Cross the UK: Review of the Hardmoors 60 2020

So why after 12 months have I decided to review the Hardmoors 60? Simple, because it was great and despite my extensive period of reflection I wanted to share my thoughts about the event and the “run up” to it. The Hardmoors 60 was my chance to put the DNF at the 55 behind me. Sure, I’d completed the Lyke Wake Challenge since then but I hadn’t finished a Hardmoors. I’d literally been there but not got the T-Shirt and as everyone in the cult Facebook group commented on the camaraderie they felt when meeting a fellow Hardmoorian out on the hills I really wanted one! Vanity over sanity perhaps! As “The 60” was one day after my 40th birthday it felt like the perfect way to ring in a new race category #V40!

Hardmoors 60 Mick turns 40
Hardmoors 60 Mick turns 40

The Hardmoors 60 is an ultramarathon that follows the Cleveland Way from Guisborough to Filey (or the reverse depending on the year). For those unfamiliar with the Cleveland Way the 60 miles from Guisborough to Filey covers the coastal section taking in Saltburn, Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and Scarborough amongst other beautiful beaches along the way. In true Hardmoors style, the route contains “3 bonus miles” so at 63 miles with around 2500m of ascent it is not for the faint-hearted.

Having run in two ultras I felt more confident about my preparation. I set out a training plan based on Hal Koerner’s models, stuck to it religiously, and built-in reconnaissance of the course into my long runs. Admittedly my nutrition practice could have been a bit better as I noted when trying to run 22 miles one day fuelled only with an ice cream on the beach but still I was making progress.

All the training was working well. My good friend Stoney joined me on some of the training runs and I felt as if I had worked out my strategy. I knew that if I got to Scarborough (52 miles) I could finish as the final section was less hilly, less steps and brought the end in sight.

My hugely supportive wife and children drove me out to the start in Guisborough. They would crew me from Guisborough to Whitby where Stoney and Lucy would take over. Lucy would then be a support runner from Robin Hoods Bay (although for 2021 support runners are only allowed from Scarborough) and Stoney would then run with me to the finish from Hayburn Wyke.

Given the lockdown restrictions, we were working on the rule of 6 with staggered starts in groups of six. The organisation of this event was superb from start to finish. It’s easy to stand back and be critical of different organisations as they try to adapt to the changing regulations or to implement Covid secure practice but the event felt very well co-ordinated and safe.

Jon called us up to the start line and my six were off. With pace and enthusiasm, I bounded out of the Guisborough Rugby club and onto Belmangate to access the path to Highcliffe Nab. The short steep climb to the top rewards you with views across the moors, Guisborough, and the distant coastline.

I had been doing some good hill repeats in training so the first climb seemed fairly straightforward. I was going at a good pace (and with hindsight a little fast) as I descended to Spa Wood and Slapewath. Even the climb up Spring Bank felt relatively effortless. I began to have delusions of grandeur as I was ahead of my planned pacing. The steady decline from Airy Hill Farm and down Airy Hill Lane felt like a chance to stretch the legs out a little more and by Skelton I was feeling increasingly confident. The weather was warm but it didn’t feel like a hindrance at this early point.

After navigation through Skelton you drop into Crow Wood to be greeted by the Saltburn Viaduct. The path was busy with families taking their early morning strolls through the woods. The first main checkpoint was ahead as we joined the main road and with a squirt of gel and a top up of water I decided to move on quickly. What I didn’t realise at this point was that I had forgotten to take on any food or nutrition and as I was 10 miles and just under 2 hours into an ultra I probably should have been trying to take on something on steadily to keep my stomach active.

In training I’d jokingly asked the Hardmoors Facebook Group if there were any more steps after Saltburn as during my first recce they seemed never ending.

“Yeah you’re right, it’s as flat as a billiard table after Whitby, the only step is the one into the church hall at the end ” said Paul

“I find after about 45 miles it’s less painful to just throw yourself down the steps rather than actually try and run down them… hope this helps!” said Steve

“Having done that section, there is the odd step or 2 (nothing more than say in the average house) 🤣🤣👍👍Good luck!” said Gary

The hill up to the top of cliffs is a strenuous short stinger but you’re treated to great views of the coast line as you head along past the charm bracelet and onto Skinningrove

A typical response to the question “Does anybody have a gpx route for a recce?” is “You don’t need one! Keep the sea on your left and you’re on the right path” That inevitably means you’re going to see lots of beautiful bays on the route and one of my favourites is Staithes. My family were waiting to cheer me on as I ran through this beautiful village which used to be one of the biggest fishing ports in the North East.

At this point, I was slowing a little and realising I may have gone too long without enough food. The climb out of Staithes drained me and by the time I reached the next checkpoint I was “on my arse”!

Runswick Bay felt like it was make or break. The sun was out in full force and the temperature was significantly warmer than I expected. A lovely lady Hardshall rushed to find me some food that I might be able to stomach in the most covid secure way. At the time I was on a full on plant based diet so when she suggested a milkshake the Hardshall next to her suggested it may not be the most vegan friendly option. “I’ll sort him out” That chap had sorted me out whilst marshalling on other races before but I hadn’t known who he was. This time I was aware that I was in the capable hands of the legend that is Tony Carr. After sourcing some additional food and sitting me down for a pep talk I began to believe again that I could keep going. Every Hardshall is absolutely amazing but Tony seems to know exactly what to say when you’re doubting yourself. If it wasn’t for his kind support I’m certain I would have been very likely to stop right there so I am very grateful for his wise words!

