Posted on 30th January 2020 at 17:36
It was wet, painful, muddy, and it was amazing.
On Saturday 23rd November, just before 8am, I lined up with 191 others at Hessle Rugby club to take part in the 2nd Annual Hardwolds 80 event. A cross country Ultra race starting in Hessle and following the Wolds way for 80 miles to Filey, with ascending steep hills, long winding tracks, and what may have been a runner hungry serial killer lurking in the thorny bushes in the cold, dark foggy evening.
I’d spent months training for this, few things had gone to plan, a cold which turned into a chest infection had taken three important weeks of running away from me just over a month before the event, followed then by a week training with the fire service and a week on a family holiday, three weeks out I managed one decent week covering 90 miles over five runs, I was as prepared as I could hope to be.
The countdown began, I hadn’t felt any nerves up to this point, just excitement and curiosity about what this experience would entail.
The rain fell, the excitement grew.
I ran, immediately I was head off the pack, I didn’t look behind me and managed to keep in 1st place position for the next 35 miles.
Some might say I set off too quick, perhaps, but I didn’t feel like I was pushing it, I had run these first sections in training, this was a comfortable pace, keeping the balance between fastest pace for least effort. At a certain point, running mechanics becomes a kind of cyclical pattern of motion that occurs automatically with little exertion. The feet stay behind the body which maintains an upright angle and as gravity brings the front leg forward into a swing the stretch reflex on the trailing leg kicks in and the next leg starts the pattern all over again.
Running through Hessle Foreshore, Ferriby Foreshore, North Ferriby and Welton was lovely. Though it was raining, the view was stunning, and it wasn’t until I got to the end of the track in Welton that I came across the first few paths of mud that where going to be a constant obstacle throughout that day. At least I got to go through it first before 190 others had trampled through it!
Coming down into Brantingham to the first check point the toughest obstacle was the steep hill.
It’s important to let the hill take you, keep upright, lean slightly forward, this is a chance to recover, slow down and you’ll burn up your quads using them as brakes.
The steep muddy path on the way to Brantingham church caused me to surf downhill, I knew at some point that day I would fall over, and I was right, several times over I was right!
Reaching the first check point I couldn’t believe I was in the lead, I didn’t think it would last much longer, the amazing marshals (for that’s what they all where) helped me top up my water bottle and I munched down a massive handful of jelly beans, my support crew guy Adam (More on him in a bit) hadn’t met me like he was supposed to, this didn’t bother me too much, I didn’t want anything to mentally phase me so I just cracked on, no point spending too much time at the check points.
My main concern was that Adders might have had an accident, or his car had broken down, more than likely I thought he had just gotten lost, he had travelled up from Leicester and didn’t know the area well.
Adam and I grew up in Leicester together, he’s about five years older than me, and lives in a different part of Leicester, but we went to the same schools and when I joined the Marines I discovered he had joined too and we met up and became good friends. Sharing a love of thirteenth century Byzantine Poetry.
Checkpoint One Brantingham: 10 miles in,
Section time 1:21:59.
Leaving Brantingham and heading to South Cave you must travel a few steep wet muddy hills, whilst travelling along the path in the middle of the woods a large group of men with shotguns where just ahead of me. I held up my hands and told them that I meant no harm and came in peace. They smiled at me unnervingly and as I ran ahead, I heard them start shooting behind me.
It was at this point I realised that when people didn’t run the sections in the time limits the race organizers are quick, cruel and heartless in taking people out. I gulped and carried on running.
What followed next where lots of tracks, muddy fields, hills and occasionally people clapping and cheering me. In addition to all the amazing marshals helping that day (except those cruel bastards with guns) the support crews who came to help their runners were also amazing, apart from my support crew Adam, who was a bit of dick at times, I think he only wanted to watch me suffer.
On one road a white VW camper van asked me if I wanted some coke and a flapjack. It’s a rule in the military that you never turn down free food, so I gratefully accepted, whilst a kind lady fumbled around in the back of the van I played with two border collies who seemed puzzled as to why anybody would be out running in these conditions.
