Written by Traviss Willcox - http://www.traviss.co.uk
Yellowstone 100 done! 11th buckle earned... Fantastic even, very very scenic, running down the edge of Yellowstone National Park and then towards the Teton Mountains. Very pleased to finish in 24:26, my second best 100 mile time, a sub 24 would have been nice but the cold (was down to -13C and the water froze in my water bottle at one stage!) and the altitude (was almost all over 6000') didn't leave much air in the lungs for an awful long time towards the end when the light went out and the fun and games start.
Legs were utterly dead after Bear 100 and half expected to have a 1 mile DNF as my entire movement in the last week was about a 20 metre trot before running out of puff and giving up! Surprisingly though all was well at the start so sped off and rather surprised to find myself 3rd after a mile and nobody seemed to be catch me up as normal. Even more surprised after 10 miles and then 20 miles still to be third... it didn't last of course, but nice whilst it did.
As I had no idea really how my legs would be, I didn't really have a plan, so instead of measuring miles, I decided to run to the end of a mountain. Turned out to be a shade over 30 miles, so did 50k in a shade over 5 hours and then things started going wrong as things do at these. "Stomach" issues hit me in the 30s which slowed me right down, and then the legs basically died a horrible "Bear Death". Was no big deal through 50 miles but then as it got colder again I just could do anything up any kind of ascent on trashed quads, hamstrings, knees, ankles, feet, abductors, seriously every part of my legs were killing me. So just forced march to the finish really.
To be honest was quite impressed with myself, I'd wondered if I could do back to back 100s... turns out I can, and reasonably well, not great, but after a mile was never not going to finish.
HUGE THANK YOU to Rachel for crewing/pacing duties, made the job so much more straightforward. Dinner on me!
Yellowstone 100 was one of those events that the first time I saw it I thought, “yes, I want to do that one.” Some 100s have an instant appeal, some grow on you and happen to fit in to schedules and others you schedule around and this was one such. Prior to Berlin Wall 100 this had been an “A” target to get a sub 24:00 finish at a 100 but after Berlin that waned somewhat and then Bear 100 came back on the scene and Yellowstone 100 then became the opportunity to test out if it were possible to do 100 milers on back to back weekends.
The original plan had been to spend a couple of days in Yellowstone before the event but sadly the US Government shut down rather thwarted that as the park was closed which was rather a disappointment to say the least. On the plus side that did give me a couple of very easy days to rest up and recover from Bear but would much rather have been in the National Park!
The weather was another concern as the forecast was pretty grim with a snow storm on the horizon and the worst forecast had 10 inches of snow at the start! I had visions of the race being called off or having a 100 mile wade through snow but whilst the drive to West Yellowstone was a bit hairy in places overall the snow was just up at altitude and nowhere near as bad as forecast. Mind you where we just had been got a serious dumping, Deadwood had 48” of snow and had we been a day later in travel plans then don't think we'd have gotten anywhere!
We were staying in the hotel where the race briefing was so that was all easy and had a nice chat with a couple of chaps Rob and Tom doing their first 100s so that was nice and before I knew it, was toe taping time again! The feet were in remarkably good shape following Bear and had decided this was going to be a Hoka run… but with Rachel crewing me and having access basically at almost any point on the course would always be easy to change my mind if needs be.
Whilst the snow had mostly kept away, the cold was very evident, the race start temperature was about -11C/-12C which is COLD! And whilst I was standing at the start line and totally committed to the event, I did have at the back of my mind “would my legs work?” as I had run maybe 10 yards since Bear and half expected for them to be deader than dead things and simply be unable to run and quite possible to be having a 1 mile DNF! (Which was where the hotel was!)
Whilst only a small field for the 100 (there is a 50 and relay as well), 43 were entered, there were some serious runners, several winners of Badwater, Oswaldo Lopez (who won Graveyard 100 in a very quick time), Connie Gardner (149 miles in 24 hr former US record holder) etc.
0600 and we're off and I'm sharing the lead for the first couple of 100 yards and make puffing noises cunningly disguised as conversation with Oswaldo for a little while until even I realised that I couldn't live with his pace for long and settled into a kind of 8:45 pace which was what felt comfortable, well as comfortable as I am ever going to be at 7000' and it being -11C! The first couple of miles were around the streets of West Yellowstone (the route never actually goes in to the Park which on the one hand is unfortunate as would be a great place to run, on the other hand it meant there was a race!)… I didn't bother putting on my headtorch as was light enough with the street lighting and was rather surprised after about a mile when I glaced around to find there was nobody in sight! There were two ahead of me, growing distant so knew I was on the right track, was just slightly puzzled as to where everyone else was!
So anyway, music on, head down and off I trotted. The route goes down Highway 20 for about 37 miles before turning off on the Mesa Falls Scenic Highway. Having driven this the day before I knew it was a decent gradual downhill for maybe 6/7 miles before the only really serious climb on the route.
Sometimes you have those kind of epiphany moments. As the lights came on I could see the sun rise on a snow capped mountain off to the right and got one of those “this is what I want to be doing” feelings… and up until this point I really didn't have much of a pacing strategy as simply had no idea how my legs would be. So I simply decided to run to the end of the mountain. Had no idea how far away that was, looked about 2 miles, so reckoned it would be more like 20! (Turned out to be about 30ish). Had a look around in the far distance could see some head torches so had a decent “lead” in 3 rd place so off I went.
Wasn't until mile 10 that Connie Gardner caught me and we had a bit of a chat for a mile or two, saw Rachel for the first time (there are 8 aid stations, but with Rachel crewing was basically intending to be supplied by her) briefly (my aid station/crew stopping discipline was excellent throughout, I think aside from 30 second type pauses at aid stations and two stops to change clothes I was moving along) and then overtook Connie again as she stopped to chat to the RD Lisa (who was like a bit of a mobile aid station the first couple of hours or so) and off I pounded again down the hill after the climb (which I'd walked a fair bit of) and wasn't to see her again until mile 20 or so. AS1 at mile 15 was notable for having frozen drinks and in fact frozen everything!
Was lovely just running along, it started to warm up a bit (to maybe even 0C!), sun was out, blue skies, bit of fluffy white cloud, fantastic views of mountains, trees, big scenery… AS2 came and went. 50k came and went in about 5:05.
By about mile 33 I was beginning to feel pretty “stomachy” for want of a better phrase, and was hoping to hold on to AS3 (at 37) as hopeful of being a toilet, but things were getting worse and in typical style the trees had all ended and on a flat plain! But it wasn't going to wait but a bit of a ditch saved any embarrassment… that felt better but had rather knocked the stuffing out of me and the pace and energy levels had fallen off rather badly.
So anyway I pushed along and the traffic (which was incredibly considerate throughout) which had been building up all morning dropped off somewhat when we turned left on to the Mesa Falls Scenic Byway and turned towards the Tetons which was to be the backdrop for the rest of daylight.
So having run to the end of the mountain I had to have a new plan of something, so as luck would have it I'd noticed that 20 miles came in 3 hours ish, 40 miles in 7 hours ish. So if I could do the next 20 in 5 hours, that would be 12 hours for 60, which would give me another 12 hours for a sub 24, which I'd be delighted with. By other vague plan was 50 miles in under 10 hours, again then gives 14 hours to get home for a sub 24.
I met Rob about mile 47 or so and we went along to mile 50 and AS4 together having a nice chat (I'd seen his wife Amy who was crewing a few times, and in fact lots of crew folk offered help numerous times which was always welcome, was always good, but nice to know everyone looking out for everyone else). Got to mile 50 in about 9:30 so was pleased with that, though the legs were really beginning to struggle now, I'd had assorted grumbles and groans from them, but now they were seriously beginning to protest. On the plus side my feet felt reasonable but I tried to bend down at one point to just scratch an itch and was I stiff or what!! But the sun was out, the views were brilliant, what's not to like, ok, aside from being 50 miles from home.
The courses wasn't “quite” what I expected, the first 50 miles was all above 6000' and even the second half barely dipped below and looking at the course profile it kind of looked like a nice gradual downhill to 50 miles then a nice gradual uphill for the second 50. Was more up and down than I thought and on any kind of incline I was really struggling with breathing, and on any kind of decline, my quads were screaming at me. There were some lovely downhills that seemed utterly criminal to be walking down, but just physically could not run down them as every pace (even in Hokas) jolted a big bolt of expletives through my quads. So that apparently is what mashed quads feel like!
But I could jog a bit on the flats still and my discipline was good. I was always forced marching and I don't think at any point was a I just dawdling along and on many miles I would just try to move quickly enough to say get under a 15:00 minute mile as you don't need to run that much to do that.
