There I was last week-end in North Yorkshire to attempt the Hardmoors 110 ultramarathon, a 110 miles race +6000m ascent in a tight cut-off time of 36 hours. I've got quite a few things to tell about this first edition, but I'll try to make it shorter than Mike's account of the UTMB. (I've heard some people booked holidays to read the tale...)

On Friday, I got up early and caught my train to Filey, via Doncaster and Hull. Everything went as planned: the trains were not late, I pitched my new TNF Tadpole 23 DI tent at Filey campsite, got ready and took a nap before leaving. The idea was to have a 'base camp' ready waiting for me close to the finish line, at which I could arrive and crash at any time of the day or night.
I then got a lift from Steve to Helmsley along with Rob and Susan, two Americans who ran respectively 530 and 76 ultramarathons. 530 ultramarathons ... Just think about it for a while. 530!

Route overview
Click on the map for the GoogleMaps version

In order for you to follow route as you read this entry, I've generated a GoogleEarth file of the Hardmoors 110 route (alternatively, you can click on the map above to access a GoogleMaps version). It could be more accurate, but fair enough for the purpose. Also note that you can click on the images to enlarge them.

The start

At Helmsley I met up with Jon, the race organiser as well as Murdo and Mark from the "Chosen Ones". Everyone was happy to be there, talking about UTMB among other things. But I was a bit stressed before the start, as I had felt some ache in my right ankle in the morning. This reminded me of the peroneal tendinitis I got when I was training for the Ironman. My anxiety must have been quite obvious on my face, as several people (many of them I didn't even know) tried to cheer me up.

before the Hardmoors 110
Friday 26th September 2008, 16:50 - Helmsley market place

I started the run with Greg, an American runner and writer from Oregon and Badwater finisher. We ran and chatted up to Sutton Bank, the first checkpoint (8 miles). There he met his crew and I left him behind. After a fantastic sunset on Sutton Bank cliffs, I switched on my head torch.

Night in the moors

I was a bit surprised to catch up with Murdo and Shirley at the second checkpoint (Osmotherley, 20 miles), but that's only because Murdo didn't feel great at the time. Then they slowly left me behind.

After this last contact, I was to spend the night alone; most of the time I couldn't even see a light in front or behind me. I definitely don't like so much running by night: not only you miss all the scenery, but you can't see far enough to have intermediate goals, it just seems that you're going nowhere.

It was a bit windy, chilly and foggy in the moors, but no one would complain: it could have been much worse with some rain or snow on top of that. That was a good enough opportunity to wear my newly acquired Hardmoors Buff (that is proudly hanging in my room now). The only distraction I got was a bat playing in my headtorch light beam. I guess it must have been attracting flying insects. And also a couple of owls for the creepy sound effects at the beginning of the night.

I managed to get lost a couple of times overnight. The Cleveland Way is reasonably well sign posted, and during the day a map is probably not required. But by night, and with a little bit of fog, things can get slightly tricky sometimes. Most of the time, I followed the marking but I didn't bother to follow the progress on the map. As a consequence, as soon as I got lost I had first of all to figure out roughly where I had been before getting lost. At some point, I had to get through brambles to get back to the path, which gave me scratches obvious enough so people thought a beast had attacked me overnight :) .

During the night I went through several physical and mental up and downs. This cycles sometimes go together, sometimes not. I'm not experienced enough to manage them yet. I could just be patient and wait for things to get better. Walking is not intense enough to keep me awake, but I couldn't run uphill. So going up was often a fight against sleepiness. It wasn't as bad as on my last UTMB, but I still had attractive images of my tent and a cosy sleeping bag waiting for me to get in quite a few times.

I even had a few two-minute crashes on heather, but I wouldn't call that sleeping. It was a strange feeling, a kind of day dreaming involving very awkward images and sounds. I guess I didn't gather enough sleep before the race (as I reduced my training dramatically during tapering, I couldn't sleep until late). During one of these crashes a bit before reaching the Captain Cook Monument, I lied down on the left side of the trail. I got up 2 minutes later thinking I had lied down on the right side, I let you imaging the result... Yes, I did start running back towards Helmsley :) !

Hardmoors 110 Buff
Hardmoors 110 Buff design

My stomach was slightly grumpy overnight, either because my biological clock is not set to eat at that time or because it was a bit chilly. But overall it wasn't too bad. The plan was to carry enough food for a marathon-long section. I had planned to eat the following on each of the four "marathon" sections:

8 SiS GO 720 560
1 Power/Torq/BOOM 110 40
2 Honey Stinger 240 64
2 chestnut spread 400 170
1 flapjack 316 65
1 Snicker 296 58
1 Mars 259 58
1 Bounty 266 57
1 Almond bar 117 25
total ~2700~1100

On the spot:
Tuc (partly carried)783150
Coke 330mL 139330
Ham sandwich ??
Cheese sandwich ??

