"Yorkshire Portions" are a warning they put on food up norf to prevent you from biting off more than you can chew. I ordered a "regular" fish and chips the night before the race and that was more than enough for me. Back in London I would have defintely ordered the large and an extra side of onion rings and still had room left over for a cheesecake at the end.
It would appear that the same warnings are needed for their running events too. On arriving at Whitby just north of the North Yorkshire Moors Gemma was badgering me about when to book dinner later that evening. It's 50 miles so on a good day that could be around 8 hours but if it's hard then it could be 12. I was joking about it taking 12 hours but on reflection I should have realised that it's only 50% extra, just like all the food they serve.
I signed up for the Frostbite 50 around the time when temperatures of -17C were being recorded up here and I wanted to know what proper cold felt like. The Moors are another place in the UK that shamefully I had yet to visit and a 50 mile race seemed like the perfect excuse for the long drive up to Whitby. This was a new "test" event for an new Ultra Marathon organising outfit in the UK called AdventureHub. They were very well organised, they even supplied the race briefing in Powerpoint format. That was the best Powerpoint presentation I have seem since my friends plan of his attempt on the Bob Graham Round next year (I am the fat one with a beer). There were only 50 places in total for this event and it was not advertised much as they wanted to trial it with a smaller number to see how it goes. Always happy to be a guinea pig when it comes to running lots and lots.
The morning was really quite sppoky, I was wandering around Whitby Abbey and the graveyards in the dark trying to find the start. It was in a nearby field and those vertical banners that say "something unusual going on here" and luckily there were toilets on site open from 7.30 (remember for next year). I tried to look as northern as possible (I don't really know which one I am, I think the North vs South divide has forsaken Leicester. You have it, no you have it) by wearing shorts. All but one guy (from Leeds) was wearing tights.
The route looked quite simple on the map. Start off with around 6 miles of coastal path, then around 4 miles of disused railtrack towards the moors then a few fields. The Marathon runners (or as people like to call it the "half") would come back whereas the ultra runners would head into the moors for a 24ish mile loop. The profile did not look too hilly so I was expecting to finish before dark.
The first 6 miles are along the beautiful Cleveland Way, everything you want from a coastal path; hills, steps, stiles, streams, a decent path and stunning views. Been a while since I've been on the coast for running and I do miss it. We had "good" weather conditions and the path was quite frozen so mud was not really a problem. The Marathon started 5 minutes before us to split us up a bit and soon we were catching them. No one really went for it at the start and I settled into a group of about 8 people who were setting the pace.
Early on I was running with David Miles who has practically the same race schedule as I do. It was good to get moving and warm and before long we came off the coastal path onto some track and into checkpoint 1 just outside of Robin Hood Bay. No one stayed too long and soon we were on the old railway and a really easy running path and i got chatting to another guy and a lady. A couple of things happened that happen quite often in these races. Firstly I was chatting to a chap called Richard Webster and inevitably we get on to discussing race CV's. His talk of the 6633 and mine of Badwater caused us to look at each other and say "We met in the UTMB". We did indeed meet there, after about 16 hours of arduous mountain climbing with a hangover. Small world. We were both pretty knackered back then but funny how we remember CV's and not faces.
Secondly I was asking the lady about the Trans-Slovenia race (it was on her top) and she was happy to chat away about it. Not long I realised it was none other than Sharon Gayter, a UK ultra running legend and still holds the fastest time for a Brit (male or female) at Badwater. It was great to be running in such company and as she was local I tried to stick to her to avoid getting lost and exchange stories.
The nice track ended and we were running into large fields with mud and gates and animals. A few hills here and there and we could see the runners of the marathon coming back from their turnaround. They were not that far ahead really, less than 2 miles which made me think we were going a little fast. I was tempted to shout "slackers" at them as they returned but decided not to, I needed the oxygen for the hills. CP2 was bang on 13 miles and took around 2 hours. Simple extrapolation meant that even at this pace we were looking at 8 hours at best, but we had just done the easy bit. 10 hours was more likely.
Gemma had booked the fish and chips for 8.15pm. The race started at 8am so realistically I had to finish under 11 hours to be able to get back to the hotel, shower and get to the restaurant. It would have been nice to finish in good time so that I could relax a bit and do the usual routine before eating but it was not essential. If I took too long so we missed the one time in 10 years where Gemma could have gluten free batter fish and chips I would never be forgiven.
The miles on the moors were hard. Almost straight after the 2nd CP we were on them and although they are not very hilly they were really hard work to run over. A very narrow path where the mud was so frozen that it was like running on bricks. There were footprints of the last people who came here, probably weeks ago, frozen into the ground. Thick ice covered any puddle but it was not quite thick enough to stop your feet falling right through and getting an icy blast of water right up your shorts. Looks refreshing when it's in some silly vitamin water advert but not on the freezing Yorkshire Moors.
