Hardmoors 110 Write up, blood, sweat and muscle pain.
Posted on 16th September 2020 at 15:43
I wanted a challenge, and I got one!
On Saturday 22nd August at 8:03am I lined up with five other runners on the cliffs of Filey Brigg, a very scenic view on a morning with ideal running conditions, warm with a slight breeze. The Marshal counted down from ten, I pressed start on my Garmin Fenix Watch which already had the GPX route uploaded to guide me along the one hundred and ten mile journey ahead, he counted further down, 3, 2, 1 and then we all set off.
For many of us this was the first Ultra run of the year, due to Covid 19 restrictions all events had been cancelled, this event had gone ahead under the promise of strict safety procedures, including face mask on arrival at the start line, temperature checks, setting off in smaller groups of six every three minutes and at the finish line a one way system to collect medals before exiting and giving space for other runners to come in.
In this blog, rather than write a section by section account, which is mostly just a blur now, I want to cover the most memorable parts of the run and most importantly to me, the lessons learned and where I go from here.
Here are a few of the memorable highlights.
This was only my second Ultra run, my first event on the Wolds way saw me finish with damaged feet and a lot of cuts and bruises, the Cleveland Way only left me with two injuries, both of which happened because of my own stupidity.
About fifty miles in, whilst navigating a section of forest, my GPX watch decided to shout at me, “why the f*ck are you going this way Rich?, you’re supposed to be going up that muddy, slippy almost vertical ascent there”
“this steep treacherous climb with no path?” I replied, “are you sure?”
“don’t question me, I’m an expensive top of the range digital device used by top athletes the World over, if I say you need to go up there, then move your ass and get to the top of this ridiculously stupid hill”
So it was I climbed, slipped, climbed some more, got to the top after ten minutes, at which point my watch chimed in…
“what the f*ck are you doing up here you dumbass? The route is down there where you just was ten minutes ago when you were going in the right direction”
“but.. you said”
“get back on track you pathetic mortal, of all the owners in the World I get lumbered with you, why did Kilian Jornet have to choose a Suntoo instead of me”
I looked around, the route I just climbed was too steep to climb back down, a thick thorny only slightly less vertical descent was possible on the other side, I held onto a branch with one hand whilst using my poles to hold me steady with the other, and then I slipped and fell with such speed that my brand new telescopic pole snapped in half and my arse hit a stone which gave me such a bruise and cut that I can still see it ten days after the event (I’ll spare you the picture)
I continued on with only one pole for the next fifteen miles, ascending the beautiful but also very steep Roseberry topping hill, luckily for me, when I met Kev my support runner at mile 64 he had some spare poles which he lent me.
As we ascended the hill to Captain Cooks monument and continued into the night it became dark, head torch on, and then onto the Wainstones, a beautiful part of the North Yorkshire moors, the path was a little narrow, and whilst ascending a long gradually increasing ascent, I picked up the poles and just tried to hover them above the floor for a few hundred yards as it was difficult to place them.
At night time, when outdoors in the open, sound travels quite well, so when Kev heard a loud thud and some sharp curse words he was able to turn around just in time for his head torch to shine on me face down on a rocky path with my hands still clutching the poles and my knuckles about ten feet behind me. It was surprisingly painless at that moment, however I still have a big open chunk on my right index finger which is taking some time to heal.
The Amazing View
The Cleveland way has some of the most spectacular views one can hope to admire, the first fifty miles along the coastline had me regularly taking in the stunning view of the cliffs, sea and various monuments and sculptures.
If you ever have the opportunity to trek the Cleveland way I’d certainly recommend it, the usual way is to start in Helmsly and work your way towards Filey over a week, taking in the views, stopping for Fish and chips and a pint.
We couldn’t have been more fortunate with the weather, the conditions really were ideal. During the day it was mostly warm with a slight breeze, at one point in the morning it was a little too hot, luckily I had written an extensive evidence based article on training in hot weather just a few weeks before this run, so I knew exactly what to do, and then just ignored it.
I ran way too fast early on, became extremely dehydrated, and had to literally take a time out at Sandsend (thirty six miles in) to compose myself, at this checkpoint I felt so completely flat, dizzy, sick and worn out that I was unable to speak and a marshal with a worried look on their face asked me if I was going to be OK. I poured a bottle of water over my head, took a moment to compose myself and set off at a more sensible pace.
