Hardmoors 110 Ultra Marathon - Part Two
Welcome back to part-2 of the amazing Hardmoors 110 Ultra! Janine Paul continues to give us the insider view on one of the UK's toughest Ultra Marathons...here we go!
Saltburn - halfway (ish)
The steep descent off the cliff top into Saltburn comes into view, after what seems like a long section. I’d been running at a comfortable pace with another runner, Amy, and was enjoying the company and conversation. We both had support crew waiting in Saltburn and pacers for what we classed as part two of the ultra. Amy’s pacers had both completed the 110 before, they knew the route well and she was feeling confident about finishing the race. I wouldn’t see Amy after this point, she headed out of Saltburn a little before us.
Finally, it was time to eat some much-needed pasta and change the clothes ready for the cooler night section. The temperature had been changing along the last fifteen or so miles, the rain came in and I’d had to pop my jacket on a few times. With that in mind the leggings and long-sleeved top went on, Russ (my husband) and I, shoved some snacks and Monk gels in our packs, grabbed our poles and set off up the steps from the seafront car park. Paul (my father-in-law) headed off in the campervan to our next meeting point some eight miles away, and we headed along the road to meet back up with the Cleveland Way. This next section was all uphill until around the 100-mile mark, we knew this from our previous recce and elevation profile from the gpx files I had found (remember Jon Steele does not like gpx). I’d ran the first half of the race at a pace that would allow us to fast hike the steeper parts of this section, maintaining a minimum pace of 3 mph to make the cut off times. As we set off, I felt a little queasy and decided to keep at a quick walk for a while, just to let the food settle. I wasn’t worried at the time as pasta is my go-to on ultras, I’d never had issues in training or races before.
The Cleveland Way from Saltburn, heads through a woodland trail and then directly through a housing estate, before reaching a stony road through farmland. We were moving along nicely, chatting away whilst trying not to think of the miles that lay ahead. I was still suffering with the nausea and tried to eat some crisps in the hope it would ease. As we reached the stony farmland track darkness had closed in, our only light was coming from the two head-torches and the lack of sleep from the night before began to hit me. I’d also developed a constant need to wee, which made the dark a blessing and all thoughts of dignity went out of the window! We reached Paul at the Fox and Hounds pub, the last place we would see him now until after our trip up Roseberry Topping. We stopped briefly for a cup of tea, but again I couldn’t eat anything, and we headed off for the next section – a woodland trail before emerging onto the Moors. I’m not sure what brought about the next conversation, whether it was the eeriness of the woods or just thinking a little too much about sleep. I said to Russ ‘did I ever tell you I see dead people?’ Cue Russ thinking I’ve just whacked my head somewhere along the way! We pass the next thirty minutes or so discussing this random declaration that has never been brought up in our eleven years together! Before you start the witch hunt, I haven’t gone crazy (that happened long ago), I’m talking about some weird kind of dream phase that happens now and then, where spirits walk through the room. Anyway, it passes the time and amuses us across the bleak dark section towards Roseberry. As we headed through the gate to the path that leads to Roseberry Topping, somehow Russ convinced me to force down a cereal bar and a lemon cake gel. I’d need the extra strength for the climb up and back down again, especially with the rocky and slightly more technical terrain. He didn’t tell me at the time, but he’d expected me to take much longer on the climb up because my energy levels had dropped so low. I dug deep and powered up there, thanking the marshals at the top for giving up their own nights sleep for us. Taking care on the way back down in the dark, we cross paths with Noel (the last time we’d spoken was a checkpoint in the first half). As we descend, we exchange a few words about how it was going, he looked bright but stated he wasn’t feeling too great, then we part ways again.
Back on the Moors with the Roseberry climb in the bag, we started to run, our next meeting point with Paul was coming up and he had some soup on the stove for me to try. The sleep deprivation from the previous night had started to set in and Russ suggested a power nap before heading out again. Great in theory, but the legs said otherwise! As soon as I sat the constant muscle twitches began along with a burning sensation throughout my legs. I did manage to eat the soup and attempt to drink an electrolyte mix to try to stop the constant need to wee. It tastes like vile medicine, so I manage two mouthfuls.
As we leave Paul and the warmth of the campervan to press onward to Kildale, everything gets a little fuzzy. I struggled to keep my eyes open and even more to push my legs forward. We were back to a walk again, a messy swaying walk with me very much drifting in and out of sleep! Russ was doing his best to keep pushing me forwards, but at that moment the urge to sleep was winning. I remember reaching the Kildale checkpoint, Russ forcing a coffee down me and then trying to lay on the floor for a short while, but again the muscles wouldn’t let me. It’s quite busy at this checkpoint, other runners are spread around the hall, some eating and chatting, others also trying to grab a power nap. The coffee kicks in and I want to push on. Daylight was beginning and I hoped that it would help to convince my brain it no longer needed to sleep! I knew the next section to Clay Bank was going to be a mind battle, it’s a long dull stretch across the Moors where you’re totally exposed to the elements. Its also the section that led to my DNF back in March. This time I was better prepared for the bad weather that was rolling in, together with the slower pace we were moving at. We enjoyed some conversation with other runners, tried to run where possible, always keeping in mind the time limit to finish the race. We reached Clay Bank checkpoint tired, but still in it! Russ took the chance for a fifteen-minute power-nap in the campervan while again I struggled to still my legs. We took a long time here, in hindsight too long. I did manage to eat a pot noodle, but the fatigue was setting in, my stomach was churning, and I knew we had the three sisters to go in the next section. I wasn’t prepared for just how big a task they would be in my current state and once again a storm had moved in, just to add to the challenge.
