The Hardmoors 55 is billed on its website as ‘one hell of a race’, and that’s no exaggeration! Following the Cleveland Way for 55 miles from Guisborough to Helmsley, it has over 2,000 metres of ascent (including some pretty brutal hills) and takes in the highest, most exposed section of the North York Moors. Because of this, and because it’s usually in March, the weather always plays its part in the proceedings. In 2018 the race took place as the Beast from the East swept the country and was officially stopped halfway through during a blizzard. Last year featured torrential rain, freezing gale force winds and horizontal hail, and many runners dropped out – including me! The wind was so strong we couldn’t even run on some flat sections. Soaked to the skin and dithering with cold, I’d had enough after a horrible 20 miles that took me six hours. It was the first time I’d ever DNF’d in a race, and afterwards I felt really annoyed about it, even though I know it was the right decision at the time.
This year coronavirus had postponed the event from March to October, and I was back to attend to some unfinished business! The race was run under Covid guidelines, with masked, socially distanced registration, a staggered start, and hygiene procedures in place at checkpoints. We also all had our temperature taken on arrival. The weather forecast was for wind in the morning and rain later on. I felt my training had gone pretty well, so felt reasonably confident I’d make the finish as our group of six set off at 8.48 am precisely.
The first part of the route climbs steadily upwards, and after six miles comes the first ‘peak’ of the day: Roseberry Topping, aka the Yorkshire Matterhorn. My poles came out for the first time here! It’s quite a technical climb/descent, and with runners going both ways on an out and back route quite close to the start, it was pretty busy. The wind was really howling up there, and as I got right to the top (there are marshals, so you can’t cheat) I was literally blown onto the trig point! So I was pretty glad to get down again.
The first checkpoint was at Gribdale, eight miles in. Runners had to sanitise their hands when entering each checkpoint. Masked and gloved marshals distributed all the drinks, so we didn’t have to touch any bottles, and all the snacks were individually wrapped; so it all felt quite safe. I had a drop bag here, so drank my chocolate milk and took my pain au chocolat and sausage roll with me for later! Usually some checkpoints are at indoor venues, such as village halls, and have hot food and drinks, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible this year.
After Gribdale there’s a climb up to the impressive Captain Cook’s monument, then a nice long descent to Kildale. From here there’s a road section that goes uphill for quite a long way and seems never-ending! The second checkpoint was along here at Warren Moor (12 miles), but I didn’t stop as I was well stocked up at this point. The next eight miles or so are some of the most exposed on the course, and there was a gale force wind blowing against us, so progress was a bit slow; but at least it wasn’t a freezing wind like last year. I tried to suck it up and enjoy the views, although I could see the rain clouds coming in! It was also a good opportunity to eat, which is really important in a race of this length. As somebody once said to me “If you can’t run, eat!”, which is excellent advice for a ultra.
The next checkpoint came up at Clay Bank, 20 miles in. I was really pleased to get here, as this is where I pulled out, had my tracker cut off and climbed into the marshal’s ‘car of shame’ last year! This was another drop bag point, where I had more chocolate milk and collected a couple of gels, as I knew eating would be difficult over the next section. The rain also started at this point. Straight after this is the hardest part of the course; the infamous Three Sisters. This is a roller coaster of three huge hills with steep climbs and descents, including a scramble through the spectacular Wainstones. Rocky, technical descents are not my forte, so it was just a matter of taking things steady and getting on with it. The views are amazing though!
Then follows a gentle descent to Lordstones, followed immediately by another huge climb up Carlton Bank. At least the wind had died down a bit by this point!
The next section of the course, towards Osmotherley, is one of the nicest parts, with some gentle descent and pretty woodland. There was another checkpoint at Scarth Nick, just before Osmotherley (28 miles in) where I picked up some peanuts and a chocolate Freddo – haven’t had one of those for a while! From Osmotherley there is another big climb. It was still raining steadily and the light was starting to fade by now. I was still only just over halfway, and felt a bit fed up for a while. As I passed Square Corner at 32 miles, many runners had supporters parked up in cars and vans waiting to meet them. For a moment I thought it would be nice to sit down in a warm van – but then realised it might be hard to get going again afterwards!
