We’ve just had the most amazing running weekend ever courtesy of the Hardmoors team, Yorkshire hills and some crazy wild weather. We got to run in some spectacular scenery – these pictures were taken by Linda during the night race (one of the runners we met on the course).
We arrived for the camp which is situated in Carlton Outdoor Centre in Cleveland. We were both nervous about our fitness; Ali had been nursing an injured foot and had seen the Physio that morning to get it strapped up and I’d had my shoulder injected early in the week.
This had cut down our exercises efforts but we’d gotten a gym session in, couple of swims and a bit of yoga.
Having not run this week we were keen to get on with some decent training. This weekend was supposed to be giving us some time on the hills with experienced trail runners so we wanted to make the most of the opportunity as this was going to set us up for a number of future events such as the Belvoir challenge, Anglesey Half and the Cortina trail.
We tried to keep a positive attitude though Ali kept giving her foot nervous glances when she thought I wasn’t watching.
The team; Jon, Shirley, Jason(s), Adam, Kim, Dennis, Carol introduced themselves to the runners (about thirty) who were doing the course and we introduced ourselves back. After a few minutes we realised there were a wide range of running abilities here from casual through to extreme ultra runners.
To be clear when I say extreme – I mean the type of runner who has clocked up 30, 50, 60, 110 and 160 miles races.
Our little 30 mile race in the Dolomites suddenly feels pretty soft (but I guess everyone needs to start somewhere).
Our goal this weekend was to have some fun and pick up some experience running hills. We got that in spades.
After our introduction we had an equipment chat from Tony from ultra runner and picked up some good tips on shoes, socks and race vests. I’m now looking forward to buying some new kit. We then headed of to the pub for a few pints before hitting the hay.
Saturday morning at 7:00am we got up for breakfast; the first session was to start at 8:00am – some of the guys had been up earlier and gone for a run. I decided to pace myself with a cup of tea instead.
Jason and Kim; two of the instructors worked us through a warm exercise; which was pretty similar to some of the yoga and Pilates stuff we do and introduced us to the fun game that is “start/stop/jump/bear” to break the ice – i’ll be using this with my beginners group later this year.
After going outside for a bit of lunges and realising how cold and windy it was I went back and layered up differently. Over the weekend i’d need four layers for our runs – two thin Rab base layers; a thicker top and a water resistant jacket. Also leggings a buff, hat and gloves. My Salomon Speed Cross were my choice of shoes for the runs this week and they didn’t let me down.
If anyone went outside this weekend they’ll know how cold and windy it was and the only way to keep warm was to run hard and wear a lot of kit. On the Cleveland hills it was colder and winder.
Jon Steele talked through some techniques for ascending and descending hills and then we headed up to practice. We assembled at the Lord Stones Country Park which sits among some of the hills we would be running; named the three Sisters. I can think of better names for these girls but i’ll keep a civil tongue.
We laced up our trails shoes and headed for a nearby hill to practice. The hill basically went up steeply for about 300m then descended through rocks; gullies and clay trails through a treeline back to the start. You went slow up the hills then fast down them; then repeated. By the fourth circuit I was getting the hang of it. We’d been given advice to preserve our strength by walking the steep bits (walking is positively encouraged up hills when doing an ultra – its all about making intelligent decisions to use your energy effectively) and then flying down the descents. We’d been given some tips for balance; so I tried these out; cartwheeling the arms to help with balance; taking rapid small steps so you skip along the ground rather then longer strides which result a breaking effect and sends shock through your lower back. When reverting to my normal technique I soon discovered that landing on your heels does indeed result in painful shocks through your back when landing heavily. I came close to taking out three instructors as I cut very close (i.e. shoulder to shoulder) when looping back through into the tree line; they seemed oblivious to this and shouted that I had great technique (if they only knew how close I came to a strike).
We stopped for a breather before reversing the direction and doing a few more laps. We’d done 2.5 miles; not bad for the first session of the day. I managed to find a decent pace going up the hills that didn’t take too much out of my legs and a fast (for me) pace down; I was surprised you could move through the twists; turns; rocks and descents once you relaxed; trusted yourself and used the terrain rather then try and avoid it. I think this was one of the key lessons I took from this; that you needed to try and skim over rocks and obstacles rather then dodge around them. This was brilliant fun and I found myself wishing i’d captured some footage on my GoPro – but had wisely decided that fiddling with a camera rather then concentrating on my footing would have been a disaster.
We headed over the cafe and a cappuccino and I elected to check out the local Yorkshire Curd while Alison stuck with an Americano.
After our break we headed out again for a group run; originally i’d opted to go with the guys who were planning on going a bit longer (10 miles). Alison opted for the 6 mile to give her foot a rest. In the end due to some of the sessions overrunning we both ended up doing the same loop but at different speeds; about 8 miles. I finished a little bit before Alison but not by much.
The group run was a recce of the night run; which took in the three sisters and then looped back via a low lying trail. I didn’t know that for the night run we’d be doing an out and back; i.e. up and over the three Sisters and then returning the same way. I’ve attached the elevation chart from my Garmin of the night run to give you an idea of the elevation.
