What if this was the last time? The Hardmoors 110 Ultra by Tim Oxburgh

22nd August 2020


“People need adventure in their lives. Adventure means there is an element of risk, but it’s not a matter of doing something dangerous, dangerously... it is a matter of using your skills to go into a potentially dangerous situation and then go through it.”

Sir Chris Bonnington.

Ascent: 14,315 Feet - 4,366 Metres
Miles: 111.2
Weather: Bright & Sunny With Intermittent Showers - Humidity 85% - On Shore Southerly Wind 15mph - Highs of 16°C
Area: North Yorkshire Moors
Route: Filey to Helmsley, The Cleveland Way National Trail

The Hardmoors 110 Ultra Map



I am just a normal man. I have normal job and a normal family and a normal cocker spaniel. I live in a normal street. Like so many others I squeeze in work, home, kids, extra shifts, after school clubs and everything else that needs doing into the same 24hrs we are all given.

However, let’s scroll back to an Easter weekend nearly 10 years ago. It turned out to be a seminal day for me whereby coincidence and serendipity intervened and I met the running icon that is Joss Naylor. On the same day, I had a minor health scare on the Western Cumbrian Fells. Thanks to the care and support of my walking partner Paul we made our way down and I survived to tell the tale; truth be told, I was fat and unfit and had been found sadly wanting. I had a road-to-Damascus moment of clarity that meant the very next day I started running and I've never really stopped.

I have a rich background in Lakeland walking. I was lucky enough to have grandparents who lived in Keswick, so since being a small child I have been visiting and falling evermore in love with the Lake District. I never feel more alive than I do when I am in and amongst the Great Outdoors. I initially tried to combine my love of fells and running into fell running which was largely unsuccessful. Thankfully, I did feel more comfortable with trail running.

Over the years and the thousands of miles I have since clocked up, running has given me so much - primarily purpose and focus. Be under no illusion, I am neither a fast nor talented runner, but what I lack in speed I make up for with an ability to dig deep and to function in the midst of discomfort. Whilst running and walking, my love of the outdoors has deeply enriched my life through the places I've been, the things I've seen and the people I've met. Despite the previous 29 ultra-marathons I have participated in, if truth be told I don’t really consider myself a runner at all. Nonetheless, I have forged a strong relationship with running and the emotional, mental and physical benefits have been incredibly enriching. Running has given me an enormous amount, not least an identity and a community of friends that I am hugely lucky to have.

When I volunteered and marshalled on the 2019 edition of the HM110, I was utterly inspired and beguiled by what the event’s participants were trying to accomplish. A seed was planted. A daydream turned into a target and I quickly backfilled a plan. The seed grew, gathering momentum and traction to the point where in November 2019 I clicked ‘Enter’. This fired the starter gun, but little did I know the adventure I was about to embark on.

COVID has altered so much this year for so many. It almost seems trivial to be talking about the 110HM when so much has changed, however, the original date in May was pushed forward to August. To be honest, I think we were very lucky to have the event at all.

At 0830hrs, on Saturday 23rd August 2020, I stood on the start line of the iconic HARDMOORS 110 ultramarathon. This challenge takes the participants along the full length of The Cleveland Way - Filey to Helmsley in less than 36hrs. The difficulty of the event is highlighted by a 50% DNF rate. This was by far the longest and most significant challenge I had undertaken; I was in no doubt that this was going to test me mentally and physically in ways that I had never experienced before. I knew I would be hugely dependent on several key people in particular to guide and support me during this event. Their help was crucial to me completing this challenge and they have my endless thanks and gratitude.

In my case, tackling an event like this is all about teamwork and planning. Although it was me covering every yard of The Cleveland Way, I had the most sensational backroom team covering every aspect of this event. I had to get over myself, accept - give myself - and trust the team behind me. I felt like I was the tip of the pen with so much going on behind the scenes to support me. AlI had to do was keep moving forward.

Like many of us, I am in a constant cycle of upgrading gear, researching and buying according to budget - with one eye always on the the bigger picture. I had a watershed moment last year and realised that my gear needed to be improved; I became starkly aware that lots of my gear was not good enough for 50+ mile events. Bit by bit, my waterproofs, poles, specific trainers, backpack, were invested in....hundreds of pounds. Real support for one’s feet is crucial; supportive footwear helps feet, knees, hips and back enormously.

I also went to see a running coach in September 2019 for specific guidance. Her guidance on “purposeful training” formed part of the bedrock of my buildup to this event. I knew I would need to loose weight and build core strength and commit to this distance a year out. She was an inspiration and a wonder to talk to.

