Written by David Caulfield

What is the point of a race report? Well for one they make great reading for those considering taking part in the featured event, providing a valuable introspective on the course and what to expect. For that reason I am very grateful to those that have come before me in taking the time to record their experiences in their WW race reports 2013 – 2016.

No matter how you slice it, 127 kilometres/ 80 miles is a long way to travel in 21 hours. Mentioning that distance to anyone outside of the ultra running world will get expressions of disbelief and looks suggesting you ought to be committed for your obvious madness. 

The challenge is both physical and mental and so it helps to break the distance down into smaller targets. Thus think only to the next CP and what time you need to arrive there, then to the next and so on. These smaller achievements add together quickly getting you beyond the half way point, to the three quarters way point and eventually…..to the finish. 

Training 
I started 2017 injured and so was unable to run until mid March. I was recovered enough to do the Maurice Mullins half and from there I eased myself back in. 

A significant birthday in 2018 raised the idea of an entry to the UTMB to “celebrate” my encroaching decrepitude. The requirement to have 15 points over a maximum of 3 races (just to enter the lottery) started the grey matter turning. I had 4 from last year’s Transvulcania so to get to 15 I would need to do two 6 point races or one 5 point and one 6 point. I settled on the Wicklow Way Race and if that went well then the Kerry Way Ultra. I was in no way sure that my recovery would continue in the face of ramped up mileage but I was about to find out. 

Training over the next twelve weeks included recce’s of the course sometimes with friends but mostly on my own. Solo recce’s invariably mean an out and back thus can end up being very long sessions. Over this time I logged many long runs the longest ranging from 26 to 30 miles; recovery from these was monitored carefully and happily all went well (I swear by chocolate mile and recovery tights). I had enough time that I was able to include a few back to back long runs and was very happy to see that my injury was now almost gone. 

I ran the Clare Burren Marathon at a very easy pace two weeks before. By this time I had reccied all but the last 16 miles of the WW so on the Sunday before, I ran/ walked the first 7 miles from Crossbridge towards Clonegal and back. Probably not the smartest thing to do so close to race day but it helped ease the “I might get lost anxiety”. There would only be 7 or so miles on race day that I had not covered previously.

Race Day Plan
Given my lack of running and the overall length of the race I set about dissecting its various stages and cut off times to see what flex there was in the paces I could run to allow me finish comfortably within the cut offs. Using Excel I calculated several scenarios and settled on the following (I still work in miles).

• CP1 Crone 13.75m (22km), cutoff 3am: 12 minute mile pace to arrive at 02:37.

• CP2 Glendalough 17.5m (28km), cutoff 8am: 12.5 minute mile pace to arrive at 06:31 (take 15 min rest).

• CP3 Ironbridge 15.63m (25km), cutoff 12pm: 14.5 minute mile pace to arrive at 10:42 (take 15 min rest).

• CP4 The Dying Cow 16.25m (26km), cutoff 4pm: 14.5 minute mile pace to arrive at 15:01 (15 min rest).

• CP5 Raheenakit 6.25m, (10km) cutoff 6:30pm: 16 minute mile pace to arrive at 16:51 (20 min rest).

• Finish at Clonegal 10m, (16km) cutoff 9pm: 16 minute mile pace to arrive at 19:46

The above plan put emphasis on the first two CPs, which were the tightest to make with time pressure reducing significantly by CP3. These paces were pedestrian but given the significant distances covered and my under trained state I felt they were realistic. The rest stops I included also looked very generous but when stops to change batteries, take out a jacket, take a whizz etc, are included they were again probably realistic.

Race Day Prep
I took the Friday off to try to get a few hours sleep during the day and to prepare my drop bags. 

No two people will pack the same food; I included lots of drinks I like drinking since I find it hard to stomach eating during races. Small cartons of orange juice proved to be very palatable and a good energy provider. Also successful were small easy peel oranges, two per drop bag. Other food included chocolate (snickers which I didn’t anticipate I would bother eating but did), crisps, cheese nachos and small tuna & sweet corn sandwiches (one per drop bag, I ate the first sandwich and couldn’t stomach the rest), plain water in my hydration vest and gels. I also had a triple shot of coffee to be consumed shortly before the race (to give me a boot up the arse).

Notable kit included 

• Black diamond z trail poles
• A small waterproof stuff sack (keeps items kept inside completely dry, weighs ounces) 
• Light long sleeve running top; it was to be cold over Djouce (Richard N you were right) 
• East West Map guide to the Wicklow Way
• A small power pack to charge my Garmin and phone (my watch can be charged whilst recording a session)
• Salt tablets, pain killers and deflatine
• 50 euro note (in case I needed to make quick exit)
• A couple of gels (with others dispersed over my drop bags)
• All of the above were in addition to the mandatory kit

Kit that might be worth including (much of which can be left in a drop bag)

• Change of top/ bottom
• Change of socks
• Road runners
• Motilium or crystallized ginger

I got a lift to Marlay Park with friend Liam Costello and was quickly through registration, kit check and tracker collection (race organization fantastic, thanks Jeff, Robbie, Richard, Tricia et al). My head torch is a Petzl Nao+ and it was my first time using it so I made sure to practice the settings to ensure I got the maximum time from the battery in the hope that I wouldn’t have to stop to put in the spare.

Marlay Park to Crone 21km (Climb 684m)
After a short race briefing we were off! It was good to get out of the park and up towards Kilmashogue carpark and Fairy Castle. I have run this part of the Wicklow Way many times so there was no chance of me taking a wrong turn. However the fear of my missing the first cut off ensured I kept up the pace. The weather was already proving to be wild but since much of this part of the way is sheltered it wasn’t too bad. Through the gloom sheep’s eyes reflected green, the field quickly spread out and already if felt like I was on my own in the mist, rain and blackness. I was soon over Prince William’s seat and to the nice descent that provided recovery before putting the boot down again. I made Crone at 2:32, 5 minutes ahead of schedule. It was lashing rain; thanks to the volunteers that had to stand in it. I stopped for less than a minute to grab the contents of my first drop bag and then was off again towards Djouce. Judging by the wind and heavy rain this part of the course was going to be interesting!

Crone to Glendalough 29km (Climb 868m)
I have been over Djouce on many occasions in all sorts of weather. I was there on the day of the Maurice Mullins Trail and Ultra in 2013 with the crazy weather that happened on that day. The weather tonight however trumped all that. As I passed the point that looks across to Powerscourt waterfall the wind through the trees was alarming; was I going to be flattened by a falling tree? On I went to the left turn that started the descent down to the footbridge over the Dargle. Up the other side and onto Djouce where as anticipated it was WILD. The trail was an ankle deep running river, my head torch lit just a 2 metre bubble of light beyond which there was thick mist, pitch black, torrential rain and gale force winds. I’d last been here in February so the undergrowth of green that had grown since made the trail hard to pick out. 

As I ploughed on through the maelstrom I was getting a bit freaked out. I pressed on with the mantra, “it will be light soon, the rain is going to stop and the sun is going to come out again”. Then the battery went on my torch. Damn! No choice but to stop, dig my spare battery out of my pack and whilst doing that put on my waterproof legs, neck gaiter and gloves. I was cold now and needed to get moving again. Once on the boardwalk progress was a little easier and soon I was out of the worst of it and running past the Pier gates. The rest of this section was unremarkable; I arrived in Glendalough at 6:45, 15 minutes behind schedule; a lot of time had been lost on the side of Djouce.

Glendalough to Ironbridge 25km (Climb 882m)
The CP at Glendalough was like an oasis, bacon sandwiches and coffee!!! The restorative power of coffee cannot be underestimated. Thanks once again to the organisers, fantastic job.

I stayed a bit longer than I’d intended but felt very much restored. Once at the upper lake I began the long climb out of Glendalough. On reaching the top the wind was blowing strong on the board walk and it was still cold. I moved on quickly down the other side to Glenmalure and to the last significant climb of the day. The Wicklow Way from Glenmalure is quite twisty for the first couple of miles followed by a significant section on the road. I met up with a couple of fellow runners, Andreas and Paul and stayed with them for the next 20 miles or so. Thanks for the company guys. I was beginning to feel tired around this time so stopped for a couple of minutes and ate two oranges before setting off again. A check on my pace and time to the next cut off had me speed up again and soon I was on the downhill towards Ironbridge arriving at 11:12 a half hour behind schedule but still well within the cut off.

Ironbridge to The Dying Cow 25km (Climb 525m)
Another great set up; more coffee (from a coffee plunger!!), home baking and a deck chair to sit down! Luxury. Thanks guys, ye are legends. As myself, Andreas and Paul were leaving Ironbridge (50km to go) Andreas decided he would change into his road runners. I went on ahead knowing they would catch me. I made a quick phone call to my wife to let her know all was well and by the time I’d finished Andreas and Paul had caught up. This section seemed to take forever when I reccied it in April and it seemed to take forever again today. By now the rain had gone and the sun was out; the Djouce experience seemed a very long time ago now. I shed any unnecessary clothing, put on suntan lotion and connected the charger to my watch. I recorded a couple of very slow miles at this time and in hindsight I was clearly very tired. I made sure not to repeat the wrong turn I’d taken back in April in a forest section early in this part of the course. I had reccied it again in May and found the marker I’d missed behind a gorse bush (which I pruned).
We pushed on eventually reaching Cuckoo Lane and shortly after, Crossbridge. Andreas and Paul went on ahead at this point; I was slowing but didn’t feel like taking any more gels (which was probably a mistake). At about a mile and a half from the Dying Cow I came around a corner to see in the distance my brother and two nephews! My niece and sister in law were there too. What a great surprise! Hugs all round and a quick photo and then a quick dash to the Dying Cow to make the 4:00 cut off. I got there at 3:36, phew!

The Dying Cow to Raheenakit 11km (Climb 267m)
My arrival time to the Dying Cow would prove to be the nearest I came to not making a cut off. Beyond this however lay just 16 miles to the finish and 5 hours in which to do it. Surely nothing could stop me from finishing now. First I had to make the Raheenakit CP 6 miles away by 6:30. Thanks to the guys at the Dying Cow, great encouragement as I left. A last goodbye to my brother and I was off up the steep road towards Raheenakit. This section of the Way is fairly non descript and almost entirely on road (so a change to road runners is an option here). Just before the last CP came the much-vaunted Coronary Hill (a long uphill boreen with grass in the middle); I put the head down and power walked up (my poles aiding my progress). I made the last CP at 5:10; I just had to stay upright and keep putting one foot in front of the other and I’d finish.

Raheenakit to Clonegal 16km (Climb 222m)
Heeding the warning that many have taken a wrong turn in Raheenakit forest I made sure to be extra alert for the WW markers. At this point I was doing virtually no running but instead power walking. With the exception of one marker I almost missed which takes you left down a narrow grassy track, I didn’t go wrong. Shortly after I entered the last forested section which as mentioned by others is paved with very pointy rocks that are agony on tired feet. A short way in I met fellow runner Martin; I’d last seen him near Lough Dan many hours earlier. He was running on empty, the offer of a couple of oranges seemed to help and he was soon back on his feet to keep me company. A wrong turn by me cost us 10 minutes; I am very grateful to Martin for having the GPX file on his watch thus noticing my mistake; I would have walked much further in the wrong direction otherwise.

The highly anticipated Clonegal 5km road sign was at last reached. Some of the race volunteers appeared here to offer us chips! Thanks Lillian and the second person who’s name I don’t know.

Many have said it before and I will confirm it again here. This is the longest 5km I have ever run/walked/ shuffled; it seemed to go on forever. Over the majority of the race I had stayed true to my plan of power walking the uphills and running the flats and downhills. But now sadly I could only manage to run for a few metres before stuttering back to a walk. I was passed by a couple of other runners in the last kilometer but I couldn’t give a damn. I had set out with the sole purpose of finishing within the cut offs, a good time had never been a possibility so my finish place was of little consequence to me. 

I could see the town in the distance! As I rounded the final bend I found myself muttering repeatedly “thank god, thank god, thank god”. Clonegal at last and the Wicklow Way sign. YES! I DID IT!!!!! 
I finished in 20 hours and ten minutes, 24 minutes behind schedule. I’d been up and awake for 34 hours.

I was greeted by my wife and son, (emotional, sniff, sniff). Then Jeff appeared, congratulated me on finishing and presented me with my granite finisher’s plaque with the little yellow man. Chuffed to bits! 
I am constantly surprised at what the human body is capable of. I managed to come back from injury, squash my training into a period of less than three months and finish well within the cut off. Thanks legs, heart and lungs, I’ll go easy on you for the next couple of weeks, I promise! 

A huge shout out to all involved in organizing this fantastic event. An amazing job! We are very lucky to have a race of this calibre on our doorstep.

Race Tips

• Recce the course for peace of mind on the day (the only wrong turn I took was on the 7 mile stretch I hadn’t run before).
• Get to bed early on the nights of the week coming up to the event.
• Include variety in your drinks and food; this will improve the likelihood you will keep fueling (unless of course you are fat adapted and don’t need to eat).
• Trail poles used properly can be of great benefit in prolonging endurance.
• As with any long distance event, expect to experience “bad patches” and know that they almost always pass.

Written by Stuart Shipley - https://shippo88.blogspot.com 

 
stuart
 
The sweetest finish

I have learned a new word in the last year or so. Patience. More importantly I have learned what it means.  If you are reading this then you may have to be patient too. If you aren’t and just want to hear about the race then I’d advise you skip to page 6 right now.

It’s no secret that I have a long and unsuccessful history with the Spartathlon, going right back to 2004 but at times, 2007 in particular when I attempted it within a month of doing UTMB, I have been impatient.

You see, I have been worried about getting too old to achieve a finish for over 10years now, the more so recently since I turned 60 this June. There are runners who do finish Spartathlon at 60+ but they are usually grizzled veterans who have been knocking out finishes on a regular basis for years. There are a lot fewer who manage it for the 1st time at that age and I was distinctly worried that any prospects I did have of ever finishing were growing smaller and smaller every year.

I had basically retired in 2012. That year I was part of the 77% who failed to finish and the following year I had a back injury that threatened to stop me running altogether. It put me out effectively for the whole of 2013 whilst I recovered from the operation. In 2014 I was able to return to running of a sort and very glad to be able to do so, but it wasn’t stirring stuff and I was fat and slow.

Somehow though, in 2015 I started to lose weight and started to get faster again. I have no idea why really, since I wasn’t doing a lot different but just recall being glad about it. It was the first time I started to consider the possibility of a rematch. I looked for something that would push me and found the Spine. Although the race itself is the polar opposite of Spartathlon they do share the requirement of needing a near perfect mental state to get anywhere near to a finish. And I did finish. The finish rates were on a par with Spartathlon but this time I was on the good side.

2016 went from good to marvellous and I decided to enter Spartathlon again … But didn’t get in. I got to the very top of the wait list but there I remained. No.1 in the world not to get to do it. The fact that I had been able to knock 1¼hrs off my 2007 GUCR PB was tainted by the fact that the new, harder entry requirements for 2017 meant that it was still ½hr too slow. It’s a shame since in 2016 I was the fastest  I had been for a good 10-15years over all distances and I would for the 1st time have been able to go into the race with some confidence of a finish. Patience.

