I tried and failed at my first attempt to run more than 100 miles. The Hardmoors 110 is a 113 mile trail/easy fell race around the North York Moors. It mainly follows the route of the Cleveland Way, starting in Helmsley, crossing the hills and moors, and then follows the coast from Saltburn down to Whitby and Scarborough before ending in Filey. The race began at 8am on Saturday morning, with runners required to reach Filey before dark on Sunday night.
My first half of the race went well. A dry morning was followed by a wet and windy afternoon on the hills but it cleared up by early evening. At 58 miles at Saltburn, I felt strong and confident that I would finish, having worked my way up the field to lie in 5th place. However, I dropped out at Runswick Bay, 12 miles down the coast, after my ME symptoms began to kick in. Ultras are full of ups and down. At one moment you feel like you cannot possibly go on because of lack of energy, stomach aches, leg pain etc. Then a couple of miles later you bounce back and are raring to go. For those used to running marathons, it is like hitting a series of walls but with peaks in energy in between.
In this case, however, there was nothing I could do. To keep a very long story short: I had first been ill with probable Lyme Disease seven years ago. This affected my heart, lungs, brain, spinal cord, hearing and vision, leaving me housebound. Once the Lyme Disease faded away, it left me with ME, which in my case shared many of the same symptoms as the Lyme Disease. Rehab was long, slow and painstaking. From being housebound, I began a programme of graded exercise, gradually being able to walk to the end of my drive several times a day and then increasing the distance only very gradually, months later reaching a mile. A year later I was up to 10 miles. I continued to increase the distance very slowly, as any significant jump in distance triggered illness. I’d always wanted to do ultra marathons and decided to build up to one.
The long training runs of most ultra runners are just 30-35 miles, albeit off-road and on hills, but I made sure that I could complete the distance in training before attempting any race. This is good for mental strength but is not considered the best training strategy for speed! I completed my first 55-65 mile races last year and also managed 65 miles in training. All the advice that I gleaned from books, websites and more experienced ultra runners was that I would be unable to complete a 100 mile race after running the same distance in training. I convinced myself that having run so far in training that I’d be ok in the Hardmoors 110 and the ME was the least of my worries in preparing for the race. I did my last 50 mile training run 9 weeks before the race and concentrated on speed. However, at about 68-69 miles I began badly shivering and overheating, became dizzy and my eyesight began to fail. I knew the signs and sadly retired from the race. I went for my first run just two days after the race and felt fine. This fast recovery suggests that I’ve got a good level of ultra fitness that was not tapped in the race, which is both welcome and frustrating as I ended the race with too much in the tank.
I’ll now have to go back to Plan A and resume my fortnightly long runs, hopefully pushing beyond 70 and then 80 miles over the course of the summer, depending on the amount of climb involved. I really enjoy them in any case. The 95 mile West Highland Way race could be a good option for next year before I make another attempt on a 100 miler. While off-road, it’s got less total ascent than either the Hardmoors or the Lakeland 100.
For those considering doing a long ultra, it’s worth pointing out that the atmosphere at the race was great. Runners helped each other out with food, drink and navigation and there was a big round of applause at each checkpoint. There was also a 160 mile option over the weekend, with runners starting the evening before we did. I saw two of them half carrying a third up a hillside. The funny thing was that my wife Caz, who is also a VRUK member and who ran to support me on a 12 mile leg in the dark, was so impressed by all the suffering that she plans to do one next year. We’re a funny species!