In the end I didn't eat any of the Honey Stinger, nor the almond bars, and only ate half the rest! I probably didn't eat enough. But I think the most important was to have a variety of food so that I could pick what I wanted on the moment. For example on Saturday, I felt like my stomach wanted proper solid food, and not just gels. Sandwiches and Tuc biscuits saved the day.

On the whole, it was a great feeling to meet the other crews and the marshals. As the crews moved along, you meet the same persons over and over again. Most crews were very helpful to me as well (but more particularly Greg's and Shirley's, as we were running at similar paces), providing me with encouragements, food, water, and even a chair to sit although I didn't ask for anything! I start to wonder whether the chair was genuinely meant to provide me comfort for eating or prevent me to catch up with Shirley ;) .

Lots of runners including myself were amazed by the marshals at Bloworth Crossing (CP 4, 36 miles) and Roseberry Topping (CP 5, 46 miles). They waited alone all night in their tents in the middle of nowhere, in the cold moorland wind. They would just hear you approaching or see your head torch through the tent wall and ask for your race number. At Roseberry Topping, the marshal even dared opening his tent to offer me a Mars bar. Much appreciated!

Sunny coastal path

Reaching Saltburn (CP 6, 55 miles) was a big relief. Not only it was half-way but the sun also came up at that time. Time to swap moorlands for the coast! I was offered a beautiful sunrise on the cliffs just past Saltburn. What a great welcome from the North Sea!

The whole day went on fairly well, with great scenery most of the time. Many of walkers asked what was going on. They were surprised when they learned we were going to Filey. And even more when they realised we came from Helmsley! Twice, a guide would repeat out loud to his group what I had just told him. Weird.

The section on the beach at Runswick Bay (CP 7, 67 miles) was fantastic, and so was the small gully to get out of there.

Whitby stairs
Up Whitby stairs to the Abbey

Whitby was packed with tourists and it was sometimes hard to move on. After 199 steps to reach the checkpoint (76 miles) near the magnificent abbey, was waiting for me yet another amazing view on the town, as well as a not less amazing chap in a flashy red UTMB finisher jacket. It was Mike, marshalling with his wife Gill. Good to see some known faces after a while on my own. And get a sport massage provided by the students from the University of Hull.

At that point, I was in 4th position, with Shirley, Mandy and Greg not far behind. I recall Murdo was about 3 hours ahead of me, despite his injury! No way to catch up.

Massage welcomed at Whitby

Little by little, the ache in my right ankle increased. It wasn't actually at the same place as my self-diagnosed peroneal tendinitis, but just under the right lateral malleolus. I'm still not sure what it was. It became particularly painful when walking on left crossfalls, which was the case most of Saturday, as the seacliffs were on the left! Same effect when the path is in a slight trough, as its right side would incline to the left. So it was painful most of the time actually... At Ravenscar (CP 9, 87 miles), I decided to take 2 anti-inflammatories and forced myself to eat something solid. Greg arrived behind me, spent little time there and left before I even had time to think about standing up.

I didn't really think the pain killers would change much, as they're generally useless for this kind of long-lasting pain. But after half-an-hour, I could run again! I wished I had taken them earlier.

The path was quite pleasant, with the light dimming. I felt good and caught up with Greg then briefly with Shirley, who overtook me shortly after. I think this was my favourite part of the race: great sunset, nice cliffs, feeling good physically, and knowing that I was only 30km away from Filey...

The night finish

When I arrived in Scarborough (CP 10, 98 miles), it was dark. Remembering my time in Hull, I had thought that running in Yorkshire towns in shorts would probably generate a bit of animation. Crossing Scarborough and Filey proved me right. Locals' comments ranged from "Nice legs!" to "You freak!", "What the f*** is he wearing?" and other more aggressive ones I won't transcript. Who cares?

I didn't manage to find the checkpoint straight away. For some reason, I had in mind it would be earlier. Darkness and tiredness didn't help. After two phone calls to Steve, who kindly directed me, I found the checkpoint, and Greg managed to catch me up.

Running in the night again destroyed my optimism, and I more or less followed Greg and his support runner until the end. The way to Filey Brigg was really long, seemed never-ending... Straight ahead for miles and miles with a plateau on the right and cliffs on the left. I eventually finished with Greg in joint 5th position at midnight after 31 hours. In total 18 runners out of 26 completed to race. Given the toughness of the course, a 70% finishers rate is pretty high! Congratulations to all the runners, crews, marshals and organisers! That's the longest distance I've ever run...

Split times

These are the unofficial split times I collected myself. Officially I'm just under 31 hours :) . Full results are available here.

