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.
It’s been a few weeks since the last Open 5. In the intervening period I have ridden my mountain bike more often than I ever have – 11 weeks in a row and counting! I’ve also been trying to get my running back on track after straining a muscle in my hip, on top of a niggly problem that’s been annoying me since June. On the physio’s orders I have been running little and often and never fast. Unfortunately, my hip is still complaining, but at least I lined up for this race knowing I could run some, which was better than last time.
Lucy warned me that she had been manic at work and was feeling tired. When we met up at the event base I knew I needed to loan a few bits of essential kit (which we have to carry one per team). I wasn’t expecting a request for cycling shorts though. Astonishingly, due partly to my indecision about what to wear, I could proffer a brand new unworn pair of thin padded pants! Perfect to go under running leggings, which Lucy did have.
So, we were all kitted up and set off running after the rain had stopped. I commented that it was nice that it wasn’t too windy. Famous last words. We trotted up a hill on the road (due to a last minute change of map plan because a crazy lady didn’t want people on the public footpath on her farm) then dived onto a path. The way was not clear and was blocked by gorse bushes. But no! Apparently this was a path and we fought our way through, sometimes ducking as the gorse closed over our heads like a tunnel, sometimes brushing through, getting prickled head to toe.
We were lucky finding the next control quickly in a slightly confusing wood, then hiked up a steep hill, taking the chance to chat and catch up on life. When we emerged at the trig point, the sun was shining and the views were glorious.
Lucy had initially planned a nice circuit, perhaps a little longer than I’d ideally like, but doable and what looked like the only sensible option. However, when we got the control values we had to change our minds as many of our chosen controls were worth zero, or just 5 or 10. So instead we were running along the top of a ridge on the Cleveland Way. I was feeling good and wondering why Lucy was dropping back on the uphills. This wasn’t right! Luckily it was just tiredness rather than anything more serious like a breathing problem. I did not think it would be wise to try and tow (just wrong!) but perhaps even mention of this gee’d Lucy up a bit as she started running in front again 🙂 .
After a while my hip was grumbling a bit but was not painful. I was also remembering why I keep fighting these niggles, as it was joyous to be moving fast out in the hills and for it not to feel like torture. My hip might not be right yet but the consistent training has brought all the rest of my running muscles back to life.
After 1h11mins we had a decision point. To do an extra 4km loop for 45 points or head back straight away. Of course we did the loop! It was worth it as we saw James, the photographer, out on course. He got a hug and we got some great photos! Reviewing it later, this was a good decision – it would have been difficult to get that many extra points in the same time on the bike. Leaving here the paths turned muddy and it started snowing. Our friends said it snowed for 10 minutes but I only noticed it for one or two. My mum had been right in forecasting this and I hadn’t believed her 🙂 .
As we trudged up a hill I took the opportunity to re-evaluate the bike plans. We were going to get back later than expected and we would need options to cut things short. My decision was to reverse our planned loop. This meant we’d have the easy road section at the start instead of the end, but it did get us through the committing bit early and gave us at least 3 short cut options when we might need them later.
It was a long run back from the last control to transition – 43 minutes, a lot of that on a sticky slidy bridleway into a biting strong wind, then down a steep road. I had to laugh; last month I had told Lucy we’d do 3.5h of biking and then led us on a merry dance of 4.5h. This time she said she’d take me on a 1h45m running loop and we were out for 2h25m – even longer than usual! Payback came quickly this time 😀 .
In transition, I switched as much kit as possible from Lucy’s bag to mine, ran through the new plan and off we went biking. Since Lucy had been feeling tired after less than an hour, she made it clear there were to be no hard efforts … I was annoyed with myself for forgetting my bike tow as it would have been perfect here, cruising along a road. I’ve carried it so often and not needed it, so Sod’s Law we needed it now. Instead, I kept a fair pace but not too hard, and we still overtook people. I was conscious that the wind was behind us though.
At one point we could choose a short route through the muddy wood we had encountered on the run, or the long route on the road. We went road and I started giving Lucy a helping hand up the hills. My hip wasn’t entirely happy about this (darn, why was the tow at home?!), but I kept switching sides and it got no worse. We had a long hike-a-bike to get on top of the moors but it was worth it for a stunning ride on a great quality path up to a trig point.
When we turned from there we got the full force of the wind in our faces. We had been warned at registration that it was ‘cold on the tops’ and they weren’t wrong! The gorse had pulled my buff off earlier, and it was now in my bag with my coat. I was getting ice cream head just riding along even though it was sunny! As we descended a horrible mud slide in the woods I was getting frozen. Lucy was flapping her hands madly and I was thinking: ‘If I feel this cold she is probably colder!’.
Maybe we should have stopped and put coats on here, but we hoped the next road would bring a nice warming hill climb, and it did. I did some vigorous pushing, but it was not only for Lucy’s benefit. The extra effort was warming my body, and my hands were getting toasty wedged between her bag and her back! We were getting good at riding very close together and only nearly came to grief as our handlebars locked once 😉 .
