Written by Iain Ridgway - http://iainsrunning.blogspot.fr
Written by Loyd Purvis - http://runninglongandlovingit.blogspot.co.uk/
So after the highs and lows of 2014 (more lows than highs!) here I was standing on the start of the first running of AofA 100 mile coastal foot race. Being my first winter 100 mile race I was feeling a little bit apprehensive about the unknown. The weather forecast was looking pretty good for the weekend considering it was early Feb. It was going to be clear and dry but quite cold through the early hours of the morning.
Just weeks before the race the local running community was hit hard by the tragic passing of Dave Rowe, a super talented ultra runner who was meant to be taking part in the race. We gathered at the starting point and had a two minutes silence for Dave, it was a really fitting start to this great race (R.I.P Dave Rowe). The air horn sounded and off we all went into the darkness of this epic adventure. It didn't take long for the field to thin out, off went Duncan Oakes and Steve Wyatt and they would stay together for the whole 100 miles to take joint first place in under 23hrs!
I found myself running in a group of about six runners, one of which was Charlie Ramsdale, a member of Mudcrews Ultra team. We had raced together a few times before and spent long periods of races together so it was nice to have her along for company.
We rattled along at a good pace and it seemed like no time at all when we reached the first check point at Porthleven. It was a great feeling stepping through the door of the Pub into the warm lounge where we were welcomed by a round of applause from all the supporters and support crews. I've never been treated so well in a race before, Mudcrew races are always pretty special but this was exceptional! Everyone bent over backwards for us! We got some warm food inside us and topped up our bottles and we were back out into the cold nights air, I didn't want to spend too long in the warmth of the pub because I was scared I might not want to leave!
By this time myself and Charlie had been joined by Richard Keefe, another talented local runner and also a member of Mudcrews Ultra team. We headed out of Porthleven and on to the next check point at Sennen cove. Still running strong and feeling nice and relaxed we reached Marazion where we would have to leave the trail and hit the dreaded road section through Penzance and Newlyn. It didn't take long for the feet and body to start hurting from the high impact of road running. At one stage we were all wishing for a hill so we could walk for a bit. We finally made it back to the coast path after some pretty tough road miles, it was good to be back on the soft stuff! We were all still running strong and feeling good but ultra running is a strange beast, when you are running strong in the back of your mind you are wondering when the low points are going to hit. Pushing on towards Lands End we battled through some hard sections of coast path, Lamorna and Porthcurno. At this point I must say a massive THANK YOU! to Richard Keefe's wife, she was waiting at the top of the steep steps at the Minack theatre with a cup of hot chocolate. I can only describe this as the best dam cup of hot chocolate I have ever consumed!
The temperature was dropping quick and by the time we had made it into Sennen (a few little detours on route!) it was pretty cold. Again the Angels came to our rescue. I haven't gone mad - the Angels was the name give to anyone on the Mudcrews support crew :) We stepped into the warmth of another cosy check point and it wasn't long before I had a lovely hot cup of coffee in my hands (Shaking Hands!) Charlie was having some blister issues by this time and I really couldn't stop my hands from shaking so we decided to stay in the warm for 15-20 mins so I could stop shaking and Charlie could sort her feet out. Warmed up and strapped up (Thanks, Angels) we made our way back outside, as we left the sun was starting to show its face for the first time it really lifted our spirits as we made our way back on to the coast path. Feeling the warmth of the sun was great after a cold nights running and a really cold early morning with the temperature hit -5 degrees at some points.
Even with the sunrise giving us a boast of energy we weren't getting carried away because we knew we were just about to hit the toughest section of the whole 100 miles!
I had spent many an hour training on the next section running from St Ives to Sennen so I knew the area really well, maybe a bit too well! Charlie was suffering quite a bit by now, not that you would know because she's one tough cookie and keeps her suffering to herself. First it was her feet and now it was her back being rubbed by her pack and it was getting pretty uncomfortable! The race director had organised the medical team to meet us at Cape Cornwall so they could take a good look at Charlies back and try to make it a bit more bearable. We arrived at Cape Cornwall and were greeted by Andy Jukes who had been doing an amazing job supporting myself and Steve Wyatt and everyone else in the race through the long cold night. Charlie jumped into the back of the medics van so they could look at her back and believe me it wasn't in great shape. Tom Sutton and Nicky Taylor were at Cape Cornwall helping out with race support so I went over to have a chat while Charlie got her back strapped up. It was quite exposed at the Cape so it wasn't long before I started to feel cold. Nicky and Tom got me a blanket and told me to jump in the back of their van so I didn't get to cold while I waited (Thanks, guys, it was a massive help!)
The medical team had done a super job on Charlies back so we were up on our feet again and ready to make the push to St Ives, my home town and the next check point. Cape Cornwall to St Ives was by far the toughest section of the whole race. If you combine really tired legs and minds with slippery technical coast path running it's a pretty dangerous combination. We were join by Martyn Lewis, a good friend of mine, between Zennor and St Ives, it was great to see a friendly face. We took our time through this super technical section, we didn't want any accidents this far into the race. It was an awesome sight as we rounded the head land to see the welcoming view of St Ives harbour. Arriving at the far end of the Harbour front in St Ives we were joined by a guy wearing a Mudcrew hi viz vest. He started running along the front with us so I turned to him and said hi, his reply was "what would you like to eat!" Yep, he was taking our food order so when we got to the control point at the Lifeboat pub our food would be waiting for us! I have never experienced this in a race before, Mudcrew really are great at organising running events and as you can see their attention to detail is truly amazing :)
As we got closer to the pub I could see Liga waiting for me with a big smile on her face, it was a great moment in the race, her smile really lifted me and I knew that the hardest sections where done and it was pretty good running all the way to the finish. I was quietly confident but you never want to get too carried away in a 100 mile race because things can change at a drop of a hat!
As we walked away from St Ives I could see Charlie was starting to suffer a bit. It was at a similar point in her two other attempts at 100 miles that Charlie had to pull out due to injury. I thought I would strike up a conversation to try and take her mind off the suffering and the fact we still had around 22 miles still to run with a long, brutal section of tarmac to come :(
As we arrived at Lelant church and left the soft coastal trail and hit the hard, repetitive tarmac it didn't take long before things started to hurt and tighten up! Once we had made it round to Hayle town centre, our bodies were pretty battered and sore. We started to run a lamp post, walk a lamp post to try and relieve our aching limbs from some of the impact. It really seemed to help and we were soon at Godrevy and heading back on to the lovely, more forgiving Cornish coast path. We both got a real lift when we got back on the soft stuff and with only 8'ish miles to the finish we pushed on.
