The Unknown – Hardmoors Wainstones Trail Marathon Race Report

Your first marathon should be something to savour, an atmosphere to soak up and an achievement to be proud of. One things for sure, I went through a whole range of emotions during the last 24 hours. This won’t just be a Hardmoors Wainstones Trail Marathon race report, its a look at what happens when we step into ‘the unknown’.

To get to the end, we need to start at the beginning with some context. As you may know, I suffered with knee and thigh injuries for many years, until 8 months ago when I said enough is enough. I approached Jayson Cavill and began my guided training programme with the aim of finishing the 2017 Hardmoors Wainstones marathon. My weekly mileage was low intensity and 15 miles over three runs. 8 months on and my training topped out at 38 miles a week over five runs.

I was ready for race day and more than confident of a finish, but as my body has adapted so have my expectations. I found myself thinking of time and wanting to go sub 5 hour. For those who don’t know, the Wainstones marathon is more than 26.5 miles and almost 4500ft of climbing across the North Yorkshire Moors, so not your normal marathon.

My morning began like all race days around 5.30am, with a slice of toast, porridge and precision hydration. Gear packed up I was on my way and at the course by 7.30am. Some stretching, a banana and in the zone I toed the start line at 9am as Jon Steel counted down 3, eight months of hard work come down to this, 2, jesus that first hill is massive, 1, when will it REALLY start to hurt

Hardmoors Wainstones Trail Marathon Race Report

The start bottle necks as runners clamber over a stile, so I set myself at the front to avoid any delays. Taking in the first ascent I tried to settle down and control my breathing, few races begin with a 700ft climb. As the ground levelled out I was over took by numerous runners including Kim Cavill (pictured below.) I fought off the urge to speed up, the plan was clear, hold back until mile 16 then see whats left in the tank.

Distractions and the bigger picture

My fuelling plan was to eat every half hour and drink at least 500ml an hour. The first 30 minutes ticked by as I started the descent from White Stone Crag, I decided to take on some malt loaf. Approaching 40 minutes I noticed my watch had froze, pressing numerous buttons and swearing didn’t help but holding the off button for 30 seconds brought it back to life. By then I’d missed 90 seconds of my run, which in the grand scheme is nothing but it really pissed me off. I gave myself a talking to and focused in on the bigger picture.

Approaching checkpoint one, I refilled with water and started munching on my wrap with jam. The next 6.5 miles are probably the toughest part of the race and where most would push too hard, the climbs are big and the descents a little technical. I reminded myself of this and took it easy on the uphills, walking at a brisk pace. This section takes in 5 climbs all between 300 and 500 feet in elevation gain. I switched places with two or three runners and saw Matty at the Wainstones who gave me a thud on the back and some words of encouragement. The picture below gives you an idea of the climbs on course.

After the last ascent and another dropped place I reached checkpoint 3 at Clay Bank. The next stretch is without water for 10 miles so I refilled both soft flasks and polished off a banana. I heard a marshall say I was 30th and made the decision to drop no more places. Crossing the road I started up Urra Moor. The wind hit me head on and was a struggle to fight against, I noted how wet the Moors had become also. After averaging just shy of 13 minute miles on the three sisters, I felt the need to push on. My average pace overall was about 11:45 minute miles and I knew sub 11 minute miles would get me under the 5 hour mark.

The Unkown

Fighting against the wind I turned onto the climb toward Bloworth Crossing. The wind now in my back I tried to push on up the long, long track. Reaching Bloworth Crossing and mile 17 represented the furthest I’d ever run and a big decision. Its a surreal moment when you enter the unknown both mentally and physically, your legs could go at any point and that thought alone is quite scary. With ten miles to go and no idea when my juice would run out I had to decide whether to maintain the current effort or push hard.

My legs were heavy but stomach doing well and I’d fuelled perfectly. I decided to push a little harder. Running alone for the last 7 miles made me wonder if I could make up so much ground to get nearer the top 20. Putting those thoughts aside I began on the slog that is Bloworth. I reached the descent into Cockayne 3 hours and 40 minutes into the race. Realising whatever pain was to follow would last 80 minutes I flew through the next mile averaging 8:13 minute miles. This helped me pass two runners as I started yet another big climb, this time on road and found another guy just in front. Making up another place I felt cramp taking hold of my left hamstring, a look at my watch showed 21.5 miles. Less than an hour to go and the pain was setting in.

