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Sun, sea, sand & sausages

Anyone fancy the idea of an all inclusive mini break on the East Coast? 25-26 May next year with an early bird offer of £159. All meals and non-alcoholic drinks included plus a day trip on the Saturday where you will see the sights of the beautiful Yorkshire Coast. There's also an optional trip on the Sunday over the North York Moors. You'll get to spend time with your fellow travellers and I guarantee you will make friends for life. Sound good?

The one 'catch' to this incredible off is the distinct lack of accommodation. No bed for the night but what did you expect for £159! You can always catnap in the back of the car of course but the rest of the time you're on your feet. Happy to send the brochure to anyone interested in booking as demand will be high when places go on sale next month.

This isn't your standard mini break of course, it's the Hardmoors 110 (or even longer if you fancy upgrading to the premier trip). I'm not here to write about myself, that's awkward at the best of times but I did want to record the adventure before it becomes a blurry memory. I'm here to extol the virtues of ultra marathon running. Please don't chalk them off your bucket list as I assure you they are doable. Of course they're not easy, far from it but with a bit of planning and training they are definitely doable. There are upsides to this ultra stuff as well. You learn a huge amount about yourself, about what we are capable of. And trust me, you are more capable than you know. You learn what your body can cope with and what type of meals on the all inclusive menu it can deal with an what it can't. Pot Noodles aren't my average choice of fare on a Saturday evening but they were straight off the a la carte menu last weekend. Food of the gods.

Here's the deal then, see if I can convince you. If I can't just ask Jo Barrett or Dee Bouderba as they both inherited the same brain wiring as me. If they can't convince you then maybe this photo will. No prizes for spotting a Postal Harrier. Photo courtesy of my support runner, Mr Chris Price.

Let's start at the beginning. What is an ultra then? Technically, it's anything longer than 26.2 miles so you could have a 26.5 mile ultra or you could have a 268 mile ultra in the depths of winter. To me, a 26.5 mile ultra is nothing more than a badly measured marathon but there you go. Complete one and you can tell all your mates you're an ultra runner and they will have no idea whether you've just nailed a flat 27 mile route or a hilly 500 mile brute.

177 of us had entered this year's 110 and 110 (I kid you not) made it to the start line. The remaining 67 have deferred their entry until next year for a variety of reasons. So 110 in the 110, perfect synchronicity.

The key task before you get to the start line is your planning. Unless you are running unsupported, as the aforementioned Jo did rather marvellously 2 years ago, you need a support crew. There's a whole load of consideration for starters. Do you have just one crew or do you have several given the time limit is 36 hours and can you ask your family and friends to drive round offering a mobile food service for that long? I think the answer to that is no.

Sticking with your support crew, who do you ask? They all need to have certain credentials, a good blend of skills. The last thing you want when you're knackered and want to give up is for someone in your crew to immediately agree with you and let you jump into the car. You need those who are adept at the art of tough love. They care but they also want you to finish. Lucy always says to me that she can tell by my eyes what sort of state I'm in so if my eyes look ok (who knows what that looks like) then on she pushes me. Sometimes that involves parking the car away from an agreed meeting point so it's out of sight making it hard to just fall in and call it a day. It's a tactical battle between heart and mind. And legs.

The next pre-race requisite for me is the famous spreadsheet. You've got to love a spreadsheet. A one page detailed analysis of where I expect to be and when based on an estimated pace. Now there's clearly a bit of educated guesswork involved here when your race is over 110 miles. This time round I went with 4 miles per hour to give an estimated time of arrival at each of the meeting points. I've also got a tracker attached to me so they know my exact location at any given time. This time round, my 4mph got me to the finish at 11.30am on Sunday. I'd be one happy chappy if that happened. The reality was that I ambled into the finish at 11.39am on Sunday. I'll take that.

Onto the day itself. My 2 separate crews were ready with a crate each packed with my change of kit choices and food & drinks preferences. Lucy got me to Filey for the start and was then going to meet me in Sandsend, about 30 miles in. There were a few official checkpoints inbetween and my view is always I shouldn't need crew during the early stages. If I do there's a problem.

Lucy was sticking with me from Sandsend until Staithes before my night crew took over the mantle in Saltburn and they were going to stick with me until Clay Bank or that was the plan. In reality I was well ahead of my planned arrival times in the first half of the race so my night crew just kept going until Lucy met me at Sutton Bank for the final stint.

We had the official start at the top of Filey Brigg just by the Country Park at 8am on Sat morning. From there you've got 36 hours maximum to get to Helmsley with various cut off times along the way. I knew that I'd be moving quicker than 4mph to start with so the cut off times shouldn't be an issue as they had been 2 years ago when I was up against them throughout. Thankfully not the case this time around though.

