Written by James Campbell - https://jamescampbell78.wordpress.com
My 2018 Hardmoors 60 Race Report is conspicuous by its absence from these pages. Usually, it’s a case of “James runs a race, race report appears within a week”. However this time I made an exception. Partly because I have only a little bit of detailed recollection of the race and partly because I felt without investigating and pulling together some learnings, this would be little more than a rehash of my 2015 Hardmoors 60 Race Report.
With these learnings included, this piece is a lot longer than most of my previous posts as it contains a summary of what I can remember from the race, followed by the investigation I did afterwards and what I learned from it. The latter part of this feels fairly technical and possibly something that might bore someone simply wanting to read an account of the race, so consider yourself warned (and forgiven if you decide to give it a miss).
After my failed Hardmoors 110 attempt, which ended at Kildale, I was very positive and felt that I was in very good shape for the 60. I no longer had the overarching need to protect the finish in order to preserve a Super/Grand Slam or Triple Ring attempt, I decided I would use the 60 to have a serious crack at bettering my 50 mile PB of 13h:00m:00s which I set during the 110.
I had a week off running following the 110 then did White Horse Half, which I treated as a bit of a training run and completed the 26.7km “half” in 3h:08m:18s. I was pleased at how well I’d recovered from the 110 and made only minor adjustments to my summer training plan, which wasn’t much different to my approach to the 55 and 110, but did include six Wolds Way recces spread over two weeks in August. The shortest of these was 13km but three of these were 26km runs. I clocked up 133km over those two weeks and felt great throughout.
I followed this up by sweeping the 50km Princess Ultra at the beginning of September before winding down for the 60.
As usual, I planned for the 60 by splitting the course down into manageable chunks, the only difference between this plan and previous attempts was that I split the chunk from the start to Saltburn down further because I thought it was too long. So I included mini-splits to Highcliff Nab and Slapewath in between.
Usually, my plan is based on the output of a tool I have built in Excel that uses the times of my most recent training runs. Normally, I put in my best and worst recent 20 mile plus runs and have a look at what is most realistic. Other times, I take a bit of an average of the two. If I’d used this method for the 2018 race, this is what it would have looked like:
This plan wouldn’t have seen me through 50 miles in my target time of 13 hours, but would have seen me shave 15 mins of my previous best for this course.
What my actual plan looked like was:
What I was trying to achieve was to go faster in the earlier sections and bank time. I knew I could complete the splits to Saltburn, because I did these only a few weeks before, on one of the hottest days of the summer and none of the other splits were unrealistic based on previous runs and recces.
I had a pretty poor night’s sleep before the race, but apart from that, my pre-race prep was not much different to any other.
I planned to start the race with three bottles. Two 500ml UD flasks, one with water and one with Lucozade Sport in and a 500ml soft flask of Lucozade Sport carried in my hand or pocket.
At the start of the race, I remember going off very quickly up Belmangate before getting a grip of myself and slowing down. I remember that I felt comfortable all the way to Highcliff Nab chatting with Brenda Wilkin and Paul Elsley before pulling away from them on the climb. Based on my watch, I reached Highcliff at 00h:34m:51s, pretty much bang on time and I stopped there to tie my lace. I remember feeling hot on the climb but the breeze on top was quite cold.
I remember feeling comfortable all the way through Guisborough Woods and passed through Slapewath at 01h:09m:47s, again pretty much bang on target. After this point, I did notice the day was hotting up, but upon arrival at Saltburn, neither of my hard flasks were depleted and the soft flask was about ¼ full, so I ran straight through the checkpoint at 01h:58m:40s feeling rather pleased with myself for getting there just over a minute ahead of plan and saving 2 minutes rest time by passing straight through the checkpoint.
I can’t remember much about the section to Skinningrove other than I know I used a lot of the water in my bottle to soak my arms, neck and head to keep cool and that I arrived at Skinningrove at 02h:50m:59s. Still just a shade ahead of plan.
Between Skinningrove and Staithes, the weather became overcast and there was even some drizzle at some point, but it remained very humid and warm. I remember feeling that my energy was going just before the climb up to Hummersea Cliff and somewhere around then I told myself that a 50 mile PB wasn’t on because continuing to push hard in this heat wouldn’t end well. Having slowed down somewhat I felt a bit better, even more so for seeing Phil Owen coming down Boulby Bank and getting a water top up from him and cruised into Staithes at 04h:11m:32s. Now behind plan, but no longer concerned about that. At Staithes, I planned to nip into the Royal George to top up my water bottle and buy some Coke. I tipped the remainder of my Lucozade Sport out and went into the pub, but couldn’t find any staff to serve me. So I trotted out and went to the Cod and Lobster instead where I got some water and Coke, topped both bottles up with ice and to the bar staff’s amusement put ice under my armpits, in my buff and down my top. I spent just under 5 minutes stopped at Staithes instead of the planned 2 minutes.
