I entered this race back in December 2012 as part of the Hardmoors Grand Slam, the 30, 55, 60 and 110 mile ultras all in one calendar year. These races take in much of the Cleveland Way (if not all!) and the heritage coastline from Saltburn down to Filey.
Grand Slam entered and the 30 and 55 completed! Now, the 110 mile loomed large and looked at me as only a big race can, this would be my first 100 mile ultra. I entered with my mate Steve but knew of many others who would be taking part in this epic run. Whilst this was an event in its own right, it was also a testing ground for the Lakeland 100 at the end of July. I normally get quite nervous before an ultra but not so for this one, it was simply too large to comprehend! So many variables to consider and 43 miles longer than I had ever run before and 52 miles longer than anything I’d run this year.
This race is normally run with a support crew but can be run without one if you have sufficient experience (or daftness). We “chose” to run unsupported as our friends and family do not appear to be as daft as us! This makes for a slight logistical headache as more has to be carried and drop bags arranged but along with the manned checkpoints on the route it is possible, as long as you can manage without the contact on the way. It can be lonely out there……
We arrived in Filey a little late due to traffic and promptly caught the minibus that would take us to Helmsley, the start of the 110 and the Cleveland Way. After a thorough kit check and collection of race number we milled around Helmsley FC waiting for the race briefing off Jonathan Steele, Race Director and ate the chocolate fudge on offer! The start was on the lane just outside the football club at 5pm and we were soon on our way with friends and support crews all wishing us well. We took a steady ‘lets be at the back’ approach!
Navigation for this race is quite straightforward but there are a few tricky bits, but having done the 60 (coastal section) last September and having done the 55 in March, albeit the wrong way round, most of the navigation was sorted.
With a race this large I try to break it into smaller more manageable chunks, otherwise I find it just too overwhelming. So mentally I broke it down into checkpoints, manned and unmanned (although most were manned in the end) and then went about ticking them off one by one. It also seemed wise to run to some sort of plan, so 32 hours was used giving a buffer for when things would ultimately get very pear-shaped (which they did and then some).
The first leg to Osmotherley (23 miles) via White Horse seemed to go well and I had a good chat to Flip Owen but as we donned head-torches and added layers it was out into fading light and the climb up to Carlton Bank, Cringle Moor and Cold Moor (or as Jon put it – the three sisters of Steele!). The weather on this section was poor with a clag on the tops and visibility down to a few feet in places, this made progress very slow. Flip seemed to be in his element (listening to Rush!) but Steve did not enjoy this section, preferring something more runnable instead and started to complain of problems with energy and feet and talk of pulling out entered the conversation. The pull up to Blowarth Crossing (37m) seemed to go on and on but we made up some time going down to the checkpoint at Kildale (43m) in the dawn light. There was the climb out and back to Roseberry Topping to contend with but we were rewarded with spectacular views at 6am, 4.5 hours after the leaders had gone through! We agreed to take it steady and get to the coast and the Saltburn checkpoint to re-assess, knowing there was hot food on offer was a major incentive.
We arrived at Saltburn (58m) around 9am having been on the go for 16 hours, a little slower than our predicted time (15hrs) but not disastrous at this stage. Hot food scoffed we were both on our way up the coastal path. Steve seemed to have found some energy and talk of pulling out was a thing of the past. We shuffled onward but we were now both suffering with foot problems, Steve’s caused by his sealskin socks giving him trench foot and mine caused by Morton’s Neuroma (apparently!) which is like running on broken glass whilst having your feet torched, something I had experienced two weeks earlier on a 40 mile road run but thought it was just a result of tarmac, rain and new socks.
Sporting the Hardmoors Sleeve!
The run continues along the coast visiting some stunning villages and in the bright sunshine (see photo) was quite uplifting, Runswick Bay at 70 miles, Sandsend at 79 miles, Whitby and the long pull up to Ravenscar at 90 mile! But, Steve was again suffering with feet problems and decided to call it a day at 86 miles at Robins Hood Bay, a great shame as he was still in good shape but his feet were just too far gone and it made sense for him to stop at this point. I carried on without music and company but was determined to shuffle on to get to my last drop bag at Ravenscar by 8pm leaving me with 9 hours to complete the final 23 miles, surely enough time?!
A very quick turn around at Ravenscar (90m) had me on my way by 8pm (this was now 4 hours down on my predicted plan!), a little down the road I re- applied Vaseline to some chafing to prevent it getting worse. **NEVER, ever, ever put Vaseline on broken chafed skin, the sight of me holding onto a 5 bar gate bent double with a searing pain where I had applied said product should be enough to stay in your memory. Headlines of “Gate assaulted by well oiled runner” filled my mind. Luckily after 5 minutes this had subsided and I managed to get on with the already awkward shuffle to Scarborough (101 miles), the long drag to the checkpoint on tarmac was unbearable on broken feet but I was so close to hitting that 100 mile mark I just gritted my teeth and shuffled forward. Checking in at 12.08am on the Sunday morning (just under 5 hours left to do 12 miles).
The marshals here mentioned there was a group behind me so I decided to keep moving, getting to the end of the beach and climbing up the path which I swear was made steeper especially for us this year with sharper chippings laid on top. At the top I was greeted by a detour away from the Cleveland Way up through a suburban area that seemed to go on for miles and finally putting me at the point where you drop back onto the Cleveland way from the road.
I was now struggling. From the 30 hour point onward I suffered from blurred vision, loss of balance and increasing foot pain which made every step incredibly painful.
It was also at this point that the hallucinations began. Just so we’re straight on this – I simply am not the type of bloke who would suffer from this, not a chance, no way. So imagine my surprise when the runner in front of me running into Scarborough just vanished into thin air, hippo’s started to grace the edge of the hilltop paths in place of gorse bushes, and my peripheral vision was filled with people running along. This was quite entertaining along some of the more precarious paths! I must have looked quite a sight making way for these apparitions.
About 5 miles out from Filey I was caught by the group, their head-torches had been getting ever closer and my pace had dwindled to a couple of miles per hour, barely able to shuffle, I accepted the inevitable and was about to let them all past when the sweeper caught me up and I explained my predicament to which he replied “your feet will be fine, now run, move it”. I hadn’t the energy to argue and whilst not being entirely happy with this I did as he asked. When I slowed again he told me again to pick up the pace to rejoin the group who were just in front, again I did as asked. Having run alone for 20 odd miles this company of sorts seemed to be just what I needed, my pace picked up (a little) and I kept within sight of the group to the finish even managing to run part of the way to the road just down from the finish at the school. I finished in 34 hours 45 minutes and 24 seconds. I was joint 29th out of 37 finishers.
Whilst I never contemplated pulling out I did accept that I would not make it within the 36 hour time limit, which I wasn’t happy about. So, I have to thank ‘the grim sweeper!’ for pushing me onwards otherwise I would have not done it in under 36 hours in the state I was in, my miserable shuffle would have slowed still further without that final push.
At the finish I was met with a hall of sleeping runners or weary finishers being cared for by the team, I managed to endure a cold shower (trust me – I needed it) and a pasta pot before climbing into my sleeping bag and getting a couple of hours sleep before starting on a constant stream of coffee and a trip en mass to the nearby cafe for a full English.
As I write this five days on my feet are now less swollen, but still exceptionally painful. My forehead bears the scars of my stupidity for not using sun-cream or a hat.
But I am beginning to realise what I have accomplished, the elation taking some time to appear due to the physical and mental battering I went through. All of a sudden anything seems possible.
My thanks go to all marshals, supporters, runners and ice cream vans.
Never has so much pain been so much fun.