I just missed the 60 mile pace point, 12:07, and was really rather beginning to struggle by now, AS 5/6/7/8 were basically at miles 60/70/80/90 so was an easy mental leap to just go AS to AS but 40 miles is still an awful long way when you're done in a bit. So off I plodded… the Tetons were a lovely sight as the lights went out, all shades of pastels blues and pinks and things, and the lights went out, the night gear went on, the temperature falls and the demons come out to play.
But my goal was just 20 miles in 6 hours, so nothing too much, you'd think. But it was a struggle, the miles went by slower and slower, by 70 I'd caught up with a chap called Ray after a long gravelly bit of road that seemed to go on forever and was hard going after the lovely tarmac, was probably only 5 miles or so, but was tough. I'd see Ray again a couple of times as we leapfrogged each other a bit for a while and he commented on how lonely it was and very true. I'd not seen other runners now for hours at a stretch, I'd hazard a guess that over the miles maybe a dozen had gone past me but was maybe 4 or 5 since I'd seen another soul!
Onwards and upwards (literally as was back over 6000'!) the miles drifted by, the poor chaps at AS7 (mile 80) looked rather frozen to say the least and probably was good for Ray that they had no heating as he was cold and fear had he sat down to warm up he may never have gotten going again… but he soon caught me up (I was maintaining the no messing about at Aid Station rule) and was gone as I went ever slower gazing up at the brilliantly bright stars that you find out in the middle of nowhere on clear night like this.
I think from about mile 80 I kind of lost my way a bit (mentally, no way you could get lost on this route, turns were very well marked indeed), its still a long way and its hard to relate to thinking, mmm… at this pace that's 7 hours, for 20 miles! Was getting tired, feet were getting really quite sore (though not blistered sore) legs were somewhere dreaming of sitting down. But along I went and this really is where having a helpful crew is really very helpful indeed! Rachel for the last 15 miles or so would park the car up two or three miles, and walk back to meet me, and then we'd walk along till we reached the car, she'd drive off, walk back, repeat.
This had several advantages as gave me some company, broke up the endless miles into little blocks and then also gave me a preview of what was coming up as Rachel knew. It is however amazing how far you can see at night up in the clear air. A junction that looks about 400 yards away ends up being more like 2500 yards away and so on… but eventually the final AS came along, and for a moment I stood in front of the heater. But was good… and went back out in to the cold!
It was this point that I knew I couldn't be bothered to suffer enough to get a sub 24. I certainly could have pushed myself harder, I just didn't want to enough. I am sure had there been a sub 24 hour buckle I would have done it. But 8 miles to go, and just didn't want to push… some more gravel type roads and Driggs (which I think could be seen from as far as 15 miles out) finally hoved into view properly. I could see a couple of folk ahead of me in the distance, and for no reason at all I decided I'd try and catch them up. Which took about 3 miles! Had a brief word with a girl called Breanna and her pacer, she was struggling and going pretty slowly and I was pleased to be able to even jog a bit again after giving up in the mid 80s.
Rachel found me rather sooner than she thought she might as I'd made good progress for a few miles whilst she parked at the finish, head for the traffic lights and then we were there! 24:28:30 – 15th place in end. Had a real nice chat with the RD Lisa Smith-Batchen (who I had no real idea who she was, and turns out she is a very well known American ultra runner, 10x Badwater Finisher (twice first girl home), first girl at MdS, run 50 milers in all 50 states, raised over $1m for charity etc etc).
Had a bit of a sit down and munch on some nibbles in her shop and had a chat to a few other folk, Ray was there and then shortly joined by Breanna. Job done!
Really was a great event, made by the scenery of course, and although it was all on roads, you were out in the wilds for 99% of the time and the “towns” you went through (aside from West Yellowstone) were tiny hamlets really until you reached Driggs. I was really very pleased with how it all went. Whilst I'd done two flat hundreds with a weekend's break in-between this was a whole step up to do another 100 which although on a decent surface and didn't have much in the way of hills (although my legs disagree with that statement!) was still at some reasonable altitude, and still 100 miles and there are no easy 100 milers. Feet were in a bashed state, sore but not blistered especially, legs are dead beyond belief, but recovery seems to be happening very quickly. I'm writing this 2 days afterwards and walking is certainly back to normal already, running however - now that might be a different thing!
Things I Learnt
- I could do a real decent run after a tough 100. Maybe another 100 was a stretch, but I got it done OK.
- Somewhere I changed measuring distances in miles and started measuring them in mountains
- Crew/pacers very, very helpful in the end game.
- 100 miles can be done in Hokas without having shredded feet.
Written by James Elson - http://www.centurionrunning.com
The Grand Union Canal Race is one of the longer standing 'classic' British Ultras. The Race Organiser, Dick Kearn, isn't just a pillar of the ultrarunning community, he is the foundation of it. Many runners don't realise how often they have been helped by him, either directly or indirectly, in their ultrarunning lives. He sits on the committee of the TRA and has worked selflessly to try and better the sport for all of us, especially through the late 90s and early 00s when the sport was much smaller and enjoying less success than current boom times. He organises the Compton Downland Challenge (40), the Thames Ring 250 and the GUCR but helps every year along with his wife Jan, at Caesars Camp, SDW100, NDW100, TP100, Winter 100 and countless other trail events across the country. Dick has been extremely generous with his help for our events and I really wanted to run his pride and joy, the Grand Union Canal Race, to see how it really should be done.
The GUCR began in 1993, with 20 odd runners and 5 finishers, Dick himself winning it that year. After a short hiatus the race returned in 1997 and has been held annually since. For a long time it was the longest non-stop ultra in the UK at 145 miles, only recently being surpassed by a few others of note. Much like any classic ultra, those who have run it talk so fondly of the organisation, route, camaraderie and the event as a whole, that it's hard not to let the seed of one day running it yourself, start to creep in after a while.
I've had a busy year to date, personally, with time for a 100, an Ironman and a dozen or so marathons and ultras since the start of 2013, and thankfully to this point everything had gone to plan. Although a busy schedule i'd only really 'raced' twice, at the trail 100 Rocky Raccoon in Texas and the London marathon. I admit that there were times during March and April when our own Centurion calendar started to get busy, that I thought I wasn't doing GUCR justice in my training, but bit by bit the excitement started to build and I decided to plunge in with both feet. This is the only way to tackle an event of this nature. You are either in all of the way, or not at all. You can't fake 100, let alone 145 miles and I was definitely all in.
In terms of a report of the race, I could sum it up quite quickly by saying it went to plan. I came away winning the event in a time of 29 hours and 10 minutes, bang on schedule and without any major issues to talk of. I absolutely loved the whole experience and was more emotional at the finish line than perhaps I have been for any other event in the past which says a lot about what it meant to me. If you want to go in to the realms of the super long, it's really not necessary to look any further. Everything you've read or heard about this event is right on, it's just an all round heart warming experience. For those of you who enjoy detals of suffering, pain, mile splits, racing tactics etc, you may want to read on, otherwise well done for getting this far.
The race begins at Gas Street Basin in Birmingham at 6am on Saturday and travels 145 miles down the British Waterways network of canals all the way to Little Venice in London, a stones throw from Paddington Station. If you plot it on the map it just looks like an epic point to point journey run right from the start, and it is.
My planning going in was good. Not exemplary, but good. I had chosen the supported route so I had got a crew together to see me through the journey. I had worked out a nutrition plan. I had decided on gear, shoes, timings for the crew and all of the other little details you need to cover off to minimise issues on race day. And I had devised a pacing plan that I felt happy with. I'd talked at length to Debbie Martin Consani, the 2012 overall winner of the event, about her plan and she had kindly forwarded on her logistical prep and other details that saved me hours of pouring over maps etc. I can't thank her enough for being kind enough to share that information. I had two pacing plans, a fast and a slow. My time for 100 miles at Rocky Racoon in Feb was 17:32. I knew from my splits there that I could expect a roughly 9 hour 100km, 13:30 80 mile and a potential big slow down from then on if I couldn't eat properly. I felt that a 4mph average for the last 45 miles was do-able but would be much harder than it sounded, because with short breaks for food and high levels of leg/ foot pain it would be hard to keep enough running in there to balance out a walking pace. Rightly or wrongly I told my crew that my intention was to win the race. My fast plan was 27hrs30 and my slow plan was 30hrs30. I had no idea who else would be a contender, other than Craig Stewart who is a phenomenal athlete. I knew that if he had a good day I wouldn't be able to hang with him, and I was more than prepared for that. But I went in with total faith in my ability to churn out a sub 30 hr time and knew that something not too much faster than that would put me in the mix. The final confidence boost I took going in, was having the experience of Badwater behind me. The total disintegration of my race from 17 miles in to the 135 there, the cripplingly slow death march to the finish and the unprecedented pain and suffering of that event stood me up. I knew that however bad it got on the canal, it wasn't going to get close to that and therefore I knew I could put the distance out of my mind, and run my own race. Not worrying about the collosal mileage saved me a ton of mental energy and stress. It was going to be me, my crew and what I love doing the most, running long and relaxed.