Whitby was the next main stop and the half way point. It was the swapping point for my support crew and both crews were there to welcome me into Whitby with a great big tray of salty chips. The perfect pick me up as I was looking a little… tired!

Halfway felt great as a milestone. I’ve got to halfway, brilliant! I’m only halfway, bugger!

The steps up to Whitby Abbey are a bugger at the best of times but running through a crowd of day-trippers in Whitby is a challenge of its own. Another checkpoint was just ahead at the Hornblower Cafe and it was good to see the friendly faces of Marshalls and to top up water.

The steps come thick and fast over the next sections. The beautiful Robin Hoods Bay is a busy village with a steep road down to the beach. It was here that I was joined by my first support runner. When I attempted the 55 in the Beast from the East year it was with my good friend (and Cross the UK co-founder) Michael Stones. Michael and his wife Lucy were going to be my support runners / crew. I felt that whilst the option was available for a running buddy I would take it and Lucy was on the first half of support running and I was lucky to have her relentless optimism and cheerfulness at what felt like another low point. The path back out of it is equally steep. Just when you get to the top and discover a runnable section you quickly encounter the steps of the fabulously named Boggle Hole. Luckily this is a hole you can climb out of…until you reach the next one and the path up to Ravenscar.

Support crews are not allowed at Ravenscar but the aid station was very well stocked. The path moves along the appropriately named Beast Cliff to the Wicked Wykes of the East namely Heyburn and Cloughton. The word Wyke comes from the Norse word ‘vik’ (sea inlet or creek) and for each inlet you reach there are accompanying steps! You may have noticed a key theme of the Hardmoors 60! When running the route with Michael some weeks before I joked that Lucy (who likes to talk) would probably point out the fact that the steps were quite steep a frequent on this stretch just at the very moment I would be hoping not to think about them. “More steps!” she noted at Cloughton Wyke. I could only manage a grunt in response.

At Clouhgton Wyke we had a change of guard. Michael would run with me from there to the finish. Michael has a sense of humour very much like Jon Steel the race organiser. “How you feeling?” he asked. “Bit tired, knees hurt, stomachs not feeling great” I replied looking for sympathy. “Well you entered it, best get moving and hope you don’t shit yourself to death…. although it would be a memorable way to go”

I’d had a practice running with poles during my training and decided I was going to get them out of the bag and have a go. Some people refer to them as cheat sticks (which I had done numerous times when I’d seen people using them in the moors) but as I’d seen myself slowing down with others passing me using them I suddenly found myself in Rome and as the saying goes…

In my training run, I had discussed with Michael that I thought Scarborough was going to be make or break. If I could get to Scarborough the rest seemed relatively flat and “do-able”.

By the time we reached Scarborough it was dark. Every attempt to run on the hard surface along North Bay and the road to South Bay was torturous. Lucy managed to secure me a coffee which I slurped down as I walked through the outdoor party atmosphere in Scarbados. Michael was good at knowing when to give me a nudge and when to just ignore me. He encouraged me to keep a steady pace and keep taking on food and fluid which sounds like it should be easy to do but when you’re tired you forget some of the simple things and those simple like eating are really important. After a final checkpoint, the path skirts the golf course and heads toward Cayton Bay.

There aren’t many photos from this point as the dark and my mood were no friend of the camera but I felt a massive sense of momentum after reaching Cayton Bay and managed to jog fast / run again for most of the way in. Reaching Filey Brigg you can be lucky to see the stone block that marks the end or start of the Cleveland Way. I completely missed it in the dark but that isn’t a probelm as the race doesn’t finish there… oh no…. you still got about a mile to go.

After a final descent (of steps, of course) to Filey I was feeling euphoric. The end was in sight. Yes, there was a little sting in the tail as you climbed up to Glen Gardens but I had made it and my friends and family were waiting (although the boys need to be woken from their sleep in the Delica) at the end to cheer me in after almost 15 hours.

The Hardmoors 60 for me was personal. I was delighted to have friends and family on the journey with me and it was a really special adventure to share but I was overjoyed to have overcome my Hardmoors 55 DNF with a Hardmoors 60 finish. If you’re considering the race for yourself then just do it. It’s different to the Hardmoors 55. Lots more steps but a beautiful stunning coastline. My top tip would be to recce it. As I mentioned earlier it is, in many ways, easy if your keep the sea on the left and follow the signs (or the right if running Filey to Guisborough) but I found it mentally easier to manage when I knew what to expect (even if I didn’t like what was coming up).

After a painfully cramped sleep, I awoke and rushed (slid on my bum) downstairs to find and attire myself in the spoils of my victory. As the back of my T-Shirt said (in a homage to Chumbawumba) “I got locked down but I got up again” and the 60 had proved that even countless coastal steps “were never gonna keep me down”. Well done to Jon and Shirley and all of the Hardshalls for another amazing Hardmoors event.

Mick Fenwick

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

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