There’s another steady climb from Square Corner up to Black Hambleton. Yes, another one! I had to stop and retie one of my shoelaces along here, so thought I might as well put my head torch on at the same time. At the top of the climb, where the path flattened out, huge puddles had formed that were impossible to avoid, so it was cold and soaking feet for the last 20 miles! My gloves were also wet by now and my hands were getting a bit cold, but at least it was possible to run quite well on this stretch, so I just got on with it and managed to warm up. It was pitch black by now, but there were lots of people around so it wasn’t scary. It was nice to chat to a few folk en route. As we entered Boltby Forest I felt quite positive, as I knew Steve was waiting to see me at Sutton Bank not far ahead.
My last drop bag was at the Sneck Yate checkpoint at 39 miles. I had more chocolate milk (magic stuff!) and tried to eat some of my sausage roll, but couldn’t, so cracked on. Or tried to – this was where the ‘fun’ started! The day’s rain had turned all the grassy tracks from now onwards into a mud fest. Trails that I would happily trip along on a fine, dry day became really hard work; so there was quite a bit of walking from here! I was pretty pleased to get a hug and some chocolate from Steve when I saw him. The temptation to just stop and get into the car was huge, because I knew how hard the route would be from here to the end at Helmsley, but I was determined to finish. Steve ran with me from Sutton Bank to the final checkpoint at the White Horse (support runners are allowed later in the race), where a fab crowd of marshals, including my friend Mandy, were cheering people in. A great boost, and the rain had even stopped!
However, there were still about ten miles to go and conditions were so gloopy it took me nearly three hours to cover them. Apart from a few short road sections, everything was so wet and muddy, sapping energy from the legs – it was like wading through treacle in places. When I tried to use my poles to help on a steep, muddy downhill they just sank in and got stuck! I tried to comfort myself by thinking we were all in the same boat. At one point I took a wrong turn that probably added on about half a mile – that’ll teach me to blindly follow another runner! Despite the tough conditions, everyone seemed in good spirits, encouraging each other on and having a laugh at times. I was really pleased to get the last climb out of Rievaulx finished, because I knew it was then all downhill to Helmsley. But when I ran downhill my quads began to hurt! I was really pleased to finish and also happy that I’d made it to the end this time. Unfortunately Covid restrictions meant that we couldn’t wait around and chat to people as we usually would, but had to leave straight away. Our hard-earned goody bags contained a technical t-shirt featuring the all-important Hardmoors crossed swords, plus some heavy, high-quality bling.
My finish time was 14:48:05 – slower than I would have liked, but I think the conditions slowed everyone down. I was 181st out of 221 individual finishers (almost 40 people dropped out or didn’t make the time cuts along the way) and 4th out of the eight FV50s that finished. So not an easy day at the office! At the end I said “Never again!” but after a few days of recovery I’m thinking I could go faster in better conditions. Apparently good weather has been known at this race in the past! And I don’t have a major goal for next spring yet…
I was really excited in the run-up to the Hardmoors 60. I’d done several of the Hardmoors marathon series over the last couple of years, but had never completed one of the ultras. I did start the Hardmoors 55 in March, but DNF’d due to the horrendous weather conditions – you can read about that here. But the weather forecast for the 60 looked great (if a little too warm!) so it looked like it would be a grand day out. The Cleveland Way national trail in Yorkshire runs from Helmsley to Filey. In a nutshell, the Hardmoors 55 follows this along the North York Moors from Helmsley to Guisborough, then the 60 takes in the second ‘half’ from Guisborough to Filey, mostly along the coast and featuring around 3,500 metres of elevation. There’s also a Hardmoors 110 for anybody brave enough to do it all in one. These are all miles by the way, not kilometres!
My only aim for the 60 was to finish, and having done lots of hilly training and events this year I was reasonably confident of doing that. So imagine my disappointment when, three days before the event, I was struck down with a horrible sickness bug! I spent the whole of Wednesday in bed, throwing up and unable to eat – only the second sick day I’ve had off work in about five years. Great timing! My goal was then readjusted to making the start and just getting as far as I could!
I travelled up to Guisborough after work on the Friday, as we were able to register at Race HQ (Guisborough Sea Cadets) and have our electronic trackers fitted the night before the race. This is great, as it gives you an extra half hour in bed! Steve and I stayed at a B&B just a couple of miles away. It was good to meet up with my friend Mandy at the race briefing in the morning; she is an awesome runner who had already done the Highland Fling and Lakeland 50 this year.
