Wednesday 5 June 2013

Hardmoors 110 - A crew and pacer's perspective

Crewing and pacing at the Hardmoors 110

One of my favourite topics for magazine articles, blogs and discussions on podcasts is the role and experiences of pacers and crew, particularly where they are supporting a runner on a 100+ mile adventure. I was delighted therefore when Producer Tim asked me to crew and pace for him at the Hardmoors 110 and looked forward to supporting a runner for the first time.  That it would be Tim’s debut at the 100+ mile distance added to the anticipation but also introduced a little trepidation; would Tim not be better off with an experienced crew?

The weekend became a bit of a TBTRP adventure given that the race was conceived, founded and is directed by our resident Shire, former MR Hull and Humberside, Jon Steele, and my co-crew for the event would be Phil ‘sicknote’ Turton, podcast co-presenter.

The event

The Hardmoors 110 is one of the UK’s toughest running challenges, following the Cleveland Way from Helmsley over the North Yorks Moors onto the coast and through historic fishing villages to finish in Filey, at the school, almost the furthest possible building from the end of the Cleveland Way, getting an insight to the RD’s psyche? The 113 mile route, infamous for a mind boggling and leg smashing number of steps, offers runners a stiff c19,685ft of ascent.

The hero of the story, our runner

Tim ‘Timbonator’ Bateson, all round nice chap, technology geek, sub 3 hour marathoner and speed goat ultra runner, strong willed and never afraid to stand up and be counted, when focused Tim is one of the most single minded individuals I know, a key ingredient in his running success to date and very admirable however this strength of character could be challenging for a crew.


We had a quick discussion on what Tim would want and need; Tim produced and shared a pacing plan; I think he was reluctant to do this and publicly commit to what was a very ambitious ‘A’ goal however as crew we needed a guide as to when to expect him where and a framework around which to support and hopefully motivate him to that goal. Sensibly Tim had ‘B’ and ‘C’ goals too, Tim’s goals:

A) 24 Hour finish (to give this context only 5 people have ever gone sub 24 hours)
B) Top 10 finish
C) Sub 30 hour finish

Having previously run a 24HR event and craved ‘real food’ and hot food overnight, I prepped a chicken stew, some home-made pizza and fresh chick pea and roasted vegetable salad to which, with Turto in mind I added some salty crisps and pork pies thereby ensuring runner and crew would be well fed. Not wanting to spend the whole event sitting in a no doubt increasingly fragrant car I packed some collapsible chairs and of course being British made sure we had the means by which to make tea along the route.

We were electing to use my car; I therefore added Turto to the insurance and decided I really ought to familiarise myself with the driving opposed to running route to get us between checkpoints. Admittedly this was something of an afterthought, as it turns out a pretty important one, as neither Turto or I know the roads along the route very, if at all well. Several hours spent with OS maps, route guides, google and runners notes, liberal doses of head scratching, muttering and a little swearing later I had plotted the official check points, unofficial crew points and Tim’s placing plan onto one document, this proved time very well spent and meant that we were, where we needed to be, when we were supposed to be there, without stress or being lost once.

Race start

We dropped Turto’s car at the Finish and headed for the Start. In contrast to Tim’s usual composure, the hero of this story was starting to show and openly confessing to, some quite understandable pre-race nerves. Turto and I got busy with Podcast business taking some snaps and getting some audio.
My feelings at the start were a surprise to me a whole mixture of emotions were present, excitement, a few butterflies in my stomach for Timbo however and unexpectedly given HM110 is high up on my bucket list no sense whatsoever that I was missing out, turning to Turto and observing what appeared to be the same emotions we said in almost harmony, “usually I would be gutted to be missing out on a race but today I am pretty glad to be waving the runners off!”, it appears both Turto and I will need to visit the big boys pants shop and strap a pair on before debuting at our 100 milers. As we waved Tim off the question hung in the air, was Tim wearing his big boy pants? We knew he would certainly need them. I took some snaps of the race start and our hero was off.

The Race: Helmsley > White Horse > Osmotherley (0 – 23 miles)

Putting aside our own worries of getting lost, falling asleep and not being all that a crew should be our principle concern was that speed goat Tim, would get caught up in the excitement at the start and head off with the leaders, pre-race Tim assured us that he had learned that lesson truly and thoroughly, at the Hardmoors 60 where in his own words setting out too quickly led to a second half, “death march”. Knowing Tim’s competitive nature provided an anxious wait at the first checkpoint.
We watched the lead 4 runners ‘blast’ through White Horse, at a pace quicker than I run 9 miles on the road as a tempo run. They looked fresh, were chatting to each other and were full of smiles and waves for marshalls and support crew.