When you're on the move the best field indicator of your hydration status is urine, however I was so dehydrated I was unable to go for a piss, when I did eventually go, about forty miles in, I emitted an orange trickle which told me that even after gulping down litres of water with a little salt, I still hadn’t managed to get myself in full order. It was probably another ten miles or so before I felt my strength coming back to me.
When it did rain during the day, I got completely soaked, and this led to me getting various friction burns along my arms, I was tempted to change T shirts at the next check point (CP) however a good smothering of Vaseline seemed to sort it.
During the evening, we were all fortunate with the low wind, a few weeks before I had walked a section of the moors with my wife and dog, and the strong winds meant we couldn’t hear each other speak and were getting blown around the tops of the hills as we tried to press on. I had envisioned that the race was going to be a real struggle when it came to this section, but as it happened it was really quite and my pace runner Kev and I had a good chat as we made our way across various paths, rocks and hills.
So far I’ve had a one man support crew on both my ultra runs, and it really makes a difference. Last time my friend Adam was invaluable on the Wolds way in providing me with food, drink and encouragement every step of the way, and he was due to do the same on the Cleveland way however he was unfortunate with car trouble so was regrettably unable to make it. Luckily however I had Will, who drove ahead to every checkpoint and wherever possible between check points along the way. He was up early to pick me up at 6am on the Saturday, and barely got any rest or sleep until he drove me home at 9am the next day.
Will sorted me out with food, even cooking up a decent gnocchi for me at Saltend just before I was about to set off inland, he also provided regular updates on our social media feed, he gave Kev a lift back to the Car Park where he first met me, and he even ran some sections with me. What ever success I achieved with this event would not have been possible without him.
This was also the first time I ran with a pacer, Kev Robinson is an experienced ultra-runner, who even has a podcast where he interviews various athletes and casual runners alike to dig into their stories and discover their motives and challenges they have to overcome. It’s a great listen and I thoroughly recommend it. In his latest episode he interviewed the winner of the Hardmoors 110 event Jacob Snochowski.
I met Kev on the Hardmoors 80 last year, when my headtorch stopped working I slipped and swore in the dark for a while until Kev ran up behind me and allowed me to tag along with him until we reached the next Cp where a hardshall lent me a spare headtorch.
Kev contacted me in the week to ask if I’d like him to run a section with me, this was an extremely kind offer I couldn’t turn down and so it was he met me at Gribdale car park where he lent me some spare poles and ran the next twenty five or so miles with me.
Kev helped me keep a faster pace than I would have done without him, and he passed on some valuable knowledge that will help me improve on my future runs. He was also just really good company, we had a good chat about various things and when he did eventually have to leave me about midnight (in order to drive two hours home to get some sleep before he was due to put in a shift at mountain rescue) I felt refreshed and ready to take on the last twenty or so miles.
On last year’s Eighty I set off too quick, was in first place for about thirty-five miles or so before it caught up with me and I had to slow right down. There was no way I was going to make that same mistake again, Kev briefed me a few days before to reiterate that I should avoid setting off too quick.
So of course, I decided to start way too quick, for the first fourteen miles I ran seven to eight-minute miles, which is great if I’m running a half marathon, but not so great for a long endurance event.
To give you some idea of how important pace setting is, about ten miles in I caught up with Sam Dunwell, who like me is a Royal Marine (I get told of for saying I’m an ex-Marine) unlike me however Sam is young, and sensible. As I caught up with him he was chatting and laughing away with another runner, just casually taking his time. I spoke briefly to him between breaths, and said I think I’m probably running too fast (bearing in mind that Sam had set off three minutes ahead of me in the first group) and then I continued to speedily run off wasting my energy and becoming more dehydrated in the sun.
At home tracking my progress Kev noticed I was probably going to fast and text Will to let pass on a message that I should probably slow down. By this point I was near Staithes, and I took that advice and paced myself out, got caught up on energy and fluids, and began to feel much better.
Later, not long after my fall whilst hobbling on route with just one pole, Sam caught up with me, we chatted for a bit, he casually mentioned he had only entered this race a week before. He then ran off as I silently cursed him and ended up finishing in 2nd place, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in future Ultras and I can’t wait to run with him again.