As we set off at 8 am the weather was already sunny, but still nice and cool. The first mile was a little frustrating as we all had to queue to get over two stiles, resulting in a 17 minute first mile for me; but hey, it’s a long day out so not that important in the grand scheme of things. The second mile includes probably the toughest section of the day, up the Tees Link footpath to Highcliff Nab; this is a steep climb up to the Cleveland Way, gaining lots of height in a short space of time. Early in the day, but at least our legs were fresh! My poles were really useful there. By the time we’d hauled ourselves up there we were all certainly well warmed up.
After this baptism of fire we headed out to the coast at Saltburn along some lovely undulating woodland trail, heading ultimately down to the coast and the first checkpoint (9 miles). I had a drink of Coke and a handful of peanuts and cracked on. Almost immediately there’s another steep climb out of Saltburn up Cat Nab, after which we were up onto the coastal section of the Cleveland Way, where we stayed for almost all of the rest of the race. The scenery along here unfolds into one spectacular view after another, mostly featuring huge cliffs dropping down to beautiful beaches. Possibly not a great race to do if you have a problem with heights, but the path is always a safe distance from the edge.
I settled into a good rhythm and was really enjoying myself as the miles ticked by. The sun grew warmer, and I was very grateful that quite a strong breeze was taking the edge off the heat.
The route passed through some lovely fishing villages such as Staithes and Runswick Bay, where there was another checkpoint (21 miles) with the first of our two drop bags. The marshals at Hardmoors events (or Hardshals, as they are known) are always brilliant. As I approached, someone called out my number and someone else immediately presented me with my drop bag – fantastic! I’d packed a bottle of chocolate milk to drink here, as I think it’s a good way to take on calories without feeling too full. I don’t like to stay or sit at checkpoints for too long, otherwise I find it hard to get going again. So I took some crisps to eat on the hoof and headed off across the beach towards another steep climb.
We spent pretty much the whole day gaining height and then dropping down again. A lot of this up and down is done on steps, which I think makes climbing a bit easier, but descending a bit harder. The steps are mostly either rough and uneven or narrow and wooden, so not really possible to run down for most people. They’re also quite energy sapping and hard on the quads! I tried to remember to keep eating and drinking plenty and trundled on.
Just before the halfway point we passed through Sandsend and arrived at Whitby. By now it was afternoon, the sun was still shining, and the streets were crowded with people enjoying a day out at the seaside. We wove our way through them down into the town, then out the other side and up the famous abbey steps. I chatted with another runner who’d just bought some chips and kindly offered me a few – they tasted great! I saw another couple of runners queuing for ice creams by the abbey – great idea!
The third checkpoint was just past here at Saltwick Bay (31 miles). It was then only a few miles of gorgeous clifftop running from there to the next checkpoint at Robin Hood’s Bay (37 miles). Lots of walkers were out on the Cleveland Way, and most of them were lovely folk who were happy to let us runners pass and give us some encouragement – although they probably thought we were crazy! At Robin Hood’s Bay there was some fabulous lemon cake on offer, which was just what I needed to power me up for the next section. We climbed up more steps out of the village, followed by a bit of level running before a big uphill hike to Ravenscar. Luckily this is on a good quality path, so wasn’t too tough, but it did occur to me at that point that we were still only two thirds of the way to Filey! We deviated slightly from the Cleveland Way here to go to the checkpoint at the village hall (41 miles) which had our second drop bag. Hot food and drinks were also available here. I took advantage of this stop to go to the loo and change my socks, before grabbing some pizza to eat as I set off walking down the road.
With fresh feet and some food inside me I felt great, and seemed to be going quite well on the next stretch between Ravenscar and Scarborough. There was a lot of slight downhill incline along here, which obviously helped! Daylight began to fade after about an hour, so I stopped and put on my head torch. Over the next half hour or so there was a spectacular sunset, the sky aflame with pink and orange; then shortly afterwards the moon rose over the sea. It all looked quite amazing, and phone photos don’t really do it justice!
