Hoy Half Marathon - 12 June 2016

Hoy Half start

Orkney has been in the news recently for the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, writes Simon Hallpike. But another event overlooking Scapa Flow this month was the 30th Hoy Half Marathon, which I had been training for since last year.

For most of us participants, this begins with a thirty five minute ferry trip from HoutonHouton on the Orkney Mainland to the former military harbour at Lyness. It turned out that the woman sitting next to me, married to an orcadian competitor, formerly lived just a few yards from where I live in Biggin Hill. The ferry trip was followed by a bus ride to the island's primary school which serves as the race HQ.

Famous for its coastal stack, the Old Man of HoyOld Man of Hoy, the island's name derives from the old Norse for "high", since it is the hilliest of the Orkney Isles. If this is not apparent from the bus trip from the HQ 13.1 miles to the start, it certainly is from the climb at four miles up Lyrawa Hill: up and up for a mile and a half with no respite. A new challenge (to me) this year was a constant twenty-five mph headwind, which thwarted my target time in the first few metres.

From the start it is ten miles on single-track roads to the first inhabited house on the course. After the first three and a half miles through the desolate Rackwick valley,Simon there are views across Scapa Flow all the way, and you can also see the leaders, hunched as they climb up hills miles ahead. I had a few other runners around me for most of the race, and although I seemed to get clear of them from ten to twelve miles, the final hill, "Ore Brae, a nasty little hill which gets worse around the corner" according to the organisers, soaked up nearly all my remaining energy. I was overtaken in the final metres, but as it turned out, not by any over-60s and I won a big cup!

In contrast to the morning ferry, on which all the runners hid from the wind in the windowless passenger lounge, the trip back involved sitting out on deck in brilliant sunshine: excellent relaxation after a great day's racing.


"On 11 July 2015 my son, Matt and I ran the Race to the Stones over 100k (63 miles) between the village of Lewknor in Oxfordshire and Avebury in Wiltshire...." Read the full account of Richard Thomas' epic run here.

Man v Horse 2015

Horse BannerThe Man v Horse race started in 1980 after several pints at the Neuadd Arms in Llanwrtyd Wells. The relative merits of men and horses running over mountainous ground was discussed and the result was this now annual event.
It was 25 years before Huw Lobb became the first man to triumph over the horse. He won in 2hrs 5mins, beating the fastest horse by 2 mins. This achievement was repeated 3 years by Florien Holtinger but the horse remains unbeaten since.

Sat 13th June just before 4am I loaded the family and dogs into the car for the journey to Wales. We arrived at 9am for registration after I insisted on stopping for a full English as part of my race nutrition strategy!
With 2hrs to kill we went to find the 55 horses that we would be competing against. They were in a different part of the town having their vet check before being classed as fit to race. There were some great looking animals with a range of fancy footwearHorse Footwear on show, the equine equivalent of Inov-8 you could say. Two horses caught my eye, one was young looking and to my eye perhaps in need of a full English himself, the other was a funny looking short thing, with a squashed in face and a wobbly bottom lip. My wife Maria and daughter Sophie who are both very horsey people were horrified at my disparaging remarks. The first, on closer inspection was seriously fit and the second was an Arab, reputably very good endurance horses, and apparently the prettiest there and has a resemblance to Maria’s very own Arab. Oops!

The Mayor got the race underway for the runners at 11am after the briefing, which included advice such as yellow water buckets for horses, black buckets for runners! The horses would start 15 mins later to avoid any runner being stampled (Maria’s own word for such events).

The course is 21 miles of very hilly, rocky, muddy, sometimes boggy, open moorland and forested land. Most of the route is across private land too. Considering I thought this was a 'fun' event with fancy dressed entrants it was tough. The start was up hill for a few miles which strung us out, into woodland and through the first of many rivers.Runners I was gutted when the first horse came by me at only 4.5 miles, and it was that scrawny thing I had spotted at the start! Without having any idea of the route it was difficult to know how hard to push and when to walk the hills. But of course it’s the horses we were there to beat and apparently we are better descenders. Rubbish, I was comprehensively beaten on flat out, arms-windmilling downs, tricky, narrow, ankle-breaking downs and every other down in between.