The two key parts of my plan for the first part of the race were to run within myself and keep covered up due to the sun. By running within myself I mean going at a pace where I could easily chat and my breathing was barely noticeable. Absolutely nothing to be gained by going off too quickly. Definitely an ultra marathon not a sprint. I wanted to keep a vague eye on my heartrate as well. Nothing too technical but whenever I glanced at my watch I wanted to make sure the rate was somewhere between 120-150 beats per minute. If it went any higher then slow down.

The impact of the sun was another key factor. In 2021 the sun was ever present all weekend, long and hot and impactful. I wasn't prepared for that and didn't use suncream or cover up properly. Typical bloke really. This time around every bit of skin on sight was covered in suncream, my cap and sunglasses were on and I started in a very thin long sleeved top.

All of those things combined did the job and the impact of the sun actually lessened as there was more cloud cover in the afternoon so it wasn't as bad as the forecast had predicted. The race still saw an awful lot of other runners retire at Saltburn though so the weather had clearly taken its toll.

Arriving in Saltburn means a couple of things. It's the end of the path as far as the coast is concerned after Filey, Scarborough, Ravenscar, Robin Hood's Bay, Whitby, Sandsend, Runswick Bay, Staithes and Skinningrove. You shouldn't really go wrong on the coastal section, keep the sea on your right and job's a good 'un. Except it wasn't. You usually make a mistake for two reasons. One, you're knackered. Two, you're chatting. Maybe three, you're chatting and knackered. Anyway, me and my fellow runner Daz were busy chatting away on the descent into Staithes and completely missed the turn and ended up in a housing estate. It was quickly fixed but not after we'd spent a few minutes debating if we'd get a time penalty or not to correct the error of our ways. You can spend hours on a route you know well and still go wrong!

The second feature of Saltburn is that it signifies the start of the hills. Not much at first but it gets going eventually. Two years ago I rolled into Saltburn at midnight. This time round it was 7.15pm and broad daylight. What a difference. My support runners were there as well, Chris & Drew who were going to take it in turns to run sections with me through the night. More for the company and not because I'm afraid of the dark. You're probably safer on your own in the middle of the moors at night than you are in the centre of York.

First up in support is Drew, sticking with me as we climb gradually out of Saltburn before dropping down to Slapewath. Quick change there and Chris takes over as we head through the woods and onto the ascent and descent of Roseberry Topping. I'm going to say it, Roseberry Topping is beautiful as you can see from the photo but in Cleveland Way terms it is bloody pointless. Up you go to the top and then promptly turn round and trace your steps back down again. Put simply, it's a leg trash. I could say worse.

From there it's over to Gribdale and the first culinary delight of the evening from our nominated driver, Claire. Pot Noodle. The finest meal I could have asked for on a Saturday night. It went down the hatch rapidly and off we went again, up to Captain Cook's Monument before descending into Kildale. The tarmac into Kildale is steep and hard, the shoots of pain flaring in my quads on every step.

Kildale was a beautiful idyll. The checkpoint is inside the Village Hall, warm and welcoming with pizza and proper toilets that you can sit down on. The height of luxury, if only I could sit down with ease but it's them there quads again. Another great meal washed down by the drink of the gods otherwise known as Dandelion and Burdock and I was charged up and ready to recommence the battle. I don't know what it is with D&B, it divides opinion. No finer sugary drink in my view. Does the job every time.

If you're familiar with the Cleveland Way you know what's coming straight outta Kildale. Hills. Battersby Bank is the first one on the list, it didn't feel as endless as it has in the past. I was running well and it seemed to be behind us quickly before the long trek to Bloworth Crossing. The night was still, not a headtorch to be seen in any direction. A calmness had descended and it was a serene moment as we quietly made our way across the moor. It didn't last.

We turned the corner at Bloworth and there was wind. Where had that been all day! Not much but enough of a breeze to suddenly feel the chill as the pace had understandably dropped. The final drop into Clay Bank is always further than I imagine it but eventually we saw the twinkling fairy lights adorning the checkpoint vehicles in the layby. No village hall pizza here but plenty of words of encouragement in the knowledge that the 3 sisters were next up. Up being the operative word.

The toughest section of the 3 sisters was without doubt Wainstones. Normally much easier in daylight when you can see your path through the rocks. It took us 3 attempts to plot a safe route as the first 2 resulted in us coming to a dead halt as we reached a sudden drop. Oh how lovely it was to climb the rocks again, my legs told me as much as well. Dropping down the other side of Wainstones was one of those pure Hardmoors moments when you see a sole runner heading in the other direction. In the middle of the night. Turns out it was one of the Hardmoors legends, Stephen Kirk, heading back to meet the runner he was supporting. Just thought he'd sneak a few miles in first.

