Sunday, 19 January 2014

Hardmoors Ultras Night Race

Well, I'd like to say that this was the most carefully planned blog on the t'interweb, that as I approached my 100th post, I was looking to make the write up extra special with a winners race report and everything just fell into place perfectly. If I did say all that - I'd be telling porkie pies!

On the plus side; this is my 100th post and it is a winners race report!

Jon Steele, ultra hero and race director of the Hardmoors ultra series, had put on a training weekend with the aim of helping runners with their build up to the races within the Hardmoors series. I didn't attend the training camp, but have read all the comments on Facebook and can see that the agenda was thorough, well prepared and, most importantly, very useful. As part of the weekend, Jon had decided to put on a night race to give the runners an opportunity to try running at night on rough, but typical Hardmoors, terrain. He sent out an invite to anyone part of the Hardmoors family and I jumped at the chance to test my newly trained speed and make a full weekend with a visit to Tracey's sister and another recce on the 110 route the following day.

I expected about 30 runners to pitch up for the race and, like most folk, was quite shocked to find myself on the start line at 6pm with 100 other idiots. The weather might have helped as it was a beautiful evening, not a cloud in the sky and the stars for company. The route was a 2 lap circuit, following the Cleveland Way over three short climbs (Cringle Moor, Cold Moor and Hasty Bank) before returning to the start/finish area along a VERY muddy track to the north of the hills. About 10km for one lap, half marathon for two laps. You could choose whether to do the 10km race or the HM, the only snag being, on the first lap, you had no idea who was doing which race.

It was a fairly swift start and I settled into 5th place going up the first climb, with the leading 2 really pushing on, though, I was feeling fairly comfortable and enjoying racing at a faster pace. By the top of the climb I was up to 4th and closing on 3rd but I didn't want to overcook things as I had done in the Red Bull Steeplechase a few months ago. I made a decision to try and catch up 3rd on the next climb and ran most of the way up just staying on the good side of the red zone.

The image of this race that will stay with me for a long time was the view behind as I crested the 2nd climb; a long string of lights, snaking back over two hills. For someone with the right camera equipment, this would have made a wonderful shot.

Ahead, I could just see the leading 2 runners as their torches lit up the ground, though, it was difficult to gauge how far ahead they were. I climbed well up through the Wain Stones and set about trying to close the gap on 2nd place.

At the turn, I estimated I was about 25 seconds down on 2nd, but had no idea how far ahead 1st was as he was out of sight and obviously going full bore. I ran the return leg along the muddy track well, trying to be smooth and not fight the mud, getting the occasional glimpse of the second placed runner and most importantly, starting to feel like I was closing.

Things got interesting once back at the end of the first loop. As I approached the start/finish area I passed the second placed runner as he was on his way out to start the 2nd loop, but saw no sign of the leader. It was only as I reached the turn round point that I discovered that the leader was doing the 10k race and was finished. Congratulations to Paul Williams who won in 56:40.

This meant I was 2nd in the half marathon race with the leader just 20 seconds ahead. I later found out that the leader was non other than Jayson Cavill, who has been burning up the NE ultra scene for a while, recently setting a new, and very impressive, course record in the Hardmoors 30. At the time, Jayson's identity was a mystery to me and this probably helped me. I wonder, if I had known that it was Jayson that I was attempting to chase down, would I have thought twice, should I be running in such illustrious company? This is an interesting thought and I'm sure some of you out there will have some views on this - I know my confidence has been helped from this experience and it may have an impact on how I race in the future.

With a push on the first climb, I caught Jayson at the top and we ran together right to the turn round point. What struck me immediately was the smoothness of Jayson's gait; there was no fuss, nothing was strained, all very smooth and I think that helped me to settle into a nice smooth cadence. Jayson obviously knew the route well and picked a couple of great lines on the drops, warning me when to look out for rocks (thanks!).

At the turn, with about 3.5 miles to go, Jayson stopped for a few seconds to take a drink and I pushed on up the gentle climb from the checkpoint. Part way up this climb, I glanced back and saw that I had a lead of about 20 yards and thought to myself that this was the significant moment; if I could hammer the next mile and 'break the elastic' I might win. So that is what I did!

With about 1.5 miles to go, I started to lap a few folk which meant that when I looked back I no longer knew if Jayson was catching me or whether it was the lapped runners torches I could see so I basically ran scared for this final section but I was eventually able to enjoy the run in, safe in the knowledge that I had secured first place, finally finishing in 2 hours and 31 seconds. Well chuffed with that!

Jayson finished 2nd in 2:08, though to be realistic, he had been involved with the training camp all day and, I think, had marked the night race course with glow sticks, clocking up some serious mileage before he had even started!! In my defence, I'd walked round the shops in Darlington for 45 minutes; you choose.

