Hardmoors 26.2(ish) Trail Marathon: Goathland Or, Six Go To Mystery Moor
It’s the morning of Saturday 12th November. Race registration opens at 8 and the race starts at 9. It’s 7:15 and I’m the first person in the carpark, having navigated the dodgy roads between Pickering and Goathland. The journey has been made all the more awkward because the sheep that are free to wander across the road at will are behaving like morons because of the first really winterish weather of the year. A question occurs to me: why don’t they call it Sheepland?
An estate agent would call the village hall at Goathland ‘cosy’. In fact, it’s poky. They have recently renovated it, switching over the male and female toilets, leading to much disorientation on exiting the boys’ room. Still, There’s no posh coffee, no hot breakfast and only 200 places available across the three races (10k, half, full). Neither is there enough space in the carpark. Thus, the rather premature arrival.
This gave me the necessary time to visit the toilet the requisite number of times (hey, every athlete has their lucky ritual!) and change my bag / worn kit configuration six times. It was miserable weather and the forecast said it would only get worse.
Once the other Harriers and other randoms we knew had rocked up, it became clear there was some dissent about the best choice of clothes. Jim Crisp was wearing three base layers, a raincoat and a bag you could camp out of for a week. A lad we know called Jason (Harrogate Harriers) looked like he was dressed for the beach in July. Matty and Dan had gone for somewhere in-between, but there weren’t many bare legs to be seen in the hall.
I decided that if I was going to run with the Harrier lads for a bit at least, I would need to not wear too much. At the same time, I did worry a bit about getting miserably cold.
Once you’re running with a pack, it’s almost impossible to significantly change what you’re wearing, so a decision made is one made for the duration. I went with one base layer and a light raincoat on top plus shorts down below. I would carry a bit more kit in my bag in case the weather did significantly move in and I ran into trouble. Shoe choice was easy since I’d done the race in 2014 in shocking weather: Inov8 X-talons. My attitude was that I wasn’t looking to race hard, as over 27-and-a-half miles, you’ve just got to react to what happens, particularly on that terrain.
During the race brief we got the usual warnings about the weather, plus one about standing water on the course which had been up to the Race Director’s thighs. He’s 6’6”, so this might prove interesting for me! Once we had been counted down, the course turns off a brief road section onto a fantastic downhill to Mallyan Spout waterfall. We three Harrier lads bombed down it with Jason in front of us and the rest of the pack 15 metres behind. Once you hit the bottom of the descent, you turn along the river bank: it’s buried deep in the bottom of a glacial valley and takes you over half a mile of wet, slippery rocks before you pass the spout itself.
We tried to balance speed with caution along here, letting Jason keep his lead and avoiding cracked heads. There was barely time to steal a glance at the Spout before we dog-legged off up the first significant hill-climb of the race. Jason took it quickly and so we did too, even though our ham strings hadn’t necessarily warmed up yet so early on.
Panting our way to the top of the hill, we then turned back towards the hotel and main drag of town, taunting us briefly before we switched onto the first proper moorland section of the day. We climbed to Simon Howe (a cairn) for the first time today, knowing that the next time would be far harder. Falling in behind each other, we traded places in the pack before joining up with Jason, as the course was not entirely clear. There were to be advantages and disadvantages running in a pack. It was a major advantage that we could share duties spotting yellow tape and route checking: one extra stress taken out of the day.
We breezed through the first check point and ran on for a while in much the same way. There was a surprise waiting for us up ahead through the woods. This is always one of my favourite sections (it used to feature in Saltergate Circuit and various other races too), but it was rather different today. We had to run through a half kilometer of waist-deep water – great fun, but the trick was trying to save some energy for later, especially since Jason was now up ahead since he had taken advantage of one of our plucky Skipper’s leisurely breaks (not cricket). Our attitude was, in DJ’s words, ‘fluff it!’ – you’ve got to run your own race, and we weren’t splitting up this early in the day.
The next interesting section of the course was a steep downhill through the woods. The tape swept off to the left half-way through the woods on some particularly quick ground. We had caught Jason up by this point, and in fact assumed we had passed him, since all of us can descend quite well (apart from Danny) and once we reached the bottom we started to look behind us for how much ground we had gained on him. When he failed to appear even on a bit of trail with really good sight-lines, we assumed he must have got lost going down the hill and bombed off to the right. It turns out he needed the loo and so went off the trail to find somewhere secluded to commune with Nature. Our heroic trio were held back by no such qualms. In fact, later in the race it seemed that the ever-generous DJ had decided to give an impromptu anatomy lesson to the oncoming traffic driving past the Hole of Horcum.
The next section of running took us over a set of rolling, grassy hills, having crossed a railway line and avoided making a mistake, DJ having spotted a load of yellow tape hanging from the trees in someone’s garden left over from Halloween. We all felt good at this point, and were happy to have the craic of running with friends. Jason was reeling us in steadily, but we knew he must be working hard to do so, and we were cruising at a decent pace.
Working our way up along the top of the Hole of Horcum (Jim would soon run down into the bottom only to have to climb back up out of it), I started to feel less than stellar. I was glad to take a turn at the front of the group, as it meant no one could push the pace harder than I wanted. I knew I was in trouble when I took some marshmallows at the Horcum check point. I never usually eat marshmallows on the run: the flavourgasm going off in my mouth gave me warning that my body was running on empty. The other lads didn’t seem to need anything at all, and we were quickly out of there, not knowing how far behind us the next runner was.
