Hardmoors 110 Ultra Marathon - Part One

Fancy taking on an Ultra Marathon? Buckle up for the ultimate 2 part 'birds eye view' of one of the UK's toughest Ultra Marathons with the hardcore ultra 'runhinged' runner - Janine Paul

The race that eats its young…no wait that’s Barkley! Jon and Shirley Steele’s Hardmoors may not have quite the same DNF rate, but they certainly share the same thought process on making it tough. If they’re not so sure the route is tough enough on the day, some form of sadistic weather god is summoned up to make it extra fun!

So, there I was back in 2018, looking for UTMB six-point races and stumbled across ‘The Hardmoors 110’, naively thinking ‘how hard could it be?’. The Hardmoors 110 for 2019, starts in Filey just down the road from the sea cadets. It then follows the prom and onto the Cleveland Way, going anticlockwise, along the coast to Saltburn, where it heads inland, across the Moors and finishes at Helmsley Sports Centre. Just to add to the fun and make sure you’re getting enough miles for your money, there’s a detour up and down Roseberry Topping, together with a loop around Whitehorse. Bringing the total miles, in the words of Jon Steele, to ‘112 ish’ – take note of the ‘ish’. The elevation is somewhere around the 16,000 ft mark and you are given thirty-six hours to complete the race - awesome!

So, was I ready to race 112 (ish) miles? Maybe! I’ve had a funny start to the year with training. An injury in February meant I didn’t start my Hardmoors block until seven weeks before the race – less than ideal, but you work with what you have. Training went smoothly, double (daily) runs felt great, high mileage weeks went by without issue, my knee injury seemed to have disappeared and I had my timing intervals for my Monk Nutrition Energy Gels worked out. I knew my calorie intake needed to be high and had been experimenting in earlier ultras with what I could get down. Recce runs over parts of the route with my husband gave a good idea of what was in-store, together with a plan of how to break down the route. Crew for the weekend was sorted, my father-in-law was bringing the camper van - luxury crewing, and my husband for his sins, had agreed to pace me through the night section. I was ready…or so I thought.

Friday afternoon, my hubby and I headed off to Scarborough where we’d arranged to stay the night and enjoy some spa facilities to take our minds off the race. We arrived a little later than planned but managed a good hour of relaxation and then headed to bed around 10.30pm, knowing that the following night would mean zero sleep. Then something happened that would inevitably lead to a bout of sleep running in the early hours of Sunday – let me introduce you to Mark’s girlfriend (now ex)! The couple in the room next door were steaming drunk, that’s their prerogative, but the screaming and abuse that came out of her foul mouth until 3am meant zero sleep for us. I don’t know whether she ran out of steam, Mark decided to gag her, or her ‘mate from Derby’ finally arrived to pick her up, but at last it was quiet! Our 5:30am wake up alarm went off and that was it, crack on with the job and deal with the sleep deprivation as it hit.

Surprisingly I felt pretty calm and focused. I’d managed to eat some breakfast (something I struggle with), we got to registration with no issues, I’d remembered one of our runhinged caps for my Instagram buddy Paul Holt (@iamrunner42 - who was also running) and as usual I nailed the ‘look your worst’ for the tracker photo! Another friendly face in the shape of Noel Jones (Instagram @njsafe) also popped up in the sea of runners and we all had a little anxious chat before heading to the starting point. A safety briefing from the race organiser, followed by a short countdown, signalled the start of the race - we were off!

Start point of Hardmoors ultra marathon
Janine Paul at the start of the Hardmoors ultra marathon
Runners at the start of the Hardmoors ultra marathon

With 112 miles to go, I wasn’t in a rush and took the chance for a nervous pee break as the route passed some toilets, before heading off up the hill onto the Cleveland Way. Everyone was queuing up the narrow track anyway so racing off was not an option anyway. The first checkpoint came and went by quickly and before I knew it, I was heading along Scarborough seafront, dodging waves as they crashed up and over the barriers, onward towards the Sea Life Centre where my husband, Russ, was waiting. The weather had turned from cool into an ever-increasing heat, and by the time I reached Russ I had to do a quick change into just my technical t-shirt. Then I made the mistake of saying I had enough water until the next checkpoint. I was following a couple of runners who clearly knew the route and I wanted to keep them in sight having not done a recce of this section. So off I went, not realising I had half a soft flask of water and the same of Lucozade Sport.

Janine Paul running along the sea front
Man running in ultra marathon race
Man running in ultra marathon race passing 2 other runners

Although the trail followed the coastline, a sea breeze was none-existent, and the day was getting hotter. I was also having a mild panic that my phone wasn’t charging, I text Russ who headed off to get a new cable. It was also then I realised I was almost out of fluids without really knowing how far I had to go, cue more mild panic. I have never felt so relieved to reach a checkpoint and came into Ravenscar sweating like a beast and totally out of water. The wonderful marshals filled up my soft flasks while I downed two cups of coke and frantically tried to direct Russ to me before my phone would die! I headed back down the road to the car park where crew were allowed and sat on the grass in the sun - to wait for what felt like forever. He can’t find me…I was panicking that he’d never find me! Completely irrational, but emotions are high and I’m stressing about losing time and people to follow. Everyone passing by are asking if I’m ok and need anything from their crew – I love the running community. I politely turn them down saying my crew is on the way. When he finds me, I’m so relieved I burst into tears for the first time during the race while Russ just looks at me confused why I’m crying. Pulling myself together, I forced some melon and a cereal bar down me with the promise that I’d have a gel and eat my crisps along the way, then I headed back off along the trail, hoping to have others to follow again!

