Kirk Hardwicks post on the Hardmoors 60…
The void left in both my race calendar and self-esteem following a DNF at the Lakeland 100 required filling. I desperately needed some redemption after coming up short at Lakeland. The ‘mere’ act of finishing an ultra, any ultra, had become a prerequisite for my ongoing sanity. It was rapidly becoming a primary outcome goal after my Achilles tendonitis seemed to degrade even further over the last month. So with all this in mind I dropped on an entry to the Hardmoors 60 (100k and a reported near 10,000ft ascent) which seemed to fit the bill somewhere nicely between the 100 mile distance, but also not too short that my diminished leg speed would be a concern.
So following what felt a rapid enough recovery from Lakeland 100, I took a 9 day holiday in Chamonix to take in the madness that is UTMB race week. With the tendonitis niggling I didn’t hammer the miles over there but managed some quality ascent and a little altitude adaption. Love that place and genuinely can’t wait to hopefully race there next year!
On my return I booked in with my physio, who promptly attacked my Achilles with the needles combined with some excruciating massage. Suffice to say it freed things up a little and following a revelation in rolling my calves, things started looking much rosier! Despite no real long runs after Lakeland (about 6 weeks) I felt my fitness should carry through and I could actually run well at Hardmoors. Of course this presented the danger of diverting my outcome goals well off target. There again, having a good crack at the race shouldn’t really affect whether I finished or not. Circumstances this year seem to be conspiring against me, so when about 10 days out I acquired an evil chest infection, I was neither surprised nor overly concerned. I’m not sure if this was down to my resignation of the lack of quality running I’d performed this year, or just an acceptance of the situation and how I couldn’t really control it anyway.
Race morning arrived, and probably a first for me but I managed a pretty good night’s sleep. This put me in a good mood and although cool, the weather looked reasonably favourable as we drove to Guisborough, near Middlesborough. The aid station was rammed with familiar faces and it was great to see Jason Millward, essentially my wingman for a long stint on the Hardmoors 110, he was crewing at High Cliff Nab. I also got chance to catch up with fellow Mountain Fuellers’, Ste Lord, Matty Brennan and the ever gentlemanly Dave Troman.
Me and Dave both discussed our shared primary outcome goals to enjoy, finish and bury some demons. He’d also suffered an unfortunate DNF, his in Chamonix at the TDF. So with the start looming large I awaited the countdown, stripped down to just my S-Lab vest and shorts and readied myself. I felt much calmer than I normally do which was probably a by-product of the ‘enjoyment first’ outcome goal.
At the go we ran quietly (to respect the residents of Guisborough) onto the road and started heading up hill. I was initially about 10-15 back of the front and more than content to warm up nice and slow and settle into the long day ahead. As we hit the trails and the incline steepened somewhat some of the front runners really eased off the pace. I still felt very relaxed at this point so I cruised past into somewhere around the top 5 runners. Ste Lord had charged off at the front and I had no intentions of following just yet.
I ended up dropping into a little group with Matty Brennan, Lee Firman and Jerry McCulla. We chatted the amiably as we hit the top of High Cliff Nab (the high point of the race). Jason Millward was up there marshalling and kindly took some photos as we passed. It’s fair to say at that point I felt pretty good, the climb had felt a breeze and the pace wasn’t overly taxing. If anything I was maybe sweating a little too much, but my perceived effort still felt in control so I put it down to the remnants of the virus. As we progressed through Guisborough woods, Jerry pushed ahead a bit and Matty kept stopping to take pictures, such was his chill factor in this race! I concentrated on sipping my Mountain Fuel and threw some occasional solid food down my neck. Suffice to say my stomach felt rock solid and it would be nice to mix things up with real food and Mountain Fuel through the day.
As we descended out of the woods towards the Park at Saltburn, Gerry and Lee pushed slightly ahead and I wanted to keep my pace in check so kept the effort breezy. It was on the descent into the park that my calf started to feel like it was torn – an injury I’d sustained after the HM110. It was on the same leg where my Achilles tendonitis was so I guessed it was just the remnants of that injury. I relaxed my running style to accommodate and lo-and-behold it eased off and would never return throughout the race. Bizarre how these niggles creep into races and quickly vanish???