I say we pushed on but we did a lot more than that. I think Charlie had got a massive second wind because she took off and was flying, it was a struggle just to keep up! We were up on the North cliffs in no time and even though darkness had descended upon us it didn't slow us down and for large sections of the North cliffs our pace was 8.30m/m! I can assure you I have never hit pace like that this far into a 100 mile race before :)
Having run the last 5-6 miles of the race so many times in training I knew there was a bit of a sting in the tail! Knowing Charlie was suffering with her feet and back, I decided to keep this to myself and be as positive as I could be in this situation. We crossed bassetts car park still at a good pace and on towards the sets of big steps that would lead us to Portreath. With three sets of steps to conquer before we reached Portreath it was head down and keep pushing. We over came the first three sets with only a few choice swear words! and I thought Charlie was a lady :) Dropping down to the bright lights of Portreath we could see our welcome party at the bottom waiting to cheer us on. We had a quick chat, filled up our bottles and with a few words of encouragement from our support crew we were off to tackle the horrible tarmac hill out of Portreath (I hate this HILL!) With Kay and Katie cheering us on all the way up the hill we made it to the top and were turning back on to the coast path. A few more big dips with more BIG steps and we would be at the the end of our epic Cornish journey! I kept saying to Charlie "one last push" "one last push" but I think at this point she had stopped believing me :)
We stood at the bottom of the last big climb, I had a great feeling at this moment in time. I knew this was it, the last big effort and boy was it an effort. It felt like I was on my hands and knees crawling up that last dam hill! Summiting the last flight of big steps and getting back on the flat we realised we had done it, with just flat running and then down hill all the way to the finish. We ran over the rise and what a glorious sight, the lights coming from the Blue bar at the finish in Porthtowan.
The guys at the finish line must have seen our head torches because we could hear them all cheering us to the finish. It's so hard to describe the feeling you get at the end of such a long race where you have had so many highs and lows! I think it's a feeling everybody should experience at least once in their life time. We dropped down the hill and turned the corner to the finishing straight. We had run 100 miles on tough challenging Cornish coast path, in winter conditions (well, kind of!) and I can honestly say I had loved every single step. It's not very often you can say that when you're racing long distances but this was definitely one of them times to savour.
It was awesome to see Charlie get to the finish line and put the 100 mile distance well and truly to bed! I must take this opportunity to thank everyone who gave up their time to help and support us on our amazing adventure because without you these things wouldn't be possible. Lastly I'd like to thank Mudcrew events for all their hard work in putting on such an EPIC well organised race. THANK YOU ALL VERY MUCH!
Written by Eliot Weatherill
Photography - Zoe Salt
The first thing that I should get out of the way here is that I am not a hugely experienced ultra runner in the grand scheme of things. I think the Arc was to be my 8tt …… but and there is a big but…. the last one was in 2014. In the 4 years since, I have had a long and frustrating return from injury. I’d gone from running 50 miles p/w just in my daily commute to work (without long weekend runs on top of that), to almost no running for a couple of years and then a very gradual easing back into regularish running. For my previous 100 the NDW, my longest training runs had been a 40, 50 and a 60 miler. Here is my monthly mileage for the 12 months leading up to the Arc-
Feb – 60.3
Mar – 30
Apr – 22.4
May – 13.8
Jun – 56
Jul – 44
Aug – 40.9
Sep – 61
Oct – 107.1
Nov – 108.1
Jan – 107.5
The biggest week in my Arc training was just 42 miles and the average was much less than that. In the first half of 2017 I had covered little more than 200 miles so what in the hell was I thinking?
Well to answer that, I badly needed a challenge and I was genuinely interested to know how much I could compensate for a lack of running with a solid (and trust me… I mean solid) cross training and conditioning regime. Most people would probably agree that it wasn’t even enough mileage for marathon training let alone a very tough 100 miler.
Turning up at the Blue Bar for registration was a nervy affair. Registration is always a bit nervy but off the back of such little mileage and in full knowledge that my furthest run in the last 4 years was just 27 miles and that this was a serious race… it was even more so. It didn’t help when we boarded the coaches to take us to the start in Coverack. I was surrounded by discussions about past races and achievement, talk of the spine, talk of the Arc in previous years and just generally anything to make my race preparation seem ridiculous. I don’t think I said a word for the whole journey and just had a focus on the task ahead. I just wanted to get going. I knew deep down that I was physically very strong despite little actual running and that my pure determination would see me through most things.
There wasn’t much waiting around at the start and the sun was out. A minute silence for Matthew McSevney who tragically lost his life before he was able to return and wrestle the Arc once more and then we were off. I settled in to the middle of the pack and just switched off and ran. A lot had been made of the conditions and it was very obvious that mud was going to play a big part in the race. With extra distance for course diversions and the strength sapping nature of the mud, anyone completing the Arc this year was going to be very deserving of that buckle.
After a while I had a surprise to be running with a group of runners from my hometown (or just next to it), which is always nice and had a good old chinwag about the differences between Sussex mud and Cornwall mud! Stephen Cousins and Richard Shlovogt went on to earn gold buckles and I will hopefully catch up with them and Jay McCardle on the Downs some time.
Nearing the first CP at Porthleven meant negotiating the last of the official detours and it was a beast. A couple of miles through thick mud to avoid just a few hundred meters of coast path is the sort of thing that really plays with your head. It was a relief to finally arrive in Porthleven.
I was lucky enough to have crew and don’t generally like wasting time at CP’s so my rules are straight in, straight out and definitely no sitting! I had told my crew that I didn’t want to see them before Marazion as that was just the warm up as far as I was concerned, so I filled my water bottles, put my headtorch on, grabbed a banana and was back out again.