I overprepared with food, had Tupperware boxes with gels, jelly beans, flapjacks and salted nuts, and all of this helped me along the first sixty or so miles. But then as my pace slowed down I began to crave more fatty foods, and I was sick of the salted peanuts. Luckily, Kev had an ultra-secret weapon, a cheese and avocado sandwich, it’s hard to describe what magical powers this snack gave me, but not long after consumption I felt brilliant. There is some good research around fats and ultra runs, lots of athlete’s report fuelling with eggs, custard, cheese and even sausage rolls or scotch eggs in the later stages of a race. When slow to a light jog over rolling hills your burning less glycogen and the immediacy of a fat fuel can be a welcome relief once you get sick of carbs.
Most ultra-runners suffer with gut irritation, whilst the muscles are moving the stomach has less blood to digest food. When this becomes an issue the resulting stomach cramps and feelings of wanting to vomit can cause lethargy, dizziness and exaggerated joint pain. As I approached the last check point before the final ten mile stretch towards Helmsley I felt this more than I have ever experienced in my life, I knew I had to eat and drink something, because I felt so flat and worn out, but the thought of eating anything was enough to make we want to puke. I did manage to swig a mouthful of water and slowly munch down a chia charge bar which was available at the CP.
As I slowly climbed the steps back up to the route the food seemed to settle and suddenly, I felt renewed and full of energy for the last ten mile stretch.
Some runners skilfully use poles along lengthy sections of rolling hills, whilst others prefer not to use them at all. As far the research goes, poles are mostly more economically costly, unless your going up a very steep hill (>26% gradient), in other words poles will usually make you more out of breath, as your having to use more muscles to keep moving forward, they do however have the advantage of giving the joints some relief, and on downhill sections they can be invaluable in preventing falls.
As I approached the last ten miles I decided to stop using poles, I realised they had become a kind of comfort blanket, not only were they making me more out of breath, they were also making me slower. I found I could pick up the pace and run faster without them, and my joints where fine because I had finally took some advice and decided to take more care of my body as I ran and not over exert.
On leaving the final CP I ran back up the path to see a group of runners coming towards me ready to go to the same CP I had just left. I knew at this point I was in about 6th place, and decided I didn’t want to let that position slip, so I managed to push it for the last ten miles and as I approached the finish I even managed a kind of sprint towards the line.
One hundred and eight people started the race, seventy four managed to finish within the allocated time frame, with three runners just missing out but still completing it, thirty one runners had a DNF (Did not finish, did not fail either). It was a tough race, hard to prepare for under the circumstances, but overall, it was a brilliant experience, Jon and Shirley run a tight ship and the Hardmoors events are always well organized and fun.
I came in sixth place, I was the last runner to complete the event in under twenty-four hours, qualifying me for two medals, a completion medal and a Cleveland way in a day medal.
My final time was 23:44:05, which averaged out at 12:59 a mile, this is a faster pace than I ran the Wolds way, which I am really pleased with because this route had over twice the elevation to climb. My Garmin Stats say I burned 13,602 calories.
And most of all, I managed to raise £1,890 for two amazing charities, £2,346.25 with gift aid. I’ll keep the donation page open for one more week before closing it so each Charity will get it’s allocated share. If you'd still like to donate you can do so here.
Humber Rescue and The Royal Marines association are both close to my heart, and I feel incredibly grateful to everybody for their generous donations.
Looking ahead I now want to enter the Hardmoors 160 next year, with the goal of improving on my performance and hopefully finishing in a higher position. I plan to run some smaller events between now and then to practice different tactics and try to hone the skills needed to perform better.
The thing I like most about Ultra running, is that at thirty-nine years old I feel like a competitive athlete, which stops me from feeling old, and helps me appreciate my health and wellbeing more.
After the run I spent the next week on a lovely family break in Cornwall, plenty of swimming, bodyboarding and long walks saw me feeling well recovered within about four days, I even managed a few short distance runs. From now till Christmas I’ll keep some running in my training plan, but will mostly be concentrating on weights, I’ve allowed certain clients to bench more than me these past months and its time to get caught up and make amends!.
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