‘You better finish this one or I’m going to string you up by your balls’
It’s five to midnight on Saturday 31st October 2015 and instead of being out at some party for Halloween I’m getting some last minute motivation from my wife.
I’m stood on a cobbled track along with around 77 other nutters about to set off on a 100 mile race around West Yorkshire with the highly motivational last words of wisdom from my wife going through my head.
I had no intention of entering this race earlier in the year but after a DNF at St Oswalds Ultra in September I had a score to settle with the 100 mile distance and I still needed 4 points to qualify for the UTMB in 2016.
After failing to finish the St Oswalds Ultra I was desperate for some redemption and to prove to myself, my family and my friends that I was both fit enough and tough enough to run 100 miles.
And so here I was lined up on the start line about to take on attempt 2 of a 100 mile ultra marathon. Victoria, my wife, had been good enough to take me to the start and was good enough to pick me up at the end. I’m not sure how I would have coped if I had to make home on my own.
With the start being at midnight I had tried and failed to get a good nights sleep on Friday, instead just laying awake for what seemed like hours not sleeping and any attempt at sleep on Saturday evening was thwarted by the endless stream of trick or treater’s that came knocking on the door.
I felt knackered and ready for bed before we had even set off so it was going to be a long night ahead but at the stroke of midnight we were off into the darkness of West Yorkshire.
My race plan was loosely based around getting through the night unscathed to complete the first lap, then running a quickish 2nd lap and then just seeing how it went on the last lap but above finish the race no matter what.
As we set off I had 2 things going round in my head; ‘time to stop doubting a start believing’ – something Jon Steele, Race Director of the Hardmoors Series, had said and the feeling I had when I DNF the month earlier.
It goes without saying these 2 phrases, along with the words of advice from Victoria helped keep me strong throughout the race and get me to the finish line.
I’m not going to lie, In the back of my mind I really wanted to come home with a trophy so even with my main goal of just finishing I was determined to finish with a good result.
In the end I recorded just over 15,000ft of climbing over that 100 miles. In comparison I recorded 6800 ft of climbing in the St Oswalds Ultra.
The route consisted of mixed trail and some road sections. Due to the heavy rain the week before there were some particularly muddy sections that were tough going especially on the last lap.
A number a steep climbs and quad killing descents on each lap really tested your willpower to keep going
In the end I really enjoyed the course and it turned out to be a real test of endurance. I would have liked slightly less road sections.
10 mile warm up loop: 0 – 10 miles
In order to make a 100 mile race from the course the organisers added a 10 mile loop to the start of the race.
This looped around through mainly road sections before joining the canal and climbing up to the last checkpoint on the full course and heading back to the finish.
This wasn’t the most exciting loop and it did consist of a lot of road sections but it served it’s purpose of increasing the distance to 100 miles overall.
It was quite amusing to be running past pubs at closing time, seeing all the people leaving. I’m not sure what they made of all these people with headtorches on running past them after midnight but I’m sure it made a lot of people question the amount they had been drinking.
I have a big problem with going off far too fast in races and blowing up before the finish and I had to really stop myself from chasing down the leaders in the early stages but I maintained a steady pace and tried not to push too hard as I knew there was plenty more miles to come.
I completed this 10 mile loop in 01:39 just 7 minutes behind first place so I was feeling pretty good at this stage.
Lap 1: 10 – 40 miles
After the first ‘starter’ loop we were onto the course properly and starting the first of three more full loops.
I had done a recce of the course a few weeks earlier because I knew that the first loop was going to be in the dark and I wanted to make sure I knew where I was going and what was coming up.
In my mind, if I was having a good day, I was aiming to finish in 20 hours and if I wasn’t having a good day then I would have been happy with 22hours
My plan for the first lap including the warmup loop was to complete it in 8 hours or less and then run a rather ambitious 5 hour 2nd lap leaving me 7 hours to complete the final lap.
Not 2 miles into the course and I made my first navigational error, missing a right turn arrow just before the bog of doom and climbing a steep, muddy bank before realising my error and having to turn back. Not the best start to the full route.
Less than 5 minutes later, just after the bog of doom, I made my second and thankfully last navigational error. A couple of other runners had missed the turning infront of Longwood Reservoir and I had blindly followed the headtorches instead of paying a bit more attention to the course and remembering the route from my previous recce.
Back on track I focused myself so I didn’t make any other mistakes and got my head down and set off into the darkness.
A big problem I have on long races is not eating enough so I was making sure I ate something every half an hour, even if I didn’t feel like it. I knew this would help me massively in the later stages of the race so I made sure I got into the routine early on.
The course was pretty muddy in places and the Brooks Cascadias I had chosen for the first lap aren’t exactly the grippiest shoes in muddy conditions but they are good on the roads so it felt like a good compromise in the footwear department.
They did have a small split where they bend on the forefoot and I was worried that this might get worse as the race developed so made sure I kept an eye on it.
It was great running through the night, my initial tiredness had gone and I was running well so I was very happy with progress on the first lap.
Coming up to Wassenden Head I could sense the first light of dawn and as I dropped back down the other side the sky went from black to bright blue without a cloud to be seen. I’m not a spiritual person in the slightest but this was rather special and I guess one of the reasons I run, to experience nature.
Just after Blackmoorfoot reservoir there was a slight change to the course where we dropped down through a field and over some stone steps which were pretty slippy in the conditions.
Once these were dealt with it was just a few short miles back to the start/finish and another lap.
Lap 2: 40 – 70 miles
It was far warmer in the night than it should have been for November and the weather forecast had said something like 15 degrees during the day so I stopped and changed into my Northface shorts and t-shirt for the day loop.
The Cascadias had split pretty badly so I changed into my Scott Kinabalu Supertracs as well. I was a little worried about using these shoes due to the tractor tyre like grip on them and the amount of road work that the course involved.