In all my praise for our hero’s running ability, dedication to training and strength of character I may not have mentioned he runs with all the grace of a Saturday night drunk after 10 cans of Special Brew, all too soon his distinctive gait came into view.

Our worst fears realised, in our view, our running hero’s opinion differs a little, you can read Tim’s write up at Tim’s Blog, he had set out way too fast.

Opposed to providing a race narrative, Tim’s blog covers this nicely, I’ll try and summarise the crew’s actions and feelings through this stage of the race. In short we were found wanting, in retrospect I feel we let our runner down by not being forceful enough in our reproach, he was running too quickly, needlessly running a long way in front of an ambitious pacing plan. I think as novice crew we were too concerned with remaining upbeat and encouraging, crewing for Tim or another runner again at this distance I would definitely risk upsetting the runner; thinking about this on reflection I would try and agree in advance clearer parameters for what the runner wants from a crew in relation to their race pacing and strategy.
It would, I believe, be useful to have some agreed language and or scale in advance relating to pacing, perhaps something like:

1) You look terrific are moving freely and this pace looks spot on for you
2) You look good are moving well be mindful you may be going out a little fast
3) You appear to be working harder, sweating and breathing more heavily than you should be at this stage it might be worth backing off through the next section and seeing how you feel and look at the next check point

4) YOU ARE working harder than you should be and the runners around you, YOU SHOULD, slow down, significantly or WILL almost certainly pay the price later
All of the above, of course, against the back drop that, it is the runner’s race and we are here to support them every inch of the way.

Suffice to say Turto and I were strongly of the opinion that Tim was running at stage 4 on my scale whereas he appeared to think he was between 1 and 2. First observation of crewing then, is that it is, very disconcerting to be so emotionally invested in the race and runner but unable to effect the outcome.
At mile 23, the Osmotherley checkpoint, Tim informed us that he would be taking a much slower approach, relative to his early pace, through to Carlton Bank. Turto and I shared a relieved look and our anxiety levels dropped a few notches.

Whilst relieved our runner had decided to turn off the after burners and wishing desperately to be wrong, we strongly suspected this would be a very tough race for our friend. Tim was drenched in sweat, breathing quite hard and a little ‘glassy eyed’.

Before setting off Tim did ask, “How do I look?”, whilst I am not sure what platitude I offered I remember thinking, if you need to ask you probably know the answer.
Waving Tim off into the dark, suspecting he had inflicted some early damage on his legs was tough, hmm perhaps there is more to this crewing lark, than eating the aid station food and offering encouragement in the form of ‘banter’, I recall thinking.

The Race: Osmotherley > Carlton Bank > Kildale > Slapewath (23 – 48 miles)

Darkness falls and the crew and runner head into the night. This is where the route preparation was vital, even when we were in the right spot on the moors we had to spend lots of time checking, it felt really remote in the car and we were very much in awe of the course and runners.
At Carlton Bank, I got the chairs, camping stove and kettle out much to Turto’s amusement who clearly thought this a little ‘overkill’, however the strong (I mean crack cocaine of coffee) imported Sumateran blend, brewed and drunk here certainly helped me fight the inevitable overnight fatigue MR I don’t do coffee or tea Turton did not fare so well in spite of his prodigious diet Pepsi intake.

The first chink in our hero’s armour was apparent at Carlton Bank where he expressed, “he felt his legs were a little leaden, on the downhills already”.  We administered the best available remedy, a nice cup of tea and then with encouraging words waved our runner on.
By Kildale Turto had surrendered to sleep, big snorting Mackem that he is, leaving me to set up our aid station and sit in the cold, much preferable to sharing the increasingly fragrant car; Phil being 15 packets of crisps and two litres of Diet Pepsi deep at this stage; mind nothing like a chick pea salad to settle the scores on that front. I tucked into some nice hot stew and another strong coffee.
Very pleasingly I judged almost to the second when Tim would arrive, the kettle water was just off the boil so Tim didn’t have to wait for tea and could gulp the brew made as it was not too hot. Confession time here, being a bit of a dandy when it comes to tea I had unthinkingly just grabbed a handful of bags from the caddy and unbeknownst to Tim he was drinking Bergamot Oil infused South African Roobois which whilst delicious is caffeine free, oops suspect a healthy dose of caffeine was in order, sorry Tim.

