Hardwolds 80 (2019) Race Review
I had been thinking about running the Wolds Way for a while but purely for self-indulgence, to fast-pack it over a few days. I'd seen the BBC Wolds Way episodes with Paul Rose and fancied the prospect of taking in the sights. Beautiful green valleys, meadows of poppies, sculptures and a Medieval village. This laissez-faire intention was then quickly replaced when I remembered there was Hardwolds and that it fitted very neatly into my race diary. However, November was not really the time to see the Wolds at it's best, especially as I'd spend more than half of the route in the dark.
By the time of the race, much of the country had experienced biblical rain and floods. I had been fretting for several weeks about shoe choice as I didn't have a toothy set of trainers that I could tolerate over such a distance. A fairly last-minute purchase of Salomon Speed Cross 5 in a wide fit was my choice however they had a very high heel drop and were bulky and heavy, something I was not used to. As a back-up, some Inov-8 RocLites found their way into the car.
Paul and I settled ourselves at our B&B in Hessle, just a short walk from the start. As is typical for me, I didn't sleep at all that night and come race morning I was exhausted. It was still dark as we walked to the rugby club to register and Paul could see my nervousness as I quietly waited for the next hour to tick by before we could get underway. I'd been away from the Hardmoors scene for a while now and only saw a few familiar faces, John, Shirley and Ady.
Following the race briefing we set-off along the estuary path, passing the Humber Bridge, into the rain for many hours of mud and gloomy skies.
I quickly tried to settle myself and not get towed along by the others. I was in a small group until about Brantingham where it was just myself and Fumiaki, who was eventual 2nd. At Brantingham, I fiddled with my sock and took my right shoe off. I could feel something irritating me and I thought my sock might have slipped from all of the water. I couldn't see anything wrong so tugged at my sock and laced my shoe. The two of us continued and Fumiaki relying on me for navigation. He was clearly enjoying himself and seemed to have never-ending amounts of energy. He kept making me smile through his enthusiasm and love for the day.
As we neared Newbold, I saw Sports Sunday camera team hunkered down sheltering from the wind and rain. Not much picture wise from me as I battled on with my head down pushing through the blustery wind. When we hit the lane Fumiaki then sped off as the navigation to the CP was straight forward and I was slowing due to my IT Bands getting really tight. I was disappointed by this development. Another 60 miles of this was going to be hellish, assuming my IT Bands didn't completely blow-up ending my race prematurely. I figured the bulkiness and sodden weight of my trainers coupled with me slithering around in the mud had taken its toll. I haven't had IT Bands issues in many years so couldn't believe this was happening. Not only did I have a hot spot on my right foot but I now felt I was working 50% harder than usual, fighting against the IT Bands.
When I reached Arras Wold I met Paul and was glad I could be reunited with my spare trainers. It wasn't the trainers I actually wanted but the insoles. By now I had figured out that the insoles were slipping from the wet conditions and were crumpled under my toes. The other insoles were thick and I thought they would be a lifesaver only to my dismay they weren't inside my spare trainers. Paul offered to drive home to get them and to bring them to our next meeting point at Fridaythorpe. I refused to put him through all that and anyway if my feet were going to get bad they would be really bad by then and it would be too late. In all honesty, I thought the IT Band issue might finish my race before then anyway.
I pressed on by myself to Millingham only once seeing another competitor near Partridge Hall. Just by this farm is a horrible muddy gloopy field. We both held hands pulling each other out of the thick mud. I continued alone and reached Millingham and my tiny drop bag. Millingham is an important mental marker for me. It means you're over a third of the way along the Wolds but it was also where I stayed overnight during the recce I did in October. I quickly retrieved the contents of my drop bag and fast-walked out of the CP eating as I ascended the next hill. A little further near Frendal Dale the eventual race winner Juhana caught up with me, looking completely fresh. I commented on his trainers as they had very little grip. He grinned and said they were fine. I was surprised, I had huge lugs on my trainers and I was still slithering around trying not to do the splits. He needed my help in a couple of places with directions but once on the correct path, he disappeared off into the distance.
