When the Hardmoors 160 first ran in 2014, Jayson and I supported our friend Garry Scott on his attempt. Jayson ran the Tabular Hills with him (it was allowed then) and I drove to each checkpoint, Red Bulled up and Steps blasting loud. We had a great time, and went home on Saturday morning, leaving him with his Dad and brother. We slept, ate, pottered around the market and went back on Saturday night to take over. It seemed insane to me that he had been on the move that whole time and that we would be with him until he finished in Filey. I walked with him from Slapewath through a second night and, sometime early on Sunday morning in Sandsend, his race was over. We drove home and I cried in the drive: I felt so bad for him and thought we had let him down somehow. We were both exhausted and I wondered how and why someone would do that kind of distance. Six years later and with a few more ultras completed, I know the answer!
I only decided to do the 160 a few months ago, after my 2020 plan of getting uncomfortable with some mountainous races came undone. I had trained well the whole time and was in really good shape, knocking out some quick times and feeling strong. The 160 was a different challenge and one that I didn’t know if I could do: two nights out scared me a bit as did the possibility of my feet not coping well, as is their way. But if the year so far had taught me anything, it was that you never know what is around the corner, so you’d better make the most of right now. With a Lyke Wake run and a couple of long days out on the course ticked off, I felt confident I would give it my best. I also went in feeling totally relaxed after having an epiphany about wanting to enjoy racing again. After picking up some bling over the years, I had fallen into a place of focusing on time or position in races and it had taken some of the joy away. Having a target or a goal in events is great, and can be really useful but I missed the feeling of running with others instead of against them, and having an experience. My resolution was to have an awesome time and be grateful for the chance to do it. No complaining about how hard it was, how much it hurt or wanting to be done: this was going to be a treat!
Sutton Bank to Scalby – approx 60 miles
This first chapter was over in a flash, with lots of little memories along the way. It went like this:
Woohoo – start!
Lots of friends and happiness
Chatting to Joel
Chatting to Lewis
Mark Dalton chatting to us
Mark Dalton overtaking us
John Kynaston filming in Helmsley
It’s really dark without my torch in these spooky woods
Jayson giving me my torch
Jayson’s Mum and Bill in Fadmoor
Rabid horses in a field (not really but they were far too interested in us and it was scary. Lewis gets it)
Chatting to Stephen – legend
Jumping over a bird
Chatting to Paul
Cup of tea
Change of shoes
Potato croquettes and veggie sausages
Chatting to Lewis and Stephen about moths
Our motorhome is noisy
We only started an hour ago?!
Change of shoes
That is literally how fast it felt. Everything was going well. Slightly sore toes but nothing new. I had been through night one, I wasn’t tired and now it was time for Chapter Two.
Scalby to Saltburn: Our stunning coastal path and approx 40 miles
Although the first 60 miles had gone well and quickly – I had done it in under ten and a half hours – I was feeling it a little in my toes. We were also getting more spread out here and, although I saw Stephen on and off, and Lewis for the last time at Crookness, I had lost my buddies and was mostly on my own for a long stretch. My next target was Ravenscar where I would see the last of Jayson for a while too, as he went home to rest and be on the ball for Saturday night and through to the end. A quick loo stop, a chat with my new road support Shaun, a brush of the teeth and I was on my way, flapjack in hand for the nice section to Robin Hood’s Bay. I was careful to walk while I ate as I wanted to minimise tummy issues and allow everything to digest. It was so peaceful being on our beautiful coast early in the morning before anyone else. Even walking up the steep road into Robin Hood’s Bay and seeing the first tourists milling around, I felt very content that I was doing something secret and extraordinary on such an ordinary day! It must have been somewhere along here though that I became more aware of my knee. Behind my left knee felt tight and puffy when I touched it. I wrote it off though, as you do, and kept shuffling. Always one to take steps cautiously, today was even more ginger as I had to put one foot down first, then send the other to meet it because of the soreness if I tried to do it normally. But with distractions like peacocks, a glittering ocean and quaint little towns, it didn’t seem to matter. Somewhere along this stretch, I also started toing and froing with Terry who would ultimately finish third. He would stay with his crew for longer than me, catch up with me, then vanish again. We chatted a bit but by his own admission, he wasn’t much of a talker, so I popped my tunes back on and he went on ahead.