I devised a programme of events leading to the HM110 that meant I could give myself the best possible start to any attempt. Every run and walk had a purpose to it. In January and February I ran ultra Marathons with specific targets, not times, in order to manage different aspects of the journey and my body - my knees in particular. I learnt to finally listen to my knees and manage them over a prolonged distance. Eating and drinking whilst on the go, fuelling the engine, is so important. On the standard marathon distances I can get away with perhaps not giving this the attention it deserves, but with the longer events, no stone can be left unturned.

Most of all, it’s about finding what works for you. There is no right way or wrong way, it’s just the way that works for you. It doesn’t just present itself, you have to search, find, bark up the wrong tree, welcome and listen to those around you, cherrypicking the bits you need. With trial and error, you will make your plan.

In the background, in preparation for this event, I ran 1600 miles between January and August, largely on the Cleveland Way. As the weeks ticked by I built a programme aiming for alternative 50 mile ‘Maintaince weeks’ and 60 mile ‘longer run week’, whereby I did several longer runs with the distance increasing every time. In June I ran far too long in extremely warm conditions; it was a very important lesson for me. Not being petite, I have to remember that I simply have a bigger solar panel on which to absorb heat!

Very aware of the dangers of overtraining, I thought long and hard about my exit from intense training. 1,600 miles of running this year alone, the last 3 weeks before the HM110 saw me taper away. I did a 30 mile run one week, 20 miles with two weeks to go and then gentle walking in the final week whilst desperately trying not to injure myself so close to the event. We thoroughly enjoyed a family holiday with no running and no pressure to run. The work had been done. My body was as strong as it was ever going to be.

I went to work and I rested. It’s quite odd, conscientiously resting knowing what my body was going to be asked to produce. It’s like picking up the lead and the dog being excited, only to go to the vets!!

I had packed and repacked my gear; I had prepared my drop bags. I went through my running tops to choose which I felt most comfortable with. I wanted them to reflect my full 8 year running journey, from the first marathon to the most recent. I read and reread the emails. I was as ready as I could be.

The week before I had a wobble, a significant wobble. I ignored texts and WhatsApp, pretending it wasn’t happening. Perhaps it was a way of coping, but in short I was frightened; I was intimidated. Sarah (my wife) and I had significant words about this undertaking - her doubts and concerns all came from a place of love.

Years of walking and running, years of mountain sense and trail sense, thousands of hours in the great outdoors in all weathers in all conditions at all times have lead to this moment, this weekend, this startline.

I went to bed early the night before, but rest was fitful.

At 0500 the harsh alarm rang out. I was awake well before the alarm.
It was time.

I ate my usual porridge and toast. I kitted up, it felt like putting on my armour. On my arm I had written a mantra....”What if this is the last time?” .... I nervously ate.

Martyn Brown arrived at 0615 and to the day I went. Sarah waved me off into the dazzling sunlight. Some 50 miles later - and after plenty of light-hearted chat - we arrived at Filey Brigg. The sun was still shining bight and warm, but a strong wind was blowing out to sea. Drop bags were deposited quickly, land tracker attached.

I went quiet, I always go quiet at these points. I wandered off and had a few moments alone, breathing. It was remarkable I had got to the startline at all. I tried not to be intimidated by the lean and sinuous men and women around me. COVID implications meant there were no indoor CPs; the start and the finish were all outside. After the statutory temperature checks, we waited for our socially distanced and staggered start times.
Don’t get too excited Tim - steady start, not too fast, settle in.

An all too brief countdown and we were off. A small group of 6. I liked the smaller group start rather than a mass start. We all chatted and worked together as we we headed along firm tracks to Scarborough. Gannets accompanied me right the way from Filey through to Whitby; their dazzlingly white long and narrow black-tipped wings were stunning. I couldn’t help but raise my eyes to them.
Slow down Tim, there’s a long way to go son. You against the course, no one else. Keep it steady.

Scarborough has a sentimental place in my heart, having worked there for several years, so to run along the seafront was brilliant. Great to see day trippers, families and dog walkers all mingling. Easy miles under the castle. Up and back on the cliff edge towards Ravenscar.
Keep eating and drinking Tim, little and often.

15 miles in, I got my first twinge of my old foe...knee pain. The one thing I didn’t want so early on in the race.

Don’t panic Tim, always go back to basics Tim. Listen to your knees, manage them - run walk run walk. Poles. I held off getting the poles out for as long as I could. I knew that once they were in play, they would be a feature for the rest of the event.

The miles continued to mount. No painkillers before noon Tim, walk the ups and run the downs.

Dazzling sun and drenching showers speckled the day. Time would be forever catching me up, so banking time now was vital. Steady away Tim.

