’s true, but I like a bit of bling, I like the feeling there are others out there sharing the experience and it’s the most fabulous way to train for future endeavours!! (Kirstie Ashton)
  • I took part in the virtual WHW event this year, it was the participation in a community that I liked best about it, Facebook posts and live chats helped the participation. While I’d have been running around anyway during the time, it was great to have a focus! (John Curran)
  • I took part in the WHW, Great Glen and Lakeland 50 virtual races throughout the summer. The Great Glen and Lakeland 50 I’ve ran before, and I loved just being part of the community and sharing posts with others again. The WHW was my big race this year, so even though it couldn’t happen the virtual event still made me part of the race experience, I also ran my own 30 mile ultra as I felt it was the right thing to do for the WHW. It was all brilliant fun juggling miles between work and family doing what I love (Morven Walsh)
  • I did the virtual WHW race. It’s the only virtual I’ve done and only did it because of the community spirit and posts as the week went on. I was going for the triple crown this year as my come back post serious injury but unfortunately it didn’t happen. I found the virtual harder simply due to time. I didn’t have the weekend written off to do it so had to fit the distances around life. On the last day I just needed to go out and run until I had completed it no matter how long it took. (Nicola Dawson)
  • I’ve done several virtual events this year, from 5K to ultramarathon. Reasons include (variously, often in combination): to support the organisers of events I would normally run ‘in person’; for the community feel; to help maintain motivation; to keep progressing towards 100 ultras; to support charities and plant trees; to earn medals that I’ve been wanting for my collection (no, it’s not ‘buying’ medals – I still have to complete the run). The 5K and 10K challenges (club, and EA virtual 5K) pushed me to massive new PBs for those distances while the ultras kept me running long. (Debra Bourne)
  • We entered a range of virtual events, from 5k’s to the GNR Solo (40 runs in 78 days). Although they were poor substitutes for the real thing they were good fun. The best thing was seeing the comments from people that might not have entered the real event but felt part of the virtual one and may now do it for real in the future e.g. WHW & Lakeland 50/100. I’m fairly ‘internally motivated’ in my running so my main reasons for entering virtual events this summer was to support the race organisers. (Andy Norman)
  • I think the only attraction that they have for me is the sense of ‘community’ that they can bring which I would normally have got from weekly parkruns or regular races. (Roz Glover)

We all hope that next year we will be able to get back to taking part in real races but for now thanks so much to race organisers for providing that motivation we needed to keep running during this difficult year.

If you are looking for another ‘virtual’ race to take part in then we feature two in Episode 14 of Run to the Hills

Centurion One – Monday 23rd – Sunday 29th November 2020

Lakeland Lapland Virtual Ultra Run – Thursday 10th – Tuesday 22nd December 2020

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Review of October 2020

During October I ran 144.97 as I continued my build up to and the actual Hardmoors 55 race. The initial plan was to also run the South Downs Way 100 but the race has now been cancelled due to the 4 week national lock down in England. I had actually decided not to travel anyway as we are in tier 3 in Scotland.

So I’m glad I was able to run the Hardmoors 55 last Saturday so I’ve been able to at least run one ‘proper’ race this year.

Here is a summary of my runs this month.

So far in 2020 I have ran 1572.36 miles. The target for achieving 2020 miles would be 1647.94 miles so I’m 75.58 miles short but I’m not going to chase it this year!

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Staying Positive

Here is my latest blog post written for the Chia Charge website …

Staying positive on a long race where you are on the go for 10, 20, 30 or more hours is important but often difficult. The problem is though that when you are feeling negative it does affect you physically so if you are able to stay positive then it has many benefits.

There are many reasons for feeling negative

  • something hurts
  • there is a long way to go
  • you’ve not eaten properly
  • feeling sick
  • you are cold
  • falling behind your goal time
  • do I really need to finish this race

When you have thoughts like these and start thinking about quitting it can be quite difficult if not impossible to move to a positive mindset so my top tip is to try and move to a neutral state first.

One time I interviewed Andy DuBois, who is a running coach based in Australia, for the West Highland Way Podcast and when he outlined this strategy it made so much sense to me.

Basically Andy said that if you can move from a negative mindset to a neutral one then you have more chance to then move to a positive mindset.

