“I want to do the 110 under 20 hours” I told Jayson Cavill when we were discussing my 2017 plans at the beginning of the year.
“You have a lot of work to do” came the reply
“I know” and with that came the start of a 12 week training plan with one simple goal – to bring home the sword that I had missed out on by just 20 minutes the year before. I finished in 21hours 20mins in 2016 and had a fairly conservative run so I knew if I trained hard enough it would be doable.
Extra motivation came from my wife Victoria who told me “If you don’t bring that sword home I’m going to cut off your balls”. That’s fair enough as it’s a lot of stressing and worrying to put someone through, not to mention giving up their weekend to follow some idiot around the North York Moors for 20+ hours.
I got up at 5:15am 4 times a week to go to the gym for strength and conditioning sessions before work followed by endurance runs and interval/hill sessions in the evening plus more endurance runs at the weekend.
Closer to the time I started doing more event specific back to back long runs to build my stamina although these also included a sustained effort towards the end to get me used to pushing hard when I was tired and didn’t want to.
Not wanting to and having to are two different things though and I knew these sessions were going to pay off come May 6th so I put everything into every session I did.
I was eating really healthily and even managed to cut out coffee for the month before the race, no mean feat for a coffee addict, hoping that when I did have caffeine in the race it would give me a bigger kick and help me get to the finish line quicker. At the very least I hoped it would keep me awake for the duration of the race rather than spending a large portion asleep on my feet as I did in 2016. I also cut out dairy products in the week before the race as I started to become suspicious that milk and yoghurt especially were causing me a bad stomach.
Although I’m not 100% certain yet it did seem to improve things throughout the week so maybe I’m on to something.
I analysied everything I could to find areas where I could make marginal gains.
As an example I wore Scott Kinabalu Enduros last year which are a heavy shoe so I started to look for lighter shoes so I didn’t have as much to lift over the course of 110 miles. I eventually settled on the Scott Kinabalu T2’s which turned out to be perfect for the conditions. I would recommend these shoes in an instant.
I tested out various different fuelling options eventually settling for on a millet loaf and oat pancake combination along with some Hammer Gels and Shot Bloks for later on when I knew I would struggle to eat solid food.
My training was going well and I was running better than ever. I dropped half a stone yet had built what I thought was good solid lean muscle.
My mileage was building up to 70 – 100 miles per week and after my final long run with full kit at race pace I was confident that I would hit my target time and had a good chance of taking the win.
I was bouncing off the walls in the 2 weeks I spent tapering. All I wanted to do was race and I had to really stop myself from going out on long runs or going to the gym.
We stayed overnight in Hummanby so we didn’t have to get uo at stupid o’clock to drive from Harrogate to Filey. It didn’t go exacrly to plan as a combination of the worlds most uncomfortable bed and church bells that started ringing at 10:30pm every half an hour kept both of us awake most of the night. I was up staring at the ceiling from about 4am thinking maybe I should just get up and get ready.
I eventually got up at 6:30am, had breakfast, got ready and then we headed over to Filey Brigg. I wore my UTMB finishers binbag in the hope that it would psyche people out. I know the sight of one would have to me when I saw one a few years back. Like I said earlier it was all about marginal gains.
After going through kit check, getting my number and then Jon’s pre race brief it was time to line up on the start line with a mere 112 miles in front of us.
Although I was running unsupported and was carrying all the additional kit, I had arranged to meet Victoria at Saltburn as it’s a long way between drop bag 1 and drop bag 2. I knew this was going to be the decisive point in the race and it let me travel a bit lighter between the two drop bags not needong to carry quite as much food. She was also going to meet me at Square Corner to drop off fellow Harrogate Harrier Ben Shacklock who had volunteered to be my pacer for the last 20 miles. I would see finally at The White Horse before the finish in Helmsely.
I made my way to the front as my pre-race plan was to start with the lead group and weigh up the competition to see how fast they started.
My plan was to take it easy into Ravenscar and then gradually pick things up along the last half of the coastal section until Saltburn where I planned to be in the lead and just stay there until Helmsley.
From Saltburn I was going to push hard and try to clear the out and back up to Roseberry Topping before anyone else got there as I knew it would be a big psychological advantage to be gone by the time they hit Roseberry.
From Roseberry I wanted to push hard again and try and clear the three sisters before needing to out on my headtorch.