In looking for a qualifier for 2017 I ran at Tooting in 2016. I hadn’t thought that running round a track for 24hrs was likely to be too interesting but I really enjoyed the experience, getting my qualifier and knocking 3¾hrs off my 100mile PB in the process. It confirmed my feeling that 2016 really could have been my year.

Then my knee went. Running downhill on a session down at my running club towards the end of the year I heard as much as felt a loud ‘pop’.  ‘That was the end of your femur collapsing’ the consultant told me when diagnosing an osteonecrotic condition known as SONK. There was a lot of bone oedema but he told me that if I was patient (that word again) took regular Vitamin D and offloaded the joint whilst it healed, it is usually a self-limiting condition and should heal 100%. So followed 4months on crutches, 2 months in a brace and much of 2017. I didn’t get in again anyway and was a lot further down the waitlist this time. I couldn’t help but compare the popularity of the race now with what it had been in 2004 when there were only 5 Brits, I had left it until May to enter, there were nearly half as many entrants and the race didn’t fill up anyway.

I was able to return to running again in about June/July 2017 on the condition I built up gradually. I was patient and my only Ultra of a sort that year was a few laps of the Equinox 24 with a team from work. It was good though and I dared to harbour thoughts of building things up again until whilst just walking down the hall at home in October, I caught my left leg against the dogs cover. As innocuously as that, I tore my Left meniscus.  This time the consultant didn’t have good news. He told me that basically the meniscus was shot. It was hard and crumbling, the tear was inoperable and degenerate - stitching it would be like stitching frayed cotton and the stitch would just pull through. Moreover, it was unlikely to heal given the poor blood supply to the meniscus. He would review it again in 3 months but considered that the pain would stop me from running on it again. In the meantime it was back to the brace. Patience.

I wasn’t expecting much in January but against the odds the consultant told me he could see some evidence of repair. He said this was unusual but put it down to the fact that the tear was right at the end of the meniscus in the only place where it has any real blood supply. A cyclist himself he’d heard of Kouros and knew of my desire to compete in Spartathlon again. He didn’t rule it out but told me that the clock was ticking in respect of the meniscus’ degeneration, that my cycling career was likely to be longer than my running one in the long term but I would in any event be guided by the pain. He did however tell me I could ditch the brace and if I gave it another couple of months of patience I could try light running on it, 1K at a time. Time was very definitely ticking but in a fit of optimism I entered Spartathlon again. I didn’t have any option really. If I harboured any hope at all I had to. This year I would have 4 names in the lottery hat but if I didn’t enter and left it another year, I would be back to zero.

So, in January 2018 I walked a 50K with my brother… the consultant had told me I could walk, he didn’t say how far. My physio daughter had her spies out and they were all instructed, as they passed me running, to make sure I was behaving and just walking. In February I was allowed to jog/walk on a 15mile cake eating cross-country run with my wife and in March I increased to the 4 Inns, a 40mile run/walk across the moors with my son. It was my 1st Ultra at 17 and also now his at the same age. It was a proud moment and I remember thinking that if my running career had to end here and now I would be happy enough. But my knee seemed ok, it grumbled a bit on some of the downhills and hated Grindsbrook but seemed fine on tarmac where I could be more confident of my foot placing. I then progressed to running the Grand Union Canal Race again in May. I knew that it would be hard given the lack of training and continuously had to remind myself that it was the beginning, not the end of my training and that it would be mainly training of the head – to see if I still had it.

GUCR was painfully slow. I had to keep permanently reminding myself of the fact that it was the beginning of my training and not a yardstick of progress. Overnight we had a torrential thunderstorm. I thought at the time that this sort of training was not at all representative of what I would be facing in Greece – how little I knew! I felt my knee at about 120miles and so exercised patience, telling myself that I was in it for the long game and deathmarched the rest in, missing my train and having to kip out at Little Venice (fortunately dry by then) overnight.  The beginning of my training was however nearly the end of it too since I contracted cellulitis in my left ankle over the course of the run. A day or so after the race I noticed my ankle stiffening up which I though was odd since I didn’t remember going over on it. Fortunately when the shivers started I recalled all those GUCR pre-race notes I’d studiously read over the years and knew straight away what it was. It put me out of running for another 6 weeks altogether. Even when my ankle went down, every time I started to try to run on it, it would swell up again. Patience.

Eventually however I was able to run, starting from scratch yet again, but the clock was ticking and I had another issue now. Since it had been my 60th birthday in June I’d been treated to my choice of a holiday of a lifetime by the family and I had chosen to walk the Inca Trail in Peru, something I’d always wanted to do. A year previously when we’d decided on it, Spartathlon had sounded like just a pipe dream and I’d felt that I couldn’t just put my life on hold on the off-chance I’d be able to run again, but now they were perilously close to each other. Because I couldn’t risk my ankle wrecking the holiday I’d had to drop out of LLCR and my training was now limited to about 6weeks running, 3 weeks in Peru not running, a week back to running when we got home and then another 2weeks, mostly tapering. It was getting to feel very much last minute and the ‘wing and a prayer’ preparation that I’d promised myself I’d never allow to happen again.

I put myself into running again trying to build up incrementally but I knew there wasn’t a lot of time. I wasn’t sure there’d be enough time but I had to try. It was my last chance. I managed to increase my mileage from a very lowly 20mile week, to 30, then 40, then 50, then 60 and this time I was helped by the weather. Running a couple of 50K training runs in what I considered was likely to be a much more representative 28-31c in our most atypical extended British summer I was able gradually to get  to the pace I knew I’d need out in Greece, in the heat too and without wrecking my ankle or more importantly my knee. My knee had been a star. When I’d started out earlier in the year it had felt distinctly weird. For a mile or so from cold I’d have to limp before something would almost just click into place and it would feel fine, with no need to limp or run off balance. Eventually I was able to shorten this distance down to ½ a mile, then ¼ mile but I was having to break the habit of a lifetime and actually warm up to get my knee into the groove.  Its still like it even now. When I start a run, for the 1st few hundred yards it still feel like something is not quite in place and until I’ve been able to hammer it back, I do have to be very careful. I guess sooner or later its going to give up the ghost again, after all the degeneration is a one-way street but I was beginning to hope that I might just be able to eke out its running career for perhaps just a few weeks longer. I did fear that it was just waiting for me to commit and then just grind me to a painful and unrewarding halt on a hot and dusty road next to an oil refinery just outside of Athens but my head, still strong after all it had been though even just this year, was getting more and more determined to say ‘what the hell, lets just do it’.

I’d been training my head patiently too. 6 prior DNFs when I was younger and faster is not the best way to get some confidence but I knew that to finish this race you can’t have an off day. If you can’t be confident that this time you will finish, then you are immediately at a mental disadvantage. I was never going to manage that but I had to strengthen my determination and I had been very singleminded all year. I had survived all that could be thrown at me and come out of it stronger. I knew my head was as good as it ever had been. Deathmarching GUCR had shown me I still had it despite the time it took me and I’d been using lots of little things to constantly hone the edge. On my phone I had the most atmospheric photo I’ve ever seen of Spartathlon (thanks Mark W) so I’d know what I needed to do every time I used it. I also bought a BST Spartathlon mug – only a little thing for sure but little things stack up. I’m not sure if Louise ever noticed but whilst I often made her a cup of tea in it, I never drank out of it myself. I hadn’t earned the right yet.  Little things like that stack up and I knew my determination was stronger than it had ever been. Just let me get out there.

stuart2 

Every little helps

There’d also handily been a showing of Barneys ‘Road to Sparta’ in Derby only a few weeks before the race. It was an excellent mental preparation for what I would be going back to but I’d felt a bit of a fraud responding to the Q and A’s. I’d not been to see the showing at the BST do at the beginning of the year. I’d felt I need to withhold from that do since I wasn’t a Spartathlete ... yet.  It was part of an exercise in catharsis and I certainly didn’t want or need the ‘so how many times have you finished …’ conversation. I could go once I was a finisher and not until.

Anyway, my knee survived all that Peru could throw at it. It managed 3 weeks of no running, a 17,100’ acclimatisation peak, 4 days of the Inca Trail, a further 2 days climbing in/out of a canyon twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, white water rafting and even sandboarding. It had told me to be careful a couple of times but I had come back as light as I can recall ever being before and certainly as light as I have ever been since the age of 18 before I found beer. I might not have been as fast as I’d been in 2016 but I was certainly as fit as I’ve ever been since 2016 and a lot lighter than on any previous Spartathlon attempt. Things were looking good at long last … apart from the weather forecast.

I’d been keeping an eye on the weather pointlessly, for weeks. As if the BBC can accurately forecast the weather a day in advance in the UK let alone 3 weeks, the other side of Europe. At first the forecast seemed to be the same furnace in Europe it’d been all summer but as Spartathlon got nearer the forecast looked a bit wet. One day it looked very wet and the next it was back to a bit wet. Thunder was even forecast a few times but the forecast varied so much that I knew I couldn’t rely on it, but it did worry me. Not that I feared running in the wet. Having spent most of my life running in wet weather in the UK I was more than used to it but it introduced yet another variable into the mix. I would have no crew out in Greece and in addition to figuring where I’d put what in the way of hydration, food, warm clothing and wondering whether I’d ever need it, I now needed to factor in what I’d do to protect myself from rain, chafing and from cooling down from being wet for long periods at a time. As the day approached I found it hard to work and hard to think of anything else but I figured that this race was still going to try and find something I hadn’t thought of or hadn’t prepared for to throw at me, just to tell me ‘I told you so, it’s not for you’.

Oh dear, I’ve just noticed I’m getting a bit carried away. 5 pages already and I’m not even out in Greece yet. I hope some of you are still here at any rate. I wanted to set the scene and show just how much a finish in this race would mean to me and how much an ever present part of my life being intent on one day getting a finish out of this race it has been, even if it’s a race that really doesn’t play to what remaining strengths an old mountain runner still has. I hope it also shows just what a fixation this race can become, eating its way into every part of your life if you let it … and you just do. One of my remaining strengths though apart from the new one of patience has always been stubbornness. Louise tells me it’s not always a positive character trait but it is necessary for an Ultra runner. I just needed to know whether the race would ultimately and eventually reward that persistence/stubbornness with a finish or if it would just ridicule another pathetic attempt and tell me I should really have given up, got on with my life and stopped wasting what time I had left well before now and what did I really hope or expect to achieve at 60 that I couldn’t achieve at 46.

Fast forward now to Athens and it’s all comfortingly familiar and close to becoming a 2nd home. Last time I was here at the beginning of 2017 was on crutches having had to drop out of the Athens 48 but having paid for the flights Louise was much happier doing the tourist thing. I was up at Herod Atticus to remind myself what the start looked like and could have posted my 2017 entry by hand.

Nerves were mounting by the time I arrived at the Fenix.  I met Laurence, with whom I have shared many a GUCR hour and Spartathlon failure in the past, virtually straight away. Laurences persistence and ultimate success in 2017 was one of the major spurs for me to get my act together and I looked forward to reminiscing and planning this new adventure with him. For me though this year the planning was going to be as simple as possible, no crew just Hokas, Tailwind and S-caps, topped up with pinole/blue corn Ultrabites and strategic Weetabix drink placement.  The Ultrabites had been pre-prepared by opening them up and retaping closed (and fortunately bore no taste resemblance to the blue corn chicha morada that had been everywhere in Peru) but the Weetabix drink was a problem. I hadn’t been able to bring it over with me in hand luggage and scouring Glyfadas shops found very little in the way of breakfast cereals or drink. The 1st part of the plan was already awry and chocolate milk would have to do instead. Nerves carried on getting the better of me at one of the race briefing too. Blimey, this race was a big thing these days.

stuart3 

The BST team. It’s a big thing these days. Me top left … trying to hide

 

The race start at Herod Atticus below the Acropolis just before dawn is the most amazing start you could imagine. This year there were no stars above and this was good. It meant no sun to burn into me from dawn onwards. There were even toilets so that meant no hunting for a vacant bush in the pre-dawn.

I hung around at the back and sat down with Sam from Ireland. Sam has been one of my major inspirations over the years. He’s a couple of months older than me so whilst he carries on, I have no excuse not to either.  This year Sam has done Badwater and a couple of weeks later did a 100miler to Sparta qualifying standards. I am in awe. Sam in his early days here had problems similar to me and it took him 2-3 times to get a finish. He even got over the mountain one year only to succumb to hypothermia. It’s a warning that this race never gives up but he seems to have the knack now and is a regular finisher. We are relaxed and chat until a few seconds before the start until I take up my place and try to hide in the midst of other runners towards the rear. Sam is even more relaxed and stays sat down for a while longer. No hurry, it’s going to be a long day.

And then we are off  downill on wet cobbles as dawn arrives. I haven’t warmed up my knee but I figure I’m not going to be pushing it so I am not worried. I take time to cast my eye behind me a couple of times to catch sight of the Acropolis, all lit up and dominating the skyline still, after all those thousands of years. It’s a reminder of what this race is all about. We are all Pheidippedes in a last ditch attempt to get the Spartans help in saving us from Persian hordes. I need to be with Leonidas in Sparta by sunset tomorrow. This race has history.

The race

Things quickly become a blur only hours after the race so I really ought to have got this down sooner but in truth the first few miles did disappear very quickly. The route seemed all too familiar even though it had been 6 years since I was last here and I ran from the back up the hill to Dafni Monastery and down the dual carriageway on the other side, all in a low drizzle, not enough to put on waterproofs but enough to keep me cool, meeting up occasionally with a few Brits now and then until differing pace and each running their own race forced the necessary separation. I ran with Russ for a while but spent most of the 1st few miles with Paul Ali since we appeared to have synchronised our wee stops.

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Paul A and I in between wee stops

I’d noticed right from the start that I was having to wee more than I usually do. After a while I noticed an occasional pink tinge. I was momentarily concerned but I knew it wasn’t going to stop me so closed my eyes. Potentially foolish perhaps but I decided I would pay the penalty. I was drinking enough and taking my S-caps so I knew there was no more I could do.

I missed the schoolkids with the wall of high fives at Elefsina. I found out afterwards that the kids had all been given the day off school in view of the approaching storm. It was perhaps a good job I didn’t know this at the time but in my determined state I would have run no differently.

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As it was I was running what to me was a perfect race. I got to Megara at the first marathon point in 4.07, maybe a little faster than my planned 4.15, but right on the money.

I knew after that that I next faced ‘the hill’ my nemesis and least favourite point on the route. It’s not that its particularly steep, it’s just very long. In the past when I’ve had a maximum of 10-15 minutes buffer and been forced to walk in the heat, my buffer has evaporated in a matter of a couple of miles. I knew this early on that to walk the hill would be fatal and was prepared to give it my all. As it happened it wasn’t the beast it usually is, partly because it wasn’t as hot as it had been in 2012 and partly since I was ready for it. I ran the hill apart from the odd step and was rewarded at the 50K point, my drop point in 2012, with the loss of only a minute or two buffer. So far, so good and confidence not dinted.

