Monday, 2 May 2011

Highland Fling 2011

This year was a bit different from last year. This year there were other people entering the event who I knew and I had the chance to run with. Karl Wait, Rob Murray-John from Wooler and James Merritt, Robs boss, were taking part in their first ultra event. We all camped at the finish line the night before where I got a shock when it started raining. My plans for the run to go light with two handheld bottles and a few cereal bars in my pockets were quickly changed to a full backpack and waterproofs. No such luck, the next morning proved that the day was going to be a hot one with no clouds in sight. Back to plan A. We were up at 4am and out the door (tent door) at 5am to be at the start for just after 6am for Rob to make his start at 7am. The time flew by and we soon set off at 8am from the famous underpass to the 5.....4....3...2..1. go! The three of us stuck together as we ran out from the start and progressed along the first section to Drymen, holding a steady pace of around 9:30 minute miles which felt comfortable and effortless to maintain despite the rising temperature. By 9am I was already thinking that it was getting too hot.

We arrived at Drymen, dibbed in, topped up on water and departed. I enjoyed running into the forest because it marked the change in scenery and transition in the hillier areas. At this stage Karl was having a number of problems and was slowing a little so I held back while James ran on and waited ahead. There was no way I was going to leave Karl behind and stuck to him like a fly to shit. James was relieved of group duty and pushed on up towards Conic Hill while I continued to talk complete rubbish to Karl to try and distract him from the increasing dark place he was entering. We climbed Conic Hill and made the steep decent which I had to walk the whole way last year due to injuries. Karl told me numerous times to push on but I was adamant that I was sticking with him to the end. We arrived at our first dropbags to feast on the sugary delights and topped up on water. Karl’s sweaty pasta did not look too appealing. My plan was simple, I had already eaten every 5 miles and drank 2L of water, and I was now going to eat a Snickers bar and packet of salt and vinegar rice snacks at every dropbag, along with drinking 550ml of coal (the good stuff) and drink a further 1L of water before the next checkpoint.

We set off from the dropbags and continued on our way. I could tell Karl was now getting angry with the problems he was having and I continued to refuse to leave him. I was just reeling off some more verbal garbage to try and distract him when he stopped dead and sternly told me to go ahead and leave him. I knew not to push my luck and left with the words “don’t you bloody well quit”. Now I was alone and I made my way to the next drop bag. I felt a bit guilty leaving Karl but I soon was distracted by the heat at around the 30 mile mark. I was eating well and drinking well but my brain was getting fried. On the approach to the next dropbag at mile 34, I was starting to slow and welcomed a little sit down and a phone call to my wife. There were other runners lying on the floor looking rough and I thought “I’m glad I’m not like that”.

The next section became increasingly harder in the heat. I was feeling strong but starting to feel a bit hazy and cramping a little in the legs. I have been in this predicament so many times and knew it was a case of ‘getting enough water but need some salt’. I figured that the salt and vinegar rice snacks would be enough and stupidly just put my head down and trudged on (didn’t I just tell the others never to do that). I arrived at the final dropbag and checkpoint feeling rough and sat down for a while next to another runner who I arrived with me and we had a little picnic. After far too long a time, I decided I had better get moving and went to top up my water. The marshal could see I was feeling a bit rough and offered my some electrolytes and I...... refused. This was my downfall and probably one of the stupidest decisions I have made in an ultra. I explained that they were too sweet and would make me feel sick... better feel sick than suffer what I was about to suffer.