Dad and I left home the morning of the race for the 90 minute drive to the start. When I hopped out of the car I was met with a sea of friendly faces, too many to mention. I had a couple of 'what are you up to today' type questions, before people found out I was actually running for once rather than helping or organising.
At 5:55am we wandered down to the canalside and Dick gave us a short brief on the day. 6am dead and we were off. I didn't want to get pushed along too fast at the beginning but I also just wanted to stay in the front and control my pace, so I settled in alongside Kevin Mcmillan and we chatted the first 11 miles away to CP1. Our pace average was 8:50 per mile, it felt chronically slow and I knew that there would be some behind who simply wouldn't be able to resist picking it up. Sure enough Craig popped out around 500 yards from the CP and pushed straight through without stopping building himself a 30 second lead. I stopped and changed bottle and food, said hello to the all time legend, GUCR champ and CR holder Paddy Robbins and pushed on now in 4th. Over the course of the nest 12 miles to Hatton Locks, Craig stopped a lot, met his crew, others came and went moving too fast and then slowing down and so on and so forth. The race shook itself out a bit and as I ran down through the CP at mile 22, Craig was 4 or 5 minutes ahead and the rest of the field were behind me. I felt relaxed and comfortable as I soaked up the abuse from Henk (Caesars Camp RD) as I barrelled through the CP.
Mile 22, photo courtesy of Rachel Smith
At mile 28 the next meeting point, I made a critical error. I came in to meet my dad and delved in to the food box, with my old racing chum Richard Webster told me not to race Craig, there were so many familiar faces around I got distracted and left without any food. I started to blow really quickly and struggled to maintain my consistent 9 min miling. The heat was just starting to get up a little and I cursed my stupidity. I had to stop for a bathroom break here and watched as Cliff Canavan King came past looking very strong on a rare uphill section. As time wore on, I got lower and lower and as we hit the exit off the canal at Braunston, I was in trouble. My first guardian angel appeared at that moment in the form of Drew and Claire. They'd come out to see me early on before they took over crewing properly at mile 65 and armed me with a handful of crisps, a gel and some coke. Within 5 minutes I was back on track and feeling spectacular after 15 very low miles. When I got to mile 45 I was flying. I grabbed handfuls of food and made my way out of the meeting point at a good clip which I maintained all the way until I hit the 53 mile CP. Just as I came in there, I passed Cliff who looked to be in trouble, walking in to the CP. I tapped him on the shoulder meaning it as a 'hang in there buddy good job' but I later got told it looked like a racing tactic as I didn't pause for breath going through that CP high fiving one of the boys as I ran hard straight through.
Mile 45 Photo Courtesy of Paul Navesey:
2 miles later I met my wife Lisa and my Mum who were down to crew 35 to 65 for me and they told me Craig was just a couple of minutes ahead and walking. I still felt incredible and couldn't hide my enthusiasm very well as I rushed picking up food and went straight on out. 10 minutes later I passed Craig and he had unfortunately pulled his quad, struggling to walk well I urged him to try and walk it off at least and puill it around. He sounded like he thought that could happen, I really didn't want to see his race end early but I also wanted to make the most of feeling that good so I pressed on. At mile 60 Gayton Junction I had quite the local crowd of Northampton spectators and my first full sight of the overnight crew: Robbie Britton, Paul Navesey, Graham Shircore, Drew Sheffield and Claire Shelley all there to cheer me on. What a crew this was: 4 GUCR finishes, 1 win, and every one of them an experienced 100 mile runner. I felt good, they said I looked good, I was in the lead and running strong, things couldn't be going any better at that point.
I was maybe 30 mintues down on tip top schedule but what else could I hope for! 5 miles later after the long drag up the road alongside Blisworth tunnel and I was at the canal museum mile 65, picking up my first pacer, Robbie.
Largely ignorning my pacing schedule to this point I started to concentrate on times from this point on. I had wanted to hit 65 in 10 hrs and was a bit perturbed to see that I had done it in around 10:25. The next section I broke up in to 5 mile blocks, where my crew met me, swapped in a bottle and some food, sometimes swapping in a pacer and keeping the overall pace high, running everything with the exception of 1 x 50 pace walking break every 2 -3 miles in order to shake my legs out. Doing that makes a huge difference to the efficiency of your running stride and saves you minutes after a few miles. Time ticked by fast as we rolled through the CPs at 72, 84 and on to mile 90 all with plenty of daylight still to play with. The one disappointment here was my increasingly regular toilet breaks. I didn't ask for splits to the guys and girls behind at any point, but I knew my toilet stops were costing me too much time and boy did I whinge about it.
As we got to mile 95 we switch on our Petzl headlamps and after a short stint of running with Drew, we rolled in to the CP at mile 99.8 with about 17:35 on the clock. I was now on plan still feeling great and without any other major issues.
At this point my crew took over in what I can only describe as one of those 'going above and beyond' type moments. I was getting cold and decided to go for the long tights here, but the one chair id packed wasn't around so rather than sit down I began to strip naked from the waist down in order to change. What transpired though was a wobbling mess of a runner, so Rob grabbed me from under my arms, Paul undid my laces, and two of the others changed my tights and shorts for me. Remembering it now it felt like I was being fed at the same time just to save precious seconds, but whatever the case it A. must have been horrendous for them B. was totally unexpected and C. worked like a dream! Within two minutes of being in, I was out on the trail running towards mile 105 with my new pacer Stu Blofeld.
With a stomach going rapidly south, more and more items from my food box were dropping off of the preverbial menu. First went the cheese, then the scotch eggs, then the sausages and crisps until we were down to cookies, baked beans, rice pudding and tomatoes with the odd gel thrown in. Still enough to go on but not ideal.
The crew short of a cooking pan, raced off to Stu's house locally to pick one up and began serving me warm baked beans every hour or so that we met. Seriously, this was formula 1 racing type stuff, I'd run to the CP, drop to a walk, wander up to the warm pan with a spoon, shovel it in as fast as I could, put the spoon back in and start running again. Wow.
It was dark now as we went through Berkhamstead at mile 105 and on other unknown towns that just blurred in to one. I knew I had a lead because looking back up the long dark lonely canal path, there were no bobbing headlamps behind. Robbie swapped in for Stu at mile 110 and I produced a real stomach clearing puke, the type where 8 retches in there's nothing left. But we started running again straight off the bat, a blank canvas on which to start eating again and feeling much better for it.
At mile 115 I had a small slip in to a river as I visited the number 2 in a secluded bush away from the canal, but again it was over and done with quickly and before long we were running in to Springwell Lock, mile 120 and the second to last major CP at 4:45am or 22hrs45 minutes in. James Adams, Allan Rumbles and Paul Stout were there, it was just getting light and the end felt very much within reach with under a marathon to go. Again I put down the food quite quickly and made my way down the final stretches before the left hand turn in to London proper. This was the one section of the race that looking back now, dragged. I'd only ever run this part of the canal before race day, but I'd run it 5 times in the old Tring to Town and then Country To Capital the past 4 years which has the same final 20 miles as the GUCR. I kept looking for the entry point of the C2C course on to the canal so I could count in familiar landmarks but it just never seemed to arrive. Drew with me at this point kept my spirits up here, but it only really turned around 3 or 4 miles later when we passed in to familiar territory.
Rob took over and around 2 miles before the left run, and 131 miles in to the race, Drew asked me if I wanted to know what my lead was. I said yes and he told me 2hrs and 12 minutes. Despite having 14 miles of a 145 miler still left to run I admit that at that point I waved my hands in the air as if to say well I can do this, it was just confidence that I felt good enough to finish the job off I guess. We turned left on to the final 12 mile stretch, made our way through the stinking Hamborough Tavern CP at mile 133 and pressed on at a brisk walk with very short bursts of running thrown in, towards the finish line. I managed to get a bacon sandwich down and yet another cup of coffee from the still seemlessly organised crew and pressed on to around 7 miles from the finish. At that point Drew jumped back in to pace me to the finish and let me know that reports of Kevin Mcmillan really picking up the pace in 2nd, were floating around. When your brain is that fried you start trying to do stupid calculations about how slow you could afford to go, based on Kevin running 7 minute mile pace the last 12 miles and still hold on.... In reality I knew I could walk it in from the turn and had taken the somewhat lazy option to do pretty much that. In my eyes why risk blowing up and collapsing to run a marginally better (but way off Course Record) time, as opposed to finishing feeling good and enjoying the morning sunshine? Also, my legs were starting to feel battered by now and some blister issues were mounting the misery I felt every time I ran so I was looking for the easy road.