Runners had become quite strung out by this point, and I didn’t see anyone else – runner or otherwise – for quite some time. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about running in the dark so high up; but the path was clear and well-marked, I have a good head torch and the moon was bright, so it was actually OK and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. It was very quiet and I could hear the sea lapping gently far below, which was quite soothing. Eventually I caught up with a man and woman who were running together and stayed a little way behind them until we reached Scarborough. My Garmin died before that, so from then on I had no real idea of what time it was. The route goes along the seafront road at Scarborough, with about three miles of flat pavement. Sounds good in theory, but actually a bit sapping for the legs! I managed to run almost all of it. It was now mid evening and all the bars and restaurants were in full Saturday night mode. Right at the end of the seafront, the route went across a bit of beach, then up a hill to the final checkpoint at Holbeck (53 miles). I had to sit down to remove some sand from my shoes, then grabbed a quick snack before the final stretch to the finish at Filey.
Setting off from here, I realised that my quads and hips were starting to hurt quite a bit, and it was gradually becoming more difficult to run. Shortly afterwards we reached Cayton Bay, where a huge set of concrete steps go down into a wood, then shortly afterwards straight back up again. We’d been warned at the race briefing that anyone who missed this bit out would get an extra hour added to their time, so I sucked it up – and I think this section just about finished me off! I hauled myself up the steps with my poles and took a gel at the top, which I hoped would power me on. I knew there were only about six miles to go (hey, just a 10K!), but it became more and more difficult to keep moving forward at anything other than a walk. At one point I saw a light shining on the path ahead of me and thought it was a marshal, but lo and behold it was Steve with a torch! He’d popped up to give me a bit of encouragement and it was lovely to see him.
From that point I had to pretty much walk all the way to the finish. I wasn’t lacking in energy, but my legs were giving up the ghost. Now and then I broke into a bit of an ‘ultra shuffle’ but it never lasted for long, as my hips and quads were really giving me some grief. It was just a matter of toughing it out until the end! I thought maybe I should have used my poles more than I did, as I hadn’t bothered to get them out for all of the climbs. A lesson learned maybe? After what seemed like forever the path began to go down into Filey, where the final ‘treat’ awaited – another massive set of steps to go down, which my quads did not appreciate at all!. If I hadn’t had poles I think I would have had to hold someone’s hand! The official end of the Cleveland Way is at Filey Brigg, but the race finish is at the Methodist Hall, a short distance away up a hill. Steve met me at the seafront and encouraged me to run the last bit to the finish, but I could only manage a few yards as we approached the hall. I looked up at the clock on the building and was amazed to see it was half past midnight. Although I’d had a fantastic day I was very glad it was over!
People applauded as I entered the hall, which was great. My tracker was removed and someone handed me a medal and t-shirt. Food was available, but I really didn’t feel like eating at that point. I took a couple of snacks to have in the car on the way home, where I’d also stashed some more chocolate milk. I finally got to bed a 3 am!
Scores on the doors? My finish time was 16:31:53. So this 62 mile race took me over half an hour longer to complete than The Wall in June, which was eight miles further but had only about a third of the elevation. 250 runners started the race; 202 finished within the cut-off time of 18 hours, with a further eight finishing after the cut-off. So 40 runners dropped out along the way. I came 136th overall, 30th woman out of 60 (only about a quarter of the field were women) and 9th out of 15 FV50 runners. There were some very strong athletes in the FV50 category, a couple of whom finished in the top ten women overall. So nothing to set the world on fire from me, but considering that three days before I’d been too poorly to even get up I was happy with that. Would I do it again? Probably not, as there are lots of other races I’d like to do, but I am very glad I did it – not only because I now have a very cool Hardmoors crossed swords ultra t-shirt, but also because there is a certain satisfaction in having completed such a tough event, no matter how slow I was towards the end! I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as a first ultra, as it is pretty tough – the fact that it carries four UTMB points is an indication of that. But if you love a challenge and a day out at the seaside, you should definitely do it! Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.
I’ve been a bit slack on the blogging front this year because life has been really busy. Between work, training, doing up a house and studying sports massage therapy at college, there hasn’t been much time for writing. But I’m still here and still running! So here’s a bit of a catch-up post. I haven’t had time to blog about most of the races I’ve done this year (although some I have reviewed in the past), but if you have any questions about any of them, please feel free to shoot them over.
I did quite a few events in the spring as training for the Hardmoors 50 and The Wall ultras. I wanted to pack in as many long, hilly runs as possible, and doing those as events means you get variety, support and people to chat to, which I think just makes training much easier and more enjoyable. Among these were regular favourites such as the Temple Newsam Ten, Harewood House Half, Daffodil Dash, Vale of York 10, Ravenscar Half and Top of the Wolds 10K; plus some new races like the Hardmoors Saltburn and Wainstones Marathons, Endurancelife Northumberland Ultra, Helmsley 10K and the Hardmoors 110 (as part of a relay team). I also did the North Lincolnshire Half (a road event) for fun with a friend who hadn’t run for a while.