A quick summary from the crew’s perspective at this stage:

1) Preparing the driving route in advance made life much easier
2) It is really flippin emotional seeing your runner for just a few minutes at checkpoints, especially when you think they are heading for pain
3) Thinking about your own creature comforts, hot food, comfy chairs, lots of layers if it’s going to be cold, will help you help your runner
4) If you are crewing overnight you will be tired and strong coffee may be vital, it was for me
5) Overnight your runner is likely to prize a cup of tea, getting the kettle on at the right time is imperative
6) Fancy tea bags are probably not required!

Back to the run, Tim’s splits between checkpoints were slowing significantly and the glazed expression settling in as a permanent look. Pleasingly Tim paired up with Steve Jackson for this night section, helping with navigation and company and settling the nerves of his anxious crew.

The Race: Slapewath > Saltburn > Staithes > Runswick Bay > Sandsend (48 – 79 miles)

“This, is going to be a very long and hard race”, Tim sat in chair outside the Fox and Hounds at Slapewath.

Tim, managed a full gamut of emotions through these sections all of which were mirrored and reciprocated by Turto and I, if the runner feels low so do you, when your runner hits a high you are almost ecstatic it is exhausting, admittedly not quite as tiring as running 113 miles.

Our lowest moment as runner and crew came at Staithes:

“You can only make a judgement based on what you can see now and I hate to say it but he is looking like a DNF to me”, yours truly having just witnessed a very jaded and extremely pissed off Tim.

“Never, never, ever again, will I ever run a 100 miler, what is the point of this; do I even want to finish this race?” I think is pretty much Tim’s quote.

It perhaps didn’t help that his erstwhile crew were sat in the early morning sun drinks and bacon butties in hand. We managed to get more tea into Tim but no real food.

It is strongly my belief Tim wasn’t eating enough, in fairness he does appear to be able to function on a handful of fig rolls however believe he would have benefitted from a more calories by way of real food and see this as a crew learning point; I will in future get out a smorgasbord of available foods at every stop to try and tempt my runner and be a little me forceful in getting them to eat. This was reinforced when the uber experienced marshall Dave Hetherington bullied Tim into a cup of soup he didn’t initially want which Tim quickly polished off, going back for a second.

Tim asked if I would ‘hop on’ a little earlier joining him from Robins Hood Bay opposed to Ravenscar as we had planned.  Having spent all night watching runners, the pent up energy combined with concern for Tim led to me kitting up and hitting the road at Sandsend. This hopefully boosted Tim.

The Race: Sandsend > Ravenscar > Filey (79 – 113 miles)

I have only paced once before, Turto from Scarborough to Filey at the end of his HM60.  What worked then, a constant stream of inane banter, insults, 1,2,3,4 Phillip isn’t running anymore 5,6,7,8 he wishes there were lots of pies he hadn’t ate, type ditties and all my worst jokes “dyslexic man walk in to a ….. bra” were not going to work with Tim.

“This is a pig who refuses to have lipstick painted on”, my response to Turto’s enquiries as to the wellbeing of my runner. Tim, was miserable in such a resolute fashion that I can only liken it to the type of intense purposeful ‘talk to the hand the face ain’t listening’ stupor usually the preserve of teenagers being dragged around a Garden Centre en route to spending the day helping their Grandparents gardening.

We fell into as close to a personable silence as we could manage and hit a kind of routine whereby I tried to encourage a reluctant Tim to drink and eat, it went something like this:

“Tim, what have you eaten in the last half an hour?”
“I have gels and fig rolls”
“Great Tim, how many have you eaten?”
“I’ll eat one now”

And then a few miles later:

“Tim, what have you drunk in the last half an hour?”
“I have plenty of water”
“Great Tim, how much have you drunk?”
“I’ll drink now”

I got the distinct impression Tim flirted with trying to convince me to retire from pacing duties, albeit briefly, in part in recognition of the journey in front and in part to prevent further nagging.
It was clear from before Ravenscar, I could, happily, let go of any DNF worries sadly though Tim’s own predictions were looking very accurate it was indeed going to be a long and painful day for a runner unused to walking anything other than the steepest of ascents. Tim’s concerns that it would be a long slog for me as a pacer were unfounded it was simply the most inspiring journey; to watch first hand a runner dig so deep was a true privilege.