It's amazing hwo quickly you can feel like you are in the wilderness. I was on an A road about an hour ago and now all I could see for miles was the harsh terrain and thick heathers that looked dead. I like to think about where I'd shelter or seek refuge in the event of an emergency and there was nowhere here to do that, no trees or large rocks or buildings to shelter near. I can fully understand why there was a more significant kit list than usually in a 50 miler. The paths seemed to go on indefinitely and I could still see all the runners ahead of me, including the leader who was over a mile away. It was like the never ending path in the Labyrinth (the film that you wonder how your parents allowed you to watch given how tight David Bowie's tights were). In the film I recall there was a snail to tell her that she could just walk through the walls and get to where she needed to be. There was no snail here though or even a wall, just miles of nothing.
I worried about the fish and chips. The 3rd CP would not arrive and I send word that I was not even at 20 miles yet, 4.30 hours in. Alas it did come and I said to the marshall "please don't tell me this is 20 miles or something". In fact it was more like 24. Nearly half way in under 5 hours. Phew, I might make it to the ball.
The Checkpoints were quite well loaded with stuff. Tea, coffee, soup, energy drink and water. Biscuits, sweets, pretzels and bread. You are supposed to carry enough food with you to "last the night" in the event of an emergency. I think you'd freeze to death before starving. I lost Sharon at CP3 who ran straight through whereas I caught up to David, Richard and another chap called Charles as I arrived at the CP. I stopped to get some soup and they marched on. I planned to keep them in sight as I did not know what page of the map we were on anymore, I was just following a line of people. Then I caught up to them at a junction were were not supposed to be at. We had gone too far and were off the maps we had been given which meant that we had to get the OS map out (1 of the 4 of us had one despite this being a compulsary item too). It took a while for us to figure out where we were and a detour through someones back garden and we were back on track.
After what was many hours the 4 of us ran together through some wonderful woods and into CP 4 where we found that the leaders were now about 40 minutes ahead. That diversion had cost us a bit of time and making the Fish and Chips seem less likely. If were were near the front and still likely to finish in the dark then what about everyone else? I wouldn't fancy being out on these moors in the dark, it's hard enough finding where you are in the light.
We hung around at the CP for a while before heading up what was the biggest climb of the run into somemore frostbitten fields of nothingness. We were supposed to follow the outside of a small forest and continue along the harsh track through the Heather. It was cooling down a fair bit so we tried to keep moving. I was really looking forward to the return to the familiar 13 mile stretch that would take us back home. CP5 was the same as CP2 only now had a lot more food at it. The guys there reminded me of my Fish and Chips appointment at 8.15 and that I would "probably" make it. It was starting to get dark and I didn't want to put on my head torch until I absolutely needed to.
We got lost again and went too far along some paths in the field and didn't really know where we were but knew we were now headed towards Robin Hood bay which we could see lit up in the fading light. Not sure whether we would end up arriving at the end of a cliff we cut across the moors to try to find a path that would lead us back to the bay. A bit of scrambling and then some road found us back onto the railtrack. Down the railtrack which became pitch black as it is covered by trees and it was a cloudy day.
We were running this race in "good" conditions. There was no wind, no rain, the temperature was cold but not as cold as it could have been. I was finding it much harder work than the Rotherham 50 in hideous condtions a few years back without really being able to figure out why. We got lost a little and I think added about 3 miles onto the 50, however it didn't feel like we should be going this slowly. It was the first time for a long time that I had run in the dark and it became harder. The ground beneath us was now fairly even but what was previously covered in ice had now defrosted and turned to mud, which made the plodding heavy. The 4 of us were the only ones for miles trecking along the coastline towards lighthouses in the distance.
Last CP, when I arrived one of the marshalls sprung into life to text Gemma that I was here and that dinner might still happen. It was about 6pm now, I had about 1.30 hours max to make it to the end, otherwise I'd have to have a wet-wipe shower. I wasn't too bothered my that, Ultra-runners are not too bothered by showers though I suspect Gemma would protest. This race was all about me getting to the Magpie Cafe on time.
The last section was slow too as it was muddier than the start and made the hills hard work. Plus the darkness. With a slow plod we finally saw the ancient ruins of the old Whitby Abbey and then the car park and field of the finish. David, Richard, Charlie and I all crossed the line in joint 4th in about 11.30 hours, at 7.30, giving me 45 minutes to get back, shower and head for the food. Did I mention that? The winner did about 2 hours faster than us.
This really was a tough but most enjoyable race. Whitby and the Moors are great and definitely will consider coming back next year. I think the entry should be extended, it would probably have been easier for everyone if there were more people out on the moors, more people to read maps. There was a 14 hour cut-off which must have pushed a lot of people out though the marshalls were keen on staying behind and wanting everyone to finish. I don't know what the finish rates are at this point as they have not been released.
And the Fish and Chips were amazing :)