Written by Andy James
Having agreed to give this race a go as we (Tailwind) are the race sponsors, I did start to wonder if this decision was a bad one!!! Very quickly i roped in Brother Keith James into entering. This race is a bit insane so it suited him nicely. It’ll be scenic, i said. It’ll be fun, i said. He didn't take much persuading once he had been rejected once again by the Western States. Their loss was my gain.
The training commenced.............miles & miles were shuffled. Hilly miles, dark miles, wet miles, more hilly miles, lonely miles, backpack miles, trail miles, social miles & yet more hilly miles. Not long into the plan and disaster struck for Brother James. 2 miles into the Snowdon marathon his ageing back gave in. My race & training buddy was out of action and nervously i had to continue with the training plan. The training miles increased week by week. 60, 70, 80 & 90 mile weeks. towards the end of my training plan i was seeing more of my running kit than my family. I was tired.....very tired.
Disaster was to strike yet again. Now the James duo were both injured. Keith with a damaged back and my right shin & hip. Brenda started trying to fix me. $&*”!....F^$£......^&£$”. For a little lady she’s got some sharp elbows.
We were now 6 wks from race day & both still recovering. 5 wks, 4 wks, 3 wks and then taper time was here but we were both only 75% fit (at most). We had once again enlisted the support of the best crew in the world ever!!!! Karen Penny & Mark Faulkner had offered their services to support Keith (a previous 6 x 100 mile buckler) and myself. I had started a 100 mile race in 2016 but failed miserably. So the plan to attempt one of the UK’s toughest winter 100’s was a smart plan. Right? Friday 10th Feb - Raceday had arrived. Our day started at 05:45 with the first marathon challenge.......all you can eat breakfast. Stupidly, i’d eaten so much food i must have doubled my carrying weight. We then took the 30 minute drive to registration which was at the Blue Bar in Porthtowan. Entering the room i could see quite a few nervous looking runners.....i too should have been nervous, but wasn’t.
I went to the kit check area and had my kit checked by Pat ‘Paddy’ Robbins (just an average GB Ultra runner) :-) I then collected my race number and was fitted with my tracker........this was now real. I could tell that more people were becoming increasingly nervous as the toilet queue was getting bigger & bigger. There was even a runner outside have a smoke.....wtf!!! 12 midday - to the sound of a kilted piper, 109 runners started counting down to get the 2017 AoA underway. We were off, heading west toward the most southerly point of the UK, Lizards. Within 1/4 mile we were on the South West Coastal Path slipping and sliding in the wet and boggy conditions. The runners are naturally bunched for a while which can have its downsides.
I nearly got hit in the face by a walking pole and the hit in the family jewels by the very same unruly pole. The first CP was at mile 24 in Porthleven. Luckily we had our trusty support crew to have refuelling stops en route. To give you an idea of the terrain, it took us 2hrs 34mins to cover 10 miles and 5hrs 50mins to get into CP1. After a quick refuel we donned our head torches as we were going to be in the dark very soon and for the next 12hrs. That’s 12hrs of very technical paths, steep steps (up & down), rock scrambling & balancing on cliff top ledges (that isn’t an exaggeration) in pitch black. Next major stop - Penzance.
We ploughed on through to Praa sands with our ever reliable crew popping up wherever possible. The extra pleasant & jolly surprise of the newly wed Kings singing their catchy motivational tune “Numbers 51 & 52, do you need to have a poo”.......yeah, thank you for that. We reached CP2 in Penzance at 21:52, 2.5hrs before the cut off. We’d been on the move for nearly 10hrs and covered just 38miles.
The CP was a very welcome sight, hot food & drinks, warm room & comfy seats.........ahh, comfy seats. We were waited on hand and foot by the CP crew but we soon realised we were getting too comfy. We decided we needed to go asap so we set of slowly trying to get the stiff legs moving again. The coastal temp was now getting rather fresh and we now had to dig in for the 16.5mile stretch to CP3. This section soon got quite gnarly with lots of technical paths which really slowed us down. This in turn dropped body temp and we were both suffering with niggles.
We couldn’t afford to go off track and Keith was doing an awesome job with navi. As we got closer to Lands End the paths got more technical, greater elevation, relentless zig zagging searching for the least energy zapping route. The Lands End hotel comes into view about 90 minutes before you actually reach it. That was painful. We rolled into CP3 at 03:52 on Saturday, 3hrs before the cut off. Another small hot meal, change of clothes, spray on pain relief from the medic and we were ready to head out.
Quite a few runners had bailed at CP3 and the painful expressions on the runners faces was now evident. The next stage was going to be a tough one. Ferg (the RD) had warned us about the section between CP’3 & 4. It’s tough, muddy, boggy, hilly, wet, beaches and most of all remote. Leaving Lands End I became very cold and felt exhausted. Then to increase my want to quit, the wind picked up and it started snowing. I had hit my ‘DARK’ phase. We were due to meet our crew in 6.5miles.....it seemed like 20. At this point, in my head, i was not overly bothered if we made the CP4 cut off. Keith was still strong and held me together. We met the crew at Cape Cornwall and i was soooooo close to falling asleep in the van. Motivated by Karen, Mark & Keith i reluctantly got out of the warm and into the cold. On we went.
Just before 7am the sun started to show its face. I felt quite emotional and relieved that the night had passed. We did still have a challenge to make the final CP in the cut off time. It was asked by a fellow runner at the brief, ‘Why does section 4 have a shorter time allowance but further distance and tougher terrain’ - response ‘To make it tough’ As we approached St Ives Alun, Ruth & Henry were there to greet us. Real boost to know we’d made the cut off with over an hour to spare. CP4 request.......chips. I’d been fancying chips since Porthleven, which seemed like an absolute age ago. We now had 10hrs to cover the remaining 21 miles to the finish. Lelant, Hayle, Gwithian & Godrevy were the next bite size chunks to knock off.
At this point it was painful to walk but easier to run for me but vice versa for Brother James. I was happy as this section was not so lumpy.........oh how foolish was i. We were soon back into climbing up and down massive steps leading deep down to sea level and then climbing sharply back up the the cliff top.........and they hurt..........a lot!! It was now Keiths turn to have his low moment. Nausious and tired.....I was in typical James style, relentless with the sarcasm. Before we knew it we were getting our headtorches out again which wasn’t in our plan to be running into the second night. Still running into a headwind with driving hail and rain we both now wanted this to end.
Somehow (i’ve no idea how) we had managed to pick up the pace and passed 3 or 4 runners in the last 10 miles. We could almost smell the finish. We were going to do it and oh did we need to end....we were zonked!!! As we rounded the edge of the military base near Porthtowan and into the next cove where the finish was........or so we thought. TWICE we were proved wrong with 2 more decents and climbs before the finish. Keith then yelled out a WOOHOO as he saw a finish flag on his watch.
We came around the final headland to the sight of the blue lit Blue Bar. The usual end of race adrenaline rush wasn’t taking away the pains from this brutal course. My back ached, my feet were swollen, my knee was painful & my butt was chaffed. The last 100mtrs were sprinted at 6mm pace.......okay they were shuffled like the last 50 but we’d done it. We’d completed 100 tough miles to the applause of friends, fellow runners, volunteers and the Mudcrew team. Now the moment we’d been waiting for. The buckle. I was emotional, tired, in pain but proud - that was the hardest race i have done - SO FAR!!!
Tired but at least our trousers won’t fall down...... Sorry it went on but it was an Ultra.......