Sadly I DNF’d for the first time ever at the Hardmoors 50 in horrendous conditions (more on that here). I felt bad about it at the time, then discovered that many others had also pulled out, so fortunately got over that pretty quickly. However, I had a great day out at The Wall and really enjoyed it. My review of that is here.
So what’s next? I had a week off after The Wall followed by a couple of easy weeks, because I think it’s really important to let your body have some recovery time after a long event like that. Even when the DOMS have faded, your system is still recuperating. But I have the Hardmoors 60 coming up this month, so did a couple of hilly half marathons for fun to get me back into the swing of things; the Conquer the Forest Challenge at Dalby Forest and the Yorkshire Wolds Half, which is part of Bishop Wilton country show. This is such a great, low key event, and you get a lovely handmade pottery mug at the finish. I can’t think why more people don’t do it!
Last month I did the Hardmoors Farndale marathon. I say marathon; this is a Hardmoors event, so of course it was actually 30 miles! It wasn’t an easy day, as it was really hot and there was lots of climbing, but it’s a beautiful course so the amazing views make it worthwhile.
I also did the Princess Challenge at the end of August with a friend, because it’s great fun – and when else will I get the chance to wear a tutu and tiara at my age?!
Back in the spring quite a few of my friends did road marathons and I must admit I suffered slightly from FOMO. After the furnace that was last year’s London Marathon I said I’d never do one again, but I now have a bit of a hankering to have one last shot at Good For Age and have entered the Nottingham Christmas Marathon at the end of November. Over the last year or so I’ve focused on endurance rather than pace, so after I’ve recovered from the Hardmoors 60 I’m going to have a go at switching that around a bit. I got my PBs at 10K, half and full marathon in 2016 and I’m not sure I’ll ever better those, but maybe it will be fun trying – or maybe not, we’ll see! Oh, and I’ve entered the ballots for the London and Tokyo Marathon, although I don’t hold out much hope of getting into either. Now I’m really looking forward to autumn, my favourite season for running. I’m currently enjoying tapering for the 60 and making some plans for next year – and hopefully now blogging more frequently.
Anyone else up for a Christmas marathon?!
Last September I spent my birthday at the Endurancelife North York Moors Ultra. It had lots of climbing, but was a great event and we were blessed with fine weather. I enjoyed it so much I decided to enter the Endurancelife Northumberland Ultra the weekend before last. I’d been following a 20 week training plan for the Hardmoors 50, and this was the perfect distance at the perfect time to be my longest run before my taper for that.
Like all the Endurancelife runs, there are 10K, half/full marathon and ultra events all taking place on the same day with different start times. For the marathon and ultra runners sign on at Bamburgh Castle, are transported to Alnwick Castle by coach, then run back up the coast to Bamburgh. It looked like a great route on paper. People doing the ultra complete an additional loop of around eight miles to make up a distance of just over 35 miles.
I travelled up to Northumberland from York the night before the event. Accommodation in this area can be expensive, but I managed to find a really cheap Airbnb in a quiet village just a few miles from Bamburgh. Venturing into Seahouses for some carb loading chips at teatime, I noticed several Endurancelife course markers around town.
The next morning I headed out at 6.30 am to register at Bamburgh Castle by 7am. It was pretty cold at that time, but the weather forecast for the day was dry and bright. After a rather lengthy race briefing (fortunately inside a tent!) we boarded our coaches to Alnwick. The sun was rising over the sea and the whole area looked beautiful and a little mystical. I couldn’t wait to get going!
After disembarking at Alnwick Castle we set off at around 8.20 am.
The first six miles of the course were inland, mostly flat with a few undulations; a great warm-up, heading out towards the coast and the first checkpoint at Alnmouth. There are five checkpoints along the course, approximately six miles apart, where you have to dib in with your timing device.
Refreshments are available, but are somewhat limited, with just water to drink and jelly beans/custard creams to eat. I did get a bit fed up of custard creams by the end of the day! Participants are warned in the event manual that food and drink is limited, but I think for the entrance fee a couple more options could be provided.