I restocked my bag with food and set off for the 2nd full lap – a full hour ahead of my planned time so at this stage I was feeling really good and confident of finishing in my target time.
In the daylight the area around the bog of doom was easy to navigate and I was past this section in no time and was into the first big climb of the lap up to Bolster Moor through the golf course.
I was making sure that I walked or steady jogged up the worst of the hills to keep my strength up for later in the race.
As I dropped into Marsden for the second time I knew the sun was going to cause me problems later on and by the time I was climbing up the steep Plains Lane I could feel it sapping my strength.
I’m not great when the sun gets too hot. I suffered at the Hardmoors 60 in the heat and I knew I was going to have problems again because of the heat.
I kept telling myself it’s the same for everyone but I could feel myself slowing down. I ate something and made sure I drank enough fluids but I can never seem to quench my thirst in these conditions.
Sure enough at the next checkpoint the marshalls told me the 2 runners in front of me were suffering as well so this gave me hope I wasn’t losing too much time and I set off after them, thinking I could make up a bit of time and pass them before we finished lap 2.
The next section from the checkpoint until we dropped into Marsden before climbing up to Wassenden Head I pushed myself and as we descended into Marsden I could see them infront of me. I’ll get them on the climb I thought.
I just couldn’t get my legs moving on this section and had to resort to a walk. Try as I might they just wouldn’t go any quicker than a fast walk. I could see the 2 runners infront of me slowly disappearing into the distance and there was nothing I could do about.
I knew at this stage all I could do was survive the daytime and the heat of teh sun and maybe get moving agian when it got a bit cooler in the evening.
To make matters worse it was in the climb to Wassenden Head that I started to get passed by what seemed to be the entire field of 30 and 60 mile runners. Each time I got passed I tried to stay in touch but it just wasn’t happening, I just had no energy. I kept eating and drinking but this didn’t have much of an effect.
Eventually I reached the top and began my descent back towards the final checkpoint and onwards to the finish. At least this section was mostly downhill and I could manage a little trot.
Lap 3: 70 – 100 miles
I had completed the first 2 laps in around 14hours so was still in with a good chance of finishing within my target time if I could just get myself moving again.
I took my time at the start/finish line and got some food down me, changed my socks and put some blister plasters on the many blisters I now had on my feet.
This proved to be a great decision because immediately my feet felt so much better, I just wished I had more blister plasters. Still its a lesson learned for the next one. Make sure you stock up on blister plasters.
A lot of people dropped out at this stage but I’m pleased to say it never crossed my mind. There wasn’t much that was going to stop me from finishing this. Only 30 miles to go, so lets get it done I thought.
I made it through the bog of doom in daylight and climbed up to the first checkpoint. My pace had dropped significantly at this stage and running was barely quicker than a walk so I resigned myself to a 30 mile walk.
If my memory serves me correctly it was somewhere around Moorside Edge that I met Adam.
‘How are you feeling?’ I asked as he passed
‘knackered'(or something similar) came the reply
‘me too, I don’t think i’ll be doing much running now’
and so we got chatting and ended up walking the rest of the course together, keeping each other going and spurring each other on to the finish.
Adam certainly helped me get to the finish and made the slow trudge around West Yorkshire much more enjoyable. We swapped stories and talked about future plans. My aim is UTMB in 2016 whilst Adam hopes to run in 2017 so we had a lot to talk about.
Eventually we reached the top of Wassenden Head for the last time and we knew we were going to finish. I think that final big climb was such a mental obstacle.
Its the highest point on the course and the longest climb overall so reaching that final checkpoint and getting another packet of crisps was such a good feeling. My final lap was powered solely on Aldi crisps from what I can remember.
Eventually after 22hours 45minutes I reached the finish line. Slower than I had hoped by a long way but I had finished and claimed my 4 UTMB points. Victoria was waiting for me as I trudged up to the finish and I think we were both relieved I was alive and more importantly finished.
It was a tough and brutal race, the distance, the elevation and the heat had beat more than half of the field. I finished in 9th place overall and 8th male so I’m happy enough with a top 10 finish.
The 100 mile distance is tough, there is no doubt about that. In my opinion it’s so much tougher than simply being twice as far as 50 miles. You have to be so strong mentally and you need a desire to finish that allows you to push yourself beyond what most people think is insane.
When people ask me why I would want to run 100 miles the only reason I can give is ‘because I want to see if I can do it’ and I’m now very happy to say that I can.
It’s such a strange feeling finishing a 100mile race. On one hand you should be happy that you have finished but the overwhelming sense of tiredness takes over. I was a gibbering wreck in the car on the way home and my body basically shut down and wouldn’t do anything.
Thank you to my beautiful wife Victoria for letting me put her through all this for a second time and for supporting me
Team OA for organising the event
The marshalls and helpers at the start/finish and at the checkpoints for being brilliant
Adam for getting me round that last lap and being a great person to share the White Rose Ultra with. Good luck with your future plans.
My usual kit plus a few additions for the distance
- Brooks Cascadia 10 Trail Running Shoes – changed after lap 1
- The North Face E-Tip Running Gloves
- Scott Kinabula Supertrac Trail Running Shoes
- Petzl Nao Headtorch
- Garmin Fenix 3 GPS Running Watch
- Anker Fast Portable Charger External Battery Power Bank
- The Northface Flight Series – Better than Naked Long Haul Shorts
- The Northface Flight Series – Better than Naked Short Sleeve T-shirt
- Salomon Advanced Skin Hydro S-Lab 5 Set
- OMM Radian Beanie
- The North Face Superhype Goretex Active Jacket
- Hammer Nutrition Peanut Butter Gels
- Chia Charge Flapjack
- Hammer Nutrition Perpeptum