Needless to say, the 3 sisters were behind us eventually with a further pitstop at Lordstones signalling the end of that bit of climbing. It was another up and over now to reach the Scarth Nick checkpoint and it was on the approach to the checkpoint that I had my first episode of hallucinating on this run. Going through the wood before you get to the road and Scarth Nick, I was convinced there were a group of people holding up banners to cheer on their runners. Quite why they would do that at around 4 in the morning is anyone's guess but I swear they were there. I got to them and they were just trees. Who knew!

Getting to the point now where I'm starting to count down the miles and thinking I've broken the back of it. A few climbs to go but only one bad one really, the old drovers road out of Square Corner. It's not that it's that steep, it's just sodding relentless. The gift that keeps on giving as it snakes up and on towards High Paradise Farm. I'd had a few mouthfuls of food at Square Corner so my engine was burning again and we managed a decent paced run once the steeper section was out of the way. Much like Battersby Bank, it felt like the Hambleton drovers road was out of the way before it did too much damage.

We really were getting there now. Sutton Bank on the horizon, not that I could see it but it was on the horizon. The best surprise there was to be greeted by Lucy and Billy, a much needed boost to morale. It was definitely getting tough to keep any sort of reasonable pace going but I was now in the territory of knowing I was going to finish, it was just a matter of when.

Sutton Bank came and went and I flirted briefly with 6th place as I overtook another runner whilst having a food stop in the visitor centre car park. It didn't last for more than a few hundred metres though and I was back in 6th as we headed out past the gliding centre before dropping down through the woods to the White Horse car park and Sausage Man! My mate Swainy is another legend of a man who turns up in all weathers to volunteer and often has his grill on the go with as many sausages as you can stomach, hence the name Sausage Man. He's a real gem and a hug and a handshake from him helped give me the energy to get up those god damned steps from the car park up to the White Horse itself.

About 9 miles to go now and we're smashing it. OK so I'm walking like the 90 year old I will be in 40 years time but one foot forward and I'll get there. Time to stop doubting and start believing. You better believe it!

The fancy houses of Cold Kirby were a short distraction as was the old ruin at Rievaulx (the abbey not me). I'm almost there. I've got Lucy & Billy keeping pace up front and I can't bloody keep up with them. Helmsley is on the horizon as the castle looms into view and my legs are dying. Anyone who knows my Billy also knows that he's not the best runner in the dog world but he's in front of me. Keep up Dad!

I can see the streets of Helmsley now and my fatigue gives way to a desire to put on a show for the massed crowds of nil so I offer up my best version of sprinting. It's a pretty poor version to be fair but I'm moving well. A final missed turn as my tired mind had convinced me that the Sports Club and outdoor pool weren't actually where they are but it was only 10 metres of being a numpty. About turn and up past the Feversham Arms hotel on my left and then round to the left and up the hill to the finish line.

I'd made it. 27 hours and 39 minutes after leaving Filey and the small matter of 8 hours quicker than last time. I finally got to sit down and maybe cry just a little.

What an experience. A real life project that took plenty of planning, required a brilliant team and needed some legs to deliver it. What have I learned though?

  1. The sun is your enemy. Wear a hat. Apply suncream. Even better, wear long sleeves if you can bear it. It's worth it.

  2. Eat often and find out what works for you. My mantra is eat real food so anything gel like is out. Pizza, ham sandwiches, mini Cathedral City cheese, Pot Noodle, Itsu Curry pot, fake mars bars, cashew nuts, salt & vinegar crisps, jelly babies, carrot cake are the things I can remember that went down well and kept me going. Ultra running is a constant food fest with a bit of running thrown in for good measure.

  3. Drink little and often, no guzzling. Water, Lucozade Sport and decaf coffee were my drinks of choice.

  4. It's a big chuffing marathon not a sprint so manage yourself early on. Work out what your really comfortable pace is and try and stick to it. For me it was about 5mph in the first half of the race, it will be different for everyone but you absolutely need to avoid getting out of breath, unless temporarily as you go up a hill.

  5. Break your race down into chunks. The 110 was about 20 races in one for me, each mini race finished whenever I got to a checkpoint or met my crew. It's much more manageable that way.

  6. Pick your crew well. Their blend of skills and ability to keep you going without giving into your desire to stop will be worth it.

  7. Believe in yourself. You've got to the start line so trust me when I say we can all achieve more than we give ourselves credit for. We can!

  8. For two days after the race, find chairs and toilets that have some sort of armrest or support so you can lower yourself down in as little pain as possible. On more than one occasion since Sunday I thought there was a real chance I was going to break our toilet seat as my quads were far too painful so I just collapsed onto the loo. Newsflash, the seat held firm!

  9. Chat to folk on the way round. Your fellow runners, marshalls, support crew, random tourists. It helps the journey go by. Just smile when the 100th tourist gets in your way in the middle of Whitby. They aren't there to deliberately annoy you. I think.

  10. Above all, enjoy it and when you finish, be proud. You've achieved something amazing and if you don't make it to the finish, learn from it and don't give up!

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