Then it was a case of taking it easy to Square Corner where I would pick up Ben who would keep and eye on the trackers and keep in front of the other runners.
Conditions on the day couldn’t have been better. It was a perfect running temperature with no sun and a light breeze that was never too strong to cause any problems. The trails were nice and dry from the lack of rain in the proceeding weeks.
I knew it was going to be a good day.
Leg 1: Filey Brigg to Ravenscar
I set myself up at the front alongside Christopher Cowley and shortly after 8am RD extraordinaire Jon Steele counted us down and we were off.
Don’t set off too fast and burn out I kept telling myself. If anyone goes off at the front just let them. The race doesn’t start until Saltburn so just relax and enjoy it.
Coming into the first marshal point I saw Jayson. I think he was a bit surprised to see me at the front so early on but I was running easy and relaxed and assured him I wasn’t pushing hard. A quick bottle refill and i was off.
Thankfully we passed through Scarborough early morning so the huge crowds of hot dog munchers hadn’t started to mass yet and the sea front was nice a quiet.
I really struggle with remembering to eat regularly in races so I came up with the idea of setting the alarm on my phone to go off every 30mins as a prompt and it wasn’t long before my first prompt went off so I took out a pancake and started munching. The blueberries I had added gave a lovely refreshing burst of juice on every bite. Delicious!
Leg 2: Ravenscar to Saltburn
I knew that Christopher would leave the checkpoint before me as his crew were very efficient and I had to mess around finding my dropbag, taking on fuel, filling water bottles and refilling my pack but I had a routine for each.
The usual brilliant Hardmoors marshals refilled my water while I got my dropbag and sorted that out. Each dropbag I had a protein shake, Muller yogurt and more millet loafs and pancakes. The aim was to get in and out as quick as possible so not to lose too much time. Last year I spent at least 45mins at the checkpoints so I knew this was a place I could gain some easy time.
I left the checkpoint a good few minutes behind Christopher but it was a long way to go so I wasn’t too worried at the moment. Dropping back down to the Cleveland Way I passed the chasing group of Dave Troman, Nick Green and another guy who I didn’t recognise.
Over the next few miles I slowly caught Christopher again and we chatted about all sorts of things from his love of spaniels to both being vegetarian and what we were eating on the run to training plans and our trainers.
It wasn’t long before Whitby Abbey came into view and I warned Christopher to brace himself for the onslaught of tourists on the narrow streets.
We both flew down the steps dodging the tourists and then came my personal worst section of the race, the narrow street that leads past the shops to the bridge and the escape from the horrible crowds. I was polite and shouted to people to excuse me but it’s a race and I wasn’t about to slow down so we weaved our way through the tourists and then we turned right over the bridge and up onto the promenade towards the next checkpoint at Sandsend.
Again the efficiency of Christopher’s crew and my need for a quick stop at the toilets enabled him to get out of the checkpoint before me so after a quick bottle refill and a handful of jelly babies and I was off again a few minutes after Christopher.
I was pleased to get a bit of thinking time so I went through my strategy in my head and pushed on. I slowly caught Christopher and we chatted for a while but I knew we were closing in on Runswick Bay and the point I needed to make my break at so after a little while I started to push the pace a bit hoping he wouldn’t come with me.
Thankfully I started to open up a small gap and as I dropped down onto the beach at Runswick Bay I was on my own.
Must have just missed high tide as the beach was passable but I took my time, trying not to get my feet wet or kick sand into my shoes as I didn’t want to waste any time emptying them at the other end.
I left the beach and took the path up to the next checkpoint. Shelli Gordon was there on her epic 200 mile race so we had a quick chat and then I was off again on the final coastal section to Saltburn where I would meet Victoria and a cheese and tomato pizza I had been looking forward to all day. I think I told Christopher a hundred times how much I was looking forward to the pizza during our chats.
My plan to this point had been to open up enough of a lead to be able to get out of the Saltburn checkpoint on my own so I could get my head down, dig in and push hard to Roseberry Topping and Kildale and hopefully build up a decent lead. The section through Skelton, Slapeworth and Guisborough Woods was a place I lost a lot of time last year and was the point everyone started to slow down so I had this marked as one of the key sections of the race.