I can’t remember much of the section to Runswick Bay, but arrived there at 05h:17m:49s. I remember seeing Rebecca Quinn and Joe Williams at the CP, both of whom run similar times to me in races, so I had no real concern about my pacing at this point. I remember not wanting my bottle of Lucozade from my drop bag and I think I opted for CP Coke instead, leaving my Lucozade on the table for someone else. I did see a can of Cream Soda on the table and downed that. I also downed the can of Red Bull from my drop bag and took on water from the CP too. I think I also had some melon before heading off across the beach.
Going up the steps at the far side of the beach was hard, but no harder than expected, but at the very top, I felt physically sick and needed to sit down on the bench at the top. I know a few people passed me and expressed concern that I looked ill, but I just took the time to gather myself. I reasoned that I’d took a lot of fluid on board before the CP and at the CP, but I hadn’t balanced it out with electrolytes. I eventually got walking and started eating some of the Pom Bear crisps I had in my drop bag. I also took an S!Cap tablet. After about 500m I got jogging again and remember feeling iffy, but moving. Occasionally I felt a twinge of cramp in my calves, but kept eating the crisps and drinking fluids. I vaguely remember thinking to myself that I could eat my way out of trouble and started to make sure that I eat something either sweet or savoury every 10-15 mins.
At Sandsend I’d started to feel a bit better and bought a cup of black tea and a can of lemonade from a kiosk. I remember running with both in my hands and seeing Karl Shields and laughing about not spilling a drop, then later being passed by Karl and Harriet in their van and handing my rubbish over to them. Things got a bit vague then, but I think I might have bought a slush in Whitby but I can’t recall carrying it or drinking it. I do remember feeling cramps in my calves again and walking through Saltwick Bay caravan park being heckled by some lads outside a caravan.
At the Saltwick CP (08h:16m:25s), I had watermelon, melon, orange juice and I topped one of my bottles up but not the other (I forget which it was). I’d taken several S!Caps between Runswick and Saltwick, but took on more there and I moved away feeling OK. I remember running well on the descent following the big climb after the lighthouse for a couple of kms before I started to feel the cramps in the calves again so I slowed for a bit before going again. Approaching Hawsker Bottom, there’s a set of steep cobbled steps which I started descending. I was only a couple of metres down when a huge cramp flashed all the way up my left leg and left side of my back. As I stiffened up, I slipped and fell down several steps. I laid there for a few minutes waiting for the cramp to subside and took some water on board.
I was about to try and get up when Peter Kidd and Claire Wheeler arrived from behind. They spent a few minutes trying to help, but every time I tried to move, a new cramp flared up, some so painful that it made me feel sick. Peter and Claire moved on and after sitting for a bit I got my poles out and walked on for a bit. My next cramp came a few minutes later on a flat section and affected both legs and I found myself locked up on the floor.
I dragged myself up against a drystone wall and sat there trying to work out whether I needed someone to come and get me or whether I could walk to Robin Hood’s Bay after a bit of rest.
I went in my pack for my phone to ring race control to let them know I intended to finish at Robin Hood’s Bay, but would be moving slowly, but lo and behold I had no reception. I was passed by several more runners and walkers, all of home took a moment to see if they could help, but I assured them that with some rest, I’d get going.
I must have been stopped for half an hour before I hobbled to my feet and walked slowly on with my poles. I’d been going for 5 minutes before I vomited for the first time. I felt a bit better and moved on. Shortly afterwards I vomited again. After a while I saw somebody running from the direction of Robin Hood’s Bay. It was Neil Widgley who had been told by other runners that I was struggling. He’d came with warm clothes and first aid kit just in case I needed them. He walked me back to Robin Hood’s Bay. I remember feeling generally OK, apart from any time we had to climb a hill, which caused me to quickly become out of breath.
As we approached Robin Hood’s Bay, we were met by Kev Borwell and Emy Jones, upon their arrived, I greeted them by throwing up again. We walked into Robin Hood’s Bay together and arrived at 11h:15m:35s as darkness began to fall.
