Legs versus appeal

Ok so I should be sitting here at 04:10 being useful like writing my appeal letter to get it finalised for Friday. Really, I should be fast asleep after 60 ish hours without sleep from Friday morning. My legs have had other ideas. It’s like they have got so used to moving, that they can’t stop, even when I’m in bed. Get up. Use us. You can’t give us all that work to do and then put us down like we don’t matter. Sorry I drifted back into my appeal there with that last bit.

My leg twitch twitchiness is one of the effects for me of running 160 miles in the Hardmoors Ring of Steel. This is an ultra marathon (somewhere in the region of 6 back to back marathons) along the Tabular Hills and the Cleveland Way from where the Tabular Hills route meets the sea at Scarborough. It’s a long way. It took me a long time. 50 hours 51 minutes and 13 seconds to be precise. Thank you legs.

On Friday 25th May, 17 of us gathered at Sutton Bank Visitors Centre before our 5pm departure. A couple of guys I knew and everyone else, I would either get to know a bit on the route or not as you can spend so much time on your own with a small stretched out group. I guess people like this who are toeing the line at a race so long, just received my instant respect for turning up and taking part.

For people who haven’t ran much or have ran much and want to run much more, or people like me who just love running whether it’s a quick and dirty fell race or a seized opportunity to run around the block while the kettle is boiling, I want to try to give a little sense of what taking on something like this feels like.

Whats that saying? Fail to prepare and prepare to fail? For me I was not too bad at putting the word out for a support crew early enough. I am usually very last minute (check out my appeal paperwork!). Every runner for this race must have motorised back up and there are compulsory checkpoints where your crew must attend. A dancing, drumming sailor stepped up first and said he would do it. Doug the Drummer. Next came Karen (with the pronunciation of Care on – very appropriate that care bit). The third amigo was Jonny, ex work colleague and sharer of ultra adventures and snatched opportunities to head to the hills and up the coast.

Its a big ask to be a support crew member. I am not very good at asking for help – it’s something I’m working on. Old stories from childhood and help not coming when I needed it and just getting on with things because that’s what I needed to do. Work could be the same. Andy, just do a job where everyone is so stretched there’s not much chance of getting help when you need it, then you don’t have to ask.

I did ask, and they came. And wow, did they deliver. I am so very lucky to have had these people by my side over this race. It’s not just that they showed up, it’s the kindness, the encouragement, Doug drumming in his fabulous red robe at Hole of Horcrum where he was so into it, he hadn’t realised I’d ran past him! Me banging on about how ginger settles my stomach but forgetting to have any and then Jonny turns up with crystallised ginger in his bag. Karen’s tea making at every checkpoint. Even if I could only manage a few sips, it was there and in my hand ready. Table out, deck chair erected, blanket in the seat and down jacket to stave off the chill.

And it’s like, who am I? Who am I to deserve this kindness and attention. This long distance running thing. It’s for me, it’s very personal. I love it, I love the time on my own, I love the chance to empty my head. I lay bare my soul on these tracks and trails. For me. Yet these beautiful people came for me and us and gave up their weekend, beds, energy. They drove hundreds of miles in mist and bank holiday traffic. And they never faltered. Not once. Jonny came out and ran 27 miles from Saltburn with me, post pizza fuel stop. His attentiveness was needed when I fell asleep running about 3 times in quick succession on the second night out. If you’ve ever had the faintest sense of nodding off at the wheel of the car, it’s like that but you are the car too.

As I arrived in Osmotherley and was still two miles from the checkpoint, I could hear Doug’s drumming up at Osmotherley Square Corner. It was calling me up the hill. I thought about how amazing it would be to have a cold drink and there was Karen standing part way down the hill with cold Fanta. Such gratitude for those random acts of kindness.

Then of course there are the other marshals. This endless group of giving and encouraging people. I got rice pudding, my head torch batteries got changed when life and my torch made no sense, there were shouts of “160 runner coming in”, photos, handshakes, and a lot of love. Must also mention the light show and the inflatables which are a feature of Hardmoors brought by Lauren and Christopher. It’s hard to imagine the lift you get from a human size inflatable dinosaur blowing in the breeze.

I’m conscious of how long this is going to go on if I try to do justice to everything so a quick list is needed about omnipresent Ann and her ability to turn up in all the right places taking photos, the angel of mercy on the roadside as I entered Scarborough having ran through the first night, to be offered fresh brewed coffee and water melon. Two deer breaking cover in the woods to scamper over the road in front of me, Jon the race director ringing me to say that my tracker was telling them that I had strayed off path for about a kilometre – how that could have been worse. Poor Jonny, it was just after my falling asleep on my feet trick and he was taking on the navigation. We weren’t the only wanderers as we were met by 5 others coming down the same track!

Hot sun, cooling breezes, not being able to eat so sucking the juice out of grapes to get the moisture in, contact lenses screaming to be taken out as they’d been in too many waking hours, finding out that a Fanta, an orange ice lolly and a bottle of OJ are not a good combination no matter how warm you are. That’s the temptation of Whitby right there.

The other runners. What a band of brothers and sisters. So many 110 mile runners wishing me well as they passed, all those positives pouring in and giving me a lift. My fellow 160 ers. Stephen from UTMB 2015 and other adventures on Hardmoors. Always encouraging and looking solid with his mate Ian. Peter and Nick who drifted in and out of my running days, sometimes in front and sometimes behind. The one and only female finisher. What energy! Mustering up final stretches of leg muscles and dare I say a sprint at mile 155 or so! Respect to her and to all who toed the line, whatever your own personal journey evolved into.

The final bit goes to the organisers. My relationship with Hardmoors goes back to 2012. I completed the 100km Hardmoors 60 as my second ultra. My first had been the Wall. I could not believe the difference between the two. This is no slight on the Wall but there was something about the stripped back humanity and welcome and encouragement at Hardmoors that hooked me in. If all goes well I will complete my 1000th Hardmoors mile during Goathland marathon this November, after revisiting the 60 for the fifth time.

I like to think that as a professional people watcher for many years (or Social Worker) that my reading of our fellow humans is not too bad. Over the years of Hardmoors running I have experienced a level of personal attention, kindness, encouragement and humanity that would be hard to match anywhere. I have had races deferred at no extra cost after my mother died one grand slam year, I have received huge encouragement about making running a career opportunity after my people watching professionally was cut short (think appeal again).

And just the most amazing atmosphere. To be able to create it again and again takes some effort and a whole lot of love Jon and Shirley Steele. And at a time where I need to feel like I belong somewhere and try to retain shreds of attachment to a job I have given my all to,  Hardmoors really does feel like a family and I have my place in it.

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