Sunday, 3 July 2011

Osmotherley Phoenix - 2nd July 2011

33 mile circular of the North Yorkshire moorland, taking in two sections of the Cleveland Way, out of, and back into, Osmotherley village with a few interesting bits in between.

So far, these reports have been written without any pause for reflection and have generally been positive. Now let me say straight away that this is a great race, superbly organised and staffed by Gerry, Julie, Bob and the team with terrific marshalling and encouragement all along the way: No, the negative side to this report has to do with me.

Lot's of recognised faces – good to meet Dan who was very complimentary about these missives, Nick Ham who I aim to emulate in both prose and performance and also great to catch up with Paul Havis who accompanied, and guided me, around the Lyke Wake Race last year. We're all up for it and ready and raring to go.

Kicking off away from the village on the stroke of 9.00am and all is well. Up to, and beyond the Swaledale in June, I've felt in decent nick; never looking like anything other than a mid / back o` the pack runner but seemingly enjoying things more and more, I reckon upon a good time today. Sun`s out (as usual) and spectacular scenery proving a perfect canvas for the first hour or so.

Manage a few photos, firstly atop Carlton Bank looking towards Roseberry Topping

and then towards the Wain Stones

and I'm through checkpoints 1 and 2 around ten minutes faster than last year. What does this portend?

For the first time ever, I've decided to try an electrolyte mix in my bottle whilst taking water at the checkpoints along with a gel every 8 miles and a handful of jelly babies when needed. In retrospect, I'd probably have been better trialling this combination on a recce prior to the race.

Uncommonly early, I felt that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and a raging thirst that left me swigging from the electrolyte mix `tween checkpoints – a sure recipe for disaster!. I'm then dusted off by my old friend Ray Crabbe who casually informs me that I'll catch him later – we aint yet at Botton Head but I'm searching for any mental encouragement I can find. I feel terrible.

Searching for inspiration, I recall Jim Telfers` half time entreaty to the 1997 Lions in South Africa - “Make it happen, Make it fecking happen!, lift yer feckin` `eads”, well I lifted my feckin` `ead to see the distance lengthening between me and the back of the group ahead; the dusty track being now gun barrel straight into the heart of the moors and with dust up my nose and the sun beating down, I was sick at the side of the track.

From somewhere I picked up, perhaps getting rid of ballast and somehow reeled the pack in and arrived at Chop Gate where Ray was re-fuelling. Filling up with water (I thought), I glanced back and saw the cavalry arriving with Shirley in the van – surely just a matter of time and once again I'm last out of the car park. I have previous with the climb up Trennet Bank and once again, up this steep, steep incline I'm nearly at a stand. This time, I recall words once uttered by Ron Pickering “If not me, who?, If not now, when” this time it is me and the time is now and drinking from my water bottle for hydration, and finding out it`s lime and lemon, your truly is sick once again. This is getting very debilitating.

Somehow I make Wheat Beck and for the last ten minutes am agonising between the options available. The first third of the race saw me in fine fettle, the second third found me pretty much in despair, disliking this whole rotten business and so here I can do one of three things:

1. Pack in
2. Take the 26 mile option
3. Continue on the 33 mile as planned.

Slumped in the chair, with a cup of water, I await fully five minutes before I'm off on the last leg of – yes the 33 mile option.

Passing Lower Locker Farm in a shabby state, the dogs take pity on me and regard me from the top of the field, no doubting awaiting more lively prey to worry through the field.

Winding, winding through green fields, dappled woodland and fly filled gullies, I'm dropped off by the pack once more but I know the route and get to Hawnby with the time at 5.24. If things had been normal I should have been on for a pb but things get no better and filling with water to replace my earlier sickness, I'm now racked with stomach cramps – It's looking like a 12 mile walk to the finish as every attempt at a jog renders me doubled up roadside. I stand back upright and go forward – now I do resemble The modern Prometheus, covered in salt, sweat and half eaten gels I'm a walking wreck.