So far this was feeling too good to be true. I had ticked off the drop points in 2012, 20010 and 2007 and was feeling good, apart from a niggle in my R hip that I had felt in the weeks before I left. Last time my R hip had troubled me was when I had flattened off my orthotics and on commissioning a new pair, it had gone. Maybe I was due for some new ones but too late to worry about that now. My quads were making themselves known too but nowhere near as much as they had in 2007 when I’d tried to run within a month of UTMB and died about here as a result. The trekking in Peru was certainly paying off in my ability to move up the hills but maybe my quads weren’t fully recovered from it.

The 2nd marathon is where I’ve always found it hard. My lack of pace has always put me too close to the cut-offs and left me with no margin for error but today I was building on my buffer and not seeing it drip slowly away. As a consequence I really was enjoying myself. It’s hard to explain just how much easier it is not to have the mental burden of worrying about whether you will actually reach the next CP in time, places upon you. This race over 152miles has 75 CPs all with their individual cut-offs and if you fail to make just one of them, that’s it, that’s your race over.  That the hard bit for me has always usually been between 25 and 50 miles has on occasion made my race much shorter than a trip out to Greece really warranted.

The next issue I faced was with my nipples. I had remembered to tape them before the start but the rain had washed it off. I had replaced it at a CP but it wouldn’t stick.  Eventually I was offered some Vaseline at another CP and used it profusely. It removed the issue but not the signs of it and my BST race T shirt made it look more heroic than it actually was. I did have to decline more Vaseline at every subsequent CP until I covered up at dark since I didn’t have the luxury of having packed a spare this early on.
 
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Does anyone have any Tip-ex?

Again the curtains dropped down protecting me from too much worry. When you are feeling good the miles seem to go much quicker but as a result you remember less about them. If alternatively you are in anguish over an evaporating buffer you can do nothing about, every step seems to take about 5 minutes and miles turn over so slowly. I vaguely remember looking out over the gulf, passing ships and refineries and through dusty little towns, generally enjoying myself really. Even if some of the photos show an old man grimacing, I was smiling inside.

The Hellas Canneries 50mile cut is 9½hours and before you get there there’s a tough ascent up to the bridge. When I’ve made it this far in the past I’ve often found that I’m better off walking – something I can do quite fast and that proved to be the case today too. I was catching and even overtaking runners just by walking but encouragingly I’d found that I didn’t want or even need to walk all of it. It was also at the point that I’d started toing and froing with Dean Karnazes.  He’d said that he’d been clipped by the wing mirror of a car in one of the preceding towns. He was ok but it had alarmed him a bit and he had slowed down. It certainly doesn’t take much. The roads are narrow through these towns and the cars do come alarmingly close at times. There’s not a lot you can do about it and so you just tend to carry on in a blinkered jog whenever you can. In Greec e I’d found that in the main pavements are for parking cars on and so you do have to run a lot on the road even where there is a pavement.

Corinth canal is one of those places that make it to your head as a major ‘tick’ point. It’s a great sight and a milestone on the route. In the past I’ve always been guilty of thinking that when you get here your right at Hellas Cans, but you are not. In reality it’s a good couple of miles away along a busy road. Today my head was ready for this and took it all in its stride. I really was having a good day.  My day got even better when I eventually arrived at the CP in 8.40, 50minutes up on the cut. In the past even on a good day I’ve never had 5minutes here, let alone 50minutes and I’ve always had to just run in and out like a frightened rabbit, with my chest doing cartwheels and no time to refuel – the start of an ever downwards spiral until you just run out of fuel entirely, slow down even more and eventually time out. In 2004 my day and 1st attempt had ended here grinding to a halt with a seized hip.

But that day was not today.  Today I had a buffer to be proud of. I had hoped to get here in around 9 hours and as a consequence worried that I was going too fast. But I had time to eat, drink and be merry. Rob came up as my de facto crew until Russ arrived, got me some food and my drop bag … but I wasn’t allowed to sit in Russ’ chair (in no uncertain terms) since he was almost here too! Anyway, I knew that buffer or not once I’d took in some fuel I might as well get on my way since the hard earned minutes evaporate much quicker than you can build them up, if you are not careful. I took with me the canisters of Tailwind prepped for a quick mix at future CPs, stowed them in my utility belt and opened up my 1stchocolate milk. Yuk it was strong. Now, I am a great fan of both chocolate and milk but together I now found I am not. It was however calories in the bank so I necked it nonetheless but wishing as it went down that they ate Weetabix in Greece.

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Approaching Hellas Cans and the 50mile point … I think (and close to smiling too!)

After Hellas Can the route gets more rural and nicer as a result. The weather also seemed better too and it had even stopped raining and I managed to get back into the zone again to-ing and fro-ing with Russ and DK, with both of them passing me each time I stopped for a wee.

 
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Ancient Corinth

Ancient Corinth came and went. It was good to see the ruins but it was really a stop for those with a crew so I just filled my bottle and cracked on to Zevgolatio, the 100K point. Zevgolatio is one of my favourite CP’s. A lot of CP’s, especially those in the villages have their own character and tradition. Elefsina has the schoolkids and their wall of high fives and Zevgolatio has the kids all looking for autographs. It’s been the same since I first got there in 2006 and for me it’s part of the race so I didn’t mind at all sparing the time to write my name and number in their books along with a little Union Jack flag. I must have done 6 or 7 and must admit to being a little disappointed on seeing some runners just waving the kids away.  Zevgolatio is also the place where I stow some warmer kit and my headtorch, although today it was far from dark.  I picked up my drop bag and spied a ‘vacant’ chair to open it up on, only to be told in no uncertain terms by a crew member rushing up to me, that the chair had been ‘reserved for Mr Karnazes’.

He arrived shortly after, most apologetic for his crews over zealousness but I assured him that I didn’t need a sit down, just somewhere to open up my bag and sort the kit out and that the pile of bricks next to the chair would do fine for that. We’d had a couple of chats already over the miles, the main one being in respect of his advice what to do to protect the nips (for some reason he seemed to think I needed advice here, can’t think why). I even got to see his and his nip- guards.  Quite a nice chap I thought but a lot slower today than he normally is, which he put down to being put out of his stride by the wing mirror incident. It had been a while ago now and many miles in the past, but it doesn’t take much to knock you back. I picked up my torch but decided I didn’t need a dry T shirt since it hadn’t been raining for a while now and I was dry again. I jogged off with a chocolate milk – still yuk, but easier to get down this time.

I was well out of Zevgolatio and heading up into the hills when it started to get dark. It’s a shame that probably the prettiest part of the route is done in the dark, but at least I was seeing some of it this time since I was now over an hour up on the cut-offs and over an hour up on the fastest I have ever been at this point. I was looking forward to getting my head down and pushing on past my 2006 failure point, the next in the little ticks that would give me a further mental boost.

But I guess it was too much to hope for that it would be all plain sailing from here on in. Up until now I had run a perfect race but it was about to start getting tough. As I got closer to the hills in Halkion where my race had ended in 2006 it started to rain again, lightly at first. It seemed innocuous enough and I thought (and hoped) it might just be one of the sometimes heavy but shortlived squalls you can get at this time of year, but it got gradually heavier and heavier – and the wind got up too. I cracked out the plastic poncho I’d been carrying from the start and wondered how long it would last.

It was only a few minutes after that that I realised it was no squall.  The wind was now whipping my poncho around and in minutes the road was running with water. My Hokas helped me stay out of a lot of it at first but it wasn’t long before we were running though ankle deep puddles the width of the road and into a fierce wind. As I approached the hills at Halkion that had seen me off in the past, the water was running down the road like a stream. I barely noticed the hills though. What had ended my race in 2006 barely registered this time and I found I was much stronger on the hills than most. I had slowed to a fast march up the twists and turns but was still able to march past some of those who were trying to run.

It got no better. Soon the rain was washing down streams of mud into the road, making my road soled Hokas slip and skid around. I was close many times to falling over but I learned that the deeper the water, the less mud there was likely to be, so gave up trying to avoid the puddles. After all we were all soaked from head to foot so it mattered very little.

It was like that all the way to Nemea, the half way point. I’d caught up with Russ again on this bit and we pushed into the CP pretty much together. Russ went to his crew and I tried to find somewhere where I could sort stuff out. There wasn’t a lot of room inside. It was full of wet runners, trying to eat and change, and the odd one trying to convince the CP staff that they were too unfit to go on. One guy next to me was getting a bit of an earbashing to get him out there again in it, but he was having none of it. He seemed ok to me and was well over an hour up on the cut-offs but had clearly decided that was it for him.

I dried off as much as I could and put on a showerproof jacket I had in my drop. It wouldn’t keep me dry but with the poncho would hopefully keep me warm. I ate some real food, filled up my handheld and got out there again. It had taken me much longer than it would have done if it had been dry but it was very necessary to use some of my buffer to get sorted for the next section – to the mountain, still over 20miles away.

It felt very lonely back out on the road. There didn’t seem to be many runners around and I was finding it hard to see the markings on the road because of all the water. I knew the route, but not well and a couple of times wasn’t 100% sure I was on the right road. There then followed a long downhill section which helped me to get warm again. My hip seemed ok now but my quads were still hurting and I had to be careful with them. The next section was uphill and off-road. Again I found I was stronger than those around me when walking and quickly left the couple of runners I caught up with behind me. The only annoying thing on this section was the continual crew cars coming up the road and forcing me off the centre of the track, the only bit mud and water free and into the mud at the side of the road, splashing me as they passed. Had I not been so chuffed about getting this far into the race, that could have easily turned into a Mr Grump moment.

Eventually the hill relented and started to go downhill towards Malandreni. It was at this point that one of the most bizarre episodes happened to me that I have ever encountered whilst running and I am still not 100% it wasn’t a dream or a hallucination. I had just waded through one of the deepest and longest puddles, about 25 metres (I know I am old but I am in Europe so metres will do, as long as its metres and not meters) and over ankle deep when I came across a Japanese lady stumbling across the road.  As I got nearer she staggered up to me saying ‘sleepy, sleepy’ and gestured that she wanted me to slap her across the face. I recognised her as the Japanese lady who has the back of her head shaved and a face painted on the back so that she looks like she is running in two directions … apart from the fact that at present she was actually looking in only one direction with a hood over the other face. Anyway, she wouldn’t let me go and kept urging me to slap her. I held up my hands and said ‘look duck, I’m not going to hit you’ at which point she grabbed one of my arms and proceeded to whack herself about the face with it.  After a couple of whacks she let go and I chaperoned her to the next CP, which was fortunately only a short distance away handing her over to their care before blasting away as quick as I could. I was convinced she was a goner at that point and no-one was more surprised than me when I actually saw finish photos of her, having beaten me by about 30minutes. Either the whack about the chops had done its stuff or someone else had given her a few more. Either way this episode certainly woke me up.

I am not keen on the route into Malandreni. It is steeply downhill but the cut-offs recognise that and so you have to run it all, and quite fast too, or lose time against the cut-offs. Today it was painful on my quads and I was also worried about going too fast since I was still having to run through streams of mud and worried about slipping over.  In Malandreni itself, there is often a party going but tonight was so wet there were fewer people around. I got some young lads to make me a quick coffee and since it had about 6 teaspoons of coffee in it I thought it would do me some good. It was very strong but I’m pretty sure it helped. The route out of Malandreni was equally steep downhill and by the time I got down to the valley bottom, my quads were shot.

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Coffee stop

It was about this point that I hit my darkest hour. My quads were so painful that even though the route was now flat I just couldn’t run and runners were coming past me. I could see my buffer slipping away and knew that I had to speed up. I took some Paracetomol and just hoped for the best but I seemed only to be able to run for a few yards before pulling up in pain. It was also still raining.

The valley bottom was a dark place and I was losing ground on those who overtook me. The only relief came as we approached Lyrkia and started to go uphill again. The change of angle seemed to help and I made up some ground, even though it was mainly fast walking. In Lyrkia itself I stopped for some soup and this, or the Paracetoml finally kicking in, seemed to make a difference and I was able to jog towards Kaparelli, the CP before the switch backs a lot more easily.

It was around here I caught up with Russ again too. He seemed inordinately worried about the cut-offs and that we didn’t have enough time to make it over the mountain. Now I’d been worried about this myself just a few miles previously but now I knew I was going better again and knew we still had over an hour on the cut. I tried to reassure him but I’m not sure he was convinced.  Anyway, as we approached the notorious switchbacks at the base of the mountain I was feeling a lot better and my pain and frustration of only a few miles previously were a thing of the past. It’s strange how things can change so much in such a short space of time. One minute you can be as low as low can get, harbouring all sorts of black thoughts and the next can be as high as a kite again. If I hadn’t been experienced enough to know that these dark moments can be so transitory it could have done for my race. Even so,  and even though you are half expecting one of these moments to arrive at some point it’s difficult to prepare yourself  for just how low you can actually feel. At the time it really does feel like the end of the world with no resolution in sight.

At this point I was walking with a German guy who lived in Miami. He’d had a go before and had failed but was feeling better this year too. He asked me how far was the furthest I’d got in any of my attempts. I answered by pointing to the CP about 100yards away – there, I said. And it was true. My best race so, far back in 2009 had ended in a mess of puke and diarrhoea about 50metres after this CP. I’d been the last person allowed through about 10minutes down but only yards afterwards my race had ended in ignominy in a drainage ditch at the side of the road, a result of having had to rush through the last half dozen checkpoints without the time to refuel.
 
But this time I was halfway up the switchbacks already and feeling strong on them, probably as a result of my hill training in Peru. I carried on through and onto new ground for the first time in the race. Head down I powered up the rest of the switchbacks and up to the mountain base CP. It was great to be on new ground and finally meet the mountain, after all these years.
 
I hadn’t wanted to spend much time here. It was wet and there wasn’t a lot of shelter. The tent was full and I had to lean into a wooden gazebo out of the rain to change the batteries in my headtorch. I managed some bread and soup and just headed off.  Although I had dry kit here and a waterproof, it wasn’t really the best place to strip off and although wet, I was still warm.
 
Immediately onto the mountain path I found it hard to see where I was going. Visibility was poor and light from my headtorch was just bouncing back. I had to turn it down to its lowest setting and just put up with the gloom it produced. The path did get steeper but I must admit I was wondering what all the fuss was about. Sure it was steep, wet and slippery in my road shoes but it wasn’t the hand over hand stuff I’d been led to believe it was. I was overtaking runners on it too and on the way to the top caught up with DK again. From the rather gentle but insistent and repeated  ‘oh dearing’ and slipping around, he was clearly having a torrid time. I was impatient to get past but the path was too narrow to try. At one point he slipped and waved an arm out which hit me over the head behind him, but I’m sure it wasn’t deliberate and at another turn he allowed the group of us to pass. I powered away again and although the top was a bit further away than I thought, I wasn’t unduly troubled. In fact the only issue came when I reached the top and found I no longer had a race number … or race belt either come to that. I do remember the wind whipping at my poncho at one point and it must have ripped away at the Velcro fastening and sent my belt complete with two sets of numbers, wheeling off somewhere into the mist and wind. I had to explain to the staff what had happened. It surprisingly perhaps didn’t seem a big deal to them, they said they would look out for it and I was ok to go on. I did have to explain however at 20 odd more CP’s why I didn’t have a number though. So, anxious not too cool down I did carry on, without a break at the summit.
 