As I ran through the park I could tell even the easy pace was a little harder than it should have been. I was content this was down to my virus and chastised myself for caring about race position, particularly so early on. We hit the aid station and it was great to see Emma and the kids. I noticed as Matty caught up he grabbed some melon, while I hit up some crisps and jaffa cakes. Not the healthiest option but I find I let myself eat whatever I fancy in ultra-races trusting the body to want what it needs.
I ran out of the park towards Saltburn in company with Matty, Gary Thwaites and another guy called Chris (I think). Moving as a group we hit the first of many steep stepped ascents on the seafront. The pace felt good and overlooking the sea I was enjoying the view. Unfortunately, my energy levels were still lagging and even at a steady tempo it was just more of an effort than it should have been. And so it was further down the sea front as we ran along the cliff tops I just eased off the throttle to try and get myself together. The group of 3 steadily pulled away while I resigned myself to a tough day at the office.
Several miles later as I came into Runswick Bay Dave Troman caught me, some 15 miles in. It was great to see a familiar face as every mile was becoming a trial. He was with another 2 guys and all together we rolled into the Runswick Bay aid station. Although I was lucky to have my ever-reliable crew of Em and the kids, this was the first drop bag so everyone got busy sorting themselves out. I told Emma I was struggling with energy and pretty much moved straight onto the beach eating a banana. Dave came flying by like the Terminator, relentlessly eating up the terrain. At the end of the beach I climbed up the steep gulley to get back onto the cliff tops, and back to the monotonous grassy miles.
I was still perplexed by what was happening to me. Was this just a virus or something more sinister? Once again this year I just couldn’t perform how I wanted to and knew I was capable of. I just had it in my head that I wouldn’t quit, my salvation lied in finishing this race at all costs. I figured that the four 100 milers I’d run in the last 12 months were taking their toll. My body was telling me I had to have some much needed rest. And so it was while out on this run I resolved to ensure I took some time out over winter to really get back on track.
With my resolution in place, the only thing left was to put this race to bed and get finished! With this single focus in mind, I was full circle to my outcome goal of finishing. This had the joyous release of getting my head back into a space where I could enjoy the process.
Back in the race – I found the slog along the front at Sandends a bit of a drag, but turning the next bend to see Whitby really lightened my mood. The run through the town was problematic in that the crowds hadn’t taken into account a sugar deprived ultra-runner weaving through their day trip. I kept my patience and said ‘excuse me’ numerous times with varying effectiveness. Hitting the 199 steps up to the Abbey I finally got some room to get moving properly again. It was nice to get a bit of a rhythm going and feel like I was ticking some miles off again.
The run from here took me eventually to the ever beautiful Robin Hoods Bay, a stunning little village tucked into a small cutting in the coastline. I knew when I reached the aid there I had to try something in respect of food, although on retrospect, I don’t think food was the problem. Suffice to say, and in vain, I tried to eat everything! Emma had kindly bought me some salty chips to try and perk me up. In isolation this may have been fine, but washing them down with some melon, other assorted sugary goods and a cup of coke was probably not so wise. This resulted in the inevitable and slightly embarrassing ejection of my stomachs contents all over the grass at the side of the aid station. I’m sure this was most unpleasant for the aid volunteers and the droves of passing tourists – Sorry!
Not wanting to dwell on my plight I ran on, gravity assisted by the steep decent into Robin Hoods Bay centre. The climb out although short and steep, was crowned with the gift of a beautiful tunnel of trees, before pushing onto the grassy tops over looking the ocean. Although a far cry from the mountains, my preferred habitat, the views throughout the day were in stark contrast, and almost refreshing because of it. Whenever I wanted to start feeling sorry for myself, I took the time to take in the vistas and listen to the sounds of the waves crashing against the cliffside.
Next up, and probably the only other climb that might be considered substantial, was a longish drag up towards Ravenscar. I tried to run every step but my body wouldn’t allow it as the gradient steepened. And so I was reduced to fast hike; a skill I seem to be improving in year on year. When I finally left the trail and got onto the road leading to the aid station I got back into a jog to tick of the milestone I had in my head of 40 something miles. I figured most of my long training runs were in the 20 mile sort of distance, and so with this left to the finish, mentally it was a mental stepping stone of sorts. I knew, arrogantly or otherwise, I would most certainly finish now, no matter the pain or cost.