12 miles left. Shouldn’t be too bad.... or so I thought. I covered another 6 miles before my world closed in around me and the suffering really began. I started to dry-heave and sway all over the track as I made my way through the woods. The cramping in my legs intensified and spread up into my upper body and I was reduced to only running when I thought I could get away with it. I had to run with my arms above my head to try and relieve some of the cramping. Progress slowed and I was getting worried. I have been in this dark place a number of times before and even ended up overnight in hospital once from heat exhaustion. I finally reached and crossed the road with a little run before the dry heaving and cramps were too much and I entered the death march. I felt on the verge of passing out with only 2 miles from the end, but it could have been 100 miles as far as I was concerned. I lay down on the floor to try and stop the dizziness and a runner went by saying ‘looking good’ (at least I can laugh about it now). I started to lose feeling in most of my fingers now and I could see a repeat of Osmotherley Phoenix 2009 and my 7L of saline post race recovery. My saviour came in the form or a man and woman who picked me up and told me to keep going. After my attempt to convince them that I was going to die they dragged me along with them. I swayed onwards and about a mile from the end I got the worst cramps I have ever experienced. Again they picked me up and dragged me on. I swore the whole way through gritted teeth. The end was finally in sight and although my two saviours had got ahead, the woman came back for me (she wasn’t even in the event and she was still helping me). Someone told me to run for the camera but plodded on thinking ‘I’m going to die, why should I care about a photo’. I remember the sun being in my eyes and I was tending to walk slightly to the left before nearly walking in to crowd and correcting my path. After a number of well-done’s at the finish line all I could say was “I’m fu*#ed” and I staggered off to the tent without even collecting my goody bag or returning my dibber.

I somehow collected myself together enough to return the dibber, get my well earned t-shirt and bubbly, and apologies to a few people for my abrupt responses at the finish. I quickly headed to the showers to try and feel a little better but ended up lying on the shower floor among all the discarded shower gels, reaching up to turn it on and washing myself with one handed. The shower did pick me up and I finally got the feeling back into my fingers, but I think a big saving factor was that the temperature had dropped on the last section cooling me down lots. The cramps were there in force but I felt a bit more human again. My only brief comment to Rob at the end of the race was something like “can’t talk, fu*#ed” but I now managed to use a few more polite words in conversation. We waited at the finish line for Karl and I still worried that he had pulled out because despite all my words of wisdom about continuing, if I was suffering early on in my first ultra I would have probably pulled out. Only a very determined, strong willed and solid character would continue on to the finish, which is what Karl did, crossing the line and joining the others in their resolution to never run an ultra again. No worries I thought, they will be looking for their next one by time they have access to the internet (I was already getting excited about my 100 miler in a month time even though I thought I was going to die only a couple of hours earlier). We got to the Real Food Cafe late and it was closed, by some miracle we were allowed to have a meal in a pub like lock-in. Best food ever.

This event has left me a little frustrated. My body is still feeling fresh and I know I could have pushed so much more physically, but I always make myself ill through bad eating or drinking. This time I thought I had it all sorted with a perfect eating plan and I drank over 8L of water. My downfall was the electrolytes. I’ve done it so many times before so I shouldn’t have made the mistake. I have my 100miler in 4 weeks time and I can only guess it is going to be hot, so I need to fine tune this issue in my training.

Great day, great event.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Hardmoors 55

This was my first big run of the year and I was not very confident of success going into it. After spending most of January and February trying to recover from injury, I only managed to add to the list of problems including a bust calf and shin splints. I managed to get a couple of 20 mile runs in and even a 30 miler the month building up to the event but mostly relied on 3 mile runs on a treadmill to reduce the impact on my left leg. It was a total shock when I ran into the finish line in around 10 hours 30 minutes covering the 54 miles over the North Yorkshire Moors.

I had a game plan. It was to just run at a comfortable pace for as long as possible and enjoy myself as long as possible before the pain kicked in and the world would collapse around me. I figured that there was no point stressing for the first half and spoiling the entire run. After getting the bus to the start at Helmsley, I deposited my drop bag and queued to register where I chatted with someone who was planning on doing the run in around 11 hours. I was planning 13 hours to I figured good bye and good luck, I won’t see you again. I repacked my bag after the kit check before realising I was standing next to Andy Cole whose blog I follow regularly and whom gives me great motivation in my running. I could not resist but to say hello before heading outside in the sun. I think as far as perfect conditions go, we had them on Saturday 19th March. We had a race briefing from Jon Steele the race organiser who was also participating in the run this year, then headed off to the start line. I turned on my Garmin and stored it away in my bag so I could run without knowing my progress and to help keep stress levels down during the run. On the whole I was relax and looking forward to the adventure ahead.