The next couple of miles were fairly uneventful until Praa sands when there was a classic random ultra experience. I was running through Praa Sands along a dark empty lane with another runner a little way in front. We came across a dog with a flashing dog collar on that looked very lost and there was nobody else around and no houses close by. The other runner (I think it was Benjamin Jenks) managed to grab the dog and I was able to see a contact number on the dog collar so I got my phone out and switched it on. We tried a couple of times to call the number, the first time didn’t connect and the second time went straight to voicemail. We weren’t really sure what we could do but the most sensible plan seemed to be to find the closest house and see if they would take the dog as we needed to be somewhere else! Then the dog got restless and managed to wrestle free so we gave chase again down the road. After a couple of hundred yards we came to a parked car with an old man staring at his phone and it was at this moment we realised that the dog wasn’t actually lost but just had a really irresponsible owner who parks the car up in the middle of nowhere at night and just lets the dog out!! Anyway, mini drama over we continued.
Heading into Marazion I had wanted to avoid the beach that everyone always ends up on. When I reccied this stretch, I had done exactly that before retracing my steps and finding the correct path around. Well now in the race, I just blindly followed the runners in front on to the beach but at least I wasn’t far away from seeing my crew for the first time.
When I got to them they had everything I needed laid out on a wall for me. My brother and sister-in-law are both very experienced runners and my wife is always right behind me on my crazy ventures so between them they are an awesome team to have. I quickly changed my shoes and socks and said that I would see them in Mousehole to change back. It felt great to have fresh shoes and socks on and I was moving well. Straight in and out at the Penzance CP and on to Mousehole.
Another quick shoe change at Mousehole and then it was off into the mud again. I’d been running for quite a while without seeing anyone else and although I was aware of a couple of lights behind me, they weren’t getting any closer so it was really frustrating when I took a wrong turn just short of Penberth. After climbing up a hill for a while I found myself in the middle of an assault course before realising my mistake. I couldn’t hear the sea anymore and started back tracking. By the time I reached the path again and found the correct route, I was faced with another climb and a couple of runners had slipped in front of me and I could see them making the next climb. This was probably my lowest point of the race so far but compared to what was still to come, nothing major.
I kept plugging away and was still moving pretty well. I was looking forward to getting to Lands End so that I could change my contact lenses as I had become aware that the ones I was wearing had started to get a bit foggy. As I got closer, my headtorch went into battery saving mode which made things a little trickier and gave me something else to sort out at the CP.
Not having stopped at any of the CP’s to this point, I had decided to get some hot food inside me for a lift so waited eagerly for my sausage and bacon roll. I had also asked if someone could re-tape my feet. My feet looked great and I’d made it over halfway without a single foot issue so a new tape job would hopefully see me to the end. I had taken my contact lenses out as planned and had some spares in my bag but was a little surprised to find that it made no difference and my eyes were still foggy without the lenses in. The medic gave me some water to try and clear my eyes but it didn’t really make much difference. By now I had spent much longer in the CP than I normally would so rounded my thoughts ready for the next push. Heading back outside, the cold was immediately much more noticeable after the long stop so it was important to get running and warm up again.
Pushing on through the early hours towards daylight I next saw my crew at Cape Cornwall for a quick bottle fill and straight back on it. My vision had been slowly getting more foggy and had started slowing me down but as I left Cape Cornwall I knew it was only going to be about half an hour before the headtorch would be switched off and hopefully that would make it easier to see.
How wrong could I be! I knew that it was going to be a grey day and daylight would therefore be slower to appear with a grim forecast of rain settling in for the day but what I wasn’t prepared for was that the light would render my vision almost useless. A little way before Pendeen I had met up with Allan Rumbles and it was helpful to have someone to follow as Nav was getting harder and harder.
I had a quick coffee with my crew at Pendeen and told them that I was really starting to struggle with my eyes but pushed on. The hot coffee gave me a nice boost but after about another hour or so I could no longer make out any headlands and in order to see any of the trail in front of me I was having to constantly hold my arm up to block out the light from the sea and the sky. At this point the weather really started to come in as well and what would have been pretty bad visibility anyway was for me now becoming a serious danger. It was now Mr Magoo goes ultra running. At no point in the race had I ever considered stopping but now the last words of my wife before I set off were ringing in my head ‘just stay safe……’. I was now anything but safe and was continually stumbling and falling but pushed on because I didn’t know what else to do. Every now and then I would hold my hand in front of my face to try and gauge how much of my sight was left….. very little.
I must have looked mad running along with my arm in the air to shield the light and occasionally when I stumbled across a route marker, I needed to kneel right down and put my face a few inches from the sign to check I was still on course.
Having reccied the section from Sennen to St Ives, I was well aware what was still to come. It can give you great confidence when you have already covered the trail ahead but now it was having the opposite effect and my mind started to play out various rescue scenarios. Had this been a survival situation, I would have found a way. I would have slid along on my bum or on all fours or done whatever was required to keep moving without hurting myself. This wasn’t a survival situation and I could hear my wife again and the rest of the sentence ‘just stay safe…. Don’t be a hero’. Carrying on now was not heroic, it was bordering on stupidity and I didn’t want that to be the last thing my wife ever said to me before I fell of a cliff.
I was surprised when I caught another runner and explained that I was almost blind so would he mind if I followed his feet. It was a relief as the mental fatigue of trying to stay on the right course and keep my footing with each footstrike was now eating away at me. We pushed on together for a while. As we climbed some rocks towards Gurnard’s head he told me that the race photographers were at the top. It was at this point that I knew my race was over. At the top of the climb I could just about make out two figures in front of me. I asked them that if they were there taking pictures that must mean that there is a road and their car nearby somewhere and perhaps they could get me back to the HQ…. it was only when they started speaking that I realised it was my own brother and sister-in-law standing in front of me!!! I told them that I needed them to get me to safety and they didn’t argue. Between them, they paced me the last 50 of the NDW 100 and they know that I wouldn’t stop if I had a choice. My brother looked at my eyes and said that they didn’t look right and were all white which would certainly explain why all I could see was a thick white fog.
I felt miserable to be ending my race and it was a really bitter way to DNF. I couldn’t stop thinking that if I had just made it to St Ives, I wouldn’t have needed to see as much after that. My body was willing but my eyes had let me down.
