Wednesday 10 May 2017

How far can I go?

I saw the Hardmoors 200 advertised and knew straight away I wanted to give it a shot. It was billed as a one off to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Hardmoors events. I run lots of ultras but really (baring accidents etc) I know I can do them. This would be an opportunity to really push myself and see what I could achieve. I think very few of us runners do this often and many other people  never move outside their comfort zone.
Doesn't look too far on the map
It's a long race and this will be a long blog- you might want to get a drink and a comfy seat!
It was slightly scary.  Obviously it's a long way. A friend doing his JNC joked that when he finished I would only have 153 miles to go. Driving to Hull I realised it would be much shorter to run home to the west coast than to do the route. Suffering from a sore throat, losing my voice and trying to get rid of a cold in the ten days leading up to the race worried me.

Jon has a sick sense of humour so he of course taunted us and reminded us of this with lovely motivational placards. It was also scary that I honestly didn't know if I could do it.

 Both my last two head teachers repeatedly warned of not aiming high enough and there are plenty of quotes about the same. I was scared of failing but knew I would never be happy not knowing and not trying.
We were given 60 hours to complete this event. It sounded simple and I even naively considered that 4mph (not exactly fast) would be 50 hours. Then I factored in two nights of running in the dark which is inevitably slower and especially so when stumbling on the edge of a ploughed field full of oil seed rape. Then of course I might make the odd nav error or have to slow down to ensure that I didn't make any errors. A reccee of the Wolds Way showed me that they were more than undulating, in fact the 200 miles has 8000m of climb and most is in the second half including all those nasty steps on the coast and then up and over the Three Sisters. There were 21 CPs (plus Bob met me at a few extra places) so even just 5 minutes at each of these would add nearly two more hours and 5 mins is not very long to eat, drink, change socks, replenish water bottles and the food you carry. All this so far is without adding in any sleep time and realistically there would be some. I had run for 39 hours before with no sleep but adding 10 or 15 more hours and no sleep was improbable.
I did try to plan the sleep part. Some people recommended 20 min cat naps while others said get a good 90 minutes real sleep. Then I looked at sensible places to sleep and whether it would be night and fit my body rhythm and dark as I did not want to waste daylight. I gave up and decided to stay fluid.
The navigation did not look to be a serious issue. I recceed the first 88 miles from Hull, along the Humber and then up the Wolds Way.
Studying the route from Scarborough
This was all very clearly marked and I was confident it would be easy. I had never done the Cleveland Way anticlockwise so this worried me more, especially knowing it would be dark and my brain would be fried when I reached Guisborough Woods, High Newton Moor etc. I prayed I would remember when I saw it and would hook up with another run near here.
Jon's briefing
Fast forward to race week. Almost two months of no rain and all the ground was like concrete; I own no road shoes. By mid week I was packed and getting so nervous with time on my hands that I almost wished I still worked (no, not really).

We drove over on Thursday and parked the van on the start line. A relaxed meal and a good sleep before a 8am start was very civilised.

By 6.30 my tracker was fitted and I was milling around in the hall noting that everyone looked both excited and nervous.

At 8am we were out on the road and off.
Newish shoes that proved a mistake
Clearly Hull is at sea level and so is the Humber Bridge so the first 8 miles or so would be fast and flat. I tried not to go off too fast but was second for a few miles and still in the top 6 for ages. It was warm, sunny and the northerly wind was on our backs. It felt OK, I could still chat and I was keen to up the pace average here and get some hours/miles in the bank for later. We were at CP1, the Wolds Way stone in 51 minutes. The bridge was up ahead so there was no stopping here just more hard running along the Humber towards North Ferriby. The four or five fast guys were pulling away now and it was getting warm.

I think many of us were relieved to leave the river and town and to move inland onto the Wolds. The scenery was more attractive, the terrain more varied and the ground (still rock hard and dry) more cushioned in the grassy dales.

 Brantington at 17 miles arrived very quickly; only two and a half hours and I was still with Shelli. We were welcomed by a party atmosphere with vehicles, deck chairs, camp stoves and all sorts. I had worried about which shoes to wear and decided on my newest Scotts.

I should perhaps have used the older more stretched ones. My right foot was feeling very squeezed and my toes were sore. I stopped long enough to change shoes and put on some New Balance Leadvilles. They felt like slippers. I shot off after Shelli and we climbed deeper into the Wolds. I ran most of the day on my own and that was fine. I knew the way, the grassy dales were beautiful and there was masses of wildlife. I tried to make sure that I was eating and drinking plenty on the run but also stopped for a decent feed at every opportunity. I knew as time went on this would become more and more difficult for me. Millington Village Hall marked 40 miles (7hours running) and the next part of the Wolds would be the nicest. I had a brief rest, tea and food in the hall- Thanks Matt Neale and then stopped at the van to top up my food. From now to the morning I was on my own. I did see Shelli just ahead as I dropped into one grassy dale and much later near Flixton Wold I caught another runner and we had a brief chat.