3... 2... 1.. and off we go. I placed myself near the back and moved forward in the crowd until I was positioned with a group running at my 4 breaths in... 4 breaths out pace. The route follows the Cleveland Way, which we followed out of Helmsley and along the edge of Blackdale Howl Wood. I was feeling good and this section looked to be relatively flat so I allowed myself to step up the pace a little after about 2 miles to my 3 breaths in... 3 breaths out pace. The route follows mainly roads and tracks at this stage and there was a stream of runners playing leapfrog. The village of Cold Kirby approached quickly at around 5.8 miles and I found myself settling into a comfortable rhythm behind Andy Cole no less. I knew Andy was a solid runner and would probably be aiming to hit the first checkpoint at 9 miles in around 1 hour 30 minutes like myself, so I was confident my pace was good. As the crowds thinned, I started my out and back section to the White Horse and checkpoint 1. The route follows along the tops of a cliff next to a gliding club airfield before reaching the top of the white horse and down into the car park checkpoint at 9 miles. I had hit my planned average pace of 10 minute mile and set off for checkpoint 2 at Osmotherley, 22 miles into the route.

After leaving the checkpoint the route loops back along a forest track at the base of the cliff I previously ran along. Andy Cole was still just ahead but stopped for food and I went past, running on my own for the next few miles. There was a short steep climb back onto the top of the cliff before levelling out again. Runners were passing me in the other direction heading to checkpoint 1 and I could see some runners ahead who were heading my way, so I kept my pace steady and slowly crept up to them. Just before South Woods at the top of Whitestone Cliff I caught up with a runner who had stopped to get some food and it was no other than Jon Steele, the race organiser. I said a quick “hi” as a passed and continued along with Jon running not far behind. I had expected this section of the route to start getting hillier but the long views confirmed that I would be sticking to the higher ground along the ridges and would only have to tackle some small ups and downs. I was alone again going passed High Paradise Farm before hitting Hambleton Road and caught two more runners in Boltby Forest. My pace was still feeling relaxed and comfortable at an average of 10 minute miles and I knew I would reach the next checkpoint at Osmotherley ahead of my 4 hour plan. I ran behind the two runners along Arden Great Moor and we were overtaken by a couple of runners at White Gill Head, one of whom was a 9.30am starter and was out to win this thing. I got ahead of the two runners on the rocky decent down to the Car park at Thimbleby Moor, and I was about to worry about aggravating my leg injuries when disaster struck. I suddenly got a stabbing pain on one of my abb muscles on my right side. Running was agony. I kept stopping because the pain was severe and crouching over to try and stop the pain. Runners were passing me including Jon Steele who asked if I was ok. I figured that I had pulled a muscle and knew from doing it last year that I had to keep going and the pain would ease in about 10 miles. More runners passed me when I was reduce to a walk on the downhill’s as the pain was too bad and I could only accept the situation and keep going forward. Just passed Oak Dale I tightened my backpacks waist belt as tight I could to try and support my abbs and bent down crunching my stomach as hard as I could. When I started running again the pain was gone. How happy I was. I figured it must have been cramp. I picked up my pace and caught up with some of the runners who had passed me and made my way into Osmotherley at 22 miles. I had maintained an average 10 minute mile pace and was ahead of schedule. I was congratulating myself for eating loads of food while running, almost every 30 minutes, and drinking plenty. I felt as fresh as when I left the start and was looking forward to restocking from my first drop bag and heading off quickly. I soon realised that my drop bag was not there. I did loops of the hall looking for my bright orange bag and even some marshals help search. When I was asked if I put it in the correct car I replied with “car..... I thought it was a bus”. For some strange reason I wasn’t too bothered and the marshals were great in reminding me to grab some food on the way out as I had ate all mine and had none left. This all took just over 10 minutes and I wanted to get out and get going.

