When we go on UK holidays I am always thinking of running opportunities. In recent years Cornwall has featured heavily and I have taken on the challenge to run as much of the South West Coast Path as possible.
This year we were staying by Towan Beach. A stretch of the coast path which is around 43 miles long, with a ferry from ‘Place’ to Falmouth, via St Mawes to the west and a ferry from Fowey to Polruan in the east. Towan beach is about 2 miles from Place.
As I have committed my self to running the 2023 Arc of Attrition 100 mile race I thought this was a good chance for two particular firsts;
- Running with as close to full kit as I could get
- Running the Coastal Path in darkness
So Monday evening (after a long day out with the family in Falmouth) at 8:40 is I setout on my run. Heading east towards Fowey as the sun was getting low in the sky.
To cover most of the Arc kit I ran with my Salomon Adv Skin 12 – a new Salomon vest for me and my first time using it!
I had all the usual night running kit – torches, batteries etc. I also carried waterproof trousers and a jacket, long running tights, base layers, hats gloves etc. These are Arc gear and not stuff I would expect to need (and I didn’t – thankfully!).
I had 3L of water (there was no refuelling or topping up on the route) and I also had my Leki poles. A real opportunity to test my Pole running abilities out.
I ran earing my Trailfly 300 from Inov8. Im not sure if these will be the ones for the Arc. In the winter conditions I might need something with a little more grip, however these have a pretty good grip, are comfortable, and may well be my shoes of choice. Winter training will determine that decision.
In this run they managed well and I felt well connected to the trail, with the exception of the one time I tripped over my pole (I was getting a little lazy with my technique)!
My route was strictly the coastal path – where I could find it! There was a detour just west of Charlestown (nr St Austell) but otherwise I was on the usual path all the way.
The path in this area of Cornwall is pretty mixed. It doesn’t have the giant boulders you might find around the North Coast near Sennen, and it has a good bit of Beach at Par Sands. It has more steps than Riverdance concert and some beautiful sights – even in the dark.
One of my favourite points about this 41 mile route I took was that there was so little of it involved built up civilisation. I found myself in endless miles of fields, woodlands, steep ups and downs and just the occasional fishing village (like Mevagissey) or a short couple of road sections around Charlestown and Par.
The photos show some of the beautiful things I saw on the run. My favourite point was Dodman Point. I had read about this but forgotten the fact that there was a large cross on the top of the cliffs next to the path.
I came up the climb towards the top of Dodman point and was taken a little bit by surprise when I saw this magnificent stone cross. The story of Dodman is here (https://www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk/walksdb/37/#). The cross dates from 1896 and was built by the Rev George Martin as a navigation aid for shipping following a collision between two naval destroyers near Dodman Point earlier that year.
The final approach to Fowey seemed to take a long time – though I suspect that as just some tiredness also kicking in. It’s a lovely route though, over the final headland and then through some wooded areas and finally into the harbour village of Fowey – one of my favourite Cornish towns.
Apart from the first 2 miles to Portscatho and the route from Par to Fowey, I was alone. Not a sole to be seen. Yet I had a whole host of running buddies. Running in the dark has the added benefit that you have only a short field of view. My head torch is pretty powerful, but the varied terrain underfoot means a lot of time is spent illuminating only the few metres in front of you. So it can be a little surprising sometimes when you come across other living things on the way around.
Firstly, at this time of year, and in the middle of the night, all the spiders come out. Spreading their massive webs across the path to catch moths etc, many of them caught this runner that night. I encountered dozens, a good few I spotted only as I hit the web, with many being brushed off my torso, head and the occasional (well 2) which were unfortunate to find their way into my mouth – urgh!!!
My second encounter was a first for me. When running along the path, only metres from the cliff edge and the sea, to hear things rustling amongst the undergrowth is a little disconcerting. So I was a little unsure when I heard things I couldn’t see. I carried on, trying to just ignore, until an animal like a pretty large domestic cat ran across in front of me, stopped and stared as if to say – “What the **** are you doing here and this time?” I found myself face to face with a badger for the first time in my life! It was just brilliant. As quickly as it appeared it shot off into the bushes. This happened three times during the night, firstly around Nare Head and then just after Pentewan.