I neared Arras Wold, my watch told me I was about 19 miles in, so the checkpoint couldn’t be far, a couple of runners who were taking part in the relay gave me some water as I ran by for which I was massively grateful, a little further on I saw Adders doing a Facebook Live stream, it wasn’t my best moment, but I’m glad he was there to film the day and everybody watching me on Facebook with all the likes, comments and support made me feel quite overwhelmed and appreciative.
Adam sorted me out with my caffeine tablets (400mg, these where the only ones I’d take that day as I can get sensitive to much more than this) along with a litre of water mixed with 90g of carbs he’d mixed up for me. We spoke a bit, had some banter, and then I decided to move onto the next part of the run.
Checkpoint Two, Arras Wold: 20 miles in,
Section time 1:37:14
I grabbed more handfulls of Jelly beans from the marshals, thanked them and then moved on.
I still couldn’t believe I was in first place, this felt unreal, my first Ultra run and I was leading the pack by about a mile, I knew it couldn’t last, I can genuinly say that I had no hard desire to finish in any particular place, with this being my first ultra I just wanted to be able to complete it, all I could think of was continuing forward at my own pace, even if it took me all day and I had to crawl, I was determined to just finish it.
I knew from training before hand that this was a pretty straightforward route, at least it was in the summer.
On this day it was a muddy swamp crawl. There must have been a few people who lost their trainers in the deep fields of mud that in some places went up to my knee caps. After opening a gate which read BEWARE OF THE BULL and then immediately getting stuck in mud I could only think that this was some sadistic trap dreamed up by the hardmoors team for anybody who made it past the shotguns. This was beginning to feel more like the Hunger games than a running event.
I ran through the lovely countryside and towns of Londesborouh, Nunburnholme and up towards Millington where the 3rd check point was.
Every time I got through to the end of a long field I’d look over my shoulder to see if anybody was coming up behind me, when I couldn’t see anbody I began to worry I was going the wrong way, or that something was wrong, I still couldn’t believe I was leading the race.
Coming into Millington my support crew wasn’t allowed, it was just me and the amazing Marshals who gave me some lovely tasting soup, a few ginger biscuits and topped up my water bottles for me. I was then given a spot check and had to show them my head torch otherwise I could be given a time penalty.
Good job I’d read through all the instructions properly, I rested a few more minutes, and then set off on the next leg of the journey.
Nobody was more surprised than me at this point that I was in first place.
Checkpoint Three, Millington village hall: 33 miles in,
Section time 1:59:53
Walking out of Millington I was going into unexplored territory, I hadn’t covered any of this area in training, and from looking at the maps and elevations before hand I knew I had some hills to climb.
I decided to do a quick life Facebook feed
Got a bit emotional, partly because I was just physichally, mentally, and emotionally overwhelmed at this point, the charities I’m raising money for are for close friends I’ve lost, I was in first place and still had no idea if I’d even make it to the end or not, but mostly I was just upset as I thought about the people of district 9 watching their screens as they saw that their tributes had been taken out the event. God damn you Capitol, the people will rise again.
Heading up to onto the first Hill I put on some headphones and started on my playlist, the first song that came up was the appropiate “walk” by Foo Fighters, after 33 miles this is exactly what I did up those first steep hills.
As I approached the top of the hills, Jonny Cash sang “Hurt” and I began to feel the pain he must have intentioned in that song. Finally a track, a muddy one, but never the less a down hill route that gave me a chance to catch my breath and continue running. The lonliness was kicking in now, I discussed this with my football called Wilson, who somehow had appeared on my journey, and had great empathy for my predicament.
At this point another runner approached me, just a few hundred yards back. I felt relived, it was good to finally have some company.
As he aproached I took out my headphones and explained that I definitly wasn’t just talking to a football.
Andy it turned out was also reasonably new to ultras, this event marked the end of his first year running anything more than a few miles, in that time he had completed severel ultra events and had clearly gotten the bug for it.
We ran together and chatted for a few miles, at one stage we took a wrong turn and ran alongside the route, only realising we had gone off when the road ran out and my watch beeped that we where a hundred yards of course. A climb through a sharp thorny hedge and a jog over some muddy ploughed fields saw us back on route again.
I began to feel my pace slowing and I told him to crack on and go ahead if he felt like it.
I was soon left alone again to enjoy my own company and ponder a few thoughts, mostly I just tried to enjoy the experience and take in as much of the day as I could, both the good and the not so great. I made a point of embracing the rain, and the mud, and even the pain, a bit.