However, that’s a minor quibble about what is otherwise a fantastic event. Once the course reached the coast, it gradually wound its way northwards, through picturesque villages such as Boulmer, Crastor and Beadnell. Quite a few miles are on sand, which I was a bit worried about as I thought it would be really hard work; but it was so firm it was actually quite nice to run on. We got our feet a bit wet in places; I’d carried a spare pair of socks in anticipation of this, but my Inov-8s dried out pretty well. The weather was perfect – cool and bright – and the scenery was amazing. We also had a tailwind for most of the day, which was brilliant.
After a while the leaders of the marathon (which had started about an hour after the ultra) started to come past us. It was amazing to see their pace! In some places the trail was quite narrow and we had to stand aside to let them by, but as I wasn’t gunning for time it was no great hardship. A little while later we started to mingle with runners in the half marathon and 10K too. I had some lovely chats with people along the way, which is always one of the best things about ultra runs. Not many people are in a hurry!
The added ‘ultra’ loop at the end of the marathon had quite a bit of road in it, but it was very quiet so not really a problem. We kind of ran in a big circle around the castle, which never seemed to get any closer until the last mile! Looking at my watch on this last section, I was determined to finish under seven hours, and just managed to squeak in at 6:59:48. I later received an email from the organisers to say I’d won my category. Sounds impressive, but there were only two FV55s in the ultra! I’m still taking it as a win though 🙂
The t-shirt and medal for this one aren’t really anything to write home about, if you’re bothered about that sort of thing. But having done two now, I can say that Endurancelife events are well organised and supported, and so well signed it’s virtually impossible to get lost. Northumberland would be a great first ultra, as there’s only 396 metres of elevation. It’s also a relatively easy way to acquire two UTMB points. My prize was a voucher for £10 off a future Endurancelife event, so I may well be back here next year!
Wow. Race to the Stones. I’d been looking forward to this one for so long and it didn’t disappoint! This is quite a long post, but lots of people have asked me questions about RTTS because they’re thinking of entering, so I don’t want to leave anything out. I’ve been interested in RTTS ever since I became aware of it two years ago. It’s a 100K ultra that starts in Lewknor in Berkshire and follows the Ridgeway path, finishing at the ancient stone circle at Avebury in Wiltshire. Some people do it in one day and some do it over two days, camping at the halfway point. Some run and some walk. I had no idea whether I could run 100K – if I could keep going for the amount of time that would take – but I became a bit obssessed with it; the rolling hills, the Field of Dreams… it looked amazing! I took a charity place with Cancer Research UK, partly because it’s a great cause, but also because I thought I’d be more likely to keep going if people had sponsored me to do it. You can read about my training in previous posts. After all the months since I’d entered last December it was hard to believe the big day was finally happening!
Steve and I travelled down from Yorkshire the day before the event and stayed nearby at Stokenchurch, about five minutes’ drive from the start at Field Farm in Lewknor. There was a great chippy nearby, perfect for carb loading! I was too nervous/excited to sleep well and woke up at about 4am. I had a tin of rice pudding for breakfast and we headed to Lewknor at about 6.45. Participants were started in waves to ease congestion, and I was in the second one at 7.45. There were no queues at registration and hardly any at the portaloos. Unlike most ultras RTTS doesn’t have a mandatory kit list, so it’s up to you what you carry. The weather forecast was dry, but ominous grey clouds were looming, so I did take my rain jacket and hat. There was a great atmosphere at the start. I couldn’t quite believe I was actually about to attempt to run 62 miles, twice as far as I’d ever run before. I decided just to approach it as a big day out and take it one mile at a time. We set off on time in a blaze of coloured smoke!
The first couple of miles were pretty flat, which was a good warm up. But there are lots of hills! There were pit stops approximately every 10K on the course, and all were really well stocked with a wide variety of snacks and drinks. I’d only brought one emergency Clif Shotblok in my backpack and I didn’t even need that. There were High 5 gels and electrolyte or energy drinks at each stop too. When I arrived at each pit stop I had a cup of Coke and made a High 5 Zero drink to take with me, because it was a warm day and I wanted to minimise the chance of getting cramp. I had in mind Nicky Spinks‘ advice on ultra eating, which is to eat lots and start early, so at Pit Stop 1 I had half a banana and took a Perkier quinoa bar to eat on the move. I’d heard many tales of how it gets harder to eat as time goes on, so I made an effort. I had various snacks along the way, including Mini Cheddars and chocolate, but I found that crisps, Perkier bars and Jelly Babies worked best for me. My strategy was to eat something whenever I was walking uphill.