I was assessed as being dehydrated. Kev made sure I put my warm kit on and Emy made sure I had plenty to drink and massaged my legs back to a point where they weren’t cramping as much with a solution made from Magnesium and water before Kev drove us both back to Filey.
A couple of days later, I chatted online with Emy, who is a qualified PT, nutritionist and life coach with a whole host of exercise and race specific experience. I got some advice from her on hydration and nutrition. I also did some further research into dehydration and cramping in long distance/ultra runners.
So what went wrong?
Essentially, what ended my race was cramps and later, vomiting. I became unable to move faster than cut off pace due to the cramps and the vomiting, as well as slowing me down, prevented me from replenishing my fluids and fuel effectively.
Why did it happen?
After my further reading and advice from Emy, I am in agreement that the vomiting was entirely down to dehydration.
My further reading also lead me to the conclusion, that dehydration was also a significant factor in relation to the cramping, however I have found that among experts, the causes of cramps are hotly debated.
Many do feel that in hot conditions, the rise in body temperature results in excess sweating leading to a loss of body fluids and electrolytes, which means your blood volume decreases and your heart rate increases. All of this reduces the body’s ability to dissipate heat, which accelerates fatigue and takes its toll on our muscles ending in cramp.
Tim Noakes wrote around 430 pages in his work Waterlogged countering this view, believing the causes of cramps to be neuromuscular.
In a podcast with Trail Runner Nation, Noakes explained:
[Dr. Martin] Schwellnus developed the theory that there are reflexes in the muscle that prevent them from cramping…. When we run, and, in particular, when we run slightly faster than we want to (or that we really should be running), it seems that that reflex gets tired, and the inhibitory reflexes become less strong. And as a consequence, the excitatory impulses… become dominant. And as a consequence, the muscle goes into cramp.
And we know that, because if we look at the electrical activity in the muscles, we notice that before they cramp, the activity starts to rise. So something’s changing in the muscle, that’s making it more prone to going into cramp. And then, you continue for a bit further, and it goes into a full cramp.
And the point is, it is an electrical phenomenon, a reflex, that may originate in the brain (or more likely originates in the spinal cord), but has almost certainly got nothing to do with dehydration or sodium balance, and has almost everything to do with genetic predisposition and also has got everything to do with how tired you are, and how hard you’ve exercised.
The remedy, unfortunately, is to do lots of stretching to the [affected] muscle, lengthening the muscle, because what we have also found, is that, muscles that haven’t been lengthened – muscles that have been working in a small arc, and working in a shortened position – those are the muscles that are going to cramp. So you need to stretch the muscle, lengthen it, to make it less susceptible to cramping.
More recent work has studied the incidence and prevalence of cramping. (Schwellnus, Drew et al. 2011) and two factors did emerge that separated crampers from non-crampers: the crampers ran faster versus the rest of the field, and they had a history of cramping in previous efforts.
This resonated with me, firstly in this attempt at the 60, I’d gone off way quicker than my own training and split planner said I was capable of and secondly, I had a history of cramping under these conditions (my 2015 attempt at the 60).
It also stood to reason, that my increased effort had caused a higher heart rate, higher body temperature and consequently a higher sweat rate than I was used to. This, combined with my drinking at a rate that was not in line with the effort and the higher temperatures of the day meant that in the early part of the race, I became dehydrated, which in turn had a massive effect on muscle performance.
My fluids, did not contain the correct proportions of the electrolytes that I was sweating out, so that delicate balance was messed up very early in the race. As I approached Staithes, I’d recognised the dehydration problem and addressed it by drinking heavily, which probably served to dilute my electrolyte balance.
The other big mistake was, that I chose to rehydrate with drinks that had a high sugar content. Sugary drinks (I now know) exacerbate the effects of dehydration. At a point just after Runswick Bay, I realised I’d possibly had too much to drink, without including electrolytes, so I started taking S!Caps. S!Caps contain 341mg Sodium and 21mg Potassium, so while they did do something so redress the balance, they do not contain the whole spectrum of electrolytes that I was losing (typically 500ml sweat contains 575mg Sodium, 887mg Chloride, 138mg Potassium, 9mg Magnesium and 30mg Calcium), so were probably, too little, too late.
During the latter part of my run, as the cramps became more prevalent, I also took too many S!Caps and did so without drinking an appropriate amount of plain water to support them. This accelerated the process of dehydration, resulting in vomiting.
So with this starting point, I went back to the data from my training leading up to the 60 and the 60 and examined my efforts. I then compared these with previous ultra-efforts, with the notable of my HM110 effort as I didn’t wear a heart rate monitor for that race.
