Headgames and Hardmoors 55, 2018


Someone once said (it may have been Dean Karnazes) that ultra marathons are ran 80% in your head and 20% in your head. This thought comes to me a lot when I run long distances. It’s easy to say that this is about the ability to stay positive, but just staying positive as I have found in the last few weeks since I lost my job, is not always possible.

I am finding more and more that how I deal with the negatives, the times when I would like to crawl under a bush and go to sleep when a blizzard is blowing, or times when knots form in muscles and internal organs start to remind you they are not happy, can be the times of real learning and progress. Sometimes running long distances hurts. And life, the other (hopefully) long journey we have all embarked upon, can do the same.

After I lost my job and potentially my professional status as a social worker, on 7th March 2018 I had 9 days to bring me to the eve of the Hardmoors 55. I could feel my headspace was not great. Worries about finances and future employment. A sense of shame and guilt for losing my job, and the impact on my lovely family. What will I do next? What will everyone think – “no smoke without fire”, “social workers don’t get sacked for nothing”. What about fake news? (More of that later!)

I have made my own peace with the reasons why I lost my job- this story may unfold in future blogs, but that time is not now, with an appeal for unfair dismissal to still be navigated.

What I do want to say is that at different times over my career, things got pretty bad with work life balance. One of the side effects of this was weight gain after too much sedantry time and too many snacks at the office desk, comfort eating and managing stress with a warm sludgy mix of tea and chocolate. I went up to 13st 9 at New Year 2017, Ā (I’m 5ft 9″) and my blood pressure hit 147/93 in work one day so when I felt my face tingling and mentioned it, I was sent to occupational health. A week off brought it down to pre hyper tension levels and life changes were needed – a whole other story to come. Running and ultra running in particular, was a major part of my rebalancing.

On New Years Day this year I had lost 2 stone and my BP was 110/80. I had been suspended on my eldest sons’ Jimmy’s birthday on 18 December 2017 so those two weeks probably spiked it a bit! I ran the Hardmoors 30 on NYD and knocked around 1 hour 40 off last years time coming in 29th position.

The Hardmoors 55 is that many miles of racing over the Cleveland Way from Helmsley to Guisborough with 2700m of ascent thrown in. It would be my 3rd outing on this race and 21st ultra marathon since 2012.

My head was not in the same space as it was on NYD. I had a bit more hope then I think, that the work issue would be resolved differently. This time I was running with a reality that I had no substantial job, had signed on for JSA and was worried about commitments that were financial and running based- how can I afford to get to Chamonix for the UTMB this year, amongst other less important things like mortgage payments and car loans!

My friend and fellow ultra runner and long time supporter of my endeavours, Jonathon noticed at the check in that I was a bit vacant. My head was racing well before my legs were. I couldn’t keep the head game together. “You’ve eaten too much before the race”, you should have got more sleep”( bed at 00:00 and up at 3:00am – it would be 24 hours and 20 minutes later I would get back to that lovely bed) “you’re carrying too much kit”, “you shouldn’t have let that snow put you off your last minute training”. Ssshh!

“Just getting in the zone”, I said.

Kit check done, tracker taped on, photo taken, and briefing in the snow and we were off. I felt like I had a brick in my stomach. I hit the upper path at Whitehorse above the car park and the front runners had just gone through having completed the loop through the woods. Snow was bleaching down as I hit the valley floor and then the fantastic sound of my friend Doug Sharp’s drum could be heard reverberating through the woods and his roars of encouragement and invoking of magic to speed us along. He looked amazing in his red robe with long white hair and beard (see great image above, courtesy of Chia Charge). A hug with him and it lifted my steps up the climb back onto the top path.

The weather was veering from benign and sunny to full on horizontal wind blown hail at times with visibility hopping from perfect to near white out.

I did paper rounds twice a day from the age of 11, morning and night and so have spent over 40 years exposing myself to the elements on a regular basis. I think this was some of the worst weather I have ever experienced anywhere I’ve been in the world. Snot froze in my nose and my beard grew icicles. My eyes stung and I had to run with a shaking hand thing going on to get feeling back into my fingers, though they were gloved. It was hard but it was also great! What a challenge. What a band of like minded people. The support and encouragement from fellow runners, spectators, drummers and marshals was amazing. And noticing that head thing. It was not all pleasant running but something about unconditional love for being outdoors and running and gratitude for being able to do it really helped me on. I would urge anyone running long distances and hurting or ‘just’ hurting, to spend some moments thinking about what you are grateful for. Easily accessed ones for me were Lynn’s good luck text, a warm chat with Jon Pitchford before the race, Jonathon just knowing I was not ok, catching the bus!