It was harder work down the other side. My knee is still good for climbing but doesn’t like steep downhill anymore and I was anxious not to tax it. One slip or twist and it could be game over. The route was rocky, slippery and treacherous and the visibility less than the distance between light sticks. This meant that you had to set off in a direction you hoped would be correct and then vary it when the next light stick came into view. If it didn’t you were going wrong and needed to look around. As a result I was slow going down the hill, cold and soaked by the time I reached Sangas village and also down to about an hour over the buffer.  I had just done 100miles in exactly 21hours though. My only faster time over this distance was round a track in Tooting in 2016 and today was far from being the picnic that day had been. There was also a long way left to run. 50miles in fact.
 
And then it started to get hard. It was still dark and I was running painfully downhill towards Nestani. I was cold, my quads hurt and I was struggling to run on them. I’d heard this was usually a nice, easy stretch in fine weather. Easily downhill and so a recovery run into the breakfast CP. I had lost some time down the mountain but was struggling to get it back again in the 5miles to Nestani. The route was a little convoluted too and I ended up getting momentarily lost in Nestani itself. I couldn’t see any road markings due to the shiny, wet tarmac and ended up coming into the CP from 180 degrees out.
 
Rob told me to get in and get out, and that Russ was not far behind me but I knew I needed to do something drastic or I ran the risk of just tailing off as it is easy to do on the next section even in good weather. I still had an hour over the cut-offs but I needed to do some drastic running repairs so I went to toilet to prevent me from having to do this in a less hospitable spot, stripped off all my wet gear and put on new kit. I also ate properly and picked up a new batch of Ultrabites and Tailwind canisters. It’s never good to waste time at CP’s since after all, there are 75 of them and a minute in each is an hour and 15mins. It was a hard decision to use up so much of my heard earned buffer but if I had just raced in and out I ran the risk of running out of energy and even succumbing to the cold. I hoped therefore the pit stop was a sound idea even if it did mean I was now only 35minutes up and with not now a great deal of leeway.
 
In fine weather I reckon I would be confident in building my time back up over the next section but I confess I didn’t really enjoy it today. I was able to run again after my break but I felt like the route was bitty and unnecessarily twisty and turny and the more open nature of the course mean that the wind was harder to cope with. The route to Tegea really dragged and several times I stopped a run in despair of ever getting out of that wind/rain and in pain with my quads. I was convinced my pace was slowing off so much that I would inevitably lose my buffer.  The CP boards however, comfortingly said otherwise. On other occasions these boards have confused an addled brain and converting kilometres to miles had proved just too awesome a task. Today I was trying to simplify it and just look how far ahead of the closing time I was and that told me that whilst I wasn’t gaining any time, I wasn’t losing any either and consistently over the next 10-15miles or so, I remained 35minutes up.
 
Eventually the country road turned into the main one and the big, long hill that had looked so intimidating on the route profile. I recall John Foden telling Glyn Marston on this hill back in 2004 that he couldn’t walk it or he would gradually erode his buffer. I also recall other runners talking of just fading on it being out the race before they knew it.
 
Again the wind made it hard but once again I found my walking pace better than those around me and to be almost as fast as others running pace.  As a result I was able to just power it and not lose much to those who tried to run it all. I was able to jog more of it than I thought I would too and again the buffer remained constant and as I reached 130 and then 135 miles I dared to start believing that it would be enough to get me to the end, but the more negative side told me that that road into the wind, which was getting stronger and stronger was surely going to have another go at spoiling the party.
 
My last drop was at the Monument at about 138miles. As I got to this CP the wind was now showing just how strong it was. I felt guilty at asking for my drop bag since the physio tent was in tatters and open to the elements and the majority of the CP staff were just trying to hold the main gazebo down on the ground. In some of the previous CPs the mood of the staff was unfailingly encouraging despite the wet adversity that everyone faced including them and I simply cannot thank them enough for their sterling efforts to keep us runners on the road despite the conditions.  Eventually however, one of the staff emptied a box full of water to find my drop bag at the bottom. I had spent too long here but needed the fuel to stand any chance of getting me to the end and it had to be done.
 
I couldn’t believe it would get any worse, but it did. Not long after Monument the wind turned up the dial big time and the rain was slashing at me like knives in my face.  My poncho was now shredded and I was having to pull it together tight over me to keep any protection.  I had held onto my headtorch after leaving Nestani since it wasn’t quit light and now that paid off since I was able to use it to keep my cap and poncho hood battened down over my head. The noise of my poncho hood blatting around was so loud but it did provide some helpful respite from the elements, if I could only hang onto it.
 
By now I could barely stand up in the wind let alone walk or run in it. I knew now my pace was really slowing off. It must be, I was barely moving. At this point it seemed almost funny to think that I had tried to foresee what adversities this race would throw at me and prepare for them. It seemed just so comical that this race had done it again to me and after letting me get so far, it had turned out to be something so bizzarely unexpected as a hurricane that at 140miles into a 152mile race was going to end my day, just like the snow in the Cheviots only 10miles or so from the end of the Spine in 2016 had been so close to doing.  There it had taken us close to 24hours to do what usually takes no more than 10 or so, because of the deep snow and wind.
 
I was cold and wet and thought that I was only going to get colder. Surely I’ve no chance of finishing now. In the UK this race would probably have been stopped by now but as time went by no-one came to collect me. There was no death bus picking up drowned rats so I began to think, what would Rocky do if he had been knocked down – well, he would get back up again. And what would Leonidas have said at Thermopylae if the Persians had told him to lay down his arms and surrender – well, he would have said ‘molon labe’ or ‘come and get them’.  I just had to stop feeling sorry for myself. I kept looking ahead out into the wide open landscape of the mountain road sweeping round. I could see a sparse line of competitors all with their heads tucked down into the wind. I had no option but to just do the same and just try to march into it as strongly as I could. I would not give up.
 
It carried on like that for I know not how long in a seeming alternate reality where time just seemed to stand still, until I was dragged out of my trance with the route turning off the main road. Having to do something else other than trudge into the wind brought me back into the real world and I trotted off down to another CP. A lady ran out of the CP towards me telling me that because of the weather everyone who got to this CP would be allowed a finish, even if it was outside the 36hr limit. I was pleased at that news. I didn’t see the CP time board so I wasn’t sure how long I had but I knew now that one way or another I would finish the run. Would I be happy with a finish outside 36hrs? Well, I told myself I was and that I was never coming back although I’m not sure I would have been 10minutes after I’d finished, but by now my brain was a bit fried and I had no real idea how long I had left or how far I had to go.
 
I carried on anyway, now downhill. Now that I was off the wide open mountain road and going past houses I could see just what the storm had been doing. It was still windy and raining hard but not as exposed, but I could see tree branches across the road, roof tiles all over the road and one house even had the whole of its rendered front sat in a pile on the pavement.  I had only seen stuff like this on the news before.
 
The next CP arrived quickly and I was met by a British support crew. Darren was still there and we jogged off down the road together. I told him I was worried that we might have to finish outside the36hr limit since I had worked out from my watch that we had about 9 miles left to do. Darren assured me however that in fact it was only about 6 and he knew we would do it because he had done this final section before and knew how far it was. It looked like my watch was a bit out. I had put it on the lowest GPS setting so that the battery would last 36hrs and as such, over 140+miles had lost about 3 of them. It wasn’t much over that distance but this far into the race it meant about ¾hr of time. Enough to get there in under 36hrs.
 
stuart10

When I realised that and started to see signs to Sparta which confirmed the distance a huge weight lifted from me. I could have run faster down that last long hill if I’d had to but I knew now that I would make it. As a result I started to take it a little easier and just trogged happily down that final road into the outskirts of Sparta.  We crossed the Evrotas which was swollen, fast, full of debris and very brown and looking more like something Wildebeest would crash through, through an ankle deep puddle on the bridge and whilst being splashed by cars. I didn’t care and just ran through it all like I was on a cross-country race.
 
We passed the final CP on an island, but it had been effectively abandoned and there was nothing there but debris strewn all over the island. It looked like … well I suppose it looked like it had been hit by a hurricane.
 
After that we came into Sparta proper. I knew the route was a bit circuitous but there were no kids on bikes to guide us. Instead the locals were all out on their balconies cheering and waving. I dumped the tatters of my poncho into a skip and turned the final corner. There he was right in the distance, Leonidas, waiting for me.  The last strait is a long one and half way down Darren told me to crack on ahead and ‘milk it’. I was all for waiting for him and running in together but he was insistent that it was my moment. And that moment will live with me forever.
 
Aftermath
So will I do it again? I certainly don’t need to do it again. Had the weather on the Saturday been as favourable as it had been to me on the Friday then I reckon I could have retained or even built on my 1¼hr buffer, but this race to has never in the slightest been about time to me. Instead it has been just about survival and just somehow grinding out a finish. Now I’ve done that I really don’t think I could ever replicate the feelings I had on that final stretch into Sparta, or indeed and more to the point I don’t think I would ever want to water down that unique feeling by another finish, maybe a bit easier next time or worse, another failure. I have often thought that I might in fact have become a better runner over my advancing  years for not having finished this race till now, with constant training for a possible race finish as the carrot to keep my ‘Eye of the Tiger’. A finish earlier in my running career might just have allowed me to take up retirement much more easily, and sooner.


So, I think it was probably a one-off rematch. One time in 7 the variables might just be right for me to finish but I’m not sure my knees have it in them or I can stave off old age and inevitable decrepitude long enough for that to all come together again. I am never going to get an autoqualifier so it could be another 3years or more before I get in again even if I did apply.

But that run (ok, run might have a bit of artistic licence here) down that final road to Leonidas was just indescribable, just something otherworldly. It certainly wasn’t the finish I’d had in my minds eye. No adoring crowds drinking beer and lining the roads, cheering me on. No kids on bikes escorting me to the finish, but it was still the best race finish by far that you could ever imagine and I never want to better it. The road to Leonidas has been a very long one, so much more than 152miles but it now has an ending and is not the Greek tragedy I feared it might be.
 
There was I confess, some trouble holding it together as we tramped through puddles below the cheering balconies into Sparta and some dampness of the cheeks not cause d by the rain as I arrived at the statue after Darren had kindly urged me on ahead.  I will treasure the memory forever but my time at the statue was all too brief. The Evrotas water I drank had certainly not been pulled from the river recently but was the sweetest reward, before I was tenderly escorted away. That this was for my feet to be washed would make Louise cringe (my feet, like every ultra runners are not a pretty sight at the best of times let alone after having been immersed in water for 36hrs) and brought me back into the real world, one where I could sit down without feeling guilty and think about life again.
Finally, my thanks to the BST - I never started with a crew, but I felt like I ended with one. To the ISA for organising such a great race and holding it together in such demanding conditions. To Darren for calmly reassuring me at CP72 that we would make it in time and for sharing those last few miles with me. To Mark for all these years believing I could do it but mostly to Louise who, whilst she could never understand why I wanted to keep going back to this race with only a 23%-50% chance of a finish, allowed me to chase and ultimately realise that dream.

Oh, and finally thanks too to Pheidippedes, without whom we would have no such race at all.

Written by Fiona Ashton-Smith - https://theparttimeultrarunner.wordpress.com

The Arc of Attrition (100 miles of technical Cornish coastal path, run in the depths of winter) has often been referred to as one of the toughest Ultras in the UK. Between the weather, terrain, number of hours running in darkness and amount of elevation (not forgetting the sheer length of the race) it really is a monster, with the number of finishers each year reflecting that!

 

After following the Arc (and some particularly brave friends running it) for the last couple of years, I knew that I wanted to attempt it one day, but equally knew (deep down in the back of my mind, of course) that I wasn't ready yet. Thankfully, MudCrew must have been listening in when I wished there was a mini version - for the first time in 2019, they ran the Arc50! 50 miles of the same weather and terrain but covering just the last 50 miles of the Arc course. Who could resist such a tempting offer?

 

The first hurdle was actually getting in to the race. The Arc has always been popular, and sells out incredibly quickly, resulting in a ballot being drawn to see who has gained a place. The same process was used for the Arc50, and on the day of the drawing I was nervously watching the live video with my fingers crossed! As you might have guessed, my name came out of the hat and I celebrated by whizzing around the house and informing Jeremy that we were going to Cornwall in February (where he would have the great honour of crewing for me).

 

Fast forward 6 months and I thought I should really start planning our trip. When I asked Jeremy whether he wanted to camp or find a B&B for the race, he asked 'where is this one again?' Now I definitely ran the whole idea of a Cornish mini-holiday + race trip past him BEFORE entering this time (something I may have forgotten to do with previous races) so when he looked downright appalled at my answer of 'Cornwall!!' I had to remind him that he had agreed to this, many months ago...We settled on camping (the cost making up for the cold) and I booked a pitch at the Eco Park, where both registration and the finish line would be,

 

The next hurdle came on the journey to the race, last Thursday. We'd decided to take an extra day so we could drive down, set up camp in the daylight and then explore a little on the Friday, before the race day of Saturday. The car was packed on Wednesday night (including several last minute additions after seeing the weather forecast) leaving just the dogs and ourselves to bundle in early Thursday. Off we went! A straightforward 5 hour trip...or so we thought.

 

In a bizarre turn of events, the further South we went, the colder it got. Eventually, as we neared Truro, the light flakes of snow that had been appearing turned into a full on blizzard. Big, dry (fantastic) flakes of snow started sticking to everything, until the roads were covered and traffic became a nightmare. Despite having Land Cruiser (Lady Cru) we found ourselves stuck between two roundabouts, both gridlocked. With all 4 of us needing a toilet stop, we ended up parking up and finding a field where the boys could have a good run, and we could find a bush each!

 
 

Our straightforward 5 hour trip took us 10 in total. Thanks to the wonders of social media, I had been altered to the fact that our campsite was flooded and unusable early on, allowing me to book an emergency Airbnb just 10 minutes away from the Eco Park. We still headed to the Park so I could register and get through kit check (meaning I would get a few extra hours sleep on Saturday morning) before finding our B&B and crashing into bed, thoroughly exhausted.

 
 
 

Friday saw us waking up (after a much needed lie in) and heading to the coast for a long (and incredibly windy) walk with the boys. It really was beautiful. The snow had gone and the sun was attempting to show its face! The 100 mile race was due to start at midday, and I'd been keeping an eye of the Facebook page for updates. Unfortunately, a lot of the runners had been caught in even worse traffic than us and had either been forced to withdraw from the race, or were starting after just 2 or 3 hours sleep (serious respect to them - with 30+ hours of running ahead!) I was incredibly thankful I had an extra night to catch up and make sure I had everything organised for the morning.