After a trip back to race HQ to drop off my GPS tracker and a chat with the medic, it was off to Truro hospital to get my eyes checked out. The drive there was terrifying, my wife asked if I could read the number plate of the car in front and I told her that I couldn’t see the car. It took about 3 hours before my sight started to return and after a good going over by the ophthalmologist it was clear that I had suffered with corneal edema in both eyes and had significant abrasions to both corneas.
The Arc is a tough race for sure and you may be surprised by what the elements are capable of doing to your body if you take it on but it is also an amazing race. The event organisation is right up there with the best that I have experienced. The fact that there are as many helpers as runners is incredible in itself but each and every one of them did a fantastic job. The scenery and ruggedness of this coastline is breathtaking and even when I could no longer see it, the power of the Atlantic is with you every step of the way.
I’ve never been beaten by a race before and feel a bit cheated as it beat my eyes and not my body but it does give me an excuse to come back and do it again.
Written by Cat Attfield - http://likealass.com
Arc of Attrition: the product of Ferg’s beautifully warped mind.
Location: Coverack to Porthtowan, Cornwall
Distance: 100 miles
Elevation: 16,000ft (I think?! Though someone mid-race did say 22,000ft)
UTMB points: 4 points (old system)
Verdict: One of my best races yet
Usually it’s right about now that I’ll tell you how many hours I had to work in the run up to the race. Or admit how sloppy my preparation had been. But not so in this case. For the first time, my preparations had all gone well. I’m not talking about kit prep…nah, I was still faffing with that the day before.
I’m talking mind-prep.
I’ll freely admit that this was the singular best thing I’ve ever accomplished before a race: finding my bubble.
Feel free to laugh at this. I’m kind of laughing at myself here. I’m not normally one for the ‘touchy-feely-hippy-shit’. But if I could pin-point one single thing that made the biggest difference to my race, this was it.
Finding that inner calm came via a few routes:
- Giving my body a whole lot of love. That meant a LOT of vegetables.
- Yoga. Because yoga solves all.
- Daily gratitudes: positivity left, right and centre.
- Finding home.
Vegetables: happy body, happy mind.
Just trust me on this one!
My crew: Luke. Oh Luke. Where to begin.
Luke and I met a few years ago at another MudCrew event.
It was after a race, and the dance-floor was empty…except for one drunken, very merry Allez-Cat. Luke, also being a shameless dancer, came to join me, and helped drag everyone else onto the floor.
Two very young, smiley, silly running, slightly piss-head peas in a pod.
The rest was history.
Getting to the start line
Travelling down from London, I decided to break the journey into as many stages as possible:
The night prior to the race, Luke and I stayed with two of his friends in St Austell: Paul and Abbie. Paul had run the Arc the year before, and Abbie is just as mean a runner. Luke and I were in good company to relax the night before it all began. We had tea and some homemade carrot cake. Oh yumma.
Starting a race at noon was a first for me. It had the potential to throw a spanner in the works – I’m used to 8am start-lines after all!
Thankfully the food seemed to be spot on. Here’s how it went:
Breakfast – porridge. Lunch – beans on toast. Dinner – a baked sweet potato and an avocado.
On the day
6.30am – two slices of toast
7.15am – cold porridge and chia smoosh (in the car)
8.30am – small peanut butter sandwich
10.30am – small peanut butter sandwich
I normally have one big breakfast before I start. Poop. Then don’t eat until two hours into the run. But with the race starting at lunch time, it was a case of trying to take on enough during the morning to see me through until the first proper ‘meal’ at the first check-point – a good 25 miles away!
Registration was at Porthtowan – the finish line.
Registration was well organised and a seamless process. You had your kit checked, your hand stamped, your tracker issued, then you were free to faff around until the safety talks.
It was at registration that I finally got to meet the lovely Jane for the first time! How could anyone feel uptight with such a smiley wonder buzzing around?!
It was at this point that a few of us went for a cup of tea. Sat in the cafe I could hear people chatting about what races they’d done before. How many hundreds they’d done before. It was at this stage I nearly allowed myself to feel a little out of my depth. I felt like I was one of the few doing this as their first hundred. I reined those thoughts in and reminded myself that I felt great. Prep had been good, and I knew my body and mind were on-point for a strong run. Ain’t no room for letting your mind piss on your parade at this point!
During the safety talks we were warned about the weather. 4 weather fronts coming in: rain in the evening, and then absolute chaos in the morning.
Excellent. Ferg finally had his wish come true!
In the safety briefing, crew were warned to look out for signs of hyperthermia. They were warned to look out for anything unusual, or their runner chatting jibberish. It was at this point I turned to Luke and wished him luck with that!
A final send off from the race dirctor
Eyelashes preened. Lip-tint applied. I headed to the bus.
I was given some final words of encouragement from Ferg:
‘You’re not going to look that good at the finish, I can tell you that!’
…to which I could only reply…
‘Nah, I’m going to look better!’
And with that last nugget of enthusiasm, I hopped on the coach to take me to the start line at Coverack.
Start-line to checkpoint 1
Aaaaand we’re off.
It’s odd, for the first time I was stood on a start-line and wasn’t feeling that nervous. Not because I thought the run was going to be easy – far from it – but because I’d made peace with the fact that I was there, and I would give myself fully to the run. Whatever would happen, would happen. I was there, present, and I wanted to enjoy the experience, rather than distract myself and my energy with pointless worrying. What a beautiful feeling that was!
So you know the start of a race when everyone is going off too fast, and not talking much because it’s a race? Well this was no exception. 100 miles or not, heads were down and people meant business.
I remember turning to the guy beside me and saying that I couldn’t wait for the stage in the race when everyone just chilled out and started to enjoy it.
There always seems to reach a stage in longer races that people lighten up a bit and are happy to talk and have a laugh with you. Granted, that stage is different for everyone, but the thought of head-down focus for 100 miles surely wasn’t on the cards for everyone…right?
The first 10 miles or so were boggy and slippery. They were filled with hills, and for at least the first 5 miles I started to have some concerns about my asthma. I’m not great out in the cold – or rather, my lungs aren’t – and I could feel them threatening to get shitty on me. Thankfully it never came to anything.
Somewhere in mile 3 a bunch of us ended up in a boggy field that we weren’t supposed to, and had to climb over a fence and down a wall to get back on track. It would seem that this detour would set the tone for the rest of my run!
