Here is a brief race report on the Hill Ultra I took part in at the weekend…..no need to bore you with numerous lap repetitions stating I ran Up and Down and how bad the weather was……..
At Least My Number Survived………
The Hill first grabbed my attention last year when the entries went live for the first edition. I actually emailed Mark Cockbain for an entry form, something stopped me from filling it out, and to be honest I think I got scared. The stats speak for itself this is a tough event……55 laps, 160 miles, 48hours to complete. 1 Finisher (John Steele) 47hrs 31 mins 18 secs.
I had run more consistently this year than in previous years and I was feeling fit and strong. So physically and mentally I was in a good place. The Hill would be my only run race this year. The beginning of the year had been spent kayaking in preparation for the Devizes to Westminster canoe race in April,
And then in July I did Ironman Bolton for Charity with Team True Spirit and racing on a Hand bike
All good character building stuff. The summer saw me doing a lot of cycling regularly doing 100 mile bikes and a couple of 200 mile cycles.
Like most races I spend a fair amount of time thinking about small details that could be the difference to me finishing. The one thing that this race guarantees is that the weather will be cold and variable. Bearing this in mind I decided that I would use my winter Thermal Rash vest that I wear for kite surfing with a Helly Henson top, the plan was to run just to keep warm, if I got cold I wasn’t working hard enough and If I was too warm I was working too hard, Secondly I would use a handheld water bottle, and the plan was every 5 laps to top up the handheld with a hot drink, the idea being two fold I could put it down my top and use it as a hot water bottle and secondly it would act as a hand warmer. This worked extremely well during the race. Once the Handheld was empty I would drop it on the floor and pick it up on my return. I would also eat some form of hot food every 5th lap.
I arrived on the Thursday the day before the race in the early evening, and met up with one of the other competitors….Tom Jones. Tom had competed last year and was back for more punishment. Tom took me up The Hill for a quick recce in the dark.
Friday….race day, the weather had been changing all day and leading up to the start time there had been a sprinkling of snow,
chatting to the barman in the pub being way too comfortable next to the fire he said the weather forecast is always spot on. The forecast for the next two days was changeable with the worst weather hitting on Sunday.
Everyone seemed really relaxed; I think the standard question was what are you wearing to start? It was good to catch up with a few familiar faces, Sean Maley who I had done the Thames Ring with and Mark Dodgson who had won the Double Enduroman in the summer, plus Luke Ashton who had also travelled up from the South Coast.
The race started at 8.10 pm to be fair we all shot off…..I got caught up as you do and knocked out the first lap in 28mins 43secs….way to fast for me so I made a conscious effort to settle down and run at my own comfortable pace. I soon settled into my race plan…
I had a good first night and was running well….I was warm enough, not needing to put any extra layers on. It’s when you stopped, it was absolutely freezing. The water at the aid station was freezing in the Water Cans. There was no shelter at the aid station so if you wanted some respite and top up with your own food you had to walk round into the pub, inside the pub the fires were still going which made it extremely hard to leave and I dragged my heels on numerous occasions.
I was unaware of what most other runners were doing to be honest. There was a computer screen at the Start/End which told you what number of laps people were on, I was only concerned with my laps. I used a hand torch for the night but I did a lot of the route without using it opting to make use of the Full moon to see. I had a good Run / Walk pattern going, I haven’t seen lap times for the whole event but I would hope they were fairly consistent.
At around 7 in the morning I was starting to stiffen up and increasingly it was becoming harder to run sections that were easy during the night; I decided to take one Ibuprofen tablet. Day light came and the sun came out. It was still very fresh with no wind. The ground was hard from the frosting and snow the previous night….
I always seem to struggle in the daylight mentally on multi lap formats, I can see others seemingly running well and my running always seems laboured, it really frustrates the hell out of me, and I have a massive mental game with myself…..I think during the day the likes of Luke Ashton, Sean Maley and especially the leading two runners Mike Raffan and Ronnie Staton must have put at least two or three extra laps on me……..fortunately during this race there isn’t much daylight time and ultimately I was trying to beat the hill and not my fellow competitors.
By late afternoon the soles of my feet were feeling every little bump on the paths, I was wearing Salomon X Trail….
Which I’ve never had problems with so I decided I needed some more comfort, this was going to be a gamble but I put on a pair of Karrimor Tempo trainers
that cost me £29.99 from Sports Direct, they have a lot of cushioning but I had only worn them for a three mile run the previous week. I also changed my socks and put on a thicker pair of Ininji Trail socks. To be honest because the ground was so hard at this point I reckon you could have got away with some road trainers instead of trail specific trainers.
This change worked well and the gamble paid off. No more soreness for the rest of the run.
As daylight left the wind picked up so I opted to put on a Gore Wind stopper for added protection…going into the second night was mentally going to be a battle, this battle was made worse by the fact the mist descended, making it pretty much zero visibility. I was also starting to get some chaffing, which did help with Vaseline but at some point in the night I had to do the old… roll up some toilet paper and separate the cheeks trick…..
I spoke to Luke Ashton on several of the laps, he was increasingly becoming fed up with not being able to run properly and Sean said he just didn’t have the mojo to do many more laps and was thinking of calling it a day on lap 35.
On lap 31 I got to the top of The Hill and went to take out my dibber to record the lap but it wasn’t there…..I spent 5 minutes flapping around and getting cold trying to find it I but couldn’t. So in my tired state I thought I would put a stone on the bench to prove I had been up…It made sense to me at the time! Fortunately as I left Tom Jones was on his way up so I said would he verify that I had been to the top if he was asked. I did two laps unrecorded and my dibber was found by the motor home where I had collected my hot drink on lap 30. I no longer needed to put stones on the bench!!
On lap 32 I think Dave Fawkner said to me “ I thought you were the favourite, best you speed up”….Mike Raffan was absolutely smashing the hill and was at this point about 5 laps in front. The bloke is a legend; he wore shorts and a T-shirt for pretty much most of the race, I was slightly embarrassed about being put as a favourite to finish to be honest, I think people were probably expecting this Uber runner, that just isn’t me, I’m a plodder who has a track record of completing some very tough events.
I finished lap 35 and instead of sticking to my plan and stopping for a break I decided to crack on for an extra lap….. I really struggled and at one point going up the hill I thought I was going to feint, I had no energy, turning round at the top I nearly threw up. Fortunately for me on his way up was Anthony Hall I asked him if he had any sweets or food, luckily he had some Haribo and I scoffed a handful. The wheels had completely fallen off on this lap. I walked gingerly back to the start, getting battered by the wind. The lap seemed to take an eternity. I asked for some hot food and a cuppa and I went into the pub to regroup, it was at this point I doubted myself and my ability to toughen it out.
I sat in the pub for a while and was conscious of the fact that the 30 minute time limit must have been approaching or passed. In fact someone came in and gave me the nudge to get back out again. Going out this time up I put some waterproof trousers over the top of my tights to take off some of the wind chill and for the first time I put my Inov-8 race shell on as well.
I had to make some time up and I managed to knuckle down and get some good laps in. The fog was still persistent, and the wind had really picked up.
On Lap 43 I was struggling mentally, I knew I had 12 laps to do which sounds fine but realistically that was another 10 hrs plus out in the weather, I knew the forecast was due to get worst and I just couldn’t get my head round it. I made the decision to call it a day on the way back down form the top of the Tor. I was actually running well; my feet were in good order so I lost this battle mentally rather than physically.
I’ve no regrets about pulling out; it was the right decision at the time. The three runners that stayed out and battled through some really tough conditions have my upmost respect.