Hardcastle 24 Hour Race
Having looked in the past at maybe doing a 24 hour event I was intrigued when a couple of weeks ago Rich Harrison put a post on facebook asking if anyone wanted to join a relay to do the Hardcastle 24. It was one of my rare weeks off and I thought that rather than do a 26 plus mile training run, this would be an ideal way of upping my weekly mileage.
Sending Rich a message I said that if he didn’t find anyone else I’d try and give a bit of assistance, pointing out that marathons were my real priority and I couldn’t 100% commit. Thinking about it overnight I started to like the idea more and more.
Rich invited me to a meeting of the teams on Thursday at Costello, a week and a bit before the event. I enjoyed meeting everyone and got a bit more of an idea of what to expect.
The teams were to be made up as follows:-
- Hull 1 – Derek Brown, Lee Craven, Martin Jones, Dan Newton
- Hull 2 – Andrea Crawley, Christian Davies, Nigel Denton, Sunny Smith
- Hull Ladies – Tina Brown, Rachel Johnson, Sara Morrow, Corrina Turner
- Hull Duo – Rich Harrison, Stephen Hunt
Having not camped for years, I didn’t have a tent, kindly Martin agreed to share his with me. I’m glad Andrea didn’t offer to share her tent, my street cred couldn’t cope with kipping in a Ben 10 tent. Also rather than us all going in our own separate cars, Lee offered me a lift
Many of the gang made their way to Hebden Bridge on the Friday night, with the rest of us meeting at Manor Farm Hessle at 5.30am. This meant an early rise, so I was up at 4.00am and drove to meet the rest in Hessle. We set off in convoy, Lee driving me, Andrea driving Sunny and Tina driving Rachel.
We had looked at the race notes and seen that parking was recommended at Slack Top, a short walk from the venue. After a minor detour we eased through Slack Bottom and followed the quiet country lane for a short distance until arriving at a small group of houses and parked cars.
Tina, being her bubbly self, asked an elderly local whereabouts we were. Slack Top Love, was his reply. It wasn’t until he walked away that we saw a sign right next to where he had been stood confirming we were indeed at Slack Top.
Shortly after the event organiser arrived with a large transit style van, which accommodated all our belongings. He pointed the route to the camp site, which was only a short walk away. Unfortunately it was quite a steep downhill and an indication of what was to come.
Arriving at Hebden Hay Scout Centre, the van appeared shortly after. We unloaded, unpacked and pitched the tenants, full of beans and the joys of spring. Friday’s arrivals had all pretty much pitched up already, so we camped close to them. We all had nice cosy 2/3 man tents, centred around Rich’s already pitched 10 man tent, I think he forgot the kitchen sink though.
Another short walk was required to the race HQ which acted as the start/finish line, each team agreeing runner order. This was another steep downhill, followed by a stepping stone crossing, which was quite tricky underfoot.
We thought it best if Martin and I ran in consecutive legs, due to us sharing a tent. I barged my way to the front and declared myself first runner, which I am sure everyone was happy with.
A few had run these races before and it was agreed that when runner 1 finished, they would get runner 3 and when runner 2 finished, they would get runner 4 and so on. The order was me, Martin, Derek and Lee. So I would notify Derek when I was finished and vice versa and the same system for Martin and Lee.
Having ran a pretty swift 27 mile training run the Sunday before and a harsh off road hill marathon on the Wednesday, my legs were exceptionally tired, particularly my quads. I just hoped that my legs would last the distance.
The course was made up of 5k laps and we agreed that we would each run a lap each, before handing over to the next runner. I’m not used to running this short a distance and it takes me a good mile to warm up, however we didn’t want to be waiting too long between each run and it made perfect sense in order for recovery.
Solo runners started at 10.00am, with the relay teams starting at 10.15am.
The first 0.1 mile was a ridiculous incline, I didn’t want to let the team down and my testosterone spike meant I set off at the start of the pack, I was soon passed by another runner and two others shortly went past me as I began walking less than a minute in. My quads were killing and my ankles and calves told me to give them a break as they screamed out in pain.
We seemed to be going up for an age, however when we reached the top, we took a left turn and a lovely downhill along a quiet chalk road, heading towards what I later discovered was Gibson Mill. This is a restored mill that was built around 1800 and was one of the first mills of the Industrial Revolution. It now contains a visitors centre and cafe, generating its own electricity.
We crossed Hebden Beck at Gibson Mill and continued along the beck side. The route now becoming quite flat, with an uneven surface. Shortly after were a few steps upwards and the route continued for a few hundred metres along a narrow path, with the beck to the right and a pond to the left.
A rocky more technical section then followed, continuing along the side of the beck and on through a wooded section. This was still nice and flat and enabled a decent pace to be maintained.
