It began with an email from Garth – “Hi everyone. As most or all of you know I am doing the Hardmoors 110 in May. The rules state that I require a crew for this as I’ve not done a 100 miler before…” I had already clocked Garth’s plan and volunteered to help out where I could, so this wasn’t news. But it was where our journey as part of ‘the crew’ began. Fast forward to the start of April, and our first planning meeting. Huddled round a table in the bar at the cricket club the challenge suddenly became very real as Garth shared the route with us (the entire Cleveland Way – a week’s holiday trek for most of us mortals!) We talked timings, equipment and food, trying to work out who was going to offer what support when. There were 2 distinct roles for ‘the crew’. One involved being a support runner – accompanying Garth from the 50 mile point (as he ran through the night and into the next morning). The other involved supporting from the comfort of a vehicle. No prizes for guessing which one Matt and I chose! After the meeting we continued to share lists of food and timing, and Garth started to share the first in a long line of ‘instructional’ emails from the race organiser. A few days before the event there was a flurry of messages between us all. There were pictures of homemade cake (Garth seemed pretty pleased!), questions about what kind of rice pudding to buy, whether Garth wanted butter or mayonnaise in his ham sandwiches, and how many jam sandwiches to make!
The big day arrived, and Matt and I headed to Horsforth to collect Garth for the drive over to Filey. It was an early start (5.30am) but seeing a few of the 200 mile runners approaching Filey as we arrived made us feel that we (and Garth) were probably getting off lightly! Registration was seamless and before we knew it the runners were strung out along the skyline, leaving the ‘crews’ to be briefed by the race director. Seeing other people’s banners, branded T-shirts and mugs left us feeling a little under-prepared…
The first checkpoint was Scarborough and we and everyone else’s support crew headed along the coast to cheer our runners on. Garth powered through, looking very strong indeed, leaving us free to head into town for a coffee. Then it was on to Ravenscar, and the first compulsory checkpoint where we had to check in with the marshals. At this point I realised for the first time just how stressful it can be supporting a runner. I’d never really thought about it before, having always been the one doing the running, but making sure you’re at the allocated point at just the right time to see your runner is quite a tall order! Not helped by getting held up behind some slow moving traffic and having to park quite a way away from the village hall checkpoint. From this point onwards, a lot of my time was spent anxiously looking at the tracker to make sure we knew where Garth was and that we were there when he needed us. There were also a lot of messages between the support crew along the lines of ‘where are you?’ ‘how is he doing?’ ‘what’s the ETA for Saltburn?’ Suffice to say we all became very familiar indeed with that online tracker…
At lunchtime we were in Whitby, which wasn’t an official checkpoint but was a chance to give Garth a hot drink and let him try out the camping chair we’d brought for him. Seeing the other runners passing through I think Garth felt pretty smug sat on that chair as Matt and I plied him with coffee and snacks.
Next it was Runswick Bay which was another compulsory checkpoint and then we headed along to Saltburn. This was a pretty crucial point as it was where Mark was joining Garth for the first part of the overnight section. By this point it was around 7pm and we took a chance that we would have enough time to grab a quick meal before Garth arrived. After our fish & chips (what else?!) we headed to the car park to brew up and prepare Garth’s food and overnight gear. When Garth arrived he was suffering with his feet. I drew the line at bursting his blisters for him, but did help out by cutting pieces of tape for him to use. Cue anxious texts to Chris and Caroline (resting up at Osmotherley youth hostel) to check that they had got tape in case Garth needed it. The sun had started to dip by now, and a cool breeze meant that Garth got quite cold sitting in the car park, but he managed to drag himself away from the comfy chair and start up the hill out of the village with Mark in tow. The final point to see them in the daylight was just 4 or 5 miles later outside a pub in Slapewath. Garth wasn’t looking too clever around now (but he had run 57 miles!) and had been struggling with his stomach a bit. I tried not to worry too much, but knowing they were heading into darkness from now on with plans for Mark to hand over to Chris at a car park in the middle of nowhere did leave me a little nervous.
Our next point for meeting Garth was to be at Clay Bank, the 79 mile point. There was another checkpoint at Kildale but because the village is so tiny no support crews were allowed. We arrived at the checkpoint to find a row of cars parked up along the side of the road. We had around 5 hours to wait for Garth, so this was the point for us to get a bit of sleep. Thankfully we’ve got a Skoda Octavia so we were able to put the back seats down and climb into the boot with a duvet and pillows. Having checked there was decent signal for watching the tracker, we set the alarm for 2am and tried to get some shuteye. At around 1am we were woken up by another runner coming in and I instinctively reached for my phone to check where Garth was. He was still a way off, so we tried to get back to sleep. Before we knew it the alarm was going off and we were packing the bed away and making ready for Garth’s arrival. By now it was absolutely pitch black and the wind was howling in the trees. It was surreal to wander up the road with my head torch to the point where the path crossed the road with shadowy figures in cars and one or two exhausted runners meeting their support crews. It was freezing too.
As I stood waiting I began to wonder how I would know when Garth appeared. Suddenly two headtorches appeared at the top of the path. ‘Is that you, Garth?’ I asked, feeling like a complete twit. Thankfully it was and I escorted Garth and Chris down the road to the car. This was the point where it became clear that things hadn’t been going to plan over the last few hours. Garth admitted that he wasn’t sure whether he could carry on as he’d been sick a couple of times. “I think I really need to get into the car” he said. This was extremely worrying, and I didn’t really know what to do. I stood at the back of the car with Chris making mushroom soup and gathering up various bits of food to try and tempt Garth to eat something. Matt sat in the car talking to Garth and trying to convince him that he could do it. I have no idea what he said or quite how we managed it, but 45 minutes after he arrived, Garth finally made it out of the car and headed up the road with Chris, who had pockets laden with bananas and homemade flapjack. Matt and I breathed a huge sigh of relief and headed to Osmotherley. Once we’d found the checkpoint, which was a couple of miles out of the village, we headed to the Youth Hostel where we met Caroline and made some breakfast. She had spent a very restless night mainly watching Garth’s progress on the tracker and it was fair to say we were all pretty anxious by this point. We headed to the checkpoint and waited. My sense of relief was enormous when I headed down the path in the direction the runners were coming from and came across Chris and Garth walking up the hill. We were blown away that Garth was still going, after 91 miles and after the trauma of the night, not looking too bad at all. After more hot drinks, food and a quick change of clothes Garth headed off with Caroline for the final 21 miles.
We began to relax a little as we drove over towards Kilburn White Horse for the final check point. There was quite a party atmosphere here with some great marshals and relieved looking runners. Chris met us there and had a quick kip in the car while we waited for Garth to arrive. By this point we were all pretty tired (but perhaps not as tired as Garth!) Garth and Caroline arrived and had one last brew and piece of brownie and we all then headed to the finish in Helmsley. For the first time ‘the crew’ found ourselves back together (all except Caroline who was still running with Garth). We headed into race HQ to watch the tracker on the big screen before moving outside and anxiously looking down the road for Garth. Eventually we saw him and a few others heading towards us. Mark got his phone out and Facebook live-d Garth’s arrival – ‘cracked it’ were the immortal words as he power walked past us to the hall.
It had been an epic adventure for all of us. We had supported, fed, watered and cajoled Garth for over 31 hours and couldn’t have felt more proud of his achievement. It hadn’t been easy, and we were definitely all sleep-deprived, but it had been an amazing experience and so rewarding to be part of it. If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend ‘crewing’ for any of our fellow club members on their epic challenges. And if you’re planning something crazy yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help (although I might draw the line at sleeping in the boot of the car again!!)