There was a certain control, number 9, that I wanted to go and get. It was an out and back for 10 points, an extra 1.8km in total. We just missed the turnoff though and Lucy looked like she might just sit down and refuse to go on if we went for it. She said ‘if we lose by 10 points, it’s on my head!’. Lucy’s such a fighter that I realised things must be bad and so we carried on, up and up a long hill. We kept on chatting, it’s a good way to distract from an unending road.
Soon we were we flying down the hill towards the finish. But wait, we had a little flat road detour to make for another 35 points. This was already in plan. But suddenly I realised Lucy’s hidden genius. By missing out number 9 (10 points, on what we heard later was a difficult track) we had saved enough time to go for number 3 (25 points), another 2km each way from home, but along a road and good track. She had already turned her bike to go back but somehow I persuaded her. I think it was the thought of coming in 10 minutes early that did it – it just wouldn’t be right 😀 . I said ‘if we win by 10 points, you can take the credit for it!’.
We slogged along into the wind and, as it turned out, a slight uphill. Got the control, turned back. I was pushing as hard as I could and my legs were really burning. But I needed this to pay off since it was my decision to take the slight risk. Finally we could see the last junction, we were turning and we were there. Just under 7 minutes late, 14 penalty points. Yes! Number 3 had earned us an extra 11 points.
Lucy was so cold, we had to get inside and warmed up as soon as we could. Cups of tea were drunk with shaky hands as we waited anxiously for the results. Female pairs were announced first. 3rd place had 380 … phew, back on the podium at least … 2nd place, with 400 points … woohoo! That meant we had won as we had 441. I was immediately chastised as we didn’t need those 11 points after all! But Sue and Louise (who came 2nd) are strong competitors who won last month. You never know when you’re out on the course where you are, so you have to give it everything you can, just in case.
As the other categories were announced we realised we had actually done OK and had a respectable score. Results here. It wasn’t our fastest day, but we had made good strategic decisions, worked as a team and done the very best we could.
I’ve now got 6 weeks without a race. Time for me to get on top of this running and for us to both come back fighting in February!
Only 5 days after my first race of the year, it was time to go again! This time I was in Yorkshire, doing an Open 5 on the North York Moors, starting near Scarborough. The chest infection had pretty much cleared up, so apart from doing almost no exercise for a couple of weeks (extended ‘taper’?!), I was ready to go.
I was racing with Lucy for the second time in this series. We stuck with the same format as last time for kit, navigation and running first. We cut it very fine getting to the remote transition in time to start before the 10am cut off! It was warm and mostly dry all day, but some of the paths and tracks were very muddy.
Setting off on the run I felt better than last time. It seems some extra running before Christmas might have made a difference. 😉 Lucy did a great job on the navigation. In the woods we had some interesting route choices involving steep scrambling up and down banks. I didn’t know I would literally have to ‘eat dirt’ as I trailed behind up one section! 😀 We were aiming to be out for 2 hours on the run, and after about 1h30 I was beginning to feel it in my legs. Lucy had brought a bungee tow rope this time. She said “yes!” when I asked if she was still feeling frisky, so I cheerfully hitched on for the last section!
Into transition after exactly 2 hours and then we were off on the bikes. It felt wonderful! My joy was short-lived though, as we were soon pushing up a long, rocky and steep track. I hadn’t found my bike mojo yet and felt sluggish with the navigation. Descending through the forest I also took a tumble which knocked the air out of me. It was probably a good thing that Lucy was still heading downwards, as I didn’t have time to sit around feeling sorry for myself! We got to a road, I pulled myself together and felt good for the rest of the race.
As we headed up the final big hill on our planned route I realised we were covering ground a lot quicker than usual. We added in an easy control and carried on. The funniest moment of the race was approaching a ford but not being able to work out where the road went afterwards – because it looked like a river! Two pairs of very wet and soggy feet later we emerged and carried on our way.
At a final junction we had a choice – get back 20 minutes early or take a risk to do an out and back for 15 more points. Despite saying we wouldn’t take silly risks after last time, we went for it. It was all on fast road and I couldn’t face getting back that early! 🙂 This was a really inefficient way to get this one. If we had realised sooner how fast the course was, we should have collected it and another nearby control much earlier on.
This time the risk paid off and after a lung-busting dash for the line we were back less than a minute late – only 2 penalty points. We were pretty chuffed and felt like it had been a good race. I thought we had worked together well and we got 553 points.
At prize giving we found we had come 2nd. The winning pair from the Pentlands race (Jessica and Rowena) had scooped 575, which was a fantastic score. We were beaten by a better team on the day! But it did leave me thinking … could we have done more and if we meet again do we have a chance of winning?
Well, we knew we had made a small nav error on the run (costing 1-2 minutes). I made a tactical mistake on the bike, probably collecting two controls in the ‘wrong’ order – the distance was the same but we did extra climbing (I know, I just can’t resist a good hill!). After looking at other people’s routes I can also see a more efficient route to one run control (800m shorter – that’s 3 minutes!). We should have committed to two of the bike controls earlier on – saving ourselves 2km and collecting an extra 10 points. And I think our transition could be a couple of minutes quicker!
Perhaps if you add all of this together we could squeeze out that 20 extra points. But hindsight is wonderful and it’s almost impossible to have a 100% perfect race. The others still got back 14 minutes early as well! I think we will just have to get faster! 😀