A few things that worked for Tim on that run / walk to the end:

1) Having me run in front, banned at some events, so that he could fall ‘in to step’ and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other at the same pace
2) Running and walking to a fixed duration, we settled on 2 minutes running 2 minutes walking, as I had the watch this may have been a little closer to 3 minutes running 2 minutes walking and at times 4 minutes and 2. If Tim noticed he didn’t mention it
3) Having a definite countdown of miles, I reset the watch at Scarborough so that we could be sure about how far was left

There are a few moments worthy of re-telling through that section:

Running along Scarborough sea front, approaching two families discussing the merits of one families dog, “I would highly recommend them, they make a great family pet”, seconds before this great family pet, sank its teeth into my calf.

A definite pacer and runner disagreement over the best diversion out of Scarborough where the sea was coming over the wall preventing use of the usual route, zig zagging up the hill Tim wanted to go up on to the road and follow that, I opted for losing a little height and regaining it to join the usual path. Tim was not amused but a more emboldened and decisive pacer by this point I offered no choice.

Post-race it has become apparent that the section near Osgodby had caused an amount of controversy, folklore seemed to promote that dropping down from the road in Osgodby to Cayton Bay to run along the bottom before climbing back up to the road further down was optional. Our hero of the evening, night, day and evening with a little over 100 miles in his legs was initially all for exercising this option. After some consideration, much muttering and some swearing not entirely directed at his pacer Timbo decided, with a little persuasion to stay on the course based on the following thoughts, presented in order of importance:

1) He could call Turto a girl, as he had mistakenly, in the dark missed this on the HM60
2) It was clear he would get an unfair advantage over the lady in front with whom he had been exchanging positions over the past 10 miles or so
3) As he was definitely never, ever, ever, never again running this race had better do the ‘whole’ course
With dark threats that I should pick the largest hill Fort William has to offer at the end of my upcoming West Highland Way Race and bash out 5 miles of hill repeats, preferably wearing nothing more than a Union Jack mankini and with a water bottle shoved somewhere sensitive, in order to fully appreciate what I was asking of him, Tim manfully negotiated the very tough descent and ascent.

With Filey in sight, Tim returned to something close to the Tim I know leaving behind his dark 100+ mile ultra running alter ego and started to chat breezily about his Army days and the benefit that has brought to his depth of strength when running.

We met Phil on the road outside the School and Tim managed a remarkable trot in to the school to claim 8th place in a very good debut time of 28hrs and 1 minute, what had all the fuss and worry been about? Those big boy pants had been on under his running tights all the time.

I can’t write up this journey of crewing and pacing without taking a brief pause to tell you how inspiring Tim’s performance was, more so for the early pace and resultant difficulty in the second half. To be so far in the hole physically and mentally with 50+ miles to go and pull through was and is incredible and will be the benchmark I will measure myself against in the future.

Tim, reading this will I am sure take issue with some of my opinion on his pacing; whilst I stand firm in my view that his race was disproportionately influenced by those first 23 miles, I suspect not even Tim can truly know, of the two of us he is clearly better positioned to take a firm view so if in doubt as a reader I’d suggest siding with the runner.

I find it hard to summarise succinctly the experience for me, if you have made it this far, you will have, by now, realised brevity is not in my nature, my best attempt is below:


Some footnotes to the report above:

The first courtesy of Ben Davies, quoting from the Cleveland Way Guide “to walk the route is likely to take 9 days or slightly more if you choose a gentler pace”, it took Tim a little over a day.

Second another crew oversight and key learning point, Tim ran the entire race in tights, long sleeved top with short sleeved t-shirt over the top, which kept him warm through the night but must have been roasting through what was a hot day. I did try and convince Tim to freshen up his clothing to no avail, I should have been more forceful, his body must have expended untold, unnecessary energy trying to cool down.

Most importantly crewing, being awake all night and then pacing is tiring, do not, jump off the course shake your runners hand and drive two and a half hours home, I nodded off twice whilst driving which is STUPID, STUPID, STUPID.

And finally …… hopefully Tim will accept any observations are made as such, only my opinion retold to provide a crew and pacers view of the race. Tim’s performance to place 8th in his first 100+ mile race, arguably one of UK’s toughest, is not to be underestimated it was and is awesome, I am certain there is a quicker finish there to be had and don’t doubt should he be minded to he could join the other 5 sub 24 hour finishers, yes you read that correctly only 5 people have ever gone under 24 hours.