For example last Saturday I ran the Hardmoors 55 and with 25 miles to go I got quite cold and made the mistake of not putting on an extra layer until I was really, really cold! It was definitely a low point in the race and my mind was starting to drift to negative thoughts which I needed to address quickly.

The main way that I use to get me to a neutral mindset is to count. Each time my right foot hits the ground I count 1 and keep going to a 100. Then I repeat on my left foot. I will also vary my counting by going 1,2 then 1,2,3 then 1,2,3,4 etc. I count down from 100. I have many different ways of counting!!

After I have done this for 10mins or I’m really feeling really negative a lot longer hopefully I have moved from that negative feeling to a neutral one and ready to see things in a better perspective and get going again with a more positive frame of mind.

You will need a find what works for you. My wife likes to plan out what she is going to wear the following week! I read once that an architect designs a house as he’s running. Being a simple sort of guy that would be way too taxing for me! So I’ll keep to my counting.

I hope this helps so next time you are on a run or in a race and you start feeling negative try counting or something similar to take your mind away from the negative thoughts and hopefully you will find that neutral mindset and then get back to feeling positive and enjoying the run!Happy thinking and running!

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2020 Hardmoors 55 Race Report

This is the 7th time I have run this great race. My first was the very first time it was held in 2010 and it went from Helmsley to Guisborough and the weather was pretty similar!!

This year a number of things were very different mostly due to the ongoing pandemic including

  • The race being held in October rather than March
  • A time-trial style start
  • No mass briefing at the start listening to Jon go through to list of things that Shirley had told him to say!
  • All the checkpoints outside
  • No lovely hot food to welcome us at the finish

The other big thing for me personally was that I was going to run the South Downs Way 100 just two weeks later. As a rule I really don’t like to have two ultra-races so close together but as part of my new role as co-host of ‘Run to the Hills’ I really wanted to do one of the Centurion races and the opportunity came up to take part in the South Downs Way 100 so I put wisdom to one side and decided to go for it.

Only time will tell whether this was as reckless as it feels right now a couple of days after the Hardmoors 55!!

Katrina and I travelled down from Scotland on Friday afternoon and stayed in the home of friends in Guisborough who were away for the weekend. It meant that I could get up at 6.30am, have a leisurely breakfast and head to the start in time for my 8.46am start.

The system put in the place by Shirley & Jon Steele was excellent and everything ran like clockwork. I arrived 20 mins before my start time which gave time to drop off my drop bags, collect my tracker and number and walk to the start.

My good friends Andy & Sarah Norman were also in the same start time. That wasn’t by chance! We had asked Shirley whether we could start together as we hadn’t seen each other for ages and had a lot of catching up to do!

They had kindly sent me a bespoke face covering which I wore with pride …

Photo thanks to Rachel McMahon

Guisborough to Clay Bank (20.35 miles)

Our group of 6 set off and the 3 guys were away and we didn’t see them again! Andy, Sarah & I had agreed to run together for as long as it worked for us all but we also recognised that if either of us was feeling good or struggling we wouldn’t be waiting for each other. In the end we mostly ran together for the first 35 miles which was a highlight of the race for me anyway!

I had a very clear plan. In our ‘Run to the Hills’ podcast we have a regular feature called Top Tips and Eddie, my co-host, and I take turns to lead.  In a recent episode when it was my turn I shared some tips on finishing well and the first key point was you have to start sensibly.

So with this in mind and the fact that I needed to be able to recover quickly after the race to have any chance to run the SDW 100 in two weeks’ time I was determined to keep my heart rate down and my breathing very easy.  I had a rough idea of 13hrs as my goal, but it was very much secondary to the main goal of running well within myself which was just as well as I was nowhere near 13hrs!!

 The miles ticked by fairly easily as I chatted to Andy & Sarah as we caught up with our various bits of news. Andy & Sarah supported me when I ran the Hardmoors 160 a few years ago and it is no exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t have finished that race without their support and encouragement.

On that day in 2016 I was ready to call it a day at Kildale with 42 miles to go but wouldn’t let me even consider dropping out on their watch and somehow by gentle encouragement and downright lies (it will be light soon – it was 2am!!) they got me going again and I will always be very grateful to them for helping me to realise that I had more in me physically than I thought possible.