How did it go?
In a word … well. I got through the run, I found the time with my poles was really useful and by the time I got to Fowey I really had gotten the hand of the poles, double planting or staggered planting, uphill, downhill, flats etc. I really found them helpful.
I tried some new nutrition in Supernatural Fuels. They were good, particularly the maple one! They sat well in the stomach and were easy to eat.
Water was an issue. During such a warm spell in the UK I always knew my limitation was going to be liquid. I ran with 2.5L in my vest with 500mL emergency water in my Salomon Pulse belt. Once I had to start to use the emergency water, I knew my race would need to end at the next place I could be collected. I’m always a little worried about water, and so from halfway was rationing my intake. To reduce my use a little I throttled back o effort a little, to ensure I kept my hydration a little more in control. I reach Fowey consuming just the last few drops of my emergency water. Well judged maybe, lucky, or just good management of consumption. I would have liked a little more buffer, but I was in good shape when I reached Fowey.
This was a real bonus. I finished just before 7 on Tuesday morning. I was back out Wednesday morning running 6 miles on the path with my wife. Whilst my legs had some miles in them, there was no aching, no niggles, they were good. I have really found recovery now I follow a real training plan, to be where I have seen great improvement. I have SIS Rego recovery protein, I try and hydrate before, during and after my runs, and I try to take on the right amount of calories.
Some other things I have found that have improved my recover:
- Keep moving – I find I recover best when I don’t crash after a long run. I get up go for a walk. Go out with the family, just keep a gentle amount of exercise immediately after.
- Yoga – new to me in 2022 but something I have stuck with since January.
- Stretching – Yes I know, runners should do this, and most of us don’t! But I have made a little more effort ton this point – especially post run.
What I learnt
- The Salomon vest took all my kit and had plenty of room to spare. I had most of my Arc kit onboard but the few other bits I need to add will fit with ease.
- The maple flavoured Supernatural Fuel was really good.
- The Leki poles were a real win, in combination with the Salomon custom quiver to hold them – on the rare times I wasn’t using them!
- Foot preparation went well, a bit of taping, my 2Toms powder. No sock change and no blisters after 41 lumpy miles.
- Running in the dark on this terrain was a good win in itself.
- I run with my inReach from Garmin. My GPS tracker so the family can always see where I am when out in remote places. I rant his for the full duration of my time out and in the 10 hours or so it use less than a third of its battery, a good sign for some longer running.
Areas to improve:
- The Leki poles were great, but the shark grip hand straps are too big. I have the M/L/XL size and need the smaller ones. The caused a few rubbing hotspots around my wrists as a result.
- Upper body strength isn’t were it needs to be. Using poles really helps take some of the weight off the legs, but I found that my shoulders – which are more bone than muscle – ached the next day. I’m already addressing this with some upper body weights work.
- Downhill running – hen things are steep my technique needs improving. I fell during Race To The Tower this year on a steep downhill and on the odd occasion on this run I felt unstable going down the steep downhills. I got this improved by changing the angle I took on the downhill – I was previously just going straight down. Adding a little more of an angle to go across the gradient a little was much more stable and gave me much more confidence.
- Where to hook my hat? An odd one, but I found that I wanted to run much of the night period with my hat off. I am a cap wearer and when I took it off I didn’t want the hassle of taking my vest off and putting the hat away, so I hooked it on one of the bungees on the vest. This looked like it would be fine, but I found it constantly bounced about and the Velcro on it kept catching on the Velcro of my leki grips – not the worlds biggest problem, but annoying over long distances.
In summary, this was a great run in practice for the Arc 100. The route may not be part of the Arc but running on the path at night poses equivalent challenges and difficulties. Fuelling was good, pace was great and whilst I felt the effort at the end, I was in good shape and felt strong.
The coast path is a splendid place to explore. I feel I’ve been very lucky to have time out on the path to run day and night, and see some stunning sights.