I had a chat with Shirley and the other finish officials, but they were obviously having to deal with other finishers, so left them to it. I tried to hang around to have a chat with Jayson but the sub zero temperature and rapidly freezing sweaty clothes killed that idea; I needed to get back to the car and out of my kit. Engine on, heater on, aahh!

Once changed, I went back to the finish to say thanks to Jon and Shirley (though Jon was still out on the course) and was quickly warned of the ice on the steep drop down Carlton Bank when you exit the car park, so with a warm, inner glow, I headed back to Yarm, well happy with my evenings work.

Results here Hardmoors night races

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Hi! Remember me?

Well, it's been a long time since I last posted. Perhaps, like my training, blogging is all about the routine and I guess I just got out of the routine, so in an endeavour to get back on track, I'll use this post to get back up to speed.

After the Ring O Fire race I was totally trashed, both physically and mentally, giving no thought to running at all, basically sleeping stupid amounts and eating anything that wasn't bolted down for the best part of two weeks. During this time, I didn't set myself any targets with regard to returning to running, I just thought I'd know when the time was right. The only exception to this was the Red Bull Steeplechase Race in the Peak District. If I am being truthful, I probably shouldn't have ran in this race, but I was entered with a couple of mates and just fancied a weekend away with the lads, so I toed the start line on a stunning autumnal day.

Click here to see one of the official videos of the race

To say that the speed of the race got to me would be an understatement! With a series of cut-offs where the slower competitors are pulled from the race, the overall speed of the race is artificially raised as runners are effectively racing over different distances, just trying to make one of the cut-offs. I had hoped to be one of the top 30 runners who avoid all the culls and complete the full 21 miles, but this expectation soon hit the deck as I was an hour in to the event, running sub 6 min miles and still outside the top 50! To cut a long and painful story short, I made all but the final cull and was withdrawn from the race after 18 miles in 70th place, suffering badly from cramp. Regardless of the result and pain, I really enjoyed the race and will probably have another go this year!

The feelings (or lack of them) that I had in my legs after this race simply reinforced the notion that I needed more time off to recover from the exertions of the season, so I set myself the target of restarting my training during the October half term holidays. I had a few more weeks of pretty much ignoring running, occasionally going out for a 3 or 4 mile pootle just to have a look at the views and keep some kind of sanity.

On one of the "pootles"

What was interesting, was that as the weeks went by and the watershed of the half term hols approached, my thoughts turned, almost without realising, towards the 2014 season and what my plans might be. I had already made the big decisions with regard to what my A races would be this year; The Hardmoors 110 in May and the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc in late August (with a plan B of doing the Ring O Fire again if I missed out in the ballot for UTMB.) What I started to do was look for some other races that would fit in around these two to get me on the start lines in the best possible shape.

Just trained when it was sunny

I have been thinking about what it might take in order to raise my game a little and have decided to re-introduce some speed work back into my training in the hope that I can either raise my cruising speed or increase the length of time which I can hold my current cruising speed. As part of an ongoing series, John Kynaston and I have been talking about training ideas for the West Highland Way Race podcasts  which are fun to make, useful for me as it forces me to think about how I go about preparing for ultras but cringe-worthy to listen to!

Since October, I have had a good block of training, not doing anything radical but just putting some time on my feet in the bank. I had my usual couple of months where I limit the pace at which I allow myself to run (no faster than 8 m/m at any point), by which time I am ready to kick on a bit and push the pace. I have recently started going back to the speed sessions with Keswick AC on a Tuesday and/or Thursday and can already feel the benefit.

Training on the Tour de Helvellyn route

Just before Christmas, I had another race round the Tour de Helvellyn. Conditions were, as you would expect, fairly frisky with a headwind for the first 3 hours and a few flashes of lightening just to spice things up. I went off a fraction harder than last year and made up a few minutes over the first hour and a half, but this was probably worth more if you factor in the headwind. The middle part of the race, I really found my legs and started to enjoy the ride, apart from making the mile detour onto the rough path in Thirlmere forest as used in previous years - but not this one! (Note to self: read the bloody details!). Despite losing 5 minutes there, I was still making up time over last year on every leg and finally finished in 6:42 hours for 8th place, a new pb by 23 minutes. What a lovely start to the Christmas holidays :-D

Boredale Hause T de H

Anyhoo, that is a very brief summary to get everyone up to speed...... Oh, nearly forgot, in the last week I've won my first race in quite a few years and managed to get a place in the UTMB!! Those two must have just slipped my mind - more of them in the next post.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Recce on Hardmoors 55 route

Just thought I'd drop in this video from a recce of the Hardmoors 55 route.

I am part way through doing a catch up blog report as I know I have neglected the blog over the last couple of months (something which has been pointed out to me!)

We managed to catch to best day weather-wise for some time and had a lovely few hours on the route and who better to guide you than race director, Jon "Man of" Steele?