In the end we ran the last 5 miles like we were being chased. We kept looking over our shoulders, expecting to see Kevin bolting around the corner. But luckily the margin I'd built in the first 120 was plenty enough and with 29 hours and 10 minutes on the clock I crossed the line in to a big hug with Dick Kearn and his massive beard, for a first place finish. The whole family were there, something that has never happened to me at a race before, so somehow they must have gotten a clue that I might just pull off the win....
In the end 53 people finished out of a total of 88 starters which is a phenomenal percentage given the distance. Conditions were almost perfect but nonetheless it must be one of the highest finishing rates in recent times. Provisional results are here.
What did I take away from all this?
Firstly, I haven't won anything particularly notable since the Three Forts Marathon in 2010. During the spring of that year I was in the best form of my life and everything felt easy. Im still not quite there but being able to convert a very precise race plan on paper, in to reality, over a course as long as 145 miles is a really satifying thing to have done.
Secondly, my old plan of eat as many gels as I can until I explode with minimal real food, is gone for good. I reversed it here after much deliberation. I always aim for 300kcals an hour during 100km plus races and that stayed right for me, but introducing 200kcals of real food/ coke and 1 gel per hour was a formula that held up well for 110 miles. After that, well I won't get hung up on it because a bad stomach after 20 hours of running is not really a shock and i was able to keep just enough going in not to break down in to a death march
Third, this is an incredible event. Even if you think it's something you wouldn't fancy because it's just too long, go out and see it next year. Drop Dick an email and volunteer for him. You'll never ever forget it. From a runners perspective, it was flawless.
Lastly and most importantly, I need to thank my crew. It goes without saying that running this race unsupported is a lot harder than running it with a crew. I was concerned in parts about mine, but they blew me away with their efficiency. I didn't need to sit down once the entire race, didn't wait for anything I needed whether it be a bowl of beans or a spare jacket. They put up with the usual whinging and pushed me on with encouragement every time i saw them. Having pacers helped enormously with the night section when it's easy to drop your pace and start getting cold. They gave up so much for me but as always, if you want to run the best time you can, you need to get a crew who understand you, what you need and can wipe those precious minutes and seconds off by catering to you as you meet them. I can honestly say that if I ran the race again, I wouldn't be able to make any time savings at all through better or different crewing. It was sensational.
Whilst GUCR was an A race, the 4th of 5 this year, the biggest thing I take away from this weekend is that the 5th goal is within reach. Sparta is 8 miles longer and has an overall cut off of 36 hours. It's totally incomparable to GUCR. The day time temperature is 20 degrees hotter than it was this year, it holds punishing road descents an ascents as well as the two mountains after 100 miles of running. I learned a lot this weekend and I will need to employ all of those things if Im going to make that statue in September.
Thanks for reading and sorry it was so long, but 145 miles IS a long way!!!
40 miles: 6:11
50 miles: 7:58
80 miles: 13:09
100 miles: 17:34
120 miles: 22:24
140 miles: 27:43
145 miles: 29:10
Written by Paul Redman
Having arrived in Cornwall, driven down from Burnley by fellow TAC runner Steve Spence, we drove to the race registration/finish at Bluebar in Porthtowan for a quick recce before heading to our overnight accommodation. Porthtowan is a secluded cove with a small beach that was very humbling to stand on and admire the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean that would become very familiar over the next few hours. It was relatively calm compared to what we knew was expected to be some stormy weather to come.
This is where my neurosis set in. What to pack, what not to pack. Sat in the Premier Inn at Redruth the night before the start of the Arc of Attrition, a 100-mile ultramarathon following the coastal path from Coverack to Porthtowan. Packing, repacking making sure I have mandatory kit and any extra I feel I may need. I didn’t know what to expect having never run on a coastal path and this being my first visit to Cornwall, the nearest I had ever been before was Glastonbury in the ‘90s and I was dancing then not running.
I assumed it would be mostly rocky trail with a little bit of beach along the way so opted for my Saucony ‘RunAnywhere’ trainer that had served me for the Lakeland 100 in the summer, although I had blistered for the first time due to being constantly wet. Should I wear gaiters or not, gaiters or not, bloody neurosis again – I can’t wait for the race to start then I can stop worrying. I opted for no gaiters and trusted in the waterproofing of my Gore-Tex trainers and a change of socks to protect my feet from the heavy rain that was forecast. Gloves and hat, gloves and hat? My 10 litre OMM bag is full to bursting with the bladder full so I choose the lightweight gloves and an extra buff instead of the insulated gloves and wool beanie. A 6 litre OMM bum bag easily fits the things I need to hand: whistle, marzipan slices, Snickers bar, Chia bar, map, compass, phone, extra buff. Sorted.
Time for something to eat so off to the restaurant next door with Steve to ‘carb up’ for the next day. Two pints of cider and a fish pie, not exactly full of carbs but should help me sleep. Quite amusing to see ‘fresh fish from Whitby’ on the menu in Cornwall next to the coastal fishing towns – fish must be better up north! Back to the room, ready for bed. A final check on the weather and last minute change of light gloves and buff for the thermal gloves and woolly beanie just in case.
Up in the morning at 7am. Quick shower before porridge and banana breakfast. Down to Porthtowan and into a hive of activity at the Bluebar. The race briefing consisted of introductions to the Mud Crew, the event organisers, and the medical team. We were told of a storm front that was due in later that day with high winds and rain in the evening but that was nothing compared to the two weather fronts expected on Saturday morning and later Saturday evening with gale force winds and heavy rain. Our nerves were further shredded as we were told not to stray from the coastal paths as the area was scattered with abandoned tin mines, and that our race GPS tracker wouldn’t work underground so the emergency call button would be of no use.
Briefing over and now feeling more anxious than I was before, we needed to get onto the coaches for an hour plus journey to Coverack where the race would start at 12 noon. Subdued, nervous chatter on the bus as everyone discussed race plans, nutrition, kit, etc. Maybe it’s not just me that’s neurotic! At the start at Coverack, sunshine over a beautiful fishing town like something from a postcard but by God it was cold standing there waiting for the start. Or was I shivering from nerves, tension? I couldn’t tell. A final handshake and good luck to Steve. The horn sounded and music played as we were guided out of Coverack and onto the coastal path.
Relaxing a little now as the tension eased from me, removing gloves, then buff and opening my jacket as I began to warm up and settle into a rhythm, adjusting my pack to be comfortable as we went along. We soon hit the coastal path and the guide stopped there as we carried on along the path. I tried to maintain a steady rhythm and pace but the narrow path, only wide enough in the main for one person, wound up and down and around small boulders and rocks and muddy puddles. Mud, sticky, gloopy, trainer sucking, strength draining mud. Who would have thought there would be this much mud on a coastal path on top of rocky coves? I certainly didn’t and then, only about three miles in, we crossed a field full of cows and the mud went up over my ankles forcing the wet mulch into the top of my shoes. I knew I should have worn my gaiters. Well you live and learn.
So mud-coated shoes and slippery wet path changed my plan for this part of the race as I was expecting a steady up and down cove run into the first check point 24.5 miles in a Porthleven. It was treacherous in places and at one point I slipped and did my mandatory commando roll to avoid falling flat on my face, but as I rolled over onto my bulging back pack I heard a heart rending pop! Oh no, is that my bladder? I hope not as there’s not a lot I can do about it now. I have a full 500ml bottle with an electrolyte tablet dissolved in it so I’m not without water but will need to keep my eye on it. I didn’t even realise how close to the edge I had rolled until I looked back. Wow this is going to be an interesting day.
The path was rocky in places and muddy in others and once you were used to the conditions you just kind of got on with it. The path was largely clear to see and it followed the GPS path on my Garmin for the most part too but not exactly, and the coastal path was also signposted along the way. The field thinning out and the up and down nature of the course meant I soon became isolated so set about the business of making it to the first checkpoint. I wasn’t setting a time target as I didn’t know what to expect, but you always have little markers in your mind when you set off.