The weather forecast turned out to be wrong and it actually rained quite a bit in the first half. I put my hat on but not my jacket, as it was really warm. The route flattened out a bit as we ran alongside the Thames for a while and also went through a couple of villages. People say that in ultras you go through good phases and bad ones, and that both pass. I felt great in the first quarter of RTTS, but towards the end of the first half I started to feel a bit nauseous. I think it was because I’d taken a couple of High 5 gels and they didn’t agree with me. But I focussed on the beautiful scenery and was grateful that my legs and feet felt fine; and I knew that Steve was waiting for me at the halfway point and that give me a boost. Just before halfway I also saw Shona from Run Mummy Run, who was out supporting, and she gave me hug even though I must have been very smelly, which was lovely!
I arrived at halfway after six and a half hours and couldn’t imagine how I was going to cover that distance again, almost certainly taking even longer. I saw a huge inflatable gantry with Finish on it, thought “But I’m not finishing yet” and ran around it, then had to be directed back through it to cross the halfway timing mat! I took a break here of around ten minutes. You can actually have a proper hot meal at halfway, but I couldn’t face that and certainly didn’t want it jiggling around in my belly throughout the second half. To be honest I didn’t really want to eat anything. There was a huge table of cakes (one of the event sponsors is Ministry of Cake), which I would normally have been all over, but I just didn’t fancy any of them, even though there was carrot cake, my favourite! But Steve told me (quite rightly) that if I didn’t eat something I’d bonk and practically forced me to eat a slice of Victoria sponge, which I actually think did me a lot of good. I also changed my top and socks, which had become a bit damp with the rain. I set off feeling refreshed, more optimistic and no longer nauseous.
After the halfway stop I felt good for quite a long time. I’m not saying it was easy by any means, but it was less hard than I’d imagined for about 20 miles. At mile 36 my Garmin bleeped and I thought “Only a marathon to go now” and then laughed because that seemed so ridiculous! I mentioned it to another runner and we both wondered how, over the course of a few years, we’d both gone from doing a bit of jogging for weight loss to running 100K for ‘fun’. It is bizarre really. Anyway, it seemed to me that there were more short, steep hills in the first half and more gradual inclines and tough terrain in the second half. A lot of the Ridgeway consists of hard, stony path that’s very harsh on the feet and more likely to cause underfoot problems than softer trail. Gentler inclines may seem easier on the face of it, but whereas you’d walk a steep climb you’re more likely to run a gentle one, which becomes quite energy-sapping after a long time.
At around 52 miles I was finding it hard to eat again. I took a mouthful of a peanut butter sandwich at a pit stop, just to have a change from crisps, but found it so hard to chew and swallow I had to bin the rest. And I love peanut butter! The going seemed to get a lot tougher after this point. I kept telling myself “It’s only ten miles now, only nine miles now, single figures now!”, but it became more and more a case of run/walk. At times, even though I wasn’t going uphill, I just had to take little walk breaks. A friend of mine who’s an Ironman had advised me to try and enjoy the whole thing, even the tough bits, and I did my best. When I got to the final pit stop I looked at the food and felt that all I could manage was a biscuit. I sighed and set off to cover the last eight miles. I rang Steve to let him know I was on the last leg, as we’d arranged. He was having his dinner in a pub and I so wished I was with him! It was 8pm by now. I knew this was the time I had to dig really deep. I reached into my Camelbak and got out my CRUK wristband. I put it on to remind myself of why I was really doing this and thought about all the lovely family and friends who’d generously donated to my fund or had been affected by cancer. The last few miles were definitely for them. The hills continued mercilessly for about the next five miles. On the plus side, the scenery was quite spectacular at this point. At around 95K my Garmin died so I had no further idea of time or pace. I was in the Twilight Zone. And then I binned it! I’m not sure how, but I managed to trip on one of the stones poking up through the path. In a split second I thought to myself “If I go down on this rocky bit now, this could be it. It could all be over so close to the end. I’m not having that”! I’ve no idea how, but I managed to launch myself onto the grassy verge at the side of the path for a soft landing. My left calf cramped up as I did so, but at least I wasn’t injured. A couple of other lovely runners stopped to see if I was OK and luckily I was. A bit of a stretch and I was off again.