By the time I reached Saltburn I wasn’t fancying solid food so I didn’t even eat any of the pizza a. I restocked on items and switched out my water bottles with two I had already prepared and switched out my lightweight jacket for my more heavy duty one for the night section.
“Jayson’s just text, he’s going to run out towards Kildale and meet you” Victoria told me just as I left. That was music to my ears and really motivated to get my arse moving.
The marshall handed me a big bag of jelly babies and a lolly and I was off ready to put the next phase of my plan into action.
Leg 3: Saltburn to Kildale
Just as I reached the top of the steps I looked back and saw Christopher coming into the checkpoint. I also got a quick call from Victoria telling me to get moving as 87 had just come into the checkpoint.
I put my headphones on, cranked up the volume and ran to rejoin the Cleveland Way ready to see if all the hard work I had put in would pay off. Just got to keep it going for the next 60 miles.
The next section was crucial, it’s a long steady drag and I’ve always been weak on these sections. I get bored easily and don’t run as hard as I should. We did a lot of work in the months leading up to the 110 to try and plug this weakness and it certainly seemed to be working to the point where I was almost enjoying the long drag.
Both physically and mentally I was feeling great at this point. I had spent the previous 10 miles preparing myself for the big push and I was feeling very positive, my legs felt strong and I was managing to keep taking on food so it was a case of head down and push on.
I wasn’t sure how far Christopher was behind me and I didn’t want to look round to check but I made sure I ran everything up through Skelton and into Slapeworth as there was a couple of sections where you can see a lot of the course in front of you. I wanted to make sure no-one could see me walking. All I wanted people to see was a yellow and blue dot running off into the distance.
Through Spa Wood the conditions we much drier than last year and going was good. I allowed myself a walking break up the concrete road to take on fuel and water and adjust a few things and then I didn’t stop running again up through Guisborough Woods. Just keep pushing I kept telling myself, you’ve got this.
That’s the 60 done, just the 55 to go I thought to myself as I reached the top of Highcliffe Nab and got my first glimpse of Roseberry Topping.
This is another section where you can see quite a big section of the Cleveland Way so again I made sure I was running and not walking as I wasn’t sure how far behind the others were
Finally I got to the gate and started to descend Little Roseberry towards the short, sharp climb up the summit of Roseberry Topping and back down again.
The name of the game for me this year was efficiency so I skipped down the rocky path, not pushing too hard but not hanging around either.
On the flat section just before the Roseberry I started hearing a cow bell ringing. I thought I was imagining it until I looked up and saw Tim Taylor way up above shouting and giving the Chia Charge cowbell a bloody good ringing.
I thought I was back in Chamonix at the UTMB for a split second but it didn’t half give me boost so I skipped up Roseberry in no time, reached the top mumbled something like “can I turn round now” and then skipped back down the steps to rejoin the Cleveland Way.
I couldn’t see any other runners at this stage so I thought my plan must have worked and I had put a good gap between myself and the others. Could I get back up to the gate and be on my way before anyone else started the Roseberry section?
I was about 5 steps from the gate when I looked up and saw Christopher and Nick Green on the other side. “Shit” I thought to myself, almost but not quite. Never mind its still a good advantage and they have Roseberry to deal with before they can chase after me. I always think Roseberry is far easier than people make out, it’s over and done with in no time at all but it does look pretty nasty after 62miles so hoped it would have the desired effect.
The section between Roseberry and Kildale is a nice easy trail so I made sure I pushed on and maintained the gap I had built up, not wanting to lose anytime on the easier sections.
I came into the Kildale checkpoint and tried to be as efficient as possible, bottles refilled, protein shake, yogurt, refill my pack and off. No fuss, no messing around, just in and out as quickly as possible.
Last year at Kildale I spent 10-15 minutes messing around getting changed for the night time section but this year I planned to only change if I absolutely needed to so I was out of the checkpoint pretty quikly.
Leg 4: Kildale to Square Corner
The section up to Bloworth Crossing is one of my least favourite bits. It’s just a long hard drag of about 5 miles that continually climbs with little or no break.
I knew already that if I wanted to win and go sub 20 hours I had no choice but to dig deep and run the full section. After the initial steep section on the road I just had to get on with it and not stop running until Clay Bank and the start of the three sisters and the bit I was most looking forward to.
