Saturday 6 October 2012

Hardmoors 60 - Redemption!

It had been 9 long months since my last Ultra, the brutal 50 mile Yorkshire Ultra (aptly nicknamed the Frostbite 50) that had ended in a heart breaking DNF at 45 miles and had left me both physically and mentally smashed. For me the Hardmoors 60 was simply about one thing, redemption!!!

A 3.45am start did not seem the best way to begin a day that was potentially going to require 16 hours of running but my recent discovery of hypnotherapy relaxation MP3’s meant that even by this ungodly hour I had grabbed a few decent hours sleep.
By the time I arrived at Filey at 6am to meet up with my pals for the trip back upto Guisborough the pre race nerves were properly kicking in, and my friends were met with the now mandatory sight of me being sick. Believe it or not this is a good sign as it seems to supersede decent performances ;-)

We arrived at Guisborough in good time and waited patiently in line for the mandatory bag checks before being signed in. There was a short delay before the start of 30 mins, something that under any other circumstances would not bother me in the slightest but with my DNF fresh in my mind I simply wanted to be on the move. Finally at 8.30am we moved out into the car park and before I knew it we were off. The start of ultras are a bizarre thing, particularly if you are used to racing “normal” length races as there is no mass scramble to get to the front in the first 100metres. This was going to be a long day, a day whose success would be defined by each athletes ability to pace themselves and everybody was more than aware of this.

Within the first half mile we began to climb into Guisborough woods up a long, steep and boggy hill. As my feet sank into the mud and the water poured into my trail shoes it began to hit me that the storms and torrential rain of the previous week could potentially turn this already tough race into a total nightmare. My worries were unfounded as this seemed to be the only section that had retained the water and if anything the rest of the course had benefited from the rain as the rock solid ground of my recce two weeks earlier was slightly better to run on.

The scenery throughout this race is absolutely incredible and the trails are simply a privilege to run on. The beauty of the area and the constantly changing trail on the Cleveland way means that despite you being on the trail for hours on end, boredom is never a problem, it is simply an amazing area, something that will mean I will return to this race series year after year. We quickly established a comfortable pace and were wracking up the miles at a pleasing rate. In a short time we arrived at our first checkpoint at Saltburn and quickly found our drop bags. I had planned my nutrition carefully for this race and had started taking on calories from the beginning of the race. The body is only able to digest 300 calories while running so I had carried (and eaten) a mars bar and 6 Jaffa cakes during the 2hrs to Saltburn. Given I had only run 10 miles this meant I wasn’t particularly hungry but knowing that I would be running a huge calorie deficit by the end of the day I forced down a bottle of Gatorade, a banana, some crisps and a couple of spoonfuls of Mullerice. I also packed the Mars Bar and Jaffa Cakes that would fuel me till to the next aid station. As the day passed by my decision to eat as often as possible early on really paid off as the further I ran the less I could face food. I have to say my nutritional decisions were probably one of the big plus points of the day and meant I suffered no cramps and no hunger pangs at all during this race. For those of you who have never used Gatorade during ultras then I cannot recommend it enough. My stomach does not tolerate electrolytes well at all but this stuff does not have that sickly salty taste of things like Nuun etc but kept me perfectly hydrated all day. Within minutes of drinking it I could literally feel the energy rush passing through me.

From Saltburn the trail hits the cliff tops and is very similar for long stretches of the race ie nice undulating trails broken by crazy steep ascents and descents into ravines and seemingly endless flights of stone steps cut into the hillsides. At 20 miles I lost my wing man Archie who was suffering badly with his hamstrings. We had decided to run the whole race together but I had realised early on he was struggling and I was absolutely gutted for him when the inevitable “run on pal as Im gonna drop” came. I was also gutted for myself as Archie is a top bloke whose banter makes the miles pass far easier. Given he had recently run over 90 miles at the Adidas Thunder Run I was hoping his DNF didn’t hit me as hard as mine had at the Frostbite but I know for a fact he will chomping at the bit to “tame the Hardmoors beast” (see you at the 110 big fella). I didn’t realise it at this point but despite losing Archie so early he would still play a huge part in my day.

Runswick Bay
A secondary problem of losing the big lad was that we had split the recce duties, he had done the first half while I had done the second, I now had about 20 miles to run on a route I didn’t know at all before I hit the section I did know (Ravenscar to Filey.) As it turns out I needn’t have worried, I didn’t put a foot wrong as the route is so well sign posted and where there were potential issues rather bemused walkers and tourists would quickly point in the direction of all the other runners. I must have been looking really puzzled as I hadn’t even asked them ha ha!  The race continued and the hours past by without great incident. I normally like to recount some of the bigger and more extreme obstacles during my blogs as a guide to anybody running the race in the future but at Hardmoors such obstacles come so often they are far too numerous to mention. One area that does deserve a mention however is Runswick Bay. There are two reasons for this, firstly the obscene gradient of the road down to the beach which literally smashed my knees to bits as I tried in vain to slow myself down. The second is the ravine at the end of the beach. Now we climbed some crazy shit that day but Runswick Bay ravine was something else. As I approached it (once again seemingly looking puzzled) a lady on the beach simply said “up there and be really careful on the rocks they are very slippy.” My god she was not joking! The ravine had a river running through it and you had to negotiate the slimy rocks along the side of the water before ascending the steps (which didn’t start at ground level but about 4ft up the hillside).