Photo taken by Mick Brown

As we made our way to Roseberry Topping a steady stream of runners went past us who had started after us. As I wasn’t too worried about time and position I actually enjoyed having a quick chat with each one. A number of runners said they were enjoying the new Podcast which was nice.

As we got a little higher and into the open the full force of the wind hit us and it was hard going with it right in our faces. We also knew that it wasn’t going to get any easier for a long time which proved so so true!

We passed through the gate and as we made our way down and then up to the top of Roseberry Topping lots of runners were coming back towards us having been to the top. It is a lovely feature of the route that you get a chance to say hi to lots of runners throughout the field.

I ate my peanut butter and jam sandwich on the way up so if I didn’t say hello to anyone coming down it was because my mouth was full!!

It was very windy on the top but we had time for a quick photo! I was doing regular video clips for my race diary and Andy videoed me going round the cairn at the top.

Selfie with Andy

We made our way down as other were heading up and ran along the newly laid path to the first drop bag checkpoint at Gribdale. Normally this is a nice relaxed downhill run but with the wind right in our faces it felt a lot harder than it should or maybe it was just me who found it hard going!!

The marshals at Gribdale were superb, as were all the marshals throughout the course. My drop bag was ready, water bottle filled up and I was away with an encouragement without wasting too much time.

Photo thanks to Ann Brown

I walked up the hill with Adam who went on to have one of his best days out in an ultra. I enjoyed hearing the story of his running and how much he was determined to finish this race.

Andy took some video of me running away from Cook’s monument which I will include in my video diary. I was feeling nice and relaxed and happy with the first couple of hours.

The three of us made our way down and headed towards Kildale where sportsunday photographer was waiting to take our photo. I said to Andy, ‘let’s run in line’. He agreed and then ran ahead to take the glory. It made a great photo though

As we passed the village hall at Kildale Andy & I chatted about what normally happens here and how a nice cup of tea would have been very welcome!

But instead we pushed on and made the long climb up the hill. I always think if you haven’t done this route before then this hill seems to go on and on for ages. But even if you have done it before it still goes on and on but at least you are prepared for it!

The three of us were moving well and chatting certainly passed the time. It was fun to chat with Andy for a while and then Sarah. I’m sure they also chatted to each other as well!

Once we got off the road and onto the track Sarah’s strong walking style was interesting to observe. I couldn’t keep up with her by walking but my run was faster than her walk! So I would drift behind then run past, walk a bit and sure enough she would catch me again!

Soon enough we reached Bloworth Crossing which is always a good marker as the next checkpoint at Clay Bank is 3 miles away.

Thanks to Sarah for the photo

I was deliberately looking around a lot more on this run and trying to pick out the route behind and going forward. I realise that often I have a ‘head down and get on with it’ type of style but now trying to be a little more relaxed I was taking time to look up and enjoy it.

Besides picking out the route over the three sisters that was coming next we realised that there was a dark cloud ahead so we were expecting some rain!

A mile or so before Clay Bank Stephen Braithwaite went past looking very strong. I had interviewed Stephen after his successful Coast 2 Coast race recently for ‘Run to the Hills’ so it was good to see him running so well.

We reached the checkpoint and once again the marshals were very efficient and helpful in refilling bottles and having drop bags ready. I stopped to drink my chocolate milkshake and sort out my bag before heading up the first of the three sisters.

Clay Bank to Sneck Yate (18.95 miles) Overall 39.30 miles

I headed up the first of the three sisters in pursuit of Andy & Sarah who hadn’t stopped.  I felt strong on the climb and then ran/ walked along the slab stones until I reached the large boulders and where you have to scramble your way down. I could see Andy & Sarah not too far ahead.

I climbed up the second of the hills again feeling strong and relaxed. I ran down and then met Phil Owen who was out cheering on the runners. He took this photo of me as I passed. It was great to see him.

Thanks to Phil Owen for the photo

On the third climb I caught up with Andy & Sarah and within a few minutes we stopped to put on our waterproof jackets as we could see a very dark cloud coming our way. We put them on just in time as pretty soon we were getting absolutely soaked. 

We ran down to Lordstone’s Cafe, past a few supporters who were out braving the rain and then started climbing up the next hill. It was pretty wild for about 40 mins so we experienced some typical Hardmoors weather! 

Once we climbed up and past the large cairn I went past Sarah feeling good. I didn’t look back but wondered whether I would see them again. It is always a longer section than I think but eventually the route does head down through the woods. Three guys went past me looking strong.