I'm often asked what I think about when doing such long distances. Probably a huge variety of things but I only usually recall how I think about what is coming up next. I have a phenomenal memory for places. Even as I write this I can remember the route in a lot of detail, even though the race was over 7 months ago. I visualise the next turnoff, stile, the stretch of valley or landmark. It keeps my mind occupied, keeps me present and breaks up the route into very small pieces that I can handle. I never think about the enormity of the whole distance. I give myself some brownie points for getting it right, and usually, I do.
"From the banks of the mighty Humber estuary, along wooded slopes and through serene dry valleys, the walk climbs gently onto the airy tops of the rolling hills where on a clear day “you can see forever”. Descending from the northern escarpment the final section of the Way finishes on the dramatic headland of Filey Brigg." ~ National Trails
My next meeting point with Paul was Fridaythorpe however I knew that I had Holm Dale between us. What should be a lovely valley floor, and I'm sure it is in dry conditions, I was instead facing a slippery mess where running was completely useless as I had no grip whatsoever. I recalled the National Trails description of the Wolds Way as "... dry valley floors ..." yeah well not today.
Paul handed me my peach tea to swig and he restocked my backpack. He was worried about my feet and that I hadn't eaten much of what he had handed to me back in Arras Wold, some 20 miles earlier. My feet and IT Bands thankfully hadn't worsened and I promised I'd try to eat.
Fridaythrope to the next checkpoint at Thixendale wasn't far and then not far again to Paul at Wharram Le Street. I trotted off, talking myself through the next pieces of navigation. Left, onwards, right a bit, left through a gate. Thixendale came quickly and I'm directed into the CP. I didn't need any food and drink but somehow had thought there was a kit check so I went inside. I probably looked a bit grumpy as I asked about kit check but as there wasn't one I turned around and headed straight back out, rejecting the offer of coke. I pulled out my headtorch and perched it securely on my head. It was starting to get dark but it was ok for now. I wanted to leave it as long as possible before turning it on and it wasn't until I was looking for my left turn and descent down towards Wharram Percy that I did eventually put the light on. It was a slippy decent too. I passed the old church and buildings and wound down the track. At the bottom I found Fumiaki looking for the stile. I pointed at it and he laughed at how it wasn't all that hard to spot after all. I pointed him through the next few stiles and he was gone again.
I found Paul at Wharram Le Street, where a few other crews were waiting. He asked how I was doing and replenished my pack. I wasn't going to see him now until Ganton which was 20 miles from here so I needed to be sure I had enough food and drink. I'm so glad I broke up this middle section into smaller chunks of seeing Paul and the CP. It helped coax me through some challenging miles.
Left, then right, straight on, pass the barn, left, right and down the muddy steep field, look for the stile. I wasn't looking forward to this bit. When I recced it there were cows, big ones. They had left the descent in the field in a mess and it was hard to stay on my feet. Also if the cows were there and they chased me (yes I'm scared of cows!) I knew the stile and bridge out of the field would be hard to spot in the dark. Thankfully there was no sign of them.