The hills were tough; over Saturday we ended up doing about 1400m ascent and 17 miles which is more then we’ll be doing for Angelsey; so even though this was spread out over a longer period we feel like we’ve picked up some valuable experience and confidence from this.
I’ve never run in winds like these; I literally got pushed up in short bursts by the wind but it was proper scary as cross winds hit me and it was all I could do to keep on the trail. The three Sisters were exposed on the tops and the cold (approx 2 degrees) mixed with the wind speeds made it important to keep going; my body temperature kept dropping which motivated me to run up the hills a bit harder then I would have otherwise. The descents were difficult; during the recce I followed Adam down some of the fell chutes on the side which were very steep trails through the heather. If I was skiing then they’d be black rated. While good experience it mean’t I wasn’t going to be as prepared for descending on the paths during the night run. I wouldn’t be able to find the chutes in the dark so it was the dark and foreboding path for me. The descents were very narrow and Yorkshire steep – covered in ice or wet and very slippery so needed your full concentration to keep from missing or twisting on one of the hamster sized steps.
This set us up nicely for the night run; which would start at 19:00; when it had a chance for the temperate to drop; the path to freeze and the wind to gain a bit more oomph and for the trail guys to mark out the path with glow sticks and stick a few marshals on the hills to turn into ice blocks.
We had a light lunch back at the centre and rested for a bit before heading back up to Lord Stones fully covered in our multiple layers – with the vain hope that it would keep us warm.
We started on time, all thoughts of running a fast 10K (well 7 miles) forgotten (actually I’d never considered it). Alison, Nicola (from Leeds and Bradford Triathlon) and I had agreed to stick together and keep each other out of trouble. I led the way (even I couldn’t get lost) and kept in touch with the girls through the simple trick of listening to Ali and Nicola nervously chatting to distract themselves on the icy descents. The paths were worse than earlier in the day – much more icy and slippery. We lost our footing a number of times, which kept us honest. I fell once; ironically on the flat as I stopped to check on the Girls progress.
As we reached the last hill the first place guy was on his way back; Alison shouted a warning which I completely ignored and just managed to avoid taking him out as I ambled across the path. He flew past me in a blur of light. I can’t believe the speed he was running at. How he managed to run so fast in these conditions; darting around runners; flying over ice and up and down this type of terrain I’ll never know.
At the turn around point I feasted on jelly babies and coke (full bad for you coke). As we turned back for the return journey I stuffed another handful into to my mouth. We were all together and uninjured and on the way home.
On the return leg after the first hill Alison’s light started to switch off a couple of times; oh dear. No problems she swapped to her spare (seriously she is one well prepared lady) but rather then taking the time to take her dead one off her head decided to carry it.
My temperature was starting to drop as the winds picked up and our speed decreased; the legs were tired at this stage but the only way I could keep warm was to run hard up the hills so I kept looking forward to them. The problem was I then got too far ahead of the Girls and waited for them to catch up. If I’d stopped in sheltered spots or eased off and slowed down to let them catch me I’d have been ok but I kept making bad decisions about the pacing and ended stopping on the tops where it was most exposed. I was getting a little disorientated at this stage and even confused Nicola with Ali; I kept asking her when she’d put her head torch back on her head. She must have thought I was a loon. Apparently I asked Ali the same question later as well.
I started to feel better as we eased past the last hill and approached the end – the trail was flat and I flew along it in the darkness. I felt awesome; my body felt like it had adapted to the cold; though I suspect I was simply too cold to feel it anymore and we could soon see the lights of the finish ahead. The marshals rang cow bells as we approached and before long we’d finished.
This was the best race (exciting, adventurous, exhilarating, scary) I’ve ever done; it was so outside my comfort zone. The marshals were amazing; they were standing up on the hills in horrendous conditions; cheering us on and keeping us on the right trail; warning us of upcoming dangers and making sure to keep us safe. They were fantastic.
After thanking the marshals at the end and eating more jelly babies, chocolates and coke we headed back to the centre for a shower and then onto the pub for a good crack with the guys and a few jars.
Sunday morning; I woke up tired and aching but ready for an easy day of navigation training. When you plan to do the type of events that these guys do; the navigation becomes extremely important as they may not reach a check point for thirty miles. We had a late breakfast at 8:00 and then did some map theory before going back to the hills again. We’d be walking to three navigation points though in the end we managed to run a couple of stretches which helped loosen us up a bit. Was a great day on the hills though I ended up going pretty slow as my hamstring was very tight. We got of the hill about 15:30 and headed for more cake and coffee before making our way back to say farewell to the team and fellow runners.
Looking back it is difficult to say what was the best thing we did as the entire weekend was a mad blur – but I think the night race edges with its 7 mile and 640m ascent and descent in stormy conditions and freezing cold. We’d already done ten miles before we started so were tired and aching and finishing this in such tough conditions was a real confidence boost. We ran it as a team and looked after each other. This wasn’t just a race it was an adventure. We finished as we started; together.
Wish I could go back again next week and do it again – but we have the first endurance challenge in our sights.
Next stop Anglesey.