Before I started the race I even had aspirations of a possible sub 24-hour 100 miles but knew within the first couple of miles that the conditions would not be conducive to that sort of run. Its ok to have a race plan so long as you are ready to adapt the plan to changing conditions of the race, kit choices and how you feel on the day. So I split the race up and decided a good time for this section would be 5-6 hours for the 24.5 miles as the weather should be favourable. The wind was quite strong but didn’t seem to affect the way I was running and the rain was holding off although it was overcast.
Time for some sightseeing and a few photos while I had the light and the coast was clear (pun intended). Lizard Point is a place my sister had visited in her youth and we had a photo of her on the wall that I always remembered and thought wow that’s exotic (I am from Colne after all) and here I was running past it and seeing it with my own eyes for the first time. Quick photo and off. It was pretty much the same all the way to Porthleven with the calm sea on the left and the path stretching out in front and behind, winding over the cliffs and dropping down to isolated coves before climbing back up again to the cliff tops.
The light was beginning to fade as I approached Porthleven and the first checkpoint of the Harbour Inn. The plan was a quick stop and something to eat, refilling my water while there. Once inside the warm pub I was offered cheesy chips and a brew. I struggled with removing my bladder from my bag, having to empty the contents of the bag to get it back in. Quick check over to make sure there were no leaks and everything seemed fine. I had a signal on my phone which was rare on the coastal path so I used the opportunity to call home and speak to Sarah and the kids. They were full of questions and it made me smile both inside and out to talk to them. Before I realized it I had spent far longer in the checkpoint than intended and quickly packed up and left as soon as I was off the phone. I had made good time reaching Porthleven in just over 5 hours so I wasn’t too bothered about staying a little longer and it was worth it to talk to the family.
Head torch on as the light had receded and I set of again round the harbour of Porthleven as it started to rain. It was then that I remembered I was going to put on my waterproof pants as the rain was forecast to start after 6pm. So I stopped, took them out of my bag and put them on cursing myself for the silly mistake. I set off again just behind a runner I had seen earlier and we chatted a little as we climbed out of Porthleven and back onto the coastal path. The track was single file again so no chatting just slogging on. I felt good but began to warm up with the extra layer on my legs and with the rain seemingly holding off I decided to remove my waterproof pants and repack them. That felt better but more time wasted. I caught back up to the other runner who introduced himself as Michael and continued with him along the path.
Things were a little trickier in the dark. There were a few splits in the path that were not signed and it was easy to follow the wrong one that just lead to the head of a cliff or started to move inland so there was a little bit of back tracking. The GPS wasn’t much use here as you realised you had gone wrong before it was clear on the tracker, so we both kept our eyes out for the acorn signs that signaled that we were on the coastal path.
We encountered a couple of ‘situations’ along this stretch. We went past a house and followed the path a few hundred yards up to a fence that had a Mud Crew fluorescent marker so we thought we were on the right path. Carrying on a few steps further and the sound of the sea, which was becoming rougher in the increasing wind, rose to a roar and crash and shining our head torches forward our view was of white water rising and shattering on the rocks and cliff face. Definitely a wrong turn. Quick back up the way we had come and a look at the map. There was a track over the wall that looked like where we should be so a scramble over the gate and we were back on it. Steady under foot and back on track we were joined by a lady by the name of Natalie who had caught us following our detour.
Between the three of us we should be able to navigate and stay on the path. A few miles on and some steps down to the beach then the path ends with the sea just about visible in the torch light rolling up the beach towards the giant pebbles that lay before us. Must have taken the wrong fork in the path a little earlier so backtracking up again and along the other fork but before very long we are confronted with a no entry private property sign on a gate blocking our path. Back down the path but surely not to the beach? Along comes another runner and heads for the beach. “Do you know the way?” I called and with a response of “Yes, it’s across the rocks and along the beach” we duly followed the runner onto the beach and across the giant pebbles. This was so surreal in the dark, with the sound of the sea to our left and jumping from giant pebble to giant pebble I shouted gleefully “I feel like a Borrower” and then we were on the sand and could just make out the coastal path in the distant beam of light. This would have been so obvious in the day time but so confusing at night. A theme I was destined to endure until the dawn.
We continued on the path and as we rounded the coast the lights of Penzance came into view in the distance a good 5 or 6 miles away and it was at this point I remember the rain. It may have started earlier but it is here that I remember it. Natalie had powered on ahead from the beach and was in front so Michael and I just ran head down into the rain as the winds began to pick up. We were exposed to the wind and rain from our left and at sea level now running along the road towards Penzance, then a few miles up to Mousehole (pronounced ‘Muzzle’ locally). As we approached another meeting point for the runners who had a crew supporting them (Steve and I were running unsupported) we were guided by a member of Mud Crew away from the coastal path as a section had recently collapsed so we had to detour round. This detour led us to the wrong side of a level crossing where we had to wait for what seemed like five long minutes in the cold and rain for the train to pass. Natalie rejoined us at this point having stopped off to pick up supplies from her crew.
Once the barriers were up we set off at a good pace into the strong wind with the sideways rain lashing into us, the wet tendrils trying to find a way through our armour of waterproof clothing. My one concern was my feet which were becoming soaked with the incessant rain. The gaiters would have helped to protect from the water for a time but I didn’t have that luxury and was now beginning to suffer as a result. We kept a good pace drafting into the headwind like a peloton taking turns in facing the brunt of the weather. Little respite but everything helps over this distance.
Eventually we passed through Penzance and into Mousehole feeling strangely out of place in the town with revelers out between pubs and passing restaurants and diners sat at the windows oblivious to our toils outside. The smells from the kitchens wafting across us overpowering the salty odour of the sea rain. The next checkpoint can’t come soon enough.
I enter the checkpoint alone as both Michael and Natalie stop outside with their crew and I am instantly overwhelmed with offers of help, towels, food and a seat from the ever helpful Mud Crew. Tomato and basil soup followed by rice pudding and jam, and a sweet cup of tea. I hadn’t used much of my bladder so just needed the bottle filling but I need to attend to my feet. A change of socks had been the plan at this point as we were 42 miles in and I believe it was around 10pm so doing well for time but I knew the hardest sections were to come, in the dark, in the rain, in gale force winds so I was under no illusions as to the task before me. I had a hot spot on the ball of my left foot and learning from experience on the Lakeland 100, I attended to this whilst changing to a dry pair of socks. A medic was on hand to help apply the blister aid and suggested that if this didn’t stick to have the foot wrapped by a medic at the next checkpoint just to be sure.
I took this opportunity to visit the men’s room and whilst in there a local questioned me on what we were doing. As I explained and we conversed he asked where we would be sleeping tonight. The look on his face was a mixture of incredulous admiration and I felt somewhat proud of what I was doing and a little apprehensive as the enormity of the task ahead hits home when you have to explain it to someone else. One section at a time is how you get through and you only think of the finish after the last checkpoint.
Michael was nearly ready to go so I asked him if he wanted to continue together and he agreed so I waited a couple of minutes for him. Natalie had popped her head in and left a while earlier. She went on to finish first female, a tough cookie that one.
This section to Sennen was the shortest of the route at only 13.5 miles but the fact that it had a 6 hour cut off time meant it shouldn’t be taken lightly. The route was steady to start with as we climbed back out of Mousehole and up to the cliffs. The path wound up and down, over rocks that were slippery in the wet. The wind increased slightly but the rain abated and this was a godsend at this point as the driving rain reflected back your head torch light obscuring your vision, and a clear view was required to negotiate over the rocks and close to the cliff edge.
I could hear the angry sea crashing at the rocks seemingly trying to pull the ground from under my feet and at times I was so close to the edge my light was swallowed by the darkness of the void ending in the swirling, foaming melee beneath. Slipping, twisting along the path making slow progress over tree roots and rocks, losing the path as I clamber over a boulder only to pick it up again on the other side. Sometimes steps, sometimes rock, sometimes sticky mud up and down the winding path the sound of the sea receding.
We come to a break in the path a couple of hours in and as we pass two support crew in high vis jackets we hear a call of “Well done lads. Be careful the next section is a bit technical.” A bit technical! A bit technical! How much more technical can you get? Well the answer was not much. It was more of the same but the rain had started again and with fatigue starting to have an effect on judgement we missed a fork in the path which became apparent when we left the track on the GPS I was carrying. We back-tracked down the path and looked at where the GPS was saying we should go but with the roar of the sea and the sheer cliff face it looked like the track was wrong.
I have learned to trust the GPS but it is only as good as the information inputted and cannot be relied on totally, but I trusted in it and continued back down the track to the point where it looked like we had left it, and low and behold there was a small bridge across the river that we had totally missed in the dark and rain. Across the bridge and following the path as it rose to take us back up on top of the cliffs and away from the sea.
