Long-distance runner Jerry McCulla pulled off one of his finest achievements so far when winning the inaugural Hardmoors 200-mile ultra marathon from Hull to Helmsley.
The gruelling, non-stop race, which spanned a maximum of 60 hours and comprised a potential climb of some 8,000 metres, was organised to celebrate ten years of Hardmoors ultra races.
It headed alongside the River Humber before following the whole of the Yorkshire Wolds Way national trail for 79 miles, along wooded slopes, over hills and through valleys, descending on to the dramatic headland of Filey Brigg. Next the route followed the full 112 miles of the Cleveland Way national trail, along the stunning coastline, visiting the seaside resorts of Scarborough and Whitby before passing through the Cleveland Hills and the North York Moors and on to the finish in the market town of Helmsley.
McCulla, of Gainsborough, was told by race director, Jon Steele, a veteran of many ultra races, that he was expecting fewer than ten finishers from the 43-strong field. So he braced himself for not being able to soak up the beauty of villages such as Welton, Brantingham, Millington, Wharram Percy, Wintringham, Skinningrove, Osmortherley and finally Hemsley along the way.
But even he was not expecting the race to end in such glorious victory as he crossed the finishing line just after six in the morning with a time of 45 hours, 59 minutes, 63 seconds, more than two minutes in front of the runner-up.
McCulla admitted that at times during the event, he was “just existing, not knowing what I was doing” and even hallucinating. He added: “When I arrived into Helmsley, I was unable to speak, grunt or even expel air, and with my eyes closing, I knew my body was shutting down.
“I was encased in my own bubble and nothing sank in. One foot in front of the other, I kept saying. Just lifting my head to see the direction I needed to be in was hard enough.”
It all proved worthwhile in the end for the 41-year-old, however, and he was quick to praise his renowned coach, Ronnie Staton, for all his help.
McCulla’s win capped a remarkable impact he has made on ultra races and cross-country events since he took up running at the relatively late age of 35.
He had done no form of physical activity since leaving secondary school until, by chance, he gained a place on his employer’s national cross-country squad in 2011.
From there, he went from strength to strength, consistently finishing in the top ten of Hardmoors ultra races and even representing England and Wales on the cross-country circuit.
The Hardmoors 200 began at 8 am on a Friday. Runners had 24 hours to complete the first 88 miles and as midnight approached, McCulla sat second, although still 17 minutes behind the leader.
By the time he reached Scarborough, he had reached first position, which is where he remained until the finishing line on Sunday morning.
“I battled so many physical and mental emotions,” he said. “But marshals and members of the public came to my rescue during low moments.”