My legs soon pulled me into Ravenscar and I sat down, a fresh dry top. I was fuelled by egg sandwiches and a handful of salted boiled potatoes given by the lovely Brown family. The sweeping views towards Robin Hood’s Bay drew me in. Easy chats with fellow runners helped the distance pass. Occasional sightings of seals were thoroughly exciting. Dodging clean smelling tourists, the steep climb out of Robin Hood’s Bay was rewarded with a gorgeous stretch of very familiar running to Whitby.No falcons this time, but my priorities lay not with spotting peregrines today.

Whitby’s famous Abbey is always a sight to behold. Sarah and the kids were there in its shadow; it was wonderful to see them. Again a change of top and a dripping ice cream before navigating the thronging Whitby streets.

Onward, up and past the golf course and along the busy road and towards Sandsend. Up the wooden stairs to the cliff tops again for the 18mile stretch back to Saltburn. I considered this to be my home run!! It’s the bit I had been looking forward to most. I love being on the cliffs and paths that I know so well. I had seemed to find my place in the race now. People had stopped overtaking me and I was comfortable.

The beach crossing at Runswick Bay would be tight and I put myself under some pressure to be there before the tide got too high and cut the beach route off. I beat the tide, by minutes. I slipped on a wet rock - my ankle yelped at me but we kept going. Again, I avoided the sanitised day trippers with smoking BBQs and kept going up the steep paths. Another delicious 5 minute sit down, fuelled by peanuts and Soreen, I went on to Saltburn.

A surprise meet with Sarah and the kids at Port Mulgrave was lovely. I yomped the mile or so with James to Staithes; we talked and marvelled together.

Sarah and the support crew met me on the far side of Staithes. Thanks to Andrea Brown (who would later run with me during the night), I addressed the fact that I had lost my appetite...with yoghurt. Who would have thought it? It was absolutely delicious - soft and sweet. Perfect!!

Over the Boulby cliffs and getting nearer to home. I love this section of path. I have walked and ran them hundreds of times. Headtorch on now and chugging away. Down the many uneven steps into Skinningrove, where another band of supporters cheered me through.

4 miles and you’ll have a good sit down, keep going Tim.

Next stop Saltburn, via my beloved Charm Bracelet. Unbeknownst to me, the Charm Bracelet had been decorated with Fairy Lights and was looking magnificent. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it looked. Purple twinkly lights made a halo. I kissed its steel frame and headed on.

The pull up Saltburn Bank is normally challenging. This time, knowing family and friends were waiting for me, I didn’t feel it. I was welcomed like a returning soldier. I was sat down and things happened to me - pizza given to me, shoes off, feet assessed, blisters dressed, fresh clothes, fresh waterproofs - positive chatter. I felt good; I felt fresh. I felt buoyed and strong. I was happy.

Eyes down now, Tim. Refocus. The night section beckons.

In reality, getting to Saltburn, some 53 miles into the event, was only really getting to the start-line. It was the next 60 miles that were going to be the deal breaker. I had done well, I was several hours ahead of the cut-offs, but now things had to take a step up.

The climb out of Saltburn to Skelton was long and slow. I had Andrea for company and I made good time, however as we headed through Guisborough Woods, I had a real low. My first real doubts crept in. I ate and drank and took some painkillers. We yomped the paths in the still of starlit darkness. Roseberry Topping was utterly beautiful, star framed and mesmerising. A privilege to turn the headtorch off for a few moments and soak the firmament up. I was pleased, places and landmarks were coming up quicker than I thought they would.

Onwards to Gribdale, more support runners with hearty stories of logistic issues. I ate and drank and rested for 5. I was passed from Andrea to Lorna. Up to Captain Cook’s monument we strode with easy miles following down to Kildale and then the long pull up onto Moors - the battle-ridden Moors that are the graveyard for so many 110 attempts. Significant blister repairs as the sun rose out of the sea, but it meant I was slower than I had hoped. I was tired now. Lorna fed me sweets and morale-boosting stories to try and keep me going. She did keep me going. Less chat now, more movement required.

As I approached 24hrs on the go, I dropped into Clay Bank. Lorna was thanked and left as I picked up the pace again with Stephen. I was pushed in training to get this section in my legs and I am glad for my time up and over these 3 sisters. Stephen was kind and patient with me and we talked our way over them with ease.

We arrived in Lordstones and it was here I was given a stern talking to. Too many people had given up too much for me to be timed-out now. I had to pick up the pace and I had to keep moving. I had to claw back some time.

I pushed myself hard, it was here I began to smash my knees. Push push push, I had to make up time. I had to run again. My knees were getting tighter now and they were beginning to hurt a lot. Everything was beginning to hurt.

My support runners are experienced and massively talented. They know me and know how to get the best out of me. They had to use all their guile.