In 2016 I put my headtorch on when we reached Bloworth Crossing. This year I planned to get over as much of the three sisters as I could in daylight to give me a advantage over the following pack who would have to, hopefully, cover them in the dark. Wainstones especially is tricky at the best of times, never mind in the dark. Marginal gains would all add up at the finish.
I just put my head down, lost myself in the music and just ran at a decent pace up towards Bloworth Crossing just repeating to myself “don’t stop, keep running” over and over in my head.
A mile or two from Bloworth I looked up and saw Jayson looking pretty splendid in his bright orange Montane kit. To say I was happy to see him was an understatement.
“You’re still running, that’s good” he said and with a quick hand shake we were off towards the turning point and Round Hill before the descent down to Clay Bank.
I told Jayson I wanted to try and clear the three sisters in daylight so he set off at a good pace and I fell into line just behind keeping up as best I could.
At Bloworth someone had left a big pile of oranges with a nice stone sign saying “help yourself” so I picked up an orange, passed it to Jayson who spent the next 5 minutes peeling orange and passing segments to me so I could just eat them, no messing around slowing down.
Just after Round Hill I took my eyes off the trail for a split second and the next thing I knew I caught my foot on a rock and tumbled arse over tit.
I banged my right knee, left leg and left arm quite badly but I was straight back on my feet. The worst thought flashed though my mind – shit had I just torn my expensive Jack Wolfskin jacket. A quick check and it looked ok but my knee was bleeding and my leg was hurting quite a bit. “Just run it off, you’ll be fine” I said to myself and picked up the pace again.
I really do need to try and stop falling over in races. I did the same thing at the UTMB and it had a big impact on my race. This time I think the adrenaline carried me on. My knee was just superficial but every time I hot the floor with my left foot I got shooting pains in my leg.
You’re just going to have to suck this one up and keep going I said to myself as we descended towards Clay Bank.
On the descent we decided that I would just push on through the checkpoint whilst Jayson got my bottles refilled and caught me up. We knew Christopher’s crew would be there and we wanted to show them that I was still running strong and pushing hard. By stopping at the checkpoint it would lose me time and I could just keep momentum by attacking the climb up towards Wainstones.
It was still light by the time we started the climb up towards Wainstones but it was claggy on the tops so visibility wasn’t great. I was struggling a bit pushing with my left leg so I wasn’t as quick as I was hoping on the section but we managed to clear 2/3 sisters before the headtorches came out.
Jayson said he would run with me to Knolls End where he would turn back and meet up with his other runners in the race who were both doing having great races.
We cleared Lordstones and climbed up what is the last real tricky climb on the course to Carlton Bank. From here it’s nice easy running to Osmotherley and Square Corner and the final drop bag. I would also meet Victoria here who was dropping off Ben Shacklock who was my support runner to the end.
We parted company at Knolls End. I was a bit sad to see Jayson go but I knew it wasn’t too far to pick up Ben so I pushed on. My leg wasn’t feeling too bad so I made the most of the easy running and got my head down to try and extend my lead.
I got a a little bit of a shock when I turned round and saw a headtorch about 5 mins behind me but this soon passed when I realised it must have been the marshalls at the Scugdale checkpoint.
After a fairly uneventful few miles through Osmotherley I was at Square Corner. Only 20 miles to go.
Leg 5: Square Corner to Helmsley
Ben and Victoria were waiting for me when I arrived at the car park. To say I was very glad to see them both was an understatement.
Last year it was bitterly cold on the section from Square Corner to White Horse so I took a few minutes to change gloves, put on an extra layer and put my beanie hat on. In hindsight this wasn’t the best thing to do as I was so hot on this section this year and I think it was part of the reason I had such a poor section.
After a quick change of bottles and some food although I still didn’t want the pizza must to Victoria’s annoyance. I had been looking forward to pizza for months but always resisted during training and now it was being handed to me on a plate but I couldn’t face it didn’t half piss me off. Never mind it would keep!
The section between Square Corner and White Horse is the only section of the race I’m not happy with. I lost 25 minutes to Nick Green on this section. My legs was hurting and I just couldn’t force myself to run anything that was slightly uphill. I was also very hot and over heating after putting on the extra items of clothing.
Not the best considering this section is mostly slightly uphill. Finally, 40 minutes slower than intended, we arrived at the White Horse checkpoint.