I started walking out the village putting my custard creams into my bag and trying to work out how I was going to run another 20 miles in the hill of the North Yorkshire Moors with a hand full of biscuits, when I took a quick stop in the local store and got a tuna and sweetcorn sandwich, which strangely enough I was craving on the approach into Osmotherley. I should have got more food but I just got the sandwich and ate it till the top of the hill and started running again. I knew this next section well as I have done it twice now in the Osmotherley Phoenix event. I continued on to the next checkpoint at the trig point at Arncliffe Wood and relaxed into a comfortable run across Scarth Wood Moor and into Clain Wood. I was still finding it easy to run at around an 8 minute mile pace on the flat and after 25 miles I was finding it strange that I was feeling so good. I was constantly waiting for the pain to kick in and my pace to drop. I passed Jon Steele again at this point and caught up with another runner at Huthwaite Green whom I would leapfrog now all the way to the next drop bag point at mile 42 and we would not see another runner the whole way. I took the lead and headed up the start of the big climbs up Round Hill to the next checkpoint and onto Carlton Moor. From here I could see the entire outer hill range sweeping round for miles. I made an educated guess that a peak in the distance was Roseberry Topping, which it was. After descending down from Carlton Moor the route differed from the Osmotherley Phoenix route. I stayed with the Cleveland Way and climbed to the higher ground of Cringle Moor and instead of the nice easy forestry track of the Phoenix, I climbed the next two hills to reach the Wain Stones and the next checkpoint. Another decent and another climb and I was still feeling good when reaching Carr Ridge and resumed an average pace of 10 minute miles. At 34 miles I still could not believe how good I still felt but at the time I had no idea how far I had gone and figured that it must have been around 30 miles. I was keeping a constant intake of biscuits trying to ration them out and was taking regular sips of cool water from the air chilled tube of my hydration bladder before the warm foul tasting water from the bladder itself reached the mouth piece. I was starting to feel quite sick now with all the sugar I had been eating and tried to imagine that the custard cream was steak and mashed potato. I passed the point at which the Phoenix route leaves and continued on towards the self clip point at Bloworth Crossing and into unknown territory. I started getting paranoid that I was off course and waited for the runner behind to catch up to help make a navigational decision. We ran on and finally got to the self clip.

The next section seemed to drag a bit because of the long straight tracks. The other runner pushed ahead as I congratulated myself for drinking enough and answering the call of nature. Maybe I should have held back on the congratulations as I passed what looked like Bisto’s Best. I continued on along Greenhow Bank with my 10 minute mile average pace and took in the views. Onto Battersby Moor and I knew I was getting close to the next drop bag point where I could restock on food and get some nice cold water to drink. It was getting cooler now but I was still sweating and heating my hydration bladder to sickly proportions. The track reached a road and a sign saying Kildale 2 miles. I caught up with the runner ahead before overtaking and lead the way down the decent into Kildale and the drop bag point. When I got into the hall and saw my orange drop bag things started to make sense in regards to the last drop bag. I had confused my second bag for my first and would have walked straight past the white one at Osmotherley. I had to laugh at the situation and dined on some sausage rolls to try and de-sugar my system and get rid of the nauseous feeling, along with some nice sugary Coke. I changed my top to try and feel a little fresher and after seeing runners arriving and leaving was about to leave when I saw the guy who I chatted with in the registration queue. He was digging into some rice pudding and it took about 1 second to convince me to do likewise. He would make a great rice pudding salesman. Right, this time I was leaving as I had spent around 14 minutes in the check point.