Total Split D+ D- Arrive Depart Limit Speed

miles miles m m

Start Helmsley Market 0

17:07 17:00
CP 1 Sutton Bank 8 8 400 180 18:27
19:00 9.6
CP 2 Osmotherley 20 12 400 512 20:35
23:00 9
CP 3 Carlton Bank * 28 8 436 305 22:15 22:35 01:30 7.7
CP 4 Bloworth Crossing 36 8 575 475 00:52
05:30 5.3
CP 5 Roseberry Topping 46 10 415 509 03:49
07:30 6
CP 6 Saltburn * 55 9 408 670 07:05 07:22 10:00 4.4
CP 7 Runswick Bay 67 12 934 891 10:36
14:00 5.9
CP 8 Whitby 76 9 400 476 13:05 13:32 17:00 5.8
CP 9 Ravenscar * 87 11 723 532 16:53 17:10 21:00 5.3
CP 10 Scarborough 98 11 423 615 20:54
01:00 4.7
Finish Filey - Everon Center 110 12 554 537 00:08
05:00 5.9

Just as I left the finish line, I suddenly could refrain myself to run again and thus ran to the campsite, where a nice hot shower, sleeping bag, and tent were waiting for me. Many people were surprised that I decided camp after the race, expecting that the maximal comfort would probably be required after the race.

I got up at 9am, prepared some hot beans and tuna on bread for breakfast, packed up and went to the ceremony. It was great to meet everyone again. Most people were walking a bit funny and had little eyes. Prizes were given on a stage, which 4 steps to get up there proved to be a decent obstacle for some :) .

Chosen Ones
The "Chosen Ones" @ Hardmoors 110 - left to right: Mike, Jon, Julien, Mark, Murdo, Jez. Looking a bit rough...

Post race thoughts

It was tough! As King Arthur in the Monty Pythons' Holy Grail, I had been warned by Jon (the enchanter), I knew about it but... I can hear Jon: "I warned you, but did you listen to me? Oh, no, you knew it all, didn't you? Oh, it's just a harmless little bunny, isn't it? Well, it's always the same. I always tell them...". There were loads of short steep ascents/descents that don't even appear on the map, but eventually add up. Often I would think that as we were to follow the top of the cliff, the path should obviously be roughly flat. Actually, the path did systematically go up and down any gully you could find on the way! Who did trace this path? In addition, swapping between going up and going down is tiring mentally and physically (although I was supposed to know all about that...). More particularly when you're in pain, and you try to fine tune the way you walk/jog/run depending on the conditions. Following a routine helps to forget the pain. Constantly swapping between up and down breaks the routine and make things uneasy.

I felt quite good after the race! Of course I got fairly stiff legs, my feet are a bit sore, I got a couple of blisters (no Mike, you won't find any pictures of my feet here), but I feel good overall. I actually slept well on the following nights.

Just a couple of days before the race, I was reading in Ultrafondus (the French ultrarunning magazine) a suggestion that the UTMB wasn't the extreme race it used to be any more. Not so much because of the comfort provided by the numerous food stations, massages, etc. Simply because after several thousands of runners around the world described their experiences, the whole event is now part of the "normality". I can imagine that every ultrarunner in Europe knows at least another runner that completed the UTMB. There is no novelty anymore. And that is why runners look for new, less formatted races such as the Hardmoors.

The overwhelming confidential, convivial and friendly atmosphere made this race unique to me. By opposition to the UTMB, with more people (and therefore much more anonymous), and much more formatted. Maybe because it was a first timer. Maybe even more simply because involved people were nice. And having ran the Nice Ironman 3 months ago, the contrast is unbelievably huge with that respect. These are just two different worlds. So much stress, selfishness, aggressivity (and cost) during an Ironman, against loads of friendliness, peace and happiness at a fraction of the price on the Hardmoors. I guess we all know money doesn't buy happiness...

I don't think there was any major issue you could expect from a first event. Scarborough checkpoint could have been signposted, but that's about all in my opinion. It's a shame we ran the whole moorland by night, but there's not much you can do about it. One solution would be to start in the morning, another to start from Filey.

On my side, the only thing I could have done better was the navigation. Small, laminated map sheets with comments aside would have been much more practical. And eat more maybe.

My next objective is the Dublin marathon. Along with Team Sláinte, we raise fund for Cancer Research UK. You support is much appreciated!

Related stories and pictures: I can't conclude this entry by anything else than a
Huge thank you to Jon!
Many ultrarunners dream about organising their ideal race. Very few are brave enough to make it happen. I think the route has everything it needs to become a classic: ideal length, great varied scenery (moors and coast) and symbolic dimension (the whole Cleveland Way National Trail). Hopefully the future will prove it right.

Ultra epic race.