Coming into Whitby, I met Shaun just before the abbey, where I decided my feet needed gooing up. Some of my toe tape was also coming off, so I spent a bit of time reapplying it. I think Stephen ran past me here too, and I don’t think I saw him again: he had a great run, coming in second. A bit of a bodge job done and slathered in Gurney Goo, I got up to leave. Shaun pointed out the toilets but I didn’t need it, and off I went with some crisps in hand. Not five minutes later and I was desperate for a pee. The rain kept coming on and off in sharp showers but that hadn’t deterred the tourists, who swarmed the town as I ran through, aiming for the public loos just below the whale bones. Unless you’re a runner (or a woman over 30), you may not have experienced such an urgent, intense need to pee. I was all set for the relief when I saw that the toilets were boarded up. My body didn’t care though and went anyway. Thank God for my black Montane skort is all I can say! I walked up through the bones and towards Sandsend, feeling a bit embarrassed and worried about chafing. Calling Shaun, I wasn’t shy about what had happened; I just needed a change of pants and skort in Sandsend. On the way, I saw my next support crew, Debbie and Simon, and told Debbie about it while she was filming me, ensuring that video wouldn’t get shared! Amazingly, despite how busy it was, Shaun met me in a brilliant spot, but I knew from the look on his face that my change of clothes hadn’t made it into his car. Luckily, my skort and pants are some kind of magic fabric that dries instantly, so I carried on with no ill effects. Even after that, I was still enjoying myself, listening to my awesome tunes – Disney, ELO, Sia, The Eagles, Pink, My Chemical Romance, etc – and being grateful for what I was doing. Runswick Bay was a bit of a stinker though – coming down the steep, slippy gully, crossing the beach and then trekking up that ridiculous road meant I was ready for my poles. The sun was coming out too, so I got to Shaun (and now Debbie and Simon who were replacing him) and asked for my sunglasses. Unfortunately, they were in my clothes bag too, but luckily Alison, a fellow PRC member was there with a selection to choose from! Thanking everyone, I ploughed on, my poles helping my rhythm.
Originally, my next crew point was Saltburn but Debbie and Simon offered to meet me at Cow Bar, just past Staithes, as I was slowing and wanted to check in. As I climbed up out of the village, Simon met me and told me Jayson was back. It seemed a bit strange as it was a lot earlier than planned but I assumed he hadn’t needed much rest and wanted to be back out. Good news though, as I could now change my clothes! There was a conversation here about me slowing which I took the wrong way: of course I was slowing, I was nearly 100 miles in! It didn’t register that I was slowing more than we had expected though because of my knee and all the steep ups and downs. Nothing to do but to keep on!
Down into Skinningrove, it struck me that I hadn’t been on this stretch for years and when I had, it had been diverted. I made my best guess and headed through some dunes, glancing down at the tranquil beach below. Such a shame it is not as well known as some of the others as it is really pretty. It was around here that the eventual winner and record breaker of the 110, Jacob, passed me with words of encouragement from both of us. He looked a lot smoother than me! A little later, Lee caught me up too, also running the 110,and walked with me for a few minutes after deciding to stop once he reached Saltburn and 50 miles. As he ran off, I heard him telling a passing family to give me a big cheer as I was doing 160 miles: they managed a very restrained and British clap!