One advantage of running solo was that I was now running at my pace which given the conservative start Archie’s hamstrings had given us meant I was now running freely and moving steadily through the field. While totally not Archie’s fault a 100k race is way to long a distance to be running at somebody elses pace and my advice would be that if your running buddy does not co-incidently run at exactly the same race pace as you then go it alone as one or the other of you will be running well within yourself which will lead to frustration over time. As I ran the section between Whitby and Ravenscar at 40 miles I became aware that my feet were starting to get really sore and felt like they were being nipped on the ball of the foot. I had packed spare socks as had been anticipating Guisborough woods being a bit of a bog so I decided to change. Given I have been wearing lace up ankle braces due to my previous ankle sprains this was a slow process, particularly as I was starting to get cold and tired and needed to try and eat too. Archie to the rescue, despite pulling out many hours ago Archie had been getting lifts from one aid station to another and was essentially crewing the rest of my race, the geezer even taped my disgusting feet (deffo beyond the call of duty) before realising how cold I was and lending me a long sleeved top. Despite Archie’s assistance, a mix of fatigue, cold and my feet meant I was in the Aid station 27 mins, waaaaaay too long. Coming out of Ravenscar and despite it still be relatively mild I simply could not get warm. I donned my hat and gloves but it took another 15 mins before I started to warm up again. In hindsight it had been a long distance between the last two aid stations and I suspect that my sudden inability to get warm was more to do with depleted electrolytes than it actually been cold.

I loved the section between Ravenscar and Scarborough (40 to 50 miles) as was absolutely flying and after a real dip in spirits felt on top of the world. My fresh socks and a couple of bits of tape had my feet feeling fresh and pain free again and I simply could not see anything but an easy finish in a great time. A couple of miles out of Scarborough the head torch went on and I was even enjoying scrambling through ravines in the dark such was my mood. I hit the 50 mile marker in 11hrs and 30 mins and was over the moon as was right on schedule for the time I had hoped for. At about this time I started to feel a niggle in my left knee, nothing too intense but quite sharp, particularly on descents. By the time I reached the end of North Marine drive in Scarborough the knee was agony and I was reduced to a walk. I grabbed some chips in Scarborough working on the basis that if I was walking I might as well take advantage of the situation and I was bitterly cold so thought the hot food may help with this. I have to say I have NEVER eaten chips that tasted so good. I absolutely smothered them in Salt (to the digust of the women in the chip shop) but I barely even tasted it. Soon after finishing this most welcome meal I ascended the vile gravel hill out of Scarborough to the check point. Oh and what a welcome sight. Despite his injuries Archie was back in running shorts and ready to go, top geezer that he is he had decided to pace me for the last 10 miles to Filey. To be fair the pace I would finish this race (walking) meant that it was never going to trouble his injuries too much, indeed that last 10 miles would take a mammoth 3.5 hours. It was absolutely soul destroying. I still felt fit and strong, I had no muscle pain and felt full of running but the pain in my knee was so severe that I simply could not mange anything faster than a brisk walk. The lack of pace meant I was getting more and more cold and despite me wearing gloves my fingers were numb. Eventually we reached Filey Brigg and I knew it was nearly over. Within 20 mins we arrived at Filey High School and walked through the front door where we were met with a heart warming round of applause from those that already finished. It was just gone midnight and I had finished in 15hrs 28 mins. The lads handed me a SERIOUSLY welcome box of Pizza and within 15 minutes
I crashed out in my sleeping bag utterly exhausted but absolutely buzzin.

I am slightly disappointed with the time but only because the injury killed that last section. On the other hand the Frostbite 50 DNF was now firmly consigned to history and my season was finishing on a monster high. I learnt a huge amount about ultra racing during the Hardmoors 60 but I also learnt a huge amount about myself. Over the last 9 months I have often wondered about that last 5 miles at Frostbite, was I actually too injured to finish it or had I convinced myself the injury killed the race when in fact I had bottled it. I have spent 9 months wondering whether I simply lacked the guts and grit to get through to the end of a tough ultra when the pain really kicked in. Well now I know and I am very pleased with the answer. Having got that DNF monkey off my back and smashing what I believed my limits were to bits, I am now looking forward to the Hardmoors 110 in the summer. What intrigues me now is finding out exactly where my limits are and bizarrely I have a niggling suspicion that even the 110 will in time be seen as a stepping stone to bigger things.


Unknown said...

Phil, thanks for the mentions, you stayed super strong throughout, great running, your 'walk' at the end wasn't far off the pace of the few runners that passed us. It was a great pleasure to crew, don't get used to it though. Love that your earnest, heartfelt, adamant, complete, total assertion that you would never do the HM110 lasted less than 24 hours. Anyway buddy leaner, stronger, fitter, quicker HM110 here we come!

flanker said...

Great write up. And worked out who the two guys were we went past on the latter sections (as couldn't find 2 together on the results). See you next time out.