Saturday, November 9, 2013

Hardmoors Goathland Trail Marathon 2013

The Goathland Marathon is part of a series of races based in the North Yorkshire Moors. The Hardmoors race series is comprised of distances ranging from 10k all the way up to 160 miles.  This race was just the 26.2 mile marathon distance, or so we thought!

The North Yorkshire Moors is a National Park in the north of England.  It's one of the largest expanses of heather moorland in the United Kingdom. It covers an area of 1,436 sq km (554 sq mi). The moors are made up of sweeping hills, dales, valleys and inland headlands. Much of the terrain is made up of peat bogs, bracken and standing water.  What better place to run a marathon!!

Zoe and I love a challenge, so we were looking forward to testing our metal in this race.  Being a Yorkshire lass, Zoe had some running and hiking experience on the moors but it was my first time.  I have lots of trail running experience under my belt from my time in Canada but the moors would offer a whole new challenge.  We knew that this would be tough but decided to just focus on trying to enjoy the experience and get to the finish.

Our hopes for dry weather were realised as we set off on the drive north. We were rewarded for the very early start with some stunning views as the dawn was breaking. The race began in Goathland, which was just a quiet village located in the moors until a TV series called Heartbeat came to town.  As a result, the village is now a popular tourist area, especially in late summer when the huge expanse of heather is showing its beautiful purple flowers.  We arrived at the race HQ at the village hall which was buzzing with runners and volunteers.  There were some very tough looking runners who looked like they were no stranger to the North Yorkshire Moors.  Veterans of the Hardmoors race series for sure.  We felt a little nervous of the challenge that lay ahead.  The weather was chilly but dry and not too windy. Relief!  

We readied ourselves on the start line at 9.00am along with 100 other runners.  Just before the start, one runner was given an award as this was going to be her 100th marathon, most of which were ultras! Another runner was recognised as this race would include his 1000th Hardmoors race mile.  We were in the company of greatness. Then we were off and running.  To say the pace was steady was an understatement.  Even the hardened vets were taking it easy. The first part of the race lead us out of the village and down into a river valley.  A nice easy start but I was feeling a sense of impeding doom for what was to come. 

Even before we reached the end of the first mile, we started to climb.  Soon we were into the open and rugged moorland and the terrain become difficult.  As well as the steep ups and downs, the ground under foot is constantly changing too.  One minute it is firm, then it's rutted and uneven, then it's soft and unstable and then it's wet and muddy bogs.  Add in the bracken, the large volumes of standing water and the many streams to cross, the moors offer extremely challenging and leg sapping terrain. We just took our time and tried to keep a steady pace going, walking when we were climbing up steep inclines and running the rest.  The views were amazing and we were taking a few snaps with Zoe's camera along the way.  The weather was constantly changing too. One minute the cold wind was blowing across the area and our hands hats and gloves were on, then we were running in a sheltered area and the hats and gloves were off.  They were on and off several times throughout the duration of the race!  

The aid stations were a blessing. Friendly faces offering coke, water, flapjacks, cookies and jelly babies. Apart from these wonderful volunteers and the occasional hikers, there weren't any other people on the course. We definitely saw more sheep than people in this race! The miles were coming and going with constantly changing terrain, views and climates.  Wet feet, dry feet. Hats on, hats off.  Climbing upwards, descending downwards.  Nothing remained the same.  Probably the hardest thing was inability to run in a straight line for more than a few metres at a time before having to step out of a rut, leap over a stream, avoid a deep puddle or pulling your foot out of peat bog.  
Finally we got to mile 20 and we were starting to feel like we were nearing to end.  Fatigue had set in and we were looking forward to the end.  However, we were feeling good.  Then we found ourselves climbing up the most boggy, water logged and rutty section of the whole race. And it went on for almost 3 miles.  It was horrendous, my legs turned to jelly and every step became painful.  It felt like we were on an SAS endurance test, could we survive and make it to the end? Just then, out of now where, this young girl ran past us, full of energy and far too cheerful, told us that the course was actually 27.5 miles instead of the usual marathon distance of 26.2 miles. Then she skipped off and proceeded to disappear in the distance at a super human speed. This was demoralising to say the least but we gritted our teeth and slogged on.  
After what seemed like an eternity, we could finally see Goathland in the distance.  It was now agony, I tried walking a little but this hurt more than running. So we kept running, slipping, stumbling and moving. We just had to keep moving! Then we were on the road heading towards the village hall. It felt strange to be back on a hard and flat surface again, our sore legs cried out but the end was near.  We reached the finish line in 5 hours 18 minutes.  It was sheer relief!  We stumbled into the village hall and were welcomed with a table laden with hot soup and home baked treats.  We found ourselves a couple of chairs near a warm radiator, sat down and ate.  We had made it, just! 

The Hardmoors races certainly offer an almighty challenge and are super well organised. Total respect to the people who complete the 110 and 160 mile versions, they are damn tough runners!  We will do another race in the future but next time with some training on the moors! 

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