I think I spent around 15-20 minutes in the aid station at Ravenscar, just zapped of energy. To try and freshen up I changed into a fresh Salomon vest and had some more food. I didn’t feel the need to change my footwear as the Salomon S-Lab Sense had been super comfy all day long. Once up and out the door it was business as usual – vomiting up the side of the road as I stumbled up the road to the trail. Comical how we call this pastime a hobby, but the enjoyment come from overcoming adversity in the long run…
With just over 20 miles to go the run into the finish would prove to be a slow, steady slog. That’s not to say I wasn’t enjoying the adventure. As many people had passed me at the aid station delays, I steadily overtook before the next. I had no idea of my position, but in all honesty it was truly only the finish that interested me now. I would get this race done and reassess how to get a return to form.
At the risk of this report becoming a write up of misery (probably too late now), the next 14 or so miles passed with little incident. The highlight being a run along the otherwise grim Scarborough seafront. Today this experience would be much more interesting with huge waves crashing against the sea walls, raining cool sea water onto me as I passed the droves of tourists. A short run with my son along the seafront; Cameron keeping pace and cheering his Dad on was likely the highlight of my day (picture at the header).
The next aid at Scarborough Spa and the runners were diverted off course due to the danger presented by the rough seas smashing onto the seafront. This meant some extra ascent, but it was dealt with quickly enough. Ironically I even started feeling a little better with the finish line getting ever closer. With just 6 miles to go I was getting news from some spectators that I was catching some runners up front. Sure enough, two runners who’d come through while I toiled at Scarborough Spa came into view with their head torches now illuminated. After a pretty rough day all round, it was only fair I tried to push it in to the finish now. After catching and overtaking the two runners on a steep grassy descent, I accelerated towards the end. With the rough grassy trail I really needed to concentrate to avoid rolling an ankle as the darkness descended fully. When some more runners lights came into view up ahead I took the decision to ease back while I donned my own head torch. Once the world was lit sufficiently again I pushed past the next two runners. The lighthouse at Filey came into view signifying the end. However in a final kick to the face, the lighthouse merely taunted me and must have still been a couple of miles down the trail, as it wouldn’t get any closer!
When the lighthouse came and went on the Filey Brigg, I ran onto a section of the course leading to the town centre I’d never seen before so I fired up the nav feature on my Suunto watch. With this back stop I easily found the right route in towards the finish and a last short climb up the road from the seafront. With the family waiting with cowbells ringing, I ensured to enjoy the last moments of a tough day.
In the end it took me about 2 hours or more longer to finish than I’d anticipated. Another substandard performance, but I’m more than happy to get a finish under my belt. It was great to see Ste Lord had bagged a win for the HM Grand slam and Matty Brennan had cruised to a well place podium position. Despite my personal performance woes, I still relish every opportunity to engage with the ultra community made up of such nice folk.
I think it’s now glaringly obvious whats happened to me after a tough year of racing. I’ve consulted with some well informed and experienced people and they’ve confirmed I’m clearly suffering over training syndrome. I guess in my case it’s less ‘over training’ and more ‘over raced’. Having run the 4 hundred milers in the last 12 months, it’s been far too much, especially as I’m new to that distance. It’s a rookie mistake, but in my defence the hunt for UTMB points has certainly contributed to my over racing. A day without learning is a day wasted…
Moving forward with some valuable lessons learnt, my first priority is to get some rest to get my body back to normal. I’m currently in the throes of a full month off running, and while it’s driving me mad, I’m feeling the relief in my body already. Next I’ll be looking to get some speed back into my legs. The 100 milers have meant plenty of slow, steady state running meaning I’ve lost some of my top speed. With some rest and quality speed training I’m looking forward to running some faster 50 milers. I’m also in the lottery for the next years UTMB so fingers crossed that could be the highlight of 2017.
Huge thanks to Salomon, Suunto and Mountain Fuel for their ongoing support and faith in my abilities.
Onwards and upwards…