Wednesday 14 August 2013

Hardmoors Saltburn Marathon: It had moors. It was hard

Nic's review of the Hardmoors Saltburn Marathon

Moors.  Beautiful moors. Hard moors.

We entered the Hardmoors Saltburn Marathon at the start of the year, after I said I wanted a trail marathon to look forward to.  We like to use races as an excuse to visit new places, and Kurt had never been to North Yorkshire.  Then, a couple of months later, we entered Endure 24, and this marathon became something of an afterthought.

I had been struggling to recover after Endure 24, finding that I tired really easily and feeling like I’d lost strength and power when trying to run hills.  The first couple of runs after our Georgia trip were hideous.   I doubted I’d be marathon-fit by August 11th, and contemplated dropping to the half.  We’d already booked the hotel room, or we probably would have pulled out altogether, as Kurt was injured.  But then I suddenly found my mojo again at the end of July, while out trail-running with a friend.  It was like a switch had been flicked – I felt full of energy and running was enjoyable again – phew!  I was also loving running the Cotswold Way, recceing it in preparation for the Cotswold Way Century race in September.  With Kurt injured, the task of running the trails, map in hand, checking out the tricky bits, fell to me.  I ran the final leg of it, into Bath, last Wednesday.  We thought it was about 13-14 miles, but I went wrong big-style in the last few miles and added a couple of extras, eventually doing 17 miles.  I wasn’t too worried about this.  I wasn’t that tired at the end, I was uninjured and still full of energy.  I actually felt pretty confident about the marathon, I just needed to take it easy and make sure I ate regularly.

The weekend came and we made our way North.  After a pleasant evening, a nice Italian meal and a good sleep, we made the short drive to Saltburn by the Sea.  It was a beautiful morning – sunny and fresh, and the scenery looked very promising.  I didn’t feel particularly ‘up for it’ but that’s not unusual – I put it down to nerves.  In fact, I think I was the most nervous I’ve been about any race in the last few years.  The following few hours did not go well.

The route took a short road section out of Saltburn and before long hit the trails.  There was plenty of uphill in the first few miles, which I quite happily hiked.  I was keeping an eye on my average pace though, as I really wanted this race over and done with in around six hours.  I didn’t really feel all that good, but it has been taking me ages to warm up lately.  I figured I could always turn off at the half marathon split if I felt that bad, but it came after less than three miles, which was a bit soon to be making a decision to bail really!  I had some jelly babies at the checkpoint and carried on.  The trail was pleasant, very firm underfoot with some lovely views out to sea.  I was starting to feel a bit better as I loosened up and enjoyed the scenery.  The going started to get very hard at Guisborough woods, as the trail took a very steep gradient up the side of a hill, through some very overgrown (and sharp) vegetation.  This was really tough and unpleasant.  We continued to climb, eventually coming out on Stanghow Moor.  It was beautiful.  The heather was in full flower and the views were magnificent.

The calm before the storm

Running through a very narrow trail though bushy heather brought its own challenges though.  The trail was too narrow to run naturally, I had to trot along putting one foot very firmly in front of the other to avoid tripping on heather roots.  This took a great deal of concentration and didn’t feel good at all.  And, I was still going uphill.  I did however discover that heather is an excellent exfoliator.  Eventually, the downhill came.  Were it not for such a narrow trail, the downhill would have been a delight, as the trail was firm and the gradient was pleasant.

Lovely heather, narrow single track

Ten miles in was the next checkpoint.  All the checkpoint volunteers and marshals were so lovely and there was a nice array of snacks.  I had a couple of cups of coke (heavenly) and a chocolate cornflake crispy thing before hiking up a steep road and coming to the next section, uphill again on Skelderskew Moor.  I was really starting to fade at this point.  I felt exhausted and had no idea how I was going to complete.  The hills felt brutal.  At the high point on Skelderskew Moor, the heavens opened with some proper Yorkshire rain – cold and horizontal.  I pulled on my waterproof and ploughed on, grateful to find some downhill.  The trail here was made up of hard rock – it looked like slabs of rock had been laid to make a trail.  It made a change from fighting with the heather, but it was hell on tired sore feet.  After a mile or so of this, it was back to the heather.  I can’t tell you how many times I tripped and stumbled and almost fell down.  I was really struggling and as I reached the checkpoint at fourteen miles, three hours in, I phoned Kurt and said I wanted to stop.  He was busy at the finish, helping with timing, so I decided to keep going.  I really didn’t want to quit but I had no confidence of finishing without killing myself – either through falling down or plain exhaustion.  Another three hours felt out of the question.  Thankfully, the route did get a little easier over the next couple of miles, but I felt awful and after a couple more conversations with Kurt on the phone, I told him just to come and find me at a road crossing.  I’d had enough.  In those last few miles, I really tortured myself trying to make the final decision as to whether or not to quit.  I’d never quit a race before.  But I don’t think I’ve ever felt so bad in a race before.  Kurt picked me up at 17 miles in, four hours after the start.  I cried and cried but I’ve never been so relieved to stop running.

So what happened?  Simply, I failed to prepare properly.  I got a few things wrong.  I don’t know how much impact the 17 miles four days before had, but I don’t think that was the cause.  My legs didn’t feel tired after that run, and I felt physically fresh on the morning of the race.  But I suppose it could have had some impact. I had eaten well in the run up to it, but I did get my food strategy all wrong on the day.  In my other marathons, I’ve eaten things like Clif Bars in the first couple of hours, which has worked well.  In this race, I went straight to sugar, eating Shot Bloks, gels and jelly babies instead.  I just didn’t think about it enough, reaching for what was convenient rather than thinking about what works for me best.  So I sugar-crashed.  Not good.  The other thing I failed to do was actually look closely at the route map and the elevation profile.  If I had, I would have realised that the first 13 miles of the route are uphill and I would have paced myself better.  Instead, I was so worried about keeping my average pace around 13 min/miles, I pushed too hard and blew up.  I should have taken it much easier in the first half, knowing the second half was so much easier, and I could have made up time then.  But I failed to avail myself of this information and I paid for it.  I also think I am probably not fully recovered from Endure 24.  I do wonder what I would have done if Kurt had also been running, and unable to rescue me from my hell.  I probably would have plodded on and ‘deathmarched’ to the end.  It would not have been pretty and I probably would not have been able to run the lovely little trail run I did today.  So all in all, bailing out was a sensible decision.  My friend Roy says I must find myself another marathon to run so I can get rid of the demons – I think he is right – onward and upward is the only way!

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