Thankfully the rain hadn’t yet set in, but the winds were reasonably strong. I rocked into Lizard Point at mile 10 with my all scratched up: I’d been knocked clean off my feet into a gorse bush!
It wouldn’t be honest if I said I fully enjoyed these early hours. Some runners have the ‘toxic ten’ – those crumby first ten minutes when they’re trying to get into their run. For me, I generally don’t get into a run until around the two hour mark. On this occasion, it took me until around mile 18 for my body and mind to settle into a happy place. It took it’s time sure, but it was worth waiting for – that mind frame didn’t shift from thereon-in!
As the darkness slowly set in, the winds picked up. Running along next to the cliffs, seeing the white of the waves crashing in was exhilarating. It was beautiful to see such mother nature’s power in such a raw setting. No central heating, no window panes, no protection: just me and the elements.
I settled in next to a guy called Simon, and we pottered on together to reach the first checkpoint.
A pub. And chips. And warmth. And tea.
Ok, so I didn’t fully utilise all of the amenities, but I still enjoyed this check point a lot!
I had: two big cups of delicious green soup, half a cup of tea and a bread roll.
I reached this checkpoint at around 1745 – so enough of time ahead of the cut-of. Those cut-offs were not generous – I’m used to reaching checkpoints with hours to spare! I suppose that’s what makes this run so exciting.
When I went to the bathroom, a lady started congratulating me, saying that they’d been watching me and how well I was running. She kept talking to me even when I was in the loo cubicle! I have to say, the lady’s comments gave me a real boost. If ever you’re crewing or see other runner – give them a well done, tell them how strong they are looking…it’s amazing how big an impact it can have.
It was also at this point I decided to have a couple of points on my feet taped. Prevention is much better than cure when it comes to blisters!
A quick sock and shoe change and off I headed with Simon and a man called Dan.
Dan is a fellow vegan, and we ended up running a lot of my race together. We talked about green smoothies, chia seeds, fruitarian diets, monomealing…ALL sorts!
Checkpoint 1 to checkpoint 2
By this stage, it was pitch black and the rain had started coming in.
If I’m honest, I don’t actually remember all that much about this leg of the run.
There were coastal steps. There were hills. There was mud. There was an emergency loo stop behind a parked van – I’m all class, me.
There was also a road section.
Luke had told me in advance to bring my road shoes for this leg, so as I emerged from the bushes, Luke was there ready and waiting with my road shoes. I plonked down in the car and chatted to my mates Simon and Vicky as Luke helped switch my shoes.
The road section was around 8 miles or so, and would bring me into checkpoint two.
What can I say? It was a road section. Breezy underfoot terrain, my ipod and some well-fed legs saw me motor along this section. My feet felt good, my legs felt fresh, I wasn’t tired…I was ready to run! So run I did.
I knew that the section after checkpoint 2 was going to be challenging underfoot, so I decided I’d make the most of having easy conditions, and ran a decent pace without stops until I’d reached that checkpoint. May as well make the most while the going is good!
I’d been saving listening to my iPod for a quiet section of the race, and the road section seemed appropriate. One particular highlight was when Al Green’s ‘Let’s stay together’ came on. How could you not feel happy when listening to that?!
A mile or so prior to coming into checkpoint 2, there was a queer sight. I could see on my left, a scarecrow. As I approached, it seemed that there was an entire allotment filled with scarecrows and other horrifying voodoo-type creatures. Were these the infamous night-monsters? I’d mentally prepared myself that I might have hallucinations, but shit, if these were my hallucinations, what other terrifying beasts would my brain produce later in the race?! I reminded myself that it was on 2230 at this point, and that I’d not been out for long enough to fall victim to any brain tricks yet. But to be on the safe side, I asked one of the other runners when I arrived at that next checkpoint.
Bloody scarecrows.Who even…??
I arrived at 2245ish, so I’d taken a decent chunk of time off on that road section.
More soup. More bread. More tea. More tape.
Checkpoint 2 to checkpoint 3
I had started to leave checkpoint 2 when I decided that having wet cuffs on my running top was going to annoy me, so back I headed to switch my top.
It was at this point that Luke paired me up with his mate Stu. I’d said to Luke that I’d really like to push on with someone for the next section: my navigation is shocking, and I’m a wuss in the dark. Plus, it’s often nice to have someone to share the experience with.
Stu and I had all sorts of conversations along this leg, but the stand-out one was about seaweed. Stu was explaining to me the basis of his PhD.
This next section was boggy underfoot to say the least. At one point I saw Stu’s entire leg from the knee-down be swallowed up with a vat of…err…something brown. It’s usually best not to ask questions!
There were small river crossings, and plenty of opportunities to total-wipeout or otherwise make an arse of yourself. Thankfully Stu was a gentleman and gave me a hand crossing the river sections. I’d have been swimming otherwise!
The boulder beach…so this is where our run gets interesting. Stu and I find ourselves on a boulder beach. So along it we head. We keep going and keep going until we’re at the end. We kept an eye out for any turn offs, but didn’t see any, so pushed on. This is when we find ourselves between a sea-cliff and a big rock face.
We try several different routes to negotiate our way out our predicament, but none looked especially safe. Quite why we didn’t just turn back is beyond me. I think we were both pretty keen to get off that sea-cliff pronto!
In the end we see a steep, grassy climb with a rock face at the top of it. I think Stu was reluctant to drag me up it, but eventually could see I was more than willing to go for it. So with hands and knees, we make our way up this grassy climb. The only problem here is that when Stu goes to take his next move, his foot catches my headtorch, and sends it right back down the slope! So down I shuffle on my butt to pick up the sodding headtorch, and I make my way up again.
Now, we’ve just got the issue of the rock. Is it going to be safe enough to climb? What’s at the top? I offered to investigate first. ‘Stu, can you please give me a punty up onto this first ledge?’…short-arse over here can’t actually get onto the first section on the rock! Once I’m on there though, I scramble on up and can confirm that we’re good to go, and that it’s our ticket out! This rock, it turns out, was Coffin Rcck. I’m very glad that there were no additional coffins needed after that climb! It could have been a very different story if it had been a few hours later when the winds and rain had picked up again.
Finally, we get to the top. We have no idea where we are, but we know we can’t get back down the cliff, so there’s only one way forward. And that just happens to be through an expanse of thigh-deep gorse and bramble.