Saltburn to Square Corner – approx 40 miles
At Saltburn, 100 miles in, after being alone for hours, I met my first support runner. I can’t say pacer, as I really only had one pace from there! It was great to walk with Simon, for the company and because he had carefully recced his section, leading me through the valley gardens and Skelton Green. There was really no running from here. I tried several times and managed a slow shuffle. My left calf at this point felt like it was going to pop if I put anything through it. The time passed really pleasantly on this stretch though. We chatted about everything and nothing: dogs, poles, races. On the interminable grind towards Slapewath, the eventual second place 110 runner, Sam, passed us, even pausing to walk with us for a bit. He must have been in fifth or sixth place then and was so relaxed and happy, a real testament to how running your own race can pay off massively. We met Jayson and Debbie in Slapewath, took some food, my torch and I think ate some soup, before pressing on into Guisborough Woods. It was still light at this point, but before long, darkness fell and Roseberry Topping loomed in the distance, slightly more hulking than usual to my eyes! The ascent was hard and slow, but on the way down, we met Claire, the eventual ladies winner, and one of my coached athletes. It was such a lift to see her doing so well and on her first 100 miler, that it didn’t register that I should have seen her much later. She disappeared into the gloom and we chugged along to Gribdale Gate. Jayson and Indie met us as we reached Little Roseberry, another boost as Indie is always so happy to be out! The party at Gribdale was well under way and it was busy with crew and marshals. The Hardmoors Hedgehogs relay team member, Amanda, was waiting to be tagged by Jenny, and an ex coached athlete Joe and his wife Alice were here to see me through too. Despite going into a second unknown night and despite knowing my running was done, it was great to be doing this and to be chipping away at it. This next section was exposed and potentially cold so I put a jacket on and started out up to Captain Cooks monument, leaving my next support runner, Caroline, to catch up. After a few minutes she joined me, joking that she wasn’t expecting to have to run! This was another stretch that felt quicker than it was because we were chatting so much. We even had a car escort out of Kildale as Claire and Jonathan joined us, Claire on foot, Jonathan lighting the way behind us, before they went to meet their runner, Lena. My vision had started to play tricks on me here, looking as if my poles were bending, which I had to keep checking with Caroline. It got colder, so we stopped a couple of times to put on gloves and more tops. I didn’t know until afterwards (my watch was charging in my pack) that I was moving at less than 3mph here, which for a fairly flat stretch, wasn’t good. Jayson met us coming down into Clay Bank again and it was here I decided to try and nap. I laid down in the motorhome but there was too much noise outside, with crew chatting and laughing. Plus, my head was whirring, so after five minutes of laying down with my eyes shut, I got up, ate some hash browns, put some trousers on and got out with my new support runner, Russ.
The Three Sisters section was always going to be slow, but it wasn’t meant to be this slow! Russ was very patient with me as I became more quiet and more snail like, and started seeing more weird things. The two cows at the top of Wainstones were there, but the see through cow in front of a big black trailer wasn’t. Neither was the trailer. The red canoe in front of a gate was also a trick of the light. It was so convincing that I had to check with Russ though. We saw more 110 runners here too. They were all so encouraging and I loved seeing them, knowing what they were going through and how it was going to feel for them to finish. My favourite though was Lee Williams, who still calls me coach, even though it’s been a couple of years since that was the case!
Once we got the big hills out of the way, there was just one more hallucination – floating lights and a sparkly terrier wearing a dog coat that were actually puddles – before the day broke. It was amazing to me that I had gone through two nights with no sleep but I was only starting to feel woozy now. For the last time, I threw my poles at Russ as the urgent toilet need overtook me again and then we made it to the cattle grid, where Roy was waiting for his runner Billy. In a much appreciated throwback to his buoying affirmation from Endure 24 two years ago, he asked me, ‘what are you Kim?’ It took me a beat to remember before I replied, ‘I’m forkin’ awesome’. Thanks again Roy.