We were following a wide track now which was improving under foot and we were only a couple of miles from Sennen so all was good. As we continued along the path and what seemed a pretty straight forward track the GPS said to follow a route where there seemed to be no path so we continued until we came to a fenced path that lead up the slope but away from the direction we should have been heading. I made the decision to trust the GPS and track back and try to find the path up the slope. A tired decision which led us up through bushes and brambles and as I slipped and crashed my left knee into a rock, I realized we had left the path and were now at risk of the many abandoned tin mines we were warned about in the briefing. Nothing for it but to retrace carefully our steps back down to the track and up to the fenced path up the slope. This led us to the top of the slope and with a left turn and three minutes running we were back on the track. Not sure if this was the correct route but after losing half an hour in the dark and gaining a bruised knee I wasn’t concerned but chastised myself and apologized to Michael for the error of judgement.
The going was good compared to what we had just been through but Sennen and the next checkpoint couldn’t come soon enough. I was ready for some shelter and proper food having eaten my marzipan slice, Snickers and Chia bar on this section you can kind of get sick of the sweet stuff. The wind had died down slightly and the rain abated as we approached Land’s End and I apologised again to Michael as I stopped to take a photo in the dark about 2am of the building with “Lands’ End” emblazoned across it. Well I’d come this far and wasn’t likely to miss this photo opportunity!
Only a mile or so to Sennen now and as we approached the town we dropped steeply down and onto some steps that led us behind buildings and then the steps just stopped so back up the steps and along, down some more steps and then down to the road. Frustrating at the end of a section but we were tired and ready for some shelter.
Into the checkpoint at Sennen finally and warm and dry. The offer of beans on toast with cheese was grated fully received and accepted along with a sweet cup of tea. My bladder needed refilling as well as my bottle and I had to remove the contents of my bag again to replace the full bladder. This seemed more difficult than it should have been and I was struggling to think what it was I needed to do. I changed my base layer for a dry one and this felt good but I was struggling to breath and a little panicky. I had an intense pain in the area of my kidneys and each breath was painful. I didn’t know if it was muscular from carrying my back pack or if it actually was my kidneys. I knew I had kept well hydrated so I trusted it wasn’t as serious as kidney problems.
I forced the beans on toast down and readied myself for the next section. Sennen to St Ives, while not quite the longest section, was deemed the most difficult due to the terrain and exposure to the coastal weather. It is the most remote part of the route with a 12-mile section almost inaccessible other than by foot so there would be no support from crews there. That didn’t affect me as I was unsupported but the difficulty of the task ahead was not lost on me.
As we set out from Sennen at about 3am and back onto the coastal path I remembered I was going to change my head torch batteries at the last checkpoint as it would be late morning before we next saw shelter. I was breathing a little better but in my panic at the checkpoint I had forgotten to change my batteries and, oh yes, I was going to get a medic to tape up my feet as both had hot spots developing on the pad behind my big toes. Frustrating but I wasn’t going back. I would have to put up with it until St Ives. I managed to change the battery pack on my head torch while on the move as it as something I have done a few times in the dark. As my breathing returned to normal and I gave my head a little wobble, I set out on the task ahead. I caught up to Michael and we made our way along the path.
After about 30 mins the rain started in earnest so we stopped in the lee of a large boulder and put on our water proof pants before continuing into the dark, the rain was like a white sheet reflecting back the torchlight making it difficult to see. The ground was sodden where it was soft and a stream where it was rocky so there was no way to keep my feet dry as I waded up and down the path and across the wet ground.
The wind was picking up and whipping the rain into my face and the sound of heavy drops bouncing against the hood of my jacket made my ears ring. The incessant noise drowned out the roar of the pounding waves against the cliffs as we steadily moved on into the night. At Pendeen Watch, the last access point before St Ives, we took shelter behind the van of another runner’s crew to allow me to put on an extra base layer as I had felt the icy fingers of the wind clawing at me through my jacket and I needed to keep warm. We left Pendeen about 6am and set out for St Ives.
With about 1.5 hours until sunrise I knew I could make it through the night and that dawn would offer respite from the constant strain of navigating in the dark. So with the wind and rain lashing from the sea I endured the rest of the night carefully negotiating the slippery, rocky paths that were increasingly turning to streams.
As the night receded and the Cornish coast line was revealed in all its rugged glory I marveled at the raging sea below and was taken back to the stories I heard as a child and the films of smugglers in days of old and fishermen being rescued from the sea by villagers and how dangerous the life must have been for them. The wind increased and continued to batter me throwing the rain in bursts of stinging drops against my face and legs but I had to continue. The hard stone under foot was burning the soles of my feet as they softened in the soggy wet shoes drenched by the streams I was wading through. The small streams dissecting the path became torrents that had to be leaped across on tired legs, landing on sore feet. Tell me again why I was doing this…
The light increased but so did the wind and I was constantly pushed forwards or sideways fighting to stay straight and steady. This was tiring and progress was very slow, all thoughts of time out of the window and just to endure and finish was the target now. But it was incessant, the rain and the wind. I needed something to eat but had to stop, otherwise I would have tripped on the narrow path. I couldn’t stop out in the open so I had to wait until there was a small building to shelter behind to take a minute and eat. The path seemed to be going up more than down and as I reached the top of a cliff the wind hit me with such force I was blown off my feet and did well to regain my balance as I landed. I looked round and Michael was still with me and struggling against the onslaught himself. We climbed over a wall and crouched low to take some shelter and re-group. A look at the GPS and we had come up about three minutes from the path too fast and needed to detour slightly to get back on track. This started our descent and put the wind at our backs, the path widened out so the going became a little easier.
We pushed on as we could see civilisation ahead and knew it must be St Ives. We continued to descend. When I say descend it is a sort of general downwards trend as the path is constantly twisting up and down. The ground became softer here and slam, I hit the ground with a solid thud and slid down the grass and mud, absolutely sodden. Picking myself up I laughed to myself the sort of resigned laugh you make when it’s been one of those days and it couldn’t really get any worse.
Across the sand now and heavy going up to the steps and onto tarmac so must be near the checkpoint. 15 minutes later we entered the Lifeboat Inn at St Ives and the Mud Crew were on us. Beans on toast with cheese and sweet tea. I was cold and wet. My Gore-Tex jacket had finally given up the fight against the rain and offered little more protection. I just needed to get warm and have my feet seen to. I took off my muddy shoes and sodden socks and realized I didn’t have a dry pair. This was made worse as I watched the other runners put on dry socks and clothes provided by their support crews. But I was here on my own. I could do this, I must endure. The medic applied a spray glue and tape to my feet which resembled a brain as the contours were so deep. Imagine how wrinkly your hands and feet get when in the bath for an hour. My feet had been sodden wet constantly for about 14 hours. Not nice.
When I put my cold, wet jacket back on and my backpack pressed cold closer to my back I realised I needed to get moving to get my temperature back up. Once moving I began to warm up quickly and the rain stopped, the wind died down and all was good again as we ran out of St Ives and on into Hayes. The going was good underfoot and the blue sea was calming and constant on our left. Down to the beach and surfers and windsurfers were braving the cold to enjoy the waves from the passing storm. This was almost pleasant apart from the feeling of running on broken glass from my suffering feet. I must endure!
We left the train line that we had been following and hit Tarmac as I saw Steve come into view. I was both elated and dismayed to see him as at once I realised he must have been pulled from the race (he won’t quit). It was good to see a familiar face and his words of encouragement leant strength to my cause as did his acceptance of my request for a proper Cornish pasty at the finish.
Through Hayes on Tarmac pounding my feet but making good time while we can, then it was into the sand dunes – three miles of sand which I had been dreading. It was softer on my feet than the Tarmac but not so soft that it made too heavy going. The way was marked by sticks in the ground placed by the ever helpful Mud Crew to guide us through the otherwise confusing dunes. Again I passed Steve in a car park offering his support as we edged ever closer to the finish.
The afternoon wore on and the temperature started to drop but the rain was holding off for the time being. We left the sand dunes and approached the small bridge across the tributary feeding into the ocean to see the bridge under about six inches of fast moving water, and the exit to the bridge was where the small river had burst its banks. This meant wading through about 10 metres of fast-running cold water but we didn’t know how deep it was. The heavy rains had obviously had an affect here but what do we do? I looked back and then upstream and there was nothing else but to go for it. Cold water pushing over my ankles as we crossed the bridge and then I jumped in with the freezing water up to my knees and waded as quickly as possible to the side and dry land. Wow, that was a shock to the system and my feet that had begun to settle were soaked again. Nothing for it, I had to endure!