The next checkpoint was now approaching, and Adam was there waiting with the food I had prepared in advance, I decided now was a good time to sit and chew on some scran, I didn’t really feel like eating but I knew I’d need the calories and happily sat down to chew on some chicken and basmatti rice that Adam had warmed up with some hot veg stock. I then went to the check point, showed them some kit on the check list, grabbed a few ginger biscuits and some ginger Ale, and took another minute before setting of again.
In this time the amazing Charmaine Horsfal ran through the check point, checking in and out and setting off again in quick time on a mission. She was an incredible runner who I didn’t see again till the finish.
Checkpoint Four, Thixendale village hall: 44 miles in,
Section time 2:39:50
I set off at a steady pace, trying to give myself some time to let the food settle. From the last check point I had grabbed my walking poles, which I hadn’t realised where broken! Luckily Adam had gotten some tape and together with a guy from another support crew managed to fix them, providing I didn’t try to adjust them that is!
It was getting dark now, and I knew I’d be needing my head torch soon. This would mean taking my rucksack off, which just felt like too much effort! So, I jogged on and decided that once I had completed the next mile, I would then make a stop and get sorted. There was just enough light for me to see OK, but it wouldn’t last, I picked up the pace and felt grateful for all those carrots I had eaten in training.
At the end of the next mile, I took my bag off and got my headtorch out, my shoulders and upper back immediately felt a release of tension which was short lived as I put the wet cold backpack in place again.
For the next few miles my headtorch gave me just enough light to see ahead, it wasn’t just dark, there was also a thick fog and the ground which had been subject to all day rain would occasionally give way beneath me, trip me up and I’d slide down the side of a hill on my arse.
And then, whilst jogging, my headtorch died. I turned it back on again, and it shone for a few seconds before dying once more.
I wondered if the torch had been somehow turned on in my backpack causing the battery to die. Well this was another lesson learned. I stumbled on as best I could in the dark, now at a slower pace, with more falling and more going off course. A few hundred yards behind me I heard voices and as I looked over my shoulder a couple of torches began to approach.
I knew how it would look, as though I was a creepy night-time muddy mugger with a penchant for joggers.
As they approached nearer, to avoid surprising them I called out “how’s it going guys”, wondering who the voice in the dark was, and if the ghost of the Wolds was starting to take their minds in the thick night time fog they ventured back “you all right?”
Their headtorches then illuminated me, and I ran alongside them, explaining my situation.
At this point I should say how eternally thankful I am to the legend that is Kev Robinson, who ran alongside me for about 6 or 7 miles to the next check point so that I could see where I was going. We had a good chat, turned out he had a brother who was also in the Marines, he also had a podcast which I’ve since listened to and it’s fantastic, especially the Spine Race special, Lisa Wright is inspiring. Check out ‘running your stories’.
We passed through Wharram Percy, a deserted medieval village, I’ve been here a few times with the kids in summers, it’s a beautiful place, somehow seeing it at night-time in the rain after running many miles gave me a different perspective. It was still beautiful, but in a different way.
We continued at a steady pace, walking a bit, running a bit, Kev’s a bit of an ultra-veteran, he’d decided to steady his pace and save his energy for the next leg. I picked his brain for tips and enjoyed his company for a few more miles till we hit the next check point.
As we approached Settington Beacon, I saw Adam, he had some more food for me, chicken and potatoes, again warmed up with veg stock. I ate as much as I could, which wasn’t a lot, drank down some cherry juice, and then went to check in with the marshals and explained about my head torch. A very kind lady on the Marshals team then lent me her headtorch, and I gave my other one to Adam, who took it, and somehow managed to bring it back to life.
It turned out I just hadn’t pushed in the connection wires properly, I continued with the spare head torch anyhow, as I just wanted to crack on now. This was starting to turn into a long day, and I didn’t feel like spending more time than I needed to at these check points.
We did a quick Facebook live feed, and then I set off, two marathons complete, just one more to go!
I guestimated I would be done by midnight! How wrong I was.
Checkpoint five, Settrington Beacon: 54 miles in,
Section time 2:19:38
It was now just about getting this thing done, I can’t remember much about what happened over the next 13 miles towards the next check point.
