Hardmoors 160, a Race Report in Ten Neat Bullet Points
Posted on 8th June 2021 at 21:27
On Friday 28th May, at 4:49pm on a hot Springs evening, I placed my foot on the start line at Sutton bank situated ten miles West from Helmsley, with quite possibly one of the finest views in North Yorkshire before me.
The race brief had just finished, tracker chips secured, next of kin details filled in, warmups and nervous toilet stops all done, it was now time to get started on a long and challenging route through the Tabular Hills and Cleveland way, a total distance of one hundred and sixty miles, or just over six marathons back-to-back.
The following is my blurry recollection over the next two days.
Set off too fast. Way too fast. Again. Even though I promised I wouldn’t, even though I knew it was foolish. DOH!!!!
Ran quite a few miles in under eight minutes, not a stupid pace but unrealistic to maintain over this distance, it didn’t feel particularly fast going, was chatty and enjoying the run with a small pack, we all knew we’d set off too quick, but nobody wanted to drop back.
What made this is worse is that this was also the first bit of sunshine we’d had in a few weeks, so we were unaccustomed to running in the heat, the new stress slowly zapped more and more of the energy supply we’d need over the next two days.
After Helmsley I met up with Neil who was my first support crew, I grabbed a change of water and a handful of jellybeans and tried to slow it down for the next ten miles.
By the time I’d got twenty miles in I managed to drop back and control the pace, I was already feeling the symptoms of sickness and fatigue, it became difficult to take water on board without wanting to throw up, I broke into a walk, grabbed some savoury food from my stepdad Kev who’d come to relieve Neil and take over the night shift and made my onwards quick so as not to lose time.
2. The Struggle
The first night was tougher than it should have been, managed some very steady light jogging, mostly at a decent pace, but at times I was really feeling it. I was concerned that it was early on, and I was already struggling, I had to do a lot more walking than I normally would have done at this point, and there was a long stretch by myself where I became consumed by doubt that I’d be able to finish this.
I knew I’d be overtaken any minute by all the other runners, I began to imagine how embarrassed I’d be to have to pull out so early on after getting so many people to sponsor me and follow my tracker during the event. I kept walking, one foot in front of the other, I’d try the occasional jog, but it felt too difficult, so I’d go back to a walk.
I witnessed an uplifting sunrise as I approached Scarborough to begin the cliff top path section, an absolutely beautiful part of the run
After a steady trudge along, I arrived at Ravenscar, seventy miles in, I was feeling broken and knew that if this first part had caused me so much bother, I had little chance of being able to complete this challenge. I was dehydrated, had been fighting the urge to vomit for the last few hours and my whole body seemed to ache and light up with fresh new pains with each step. What a miserable grumbling twat I had become.
3.The pick me up
Joel was about to run past me just after Ravenscar, I noticed him a few of hundred meters behind me, at this point I wasn’t particularly bothered about being overtaken, but I decided to at least try and put up a fight, so I fired it up a gear and managed to keep ahead of him for five miles or so. Then he came up behind me and in his Canadian accent wished me a good morning, as we strode up a hill together, he talked about the burn in our thighs, which we’d paid good money for so we’d better enjoy it.
Joel was pure motivation in a can, he picked me right up, and I began to realise that most of my issues had been mental rather than physical, I’d sank into a runners low and had dined heartily on my own sorrow for too long, I ran with Joel and we chatted and joked for a while, as we got to Robin Hoods Bay we even ran up most of the hill together.
At the top of the hill Kev was waiting for me, I decided to take some time to get myself together, I took of my shoes, socks and t.shirt and cooled down, drank a little coffee, and managed to eat half a decent breakfast sandwich I had prepared the day before with avocado, eggs and ham. I usually struggle to eat large amount of food on an ultra-run, so this was a big deal for me.
As the food settled, I changed t.shirts, put on some new socks and trainers (old ones where soaking wet and muddy) and set off again feeling fantastic, even had time to do a facetime home to wish Mel and the kids a good morning. That now done, I set off again feeling fresh and in good form.