I definitely whined more than Stu. There was half-whining, half-laughter. There’s not an awful lot you can do other than laugh at how ridiculous the whole situation is. The noise of my waterproof trousers getting shredded still rings in my ears though!
Finally we start to see some headtorches, so we run over in that direction, Cool, only 45 minutes or so lost, and my position as 5th lady down the pan. Still, we’re both safe and sound, and we’re back on course. Ish.
On we potter and we get to a big set of steps: Minack Theatre. Stu knew that I loved stair climbing, so let me scramble on up first. Too much fun!
Luke and Vicky were waiting at the top, and Luke’s first greeting was:
‘Where they bloody hell have you guys been? What took you so long?!’
It was at this point I explained that I’d upheld his legacy of getting lost on the boulder beach and went for some free-climbing practise. Two peas in a pod.
Only another 7 miles until the third checkpoint. Allez allez!
The only memorable thing from these 7 miles was that I was constantly asking people around me:
‘Are you eating enough? Is everybody eating enough??’
One response was ‘Yes Mum’ ha.
At one point someone said no, so I told them to hurry up and eat something, because I didn’t want them bonking on me!
Turns out my nutrition was completely on-point during that race, I didn’t have any massive highs or crashing lows. Just a good ole steady-eddie.
It was after I had some beans on toast that I decided I was going to call it a day.
A little prior to the road section, I could feel a bit of a niggle in my right Achilles. I’d brushed it aside and did a good job of ignoring it for the best part of 5 hours.
At the checkpoint I had some food, switched my socks and top, and took a moment to take stock of where my body was at.
Push on to finish the race, and risk ruining my year of racing? Or call it a day.
I opted for the latter.
In truth, it wasn’t my decision to make. The decision had already been made by my body: it was just a case of waiting to see how long it took for my mind to admit it.
I initially felt like I’d dragged Luke out for nothing, like he’d been to all of this effort for me not to even finish the race. I quickly set that thought aside though. If he wasn’t crewing me, he’d have been crewing someone else.
When I finally admitted my conclusion, I had a little bit of a cry. The tears weren’t for the fact I wasn’t finishing my first hundred mile race, but for the disappointment that the fun I was having was being called short. I was having such a blast out on the course, and felt absolutely alive. I was in my element, and I was disappointed to have to stop there.
I was pleased though that I’d got to ~60 mile mark without any sugar at all. I’d been saving any sugary food until the last 10 miles. All of my food in the race had been whole-foods. Yay for oats!
Luke and I headed over to the St Ives checkpoint from here for a quick nap and to help the rest of the runners. Once we’d seen in his mates, we made our way to the finish line.
Finish line fun
Waiting for the second lady – Sarah – to come in was one of the most exciting things. The anticipation of welcoming her home felt like a current of excitement through the race hub. It was wonderful!
All of the helpers, crew, volunteers, medics and race directors were wonderful. They were all so helpful, lovely, and full of enthusiasm for the event. No frowns here, no no.
After a few drinks and the party starting to wrap up, Vicky, Luke and I went back to stay with Luke’s monster-running mate Rick, who had been out supporting too.
There was the offer of a sofa and pizza. Yes, we’re in!
One last thing before bed: a shower to get the cow-shit and mud off my feet. It was safe to say I was pretty tired by this stage. I posted this the following day on Facebook, but here’s how it went down:
The mind: could easily hold me in a happy place for 17.5 hours in lashing weather, to grab me an hour’s kip, then to stay up for another 18 hours to support other runners…but could not cope with the lack of hot water for a shower at the end of it all. Midnight and I’m huddled in a towel in tears. Haha. Feeling good today – legs feeling good, no DOMS, but the inevitable cold is en-route!
Luke had also managed to hog the sofa, so I ended up sleeping on the floor.
Nothing a good cooked breakfast couldn’t sort though!
Why my miles are ‘ish’
If there’s one thing that can turn my mood sour, it’s being somewhere near the end of a race, but not knowing what time it is.
I nearly lost my rag in the UT110 when I was nearing the finish line but didn’t know what time it was, or how much further I had left to go. I was in some kind of mini-rage. When I found out that I had four miles left, rather than around two, I nearly cried. I was keen to avoid this happening again!
When I bought my Garmin (Forerunner 110), I didn’t think that I’d need a battery life of longer than 8 hours. Little did I know! My Garmin will generally die around the 8 hour mark if I’m using GPS, and I can rely on my phone to be dead by the end of a long race, so I’m often left for the final hours of a race not knowing what time it is.
In longer races, I’m generally not that fussed about what pace I’m holding since the terrain and ascent inevitably change what pace is suitable to run at.
For this race, I decided not to bother using the GPS. I used my Garmin as a watch, rather than for any other function. A pocket watch would have done the job! I paced myself by what felt right for me, rather than by my watch. I’m happy to say that it all worked out fine.
Luke kept me posted on how far it was until I’d next see him, so it was easy enough to keep a tab on how far I’d run, and how much further I had to go.
Normally just knowing the actual time of day is enough for me, but since it was dark and I didn’t want to keep faffing with rolling my sleeves up, I just didn’t bother looking.
Seeing a 14 minute mile as you’re climbing a hill might be helpful for some people, but since I generally run by feel on long distances, I don’t really gain much benefit from knowing my exact speed.
The Achilles aftermath
A few prods, squeezes and stretches later, and it all seems to fine.
The top three highlights of the weekend
Knowing that running doesn’t always have to be shite. When I ran the UT110, my mind and body went through hell. I’d imagined that was just what running for 18-19 hours felt like. No. Not at all. Those 17-18 hours of the Arc absolutely flew by, and with a heart full of love, I have the time of my life out there. The weekend of the Arc was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and it has opened up a whole new chapter in my running. I can run for a long time, and run happy. It’s a state of mind. That was a wonderful realisation. I guess the stair-training in the gym probably didn’t go a miss either! I loved the elevation profile of the race, and handled it with a lot more ease than I’d expected. Again, PMA. Positive mental attitude.