The rain had mainly stopped by now but from here to the end there were bouts of rain and drizzle. I ran past the phone box and on to the road. At the junction where the route takes a right over the stream there was a runner ahead about to go straight on. I called him back and we ran together for the next few miles.

His name was Alex and this was to be his furthest race so far. His wife and two children were supporting him and he was looking forward to seeing them at Osmotherley Square Corner. I decided to give Alex the benefit of my ‘wisdom’ as I shared some of my Top Tips from our ‘Run to the Hills podcast including one which will be shared in the next episode! 

It was good to have some company as Andy & Sarah were still behind. When we reached the checkpoint at the road I stopped to refill my water bottle while Alex pushed on. It was raining again fairly heavily so it was a case of hood up and get on with it. I passed a family with two small children. I was impressed that they were out in these conditions, but the boys had good waterproofs and looked as though they were enjoying themselves. The Dad asked me how far I’d done and when he heard 29 miles he seemed impressed! 

I ran through the woods, past the TV tower which is always a good marker and headed towards Osmotherley. There is one junction which is not marked and once I went left rather than right so I was watching out for it. When I got there Alex was waiting as he was unsure which way to go. He said I thought you would know!

So we ran to Osmotherley together and chatted some more. Alex is from Edinburgh originally but lives now in Durham where he teaches History. He has only recently got into off-road ultras but has caught the bug! It’s always nice to meet new people as I don’t need to worry about repeating myself as he won’t have heard any of my stories!! 

Once we reached the road and headed to the village I said to Alex I was going stop in the sheltered alleyway as I had a few things I needed to do – change my gloves as they were sopping wet, change the battery on my GoPro, get my recharger out for my Suunto watch and get my head torch ready for when it got dark. I was there for maybe 6mins and during that time Andy & Sarah went past so they hadn’t been too far behind.

I was on my own for the climb up to Square Corner so I had time to think about how I was feeling. Generally, I felt okay but I can’t say I was too comfortable. I was still able to run when it was flat or down, but I certainly wasn’t going to be able to go much faster even if I wanted to!

I did my last video clip before it got dark just before the start of the last long climb up. Listening back to it I sound positive and in good spirits. I was on my own for the climb but that was fine. When I reached the car park I was slightly envious of all the support cars and especially campervans! It would have been great to be able to sit down in a warm van for a few minutes!

I kept on going and headed up the hill. It wasn’t too long but Alex caught me again. He had stopped and almost felt a little guilty when he told me he’d had a nice cup of coffee!! He was moving really well and after a few minutes he was away and I saw a post on Facebook saying he had finished really well.

One or two other runners went past me. They probably had stopped at Square Corner as well and were now moving well. I saw Andy & Sarah at the side of the path getting an extra layer or two on. That’s a good idea I thought as it was now starting to get dark and the temperature was dropping.

I made a big mistake here! I really should have stopped and put on an extra layer but having just caught up with Andy & Sarah I decided to keep going and stay with them. It was really good to have their company again but over the next 30-40mins I got really cold.

So much so that I knew it wasn’t sensible. When you are cold your body has to work harder to keep your core warm and so there isn’t as much energy for the running. But still I carried on not wanting to fall behind Andy & Sarah.

I knew the woods weren’t too far away so I decided to stop there, put on my spare layer and put on my head torch. The other issue I had was I hadn’t eaten for a while and that certainly didn’t help. Andy held the gate open for me and I said I was stopping to put on an extra layer. I was hoping to see them again but I didn’t!!

It took a few minutes to take off my bag, gloves and jacket …. find my spare layer, put it on and put my jacket and gloves back on and get going. It took a while to feel warm again but eventually I did. I also ate a packet of peanuts I’d picked up at the last checkpoint which went down well.

I knew the next checkpoint with my drop bag was a couple of miles away so I concentrated on getting there. I did a fair bit of counting to keep myself going and tried not to think about the mistakes I’d just made! It just goes to show that even with 51 ultras behind me I’m still capable of messing things up!!

It was good to get to the checkpoint and I stopped for a few minutes to eat my yogurt and drink my chocolate milk shake. The marshals once again were doing a great job of keeping everyone going.

Jon Steele was just leaving and called out, ‘Anyone want a lift to Osmotherley Square Corner?’ He didn’t have any takers!!