Pushing through Osmotherley quickly, my final support runner, George, met us. Again, it didn’t hit me how behind my expected time I was at all. I should have been near the end now but all I could think about was having a nap and then cracking on and finishing. We were joined by Russ’ son Matthew and as we climbed up to Square Corner, saw Jayson, Debbie and Simon too. I crawled into the motorhome, laid down and shut my eyes. When I woke up, about 20 minutes had passed and Jayson came in.
‘Okay, the cut off in Helmsley is 7pm tonight’, he told me.
‘What do I need to know the cut off for?’ I replied, genuinely perplexed.
‘Because you’re moving at 2mph and if you keep doing that it will take 10 hours and you won’t make it’.
The only time I have thought about cut offs was my first Yorkshire Three Peaks race in 2011, where I spent the race asking anyone that came near me if we were okay. It was intense and stressful. This worried me, but this section was less hilly, it was daylight and so I thought we would be okay. Not ideal but I had to finish. I started taking layers off to get going and, when I saw my left leg for the first time in hours, I knew it was over. My lower leg was swollen to twice its size, rock hard and there was a red patch on my calf. There was no part of me that thought I should go on. I looked at Jayson and we took it in, knowing there was no choice. he took my pack to hand my tracker in and I sat back, disappointed but more worried about the damage I had done. George came in and had a look at it – she’s a nurse – and her reaction confirmed it. She looked worried and told me to go and get it looked at asap as it looked like a DVT. Everyone came and said goodbye and I put some warmer clothes on before calling Jon and telling him we would come and see the medics. As we set off, George called and said the medics had advised us to go straight to A&E. I was seen really quickly, given antibiotics for cellulitis after a blood test and come back the next day for an ultrasound.
Over the course of the day, my whole lower leg darkened, and I couldn’t fully bend or straighten it. It wasn’t painful exactly but was really tight and heavy. After an ultrasound and X-ray, a DVT and bone injury were ruled out, and a ruptured baker’s cyst looked like the most likely cause. I am waiting for another appointment to confirm but it does make sense and, in hindsight, I had experienced some puffiness in the back of my knee in the weeks leading up to the race. Hopefully it will settle and not come back!
Going into the 160, I was the most relaxed I had been about a race in years and that is something I want to emulate from now on. I enjoyed it so much because I wasn’t racing and because it was such a new adventure for me. There was nothing I could have done about the outcome and I am glad I stopped – I went further and longer than I have done before by 24 miles and 14 hours, so I am pleased with that. So much went right: feet, kit, sleep, food (although I would do this differently next time and have more soup and noodley things), crew, attitude and effort. I can’t wait to get back again, when often I feel like I need a race break. The 160 is one that is firmly on the to do list for the next few years!
Thanks to Montane for my ace kit. I wore the Trail 2SK skort; the Snap zip tshirt; the Podium jacket; the Minimus ultra jacket and the Gecko pack. Everything I get from them is so comfy, keeps you cool in heat and warm in the cold, as well as drying really quickly! You can find it all here : https://www.montane.com/womens-c15/activities-c33/trail-running-c43
My feet were better than they have been in ages through a combination of sports tape on my toes, Gurney Goo for lubrication, Drymax socks and Altra shoes. I got some blisters on my silly little toes where I always do but couldn’t feel them too much and there was nothing anywhere else on my feet. Thanks too to Chia Charge for the protein crispies and PB and cocoa flapjacks, as well as the encouragement and opportunity to be interviewed for the Run to the Hills podcast.
My crew were all amazing too. Shaun Fisher, Debbie Rycroft, Simon Rycroft, Caroline Johns, Russ Grayson and Georgina Lundie all went above and beyond for me. Good crew can really make or break a supported race like this and they were pros. Next time you lot?! As always, Jayson too for being awesome at staying awake to look after me after supporting the awesome John Kelly on his Grand Round the day before, and trying his best to nudge me along in the most subtle ways possible! The Hardmoors family really shone this weekend too. I really believe there is not much we wouldn’t do for one another and I can’t wait to see you all again, be it marshalling, crewing or running. You’re the best 🙂