Just over 10 miles to go and looking like it will be around 6.30pm when we finish, because we will finish, which means an hour or so in the dark. This is now the longest I have been on my feet in any race and will be the first time I have run into two nights, if only just. But I began to feel cold and realised at this point that I had dry socks, trainers, fleece and jacket in the car that I had seen Steve in about an hour before. I hadn’t even thought about them when I passed him as I had run the race so far unsupported.
I had to stop and put on more layers so I opened my bag and discovered the source of the loud pop when I had done my commando roll the day before. The sealed bag with my last dry base layer must have burst and this was now soaking wet and no use to me now. I am cold I need to warm up. Now I am glad I had decided to include my thermal gloves and wooly beanie. I put the beanie on with my buff and jacket hood up and another buff on my neck and over my face then donned the thermal gloves. The wind picked up slightly rubbing cold hands up and down my wet back, and a light rain started to dampen my spirits further. I must endure!
A forced march up the hill to the exposed cliff tops did nothing to warm me up and I could feel the cold seeping further into me so I began a slow trot and increased my cadence if not my pace. After a few minutes this began to work. I felt my temperature raise and my spirit with it. Along the top of the cliffs as the light began to fade on a second day of running and through the muddy path down the steps, about 50 of them, to the cove below. Each step making me wince with pain as my feet took the weight of my tired body. Back up the other side and then across and down into Porthreath to be greeted by Steve for the final time before the finish about 4 miles away.
Up the steep slope out of Porthreath past the Cantonese Restaurant – what I would do for a take away now – and back along the cliff tops. I could see the tower that is visible from the other side in Porthtowan so I knew we were closing in. Down some more painful steps into another cove and back up the other side, surely the last up and down (as I had come to call them) before the drop into Porthtowan. No, there’s another up and down, but nothing else to be done other than clomp down the steps and push up the other side.
Along the top now with head torch on and the wind picks up again bringing with it hail! Okay, so I thought it would be an easy run in but the weather has to prove me wrong and keep testing me to the end. Well bring it on, I thought, as the tower came and went and the drop to the town began. Should have kept my mouth shut. This was the biggest up and down of them all right near the end. Down, down, down, each step punishing my feet with searing pain but I finally made the last step and with hands on knees pushed up the steps on the other side. A couple of minutes along the top in the wind and hail and Porthtowan came into view. Yes, yes!
Down the slope speeding up with the end in sight, pain in my feet forgotten and thoughts of Cornish pasty and a bath in mind we rounded the final bend and into the home straight towards Bluebar to whoops and applause from the few braving the weather. I grabbed Michael’s hand as we finished so we could finish together. A glass of champagne and the Arc of Attrition buckle were handed to us as photos were taken. After over 30 hours on my feet and having covered 100 stormy miles I was glad to be back but just wanted to sit down. Only 28 finished the race out of 105 starters so I was pleased with my performance finishing joint 13th overall.
Steve was there and led me to the seats inside where he gave me the Cornish pasty he had promised and a pint of cider. What more could I ask for? We stayed a while and chatted to Michael and few others around before I changed into dry clothes and socks. The champagne and cider made me really drowsy and we said our thanks and goodbyes to the awesome Mud Crew before we left the Bluebar to return to the Premier Inn in Redruth. A warm bath and another pint later and I hit the sack for a restless sleep.
I woke and rose at 7am and after a shower and packing the car had a hearty breakfast in the restaurant: a bowl of granola, a croissant, two glasses of orange, a cappuccino, two sausages, two eggs, two rashers of bacon, two hash browns, black pudding, beans and toast. I only stopped there as we couldn’t fit any more plates on the table!
Again Steve drove and we had an uneventful steady journey back. I can’t thank Steve enough for driving us that weekend and of course for the Cornish pasty.
I have learned from this experience that I can endure and that I haven’t reached the limits of that endurance yet, but without the appropriate kit that limit will be reached much sooner. I do consider myself to have some experience in what kit is required for the conditions but I was so close to having my race finish early due to the cold that I will be looking at my kit much more seriously for future events. I also need to experiment with socks and shoes to find the right combination to avoid similar problems with my feet. It is all a learning curve and we won’t know how far we can go without trying.
Written by Paul Navesey - http://ultrapaulo.wordpress.com/
Andorra, a Principality sat in the Pyrenees, is a brilliant place and the location of my first effort at a European mountain race.
Arriving into Ordino on Wednesday before the race, the collection of ~2500m peaks look fantastic but with Ordino sat at just over 1300m they don’t look so intimidating. However, they certainly pack a punch!
Throwing our bags into the rooms we headed straight out for a little jog to get moving a bit after the flight and bus journey. Straight out of the town (even the roads are steep!) and onto the trails. From the first step onto the trail I was excited. Even more so after we took a stroll up to 2400m on the Thursday morning. Well, we took the cable car most of the way!
The weekend is made up of 5 races. Ronda Del Cims (170k), Mitic (112k), Celestrail (83k), Marato (42k) and Soladitrail (10k). With Ronda being a huge 170k and 13000m of climbing they get a little head start and set off at 06:00 on Friday. The morning was spent seeing Drew Sheffield head out onto the huge course.
After getting the hang of things in Andorra and grabbing a siesta I set out in search of a replacement for my favourite pre race food of banana pancakes with honey and nutella, finding a cafe serving banana and nutella crepes was a winner! Claire Shelley making the wise choice to go for them too prior to completing a fantastic run to finish well inside the top 10.
The drums started to wind up as we got closer to midnight, heading down to the start area where the number of people and the noise is fantastic. We have a short wait before fireworks are set off to make more noise and the race is underway. Firing up my Petzl Tikka RXP I chase the huge field of runners out of Ordino about 100 or so back.
The first part of the course sees us head out to Clot Del Cavall (2586m), there is lots of snow still about and even under torch light it is an amazing place to run through. I have always been ok at running for the shorter periods of time, but knowing this was going to be about a 12 hour effort I really wanted to make a step in how I manage myself during races so started here by grabbing extra food at the CP on top of Mule bars and my favourite apple strudel gels.
A quick descent and another climb up to the refuge Comapedrosa (2250m), enjoying this new eating at CP approach I suddenly came over all European and grabbed some olives! No idea why, they went down ok but I’m not sure I would rush for them again. Maybe throwing them down with a few squares of chocolate meant they didn’t get a fair trial but in my mind I had put a variety of food in so I was happy enough.
More climbing followed the refuge CP and then a really fun if short run along a rocky ridge then a long descent to the next CP on a mix of rocky and grassy trail.
Out of the CP this time into a forest for some excellent running heading down towards the main CP of the Celestrail course in Escaldes at 44km. Having had the headtorch on full power since the start so I could be a real tourist and have a good look around at everything, my torch faded just as light came up. Perfect timing, although popping in and out of a forest on the descent to Escaldes where it was still quite dark kept my attention and was a lot of fun.
Taking a few minutes at Escaldes to work through my to do list of empty the stones in my shoes, grab some extra Mule bars and gels from my drop bag, eat some food and fill bottles. I had also been practicing my Catalan in the earlier checkpoints and really went to town wishing everyone a good day, asking for water (specifically non-sparkling) followed by thank yous and goodbyes. I have no idea what they said to me, but there was lots of venga venga venga, which never failed to make me smile.
A small amount of road followed then onto a path out of town, which confirmed that everything in Andorra is steep. This eventually lead up on to more great forest path and stone track. This section certainly allowed more running. In fact, I would go as far as to say flat in comparison to the first 45km.
A couple more CPs passed by, this time making the most of the ham and cheese on offer. I hadn’t managed to learn any more Catalan so I hope whatever I was being asked only required me to answer hello, show my number and ask for water.
We were promised a treat in the last 15km during the briefing, sure enough as the last climb started, around the corner appeared a short but incredibly steep climb. Short enough that everyone perched on top looking down could be clearly seen and heard but steep enough that it took a really long time to get there! I would guess at about 30 minutes to cover the final 1km of the climb.
At this point I was pretty close to 4 or 5 other runners. My legs tired but energy ok I thought now was a good time to have a good crack at making a break for the finish. Yep, the guy from Southern England picked the steepest part of the course to try and be a hero. I worked as hard as I could to the top. Mouth open and legs tired with lots of enthusiasm and “venga venga venga” flowing down from the people on the summit.