This was the calm before the storm, as the route began to gradually climb. Some of the path was undulating, but the general trend was one of elevation.
Just as the legs were giving up a steep downhill arrived, with a hairpin taking us back the way we came. This was quite boggy and I had to run quite close to a steep slope to find the best terrain underfoot, this got gradually shallower before arriving at another bridge, taking me over Hebden Beck.
Having enjoyed the down I was now unsurprised to find another up. Not as bad as the previous, but testing nonetheless.
This soon levelled out and I followed the chalk road down and back to Gibson Mill. One of the race staff directed me to cross the beck again and follow down the opposite side of the water, the road forked and I looked back at the marshall, who pointed the direction. I then came to a crossing made up of stepping stones, which I crossed. Shortly finding myself back at the start and sending Martin off.
It was pointed out that everyone who had done the first lap had been sent the wrong was and instead of crossing at Gibson Mill again, we should have ran along the beck on the nearside, through a wooded area parallel with the chalk road, before arriving back at the start finish.
It was a slow 5k, completed in just under 30 minutes. However I was still happy with the time, keeping in the back of my mind that there were a lot of laps to do and that each lap had about 140 metres of elevation.
Lee asked what it was like and at the time I gave an honest answer, which was something like hell on earth. As always my motivational skills were used to their full.
Loitering for a few minutes I realised that I had to get back to camp and tell Derek that it would be his lap soon. So I left the race HQ and headed across the stepping stones and up the steep incline, returning back to the camp. I wasn’t looking forward to doing this a dozen or so times, particularly at night in the dark.
Martin came back shortly afterwards with a lap time of just over 23 minutes, which was the record for the course at this year’s event. The lad’s a whippet and consistently put in fast times.
Shortly after Derek arrived, advising that he had recently finished and it would soon be my turn to take over from Lee. I killed time for about 10 minutes and made my way to the bottom.
I spent a few minutes at the start finish line and soon heard Lee shouting my name as he hurtled down the path, appearing from the woods, handing over to me. I set off and and found that all my leg soreness had disappeared, the first lap had acted as a good warm up and I felt totally fresh.
The actual lap tally was quite badly organised as it was up to each team to put how many laps they had done up on the board at the race HQ, which was open to abuse. I am pretty sure everyone was honest, but a more structured and regulated system would have been expected.
Each lap seemed to get shorter, as familiarity fed comfort. I had a system of walking most the inclines and running the flats. Short fast bursts on some of the inclines helped to bring my overall pace down and I would force myself to run to a given marker or tree, with the promise of a rest for a few seconds before ploughing on again.
We had all clocked in at around just under 30 minutes and for the next few laps kept up a similar pace. The handovers worked like clockwork and the system we were all using worked like a charm. It gave a few minutes for us to grab some food and drink from the race HQ, climb back to the camp and have a relaxing hour or so gassing with each other.
Christian had brought a fire bowl, which we all congregated around and there were a few gas cookers, with hot water on the go. Everyone was offering food, the pick of which were Rachel’s cookies. I resisted until the early hours, they certainly hit the spot.
I helped Corrina’s boyfriend, Joel, to get a BBQ going and was offered bacon, sausages and burgers. I didn’t think this would assist in my running, so declined.
Food was aplenty at race HQ, with soup, pizza, flapjack, biscuits and all manner of goodies available. This, along with the hospitality, is where the event organisers excelled.
On my way down, after about 3 laps, Sunny was on his way up and looked as white as a sheet. After completing my lap I came back up and unfortunately Sunny was too ill to continue. It left Hull 2 team a member down, however like true troopers they continued on. After a couple of hours they made the sensible decision to have a rest when Sunny would be running, to ensure they didn’t suffer from exhaustion. It didn’t affect them too much and they all put in a sterling effort. We affectionately called the break the “ghost runner”.
Tiredness and complacency was starting to set in. In the girls team Sara and Rachel had both taken a fall, Sara getting lost at the time. Not wanting to feel left out I took a tumble on my fourth lap. Can’t have the girls getting all the attention.
Wash facilities were available onsite, so I had a complete change of clothes and lovely warm shower. It was a bit open and I could hear people the other side of the shower curtain, male and female. To be honest I wasn’t bothered, the main concern was getting clean and ready to continue on.
With 6 laps each under our belts I set off for my 7th at around 9.30pm. There had been a bit of rain on my previous lap and the ground was now a bit slippier underfoot, but still not too bad.