 

The day came. I was more nervous than I expected as we headed to the Eco Park (where we received our trackers and safety briefing before boarding buses to the start line). I had packed everything I might possibly need (including far more food than I usually take), given Jeremy his crew list (with all the postcodes of our planned checkpoints) plus my crew bag (mostly full of sandwiches and Lucozade) - all that remained was to actually go out there and run 50 miles! While one of my aims for the year is to run a sub 12 hour 50 mile race, I took as much pressure off the Arc50 as possible and knew I'd be happy as long as I finished within the 15.5 hour cut-off. I just wanted my first race of the year in the bag! I bumped into 100 mile runner Owen at the start and was sorry to hear he'd pulled out earlier on, but glad of a familiar face and his wishes of luck.

 

We all piled onto the buses and headed off to the start. I met a lovely fellow runner called Claire and we chatted for the first part of the journey, before both nodding off. When I woke, we were nearly there and the rain had just begun. I pulled on my waterproof, thinking it better to start warm and dry at least! Leaving the buses, we had a short walk up the hill before reaching the start venue - the Minnack Theatre. It was absolutely fantastic! The outdoor theatre has been carved into the cliffside, allowing spectators to enjoy their play with an amazing backdrop of waves. I think we may have to return one summer to see a production!

 
 

I met two more lovely ladies, Zosia and Una, and we chatted away the time until we were asked to descend into the theatre! It was one of the most dramatic race starts I've seen - the music playing was highlighted by a drummer, blue flares were lit (and a number of the 'ArcAngels' wielding them were dancing around the steps) and then at 8.30am, a blaring horn...we were off! Unfortunately we had to head out the way we'd come - and getting up the steps in single file took a little while - but soon enough we were onto the Coastal path - our trail to follow for the next 50 miles.

 
 

The sun had risen and, while the wind was still present, it was nowhere near as strong as the day before. Clear and bright, the views out over the cliff tops were just spectacular, Thankfully the wind, while still present, was nowhere near as strong as the day before and the sun had now risen. The paths were very narrow, making it difficult to pass people so the first couple of miles were spent quite bunched up. I took the time to settle in and get used to the terrain (and also get rid of my waterproof, which I didn't think I was going to need after all). The ground was good underfoot, some patches of mud but nothing too awful. The rockier parts of the trail (and especially the steeper downhills) were causing a lot of runners to take their time so I found the first gap I could and started to pick up my pace - I do love a good descent and found myself feeling incredibly confident picking through the rocks at speed!

 

The first 15 miles really flew by. I tried to keep taking in the views as a I ran, but the number of rocks and steep ascents/descents meant I had to spend a lot of time focussing on not falling flat on my face! On one of the trickier sections, I shared a few words with another lady, who had injured her knee badly in that very place the previous year. Before I knew it, I had reached Cape Cornwall, and had just 3 miles to go until my first meeting point with Jeremy at Pendeen Watch, I was feeling far stronger than expected, and running more of the ups than I usually would! I trotted up the hill to where Jeremy was parked having covered the first section in around 3 hours - right on track. While Jeremy refilled my water bottles for me, I stuffed a sandwich in my face as fast as possible (ignoring Jeremy's protests that I was going to make myself sick). A hug later and I was off onto section 2 - I'd see Jeremy again at St Ives, another 15 miles down the line.

 
 

I kept what felt like a good pace up and soon caught up with small group of runners ahead of me. I quite happily stayed at their pace - knowing if I overtook them at this stage, they would do the same to me several minutes after! I was eating well (a mix of GF brownies and chocolate covered Trek bars every hour) while hiking up the steeper hills and couldn't feel any niggles or impending foot problems so settled into a rhythm and just enjoyed watching the miles tick by.

 

At some stage I overtook the group (this section of the race is remarkably hazy in my memory!) and caught up to the woman a little further ahead (who I later found out was Jen) as we ran towards a mini checkpoint, staffed by some ArcAngels. Not wanting to risk eating something Gluten-y I thanked them but continued on, pulling slightly ahead. As I ran off, I head them tell Jen 'you two are in second and third!'

 

I was dumbstruck. Second?? I actually turned around to and asked Jen if I'd heard that correctly. When she confirmed the information, I declared that I should probably slow down, and she agreed that a podium finish hadn't been her intention - she just wanted to enjoy the technical section ahead (which was her favourite) and then make it through the infamous 'Dunes of Doom' in the daylight. I realised what a good idea this was, and dropping a little behind her, decided to try and stick to a similar pace. We ran along together for a way, before Jen waved me ahead, saying that I was quicker on the ups (something I definitely owe to all the dog walking!) and I pushed on.

 

The technical section Jen had referred to was definitely the best part of the course. Hearing that I was sat in second place had added new life to my legs and I found myself pulling far further ahead than expected. I wasn't intending to pick up speed, I was just maintain a good hiking pace up and letting gravity do the work on the way down! There were a few scrambling sections which broke up the hills nicely, and more sections of mud were starting to appear along the route.

 

This was my first experience of holding a top position during an Ultra and I wasn't quite sure how to react. Part of me wanted to keep pushing as hard as I could to open the gap between Jen and I further, another part of me knew that would result in me blowing up later on. Part of me was dying to find a bush, another part of me wanted to plough on and not risk losing any time! The pressure of potentially holding a podium position felt immense - like I was being hunted down every step of the way. Instead of eating while hiking like usual, I actually ate while running one of the shallower inclines!

 
 
 
 

Coming into the St Ives Checkpoint (at 30 miles) I was still feeling good and running well. As the ArcAngels came to meet me and lead me in, they told me I was still in 2nd and not too far off the leader so I was planning another quick pit stop, with the intention of leaving St Ives before Jen arrived. Unfortunately that didn't quite go to plan...asking the Angels where crew were supposed to park didn't draw up any answers, and I quickly realised I had no idea where Jeremy was. I had no phone signal, and ran out of the checkpoint in a panic (without refilling my water) to try and find some. Luckily, I managed to get hold of Jeremy and re-route him to the station car park, which was right next to the costal path. St Ives is a very tiny place, full of little cobbled streets and narrow entrances, not the best place for a Land Cruiser covered in kit and it took a little while for Jeremy to make it through - by which point I was back in 3rd (for which I take the full blame - with hindsight, I know I should've checked google maps for the best place for Jeremy to meet me, rather than giving him the main checkpoint postcode. Rookie error!) Jeremy grabbed my water bottles and refilled them while I choked down another sandwich and assured him that it was entirely my fault, and really didn't matter. I surprised myself when I realised that I believed it - it really didn't matter. I was still so much further ahead than I had expected, but without the pressure I had been feeling for the last 10 miles or so. I could relax back into my own race, take the time to eat and just get back to enjoying myself. Another hug, and a top up of Trek bars and I set off for section 3 - just 10 miles until the next meeting point this time!

 

Now the next part of the course came as a bit of a shock to me. Continuing along the costal path, I realised I could see what must be Godrevy (the next meeting place) ahead. Godrevy was on the next clifftop, and couldn't have been more than a couple of miles away, as the crow flies. However, to get to Godrevy, I had to run around a bay and through Haynes first. Oh how I hated Haynes. The route around the bay was almost entirely tarmac, and also flat. You might think that was a godsend after all the hills and rocks of the first 30 miles, but it was absolute torture. My knees had taken a good beating speeding down the descents, and tarmac was the last thing they needed, they wanted nice spongey grass! And if there's one thing I hate more than road running, it's flat road running. I grumbled and cursed my way round, slowly losing the will to live and walking far more than necessary through sheer lack of motivation. After what felt like an age, I reached the end and found myself in the first of 3 sets of sand dunes - what bliss!

 

Back in the hills, and on softer terrain, my spirits started to pick up a little. I bumped into another Angel who told me there was only 3 miles to Godrevy, and I dubbed him my favourite person of the day! Trundling on, I hit the Dunes of Doom, and quickly realised why Jen had wanted to reach them in daylight. Twice I took a wrong turn and had to double check my GPS, and the second time, turned around to see Jen heading past. Into 4th I dropped! No matter. I hurried on to catch Jen, and we ran together until emerging from the Dunes. It was during the Dunes that we passed the sweepers of the 100 mile race, and 2 of the amazing runners who had started 50 miles before us. I ended up passing several of them on the final section and was awestruck by each and every one of them - how they had endured so many hours of such tough terrain was hard to imagine.

 

Finally, the Godrevy Car Park appeared and there was Jeremy, waiting with open arms (and another sandwich!) He made sure my red tail light was on, got me my hat and headtorch and refilled my bottles for the final time. Jen had already zoomed on ahead and I allowed myself one moment of disappointment in losing the podium. It didn't last for long - Jeremy was so proud that I was in 4th and I realised I was too.

 

The final section - another 10 miles until the finish line at the Eco Park. It went dark remarkably quickly, and I swapped staring around at the views for stargazing. I was starting to feel my earlier efforts in my legs now. Downhills were jarring my knees, while the ups were taking my breath away and refusing to give it back. I forced myself to keep on eating but my Trek bars had started to taste wrong and I was glad one of my bottles was full of orange Lucozade instead of water. I had reached that point of the race where I no longer cared where or when I finished, I just wanted it to be over (the thought of dropping out with just 5 miles to go actually crossed my mind at one point!) I started talking to myself, repeating the mantra of 'jog the downs, hike the ups, jog the downs, hike the ups.'

 

It really was the longest 10 miles I've ever run. Angels appeared out of the dark to point me in the right direction and give helpful hints - I was so glad to see them each time, as it meant I was going in the right direction! A few more sections of road went by in a blur, before the final section of coastal path and the 'double dips' an Angel had told me to enjoy (cue derisive snort). They hurt. They were some of the steepest on course, steps descending deeper and deeper into the valley, before winding their way back up again...twice! But soon they were behind me, and I headed down the final section of road to Porthtowan, catching up with the two guys ahead of me on the descent. One more Angel on the corner led us to the last footpath - half a mile of what looked like sheer cliffside. Apparently if we went up it, the Eco Park was at the top...Grumbling and swearing, the three of us set off, our way lit by green glowsticks. We summited into a dark field and wandered our way towards the sounds of life ahead. One more corner, and there it was - the finish banner. 'We should really jog, shouldn't we?' I asked, and that was it.

 
 
 

I have never been so relived to see a finish line before. And I think that shows in the photo (right, where I believe I've just caught sight of Jeremy waiting for me) I pretty much fell over the line into his arms, before remembering that I was meant to get my medal and apologising to Jane, who was waiting to present one to me! I think I said a few words to her about what a beast of a course they had created, but again my memory is pretty fuzzy! I was ushered through to take some finish photos in front of the Arc banner, before heading inside to congratulate Jen for her fantastic finish.

 

Thanking the Angels at the finish, I removed my tracker and wandered back to the car, where I think I burbled something like ' I came 4th! 4th!' to Jeremy. Wrapped in a duvet, I stuffed several more brownies into my face on the way back to our B&B, where I was forced to shower, before collapsing into bed.

 
 

In the end, I finished the Arc50 in 12 hours and 32 minutes, as 4th lady and 24th overall. I am absolutely thrilled to bits - I wasn't expecting to do anywhere near as well or to be able to push myself as hard as I did on the day. I did discover that I was just 5 minutes away from what would have been my first podium finish (a little vexing) but instead of being disappointed, I'm more excited for what the rest of the year's racing will bring! I know exactly where I lost the time, and know it was more mental and motivational than physical (though I don't know whether that will be easier or harder to fix!)

 

A huge thank you must be said to MudCrew for organising such a fantastic event, and running it seamlessly (alongside another enormous event to boot!) It really is amazing, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a challenge. Thank you to all the ArcAngels and Volunteers who gave up their time to look after us on the route, the photographers for providing some excellent images and Omega Medics, for being there should we need them (thankfully I didn't!)

 

Thank you to Jeremy - my super crew. I wouldn't have been able to run the event without him supporting me (before, during, and after the event, through the training, and the doubting and the panicking). It was his first time crewing me through an entire race, but he knew exactly what I would need, before I needed it and exactly what to say. He didn't complain once during our 10 hour journey there (though has requested future races stay a little closer to home!) or even when I dragged him to 3 different bakeries in search of a Gluten Free Cornish Pasty on Sunday morning (yes, we did find one!)

 

And finally, thank you all for reading (if you made it this far!) Until next time... X

Written by Steve West - https://theparttimeultrarunner.wordpress.com

Last year I failed to complete this race. (Arc of Attrition – DNF 9th Feb 2018).

I was gutted! I had trained hard for 6 months, doing big mileage weeks and I felt good. However the Arc is no normal race, not even a normal 100 miler. Mudcrew designed this race to be hard, really hard! Its about more than distance and elevation. There are just 4 CP’s along the route rougly 20 miles apart. 20 miles is 4 hours right? Not on this course, the distance between the CP’s can take 7/8 hours + to cover. Its really technical in places and rarely simple to make forward progress.

Last year I got to Zennor point before DNF’ing but this year I knew I had to do something different to ensure history didn’t repeat itself. The arc is a race that having previous experience of is a huge benefit. I learnt so much about the route, the kit, the mental approach necessary to succeed and I made sure this year that all of that was part of my thinking in preparing to take my revenge.

Training: After falling short in 2018 I knew physically I was capable but mentally I wasn’t there. So I knew I had a difficult 100 finish in me. Within a few weeks of getting back from Cornwall I had signed up for a nasty 100 around the Brecon Beacons – SW100 which you can read about here (SW100. Is it over already…?.).

I finished and finished strongly which gave me huge confidence about moving for 30hours + and mentally staying in the game. Cornwall was going to be totally opposite conditions but I knew what to expect and could plan for it.

As for SW100, I concentrated on hill work and strength for my Arc training. I did a few 60 mile plus weeks but mostly hovered around 35 miles a week with a number of hill repeat sessions thrown in. Including regularly using my long run (only once over 15 miles) to be via a hill repeat. I think 23 repeats was the most I did, managing 13.1 miles and 2500ft or and another 8 miler with 3000ft.

I always run too much in my usual 3 week taper so picking up a cold and being busy in work was worrying me, but perhaps was a blessing in disguise and I only ran twice a week totalling 12 miles during each of the 3 weeks prior to race day. I actually hadn’t run for over a week come the start.

Kit:
After a glorious Friday, last years Arc was really wet on the Saturday. I made mistakes with not changing to dry kit especially at Lands End where I had my drop bag, but I knew my waterproof wasn’t strong enough to cope with those conditions properly again. I also knew my head torch could no longer hold decent power for more than a few hours. Both needed a visit from Santa and he obliged.