Sod this, I try and remain positive for the long walk up to the Cleveland Way atop the Hambletons but runners stream by with words of both concern and encouragement which tells you everything about the camaraderie I've come to know. Nick Ham catches and overhauls me but again has plenty of words of advice which I will act upon. Too late today though, the view across Black Hambleton as I trundle along the track towards Hambleton end is still magnificent, but I just don't have the heart to take a picture – all I wish to do is finish.

My last support and pacer arrives in the shape of Gavin. Never less than enthusiastic with a ready supplier of chatter (and water), he abandons his day out to finish with me – determined to get us both back under 8 hours.

We put the world to rights on the road back into Osmotherley and, despite a few last dry retches, he has me into the village in time and we jog through to the finish in 7.49. Thanks Gav, how very kind and how utterly typical and selfless of the kind of people one meets on days like these.

Was it the electrolyte gamble that failed? Did I go off too quickly for the first half of the race, should I stick to water? Should I ever try this again?. All questions that have buzzed around my head.

If I had written this last night, immediately after the race - then it would have been a concluding entry. Never felt so dreadful and exposed, still, I'm sure many people including the prominent runners would consider this a rite of passage.

Moral? Do your homework on all aspects of these days out. Even when one is in a relatively good vein of form, all can be undone by hydration, food, electrolyte and pacing. I didn't complete a Personal Worst time, which pleased me, but it was as close to a DNF as I ever want to get.


  1. Mike, well done on finishing it. Don't beat yourself up about struggling. It was a hot day. I was out on the Saunders mountain marathon when my partner was sick as a dog for 2 hours sitting under a tree 'cus he hadn't drank enough. Some don't drink a lot like Nick where as I would probably drink twice as much as him. I Don't think electrolyte would cause your sickness just not having enough maybe would.
    Wish I'd have done the Phoenix now, just left it too late to enter.
    Good write up by te way.

  2. Wow Mike, I had no idea you were so bad. You showed true ultra-runner grit and determination to not pack in and to finish what you started. I take my hat off to you. You have the right attitude.
    I have to disagree with Simon though. It probably was too much electrolyte. Your raging thirst is a dead giveaway. On a hot day when you are losing plenty of water you should be replacing it with water mostly and just enough electrolyte to keep the absorption going. You probably had the balance reversed - it should have been water between checkpoints and a cup of electrolyte at the checkpoints. The gels probably already had electrolyte in them anyway. It is true however that an imbalance either way can cause sickness. Getting it right is a fine art.
    As Simon said, don't beat yourself up. Instead you should feel proud for having finished. If you hadn't had stomach issues you would have beaten me.

  3. Thanks Guys, really appreciate your time and comments here.

    I've had a couple of days to reflect and am still learning a heck of a lot about distance running. I only started these capers in 2009 and have so far completed around a dozen so I'm learning all the time.

    Simon, I think that, like you, I need to drink plenty as I'm pouring sweat most of the race but this race I only had electrolyte in my pack and made a bad call by assuming water when in fact I picked up lime and lemon. Trying to get this aspect right is my biggest challenge.

    Nick, spot on. I needed water badly - nearly resorted to a stream with all the complications that would have entailed!.

    Looking back, I'm pleased to have got round the 33 course as this was in doubt around chop gate. so, lessons learnt and I'll be up for more later in the year.

    Thanks again and good luck Nick with the "slam"

  4. Thanks Mike.
    I was so impressed after reading your story I gave you a retrospective honorary mention in an update of my blog.
    I hope your injuries have subsided now. Sorry I forgot to ask after your welfare last Saturday.

  5. Mike, Yes of course Nick is right I meant it to read 'not enough water', instead of 'not enough electrolyte'. I had a similar problem a few years back with some sis go powder, I put way too much in and felt sick with dehydration. Best to keep the mix quite a lot weaker than the recommended amounts unless the cramp sets in.

  6. mike. what a great blog. entertaining and insightful. i felt your difficulties. but hey 7.49 is good in the conditions. we all have things that trip us up. when i had a similar experience at 26m at the highland fling i took it upon myself to whistle the great escape to try to haul myself over the rest of 27m left.

  7. enjoyed the excuse to take it easy on the run in..I was hardly heading for a pb....better luck next time!

  8. Hey Gav,

    You saved my day, I owe you a beer! See you Round Rotherham if not before. cheers