What The Data Told Me
Looking back at the average heart rate per km of my long training runs in July and August 2018, it was possible to group the HR displayed into bands based on Phil Maffetone’s arbitrary 180-age formula. At 40, my ideal HR would be sub 140bpm.
I colour coded anything sub 140 as green. However, I recognise that the world is not perfect and when you are moving over varied terrain and in different weather, your HR will naturally fluctuate. During my training, I never looked at my HR as I preferred to train off feel so there will have been time spent above 140 that felt OK. To recognise that, I coloured anything 140-144 as amber.
I then added another category, that level of effort that’s just above the comfort zone, that’s OK to enter for short periods but not to stay there 144-149 became amber with red font.
The next category was 150-159, the zone you might expect to spend time in during short to medium training runs, but somewhere I wouldn’t really want to spend any time on a longer run and especially not during an ultra. This was coloured pink with red font.
Finally, there was the red zone, 160+. This is the zone that hurts if you spend time there, usually, I only visit this during sprints and only stay there for prolonged periods (or so I thought) during 5k, 10k and half marathon races.
To gain context, I added in the pace/km and the elevation gain/km. This meant that I could compare the effort to the pace achieved and also see, if the HR/pace correlated with any sustained climbing. To assist with this, I coloured any gain/km of 20m+ in yellow.
It can be seen fairly clearly that on most runs, I stayed at an averages of 130-140bpm but often under 130bpm, the exceptions being both runs on my local 20 mile loop, a Hardmoors 60 recce from Guisborough to Saltburn and my Hardwolds 80 recce from Ganton to Filey.
On both of the 20 mile loops I spent sustained periods (almost 3 hours on one and two hours on another) over 140bpm, often with long periods over 150bpm. The notes on both of these runs indicated that I suffered as a consequence.
The Hardmoors 60 recce shows that I spent the first 4km above 140, which is kind of understandable as this section is all uphill and included the Teeslink climb to Highcliff Nab.
The time spent over 140bpm in the Ganton to Filey run, was due to a deliberate decision to run hard from the top of the hill above Muston and therefore not particularly reflective of how I would hope to run on longer outings.
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Looking at all of my ultra-distance races, it seems I have a habit of going hard in the first 21-24km. My worst performances (2014, 2015, 2018 HM60 and 2018 HM30) all have one thing in common. I went into the red zone one or more times in the early part of the race.
In this year’s HM30, I was injured and trying to bank some time before the injury slowed me down, so this could probably be disregarded.
In the 2014 HM60, I had no real concept of how to manage my pace and paid for it severely later on.
In the 2015 Hardmoors 60, I went into the red on the way to Highcliff Nab and again on the climb out of Slapewath and pushed pretty hard almost all the way to Staithes. I hit serious issues at Runswick and cramps ended my race around 2km before the cramps started this year.
On this year’s HM60, it was a similar pattern. I went into the red going up Highcliff Nab. That’s almost 14 minutes with my heart rate above 160, probably a fair bit higher given that things tend to be a little lower when they are averaged.
In other races, I do have a habit of going into the 150-159 zone early on, but these spells seem to be punctuated by dips back below 150 where I had perhaps looked to rest a bit. Also, the harder spells seem to be more closely aligned with climbs.
In my more successful runs (2016 Lyke Wake, 2016 HM60 and 2018 HM55) I have gone off at a lower level of effort, even if I’ve gone over 150bpm, it’s been an average of 3-4bpm lower than in the races where I’ve suffered.
What this seems to tell me, is that my long training runs in the lead up to this year’s HM60 were mostly conducted in the <140bpm zone. Where I exceeded this, I suffered. This indicates that I was not sufficiently conditioned for sustained periods of time/distances of harder efforts and if I wanted to run that hard for long periods, I should have been using my shorter training runs to build up to those sorts of sustained efforts.
The result of this was, that when I ran hard for the first 24km of this year’s race, in warm weather, it was an effort that my body was not accustomed to. My muscles were worked at a level that was simply not sustainable. As a result, my body worked harder and I sweated more than usual. I did not counter the sweating with an appropriate level and make up of replacement fluids and an exacerbated the situation. In effect, I’d probably done most of the damage before the Saltburn checkpoint, but I might have been able to salvage a slow painful finish from it, if I’d been better at rehydrating.
What I’ve taken away from this, is how I manage myself on longer runs needs to change. All the data in my training and racing going back years tells me that I have a much more comfortable, incident free and successful run when I maintain an average heart rate below 140bpm.