The march into Osmotherley and beyond to the Square Corner checkpoint was quite frankly horrible. Uphill from Osmotherly, I had forgotten how far Square Corner was set up on the Moors. Uphill I was marched; I was jabbed by harsh words and made the checkpoint with minutes to spare. A flash of my number to the stewards and I was whisked away to a seat and some blessed rest. Fresh clothes were put on me, water refilled, food put in mouth. Loved ones whispered support in my ears, but I was now beyond myself and still had a full 20 miles to travel. The top that was put on me was massively too small - a point of comedy for the supporting gang - not for me. Nothing was funny. I was loosing control of my emotions and I was becoming tearful.

The pull onto the high Moors was on a very uneven path. I rested on my poles and felt saliva fill my mouth. My eyes rolled and my breathing hastened - either puke or walk. I walked...uphill and slow. Eventually flat land, grassy and soft. I began to alternate running and walking. Heavy, snarky showers soaked us as we carried on.

Stunning views were not appreciated as my head was only concerned with the few paces ahead of me, feet always taking the path of least resistance. One step in front of the last, Tim.

Forest, pasture, heath, it mattered not. Onwards to the final checkpoint at Sutton Bank’s White Horse. A thin, rooty and steep path downwards meant I arrived on jarred knees to a fanfare of cheers and a wave of love from my travelling band of supporters. Tears fell down my cheeks. Exhilaration to have got so far. 10 miles to go. I felt a fraud; I felt out of place. I felt like this arena was not where I belonged. I was shattered, my feet were in significant discomfort and my knees were screaming for me to stop. A marshal, Tony, came over and assessed me. His words were like a beacon of light within a fog of tiredness. He made me look at him, he spoke clearly to me. I was obviously vulnerable and he took care of me and made me believe again. I wiped my tears. For the last time, I changed my top was fed some sugary sweets. For a few precious minutes I rested. Chitter chatter around me was just white noise.

It all came down to now, right now. The last 10 months came down to the next 10 miles. I had to finish if my body would allow it. I wanted to make my family and my parents proud. I wanted to achieve something that will never be taken from me. It was my Olympic final.
Get up Tim. GET UP.

Steep stairs out of the dip that the checkpoint nestled in, down to the trails down to Rievaulx. This was the next significant landmark that I had to haul myself towards. I was fast running out of time and energy; I was disintegrating. Right then I had to dig deep, deeper than I have ever dug before. I was pushed; I was bullied; I was coerced by my support runners. They were desperate for me to finish. I was desperate for this monster to be dead. At one point, I made a desperate bid for a bench. All 3 support runners steered me away. I couldn’t look at my phone, but I couldn’t stop wanting to...ALWAYS MOVING FORWARD. Tough conversations were had; stark choices and bleak words were shared. I had to leave it all on the trails. I had to give everything.

I had lost all sense of time, I was weeping and then I fell silent.

Come on Tim, COME ON...

At last the tarmac roads of Rievaulx which lead to the final wooded section of the whole thing. The sting in the tail of this whole adventure is this section of woods. Steep, steep unrelenting paths. Oh God, it hurt. Support runners either side of me, shepherding my hulking broken body up and down, up and bloody well down. Eventually, the woodland path gave way to field. Sheep watched as I hobbled by towards the final few yards to the beginning of the path into Helmsley.

I made it through Helmsley, but that still wasn’t it. I had to make a further 300 yards up an easy road. A tiny incline, but it felt like the steepest of hills. My wife and children and other supporters were at the top of the road pleading with me to keep going. To finish this on my terms, my support runners ran on and I was alone. I had slowed to a forward shuffle now. Screams, squeals, cheers and applause met me. It all dragged me forward. 200 yards, 100 yards, into the car park I turned. The final metres, a wave of positivity, sheer forward momentum pushed me to the finishing line.

I did it....I had done it....I fell into the plastic seat next to the finish line and I stopped. It stopped. It all stopped. Hugs, kisses, love, warmth and back slaps smothered me. It was wonderful. In the twilight on of that late August day, I had done it.

Without a shadow of a doubt I would not have succeeded without the significant help and support of Stephen Bulmer, Steve Jolly, Shaun Burgess, Andrea Brown, Lorna Simpkin and Martyn Brown. My success is largely down to their stunning support and total commitment to get a fat lad round the Cleveland Way.

So much thanks and love to my long suffering and amazing wife who was the pillar of strength and the person I wanted and needed to see more than anyone else during the event itself. She traversed the North Yorks Moors endlessly meeting me at places and ferrying our wonderfully kind and patient children to see me. More than that, it was Sarah and our kids who had to put up with my prolonged absences when I had been out for “yet another” training run. I would then be suitably tired and grumpy from said 0400 run.

I think Sarah Oxburgh is an exceptional person inside and out. I am so proud and pleased that she is my wife.


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