4. Oh, another hill....
Both the Tabular Hills and the Cleveland way are particularly Hilly, every few miles there seems to be a sudden steep hill that needs be climbed, this is what makes this particular challenge unique, the distance by itself is challenging enough, but the constant hill climbing throughout, with most of the highest and steepest gradients saved for the last sixty miles makes it particularly difficult.
Hull is mostly flat, but around my Personal Training Studio in North Ferriby there are lots of steep hills which were ideal for me to train on in preparation for this event, I made up my mind some time ago to never be intimidated by any hill, and to this day I never have, I find the trick is to just get on with it, we can turn hills into mountains in our heads if we’re not too careful, if needs be we can always walk, stop, rest, so long as we eventually keep going, we shall overcome!.
5. Cant stand the heat
Hot weather brings its own challenges, ideally, we would all have had a couple of weeks to acclimatise to the heat in preparation, but not even the Gods of Ultra can be that generous in their blessings, and so it was that we suffered in stifling temperatures.
Aside from the need to slow down, the heat can create additional stress on the body. I should really have put sun cream on, I can’t have it on my forehead as it runs into my eyes and stings them, but I could have worn a cap and put cream on my neck, legs and arms, but as it was, I got sun burnt, which meant by body had to cope with even more stress than it was already dealing with. When I got home on Sunday to shower, it looked as though I was wearing red stockings and long gloves on each arm.
The other challenge was hydration, higher temperatures cause more sweat to be lost as the body cools down. In cool conditions I might lose ½ litre of water an hour whilst running, but in high temperatures it can be as much as two litres. Not all of this needs to be replaced, but unless at least two thirds are then I’ll really begin to suffer. The big aha moment for me came from having small sips of water constantly. I found by doing this that I didn’t feel sick, large gulps might help me hydrate quicker, but it also caused fluid to rattle around my stomach which caused nausea.
As I hit the one-hundred-mile checkpoint in Saltburn, I decided to take another stop, cool down my head with ice cold water, another change of socks, and take time to sit down, hydrate, and enjoy some food. An expertly made pot noodle by Will seemed to hit the spot just perfectly, and I left the check point feeling good for the next part of the journey towards Roseberry topping. The sun was really beating hard at this point, and I knew I was beginning to flag, so I made the decision to walk until it became cooler, I was self-aware enough to realise that my equilibrium was beginning to flag and running in the heat might have tipped me into a long spiral which would have been hard to get out of.
6. Psychedelic Running
The 2nd night brought with it hallucinations, mild at first, the shades on certain rocks began to merge in my periphery to form images of various dogs, sculptures, artworks and animals. As the night wore on, the hallucinations became more vivid, staring straight ahead everything I focused on would sway left and right, distorting shapes and creating new visual appearances my imagination could conjure up.
These where mostly harmless, I knew they weren’t real, but at one point the top of a tree did swipe round like a dark cloak giving the distinct and sudden appearance of a ghost which gave me a sudden shock.
People probably pay good money to see reality distorted in the way I got to experience it, and overall, it was mostly enjoyable, the hallucinations gave way slightly as day broke on Sunday but would return now and then, at one point during the last ten miles a tree stump took upon the appearance of a teenager staring disinterested into their phone.
7. Another high
After Roseberry topping, I took a short rest up and ate some pizza,
the sun was setting and it became cooler, I set of with my headphones on and decided to listen to music, this is the set up for what became my first ever experience of runners high.
My legs felt fresh, I was suddenly full of energy, and I put up a great pace for about seven miles, whizzing past the two people ahead of me, I felt great, all the way to the finish I thought, here we go!
Alas what comes up, must come down, the crash happened, and I’d worn out my body at about 130 miles in, with thirty miles to go I suddenly became slow, completing about two miles an hour, it took a while to pick myself up again, not until Billy came running up behind me did, I manage to pick myself up and get slowly trudging along.
If I ever experience runners high again, I hope it’s at the end of a race, or else I hope I have the good sense to hold back a bit, one highlight though, about halfway through my delirium I stopped at a mandatory checkpoint for a kit check. I was so chatty that looking back I am reminded of the job interview spud gave in trainspotting, not sure what the marshals must have thought of me!