I started out along the road in Kildale and was chilled to the bone. I stopped and dug my fleece out of my bag and head off up a steep road which headed up into the forest around Coate Moor at which point I was sweating like a pig. I knew there were only 12 miles left and figured it was time to push on to the end. I had an idea of what time it was and some basic calculations showed that I would be finishing a lot sooner than 13 hours, but anything could still happen in the next 12 miles. I reached Captain Cook’s Monument and made the decent down to the car park at the base of Cockshaw Hill. Another climb now up to Great Ayton Moor and I could see runners behind fast approaching. I was hitting around a 10 minute mile pace on the flats but was averaging around 13 minute miles with the hills. I never have been and still was not in any mood to race with anyone, so I continued on with what felt comfortable. At the start of the out and back section to Roseberry Topping another runner was just returning and as I started out I remember thinking how cruel it was that I had to make a further decent before making the climb up to the next checkpoint.

I started my decent back down from Roseberry Topping while sending some text messages and passed numerous runners including the guy from the registration queue who was my rice pudding salesman (I will not know his name until the results come out), his friend, and also Jon Steele again. It was starting to get dark now and I could see some lights from Guisborough where the finish was. I had stopped eating because of feeling sick and knew this was always a big mistake at the end a run when you think you are almost finished. I made the effort to eat a jam sandwich which I had picked up from my drop bag kept taking sips of water. Along Newton Moor, Hutton Moor and Black Nab, me feet had been dry the entire day until I had to plough through a bog. It was getting much darker now and without my glasses on I was having trouble making good foot placement with all the stones on the path. When I was getting my headtorch out, the rice pudding salesman and his friend caught up with me before heading into Guisborough Woods and I made an effort to quicken my pace to keep up. I found that my legs still had a lot in them and were working fine but the sick feeling I was having was getting worse. I knew I should keep eating and drink but I just buried my head in the sand and kept on going. It was good having company and chatted with the two runners as we followed the signs marked with tape. At one point we came across a sign which showed an obvious direction but there was no tape. A moment of decisions and we were saved but the route setter himself, Jon Steele who ran towards the sign, stumbled, and attempted to impale himself on it. The four of us ran on with Jon and one of the runners pushing ahead with me and rice pudding sales man to follow behind until they were out of sight. The two of us ran on to find the last self clip point and head down to the disused railway line and the last mile to the finish. I was so grateful to have someone to run with and we ran on while waves of sickness hit me making me want to walk the last bit. But run on we did making comments about how a 10 minute mile pace felt more like a 5 minute miler. Finally, the steps off the track in through the car park to the end.

We were surprised to get interrogated about the last self clip point but found out that people were missing it as there was a discrepancy in the location it was placed. We made our way into the rugby clubhouse where I started feeling really dizzy and figured that like every other big event I have done, that I was in for a rough ride for the next couple of hours. Luckily after only about 15 minutes I was feeling not only human again and pretty good. I sat with my two new running comrades when it sunk in that I had completed the 54 miles in around 10 hours 30 minutes and what a result. Before the event I questioned whether or not I would get to the finish never mind doing it in my best time yet for this distance. We realised that we had a long wait until our drop bags were returned to the finish and I was persuaded to go for fish and chips. After the prize giving ceremony and collecting my last drop bag when it arrived, I set off for the drive home and stopped to give Andy Cole a lift back to where his car was parked. He did not recognise me from my introduction at the start line which was lucky because he may have thought I was some kind of running blog stalker. I finally got home at just before 2 in the morning and lay in a hot bath to inflame all my leg muscles some more.

What an event. Not including the fact that I exceeded my own expectations, I would say that it was the best route I have run so far in my running career and one of the best events. I would recommend anyone and everyone to run the Hardmoors 55 and I can’t wait until the Hardmoors 60 in September where I get to run that last 60 miles of the Cleveland Way along the coast. Jon Steele hosted and ran a great event and all the marshals and checkpoint volunteers did an amazing job. As for why I did so well, there are so many things I have change recently. Maybe it was that I was running less miles in my training, maybe it was because I carbo loaded for the first time ever, maybe it was the perfect conditions on the day. All I know is that if it works, don’t mess with it, and I will be continuing my training along the same lines with the one goal of staying injury free.