Friday 27th January 2023.
Buses depart. Runners ready. No turning back now.
Lets wind back 12 months…
I fell in love with the idea of the Arc whilst tracking the 2022 event on Social Media. I have run a number of miles along the Coast path and have found it challenging yet spectacular. To find a race on the route I enjoy, and it be 100 miles seemed too good to be true. I had opted to not run any 100 milers in 2022 to focus on becoming a stronger runner. This seemed the opportunity I needed.
Read my final Arc thoughts here.
As 12 noon approaches the tension was high. Lots of nervous runners. Many experienced ultra runners. This group was, in the most part, a serious bunch of hardy runners. I felt a little out of my depth. These people all looked much more prepared and ready than I was.
I hear the Led Zeppelin classic Kasmir fire up.
Hairs on the back of my neck rise.
10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 ….
The race starts with around 300-400 people and the first few miles are tricky, stop start, wiggles and turns. You cannot get into a rhythm unless you’ve put yourself up front and go for it. In the pack you are kept at a reasonable modest pace and this is actually a fabulous warm up. I started slowly enough and enjoyed the ease of that first period.
In the first 10 miles there was a little bit of mud, not much, but don’t be mistaken there was a lot of water and plenty of mud, with some lovely bogs (more later) across the course. But in reality the course conditions were good, considering its Winter on the Coast Path! I nearly chose an aggressive trail shoe for the race, but at the last minute opted for a more mixed trail. option.
I preferred the idea of wearing one shoe model and not change it at Lands End. No crew meant I only had one swap option then. No shoe is ‘the’ right shoe for this, so I opted for the one shoe I had ran 100 miles in, and one I knew worked well on a lot of the path – as long as it wasn’t squelchy mud – and on the whole this was the right choice,
By 10 miles I got to Lizard, the pack was opening up and space appearing so running became a little easier and more my choice as to the pace I set. There were loads of people here, massive support, and though I saw lots of people I strangely don’t recall much noise. From the comment of others, I looked as though I was just in my zone, and I think that’s the reality. This race was such an important thing for me that I really had slipped into an early focus.
Between Lizard and Porthleven (CP1 at 25 miles) I had the pleasure to run with Vassos Alexander. We had a great chat running through the incredibly splashy bogs on the way to Mullion Cove. Apparently this year wasn’t too bad, even so, the water was 3, 4, 5, 6 inches deep in places. I was incredibly grateful of the choice of my Dexshell waterproof socks.
Porthleven – CP 1
Arc Valets are a new thing to me. As you approach the checkpoint you get ‘collected’ by a valet who guides you in, makes sure everything is good and you are given what you need – food, water, medical attention etc. Once you are ready to leave they then guide you out like Airport ground crew. They point you in the right direction and wave you off towards the next checkpoint. fabulous aspect of the race. They were superb. and made the race such a special event.
I grabbed a coffee, put on the lid of my cup and cracked on.
Up to now I had really been eating well. I didn’t need a top up at the CP.
From Porthleven on, my race was quiet, I ran with people at times, but very little chat.
That said I did spend some time talking to Steve Wyatt a.k.a. the Pirate who has taken part in 7 races and won it 5 times. Not in it this year to complete but found his way to the startling and I had a great chat with him. Top bloke 🙂
After Porthleven I was concerned about the way I would feel in my not particularly cushioned shoe on the road into Penzance, and I think I misunderstood the route at the point a little, as I thought there was a long road section into Penzance. Maybe it felt better than I thought, maybe I just misunderstood!!
Not long after Porthleven the darkness hors kicked in, the head torch came out and the night became lit with hundreds of tiny moving lights along the Coast Path.
What you do see in the dark though is the places like Penzance can often appear nearer than they are, you can’t always see the curve of the coast and what seems like half a mile away turns out to be 5. You need to be prepared for that otherwise its all to easy to get really depressed by. these elastic destinations.
As I got to Penzance I was expecting the CP to arrive at 38 miles, but actually I hit about 40 before I got there. That dragged on and I started to get a little frustrated. But I had to put my blinkers on a bit. I couldn’t afford to lose focus at 40 miles knowing I probably had 65 more to go!! I was looking forward to hot food, and the extra 2 miles wasn’t welcome at that point.
Penzance – CP 2
Penzance CP was again a fabulous place. Support was brilliant. I grabbed some pizza and a coffee, took a couple of minutes then up and out and back onto the route to head towards Lands end via the joy that the Minack steps can bring!!
That CP stop actually really set me up for the next section. The coffee and the pizza hit the spot brilliantly, I walked the next 5 minutes, letting the food settle, warming back up. Then when I started running again I really felt re-juvinated. I knew that I had what it would take to get me to Lands End!
The route from Penzance through Newlyn to Mousehole has a lot of tarmac, it’s hard and without road shoes your feet are not always happy. It was a section I just had to grind out a little. Focus, one foot in front of the other, repeat, repeat, repeat …
Leaving Penzance I was over 40 miles in and I was now into territory new to me – I had a maximum experience of 40 miles on the coast path from last summers night run (Roseland Peninsula). Every mile now was going to test me!
My next challenge was Lamorna. Having seen the excellent videos by Stephen Cousins (Link), I was a bit concerned over the path out of Lamorna. Rocks, unclear routes, cliff edges and pitch darkness sounded a little daunting. Having recce’d the route out of the cove the day before race day I felt a little more comfortable about how dangerous it was. It’s not one to how the wife in advance!! But the route I say enough in daylight. A recce here I a good idea!