I stopped briefly at 22 miles at Osmotherley and had two cups of tea. Forced some food down as the brick was still there and a few negative more thoughts were creeping in. It’s easy for it to be about distance. 33 miles to go in really poor weather. I can’t eat very well, I’ve just been overtaken by someone older than me! I saw a mate, Will at the checkpoint as I was leaving and that gave me a lift. I find that brief human contact can mean such a lot when you’re running on your own for hours. We only exchanged a few words about niggles and weather but it helped me up the next hill.

The next section after Osmotherley is tough with a few climbs over the Three Sisters and a slight worry about the aggressive Eagle Owl nesting at the Wainstones. He or she was keeping their distance thankfully. It was no weather for owls.

Mist and snow swirled around as I passed the Wainstones. As I descended some very slippery stone steps on feet and occasionally my backside, I heard Doug’s drum again. The hug from him this time and the sound of his drum and Karen’s smile lifted the brick inside my stomach and with that the clouds inside my head started to clear too. A group of women said that if they’d known my name they would have shouted for me, so I told them it was Andy. “Go Andy! Go Andy!!”.

I had such gratitude for that contact and those sounds and I was able to hold onto that through all the foul weather to come over Bloworth Crossing and the exposed tops of the Moors.


Kildale at 42 miles is where I linked up with Will again and we agreed to team up for the last bit. I finally got my self together at the checkpoint to get my ski goggles from my bag and although the orange filter negated my head torch beam, I could see enough as we left Kildale and was spared the hail in eyes treat that awaited us on the long climb up to the junction that would take us to Captain Cooks Monument.

Will and I started speculating about the fate of Jonny and Jonathon our two mates, as Kildale had a fair few people dropping out and needing the blankets that were on hand. We had been told that the marshalls had been taken off Roseberry Topping for their safety so less distance for us and Lauren and Chris could warm up earlier than expected. This couple are amazing and their checkpoints have to be seen to be believed. I heard one of their inflatable dinosaurs was killed in action sadly. Probably found in a garden in Guisborough on Sunday morning.

Will and I power walked and ran as much of the last sections beyond Highcliff Nab as we could and actually got a sprint in when we hit the disused railway (relatively speaking).

Guisborough Sea Cadets and our finish line had arrived. My head space was beautifully empty and the brick had gone. A hug with Will and the best chilli I’ve had in a long time. We quickly saw that Jonny was safe and he was there in the hall, having been timed out earlier. We found out that around one hundred runners were held back at Kildale including Jonathon for safety reasons.

A sensible decision and none of the drama that was reported by the press or BBC was witnessed. No airlifts, no hospitalisations, no mass mobilisation of mountain rescue, no one carried off by an Eagle Owl.

Just sensible decisions and co-ordination by two of the best Race Directors you could ever hope to meet. The brilliant Cleveland Mountain Rescue team had offered their assistance when the race was curtailed for so many people, to ferry them back to base on pretty treacherous roads. This was working alongside the marshalls and race directors. 100 people did not need rescuing by MRT as was reported. Fake news hits ultra running!

13:06:40 and 112th place I think as we await the final results. Two hours and thirty seven minutes faster than last year and 204 places higher. I’m so happy with that, and the adventure, and the camaraderie, and the head and stomach space. Along with the huge amount of well wishing I have had from so many amazing people on the up and down journey post job loss. Those well wishes formed the basis of so much of the gratitude I could feel while I was running. Lifted me in the darker times.

A shift in thinking occurred for me. Staying positive is what I thought kept me going. I’m now enjoying the concept of managing the negatives. That’s noticing them and seeing where they rest in my body and seeing what learning is in there.

Its been a week since Hardmoors now and much has happened from newt rescuing, a Skype interview in a car, an alpine adventure coming and going, a beautiful work team farewell, and tiny spring like shoots of an idea about a future business opportunity.

My gratitude for your attention and feedback so far.

5 Responses to “Headgames and Hardmoors 55, 2018”

  1. Andrew Kirk Says:

    Loon….moon mad loon…..and a better man than, I Gunga Din…xxx
    Keep buggering on Andy….

  2. andystephenson Says:

    šŸ˜˜….you read quickly x

  3. Sarah Wyse Says:

    You’re a truly lovely person Andy. Leaving all the negativity of your old job will only pave the way to better things for you, I just know it šŸ™‚ Looking forward to your next update!

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