Well that was an experience! Incredibly testing conditions and a tough route made for a day of running like few others I have experienced.
After the Osmotherley trail marathon and the Hardmoors 55 where I faded badly towards the end I decided to take this one slower from the start and try to maintain a constant pace until the finish rather than suffering and slowing down in the last 25% of the race as before.
The weather forecast had promised heavy rain in the area starting at around 10 but on the day the rain started in Chop Gate around 8:30am while we were in the village hall waiting for the race briefing.
The rain didn’t seem too bad when we lined up on the start line so I decided to leave the waterproof jacket in my bag and start the race wearing just my Jack Wolfskin t-shirt as usual. Something I would later come to regret.
From the start the field bunched up as we got over the stile and then we were straight into the climb up Chop Gate.
My original strategy was to get into a decent position and then settle into my own pace and try and finish strong at the end.
By the time we were nearing the top of the first climb I had somehow managed to get myself into second, about 20 metres back on eventual winner Paul Nelson.
As the course starts the flatten out I was passed by Andrew Fisher and I could see with the pace he flew by me at he was going after Paul who was setting a fast pace out in front.
Right, change of plan, get your legs moving and keep with them for as long as possible and deal with the consequences when your legs give up or you pass out.
At the top of the climb we turned right and headed across Barkers Ridge towards Scugdale Hall doing slightly over 6 minutes a mile it turned out looking at Strava afterwards.
Onto the road section that leads up to checkpoint 1 we had just about caught Paul although I was a few metres back but pleased I was holding on so far.
From checkpoint 1 we picked up the Cleveland Way and started on what I thought was going to be the toughest section of the race on across to the third checkpoint Clay Bank.
It was now I started to notice the rain had got heavier which made the flagstones really slippery, especially on the steep downhill sections. I’m sure it will stop soon I thought to myself, the weather forecast always exaggerate!
Paul was starting to pull a bit of a lead at this point but everytime Andrew pulled away on the uphills I managed to pull back the gap on the downhill sections. This pattern repeated itself for the next 6 miles. I was really starting to feel the cold at this point and was starting to get very wet.
Coming into the checkpoint at Clay Bank I had to stop for water and with now freezing cold numb fingers managed to squeeze cold water all over my gloves. Being cotton made them next to useless and were now no use whatsoever, my hands were like icicles.
If anyone can recommend a good pair of waterproof gloves that aren’t too thick but will keep hands warm in the worst conditions please let me know in the comment below. My gloves were the only bit of kit that let me down on the day so need replacing.
The next section across Urra Moor to Bloworth Crossing and down to the next marshall point was probably the toughest miles I have ran in my life. The rain turned to sleet and the wind got stronger and running was getting increasingly difficult. About a mile from Clay Bank I couldn’t feel my hands or arms and made the decision to stop and get my waterproof on.
I’m not sure how long I stopped but it felt like forever and I thought everyone in the race was going to come running passed me. My hands were that cold I couldn’t get my jacket out of my bag and when I did I struggled to get it on. Eventually I got it zipped up and the hood on nice and tight to keep the weather out.
I took this opportunity to get a gel down me and got a piece of flapjack out to eat whilst running and I got started again.
Right I thought you have 2 choices – get yourself moving quickly and get out of these conditions or shuffle along and suffer for longer.
I chose to get moving and get this section over with so shouted a few words of encouragement at myself and got moving. I could just about see Andrew in the distance so I put my head down, thought ‘f**k you weather’ and started to try and catch him.
Just before Medd Crag checkpoint race director Jon Steele was there directing us onto the half and full marathon routes. I stupidly told him the truth and got directed onto the marathon route up towards the next marshall point at Bloworth Crossing. Never mind more suffering = more value for money!
This section was so tough given the conditions. It was a long and steady climb with a strong headwind and driving sleet. On top of this everytime I came to what I thought was the top of the climb, it just revealed another climb. Not big or steep but the conditions made it feel much worse.
Eventually I came to the route markers which pointed us downhill towards the next marshall point and off the moors. I hadn’t seen another runner in front or behind me for miles now and decided to just press on as fast as I could until the finish and try to maintain third place.
As I came round the edge of Bloworth Wood I saw Andrew just leaving the next marshall point so this gave me confidence that my pace was still good and was on for a good finish if I could maintain and not slow towards the end.
From this marshall point it was a fairly uneventful road section up the the next checkpoint at the 22 mile mark. I’m not very good on roads as I tend to get bored and distracted meaning my pace drops but I tried to keep moving as best as I could. Shouting at myself certainly helped again.
By now my legs were really starting to ache but apart from that was feeling good. I felt my food and hydration strategy was much better than the previous race and best of all I could feel my hands again after 10 miles of running with blocks of ice on the end of my arms.
I figured from this checkpoint it was going to be a run across Barnsdale Ridge until we dropped down to the finish at Chop Gate. I had hoped for a nice easy 5 miles back to the finish. However this route came with a Hardmoors style sting in the tail.
At about the 25 mile mark the route started to descend again into a series of switchbacks which were good fun to run down at speed. What wasn’t good however was the sudden realization that we would have to climb back the other side before we dropped down to the finish.
Once I realized this the switchbacks seemed to go on forever dropping more and more height with the climb out the other side looking increasingly steep and tough.
I could see Andrew starting the climb on the other side of the valley, maybe 4 or 5 minutes in front. I contemplated trying to chase him down and try to steal 2nd place but I thought there wasn’t enough distance left so I had a look behind me and seeing that no one else was in sight just thought lets keep going to the finish.
In the end the climb wasn’t as bad I was expecting and before long I was pointing downhill through William Beck Farm with the finish line in sight.
I was over the moon at this point knowing I had managed third place in only my second trail marathon. I ran through the car park with a massive smile on my face and into the finish with an eventual time of 04:12:05.
A Massive Thank you
A big thank you to all the marshalls and helpers who manned the race start / finish and the chekpoints in awful conditions. You all deserve a medal yourself. Everyone was was so helpful filling water bottles, making sure we were ok and giving words of encouragement. The race couldn’t have happened without you and you were all brilliant so a massive thank you from me and all the other runners on the day.
Thanks also to Jon and Shirley Steele for organizing these events in the first place and giving us all an opportunity to test ourselves.
Also thanks to all the helpers pushing cars out of the field at the end. I think most of us would still be there if it wasn’t for you
- Salomon Fellraiser Fell Running Shoe
- Salomon Advanced Skin Hydro S-Lab 5
- THE NORTH FACE Superhype GORE-TEX® Active Jacket
- Nike Filament Tight – HO14
- Berghaus Short Sleeve Crew
- S!Caps Electrolyte tablet
- Homemade chia flapjacks
- Hammer Nutrition energy gels – banana flavour