February weather in the UK is very variable. One day it can be mild (about 10-12 deg.C) and sunny, then it drops to just above freezing, cold and wet. So it wasn’t a surprise to see the forecast for Sunday 12th February to be ‘challenging’
The Hardmoors Saltburn marathon is based on the North East coast of England and exposed to the elements. 40mph winds were forecast along with low temperatures and occasional snow / rain throughout the day.
Forecast for the day!
To cater for this I planned to carry the full kit I would be taking on the Hardmoors 55 in March, ensuring that I am used to carrying the additional weight. At least then I could be certain that all eventualities were covered.
Last year I ran the ‘half marathon’ distance (15 miles!). The last time I ran the full marathon distance at Saltburn was the year of it’s inception (2013) and it was a different route. That year I finished in 5 hours. However the route then was easier with less overall climbing and, with the exception of local children moving course marking tape, easier to navigate!
The distance that year was a little under the official marathon distance too (depending upon which version of the taped course you took!). However the new route is almost 30 miles with a lot more ascent and tougher terrain!
However recent gains in fitness and loss of weight meant that I was looking for a time under 6 hours (in favourable conditions!).
Jon Steele the RD, set us off after a count of 6 (who counts down from 6?) and we set off from Saltburn Leisure Centre, down through the local park to the seafront. As soon as you were out of the trees, you could feel the cold blast from the sea so we knew the run along the coast would be tough.
The first checkpoint was just below the cliffs, from where we were directed up the Cliffside.
This is part of the Cleveland Way, which from Saltburn hugs the coast all the way down to Filey (a distance of about 45 miles or so). Fortunately we only had a few miles to run along this stretch. The 40 mph winds were evident and not helping you stay on your feet on the slippy muddy trail. We were also treated to the occasional blast of hail that threatened to remove skin from your face!
Before long we were dropping down to sea level and running on the sandy dunes towards the fishing village of Skinningrove. Time to refill the drinks bottles and take on some food before climbing back up the cliffs and head towards the highest point on the east coast at Boulby.
Boulby cliffs are amongst the highest shoreline cliffs in the UK at around 666ft above sea level
This turned out to be a real slog up the seemingly never ending climb. It was a relief to get to the top and start heading back towards Skinningrove, this time downhill and away from the coastal path of the Cleveland Way.
It was nice to get some decent running in on the country lane down to the next checkpoint. However there was another climb to come to take us out of the village.
Skinningrove is famous for its racing pigeons. A lot of the pigeons were used during WW2 for carrying messages to and from the Normandy coast carrying news about the D-Day landings!
The next few miles were undulating mainly across fields and farmlands. The weather was still variable with showers and the odd snow shower. A decent runnable section though.
At about 13 miles, at another checkpoint, the marathon route picked up the Cleveland Way again. This time heading West and towards the start of this trail at Helmsley. A steep drop took us down towards Slapewath before crossing the main road to the seaside town of Whitby. I knew the next few miles would be tough up through Guisborough Woods to the high point of Highcliffe Nab. You could see this looming ahead of us. I remember the climb up to this point from the recent Roseberry Marathon at the end of last year. It comprises of a muddy steep climb, with a slight reprieve 2/3rds of the way up before climbing steeper to the top.
By now my legs were tired from all the climbing and trying to remain upright in the mud. We were almost 19 miles in, it was cold, I was wet and it was snowing again. I began to curse Jon Steele’s route planning (I am sure I wasn’t alone!)
Two marshals were waiting at the top. They were quite cheerful considering the conditions! We exchanged pleasantries and they offered chocolate to provide some comfort!….as if saying it is about to get worse!
For some reason I thought the hard bit was over. On a different day it would have been. However the weather conspired against this and made the next 6 or so miles hell!
Now we were at high level on the exposed moorland of Stranghow moor. It was snowing. I was soaked though to the skin and my hands and feet were cold. I decided to change my gloves (Sealskins Dragon Eye 100% waterproof gloves!) as they were soddened with cold water and my fingers were numb. Fortunately I had some INOV8 ‘Race Ultra Mitts’ to replace them with and hopefully get some feeling back into my hands. Reading the INOV8 review of these mitts, they are designed to fit over a pair of gloves and provide a waterproof cover. The largest size they make is a large. There is absolutely no way that I could fit these over another pair of gloves. I can barely get them over my hands as it is. They are snug to say the least. They were almost impossible to fit with wet and cold hands. How waterproof they are is debatable. However they are a mitt and as such allowed my hands to warm up again. I don’t want to totally disregard these mitts, but the large may be suitable for someone with small hands. I need an XXL glove.
The moors were very boggy and muddy too. It was difficult to do much running on this section. Occasionally I found myself up to my knees in freezing cold water. This resulted in my having no feeling below my knees.
The next checkpoint couldn’t come soon enough. By now we were off the moors and heading downhill out of the cold wind and snow. The going was no easier for another mile or so as the track we were on was deeply rutted and very muddy and slippy. The good point was that I was starting to feel my feet again! I noticed from my map that the track is called Jenny Frisk Lane. I don’t know who she is but she must like mud!
I knew I wasn’t too far from the finish now as the route took you back onto the Cleveland Way again, heading back to Saltburn, only one last climb out of the woods and back to the Leisure Centre. As I got close my girlfriend was there to meet me and encourage me to the finish. She had been following my progress on my Trackimo app on her phone (as well as marshaling at one of the earlier checkpoints).
Not the finish time I expected at 6:24:52, but I was pleased with it and it got me mid pack again 74th out of 147 and in front of a few runners who would normally have beaten me!
Looking back I can honestly say I enjoyed the race. It was definitely character building. It is good to have a challenging race weather wise as you learn a lot about your kit choices.
For example: My new OMM Kamleika smock top was put to the test. Okay, I was wet to the skin, but I don’t know any lightweight waterproof that keeps you totally dry. The key here is to select the correct base layers that will trap heat in even when wet. I had three layers under my Kamleika. A fleecy lined Under Armour thermal base layer, an OMM technical long sleeved top and a Goretex windproof gilet. These kept me warm even on the exposed parts of the moors. I had on a pair of thermal ‘Sub’ compression tights. I like these but under the circumstances (submerged in icy cold water) they didn’t prevent my legs from getting cold. On my feet I had my new favourite shoes – Inov8 X-Claws – these kept me upright most of the time and no pain on the soles from the aggressive lugs on the sole. I also had two pair of socks, Injinji liner socks and a pair of Drymax speedgoat technical socks. My feet were wet and cold. If the race had been longer I would have needed to put on some dry socks. Gloves let me down big style (as noted above). I have now ordered a pair of Goretex German Army mitts from Amazon. A lot cheaper than the branded makes, but get a good write up. For not much over £10.00 they are worth a try!
Update……I have now received these mitts….my god, they are huge!…..but they will fit over a glove…….not sure if I now need a bigger back pack though. Picture below to compare the Inov8 mitt to the Army mitt!
As far as food and hydration were concerned. I drank sufficient water to avoid the usual issues I have with feeling sick. However the food didn’t quite go to plan. I intended to try some Clif Shotbloks later in the race. However my hands were that cold, that I couldn’t take them out of the Inov8 mitts and get the Shotbloks.
Other successes were my Garmin etrex 30 which I downloaded the race route onto and my Trackimo tracking device which due to a good GPS signal provided updates at 5 minute intervals to my girlfriend.
Other race info:
1st Place Daniel Jones 04:11:25
1st Lady Susan Fourie 05:22:55
147 finishers. 12 DNF (last runner 08:29:24)
Next up is the Hardmoors 55 ultra in March!