I went for a heavier jacket, knowing I would likely not take it off and so the ability to pack it small wasn’t necessary. A Montane Ultra Tour – it wasn’t cheap at £220 but I managed to find one at Go Outdoors for a bargain of £112! I was so impressed with it. It allowed me to regulate my heat in a variety of ways and when I got cold, hood up, zip up and just breath into the jacket for a few minutes and I was warm again.
I went for a Silva Ultra Trail Runner 4 on the head-torch front. It was so light compared to my LED Lensor. Being the Ultra it has a rechargeable pack as well as the ability to take aaa batteries. I had the LED Lensor as my second torch and 3 spare sets of batteries. The main pack lasted from just outside Porthleven CP (430pm ish) until the Minack Theatre (2am ish) – so 9.5hours. It didn’t run out but I was paranoid about it dying in the middle of nowhere so I changed the batteries anyway. The aaa’s lasted me from 2am to dawn and then 5pm until 1030pm when I finished – so again around 10 hours. It is so lightweight and has the red flashing light you can wear on the band – perfect. I cant recommend it enough.

Travelling to Cornwall:
Let be clear I got stuck in some snow. It was annoying. It was not however, anything close to what others went through.

arc6

I left Cardiff at 11am and hit heavy snow on Bodmin Moor around 2pm. However it hadn’t settled properly at that time. When I got close to Perranporth, the traffic slowed and eventually stopped, with nothing moving for an hour. I had been watching cars turning around and heading down a back road. After some investigating on google maps and the sat nav, I thought I’d give it a go. 20 mins later I was greeted with blue sky, bright sunshine and a full rainbow. I arrived at the Eco Park at 330pm basically before anyone else, except Jane Stephens from Mudcrew. I offered to help out but everything was in hand. It was then we started to realise the chaos unfolding back up the a30. There were people who hadn’t moved from north of Truro for the last few hours.

I was due to meet up with my Friday night Arc 2018 buddy, Harry Macalinden and go for dinner at the Victory Inn. Harry eventually arrived around 2am so I definitely made the right decision to head to Hayle and my hotel room, for a shower, food and a warm bed. I say my hotel room but I was crashing with another friend (Paul Wootten) who was also stranded, luckily in his camper van with gas stove, bed, etc.. By now people were facing the prospect of spending a cold night in cars/vans on the a30 and getting little to no sleep prior to a huge race like this. I was lucky, really lucky.

The roads back to the Eco Park the following morning were OK if a little icy in places.

The race itself:
Last year we had a bag-piper. This year was drummers. Coverack was as gorgeous as I remember, the sun had come out and things looked good. I was really hoping that the -10 degrees with windchill over night wouldn’t come true, but I was prepared and ready for it if it did.

arc10

12pm on the dot through the smoking flares we ran. Some faster than others. I forgot how bottle necked the first mile or so gets and whilst I was far from the back this year, there was still some natural stoppages in places. Its hard to remember in the moment, that those 30 second delays are meaningless and probably a good thing, ensuring you don’t go off too quickly and letting the heart rate increase slowly.

On the Tuesday night I had made a lovely ground Almond, Blueberry and Banana loaf. I had some with me and more in my drop bag. 5 miles in and I thought it was time for a snack. You forget that you have breakfast around 7am, then the race starts at lunchtime, when you are hungry, so its best to eat on the coach and shortly after the start. I had some of my cake and it was difficult to eat, but eat it I did. 10 mins later and I felt like crap. For the next 30 mins I was looking for somewhere to drop out! ‘I haven’t trained enough’. ‘My taper was too extreme’. ‘I cant do this, this is the easy bit’. This was as bad I could have imagined after just 6/7 miles. Then I threw up, 10 mins later I threw up again. 10 mins later I felt good. Another 10 mins later and I was feeling really good. Note to self throw away all my cake in Portleven!

I had chosen my Hoka Speedgoat 2’s as a leaving present from work back in September, with this race in mind. I now know how narrow they are, but at this stage the blisters hadn’t arrived, although I was sliding around all over the place. I went down 4 times in this section. Frustrating and worrying for later but no damage done apart from some muddy waterproof trousers and gloves.

arc2

I rolled into Porthleven and was met but one of the valets who made my day by saying I looked strong as some people had come in hobbling up the hill to the CP. I ordered 2 portions of beans and cheese on toast, knowing this worked for me last year. Last year however, I just didn’t eat enough of it. Bottles sorted, cake disposed of and ready to go.

The next section is Porthleven to Penzance. You know on paper its only 15 miles or so, so that sounds really simple and a good place to get ahead of the cut offs a bit more. I recall I guy laughing about how he planned to do it in less than 3 hours and he would be well ahead of cut offs. I asked and sure enough it was his first time on the SWCP. I gently warned him to lower his expectations in terms of the time for this.

Despite not being the most difficult section of the course, it wasn’t going to make for easy and fast running. The more I was running the more and more of the course I was recognising from the previous year. I knew that somewhere up ahead was a 90 degree left hand turn and that I missed it last year. Sure enough whilst chatting to someone I nearly missed it again, but spotted it just a few metres behind me. The rest of the section into Penzance is fairly steady going, albeit you never get into a great rhythm and being 35 miles in its far from quick progress.

My feet were starting to hurt now and it would have been lovely to have had a support crew and swap shoes for my Clifton 4’s on the long drag into Penzance. You can see Penzance off in the distance from a long way out and it teases you with how close it looks. You want to run, but its difficult, 40 miles in and 60 to go you know that if you do push too hard you will pay for it later. I adopted a tactic I’ve used many times on long straight drags, run/walk – this time 2 mins run and 1 min walk. I was catching the couple in front me despite them running it all, I didn’t manage to catch them as I got into the CP but I was happy with my progress.

I was looking forward to beans on toast with cheese again so I was fairly disappointed that it wasn’t on the menu this time. Don’t get me wrong there was lots of food available but I know the wet beans and carbs of the bread go down nicely. I was able to get a few portions of soup, 3 cups of tea and a bit of fruit. I also had my feet looked at for the first time. It wasn’t too bad, just one blister forming on the little toe on the left foot. One of the Omega Medics did a brilliant job on taping it up and I hoped that would be the last of the foot issues. Oh how wrong I was. I didn’t have any other shoes with me or in my drop bag and with no crew, I knew I had to make do to the end.

I kept seeing Harry Macalinden at CP’s. Harry and I ran through the night on the Friday last year, from I cant recall where, to just after Lands End where unfortunately Harry’s race ended shortly after in Sennan Cove. He was looking strong though this year and being ahead of me, and confident that I would get through, I hoped Harry and I would both make it this year. (Unfortunately he didnt make St Ives in time, but he’ll be back and he will get that buckle next year!)

I sorted out some kit, had a change of base layer – a mistake I made last year in not doing so which ultimately got me cold and wanting it all to be over. Time for the off.

There is just as long a road section out of Penzance as there is going in, although more undulating as you head to Mousehole and I was making steady but good progress along the lit promenade and then the roads into Mousehole. One vivid memory about last years race was looking up at the stars as I went through Mousehole. I did the same again and whilst it was a cloudier night, there were still more stars out than I ever get to see back home.

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I don’t recall much until I arrived in the region of Porthcurno. It is strange that you can constantly hear the ocean crashing the rocks around this section but its so dark you just cant tell how close you are and how extreme the cliff edge is. Shortly after Porthcurno you start heading towards the Minack Theatre. I so wish I could go during the day one year and see it in something other than pictures and videos from the start of this years 50 and the other Mudcrew race, Tempest. I remember the climb to Minack last year and how horrible it was but somehow this year I overshot the turn. I could see head torches off to my left but for some reason I was following road signs. Somehow I had ended up on the road to the car park and I just hoped beyond hope that I would get through OK. I remembered the car park so I was fairly confident I wouldn’t end up having to double back on myself. I didn’t and I came out on the opposite end of the car park. I was in a bad way here. I was worrying about my head torch which had had a good 9 hours of burn so far and being a new one, I didn’t know from experience how long it would last. I needed water, food and a change of top again. Not having a crew I asked someone elses if they minded if I sat in their car for 5 mins but they told me the Medic was here and so I made my way to them and jumped in their car.

I was at my lowest point so far here. I quickly got another top on and tried to get warm. The medic filled my bottles for me, I ate and drank and changed the batteries in my torch. I couldn’t get them working though. I had taped the three aaa batteries together so I could just pop them straight in without faffing around with each individual battery, a brilliant tip I read on a Nici Griffin FB post recently. But every time I shut the battery enclosure it stopped working, it was driving me mad. I was shaking as well, a lot. I couldn’t stop shaking. I started to think the medic was getting worried and might think I wasn’t ok. I was, thankfully he knew this too. We had been having a normal conversation and he explained it was likely just the adrenaline of my urgency to get to the car park. He kindly sorted out my batteries by splitting them out from the tape I had put them in, and it worked fine. I decided to put all my gloves on, 3 pairs, merino liners, Sealskikz and Trespass mitts just to make sure I warmed up as quickly as possible.

I had spent 20 mins in the car and this was far too long. I was ok on the cuts offs but I didn’t have a lot to spare and I needed to make good progress again. After giving much appreciation to the medic, who promised to look me up in Lands End, and he did, I left and it was then I spotted a friend, Geoff Partridge in his support crews van. Geoff is a great runner, a 4 time arc racer and multiple Comrades finisher, in both directions! Geoff has a gold buckle from previous years, but has been trying to run through a long standing hip injury, which unfortunately was affecting his race this year too. We stuck together from here and decided that the company through the night to Lands End and beyond would be helpful, both from a sanity perspective, passing the time perspective, but also the all important navigation.

Those that have run the race will know that about 1 mile before you get to the Lands End CP, there is a building on the corner of a path before you drop down the hill side and head up again to the CP. I made a huge mistake here last year and had to drag myself and Harry through thick gorse whilst we spotted head torches pulling away whilst on walking, as a result of being on the right path. To my horror and embarrassment, as I was the one navigating off my Fenix 3, I had done it again. You know the right thing to do is re-trace your steps and find the path, but of course that’s the one thing you never do, and we didn’t. It was very slow going and Geoff’s niggles were making it trickier for him too. We lost maybe 10 minutes here but finally were relived to be back on the path and a short walk into the CP. I was looking forward to this, my drop bag. It was huge, lots of food, both for the CP and my race vest for the last half of the race. Also a MSR water filter.

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I dropped last year at Zennor point as I ran out of water and knowing there were limited places to steal water off kind support crews, I had the water filter, borrowed from a friend, to take water from the streams. There was bound to be plenty with all the snow fall on the hill sides.

This year the Lands End CP was in the hotel rather than the Ice Cream parlour. There was so much space it was great, as last year it all felt a bit crowded and manic. I asked for my drop bag but went to find it myself as they were all laid out nice and easy to find. Except mine. Mine wasn’t there! They’ve lost my drop bag! “Mmm Hi, I cant find my drop bag?” Their faces! They were panicking. There must have been 5 of them hunting for my drop bag, including the medic who helped me out at the Minack.

I was trying to eat and not panic too much, ‘they’ll find it’. I got my feet sorted out, which were showing further signs of deterioration. After 10 minutes, one of the angels approached me and built up the courage to tell me that it was in Porthtowan. In short, it was my fault. I had left my drop bag with the finishers bags at the Eco Park. My heart sank. I recall thinking, assuming, that the pile of bags by the tracker fitting, were the drop bags and so put mine with them. I didn’t check with anyone and this was the result. I was panicking now – a lot! Kit, food and mainly water. The angels were great, they managed to find me 2 x 500ml water bottles, the kind you get with a meal deal at M&S or Boots. I borrowed a pair of socks of Geoff, and a couple of gels/food bars.

Harry had arrived, I rambled out my news and asked on the off chance if him or his friend had a spare base layer they weren’t going to need. To my amazement and absolute relief, they did. I was reluctant to take it as I knew that spare kit is a runners safety net in this race, especially on the next section to Zennor and St Ives, but Harry insisted. Life saver!! Somehow though, I had lost one of my Raidlight 750ml water bottles. I was worried about water, didn’t have the filter I was relying on, but then lost one of my water bottles. This was madness. There is no way it could have bounced out of my pack, it wasn’t on the table, rolling around on the floor and the angels have confirmed since that it wasn’t found when the CP was closed down. It remains a mystery! I still needed more water though. I ended up carrying a 1.5l squash bottle full of water on the side mesh pockets of my Salomon pack. I was now carrying 3.25 litres of water and whilst I could feel the weight, I was much happier with this than going lighter and worrying about what lay ahead and a repeat of last year.

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Geoff and I left Lands End together, still confident that we would make sufficient progress to make the next cut off, a new and challenging one at Pendeen Watch. Geoff and I came up to one of his good friends (Laura Millward), whose house he was staying at in Cornwall and he wanted to stay with her, so I pushed on hoping to make good time.

I ran like the wind last year through Sennan Cove, so much so I inadvertently dropped Harry and then felt guilty about it for the next 24 hours. Progress this time was slower but I was slightly ahead of time compared to last year and better prepared for what lay ahead. The first part of this section isn’t too bad, but then you head towards Lamorna Cove. Things get knarly here for a while. Lots of technical and slow moving terrain, some big stones to get through, lots of mud, small brooks/streams, more mud and narrow tracks, still in the dark. There are lots of opportunities to loose your footing and go down. It seemed to last for ever but I made it through without going down and was relieved to be heading to Cape Cornwall, somewhere I remember from last year being really exposed if the weather wasn’t good and funnily enough this is where the hail storms started.

As I said earlier I had bought a Montane Ultra Tour and it didn’t half do what I wanted it too. It was awesome in the weather. I pulled my hood up and tight, zipped up, had my mitts on over my sealskinz and aside from the noise of the hail on my jacket and head, it didn’t bother me at all.

I headed down to Cape Cornwall with a group of 3 guys who I managed to trot past as the hail came down again, sideways. Ive read several people refer to these as being the size of marbles coming horizontally into your face. Personally, I think that’s entirely accurate. There were 5 hailstorms, (I think) in total over the next few hours, but this one was a fairly big shock. Support crews were running for cover as I entered the cap park hoping to find someone to help.

There arent many support crew access points between Lands End and St Ives, so there was a good number of crews at Cape Cornwall. I was very conscious of water, despite still having a lot with me, but also a lack of food. I cant remember what, but I needed to get something out of by dry bag in my race vest and so despite the hail coming down, I found a guy who looked like he might be willing to help me and asked if I could jump in his van for a few minutes to sort some kit out. He rushed around me like a pit stop and helped me sort out whatever it was I was doing and offered me some bits of food, again I cant recall what. He was waiting for his runner to come through (Sarah Whittaker) and was relaxed about her progress until I asked if they were confident she would make the cut off and Pendeen Watch. They were shocked, they thought the next cut off was St Ives. I got out the map/cut off guide and showed them. They were surprised but still confident she would make it through. I found out today from Carl Champion (who was the guy who helped me and her support crew) that Sarah did make it to Pendeen, but unfortunately when she got to St Ives she was feeling the full affects of this brutal race and her slight illness prior to the race was in full effect and she called it a day at St Ives.

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Whilst I was relived to have made Pendeen and navigated my way through the mines section, especially given the hail storms, I knew the worst was still ahead of me. The dreaded technical and remote section up to Zennor point, the scene of last years failure! I had met up with Harry again around here and was partially conscious of trying to stay with him and his mate, but at the same time I had my race to run and being concerned about the cut offs I kept to my own pace and after a short while and a few looks back, I had started to drop Harry and was out on my own again. I was over taken by two guys who were moving a lot quicker than me around here and I remember being very jealous of their speed over such difficult terrain.