It would have been so easy at this point to cave in to another DNF and head home. This time I wasn’t hypothermic, and I was far too invested to let the negative thoughts win. We gingerly headed out into what was now storm weather, gale force winds whipping at us and driving rain, just what we needed as we climbed the steps that lead to the first sister. Up and up we climb, forcing each leg to move and brace against the wind, because a tired backwards stumble was not desirable on these steep rocky steps. Relief does not come at the top of any Hardmoors climb, there is always a steep down (in this case technical too), swiftly followed by a steep climb upwards again! My new approach to any technical downhill involved sliding down on my ass. By the time the last sister came I was so over hill climbs, for every down there was another sharp up. I was exhausted! My throat was so hoarse my voice was croaky and the thought of trying to swallow anything other than water was a strict no go, much to the frustration and distress of Russ. I was losing any power left in my legs as fast as I was losing the will to live. The calorie burn was not getting replaced so there was no hope to take in enough to give any surges of energy. Russ tried a new tactic to get me to run, he just started to run in front of me in the hope I’d follow suit. I tried, but in all honesty, it just demotivated me further. I try to explain it’s not helping, and he went with the tough love approach, getting bossy and claiming it’s the only way he can get me to keep going! I’m crying again, angry tears because he’s just not listening to me, I’m exhausted and feel sick, running makes me need to wee too, I just need to go steady for a while. He drops behind me shaking his head and it’s all I need to fill me with anger that then fuels the next twenty minutes of running! He’s laughing behind me, not that I can see through the tears and anger, I just know (and he later confirmed this) he’s smug, thinking goal achieved she’s running.
We finally head down from the endless climbs and onto a forestry trail, there’s a gate at the bottom and someone’s lovely crew member holds it open for us. He directs us across the road to rejoin the trail. We enter a field and see two other runners looking unsure of which way to go. I can see the Cleveland Way sign at the top of the field, over to the right, and wave over to them to head that way. There are lots of walkers out now on the trails, I’ve lost all concept of time so am surprised to see so many people. We pause to take off a layer; the sun is back and heating up the day again. The two runners catch us up and ask if we know how far it is until the next checkpoint, I guess around six miles and their faces show a little defeat. I later find out they had suffered with blistered feet and this section was really taking its toll. Still they are making good progress up this part of the trail, but we cross paths with their crew as we leave the woodland and later learn they had to call their journey to an end. Still unsure of the distance to the next checkpoint, we reach a part of the trail that makes me think we are nearly there, and a little spark of new hope ignites. I am however, completely forgetting the fact we haven’t passed through Osmotherley yet! As we descend into a residential area this now hits me and I feel a little wave of despair wash over me, there’s still a long way to go to reach Square Corner.
Heading through Osmotherley, I’m aware there’s a turn off somewhere between the houses. On the map it looks as though you pass through the houses and gardens, but we just can’t see it. Two men chat to us about the race, they’ve directed a lady down into the village earlier, who was also concerned about the distance remaining to Square Corner. We thank them and head further down the road, until a resident points out we’ve missed the archway to lead us back onto the Cleveland Way. Luckily its just a few feet behind us and we are back on track within a minute, heading through a field of cows. The cows make Russ a little nervous as he skirts further around them. Being tired and an animal lover, I’m not phased, shouting over to him that I’m a vegetarian so they like me! We keep plodding on through this section, aware of the fact its going to be very hard to hit the race cut off time if I can’t get back into a run soon. What we didn’t realise is how close we now were to missing the next check point cut off. Until now it had never been an issue, we had reached each one in plenty of time, but my pace had slowed so much since the last one. My under-fuelled body is screaming out to stop, every hope is pinned on forcing some food down at the checkpoint, just enough to push through those last twenty or so miles. A road appears and we cross over onto another part of the trail, checking the map to make sure we are still on track and realise we must be just a couple of miles away now. After around ten minutes along the path, another runner is walking back towards us with a defeated look on his face. He stops to say he thinks the checkpoint has closed and that a bunch of numbers just disappeared off the tracker, including his own. Our race is over!
Waves of emotions hit us as we hug it out. Happy that the pressure is off, and the future of my race has been decided for me. Sadness for the runner we just met, and that we had got so far too yet we won’t get to cross that finish line. Relief that I don’t have to try and run anymore and still a little disbelief that we’ve missed the cut off! With Paul still waiting at Square Corner, we carry on, this time without the pressure of needing to make up ground. Reality comes whizzing back with the desperate need to wee hitting me again, but I’m panicking because we are in an open space. We can’t see anyone around, and I can’t hold it any longer. Just at that moment of mid-stream relief, a group of girls appear over the brow of the hill. Bless them though, they stop, all turn around to face the other way and don’t turn back until they’re sure we are moving again - phew! What is it with ultras and losing all control of your bladder?! The last hill up to the car park at Square Corner comes into view, the marshals are still there waiting for the runners caught between checkpoints to come through.
We can see a few other runners heading over the hill, who just made the checkpoint and were sent straight through. With instructions for their crew to meet them somewhere along the way or risk being out of the race. I burst into tears for what must be the hundredth time now, relieved its over, sad its over, exhausted! Hugs from the marshals and ever the encouraging ‘come back next year’ ‘you’ll smash it next time’. Ever the ultra runner cliche I say no, that’s its for me, I don’t ever want to try the 110 again. They laugh and say see you next year as we hand them the tracker and head over to Paul at the campervan. It’s at this point I notice that my miles are 95.9 and there’s no way I can end it on that! So, I do laps around the cars until it hits 96 miles, stop my watch, clamber into the campervan, and with that my Hardmoors 110 attempt is over…until next year!