One of my key beliefs in ultra-running is, that completion is all about success, through minimising failures. In other words, there is a long list of things that can go wrong in an ultra. That list gets bigger and more likely to happen the further along the race you are and the risk increases massively beyond 42.2km. So it makes sense to me that working to keep the heart rate below 140bpm on long runs would benefit my racing performances.
To this end, I’ve built a Suunto app which causes my watch to beep at me every 10 seconds where my lap average heart rate (a lap being the current 1 km lap) in the first 24km of a run exceeds 140bpm. This allows me to know when my rate of exertion is higher than expected and take measures to get things back under control.
I had initially built the app so that it beeped at me whenever I spent more than 10 seconds above 140bpm, but this meant that it was going off far too frequently due to the little spikes in heart rate that you get when climbing etc. The idea behind the 24km limit is, that in my race efforts, 24km seems to be the point at which I settle down into a more sensible effort naturally. I have also found during training runs, that once I’ve spent a couple of hours running at the lower effort, it becomes habit so a reminder is not needed after that point.
There has been a trade off in pace/speed, but I’ve found that I’ve been able to sustain my efforts for longer at this lower level. While at the distances of 32-36km (which are the longest I’ll do in training) this doesn’t pay off against the overall times I was achieving running harder, it is still reasonably close and I am finishing feeling strong and it’s not a massive leap to project this pace out to 48km (30 miles) where I can see the tipping point where being able to sustain this slightly slower pace for longer returns a faster overall time.
Conserving my effort in this way has also allowed me to perform harder efforts later in the day if required without the suffering that would occur if I’d been pushing hard all the way around. Proof of this occurred last weekend when I pushed hard up a 500m section of hill I use to test myself at the 32km point and I sustained an average of 150bpm for that whole lap, presumably with a higher heart rate on the hill then a subsequent dip as I returned to normal effort. During the effort, I felt comfortable, a bit more out of breath, sure, but comfortable. After the effort, my heart rate returned back to an average of 135bpm and I continued comfortably to the finish at 37km.
The other learning I have put into action is all about hydration and nutrition and is almost entirely as a result of my conversations with Emy.
Previously, I had been hydrating with Lucozade Sport and plain water. Later in races, I’d top up with Coke, Dandelion & Burdock or Lemonade from checkpoints.
Remembering that sweat, on average contains 575mg Sodium, 887mg Chloride, 138mg Potassium, 9mg Magnesium and 30mg Calcium per 500ml. Lucozade only contains 250mg Sodium and does not provide replacement for any other electrolytes. It is also very sugar heavy and therefore, once dehydrated, taking on Lucozade is likely to make things worse. Other drinks like Coke, Dandelion & Burdock etc while tasting nice (something that is not to be ignored as a benefit later in a race) don’t provide any electrolyte benefit in terms of maintaining the balance.
Emy recommended that I go back to using High 5 tablets in my drinks. I had previously used these (including the 2015 HM60) and still suffered. Emy had advised using two tablets per 500ml, where I had previously only used 1. Using 2 tablets would provide 500mg Sodium, 140mg Potassium, 112mg Magnesium, 18mg Calcium and 56mg Vitamin C. Much closer to the electrolyte profile needed. This is advice that I have taken on board and put into action.
The other recommendations I have put into action, is to take a drop of MegaMag magnesium supplement in a drink the night before a long run/race and to start using Pink Himalayan Salt in my diet to bring up my levels of Magnesium. She also recommended rubbing my legs down with or bathing in water and Magnesium salts as a recovery activity. The role of Magnesium in the body, is to regulate muscle contractions, so it stands to reason, that being on top of my Magnesium intake would be beneficial in preventing cramps.
I have also cut out some of the sugary food from my intake during long runs. Instead of taking Wine Gums I have switched to savoury food in the form of pouches of Ella’s Kitchen baby food, which is essentially real food blended and kept in a resealable pouch, ideal for carrying on longer runs. I still use Chia Charge bars and Snickers and have found that with this combination of food and drink, my stomach has been more settled on longer runs too.
I’ve now run 6 or 7 long runs, including some tough hilly work putting these learnings into action and not only have I had no issues in terms of feeling bad, struggling, cramping, being sore etc. I’ve actually felt stronger during the runs and recovered more quickly afterwards and been able to train more frequently than I previously had been able to.
The next step is to put all this into action in a race situation, which is fast approaching in the form of Hardwolds 80 on 24th November.