Every turn and rise felt familiar and I was adamant that those horrid steps and the metal handrail up to Zennor point were just around the corner, every time I was disappointed. It went on for another 2 hours like this, I’m close now, but it never came. Then I could see the drop down and the steps up the other side, there was a crew at the top waiting for someone. This felt great. I took the steps up steadily not to push too hard with excitement and batter my legs unnecessarily.

I chatted briefly to the two guys here and they gave me some coke and dried mango – which I didn’t expect to be nice but was amazing. Must remember that for next time. They explained that there were 7 more miles to St Ives but I had over 3 hours to do it, no problem they said. I knew this was true but at the same time I didn’t want to hang about, I knew I could take advantage of a longer stop in St Ives if I got there quicker and needing to eat well, I made this a mission to give myself nearly an hour at the CP.

The path becomes less demanding from here to St Ives but I was aware of the standing stones section that I had heard so much about but never seen. I was dreading this bit, but when I got there I kept looking past it trying to see how far they stretched on for. I was relived to see that it literally was just what you could see and then it was done. I chose not to bring my poles with me due to this section and now I was really regretting that decision, knowing that any help my arms could have given my legs at the end would have been great.

I caught a number of runners on the flat drag into St Ives and I got chatting to a guy about how we were feeling. I explained about my drop bag and asked if he had a crew, which he did. In my state of desperation and knowing that my feet were going to be in a bad way when I got the medics to tape me up, and knowing I didn’t have any dry socks, I cheekily asked if he had any spares. I was beyond grateful when he said he would check with his crew but he thought he did. Next thing I know his Dad is running off into the distance to their car and ran back to me and handed me a pair of socks! Awesome. I promised to find them at the CP and get their address but the runner later refused and said to keep them as a memento of the race. If your reading this, thank you! My feet were an absolute mess but without those clean and dry socks they would have been even worse at the end.

I recall the St Ives CP from last year but only being dropped off at the door by Andy James’ support crew after they rescued me from Zennor. The streets are lovely but it all looked the same and so I thought the CP was just round the corner. So much so one guy asked me how far it was, or so I thought, so I said “30 seconds”. He actually asked me how long we had to get there, so for a moment he went into sheer panic and started running, before I realised I must have mis-heard him. 2 mins later and we were in.

It is generally accepted that bar any major issues, get out of St Ives on time and you can walk it in. Here I was, 45 minutes up on cut off, time to sort my feet out, eat, mentally reset and get out without being rushed.

I relaxed a little, chatted to a few people including Paul Maskell who was going to be sweeping the route. Ate, got taped up, a lot, by the medics and started to get my bits together. A few of us were all heading out within a few minutes of each other now, just 5 minutes ahead of CP closure time at 2:20pm. One of these people was asking around if anyone wanted company. This was massively appealing. I genuinely believe that one of the reasons I DNF last years Arc was due to spending so much time on my own and not having any company/distraction during those long hours between Lands End and Zennor. I jumped at the chance to walk with someone.

Carl and I got chatting and within 20 minutes I realised I knew of this guy from Cockbain events. I was somewhat confused though why, given his running CV, he was at the back with me. All became apparent. He had finished the Winter Viking Way 7 days before, running 152 miles one weekend then doing the Arc the next! The guy was a machine. So experienced and I had the huge benefit of his company to mentally help get me through the final stages of this epic race.

We walked the entire 23 miles. We chatted a lot but at the same time there was a lot of silence. So much so I felt guilty at times as Carl was moving like he was walking to the shops whereas my gait was terrible, I had pains in the balls of my feet from trench foot on both feet, horrible pains around my heels on both feet so any hills, but specifically steps down were agony. It hurt when I kicked stones, had uneven ground, which lets face it there is a lot of, but the steps were the worst. I was on my hands and knees at times easing myself down. Through the whole thing, Carl was incredible. He knew we had time on our side and he wasn’t worried about our pace, he was just happy to stay together and keep moving forward.

I was moving quickly (for a walk) through Hayle and prior to the Dunes of Doom on the tarmac but everything else on this section was slow progress. From just outside St Ives we also joined up with Wiebke Lammers, a Dutch lady who knew the area and the Mudcrew team really well. We chatted the miles away through the afternoon and started to talk about the Dunes. We quickly realised that she has recce’d the dunes a few times recently and we agreed that we would stick together and basically follow her through the best route on the dunes. She was confident we would make it through in daylight. This confused me, how bloody long are these dunes. 4 miles! Bloody hell! I hate sand, this wasn’t what I was hoping for. However we walked it all, and even picked up another 2 guys so 5 of us were following this amazing women like sheep through the dunes. She was faultless with every step!

We were all conscious of getting to Godrevy before the cut off but we knew we had time to spare. The 5 of us came through the dunes and all immediately heaped praise on her. The other 3 had crews and so they met up with them at Godrevy. Carl and I were unsupported but given the time we had spent together over the last few hours, we didn’t want to push on without the others. We stood around for maybe 10 minutes but I was getting cold so I suggested to Carl we push on slowly and let them catch us up. Carl kept turning round for the first few miles waiting and expecting the others to catch us but they never did.

I was hating this now. My feet were screaming at me every step. The ground was becoming really stony and uneven and every few minutes I was swearing and screaming. I wasn’t doing much talking now either. I was really feeling the lack of food I had with me. It turns out I had some Clif bars and a Chia flapjack on me but didn’t realise! Carl, as he had for the last 5 hours already, kept just in front or just behind me, putting no pressure on me to move any faster.

I cant recall one mile from the next on this final stretch before arriving in Porthtowan but I do recall all the 50 runners coming past us, more and more regularly as the hours went by. Every single one of them was asking how we were and saying how brutal they were finding the 50 and how they couldn’t comprehend doing the 100. This was a lovely feeling but I just couldn’t use it to move any faster, but we were still good for time, I thought. We were, but those seeds of doubt started to sneak into my mind, and I checked a few times with Carl if we were still OK for time as I was conscious that a mile was now taking around 25 mins and this was surely eating into the buffer. I recall at one point the ETA on my Fenix 3 saying 9:05pm and thinking this is great, but a while later it was saying 10:15, 10:20. I wasn’t panicking exactly but I was getting worried.

It was a huge relief to get that horrible double dip done as I was on my hands at times easing myself down, praying for the road hill up to the eco park. We dropped down off the hill side and down to the bus stop where there were loads of people waiting and cheering us and the 50 runners through. Surely we are close now. I turned off the navigation on my watch to save battery but as a result I had no idea how far we had left. The steep hill up from the bus stop went on forever and then a Mudcrew angel told us we had to turn off the road. What, this hill isn’t the hill? As you all will now know, it wasn’t and we still had a good mile or so to go. We continued at our steady pace, now knowing for sure this was done but personally I was still dreading this horrid hill that Ferg went on about. Up ahead we spotted the next Mudcrew Angel and knew this was it. Over the wooden bridge and up the hill. My god what a hill. The glow sticks lit the way but it was steeper than anything on the previous 105 miles of the course. Talk about sting in the tail. We plodded on, letting a few 50 runners through and eventually it flattened off and the top was in sight. Into the field and there in front of us was the blue inflatable finish. Carl tried to convince me to run but I was having none of it.

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DONE. I couldn’t believe it. I had beaten the Arc of Attrition. This one had been so long in the making that I thought I might cry like I did when I finished my first 100 over 2 years ago. However, much like when I finished SW100 in June last year, I was just relieved and tired. Within seconds Geoff Partridge who I ran to and from Lands End with was there to see me over the line. He called it a day at Pendeen knowing he wasn’t going to make St Ives in time.

I was given my buckle and a hug from Jane and we got our finishers photos taken. I decided to pull a silly face in one of the shots and obviously that wasn’t a stupid thing to do.

There is more of a story about the next 24 hours, but really that revolves around the horrific state of my feet at the end, the medics telling me not to burst the blood blisters until it was clean and sterile, me having to put the same shoes back on to go to the van, sleeping briefly, driving to Carl’s hotel room, hobbling to the hotel room which was the furthest distance from the lift, sleeping on a bed with no sheets/duvet using my down jacket and a towel to keep me warm.

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I bought Carl breakfast the next morning as a thank you for letting me crash in his hotel room. We both ordered a huge cooked breakfast but we both enjoyed the granola, fruit and milk the most. It was wet and tasty in a way that none of the food over the last 40 hours had been.

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The hotel breakfast room was full of Arc runners in various states of abandon, but most with the shared tiredness that can only come from having spent 40+ hours of being awake and maybe 5 hours of sleep. No wonder then I had to pull over on Bodmin moor and have another sleep in the van. This time minus the snow!

11 days on, my feet have almost recovered. Ive been on a course of antibiotics for a toe nail and potentially cellulites. I ran to work this morning. It was OK but I wouldn’t have been able to push any pace. The run home was much harder work though and a clear sign that Im not yet fully recovered. How Stephen Cousins was able to jump on a treadmill the next day and run is beyond me.

Ive already bought some new trail shoes and if anyone wants to buy a pair of Speedgoat 2’s (UK 10.5) then let me know. 

I always said that I was never going to go back to the Arc, irrespective of whether I got my buckle this year or not. But within, 48 hours, I was already thinking 34:32 in that pain, in the wrong shoes, without my poles, I reckon I could do sub 30 if it all went well. Funny how quickly we forget the pain!

What did I learn from the Arc 2019?
– Quality training is better than quantity. I did lots of hills and gym work, rather than lots of high mileage weeks.
– The course is brutal and having a crew is massively helpful – so many people have said they didn’t think they would have finished if it had not been for their crew.
– The right kit it essential. I made this mistake in 2018 and paid for it. I was more organised with layers, gloves, changing socks this year.
– A quality jacket in these conditions was my best purchase of kit – ever! I know the conditions were brutal at times, but I genuinely wasn’t bothered by the weather once. Hail nor the wind. If I got cold I zipped up, hood up, breathed out it my jacket and was warm again within a minute.
– I can cope with the unexpected. Not having my drop bag at Lands End could have been a game changer, but thanks to remaining positive, the kindness of friends but also strangers, I was able to keep positive and get the job done.

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Next up for me is a very different challenge. 60 hours on a 1.1 mile loop at Enduroman in May. Turns out Carl has the course record of 202 miles! Small world!

Well done everyone who took part in the Arc 2019. To those of you that made it, congratulations – I know how good it feels to have got it done.

To those who fell short this year, you will be back, you will have learnt loads from this years experience and you will beat the Arc. I was lucky I only had to come back once, but Im sure we have all read about the guy who after 5 attempts has finally beaten the Arc.

Until next year!

Written by David Caulfield - https://davidcaulfield5.wixsite.com

The Most Beautiful Running Race You've Never Heard Of

The Lavaredo Ultra Trail is an ultra marathon staged in the Dolomites covering a distance of 120 kilometres, 5,800+ metres of ascent and a maximum time to finish of 30 hours. It starts on a June Friday at 11pm from the centre of the Italian town of Cortina (home of the 1956 Winter Olympics). The route passes through what is arguably the most sublime mountain scenery the Alps have to offer.

In 2018 there were 1,608 starters, 1,188 finished.

 
 

Race Preparation

A leg operation at the start of the year meant only 100 miles of running in January and February. I did a further 500 miles in the remaining lead up time to Lavaredo, not enough.

 
 

I flew over to Italy on the Thursday (Ryanair, Treviso), collected my car and drove for two hours before arriving to my hotel in San Vito di Cadore a town 9km from Cortina. I collected my race number on the Friday morning and bought a couple of things at the expo and local outdoor shop (great variety and value for money). When I arrived back to San Vito di Cadore I fell foul of the local restaurants’ mid-afternoon closure hours. There was nowhere to eat so instead I picked up a few comestibles in the local supermarket, which was sufficient. I tried to sleep for a couple of hours but it was in vain; resting and moving as little as possible was still of benefit though.

 
 

I should point out that in the weeks approaching the race I experienced a persistent fatigue that sowed seeds of doubt as to whether I could even make the start line. It was no different on race day with my heart rate about 15 beats above normal and breathlessness. The altitude may have been a factor. I was also undertrained, didn’t have enough uphill work done and was well above ideal racing weight. In my mind to not run would have been crazy so instead I decided I would start and if necessary drop out early on. Considering all of this I reckoned it would take me about 26 to 27 hours to get around the 120km.

 
 

Cortina to CP1 Federavecchia, 33km (20.63m), 1,560m of climb, cutoff 5:30am

At 9:30pm I drove to Cortina, parked my rental in a free carpark, dropped my bag at the ice rink and made my way to the start. It was a warm night and so I was wearing a short-sleeved top that attracted a lot of stares. Clearly people thought I was underdressed, most other competitors had their jackets on. I decided they must know more than me so I layered up. People come from all over the world to take part in this race; Japan, Hong kong, China, Australia, U.S, Canada, Brazil, Finland, Poland, Germany, Ireland, GB, Italy etc., etc.

 
 

The start of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail is legendary with the famous Ennio Morricone track “The Ecstasy of Gold” playing just before the off. I waited at the back (rather by accident than design) thus resigning myself to the fact that it would mean getting stuck in the early bottlenecks in the course. The send off was one of my most memorable with the streets of Cortina thronged with well wishers cheering heartily. It didn’t take long before we’d left the town behind, started climbing and shortly after that hit the first and only real bottleneck which stopped our progress for a minute or so. The early kilometres/ miles were predominantly through forest along fire tracks; there were sections in the forest along single person tracks that made passing difficult.

 

So early on in the race it is easy to be daunted by the task ahead, so many kilometres, how can this be possible, it’s going to take so long, I surely can’t last. I banished these thoughts to the bottom of my mind. This first night was always going to be hard; mostly uphill, early doubt not yet conquered and darkness obscuring the amazing mountain views that help so much to encourage.

What struck me through these early kilometres was the numbers of people with trail poles that didn’t know how to use them; they would have been better off without. Also, there were many couples and groups of friends that would walk/ run abreast along the course, poles akimbo making it difficult for others to pass. And then there were the people who would check their watch whilst simultaneously flailing their poles dangerously, often stabbing people running alongside. Fuppin eejits the lot of them!

 
 

There was a feed station (Ospitale) 20km into this section offering a selection of food that would become familiar (and repetitive) over the duration of the race. Nuts, dried fruit, apricot biscuit cake, cheese, bananas, orange and lemon segments, thin pasta and cheese soup, white bread with olive oil and tomatoes, pasta with cheese, water, coca cola, iced tea and fruit cordial.

For almost all of the first night I was never very far from other runners and in fact for much of this time I didn’t need my head torch such was the ambient glow giving off by my fellow runners’ lights. As a result I didn’t have to change battery until very late on the second night! I arrived at the first cutoff Federavecchia at 4:30am, one hour under the time limit where I refilled my water, drank and ate a selection of the offerings and moved on glad to get away from the chaos of the feeding frenzy. 1,500m+ of climb in this first section (underfoot conditions were mostly untechnical), 4,300m left and 87km to go!