The next miles passed by, I took a slight navigation error with another runner, but we soon realised the way back onto the trail and parted ways at the next hill climb. Somewhere along the route were the photographers, so I debuted my lonely goat hand signs for the photo and one photographer shouts ‘GOAT’ to me! Nailed it!! This had me buzzing along nicely for the rest of the section. As I approached Whitby, I was joined by another runner, Jo, and our journey was particularly fun as we tried to navigate through a sea of tourists and pushchairs, enjoying a day out in the town. Russ then met me at the start of the promenade with an ice pop that the bugs decided to share, but it was so hot I went with just picking them out and eating it anyway. I chatted with other runners and then we gradually spread back out again until I found myself on my own for quite a lengthy section. This part of the route was more sea views on the right and one foot in front of the other, lots of hill climbs and steps, but mostly good runnable sections.

Janine Paul giving the goat symbol whilst running along coastline
View from coastal path out to sea in Scarborough
Stairs with wooden handrail leading up a steep slope in the woods

As I dropped down the trail into Staithes something happened that will stay with me in the bank of random memories forever. There’s a car at the bottom of the trail blocking the way, the driver looking like she’s trying to park, and repeatedly glancing up the trail towards me, looking a little panicked. Now I know I look like some deranged fly plastered sweat monster descending towards her, but I’m barely over 5ft tall, definitely not a reason for panic! As I reach the car she’s crying and tells me she’s ‘done about a 50-point turn’ trying to get out of what I now see is a parking space. Bless her, there’s a salt bin and curb blocking her reverse plans and she’s so worked up she’s become the irrational lady I was earlier in the day. I contemplate jumping in the car to do it for her, but then I worry I’ll get disqualified (using transport to gain ground – again irrational). I spend some time helping her through her escape route and convincing her she can make it, then she sends me on my way. As I head through Staithes, I pass a pub with everyone sat outside enjoying the sun. They obviously know of the event and clap with shouts of ‘well done’ as I pass – a bizarre yet wonderfully inspiring moment that spurs me on again. I’m enjoying myself and looking forward to reaching Saltburn where I’ve decided I’ll eat ‘properly’ since my current efforts were extremely poor – a banana, a pastry, 2 biscuits, a cereal bar, a packet of crisps, a few pieces of melon, 1 gel.

After Staithes the weather turns into heavy rain and wind, I throw my jacket on and battle forward. Someone has written notes in chalk along the pavement - motivational messages that make me smile and some lovely personal messages to their runners. Again, I’m awed at how awesome the running community is! Finally, I turn off the tarmac hell and back onto the trail along the coast, this time I start heading downwards towards the beach. I realise I’ve reached Runswick Bay and I really hadn’t needed to worry about the tide being in after all. The rocky descent onto the beach is slippery from the rain, but I make it just fine in my road shoes (Salomon Sonic Pro 2) then its across the beach I go (oh, and I hate sand). I have my runhinged cap attached to my vest and a boy shouts ‘runhinged’ as I’m passing, which makes me laugh as I’m the ‘crazy running lady’ right now! I also pass a guy with a video camera and give him my lonely goat sign (made it onto his video edit woohoo).

Janine Paul running along the beach during the Hardmoors ultra marathon
view of a beach that is part of Hardmoors ultra marathon
Directions sign post with Helmsley and Filey distances marked

As I came into another checkpoint where Russ was waiting at the top with Paul (my father-in-law), I stopped to eat a little pasta and top-up the drinks. Everything was feeling good, I was making great progress and allowing myself to think ahead to Saltburn, which would be approximately halfway. I picked up my poles now, knowing there were a few steeper climbs through this next section and was soon back on the trail chatting with Amy, a runner I’d met earlier. We now had a similar pace going on and the same uncertainty on direction! Although we had the bonus of my Garmin watch navigating the route to some degree – Jon Steele does not use GPS or provide a gpx file for the Hardmoors routes – so I’m using a previous runners Strava route and praying to some form of navigation gods that it’s correct! It’s nice to have someone to talk to, I’d spent so much of the route alone that I’d got a little bored of the inner monologue and singing to myself. We stick together over the next section and before we know it, we’re heading down the trail into Saltburn with our crews anxiously awaiting their turn to join us for part two of the journey.

Janine Paul running down hill on a road section during Hardmoors ultra marathon
Janine Paul running over a bridge during Hardmoors ultra marathon

Time for a pit stop at the checkpoint, much needed food and a clothing change to suit the changing conditions – it’s soon to be nightfall! I’m feeling strong and positive still, the first 50 odd miles are done. I’m somewhere around the 12 hours mark, a little longer than my initial plan for this part, but I’m happy to have Russ joining me as my pacer and pushing me on from here - lets do this! To be continued, in part two…

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