I caught up with another runner from a relay team, we ran together and got lost together, thankfully my watch helped direct us back onto the path, but somehow this seemed to involve going down a steep wet, muddy hill full of thorny branches. I fell on my arse a few times, landed on my chin once or twice, and finally got back on track, not sure what happened to the other runner, if he’s still out there I hope he’s ok.
Then in the dark I came across this lovely little steep hill sign.
What followed next was a dimly lit, heavy breathing hill ascent interjected with bad language and a few slips on gravel. I was grateful to have my poles with me; I hope they don’t have to leave the country after Brexit.
At the top of the hill were paths going up and down, a few diversions, and a long steady descent onto a more runnable route all the way to Ganton Village hall. For some reason I had it in my head that this would only be a ten mile section, after 13 miles I thought I had gotten lost, but then I heard Bugby shouting and knew I could look forward to a refuel and a short rest.
I didn’t really feel like eating much, Ganton had a great spread on, so I forced down a slice of pizza, a handful of jellybeans and ginger biscuits, and a coke, and a ginger ale.
Marshals asked me to produce a survival blanket and whistle, I did, I got ticked off, took another minute to recuperate and then set off again.
Checkpoint Six, Ganton: 67 miles in,
Section time 3:12:08
The next check point was only 5 miles away, at that point there would be just under ten miles to go. I pushed on through the night, managed to get a couple of hundred feet off course again, this time I found myself in a field of angry looking cows, who stared at me with their cold angry eyes, as if they had full knowledge I had been eating their relatives.
To get back on track I made my way gingerly passed them only to come across an electric fence, with sore legs I managed to do a kind of scissor kick over it, only to find myself in the backgarden of a farm house, I walked a few yards back along the electric fence, through some thorny thick branches (of course) to then discover the electric fence had now doubled up, I couldn’t get over the top this time, I was going to have to drop to my belly and crawl under it, as I collapsed to the floor I immediately realized this field was completedly sodden and I was now face down in a deep puddle crawling under an electric fence. I got up on the other side, ran down to the bottom of the field, over another electirc fence, through some thorny bushes, and back onto the path I should have been on in the first place.
At this point I half expected a large boulder the size of the path to come rolling downhill behind me as I tried to race in front of it and at the last minute rescue my dropped hat.
A couple more miles to go now, I felt drained and occasionally caught myself with a gaunt empty gormless expression on my face staring out into the darkness, at the last check point I had forgotten to top up on water and I could feel myself waining.
Just a little further, last big check point before the final ten miles, I fumbled for the paracord on my backpack, I had attached 8 spring toggles to this which I kept sliding down every time I completed another ten mile block. Six where currently on the bottom part of cord, I knew soon there would just be one remaining.
The penultimate check point approached, Adam was there straight away with water, I forced down as much as I could, fighting the urge to vomit, and although I didn’t feel like it I also ate a banana, took a minute or two to rest, and then set of for the final stretch.
Checkpoint Seven, Flixton Wold: 72 miles in,
Section time 1:28:44
I walked a mile out of the check point to let my stomach settle, and then something occurred over the last ten miles I can’t quite explain, everything still hurt, but somehow I found the energy to start running at a decent pace again.
I managed to overtake a couple of guys, ran on through the night, I kept expecting Filey to appear any moment but these country paths just seemed never ending.
A little later a runner overtook me as I had stopped to walk, he warned me there was a bus of people a few minutes behind him so he was trying to get ahead. This did it for me, I dug in and set off with a new kind of vigour, the pain in my legs was something I kept having to remind myself I should feel grateful for. I’d give anything for my dead Marine friends to be able to share in this pain, discomfort is as much a part of life as comfort, we need pain, we need to be able to face it and keep going. My lucky, fortunate legs, just kept on running.
I finally arrived in Filey, it was a rough night, the waves where crashing hard against the shoreline, taking in the whole of this scene felt amazing. The next check point is just a few hundred meters along I thought, it wasn’t.
One foot in front of the other, last bit, eventually after a mile or so I arrived at the bottom of a steep Hill, from my route description I Knew I was supposed to go up the steps to the last check point.