The CP at Wharram Percy was interesting with inflatable dinosaurs and quite a crowd.

A few hugs and a brief stop in the van for food and to collect my torches as it was now almost 7pm and support was banned from the next CP. In the end Bob did also meet me at Settringham Beacon but I didn't want to rely on this. Somewhere in this next section Shelli pulled ahead; up to now she had only been a few minutes ahead to each CP, although even these minutes were adding up. Wintringham came and went and my memory of some stretches here is hazy. I know that after this CP at 65 miles (9.25pm) it got dark, there was a mega steep climb in the woods and there was a beautiful sunset.
Not mine as I didn't carry a camera
I really enjoyed running through this first night on my own. I saw deer, a badger, a fox, a vole, rabbits and hares. I looked for other torch lights but saw none until we dropped towards the A64 and Ganton, although even here I seemed to see people at cars but then be running/walking on my own again. The RAF base before Flixton seemed a bit eerie but it was now gone midnight. From Flixton Wold CP to Filey is only 9 miles but my shuffle through Camp Dale to Muston was a bit slow. I did perk up a bit near Muston as I knew I was getting close. arriving in Filey near the school but then being sent down the road, through the campsite and golf course area in a big loop before the sea front was cruel but then so are the steps up to the Brigg after the prom. I quickly checked in at the marquee and found the van. It was almost 3.30am and I had not been willing or able to eat much for a few hours. It was dark and chilly. I was also suffering from what appeared to be a cramp or stitch that circled my whole torso. initially I blamed my race vest and changed this for a different sack but it didn't really help. Changing sacks and water bottles caused a comic moment when between us Bob and I knocked 500ml of water into my spare clothing box! I decided to stop and have a kip. I will never know whether 90 mins was the correct decision or whether a 20 min cat nap would have done. It wasn't really my plan but I couldn't face Scarborough without food and it seemed daft to go so slowly in the dark. My alarm went at 5am and I was fed and out by about 5.20. The day light gave me a boost, I knew I had a few hours before the H110 runners started and I met a couple of runners that had caught me up while I slept. Company was good and it helped up the pace a bit.
Cooler on Saturday and still only 7am
Arriving at Holbeck/Scarborough just after 7am I took my poles from Bob knowing we had many steps, both up and down, to contend with soon. The miles around Scarborough Prom were not as bad as I had feared and I even ran much of it. The whole day along the coast was very sociable with so many H110 runners giving encouragement.
Chilly running into a cold northerly
I took an early lunch at Ravenscar but struggled to eat much.

The CP at Robin Hoods Bay was only 4 miles and small bite size chunks was what I needed now and I made decent time. The ups and downs towards Whitby took their toll but at least it was cooler and the views along the cliffs were superb. Whitby was full of tourists and awful but it soon passed and I knew Bob would be on the road before Sandsend. I found him just before 3.30pm (122 miles done now) and sat on the van step hoping I would spend less time stopped this way.
Some company- with David
I like the section from here to Kettleness and although it wasn't fast 90 mins for 5 miles at this stage was OK. I kept my shoes fairly free of sand on the beach at Runswick and then came the long slog uphill. There was a chair at the CP and I gratefully collapsed into it to drink coke and eat melon. By now I was happy to try anything different that was cool, wet and slid down with no real chewing. I had been spending time leaning on my poles to try to relieve the stomach cramp and trying hard not to be sick. The remnants of my cold were starting to really haunt me and coughing up phlegm was making me heave (yes, possibly too much information).
The coastal rollercoaster
Port Mulgrave saw more sand in the shoes and more heaving although pretty little Staithes cheered me up as did the tourist couple who could not believe how far I had come or how far I was going.

Bob was waiting at the top which was a nice surprise and this distracted me from the huge bulk of Boulby cliff looking like Everest up ahead.

 I got a real boost on the next section as Mick and Steve caught me up.

I had been wondering when it would happen and was so pleased to see them. Their hugs and encouragement really helped at this stage and although I didn't think I could keep up I managed to keep them within 100m for much of the way to Saltburn. In my mind I sort of had Saltburn as the 3/4 way mark but it is only 139 miles.