 We do have one possible advantage though. The horses have to go through a mid-race vet check. Not only must they still be sound, but they cannot leave before their heart rate reaches 64 bpm. But nobody I spoke to was sure whether this time was subtracted at the end? I for one would have welcomed a nice rub down and a breather halfway round.
This stop meant the leading horses had to pass us all over again.Men & Horses There is something very exciting about having horses chasing you down.Horses chasing You know they are coming, you can practically feel them through the ground, the steady thrumping (my very own word for such occasions) getting closer and then the snorting, and they will not stop either. They also look imposing, all that’s missing is for the rider to shout some kind of war cry and take my head off with a Morning Star.

As fantastic as the route is, I was happy when I could hear the tannoy at the finish in the valley below. All down hill now I thought, but no… one more thigh high river crossing and a gut turning climb up to the finish just to make you truly glad it’s over.

Final tally was 51st place overall. Behind 10 relay teams and 15 horses. I managed a time of 03:03:23 at a pace of 9:11 m/miles. Leo the horse on the other hand managed 02:20:18. The leading man, Hugh Aggleton was 10 mins behind with 02:30:27.

This is a fantastic race, very well managed and marshalled. It’s great fun with plenty of local support but attracting competitors from around the globe. Put it on your bucket list.


Hardmoors 110 2015

On 23 May 2015 I took part in the Hardmoors 110 – a race which follows the entire length of the Cleveland Way in North Yorkshire, starting in Helmsley and finishing in Filey. I slightly underestimated the difficulty of this challenge. I'm not sure how - there are sufficient clues in the name "hard", "moors" and "110" miles! Another clue is the fact that completing this race earns 4 UTMB points.

The excuse that I’m sticking to is that I'd had a busy build-up to this event, which included the Thames Path 100 on the weekend of 2/3rd of May, followed by the Bewl Water Marathon on 9 May and the Orpington Marafun on 16 May. So I only really sat down and did my homework in the week leading up to the race. I decided not to think too much about what lay ahead, but rather concentrate on getting all my gear together.

I was entered as an unsupported runner, which for this race meant I had to be reasonably self-sufficient and had to carry a long list of mandatory kit at all times or risk time penalties or disqualification. Fortunately I was able to provide three drop bags packed with food and spare clothes which would be waiting for me at the 21, 43 and 90 mile checkpoints.

My friend Lloyd and I drove up on Friday and arrived at our hotel in Thirsk early evening. A few pints of lager and a fish and chips supper later, we called it a night at about 9pm. Race day - up at 5am and after breakfast we made our way to the race start in Helmsley. I had to collect my race number, but only after a thorough kit check to ensure all the mandatory items were being carried, and then hand in my drop bags. Following a race briefing by the race director Jon Steele,Briefing 90 other competitors and I set-off at 8amStart.
I set off at a comfortable pace and soon was passing through scenery which could have come straight out of a James Herriott story. I stopped and took a few photosFinest ViewSign. The sun was out and with very little breeze, it was a glorious day. It was dry underfoot. Excellent conditions for running.
The first few miles involved quite a bit of uphill but posed no problem with fresh legs. The views were amazing from the top as we passed the Yorkshire Gliding Club.Rob at 8 miles  Then it was down a long set of steep and uneven steps to the first checkpoint at White Horse (9 miles).
I still felt good and all was going well, but in an attempt to avoid foot movement in my shoes I had tied my laces too tight, and after about 12 miles the roofs of my feet were sore, especially my right foot. We were now on the moors and I didn't want to stop, so decided it wasn't serious and that I could rectify it when I reached Osmotherley (21 miles).Osmotherly Eventually though, at about 19 miles I had to stop and loosen my laces. Unfortunately the damage had been done, so the pain didn't go away, but at least it wasn't getting worse. Besides it was nothing serious, more an aggravation than anything else.

So I carried on and at about midday I reached  Osmotherley and my drop bag. Quick stop. Changed to a thicker pair of socks, packed food from my drop bag into my back pack, topped up water bottles and off again. My task now was to reach Kildale  (43 miles) where my next drop bag was waiting.

In the lead up to Ostmotherley quite a number of runners had passed me, but unbeknown to me I had now leapfrogged them and in the miles that followed most of them overtook me again. The reason for this was the vast majority of the field were supported runners, meaning they had a crew which would meet them at various points along the route. So they were carrying less rations and kit than me, but were stopping more regularly and for longer than I was. This toing and froing, which was keeping my mind occupied, went on all day until the field spread out.

