As part of my preparations for Ötillö and as a test of my new-found running skills, I entered the Hardmoors half trail marathon at Sutton Bank, ‘The White Horse‘. I’d watched the video and thought it looked like the kind of event for me i.e. not too sanitized!
In the preceding month I’d had a cold and was also rather too busy travelling here and there, including two trips abroad – most unusual for me. However, I’d had a good couple of weeks and was looking forward to seeing how I would do in a race that only involved running and no maps. Not counting Parkrun, I did just one race like this last year and only two the year before!
I like to know what I’m letting myself in for when I race. My research on the route had told me three things. 1) It was 26-27km long. 2) Lots of the route was on the Cleveland way or on what looked like wide forest tracks. 3) It was flat, then downhill, then went uphill for the final 7km sting in the tail. I had also looked at the entry list and compared it to the results from previous races. I knew there was at least one very fast girl, but thought it was realistic to at least aim for the podium and a 6 min/km pace.
Two weeks ago I had images of skipping round the course under sunny blue skies wearing shorts and a t-shirt. The mandatory waterproof would be overkill. In the week before however, the forecast didn’t look so great, and didn’t improve! Andy was also doing the race with me, and we woke to the sound of rain hammering on the bedroom window. As my mum drove us over to the start we could hardly see where we were going and we went through some major puddles.
I dithered over what to wear, but the trip to the registration tent and back convinced me to put on a ‘winter outfit’. I was already shivering! This meant a long sleeve technical tee and my Haglöfs shield jacket. It’s only windproof but even in rain does a good job of keeping the cold out. I still carried my waterproof as back up and was glad I am used to training with a small backpack. I opted for trail shoes with moderate grip.
The briefing was short and we were off. It was still tipping it down with rain and blowing a gale. I wanted to run at my own pace, but quickly appeared to be rather near the front of the field. The fast guys soon disappeared and after a couple of km another girl came past. I was sure it would be Helen, the girl I’d spotted on the entry list. So I wasn’t too fussed and let her go. This wasn’t a race to go chasing early on. With a distinctive red jacket, she was in and out of sight for a while, until some point when she decided to turn on the gas and disappeared from view!
Meanwhile, I kept moving and checking my watch when it bleeped to tell me another km was done. Compared to a training run, the beeps seemed to come so quickly after each other! Sometimes I was running over trickier ground and didn’t risk glancing then. I realised I was moving faster than expected but felt good, so I kept going.
After 1.5h I still felt like I was cruising. I wondered if this was what BeetIt did for you, as I was trying it out for the first time before this race. Literally about 5 mins after I had that thought, I started to feel a bit weary! Ha ha. I ate a gel rather than a bar because my tummy still felt full from breakfast (which had included a generous portion of homemade ciambellone*.). Not a moment too soon, as I tripped and almost fell flat on my face. Just saved it! But a sure sign of tiredness. Although the allegedly fantastic views had been largely lost under the clouds, the vision of Rievaulx Abbey before us in the valley was amazing.
Along the way I ran with a few people. Many thanks to the guy who I made an effort to catch and hide behind on the open headwind section! It was nice to chat with different people, especially along the road section that seemed endless and hurt my legs with its hard, monotonous surface. As we turned off the road, we went through 21km in 1:49. I was pleased with that, considering that the route had included a couple of technical sections and other long stretches where the path was either somewhat uneven, muddy or narrow and puddly. Basically, nothing like a standard half!
I knew there were just 5 or 6 km to go. I mentally told myself now was the time to dig in. ‘Only a Parkrun left’, I thought. On the way down south I’d spotted that M&S Colin the Caterpillars are now veggie. Too good an opportunity to miss, so I bought a bag (or two) thinking they’d be good for the race. I carried four and ate just one, at this critical point. Shortly after, we hit a steep uphill. My companion and I caught two other guys we’d been following for ages. They were walking but I was determined to keep running and was hoping for the caterpillar effect to kick in. I managed to joke: “Is it like this all the way to the finish?” and got an assured “No, this is the worst bit!”. Encouraged, I forged on.
We meandered along and up, mostly up. Through Cold Kirby and into a field. I wished I’d studied the end of the route (even) more carefully so I would know exactly what to anticipate. The map was in my bag, but I had no time for that. I kept following the yellow tape. We entered some woods next to a bike trail. Then the path tilted upwards again as we wound through the trees. There was no way I was easing off now – I had 3 guys to keep behind me! Despite feeling a bit sick, I was sure the end must be near.
My watched beeped for the final time at 26km and before long I was back on the road we had started on. I could see my mum in the mist up ahead and was relieved – I’d come in almost 15 minutes earlier than I had told her to expect me! I felt like a champion as I charged up the road, with the handful of spectators braving the now improved weather (just drizzly and misty) and cheering and clapping. At the timing tent I was asked “10k?” “No, half!” I proudly responded.
I had finished second female, just 5 minutes behind Helen and averaging 5:16/km, which was way above my expectations. Total time was 2:18, and the extra effort I’d saved for the end meant my pace held pretty steady, despite the change in gradient. I wasn’t sure at what price though – because as soon as I stopped I felt sore and various bits of me were complaining loudly! Luckily, by the next day everything seemed to have settled down and I only had usual post-hard-run muscle soreness.
We waited for Andy to come in, and I was pleased to see he looked happy and had had a good time. We hung about for prize giving then headed off to another Abbey (at Ampleforth) to refuel. All round, a great day out; well organised, fun route, friendly and good value.
* Ciambellone is an Italian cake that is apparently perfect for breakfast, snacks or dinner. I easily achieved all three this weekend.