Federavecchia to CP2 Rifugio Auronzo, 15.5km (9.69m), 990m climb, cutoff 10:30am

 
 

The night had felt long and it had been very cold even with my jacket, gloves and fleece buff so I was glad when the sun rose bringing its warmth. I had stomach cramps the first 7 hours so at the side of Misurina Lake I sat down for a quick breather and took some chrystalised ginger and Deflatine. The ginger is disgusting stuff but it worked! With my stomach feeling better, the night over and a rising confidence that I should be able to finish my spirits were suddenly sky high. Without realizing it I had let a doubt hang over me in the approaching weeks as to whether I could complete this race and it was only now that I was shaking it off.

 
 

Long after leaving Misurina Lake we climbed to arrive at Rifugio Auronzo (located behind the famous Tre Cime di Lavaredo); this was familiar territory for me having been here in 2008 on a walking holiday and again in 2014. I arrived at 8:22am, just over two hours under the cutoff. The CP was in a big tent and it was here that I discovered the restorative powers of the pasta and cheese soup. I

 
 
 

hung around for way too long stripping off my cold gear and applying suntan lotion (factor 50 did the trick). The sun was well up now revealing a beautifully clear day with excellent visibility; the Dolomites were laid out all around me in their jagged and jaw droppingly stunning glory. 1,000m of climb done in this section (conditions underfoot were again mostly untechnical), 3,300m left and 71km to go!

 

Auronzo to CP3 Cimabanche, 15.5km (11m), 495 climb, cutoff 1:30pm

 
 

A short time out from Rifugio Auronzo are the iconic Tre Cime di Lavaredo which demand a stop to be admired. These are the most identifiable and photographed of all of the Dolomites and appear in the Lavaredo Ultra Trail race logo. I dallied awhile taking a few selfies before moving on. The highest point of 2,500m was passed through at this time. As I started the 1,200m descent from the Tre Cime I was feeling great, it was lovely in the early morning sun, not too hot, just perfect, and I was approaching the half way mark, 60km/ 36.5m.

 
 

The first half had taken me approximately ten hours, it would take me eighteen hours to complete the second!!! As I arrived at the Cimabanche CP at 11:40am (almost 3 hours under the cutoff of 1:30pm) I could see drop bags containing a kit change for those that decided this was a good idea. I had toyed with the idea the day before but decided I wouldn’t bother. With no means to shower before putting on clean gear, the use of valuable time to change and having two sets of smelly kit in my case going home I decided not to bother. I’m sure it would have felt great for a while but I didn’t dwell on my decision. Despite no gear change I spent at least twenty minutes in this CP, too long. 500m of climb on this section (underfoot conditions, the downhill was twisty and trippy), 2,800m left and 55km to go!

 
 

Cimabanche to CP4 Malga Ra Stua, 9.3km (5.81m), 605m climb, cutoff 3:30pm

 
 

We passed through more incredible scenery in this section and again I stopped to take photographs and video, each time falling further behind and eating significantly into my cushion of spare time. There were runners on the course now visibly struggling. I offered to help one guy that was wobbling quite badly but he had had enough and was quitting. The runners were very spread out by now and so at times it was easy to feel like you were on your own. It was hot too requiring careful attention to hydration; I took salt tablets as a precaution. I arrived at Malga Ra Stua at 2:48pm just fifty minutes under the cutoff; I had dallied way too much over the last 6 miles, I would need to be more careful. This CP had the full range of food including slices of bread with olive oil and tomato. I ate lots of that and more of the pasta soup. 600m of climb on this section, (conditions underfoot were mostly untechnical), 2,200m left and 46km to go!

 
 

Malga Ra Stua to CP5 Rif Col Gallina, 19.6km (12.25m), 1,210m climb, cutoff 9:30pm

 
 

On this section of the course I passed by a small ski hut called Malga Travenanzes (1,986m). I stopped here to gather myself and see if there was any food on offer. It was a weird little place in that it was marked as point on the course but offered virtually nothing in sustenance. I took the opportunity to layer up as it was beginning to get cold again. Around me were broken competitors lying spread-eagled on the ground. I realized at this stage that I had gotten my nutrition badly wrong and that I was now running on empty with a long distance to go to the next CP with food. The thoughts of eating a gel did not appeal which is a weakness in my mindset. I had some Tailwind with me so I took a couple of mouthfuls of that, yuck. The uphills were now a pure battle requiring me to stop often but the flats and downhills were a welcome chance to recover.

 
 

The two climbs before the next CP were a low point, a real struggle. The last few hundred metres before the CP was downhill and ahead of me a guy had a spectacular fall, spectacular because he came to no harm whatsoever. As he stumbled he somehow managed to outrun the fall enough that when he did actually go down it was reasonably gentle. I congratulated him on avoiding injury, and for the entertainment. I would meet this same guy a couple of miles later stumbling again, asleep on his feet. My arrival in Rifugio Col Gallina was at 8:07pm, one hour and twenty minutes under the cutoff. 1,200m of climb on this section, (plenty of technical stretches), just 1,000m and 26km left!!

 
 
 

Rifugio Col Gallina to CP6 Passo Giau, 7.5km (4.69m), 570m climb, cutoff 0:00am

 
 

Whilst I was sitting eating at Col Gallina I noticed a text from Ryanair; I had forgotten to check in for my flight the next day, they were going to charge me €55 if I didn’t do it now. With just enough signal I avoided the charge but used up a valuable ten minutes doing so. Food or no food I was really a spent force at this stage and so it was hard heading out again. I noticed around me a good number of runners quitting; a hard decision when you have done almost 100km! At the pace we remainers were going, the reality was another 4-5 hours before the finish line so for some this was too much. Messages of encouragement meant so much at this stage (thanks Miriam) as was my determination to get one of the finisher’s gilets! I was climbing again and ahead of me were three Italians. They stopped to let me pass and I said a couple of words of encouragement, however they had decided to quit and there was nothing I could say to change their minds.

 
 

With my brain very tired I was struggling to make sense of how far I was from the next cut off and felt that there was a real danger I could miss it. I have to say that I was in no way disappointed that I had taken so long to get this far. On the contrary, in my opinion I had maximized the time I had to enjoy the amazing surroundings. Also, the fact that I was now running a little short of time added a frission of excitement to the proceedings, could I make the next cutoff or not? I was knackered but I was enjoying myself. It was almost dark again and the stars were once more emerging. It’s a hell of a landscape to witness sunrise and sunset, a highlight of the race.

 
 

I was familiar with this part of the course having covered it in 2014 during the shorter Cortina Trail; nevertheless I couldn’t remember exactly the sequence of the climbs. My mind kept going over the possibilities and on more than one occasion I had to tell my brain to shut up you’re driving me mad! I was making reasonable time passing other “runners” and soon I was upon a guy that was swaying quite badly (the faller from earlier). He was almost asleep on his feet and in front of me stumbled and nearly fell. He then sat down saying it was time to have a sleep. I appealed to him not to take too long or he would miss the next cut off but he didn’t respond.

Each climb now was met with a sense of dread; if I went too fast I would feel weak and have to stop. The solution was to take very small steps whilst using the poles as an additional two limbs to push me forward. It was slow going but meant not having to stop so often. The downhills were not much faster as my quads were screaming in pain; I could have taken pain killers but decided not to. I had enough time to make it to the end and I didn’t want to mask pain and risk doing damage to my legs. What was great at this point were the flat sections, the only sections that didn’t cause me any pain. Sadly there weren’t enough of these.

 
 

Across the course there were race organisers with a scanning device used to record your current position, at Rifugio Averau at 9:53pm whilst being scanned I was told it was 20km to the end with 3km of that to the Passo Giau CP with its cut off of midnight. This 3km took me almost an hour (very uneven going) and I still couldn’t visualize where the CP was so my anxiety over potentially missing the midnight cut continued. I needn’t have worried; I made Passo Giau with over an hour to spare (10:46pm). I was relieved; barring a bad fall there shouldn’t be anything preventing me from finishing now. The last person in the list of retirements/ timed out eliminations made it to this CP at nine minutes past midnight, just nine minutes too late! How cruel to have gone that far and to fail by such a slim margin. I had approximately 6 hours to descend 1,000 metres and return to Cortina.

 
 

Passo Giau to the finish in Cortina, 20.7km (12.94m), 380m climb, cutoff 5:00am

The only sustenance I imbibed at Passo Giau was a cup of coca cola; I was utterly sick of the food that was on offer (a failing on my part as I probably needed the calories). In the dark, beyond the very obvious course markers it was still possible to see where I had to go by virtue of the head lamps of runners rendered as tiny specks of light ahead of me slowly going up the second last climb. I remember this one from 2014 when I had gone up it in daylight and in much better shape. This time my progress was tortuous as it was for my fellow competitors immediately in front and behind me. I employed the same small steps technique but still had to stop every so often. For a short while I kept company with a guy from Hong Kong who was also using the small steps technique. However in addition to stopping he would also sit for a minute or so before pressing on again. I decided to try this and so began a series of passing one another over and over again, one of us sitting the other plodding up. I think he was in some sort of shock as he kept saying “this is crazy”. It’s on sections like these that I realized, I may not be super super fit but I do possess an indomitable determination to keep on going. This is I think a very common characteristic of the back of the pack ultra marathoner. The “keep putting one foot in front of the other I’m never giving up” mindset.

 
 

I now know for a fact that physically I could most definitely have gone faster but subconsciously the mind held me back. The reason for this was simple; the fear of being robbed of the finish so near to the end. Thus trippable terrain was gingerly navigated, steep slippery slopes were descended carefully and my trail poles were utilized every step of the way. If it were a short race that I hadn’t prepared so long for or invested so much time in I would have been throwing caution to the wind and taking many chances of falling.

At last I now knew the sequence of climbs ahead and I was looking up at the FINAL ONE!!! Hooray!! In my physically shagged state it looked hard but it wasn’t actually that bad, a couple of hundred metres below was the last CP. I passed a large hand written sign that said “Only 10 kms to Go!!” and my reaction was WTF!!! This race was 120kms/ 75 miles long, if there were another 10kms to go that would mean I would do a total of 124kms/ 77miles!!! Aaaargh, this was not fair, I want to stop moving and go to bed……please, why have they made it longer?!?? Keep going Dave, keep going.

I’d hoped there would be beer in the last CP, there was the last time, but, there…… there was….no…b-beer, sob, not fair, feckin mean bastard organisers! And so it was bloody coca cola again; I threw a cup back and looked at my watch, 1:15am! Bloody hell, I hadn’t planned to be still up at this time and there was still another two hours before I could stop. It was now that the never give up part of my brain stepped in to establish order and trounce out the feeling sorry for myself thoughts. DRY UP YE BIG BABY, KNUCKLE DOWN AND GET IT DONE! I raised myself up, pointed myself in the right direction and started again to move.

 
 

10kms or 6ish miles to go; if I could maintain a 10 minute mile pace I was looking at just one more hour. Ha! What a laugh, no chance of such a pace. The route ahead was through a forest containing a treacherously dangerous path, very steep and very slippy, a recipe for a fall. I was glancing at my watch to monitor pace, 45 minute mile!!! FFS! I have to go faster! The pace was quickened, ETA 3am approx.

This forest went on forever, pitch black, foggy, deserted and endless, I was really spooked by it (I could be murdered here and no one would know). I'd been awake over 40 hours at that point so was clearly losing my reason. It was then that I saw the outline of another person ahead of me. I caught up and spoke to him. Disturbingly he had the look and calmness of a serial killer and when he spoke he did so in the kind of soothing tone Hannibal Lector uses just before he murders his victim! In my weakened mental capacity I freaked out, turned and sprinted down the hill through the forest not stopping for 3 minutes and every few seconds looking back to see if he was following. Of course.....he wasn't. The guy must have thought I was a complete nut!

 
 

After so many painfully slow miles it was a huge relief when the forest finally ended and I was back out to the streets of Cortina. The finish was I’m afraid a total anticlimax with almost everyone gone to bed. There was just the photographer at the end looking on. I didn’t care, I’d done it and I was happy. A couple of photos and then I got it…my North Face finishers gilet!

 
 

I finished at 3:20am one hour and 40 minutes under the cutoff. There was no feeling of euphoria at finishing, I was of course delighted to have made it to the end but to take 28 hours and sixteen minutes was very slow. I couldn’t complain too much though considering my lack of training and the decision to stop to photograph and video. If I really went for it, prepared properly and only stopped at the CPs to eat I reckon I could knock three or more hours off of my time.

I walked back to the ice rink to collect my bag and get my free beer and food. I then spent half an hour wandering the streets of the town looking for the carpark where I'd left my car! D’oh.

It was 5am before I got back to my hotel room where I packed my suitcase, showered and then slept for a solid three hours before driving back to the airport and my flight home.

 
 

Race Stats

  • 1,608 started, 1,188 finishers, 420 DNFs (26%, 72 female, 348 male).

  • 17 Irish started with 7 finishing. The first of these was Paddy O’ Leary in 13 hours 20 minutes, 6th place overall

  • I came first in my age category of M49 years and 359 days old.

  • The winner finished in 12 hours and 16 minutes.

  • The weather was ideal, cold on the Friday night, clear and sunny day on the Saturday with great visibility and not too hot.

  • This is a superbly organized race with nothing left to chance. The course marking is faultless and you are never truly alone with race stewarts in evidence across the route.

Race Tips

  • Don’t embark on this race without trail poles and make sure you know how to use them.

  • Salt tablets are worth bringing (IMO) although it is impossible to say whether it was them or some other factor that prevented me cramping.

  • Take the time to enjoy the route because nobody really cares what time you finish in and you’ve paid a lot of money to be here.

  • Take photos and make sure you’re in them.

  • Probably stating the obvious here, carry a portable charger. I carried two, one small one that I was able to stuff underneath my buff on my wrist whilst it charged my Garmin (model 630 can be charged whilst recording activity). The other to keep my phone and GoPro alive.

  • Don’t forget to practice your smile for the event photographers spread across the course. These guys know their stuff and are located at places where you will have a jaw dropping background behind you. They charge a very reasonable €29.99 for all photos taken of you; make sure your number is visible; this will save you having to trawl through multiple pages of unidentified runner photos. I prefer photos of me without my sunglasses on.

  • Carry chrystalised ginger and Deflatine for stomach issues.

  • Try to keep eating (I struggle with this one), the salty items on offer are good for giving the palate a break from sickly gels. I monitored the amount of coca cola I drank as I have found that too much raises acidity in the stomach to the point of causing gastric issues.

  • Keep an eye on the weather in the days before the event and make your kit decisions accordingly. I was very glad I carried decent gloves and hat on the cold Friday night.

  • I’m not going to advise on carrying gels (I’m just another recreational runner with only my own experience to draw on). All I will say is do whatever works for you and know that they are not provided at the CPs.

  • Try to build up your sleep in the week approaching the event and remember that whilst you may not sleep much in the hours before, lying still with the eyes closed is still of benefit.

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