Cross the UK: Completing the Hardmoors 55 in 2021.

“Anyone want a place in the August Hardmoors 55?” said the post in May 2021.  “Three months to go” I thought.  I had been training for the recently cancelled Lyke Wake Challenge and I would now have more time to get even fitter! “Yes please” I replied on the Hardmoors Facebook page, and like that, I was in.

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The Hardmoors 55 takes place annually in March but due to Covid-19, a delayed running was taking place in August.  Having attempted this race once before, but pulling up short at 33 miles in the infamous “Beast from East” year I had a score to settle. 

Hardmoors 55 2018
Hardmoors 55 2018 Mini Beast from the East

The August running of the event was going to be perfect in so many ways but three consistently entered my head.  Firstly, it’s partway through the summer holidays, being a teacher I can put in some really good training at the start of the holidays so I am match fit and in top physical condition, secondly, it’s August so it’s bound to be much better weather, thirdly it will be psychologically great for me as the running this year is Guisborough to Helmsley and I live near Helmsley so it’s just like a long run home.

Skip to August and training hasn’t quite gone to plan.  I’ve got some miles in but nowhere near as many as I would like to.  I’ve ran some hills but nowhere near as much as I would have liked to. I’ve lost some weight but …. You see where this is heading.  So having run a couple of weeks before and “bonked” during a 23 miler I was not quite where I had imagined being in my preparation but ever the believer in relentless forward motion I was going to finish this race regardless of how long it would take!

If you haven’t attended a Hardmoors event I would highly recommend it.  An awesome community of brilliant people led by the equally amazing Jon and Shirley Steele.  If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the reaction to Jon’s vehicle being written off the day before the event on the Facebook page!

The organisation at race HQ was seamless as usual. The volunteers’ friendly faces welcomed lots of runners (many of whom were coming back to their first mass start) in a very calm and reassuring way. In only my second outing as a Bad Boy Running Club member I was in full colours and delighted to receive my first official “F%ck you buddy”, the club’s official greeting, from fellow Bad Boy, Ian Ferguson.  It was great to finally finish my induction into the cult club!

BBRC is a really supportive online running club that draws its routes from the Bad Boy Running podcast hosted by Jody Raynsford and David Hellard but it has significant expertise from club members and officials and it was membership of the club that led me to a change of approach for this race.  One of the benefits of membership is a series of “Lorna Casts” on the club’s official Facebook page (for club members only) hosted by Thames Path 100 winner and all-around legend, Lorna Spayne.  Lorna recently interviewed ultra running guru Gary House who discussed fuelling strategy for ultras and as I prepped for this 55 miler I knew I had to try something different so I decided to adopt an 80 grams of carbs per hour fuelling strategy for the race and methodically planned out my timings and my drop bags to help me achieve it.

Nutrition prep for the 55!

The race begins with a steady climb to the top of Highcliffe Nab above Guisborough and then follows the Cleveland Way via Roseberry Topping with a scramble across the Waintsones to Lordstones Country Park and then on to Osmotherley.  It then heads south over the old Hambleton drovers route across Black Hambleton to the Kilburn Whitehorse and finishes in Helmsley.  In total it covers just under 55 miles and over 2300m of ascent.  Hardmoors events have generous cut-off times to encourage runners of all speeds to be able to take on the challenges but this year I was aiming for completion under 13 hours. 

Six checkpoints were set out at regular intervals and provided plenty of opportunities to stock up on water, fizzy drinks, fruit, peanuts, and sweets!  A personal highlight was the “Wham” bar at Scarth Nick checkpoint and the Banana / Watermelon combo and the White Horse checkpoint. Hardmoors marshalls or Hardshalls are absolutely superb and again had braved the elements to provide food, advice, encouragement, and uplifting humour (particularly at White Horse)

Hardmoors 55 Captain Cooks Monument with Phil Hughes
Hardmoors 55 Captain Cooks Monument with Phil Hughes

In setting off on the race I was aware that one of my old hockey pals was running and being competitive I was not looking forward to the comparisons on our times.  Phil Hughes has won or podiumed on a number of the events in the previous year’s series and was in excellent form and shape (a good three stone lighter than me).  It was therefore a surprise to meet him on the way up to Highcliffe Nab.  Luckily for my ego, Phil was still recovering from his Lakeland 100 finish and the combination of his knackered knees and a relatively short recovery time turned out to equal my weight handicap! 

With the exception of a brief gap in the middle, we ran together for the rest of the race which was great as we hadn’t had the chance to catch up for years.  Running with someone can be great for passing the time but psychologically can be difficult as you will experience highs and lows at different times and then feel like you are slowing each other down.  Running with Phil was excellent as I was able to tap him up for some expert knowledge and he helped take my mind off the running with the ultimate thought-provoking question.  If you had to choose any four celebrities dead or alive to be your grandparents, who would they be and why! It also allowed me to get the only photo I will ever have of me being in front of Phil in a race!

The weather at the start was quite mild but by Roseberry Topping, at 7 miles in, the drizzle turned to heavy rain as we skirted the western fringes of the moors meaning that feet were constantly wet but despite the rain, I felt surprisingly good.  The fuelling was helping to stave off some of the normal ultra race issues I had faced and this gave me the confidence to push my pace a bit more than I had expected.  As a “shire” the Hardmoors term for a 14 stone plus runner I was never going to be rapid but I was going reasonably well for a big un!  The beauty of the Hardmoors 55 is also that it takes in some of the most spectacular viewpoints and parts of the North York Moors too and if you’re one of the lucky ones who can enjoy lifting your head and taking in views whilst running I would highly recommend you get involved in a Hardmoors event.

In the end, Phil and I managed to reel in a few more people and even clocked a final 9:21 minute mile (which may sound slow to the elites but considering my average pace was 13:15 it was a strong finish) finishing in just under 12 hours.  Especially rewarding as the person we ran past with 200m to go allowed us to claim a top 50 place.  If you’re reading this I’m sorry… kind of.  Huge thanks to Phil for pushing me along! It was a pleasure to run with you!

Hardmoors 55 finish with Phil Hughes
Hardmoors 55 finish with Phil Hughes

Like after completing the 60 in September I was filled with pride. It’s rare as a “grown-up” that you find many opportunities to take huge pride in your accomplishments but for me completing an ultra really does make me feel proud.

Huge thanks to Jon, Shirley, and all the Hardshalls too. As always they have worked hard to put on a race, in fact, an adventure, that feels safe yet challenging and delivers excellent value for money. Check out this and other races in the series of Hardmoors events.

Well done to everyone who toed the line and stepped up to the challenge. I had conquered the 55!  The medal that evaded me in 2018 was now mine!  The question now is what next?

Thanks to Nat Snell for allowing the use of some of his photos in this blog – Please check out his album on Flickr!

Mick Fenwick

Mountain Leader, D of E Co-Ordinator, Deputy Headteacher

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