The love and support from friends, family and strangers. I’ve never known kindness like it. Messages and hugs in abundance. So much love from everyone. To everyone who made the weekend so special – those near and far, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Bringing Sarah home. This was my ultimate highlight. Bringing home the second lady – especially after hitting some bumps in last years run – was one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Everyone was genuinely thrilled to be bringing her home, and the emotions were just unreal. I couldn’t believe how emotional and how happy I felt for her. And I can assure you, it was more than just me with the waterworks.
Seeing the relief, the love, the gratitude in Sarah as she came through those doors was beautiful. And when she gave her grandchildren a hug, I could have popped with pride for her.
The following day when I was explaining to Luke how touched I was, I cried again. It was the epitome of community, watching everyone cheer and celebrate Sarah’s triumph. It is a memory that I will hold dear for a long time to come. This atmosphere of love and community is why I run.
Final note to Ferg
Ferg, I’d expected hell. And hell I did not receive.
I’ll be looking forward to discovering the true darkness of your race when I hit that beastly stretch after checkpoint 3.
Oh wait, does this mean I’m doing it next year?
I guess it so!
Written by Stephen Cousins - http://filmmyrun.com/
Arc of Attrition – Remember when we were kids in the 70s and our parents would drive us down the M5 to Cornwall with the rest of the UK population, for the summer holidays? After sitting in stationary traffic on the motorway outside Exeter for the first few days, we would finally arrive at the campsite or rented cottage and don our walking boots to stroll along the South West Coast Path. The sun was out, the sky was blue. Perhaps we’d buy an ice cream and play on the beach at St.Ives. Maybe we’d drive up to Land’s End to enjoy the view or stand in awe of the cliffs at Lizard Point. Good times.
Little did we know then that one day we would be back. In the dead of winter, in the black of night, we would revisit those nostalgic places of our youth on a 100 mile race that would last up to 36 hours for some, but feel like a lifetime for all of us. The only similarity being that this time, many of us would still be wearing shorts.
What’s A Survival Bag?
The Arc of Attrition, organised by Mudcrew, follows the South West Coast Path from the village of Coverack on the south coast of Cornwall to Porthtowan on its north coast. It is approximately 100 miles, although many suggest it’s further. Elevation ranges from 3000m to 5000m, but is officially 4010m. Suffice to say, this is not a race for the beginner. In fact, you are required to have completed a minimum 100km distance before you can even apply. On top of that, there is a strictly enforced mandatory kit list, which includes a survival bag. Not just a space blanket, but an entire body-cover survival bag.
The importance of this came into sharp focus in 2016 when 75% of those that started did not make the finish. Driving rain and storm force winds battered them into submission, and only 28 hardy competitors crossed the finish line of the Arc of Attrition 2016. This year the weather looked almost tropical by comparison. I arrived at registration in Porthtown with the temperature a balmy 4 degrees, although I was not taking anything for granted. The Blue Bar at Porthtowan doubles as both Race HQ and finish line. Runners are then bussed to the start after registration and the race briefing.
By 9:00am I had successfully passed kit check and been issued with my race number. The next job was to have a GPS tracking device fitted to my backpack. This would be continually monitored throughout the race and if I stopped moving for more than a few minutes, anywhere other than at a checkpoint, the team at Mudcrew would start making enquiries as to my well-being. Furthermore, if I were to press the button on the tracker, an emergency rescue helicopter would be dispatched. “Last year, someone managed to press the button in the car park before the race had even begun” says Race Director Andy Ferguson, by way of warning.
Most normal race briefings go something like this. “Please do not drop litter or you will be disqualified. Shut gates behind you, and there are a few pregnant cows around so do steer clear of them if you can. Have a great race everyone”. The race briefing for the Arc of Attrition 2017 included such gems as “Don’t wander off the path because there are numerous abandoned tin mines out there and the trackers don’t work at the bottom of a mine shaft” and “You’ll be running on some exposed cliff edges so make sure your head torch is working and turned on during the 13 hours of darkness”.
With that, 109 of us boarded the busses. We had an hour’s journey to Coverack. An hour in which to contemplate what lay ahead. I had goals, but no expectation that I would achieve them. I had fears but every expectation that I should overcome them. As well as running the race, I would be carrying a camera and trying to document my Arc of Attrition experience. This comes with its own set of problems over and above the actual running. Achieving good quality sound in howling wind meant carrying a separate audio recorder and mic. In order to get stable footage I needed a gimbal, which is basically a heavy, battery-powered selfie stick. I needed extra camera batteries, spare SD cards and a spare camera in case one packed up. Along with two head torches, survival bag, other clothing and water bottles, this made for a rather weighty Salomon vest!
Arc of Attrition
Suitably wrapped up against the ever increasing wind, we set off just after midday. After a few hundred metres on the road and a short climb, we were on the coastal path. The terrain was almost immediately uneven, the mud claggy and the elevation intense. In the first 10 miles to Lizard Point, my Garmin clocked me at over 600m total gain. One minute we would be high up on the cliffs with stunning views along the coast. The next we were on a rocky beach timing our run across the cove to avoid the oncoming waves. It was windy and cloudy, but bright with no rain. I had settled into the middle of the pack and pressed on. The running between miles 10 and 24 was much easier than the first 10 and I was ahead of my very loose schedule when I arrived at the first checkpoint at Porthleven. The Arc of Attrition course was split by four official checkpoints, all of which were located indoors in pubs or hotels and all served hot food. However, there were numerous points on the course where a runner’s own crew could provide additional support.
Despite having to look after our two small children, my wife, Victoria had agreed to crew for me. I’m afraid I am guilty of requesting a monumental effort on her part, to meet me at some 15 locations along the route. I’ve come to realise, over my ultra-running career, that in terms of nutrition, little and often is good for me. I have tried all sorts of food and drink combinations to prevent gastric problems. I’m not going to sit here and tell you what to eat or drink, but what is currently working for me is a meal replacement drink called Huel. Unfortunately, it’s not something you can stick in a bladder or soft flask, as it is rather grainy. The plan was that I would have water and Red Bull in my two front flasks and Victoria would provide my Huel drink every 7-10 miles.