Sneck Yate to Helmsley (14.14 miles) Overall 53.44 miles

My main aim was to try and finish well and just keep going as best as I could. In the back of my mind I knew that I have a 100 mile race coming up in two weeks and I really needed to finish sensibly without completely hurting myself.

So I tried to break it down in my head into lots of mini-sections. I know the route pretty well so I was able to think about what was coming next, tick it off and head for the next one.

I was mainly on my own but every now and then a runner or two would go past. They all seemed to be moving better than I was at this stage.

There were plenty of campervans at Sutton Bank waiting for their runners. I crossed the road and headed to the last checkpoint at White Horse. One of the nice things about this section is you get to see runners who are heading back as it is a loop. As everyone is wearing head torches it’s quite tricky to recognise anyone but that doesn’t matter too much!

The steps down through the woods were quite slippy so I held on to the wooden rail all the way down. It was very dark and also very muddy through the woods. A couple more runners went past before I arrived at the checkpoint.

One of the issues I’ve had in long ultras especially those going into a second night is with my eyesight. I’ve had it tested and I have a lazy eye which means when I’m tired I see double and it can be difficult to judge what is a stone or rock and what is my double vision. I often have to close one eye to work it out. It wasn’t as bad as it has been but I was definitely struggling with my vision with the head torch on.

There were a couple of enthusiastic marshals who were giving lots of encouragement to the runners as we passed through. I didn’t stop long as I had enough water to see me through to the end. I did take a couple of fudge bars which I ate on the steps up out of the checkpoint. There were a couple of girls behind me and it was obvious they weren’t big fans of the steps!

I knew it was 9 miles from here to the end and I split it down to 3 x 3 mile sections to Cold Kirby, to the bridge on the road and the end. So I concentrated on each section at a time. Three parkruns isn’t too hard!

Once again a few runners went past me. I reckon they had stopped at the checkpoint and were now off again moving well. I caught one runner who had gone past me earlier. We had a quick chat for a bit before I pushed on.

Cold Kirkby came and went. There were a few cars waiting for their runners. Just 6 miles to go. I looked at my watch for the first time for ages and realised I was going to be well over 14hrs. I’m not after pity here but I did think about the previous 6 Hardmoors 55 races I’ve done and the fact that my best is 9hrs 35mins. Even last year in worse weather I was 12hrs 49mins.

I know I’m getting slower as I get older but it’s hard to accept sometimes! Maybe I should just new races so I don’t have anything to compare it with but there are some races I really enjoy and this is one of them so I will be back!!

I knew the final tricky descent was coming soon. Just as I arrived there I caught up with a runner and his support. The runner was covered in mud and said he’d had a fall and hurt his wrist. He was taking it very carefully down the slippy technical bit. His support runner was great giving lots of help and encouragement.

Once on the better path I saw two runners ahead and wondered whether they might be Andy & Sarah but once I caught them I realised it wasn’t!! The Norman’s were well ahead finishing in 13hrs 49mins.

The final 3 mile section passed fairly easily. I chatted to a few more runners on the way in. Again I ticked off the final landmarks and thought about how I felt finishing the Hardmoors 160 a few years ago.

There were a group of people waiting at the bottom of the hill for their runners which was nice to see. I ran in with Andy who is a friend of Martin Webb who ran the Northern Traverse the same year I did it a couple of years ago.

It was good to arrive at the checkpoint in a time of 14hrs 22mins 35secs. Katrina was at the finish to meet me and drive us backto Guisborough and a well deserved shower. Katrina had done her own ultra helping out at the finish from 3-10pm!

It was by far my worse time on the course but another finish and 55 more miles to add to my Hardmoors miles! I reckon I’m now up to 917 miles which leaves me 83 miles still to do!!

Thanks again to Jon & Shirley and all their amazing marshals and volunteers. They did an incredible job in difficult circumstances.

Congratulations to Ann Brown who won my ‘Guess My Time’ competition. Her guess of 13:39:00 was the closest!

My overall stats show I slowed from an average pace of just under 14mins per mile at half way to just over 16mins by the end.

I have two weeks to recover and get ready for the South Downs Way 100 on Saturday 7th November. It is going to be interesting!!

Watch out for my Video Diary of the race which is coming soon!

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