A quick cup of coffee and we were off back up the steps past the White Horse and back towards the Cleveland Way.
As we were about to turn back onto the Cleveland Way I saw a head torch coming towards us. It was Nick Greene who was just coming into the Whiter Horse checkpoint. He couldn’t have been more then 10-15mins behind at this point.
If that wasn’t the wake-up call I needed I don’t know what would have been. In an instance everything changed and I could sense the win falling from my grasp.
I had a jolt of pain through my leg each time my left foot struck the floor but I just kept running. It felt like we were running at 5 min miles but the reality is it was closer to 10min miles. Didn’t matter in the end, I was putting time into Nick and most importantly my sleep deprived brain figured out I was still on for a sub 20 hour finish.
Every half an hour my alarm went off and each time Ben rummaged around my backpack and pulled out a gel, that was opened and shoved into my hand. I couldn’t have asked for more.
As we passed Rievaulx Abbey I knew if I could keep this pace I could still finish sub 20hours. Eventually Ben got a signal and checked where Nick was. I was just coming into Helmsley as he was passing through Cold Kirkby so I knew I wasn’t in danger of losing first place, just keep moving until you get to the sports centre I kept telling myself.
just before Hemsley we came across a group of horses that had got out of their field and were on the narrow path. There was nothing to do but try and gently squeeze past and hope not to startle them.
The last thing I wanted was to cover 111.5 miles only to get a hoof to the head within half a mile of the finish.
Thankfully we managed to get past them and then it was a short trot into Helmsley and up the hill to the sports centre and the finish.
I burst through the doors and couldn’t quite believe I had done what I set out to do. I finished in a time of 19:53 in first place. My race went perfectly and I executed my plans to perfection. I just wish I didn’t have the tumble otherwise I think I would have been a bit quicker but that’s part of the appeal of running these races, they rarely go to exactly to plan so you have to be prepared to adapt and change your plans at any given moment.
It wasn’t long before Nick came into the sports centre for 2nd in 20:24 in what was his first 100 mile race. A fantastic effort. Christopher came in shortly afterwards in goal shattering 20:47, over 2 hours quicker than his planned 23hours time and on a course that he had only seen a short 30 mile stretch previously.
To say I am over the moon with how the race went is an understatement. I was so pleased that everything went to plan and that I won the sword, not only for me but for Victoria, Jayson and Ben as well as they all played a huge part in the day. To run under 20 hours was incredible.
Sub 19hour in 2018?
My wife Victoria who was just brilliant not just all weekend but in general for supporting me and helping me achieve what I wanted to. I love you so much. I will be more than happy to crew for you when you do the 110 next year 😉
Ben Shacklock who ran with me for the last 20 miles from Square Corner and attended to my every need. Couldn’t have asked for more.
Jayson Cavill for not only preparing me for the race with a superb training program and advice but for meeting me at Bloworth Crossing and running with me and keeping me motivated. I really would advise speaking to him if you want to improve your performance in races. Jayson Cavill Running. I’m excited about the next stage in my training and seeing where we can take this running lark.
Jon and Shirley Steele for putting on these incredible events.
All the marshalls and helpers who make Hardmoors events so special. Thank you to each and every one of you.
Everyone one at Harrogate Harriers who wished my well and posted messages of support over the course of the race.
Christopher Cowley for the company in the first third of the race. So happy you smashed your target time. Hopefull see you around at another race sometime.
I spent a long time researching and testing equipment before deciding on what to use. The kit below is what I used and all of it performed flawlessly throughout.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of the kit below to anyone.
- Scott Kinabalu 3 T2 trail shoes
- Injinji toe socks
- The North Face Flight Series Vent Shorts
- The North Face Flight Series T-shirt
- The North Face Flight Series Cap
- The North Face Motus Tights
- The North Face Storm Stow Jacket
- Jack Wolfskin Exolight Jacket
- The North Face Storm Stow Trousers
- The North Face Harpster Base Layer
- Salomon SLab Advanced Skin 5 hydration pack
- Petzl Nao Headtorch
- Homemade Oat pancakes with chia seeds and blueberries (recipe to follow)
- Homemade millet and lentil loaf (recipe to follow)
- Hammer Nutrition Gels with caffeine
- Cheese sandwiches
- Forever Living protein powder
- Chia Charge Flapjacks
- Clif Shot Blocks