I was relieved to get to Settrington Beacon as ticking off each key point on the route was becoming more important to me as I tired. From here there was lots of gentle downhill to Wintringham. Then the long in and out of Wintringham and the crazy steep incline at Deep Dale before reaching the infamous Knapton Woods. As I looked behind me on the incline I could see some head torches flickering. I tried to climb more quickly but I was also eating and in all honesty, I wasn't very successful with either task. A headtorch greeted me at the top and urged me to push on. John had said at the briefing not to go into Knapton Woods, due to the local landowner blocking off the trail. A diversion along the lane and then down a path to rejoin the Wolds Way. Simple, or so I thought. I followed the lane and the tape and then turned left down a track alongside a field. At the bottom, I turned right and saw a gate with some more tape on it. Through the gate and along the field. I then hit thick overgrowth and no sign that anyone else had been through. I dug out my phone and checked my position against OS, I wasn't far from the Wolds Way so I retraced a little and slipped through some fencing back on to the Wolds Way. I ran on to find what can only be described as a barricade fit for a war zone. I clambered through it trying. not to get snagged on the barbed wire. I went through the bunny hole field and reached the road. Here some crews were waiting and the two headtorch lights from earlier were coming down the road, the opposite way I had reached it. I think they must have stayed on the lane the whole way to the road. After the race, I looked at the trackers for this section and runners had taken all sorts of different routes through or around the woods. It was impressive how many variations there had been in the end.
The road crossing is near West Heslerton, which is where I stayed for my 2nd night during the recce. I was about three quarters through now. I felt awful but with this knowledge, I gritted my teeth and continued on with my two new companions.
They weren't sure about the route so once again I found myself providing directions from the rear. The two were committed to run together. They commented that I was doing well and that I would do well at other Hardmoors Ultras. They looked confused when I laughed so I explained I'd done the 30 twice, 55 three times and various 26.2's. I was right, I clearly had been away from Hardmoors for far too long!
On reaching Sherburn they dropped away needing a walk break. I dug in and climbed the next short road section and carefully picked my way over tree roots in the woods. Near Potter Brompton there are two long stretches to get through, they seem to go on forever. As I neared Ganton a relay runner caught up with me and asked how I was. I told I was struggling with my IT Bands so he put two paracetamol in my hand and wished me all the best.
Finally in Ganton, I saw Paul who tried to convince me to have some pizza. I did want pizza, who doesn't, but my stomach said no so I asked him to bring it to the finish. Ady was here sitting at the table being all official. I looked at him with confusion as he is supposed to be running this race too. He said he had torn his Achille at the start and had to go to the hospital. He was now helping out and doing a kit check. I quickly decanted the items on the table, repacked and set off again. This was the last push. I could totally do this. As I left the CP I saw my two former companions come in together. I waved and beamed at them.
I focussed hard now on my navigation. Right, left, along the field, right, up the field, left again. Bit by bit I was nearing my next target, the RAF station at Staxton Wold. The long lane leading towards the station is mentally hard. You can see the lights ahead but I was making slow progress. As I passed by I turned off my headlight for a few minutes to save battery and continued on thinking about the next steep climb. The climb was greesy and I used my hands to help pull myself to the top. The next field went on forever, I convinced myself it must be about a mile long and that it was incredibly selfish to have a field this big.
Onwards now to Flixton Fold CP, down the steep greasy field edge and out the other side. I took this very slowly and carefully. I'd gotten this far and there was no way I was going to end my race by slipping and hurting myself, even if it cost me a couple of race places. I had my stubborn determined head-on and went straight through the CP, and down into the next valley and into Stocking Dale. This valley is a bit confusing so I was really glad I recced it, head down and trudged on.
In my mind, I had one last battle to take on and that was the field with cows just before Muston. During my recce, they were not happy to see me in their field. There had been some very young calves and some adolescents. At the time, the adolescents had sounded the alarm to the adults to my presence. Now in the race and in the dark, I was worried (did I mention I'm scared of cows?) however when I reached the field I couldn't see them. I totally relaxed thinking they had been brought inside due to the ground conditions and smiled with relief as I gently descended the field. I reached what I thought was the correct stile and then realised I needed to be a bit further on. I turned and panned my headtorch to get sight of the correct stile but instead, my torch picked out the eyes of some cows. Panicking I set off for the field corner where I knew the stile should be. Made it! I later found out that a relay runner had been chased by these cows. Thank goodness they'd left me alone.
I had Paulk meet me at the end of the village as insurance in case I got trampled. I gulped down some more refreshing peach tea and he told me there was a runner no more than a few minutes behind so I couldn't dawdle.