Those last three miles were so hard. At that point I really wanted it to be over. It’s actually mostly downhill near the end, but the irony is that the path is like a really rutted cart track so you can hardly find a good line to run down. At least it was still light at this point – I can imagine it would be even harder in the dark. I told myself “It’s only a Parkrun now” but when you’ve been on the go for over 12 hours it’s a big ask. I felt like I might be getting a blister but couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it as the end was so close. Then you take a right turn and see the lights of the finishing area in the distance – yay! But, as a final cruel twist, when you run into Avebury village and through the stones, you haven’t actually finished – you have to run about another mile back the way you’ve just come, across a field and down another road to the end! I’d really had enough at that point. “Christ” said a man I was running near, “Nobody said it was Race to the Stones and back again”! I had to laugh, despite everything. I walked part of the field, but just managed to summon up my last bit of energy to trot down the road to the finish. It was a great welcome though; lots of people cheering, pumping music, and I could see Steve waiting as I approached. And suddenly it was all over! Someone hung a medal round my neck, someone else took a photo and the job was done. I was so happy just to stop moving forward.
The finish area was great. There was plenty of hot food and a place to sit. I still couldn’t really eat though. I took a sausage in a bun, but could only manage the sausage. I can’t believe I couldn’t even eat a doughnut! I went to get a printout of my results and my chip time was 13:36:21. I’d come 275th out of 961 overall, 48th woman and third in the V50 age category. That surprised me, as I’d felt pretty slow most of the time! I felt a bit dazed to be honest. It was dark by the time we left and we could see a procession of head torches up on the hill. It was only as I lay in the bath a bit later that it began to sink in that I’d covered 62 miles on my own two feet. It hurt (and it would hurt even more the next day!), but it was worth it – and, even better, donations were still coming in. I was a very tired but happy bunny.
So, would I do it again? Probably not, but only because it’s so far from Yorkshire. However, I would definitely recommend RTTS, especially as a first 100K, because it’s so well supported. Organisation and logistics are great. There are shuttles between the start and finish, and the halfway camp looked like a lovely spot to chill for the evening. Also, everyone is really friendly and helpful. At the last pit stop somebody even took my water bottle and filled it for me. I got the impression the people there were having a good look at everyone to make sure they were OK. I was asked at several pit stops how I felt. Everyone was fantastic. Although I did think playing Jump Around by House of Pain at one pit stop was taking the Mickey a bit! The countryside is fantastic, with amazing views throughout and the free photos that upload automatically to Facebook are a real bonus. If you’re wondering whether or not to do it, I’d say go for it. It’s amazing what you can pull out of the bag when you have to! Below is a geeky bit about kit etc for anyone who’s interested. If you have any questions about RTTS please feel free to give me a shout.
If anyone would like to donate to my CRUK Just Giving page it’s still here. Every little helps! 🙂
The Kit Bit
Shoes: Inov8 Trail Talons. Cannot praise these highly enough. They are specially designed for hard trails and performed really well. They were recommended for me by Stuart at Accelerate in Sheffield, to whom I am very grateful. I did have one small blister on my right big toe, but that’s all. Toenails all present and correct as I type!
Socks: Inov8 All Terrain. It was well worth changing them at half time.
Shorts: Ronhill Aspiration Twin Shorts. So comfy! No chafing at all despite much sweating!
Tops: Ronhill and Saucony sleeveless tops. I’ve had them so long I can’t remember what they’re called!
Bra: Moving Comfort. I put a bit of K tape under my front strap as a precaution.
Backpack: Camelbak Marathoner. I took out the bladder and put stuff in the space. It’s amazing how much you can get in there if you pack it carefully, and not a hint of chafing over the whole day. For drink I used my Camelbak soft bottle in my front pocket.
Waterproof: Inov8 Race Ultra Shell. This is the most expensive but least used item of clothing I own apart from my wedding dress!
Head torch: Petzl. Steve had bought this for me and was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t used it!
Watch: Garmin Forerunner 35. I replaced my ancient 210 with this just a couple of weeks ago and it has a much longer life – it died at about 12:30.
Hat: a Brooks sun hat I bought in a sale ages ago, but it did pretty well in the rain.
I also carried (but didn’t use) Saucony arm warmers, Compeed, a couple of strips of K tape, a tenner (just in case!), spare socks, spare top, ibuprofen and a spare hair elastic.