Another ace downhill on the tarmac down towards the farm after Old Wife’s Way, then we turned off left. The next part of the race was eventful. We didn’t spot the llama, but were entertained by our attempts (in vain) to train DJ up in the art of opening gates during a race. Once we had subjected him to sufficient abuse, we trotted off towards Fylingdales. I say ‘trotted’, but Mistress Cramp had decided to come visiting me, with the randomly locking-up legs and blue air that always tag along for the laugh of it. I haven’t suffered with cramp for a long time, but looking back, had it in the pub after Guy Fawkes 10 the preceding week. I don’t think over-heating, dehydration (the bad weather forecast never really materialized) or this being the first really manky race of the year underfoot helped. In the end, Danny and Matt were looking strong, so I told them to go on. I was hoping I could get my legs working again sufficiently to still manage a Harriers 1-2-3 in the results. There was, however, a good chunk of race left.
It always feels weird passing Fylingdales. The malevolent hum of various silos, the ‘you are being watched’ signs alternating with ‘attack dogs – beware’: definitely one of the less welcoming places up on the moor. Once I had watched the plucky pair disappear up ahead, looking disgustingly in control of their race, it was time for the grim tarmacked, relatively flat section of the course. It was a massive relief to be back in control of my pace and in fact also on the flat. As a result, I gradually managed to work back to a decent speed whilst trying to move my legs in more of a comedy shuffle than a run.
We next hit a stream which you have to cross. There was no way I was risking jumping it with the danger of cramp, so in and through it was. If the last lot of water hadn’t been, this most definitely was waist-high, and weighing nearly as much as three bags of jelly babies as I do, I could feel it beginning to sweep me off my feet. In the end, I think the cold temperature did my legs good. I’ve seen very good runners blow up at this point in the race before, so I was glad to be feeling alright for the moment.
The next hazard was an area enclosed with fences to channel sheep through. As an English teacher, I feel I should know what such a thing is called. There was tape on the near side, and tape on the far side. Muggins here climbs over. Three sets of metal gates. Everyone else was smart enough to walk the fifteen feet needed to go round it.
It wasn’t far to the next check point thankfully, and I stopped to eat as much chocolate and salted nuts as I could cram into my mouth in three minutes. Having very nearly exchanged my car keys for help emptying a sachet of Mountain Fuel into my bottle, I was off on the final part of the race.
Fairly soon I was at the bottom of the climb back up to Simon Howe. This is the decisive part of the race. Matty was later to complain to me about how Danny beasted him up the hill in their effort to secure a sub 4 hour finish. The climb was drier than previous years, which seems odd given the amount of standing water on other parts of the course – this can be practically a stream at times. I was struggling to keep up a good run up the hill, trying to change my gait any way I could to stop the cramps from kicking in. Near the top, my hamstring locked up. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, as well as looking behind me, as I feared for the second time that my body was binning my race for me. A bit of walking and it didn’t really seem to be fading, so I started running again. The old ultra philosophy: if it hurts to walk and it hurts to run, you might as well run.
I got to the top of Simon Howe and took pleasure from giving the marshals some good-natured abuse. The last part of the course is downhill and I know that I always enjoy it. Combine this with starting to pass the half marathon competitors who were sliding all over the place, and my body woke up again. You run down a rocky stream bed here, and having to concentrate on where I was putting my feet really focused my mind away from the earlier pain. Having smashed down this section and past a load of tired mountain-bikers who amusingly kept falling off, it was time to sprint the last half-mile stretch to the village hall. I know that no one was going to be able to make much ground on me running on road, so I was safe for the last section and a Harriers 1-2-3 finish. The raid on Mr Steele’s silver cabinet was complete!
We enjoyed eating as much as we could and comparing bizarre nutritional products in the village hall while we waited to welcome the rest of the Harriers in. Dan and Matty had finished well under four hours and Dan especially had a really strong run. I can foresee some really good results for him at marathon distance and longer this coming year. For myself, I think I need to run some long slow mileage, particularly taking on less food and drink in order to transfer my strength at shorter events to marathon distance races. However, the usual self-critical post-race analysis aside (runners are all the same!) I was really pleased with my result: looking afterwards, it was pretty consistent with my other HM results and I hadn’t been able to hold Matt and Danny’s pace on a day when they were both strong. In the words of another fine doctor, ‘bitches can’t hang with the streets.’
Jim had a good result, particularly since he’s had a break from this kind of event for a while and did some bonus miles. Good job he enjoyed himself, since he’s already signed himself up for the remaining six races in the series. With his attitude, he’ll be super-speedy again in no time and will be a solid contender for the winner of the marathon series. Allie and Guy also had really good races with those underfoot conditions, navigating the course confidently, so very well done to all Harriers!
- Daniel Jones, 3:55:12 Joint 1st Male
- Matthew Hayes, 3:55:12 Joint 1st Male
- Richard Buckle, 4:03:12 3rd Male
- Jim Crisp, 5:01:13
- Alison Burnett, 6:09:20
- Guy Gibson, 6:24:05
Distance: 27.8 miles
Elevation gain: 3,700 feet