From here things got tougher as we headed along the northern escarpment of the North York Moors, passing various trig beacons including the highest point, Urra Moor. I'm not sure what was worse, the energy sapping uphill climbs or the leg breaking downhills. The path was an uneven series of steps and stone slabsStepsSlabs which made descending treacherous, so there was little reward for the hard work done reaching the tops. I was starting to have a sense of humour failure at this point. Thankfully after 3 big hills known to locals as "the three sisters" and a tough section on the open moorland to an unmanned self-clip checkpoint at Bloworth Crossing, I reached Kildale Village Hall, where I restocked my bag with food and water for the next stretch - a long one - 47 miles to my next drop bag. As an unsupported runner, food was available to me here, however nothing on offer really took my fancy, but I needed to eat something, so I grabbed a few slices of cold pizza and headed off. Stuffed with loads of new goodies, my bag was heavier than at any other stage, but I was still feeling good.
Five miles later I reached the summit of Roseberry Topping,Roseberry Topping which gave me a bit of mental lift, knowing that after the descent, I was heading to the coast and in 10 miles would be at Saltburn on Sea (58 miles).

By now the field had spread out, and I barely saw another runner as I ran through the night, stopping only once at Runswick Bay (70 miles)Rob at Runswick for a cup of tea. I was starting to feel slightly wobbly as I approached Runswick Bay, probably a combination of exhaustion and dehydration. Also the conditions underfoot in the hills had chewed up the soles of my feet, which I could feel were blistered.

The short stop and the tea helped and I was off again. I still wasn't feeling great but at least I was moving and every step was taking me closer to my drop bag at Ravenscar (90 miles). Then dawn broke and I enjoyed stunning views of the sea which gave me a little boost. I was glad to go through the stunning but tricky sections of Whitby and Robin Hoods Bay in day light.

The next 5 miles to Ravenscar included a lot of steps and finally a tough climb to the checkpoint. At the bottom of the climb up to Ravenscar was probably my lowest point in the race. I was running on empty and was fed up of hills. I'd been under the impression that the coastal section would be relatively flat. Wrong. Also it had started to rain, just a light drizzle though.

At RavenscarRavenscar I found my drop bag and followed my usual routine, only this time I hung around a bit longer and had two cups of tea and some cheese and pickle sandwiches. Then off again with 13 miles to Scarborough and only 20 miles to the finish. It was raining harder now. Not good news for my blistered feet which were okay on the flats and up hills, but they didn't enjoy the descents. 
Reaching Scarborough around midday, the route left the clifftop path and for 3 miles went along the esplanade which was heaving with visitors, meaning I had to dodge people, dogs, prams etc. I can only imagine what they thought at the sight of me!
After leaving Scarborough, there was another tough climb back to the clifftop. Another low point!, actually I take back what I wrote earlier, this was my lowest point. There were only 7 ½ miles to go, but it may as well have been 75 the way I felt. Then to add insult to injury - during the race briefing the race director had made special mention about the many steps at Cayton Bay. I'd actually forgotten this until I reached them, but soon found out why they were worthy of special mention! I cursed as I climbed and descended step after stepSteps.

With the steps behind me the, last 5 or so miles was along the clifftop. Conditions underfoot weren't great and I had slowed down to a shuffle so progress was slow and it felt never ending. Eventually I reached Filey Brigg, the small obelisk marking the end of the Cleveland Way and could see the finish area a few hundred yards ahead. I crossed the line in 32 hr 18min, the 36th of 61 finishersFinish.
The race was won by Ryan Barker in 21 hr 31 min, followed by Jonni Suckling (22 hr 06 min) and Neil Ridsdale (22 hr 38 min)   The ladies’ race was won by Kim England in 25 hr 23 min, followed by Katie Boden (26 hr 33 min) and Heather Mochrie (27 hr 11 min).

There were 30 DNFs.

So I had finished another 110 miler relatively unscathed. My only real complaint being my blistered feet. 4 UTMB points earned.

I had enjoyed my visit to North Yorkshire. The scenery was stunning and the local people warm and friendly. I might just have to go back in 2016. They have a 160 mile race!


Richard Thomas runs BBMCRichard Thomas' report (and result) from the first of his ultra trail challenges for this year, which he completed in the Brecon Beacons on Saturday 16th May, is here. Next up for Richard: The Race to the Stones in July!