I arrived at 20.45 so still well inside the 11pm cut-off. The next section was my nav worry and being tired and it getting dark would not help. Luckily as I entered the Valley Gardens I hooked up with Steve and although he wanted a fast walk not a run he knew the way. My decision was made- company and help with the nav would be good, so I stuck with him. At The Fox and Hounds I banged on the van and shouted not stopping as I did not want to loose him. It took a mile or more before I realised that Steve was somewhere behind me? but we made it to High Nab together and on across Newton Moor. It was freezing up here and we were not moving fast enough for me to generate heat. I was getting worried. By the time we had treked across the moor and scaled Rosebury Topping I was freezing. Tim on the CP offered to make me tea but I really did not want to linger. I knew the van was on Dikes Lane but by the time I reached it I was shaking with cold. I grabbed a primaloft jacket, tried to eat a bit and dashed out the van to follow torches up to Captain Cook's monument. Before long Steve was back with me and we were dropping into Kildale and the village hall CP (154 miles 02.26am). I managed more food and drink here but then promptly lost most of it on the verge as we left. Careless. We stuck together up to Blowith Crossing and again it was bitterly cold and a relief to drop to Clay Bank (165 miles 05.44am) where I cuddled up next to our diesel heater briefly to get warm.
Freezing at 5.45am - primaloft, cag and layers
 I knew the second night would be tough and yes I did get some sleep monsters although fewer than at the UTMB.
Sleepmonsters- no the dinosaurs had arrived from Wharram Percy
What I got more of was falling asleep on my feet and waking with a jerk before I hit the deck. Very disconcerting and likely very slow progress even if I was not totally aware of it.At least there were no cliffs to fall off here.

This last section had seemed to take forever and I was anxious about the hours disappearing but now the sun was up and it spurred us on over the Three Sisters, Carleton Bank and Live Moor. Now we were running more  and I should have felt better but getting to Scarth Nick took ages and this was definitely my lowest point. I was sure we would now run out of time and miss cut-offs. My tired brain couldn't work out mph etc and although Bob reassured me that there was still plenty of time I was not convinced.  Here we met up with Debbie and Elaine and wordlessly switched partners. Debbie and I pulled away running every flat and down that we could. This was just what I needed and I owe so much to her positive outlook and encouragement. By Osmotherley Square Corner I was feeling better and was now over three and a half hours inside the cut-off. We worked well together and steadily picked off the miles over Black Hambleton. We were both hating any stone tracks with sharp gravel being torture for our sore feet but we stuck to running every bit we could even if the pace was slow. I kept recognising places in a hazy way and this kept me going. Debbie was starting to doubt we would ever reach White Horse but by Sneck Yate I knew it wasn't far.

We ran to Sutton Bank road crossing, jogged along the escarpment and ran the descent and through the woods. The track at the bottom went on further than we had hoped but suddenly the last CP was there (190 miles 13.31).

 We joked with Bob who said Mick was just ahead and worried sick that I would catch him- not much fear of that really.

 The steps back up didn't seem that big an issue today and I was able to describe each coming bit and where we could run.

We saved enough energy to run the last section of lane up to the cricket club and there it was the finish. 200 miles completed and almost 4 hours inside the cut-off. 56 hours and 6 minutes.

I was too tired and relieved to even be emotional. Just a big happy smile.
2nd lady
Debbie was chuffed as she had previously dnf'd on the H110 and had now returned to nail it.
and 1st FV
7th overall and only 19 finished
There are thanks I owe to many people- Mick and Steve for reviving me on the coastal section, Steve for guiding me from Saltburn to almost Scarth Nick, Debbie for her company from Scarth Nick to the end, all the runners and marshalls that were so encouraging and helpful, other support crews for their kind words and offers of food and most of all Bob for his endless support. He moved the van to every CP he could and so many places in between from Friday 8am through to tea time and the finish on Sunday. he fed me, checked on my needs, encouraged me, checked I woke at Filey and just generally believed in me.
I now know that the strange cramps around my torso were nothing to do with my sack or race vest but were a pulled muscle from coughing so much in the ten days before the race.
Very sore and swollen foot
 My legs seem to have recovered very very quickly but my right foot is a mess.
This looks yuk but doesn't hurt
The bright red stripes along each metatarsal have barely faded and three days later my foot is still very swollen all over making it painful to walk much. Yes I am applying RICE.
Sitting in the sunshine with my legs raised has given me lots of time for thought. I watched John Knyston's videos about race support, remember seeing Tim B pacing a runner and am aware Shelli had a variety of pacers/ runners accompany her. It is certainly not against the rules in this race although it is in most others I know of both here eg Lakeland 100 and in France. It had never really occurred to me to even think about this, perhaps because there was nobody readily available. I am not sure I would want to trade the solitude I had on that first lovely night. It does though raise the question of what difference it makes and whether there should be two sets of results? This is not taking a bash at anyone and I would certainly never beat Shelli as she is awesome and much faster than me.

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