13 Hours of Darkness
Soon after leaving Porthleven, the light was gone. Head torches donned, we made our way 14 miles round the coast to Penzance and the second official checkpoint at 38 miles. Penzance is a fair-sized town and running in, and then out the other side, made for a good few miles of flat, urban running on roads and paths. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t last long and we were soon climbing hills, traversing streams, crossing little wooden bridges and climbing over boulders again. In the daylight, the path up the steep steps to Minack open air theatre is beautiful. In the dark, when you can’t really tell how steep the drop is, it’s scary. But once at the top, I met my wife with two sleeping children in the back of the car and I was filled with renewed vigour, having made it to 50 miles.
The Arc of Attrition is a self-navigation race. This means that for most of the course, the event organisers have not placed any direction signs along the route. The good news is that the South West Coast Path is relatively well marked as it is. All you have to do is keep following the little acorn sign. Simple, yes? Well, not if you are me apparently. What’s annoying is that I even had the route map on my watch to refer to. I just didn’t refer to it often enough, and as the night drew on I regularly found myself 500 metres off course on another path and would have to track all the way back. On one occasion I led two other runners up a huge incline only to find we had to come all the way back down again. A little later, I followed a chap who looked like he knew where he was going, only for him to lead us both into bramble bushes up to our chests.
I made it to Land’s End and the third checkpoint still feeling strong, but now behind where I had wanted to be in terms of time. The temperature had started to drop significantly and we were approaching the most technically demanding section of the course. I downed a bowl of chicken soup and considered changing my socks. It felt like too much effort, so on I went. Having run with people on and off for much of the race thus far, by now it was thinning out considerably. I was to learn later that by Land’s End or before, 23 runners had dropped out. I set off down a path out of Land’s End at around 2am. I got about 400m down the path and panicked that I had gone wrong again. I walked back up, only to find I had been right all along.
Parts of this next section between Land’s End and Pendeen Watch were very boggy. However, 60 miles into a 100 mile race you start to care very little whether your feet are wet or not. In fact, sometimes it can be a real relief to put your feet in icy-cold water. If you’re wearing good shoes and socks, they should drain quickly so you won’t carry the extra weight of waterlogged footwear for long. By now, my Garmin was reporting 3000m elevation and it was only about to get worse. It was still dark at 65 miles when I saw Victoria at Pendeen Watch Lighthouse, before I headed out for a 14 mile section to St.Ives that is the most difficult and technically challenging on the Arc of Attrition course. It’s also the most remote, so any problems here and you’re on your own for longer than you might be otherwise.
Thankfully, it was during this section that dawn finally emerged. Although this made navigation easier, I was now seriously slowing down. Victoria had been there for me every 7 miles or so to give me a pep talk and send me on my way. Now I was alone, hardly able to run at all on the terrain and willing St.Ives to appear round the corner with every step I took. In other news, I was now also suffering hallucinations. “There are sheep over there”. No, just some small white rocks. “There’s an old woman bending over a wall”. No it’s foliage. “Look, a tank!” No, a tree. I eventually got used to this and found my sub-conscious’ creative imagination rather entertaining.
It took forever, but at last, in the middle of a hail storm, I arrived at the final checkpoint in St.Ives. The worst was over, but those 14 miles had taken me over 5 hours. My loose schedule had been to try and finish in 26 hours. That was now long gone. The next target was to get in under 30 hours. If you can finish the Arc of Attrition in that time, you achieve their coveted gold buckle. After 30 hours it’s a red buckle. I had six hours on leaving St.Ives to cover 22 miles. In any normal race, under normal circumstances, 22 miles in 6 hours is almost a given. But when you’ve run 78 miles immediately before, through the night, in freezing temperatures, across some of the most challenging terrain you will find anywhere in the country, it’s by no means a certainty.
Thankfully the first 6 miles between St.Ives and Hayle was flat and fast. I made every effort to cover this as quickly as possible and managed to pass a few tired legs as I went. The sand dunes from Hayle to Godrevy are the only section of the entire course that Mudcrew mark out to help you navigate. Running through sand doesn’t sound good news at all, but it was surprisingly easy given what had gone before. With 11 miles to go, I was back on the hills. This time though, the trails were much more like those you would find on any ‘normal’ trail race. I was running and walking, running and walking the best I could, but I could feel my legs were done. When I arrived at a huge valley with 6 miles to go, my heart sank. I thought, there’s no way I can do it now. Hobbling down the steps and crawling up the other side was about the best I could muster.
It’s amazing, though, what a dose of adrenaline can do. I arrived at my final stop in Portreath, a broken man, believing I had 5 miles to go. Victoria thrust a coffee in my hand and one of the Mudcrew staff (confusingly called Andy, like about 5 other members of the Arc of Attrition team!) told me I had 3.5 miles to go. “What?! I thought it was 5! I’m trying to get in under 30 hours”. “Well you can still make it”, he said. That was it. It was all the motivation I needed to fair sprint for the line. There was, however, one final hiccup. Andy had meticulously told me exactly where to go to get out of Portreath and back onto the coast path. But in my delirium, I hadn’t heard a word he had said and I ended up knocking on the door of some random house at the top of the village to ask where I was supposed to go. Eventually back on the coast path, I ran as fast as my legs would carry me.
I Want That Gold Buckle!
Those last three miles turned out to be four miles and were not without two final stings. Two more valleys to traverse before the final drop into Porthtowan. At the top of the hill I shouted to a bystander to ask the time. I had ten minutes to get down the hill, round the village and back to the Blue Bar.
Thankfully, it really wasn’t far and I crossed the line just before darkness fell after 29 hours and 50 minutes of a 100 mile race the like of which I have never experienced before. I was the last person across the line to get an Arc of Attrition gold buckle. I thought my finish was tight, but the last runner out on the course cut things even finer. She crossed the line 12 seconds before race cut off, in 35 hours, 59 minutes and 48 seconds. Incredible.
I am tremendously proud of my gold buckle and in awe of everyone who even started the AWhat a race. It is growing each year and is set to be a classic. A real challenge, on a tough course in a stunning part of the world. What’s not to love?
As for the organisation, I cannot speak highly enough of Mudcrew and their staff. Although there were only four official checkpoints, Mudcrew had staff out on the course at almost every accessible location, offering directions, nutrition, hydration, medical and moral support. Priceless. I will almost certainly be back next year to try and knock a couple of hours off my time.
If you have found this Arc of Attrition race report helpful and interesting, please do share it with your friends and anyone you know who might be considering taking part in this awesome Mudcrew event in the future.
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