It was the first outing for my head torch and economy certainly wasn’t the best plan of action. It had cost about a tenner and showed straight away. It turned out to be heavy and cumbersome. I could either aim it at the floor straight in front of me, barely seeing what was coming up in the distance, or beam a few yards along, which meant I couldn’t be sure of my immediate footing. It meant I had to walk pretty much the full lap, apart from along the chalk road. This was quite dangerous as there were a number of places were you could have fallen into the beck, twisted an ankle on uneven surfaces or fell down the side of a steep slope. The narrow path between the beck and the pond, which during daylight was a joy, turned into a real threat of a night time dip.
Safety was more important than times and I was seriously dropping bricks. I came back in a time of just over 40 minutes, having also got lost a couple of times in the woods, due to poor visibility.
The Hull runners all started teaming up and running together, usually in pairs, which added to the camaraderie of the event. Assistance was offered to all Hull runners, by each other and particularly the duo, who continued to churn out lap after lap. Both Rich and Stephen looked spent, but managed to continue on at a pace. The courage, strength and endurance was admirable to see.
On my second night lap, I ran with Sara. I was a little jealous of her head torch, she was my Hebden lighthouse, keeping me away from the sharp rocks and dangerous waters. I must add I was eternally grateful for this assistance and reaffirms what a kind person she is. We still managed to get lost a couple of times in the woods, looking for the orange tape that marked the path that was easily visible in the daylight.
I returned to base and got in my sleeping bag and closed the tent. The others seemed to have done the same as no-one was around. I couldn’t get warm as I was damp from the running and exhausted. I just lay there, unable to sleep, Martin returned shortly and we had a short chat, before both laying there resting. He said that another team was quite a few laps in front so we didn’t need to push too hard.
My third lap in the dark was a little easier, as I took off my head torch and held as a hand torch. This meant I could shine it where I wished, without having to move my head and it slipping all over. I was conscious that I may be letting the side down and asked if we could double up for the next few laps. It was around 3.00am and I had estimated that if we doubled up, it would be daylight before I needed to run again.
Rich said that Sara and Rachel were alternating, as the other two girls had crashed into a deep slumber. They plodded on marvellously, through the small hours.
I changed all my layers, thus ensuring I wasn’t damp and lay in my sleeping bag in base layers, managing about an hours sleep.
When I woke some of the others were around, so I got up and sat by the much welcomed fire bowl, awaiting my turn. I had heard the rain overnight, fortunately it wasn’t too bad and it was just a little damp underfoot, not too slippery.
Tina had risen like a phoenix and had picked up the ladies baton, banging out some quick laps, swiftly adding to their tally.
I felt fresh as a daisy when starting my first morning lap, which was to be a double and both laps were back on pace. I was brimming with energy and felt I could run another few. When passing over to Martin, I said I would probably go after him again and when Derek came down he said he was happy with this.
Rich advised that we were catching on the leading relay team, which was great news. The morning session went well, with us all lapping at around or just under 30 minutes.
The last lap had to start before 10.00am to count towards the total and fortunately Lee came in on our penultimate lap at around 9.45am. The leading relay was on the same laps as us and had no way of overtaking us, so we were guaranteed a joint first position. The glory lap was therefore handed to me.
On my last lap I first passed Sara and Rachel, who had taken over from Tina and in an act of comradeship had decided to run the last lap together. I had a giggle with them as they had gone all Chris Packham and were trying to rescue a chic by the pond. I shortly came upon Christian and Derek, as another show of friendship Derek from our team had gone out with Christian from Hull 2, to keep him company on his last lap. They were taking it easy and shooting a few pictures on their way around. I had another laugh with them, as they barracked me for walking an incline, trying to encourage me to get my lazy legs to push on.
Steven’s last lap for the duo was his fastest of the 24 hours, he flew around. Him and Rich are just running machines.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience with a few ups and downs, both on and off the course. All the runners be it from different teams or solo runners were encouraging each other on. Even though people were in competition, they all seemed to have kind words of support and it was a real social event.
The events HQ was soon packed up and we made our way across the stepping stones and back up the steep trail for a final time, arriving back at the campsite, awaiting the official results.
Hull 1 came joint first in the relay, Hull 2 came third in the relay, Hull Ladies came first in the ladies relay and Hull Duo came first in the two man relay.
We packed our things, took a few photos and all set off home, in a state of exhaustion. I’m eternally grateful for Lee for driving me, I don’t think I could have done it. I tried my best to stay awake, but continually nodded off. Rachel and Tina drove together, with a central reservation reminding them that a rest may be in order, Mac D’s came to the rescue. I really don’t know how Andrea drove home on her own, she must have been as shattered as the rest of us.
What stood out for me was how we all pulled together as one big family from Hull. We came from a number of different clubs and all assisted one another throughout, going out of our way to help.
I’m looking forward to my next 24 hour challenge, but think it may be one for 2017. I need the sleep.
This is my version of events. I’m not sure if it was a dream, a nightmare or what really happened, it’s all a haze.
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