Onto the top and I was feeling the effort, I had made a very small gap on each of the others but I was passed straight back in the CP on top as the effort took its toll. Fixing my new found low state with a bottle full of coke I headed onto the descent with my legs not wanting to run as fast as my head was suggesting. My legs won and I lost a little more time in the first half of the descent which was almost as steep down as it was up.
Hiking a small climb in the middle of the descent (even the downhill is uphill!) and taking a bit more coke on I was feeling better. With 2 runners close behind I managed to get some running legs back and finished the descent off as best I could, hitting the short road section back to Ordino.
The run in to the finish is fantastic. Lots more vengas and animos are shouted before running up a corridor of people and into the finish.
What a brilliant race, in fact, entire weekend of races. Happy to be done, having had a great time and very pleased with a top 10 finish I had a short wait for Claire, James Warren and Richard Felton to arrive before we could have a sit down and talk a bit more about running!
Heading out the following morning to see Drew finish the beast that is Ronda Del Cims. A massive effort on a course that has to be seen.
Cheers Andorra. See you again soon.
Petzl Tikka RXP headtorch
Mulebar and Mulebar Kicks gels
Inov-8 Race ultra vest
Inov-8 race elite 140 shorts
Drymax lite mesh trail socks
Julbo Dust sunglasses
Written by Paul Corderoy - http://ultrahippy.blogspot.co.uk
5th (3rd Male)
Written by Matthew Hearne - http://www.svp100.co.uk
A geography degree, a map, a compass and a GPS…no excuse for getting lost, right?!
After having recently completed the CCC and despite swearing numerous times during the race that I’d never run the UTMB, I decided that I might as well try and collect the 9 points, put my name into the ballot and see what happens. Having picked up 3 UTMB points from the CCC, I needed to collect 6 more points from 2 races before the end of the year. After a quick search on the UTMB website, I noticed that there was a 3 point race in the Peak District, called the Peak District Gold Ultra Challenge, which was approximately 100k in length with 3,000m of ascent. A week before the race and entry was still open, so I thought that I might as well have a stab, even though my feet had not fully recovered from the trip to Chamonix.
The Peak District is a lovely part of the country and I’d not been up that way for a few years. In fact, the last time I’d visited the Peaks was with a bunch of lads on what can only be described as a ‘Withnail and I’ weekend away, fortunately without the presence of an Uncle Monty character. One of these chaps just happens to be the race director for a certain ultra marathon which takes place on a small Welsh island.
A couple of friends (Donna and Ludo) from my running club had also signed up for the race in the Peaks. Given that it started at 9pm on the Friday, we all decided to work half a day and head up in the afternoon. Escaping London was relatively easy, but we set off a little late and ended up arriving at the start in Hathersage approximately 20 minutes before the race was scheduled to begin. There was no time for pre-race nerves, as I was desperately trying to get dressed and sort out my equipment whilst the race briefing took place. At registration we were handed a map of the route and in return we handed over a signed form saying that we were carrying all the mandatory race equipment. Believe me, there was quite a large amount of equipment required for the race, including two O.S. maps and a blizzard survival bag. Still, it was possible to pack reasonably light, although not as light as I would have liked.
Prior to the race there had been few clues regarding the route itself. The website gave a very high level overview of what the route would be, and we were provided with approximately 50 grid references to follow; over 100k it left the navigation very open to interpretation. Also, the map we were provided at registration was high level and did not provide enough details to fully navigate by. As such, it’s fair to say that I was slightly nervous as I set off at 9:08pm, approximately 8 minutes behind the rest of the field. I had a rough idea of which direction to head in, but there was no one to follow for the first couple of miles in the dark. I managed to take a couple of wrong turnings, and had to back track a number of times before I started catching up with the back of the pack.
This race was certainly going to be a challenge. Navigating at night with a head torch was proving to be much tougher than I expected, and I felt well out of my comfort zone. I’m far too used to following bits of tape, other runners, or geographic features in daylight, or glow sticks and reflective tape at night. Suddenly the uncertainty of each step left me feeling fearful, particularly when there were large drops at the side of the trails up on the high peaks. I knew that I wasn’t the only person struggling with the navigation as I could hear another runner on a lower path grumbling and fighting his way uphill through the undergrowth, after having missed a turn.
Approximately 10 miles into the race I was given the choice of running along a main road, or following a path through a field. We had been instructed to follow footpaths where possible, so I opted for the latter. It was pitch black and there was a mist slowly descending upon the fields. As I moved my head from side to side, all I could see were yellow eyes were staring back at me. Having watched far too many horror movies, my mind was working overtime, which served only to increase my pace.
I kept losing track of the footpath and then suddenly my foot disappeared with a splodge and I fell forward. I was up to my knees in a bog and fortunately my poles had prevented my arms going all the way into the mud. The sheep surrounding me certainly heard a few choice words and I decided that I really wasn’t enjoying the race at this point, and I started questioning whether I’d actually finish.
Shortly after this incident I found my way back onto the main road, where I bumped into another runner called Toby. It turned out that he was the chap I’d heard fighting his way through the bracken earlier on. We decided that we might be more successful at navigating if we stuck together for a bit, and to be honest, I was glad to have some company out on the dark trails.
To keep the account of the race as brief as possible, here is my summary of my personal high and low points:
- – Finding someone to buddy up with for approximately 40 miles of the race. It turned out that Toby is a triathlon coach, and he did a great job of pushing the pace and keeping motivation high. He also had some great stories from Kona, Norseman and various other races I’d love to do. We also found a chap called Steve along the route who ran / walked with me for the last 10 miles or so;
- – Running through a section of forest in the middle of night, only to find the wall of Derwent Reservoir looming up ahead of us. It reminded me of Winterfell from Game of Thrones, and it was a truly awesome sight. I laughed insanely for around a minute as we ran towards it, believing myself to be back in the Middle Ages;
- – Realising that we could navigate by following footprints in the dew when visibility was poor due to the fog;
- – Running through a field with 100 sheep running ahead of us, barking like we were sheep dogs;
- – Looking at the heavy mist deep in the valleys as we hit one of the highest points on the route. The mist was eerily glowing red in the darkness of the night, and it looked like dragon’s breath;
- – The amazing sunrise shortly before we hit the Monsal trail, when the cloudy sky was painted with red, orange, indigo and violet;
- – The moment Toby’s fiancée pulled a can of Coke out of the car for me, despite having been told by locals that it would be impossible to buy a can of Coke anywhere in the middle of the night;
- – Being looked after by the ladies at the Grindleford aid station who were really cheerful and super helpful;
- – The final descent into Hathersage;
- – Being provided with a nice curry at the end;
- – Having my heavy bag and tent carried to the car by a very helpful chap at the finish.
- – Arriving at one of the early aid stations to be told that none of the aid stations would have Coke. It’s fair to say that Coke is my favourite aid station drink, and the caffeine and sugar combo normally help keep me going strong, particularly when sleep deprived;
- – Finding that water had to be decanted from large 10 litre water containers at each aid station, which was virtually impossible to do without someone else helping. At many of the aid stations the volunteers were not proactive in offering help, and had to be asked;
- – Falling into a bog early in the race and having damp socks and muddy hands;
- – The numerous navigation errors, knowing that each one was going to add ‘bonus miles’ to the total distance;
- – Barely being able to see through the mist as the light from the head torch bounced back against the water droplets;
- – Arriving at one of the aid stations in the heat of the day to be told that they had no water. I had to then queue in a café in order to get my bottles filled, whilst a member of the public in front of me yammered on about how many races she had done and which ones I should do next. She didn’t let me go ahead of her though, even though I was mid-race and barely able to stand upright by that point;
- – Climbing the final ascents in the heat of the sun, wishing that there was some shade;
- – Finding out that there was no finisher medal after all that effort.
All in all, it was a tough race and I felt that the 3 UTMB points had definitely been earned at the finish. The navigation aspect was certainly much tougher than I expected, but the route itself was fantastic, and it definitely made for a great run. I just wish I’d been able to see much of the scenery in daylight hours.
I learned that I’m not very good at running on my own, as I prefer jokes and banter with another runner to help me through the tough times. Being with another person also really helped with the navigation as we were able to sense check decisions before heading along new paths. I’m not sure I enjoyed the last 10 miles, despite the scenery being stunning, but that was probably due to my lack of fitness following the CCC. However, in retrospect, I’d definitely recommend the event to other long distance runners. The cut-off of 24 hours is definitely quite challenging, as demonstrated through the DNF rate which was 53%. There are a few small things that the race director could improve (see my list of ‘low points’), but overall it was a well organised event, with plenty of aid stations on a very suitable route for running, and reasonably good value for money at ~£65.
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