As I approached checkpoint 6 I saw two runners turn a corner off road and onto the Moors. This spurred me on and with a ‘come on!’ I started running the last of the 600ft climb. The marshall must of heard me and jokingly said ‘sprint finish already?’ I replied, ‘something like that’. After refilling my water I pressed on and proceeded to drop it in the dirtiest puddle I could find. But nothing was going to break my focus, I charged on and passed the next two runners pushing along the second to last descent.

Euphoria & One Last Push

It was around mile 23, as my legs screamed and my heart pounded that it dawned on me. I’ve just run 23 miles, I’m going to finish and do it sub 5 hours. I thought back to all the training, the hard sessions and months upon months of build up. My throat went dry and I started to well up a little, instantly feeling like a sissy I snapped back into reality.

As I started on the final climb before the descent home, my hamstrings screamed and everything hurt…I tried to block out the pain and thought back to when a two hour run would leave my knee in pieces. How amazing to be flying through the downhills without even a flicker of doubt. Breaking from thought I caught site of another runner passing the last hill. I set about him and with under a mile to go put everything I had left into finishing 24th.

My Garmin shows a top speed of 5:16 minute miles and an average of 7 minute miles for that last mile. I later found out the gent I passed was Paul Cook. Someone I’d chatted with for the first time on Twitter the night before, small world! Below is just before the village hall after finishing the last descent. Big thanks to Phil Hyde for the picture and coming along.

Passing the last field a few spectators cheered me over the stile and across the road. Entering the car park I sprinted through the village hall and flopped in front of the finishing table. My time 4 hours 50 minutes and 30 seconds, placing me 24th.

After all that I just felt numb, almost anti climatic. I was consumed by thoughts of how I could get faster to actually compete at this distance and almost felt sad at the thought of it never happening. Then I stopped and told myself this was a big achievement and what happens next will happen…now is the time to enjoy the hard work and be proud…and in pain of course!

Thank yous

I have to say a huge thank you to Jon and Shirley Steele for organising such great events. Also the wonderful marshalls who give up their time and make the race so special.

Jayson and Kim Cavill have been such great support for me. I’d highly recommend Jayson as a coach, hes transformed me over the last 8 months and will hopefully continue to do so going forward. And of course, thanks to the most important person of all, the Mrs, it ain’t easy been a runners wife. đŸ™‚

Race stats

Kit List

  • Scotts Supertrac RC trail running shoes
  • Hilly cushion anklet socks
  • Ronhill Infinite Racer shorts
  • Asics long sleeve half zip jersey
  • Inov All terrain peak cap
  • Montane VIA Razor 15 hydration pack
  • Montane 500ml soft flasks

Nurtition Before

Leading upto race day I tend to consume more carbs like pasta, rice and bread. On Saturday night I had salmon with rice and a cake for desert but also munched on toast, porridge and all sorts through the day. I use Precision Hydration which helps get my electrolyte levels right. One of their PH1500 tablets in 500ml of water the night before and morning of the race is recommended.

Come race day morning I had a slice of toast at 5.30am and porridge around 6am. Then a banana at the event an hour before the race itself.

Fuel mid-race

I struggled finding fuel that agreed with me to date…so had major worries about this in the lead up. Thankfully I got it right on the day though, below is what I consumed throughout the race. I took on food every half hour starting early and drank small amounts every five minutes.

  • 3 big slices of malt loaf
  • 1 banana
  • 1 wrap with jam
  • 3 SIS isotonic tropical gels
  • 8 jelly babies (I think, the end was a blur)
  • 1/2 a Precision Hydration HP1000 tablets in my 500ml soft flasks. Had about 2-2.5 litres of water in total.
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Darren Smith

Training with purpose since October 2016 Darren has gone from trailing the pack to winning local races and the times keep on falling. A true believer in hard work over natural talent he writes to help others realise their true potential. Darren's race schedule for 2018 includes the Hardmoors Wainstones marathon (1st place), Keswick Mountain Festival (10th place), Scafell Skyrace and Salomon Ring Of Steall (World Championship race.)

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