But the GPX route on my watch was insiting I kept going, along the shoreline, it had been right up to this point so with some haste I ran along to see if it was right, I ran past the RNLI station, to the end of the pier, down some steps, onto the sand, with the tide nearly fully in and about to cut me off. I knew this wasn’t the route now, I knew it was unsafe to continue, but part of me felt like just going with it and letting the sea take me, it somehow felt like a fitting end to this.
I shook my head, turned back, and headed up the way I should have gone. Up many steps, along the edge of a cliff face, I eventually met a Marshal who told me the red glow stick about a mile in the distance was just a hundred yards away next to the stone that makrs the end/ start of the Wolds way walk, I’d have to go touch that and then come back.
I told him about the problem with the GPX route and the danger of people getting trapped by the tide, he just looked at me with cold eyes, a smile spread across his lips and he said “If they die, they die”. I hastily ran to the glow stick which definitly wasn’t just a hundred yards away, upon my return I ran past the same marshal and he tripped me up and started laughing. I crawled a little further, got up, and ran back along the cliff top, back down the steps, and back into Filey, up a hill and then a final run to the cadets centre where Adam was waiting and filmed my last 100 metres.
I triumphantly walked into the cadet centre to a round of applause, a cool T.shirt and a great looking medal.
This was it now, done. The time was about 1:30 in the morning.it it.
Total time 17:37, average pace 13 min miles.
Position: 9th Overall, 8th in Men’s category.
Distance: 130.34km/ 81 Miles
Total calories burned: 9332
Total steps: 147,000
Estimated fluid loss:10.460 Litres
Avg hrt rate: 141bpm
Max hrt rate: 189bpm
Ascent: 9048 ft
Descent: 9107 ft
This ought to have been a massive relief, instead I just felt numb. Adam got me some food, I went to the heads and managed to slowly take of my gear and get a long hot shower, finally I put on some fresh clothes with all the vigour of an octogenarian, and I went back into the hall ready to go home.
I think this is when it dawned on me that it was all over, and I finally felt the massive wave of relief that it was finished. On the way back I checked the many messages and comments I had received whilst running but had been unable to read. It was truly overwhelming to have so many people supporting me, I had no idea so many people would be watching the live GPS tracking, especially so late into the night! thanks to everyone who got in touch, all of the support has really helped me feel it was worth it, and in the days that followed I’ve had so many positive conversations with people.
Throughout most of the run the thought of my amazing wife and three awesome kids really helped spur me on, I didn’t expect them to stay up late tracking me, it was so lovely to get a message from them when I had finished.
We got back to Hull about half three in the morning, and I settled down to a night of agonizing turning over and zero sleep. At one point I spent what felt like two hours fantasising about ibuprofen but knew that to get some I would have to get up out of my cot bed (we slept at the gym to avoid waking my family up).
A week later I’m just about recovered, my toes are still minging, but I’m otherwise fine. I’ll start training again lightly next week, and I’m looking forward to finding time to lift weights instead of running.
This was my first ever Ultra event, and I’m really pleased with how it went, the organization was fantastic, the harsh conditions just added to the enormity of the challenge and having spent the day before the event checking and then rechecking the forecast hoping the rain and wind would be delayed, I’m actually quite grateful for it all now.
The winner of last year’s event manged to complete the course in just over twelve hours, this year the first-place winner finished in fifteen and a half hours, which I think indicates just how hard going the terrain was.
Now that I’ve done this, I’m considering what to do next, I’m not in a rush, but I think next year I’ll see if I can manage over a hundred miles, I might also like to have another go at this event, my mindset this time was just to complete it, and I wasn’t too focused on which position I finished in, I think next time with more experience I’d like to challenge myself to complete the race as fast as I possibly can. Hopefully the conditions will be better!
My donation page will close on Monday night, at which point all raised funds will go to their respective charities. If you’d like to give, then please click on the following link.
Stay strong my friends, I’ll soon write an article on running tips and lessons learned, something along the lines of “bloke runs one Ultra and now thinks he’s some kind of Guru” vibe 😊
I was tested, I wasn’t found wanting, so now I need to find the next test,
Have an Ultra fine Christmas, thanks once again for comments, likes, reading my articles and mad ramblings, and donating to this carzy Personal Trainer Hul.
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