8. Those I met along the way
I ran alongside some amazing runners, Billy is fifty-nine years old, he struggles going uphill and he struggles going downhill, but on flat he’s got a great pace. Last year he completed the 160 but had some serious knee issues which slowed him down, it took him forty-seven hours. This year his knees felt much better, and we ran together for twenty miles or so, I sounded very much like Billy’s older miserable brother as we stumbled down tracks stubbing our already sore feet on rocks every few yards along the way.
When I ran the 110 last year, Hem finished just behind me, he’s a strong runner and I was pleased to find out he’d be running the 160 with me, we’d seen each other along the route, often overtaking each other, until I took the lead in the last thirty miles, then with just ten miles to go, everything changed!.
9. Last stretch, it's on
I got to White horse and my watch went crazy, the GPX route changed from saying I had eleven miles left to having 155 miles left, I began to wonder doubt I was meant to repeat the checkpoint again, I’d just been having a conversation with somebody about having to repeat it and they seemed surprised, I stopped for a couple of minutes to check my emails and sure enough I was on track.
The thought of running to White horse car park only to discover nobody there and I had ran an extra few miles I didn’t have to played on mind long enough for me to slow down and suddenly there was Hem running up behind me about to overtake!
It’s on! I quickly legged it down to the car park, ran across the check point and up the stairs on the other side with Hem hot on my heels, then he ran past me, we got to the top and both sprinted ahead with Hem taking the lead and getting away from me, then I took stock, realised I had ten miles to go, and there was no way I could push that pace, I had to slow down and let Hem go because I just didn’t have anything left in me, the last stretch was going to be tough enough as it was.
I jogged lightly on route, Will met me about halfway and with just a couple of miles to the finish line I broke into a walk, occasionally I’d try my best to run again, only to look to the side and see that my best effort running pace was being matched by Will walking alongside me at a gentle stroll!
I ran/ walked to the finish line, feeling great that I had got through the whole thing, and surprised that in spite of the nightmare run I’d had, I still managed to come in 5th place. I crossed the finish line with a time of forty-one hours and twenty-nine minutes, sixty-three people had started on Friday evening, and on Sunday twenty-five had managed to cross the finish line. Billy finished just half an hour behind me, if I can run that pace in nineteen years’ time I’ll be happy.
Some of the best runners had to drop out due to bad luck, Ross Cooling was on track to get the course record when an injury made him have to drop out, other runners were plagued by sickness, heat stroke, dehydration and lots of injuries. All of them deserve respect for even attempting this event, and I hope to see them again next year.
10. Recovery, Eat junk, Drink beer, Sleep, Repeat
I got back around lunchtime on Sunday, after a cuddle, hot bath and a few hours’ sleep in the afternoon I felt much better. A McDonald’s Big Mac Meal and a few beers saw me right and then I had an early night in which I slept like the dead.
The next day I had a nice walk with the family at the park, and the following day I managed to run a few miles to help the joints recover a little. By mid-week I was almost feeling 100%, much quicker recovery than I’ve had from my other runs. I put this down to helping manage the pace of the run overall better, plus I was lucky enough not to have any big falls like I usually do. Now to get training for the next challenge!
It might sound odd to people that I enjoyed this run so much, but it really was a great experience, painful yes, but I had so much fun taking on this challenge, I met some great people, saw some fantastic views, and feel like I’ve learned a lot to help me on the next adventure. At some point I hope to finish in the top three, if I can apply some of the lessons learned then I can only improve.
This would not have been possible where it not for the amazing work of my support crew, Neil Hudgell, Kev Hayes and Will Taylor, I am indebted to you for sacrificing your bank holiday weekend to help me out.
I ran this event to help raise money for Humber Rescue and the Royal Marines Charity, so far I have raised £1160 from this event. Thanks to everyone who has donated..
The donation page will be open untill Monday June 14th, you can still sponsor before then by going to this link (click here)
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