On the outskirts of Filey, I reached the school and turned right down the road away from the official Wolds Way route. My legs were slow and painful as I moved down the road and I then picked up the Centenary Way which takes you out along the cliff tops and down to the seafront. It all looked so different from my recce. There was no one around, and it was all so peaceful and still.
I switched to my backup headtorch as my main one was dimming but kept that in my hand as the beam of the backup was weak. I used both lights when descending the steps of the cliff tops so I was less likely to trip. I climbed the steps after the lifeboat house and slithered my way along the clifftop. Down the steps and up the next set. I continued along the cliff top and met the final marshalls at Filey Brigg. They pointed me to continue on and touch the Wolds Way/Cleveland Way stone marker and waved on for the return trip into Filey. On the way back I saw lots of runners. Other than the two from Ganton the others I didn't recognise. I think some of them might have been in the relay.
Finally, I dropped back down to the seafront and saw John. Despite my calm and perfectly executed navigation all of the way I now panicked and asked John where to go. He pointed me up Cargate Hill. In the distance, I could see the clock of the church. I kept looking at it thinking that it couldn't be right. I checked my watch. The whole thing had taken me longer than I wanted, the conditions and problems along the way had really slowed me down. I thought about my family dot watching probably wanting me to hurry up so they could go to bed. I made my way to the cadets and was greeted by Paul at the top of the street. He pointed to the cadets front door and it was finally over. As I walked in people were looking at me and clapping, I found this very touching. I had been on my own for so long and usually, when I finish a race, there's hardly anyone around. This wonderful reception just felt like a big hug, something I really needed.
I plonked myself in a chair and streams of tea and food started heading my way. Normally I eat ok after a race but I couldn't manage much at all. The building was lovely and warm and I relaxed whilst Fumiaki and Juhana came over and chatted. I peeled off layers of wet muddy gear and a quick inspection found that the hot spot on my right foot hadn't turned in to anything and I didn't have any blisters or damaged nails. Although filthy, my feet had some admirers and I was questioned on how I had looked after my feet so well. As my for my IT Bands, they didn't get any worse. They were bad but not game over bad. A few days later they were fine.
Foot Care Since this created a lot of interest after the race, and I do get asked this a lot anyway, I've written a two-part blog on how I look after my feet for ultras.
Checkpoints and Crewing Points
Brantingham (CP1) ~ 10 miles
Arras Wold (CP2 & Crew) ~ 20 miles
Millingham (CP3) ~ 33 miles
Thixendale (CP4) ~ 44 miles
Wharram Le Street (Crew)
Settrington Beacon (CP5) ~ 54 miles
Flixton Wold (CP7) ~ 72 miles
Cadets (Finish) ~ 81 miles
Pack - Raidlight Responsiv 10l Race Vest
Hat - lightweight fleece hat
Gloves and spare gloves - Salomon Bonatti Waterproof Mitts (wore for most of the race) and Karrimor Gloves
Waterproof jacket - Inov-8 RE 140 Stormshell
Waterproof trousers - Montane Atomic DT Pants
Tights - wore 3/4 and also had full length in bag
Water bottles - Hydrapak Ultraflask 500 Soft Flask x 2
Torch - Petzl Reactik+ (and spare battery) and Petzl Tikkina (backup torch)
Map - Harveys Wolds Way
Survival Bag - kept in bottom of bag
Emergency food - kept in bottom of bag
Spare layer - kept in bottom of bag
Mobile - kept in a waterproof case
Essentials Kit - waterproof bag of plasters, tissues, bandage, Gurney Goo, wipes, pre-cut KT Tape
Food - homemade pouches of sweet potato and salt, chocolate cereal bars, sweets, almond bars, dates, Nature's Valley Crunchy Bars
Shoes - Salomon Speed Cross 5 (wide fit)
Gaiters - Inov-8 All Terrain Gaiters