I have spent quite a bit of time on the North York moors this year in preparation for the Hardmoors 110 and I'm starting to get a feel for the terrain. This race jumped out of the calendar as a nice springboard, to get me going again after the 110 in preparation for UTMB at the end of August.
The small village of Osmotherley closes off the roads and holds a summer games each year, with the Phoenix races forming part of that event. You have the choice of a 17 mile, 26 mile or 33 mile route, all sharing some sections in common and splitting off at other times.
The day of the race was HOT! It was certainly a bit of a shock to the system and played on my mind, both before and during the race. I decided that as this would be a relatively short race (I was aiming for about 5 hours) I wouldn't worry about trying to take any solid food and would concentrate on gels and, in the latter stages, energy drinks.
Over the very familiar ground along the Cleveland Way for the first couple of hours, I settled in to a good pace, certainly faster than I would normally race at, but still feeling comfortable, running along with Mark Collinson who I met at the 110 (Mark came 3rd in the 110). We were a little off the pace at the front, with a line of runners heading out across the moors but it was difficult to know our positions in the 33 mile race as all courses used this initial section.
By the time we had reached Lordstones after 1:07 hours, I was in 6th place and well settled into my running, getting in gels and water just fine. You have an option at this point; the official Cleveland Way takes in the three small climbs of Cringle Moor, Cold Moor and The Wainstones, however, in the race you can skirt round to the north of these, avoiding the climbs. In race mode, this seems like a no-brainer, avoid the climb and get a faster time. It surprised me that so many runners took on the first climb, some then joining the lower level route, others continuing over all three. When I reached Clay Bank, I had pulled away from Mark a little and was informed that I was in 2nd place, obviously making up a number of places by avoiding the climbs.
It was now decision time; do I continue to keep a solid pace and hope the leader slows or do I turn on the burners and push the pace to catch him? After the Hardmoors 110 where I relied on the leader slowing (which he didn't!), I felt I had to be more pro-active and make the catch myself.
I pushed on through Chop Gate, up the steep climb out of Raisdale and across Snilesworth Moor. I could see the leader ahead as I slowly made ground and finally caught Jon (Hedger) just before 3:00 hours on Snilesworth Moor. He was still grinding out a good pace and I took heart from the fact that I must be running well to catch him. After a little chat, I discovered that he has done the race a number of times before and would obviously know the route well, giving me another dilemma; do I push on alone or do I run with Jon thorough the next section with the trickiest navigation? I was carrying some 1:25000 maps of this next section as I knew the route would be difficult to follow and decided to back my navigation and go for it!
I had just switched from gels to Mountain Fuel energy drink and was feeling really good, with lots of energy in my legs. I navigated well through this section, but was pleased I had the 1:25000 maps rather than 1:50000, I don't think I would have been able to run at race pace and pick out the route on the less detailed maps.
I had pulled out 5 minutes from Jon by Hawnby and, stupidly, let the thought enter my head that I could win this race. My energy levels were good but, even at this point with 1:15 hours still to go, I could feel the first slight twinges of cramp in my hamstrings. In hindsight, I think that if I had been back in 4th or 5th place, I would have eased off and looked after myself over the last sections, but if you are in the lead you kind of have to go for it don't you?!
The pace definitely dropped but I tried to keep things going, constantly looking back and taking heart from the fact that I couldn't see anyone. I made it to Square Corner, just above Osmotherley, with the final drop to come, still with no one in sight behind me and, again, thought I might just be able to hang on. The downhill to the ponds was fine and I did manage to relax a bit here but as soon as I hit the flat, I got the first proper shock of cramp in both hamstrings. I stopped, stretched and was able to get going again quite quickly, but only at a slow jog now as I tried to hold off the next wave of cramp for one more mile to the finish. As the track went up again, it hit really hard and I was again halted, this time in some severe pain. Just at this point, Jayson Cavil came past on his way to support Kim in the latter stages of her race (a win!), giving me lots of encouragement and some more water to try and get me through this last mile.
It was now a case of jog/walk 20 metres, stop with cramp, stretch, repeat. Could this get me to the finish before I was caught? No! With about 2/3rds of a mile to go, Richard Heath (who I raced against in last year's Ring O Fire race) came flying past me and proceeded to blast up the final small climb to claim victory. Could I hold on to second? No! Inside the last 300yds, as I was once again enveloped with cramp, Jon came past me and this time I started to really worry that I might not make the finish line - I was simply stuck on the track, unable to move. A few minutes later I got myself together enough to move a few steps at a time and finally crossed the line in what should have been a sprint finish for the final podium place with Jason Ellis, but was in fact Jason jogging merrily ahead of me as I walked across the line to take 4th place.
|This position for 2 hours!|
The next two hours are a bit of a blur. Mostly consisting of me lying in the shade, almost in tears at times with the pain that the cramp was causing me, Tracey trying to relieve the cramp by stretching my muscles this way and that, a number of visits from the ambulance crew, checking vitals (temperature, pulse, blood sugar levels - all inside acceptable levels). I do vividly remember the paramedics suggesting they could take me to hospital where I could get an intravenous muscle relaxant whilst Mark was standing behind them shaking his head vigorously - I knew this would not be a good choice as I could be there for hours.
After a couple of hours, I managed to get myself up onto a chair and then finally make the walk back to campsite. Once in the van, I dozed a little and then started to make a fairly quick recovery and, in fact, if you take away the damage caused by the cramp, my legs recovered fairly quickly after the event.
Anyhoo...... some lessons to be learnt here - and I have really analysed what happened, talking things over with some folk who know more about the inner working of the body than I do. I think this could be a very useful experience and I have made some important progress over the last couple of weeks (more of that in another post).
It just goes to show that as soon as you think you might have this game bossed ...... it come back to bite you on the ass!