Arriving at Lamorna there was again excellent support and I headed straight through to the rocks. That went well, I was confident in the route and just ploughed through. The recce was super helpful. What appears as an impassable pile of rocks with no obvious path (in the dark) is a little challenging but having looked in the daylight I knew better what to do! That said, you are still inches from the edge of the path, and a big thing this route and race requires is the utmost respect from those taking part. Its dangerous, no doubting, and that’s before you even hit the steps in the last few miles!!!!
I headed towards PorthCurno and the Minack steps. These steps have a hideous reputation. But then any steps after a tough 50 mile race are going to have to try very hard to not be hated! As it is they are not all that terrible, Helped now by a new handrail (not nice to look at but helpful to climb!). The other thing to consider is that these steps aren’t all that bad when you compare it to the steps up the ‘bitches’!
At this point I was just finding the legs moaning a bit about steps. I had reached 50 miles and steps were a little more effort. I had poles with me but they remained stashed to this point. They were going to make an appearance a little later but up to now I hadn’t used them. In all honesty there is a mix of thoughts on poles at the. Arc. The route is soft going early on with narrow paths that are twisty and awkward. So much so that at times poles are a massive hinderance and hazard, whereas other times they can really help. I had some spots in mind where I was thinking of using them and had Lands End as my target for getting them deployed.
Up at the Minack I met the Flying Angels (not for the first time). Topped up my fluids, had a quick chat and then pushed on.
Now, in theory I had run the route from here to Portleven, all but the final 4 miles or so. This gave me some confidence on the day as I didn’t recall anything scary! In reality it was impossible to know where I was due to the darkness. Apart from the occaisional landmark that you couldn’t miss (Levant tin mine for example) I recognised none of it and the previous running experience was of no use!
Anyway, I only realised that when I reached St Ives and thought, hang on, I’ve run through that bit already!
Anyway, back to Lands End. It’s not far from Porthcurno, but you see it from a long way out, so it appears as though it keeps running away from you as it never seems to get closer! There’s a bit of a need for a strong mindset here. It will arrive, just grind it out.
Lands End – CP3
At Lands End the valet were again great. Now as an unsupported runner I got a drop bag at Lands End. I had a strategy:
Change socks, hat, buff, top etc. Spare clothes as needed. Replenish food.
In reality I changed my hat and buff and stuck with everything else. I replenished my supplies, topped up may Garmin and settled in to a bowl of vegan chilli with cheese (mozzarella – a new experience I won’t lie!!). And another coffee.
Now I was feeling like I was in a race!
My legs were telling me they weren’t really sure they had been consulted on this activity and wanted to ask for a second opinion haha!
Anyway the pause and food again was good.
Now, here is my main mistake. I felt like I had gone through a tough day, but nothing was done in or painful, so I opted to not change too much – don’t fix what is broken! In reality I should have changed my socks and attended to my feet to make sure they were in the best possible state to last another 49/50 miles. I regretted that decision by the time my race was done.
So, drop bag returned, poles out, 2 pieces of pizza in my shorts pocket for the journey (who doesn’t have pizza in their shorts eh!)
Into the night I headed knowing I had the badlands of the Lands End to St Ives stretch with the post Pendeen Watch section to look forward to!!
23/24 miles would see me to the final checkpoint.
LandsEnd to Cape Cornwall, Cape Cornwall to Pendeen Watch and then Pendeen Watch to St Ives.
From Lands End to Pendeen the running and path etc is not bad. It’s no Olympic. running track but it’s not bad. You can settle into some nice running, climbing, descending etc and feel like you are making steady progress.
As soon as you move past Pendeen its like things take a turn. For the worse. There’s a big section of this part that is unrunnable for all but the best mountain goats amongst us. Rocks, boulders, bogs, running water, mud, hard to follow paths. It had it all.
With the wet weather preceding the race the streams all around the course were pretty full and fast flowing, so there was a lot of water around (maybe not as much as in other years) but. If you are new to this path in winter, it has a lot of streams to cross in some way.
After twice falling on my arse and nearly losing a shoe in a knee deep muddy puddle I reached a section that was just a pile of massive boulders. In the dark I simply couldn’t see the route. It took me minutes of scrambling wandering and head scratching before I found the route. In the. Daylight it would have been easier, but in the dark I couldn’t see the path! This section I well worth a recce before hand!
Getting towards St Ives is a real achievement. It is a massive challenge to get there, and I cannot blame anyone for dropping at St Ives, it takes a massive effort to reach there, and no matter how much people say you can walk it in from there, I think the stretch through Zener to St Ives could sap the enthusiasm and energy from many. As Vassos said at the award ceremony, he didn’t lose his legs in that section, they were taken away from him!
St Ives – CP4
I arrived in St Ives not long after daylight and the early morning in St Ives is nice and quiet. Here was one of the very few places that Mudcrew signs had been put up. So getting through the town was a piece of cake. I found the valets lined up at the RNLI station and was taken up the road and into the final Checkpoint. It was now dawning on me that I was going to finish this thing,.
At the checkpoint, I again stopped for food (beans on toast) and a coffee. Took a few moments to just check in on myself and see if everything as good. I got my pack on my back, picked up my poles, and decided that I had this race to take down and was going to crack this thing I had been working so hard for. I began to feel the emotions swell inside me. I could feel that sense of achievement bubbling away, but I had to keep focussed. There was still more than 20 miles to go. It could still go wrong. But I was in a strong place to pull this out of the bag!
At this point whilst I was broken I knew I had it within me to get this done.
22 miles to the finish, Dunes of Doom to get through and the infamous ‘bitches’.
I had a goal to just finish this race, but my personal objective was to get it in under 30 hours and get that Gold Buckle (Sub 24 = Black, Sub 30 = Gold, Sub 36 = Silver). However I wasn’t doing a good job of understanding the timings – probably a bit of tiredness now kicking in having been awake for over 24 hours and still 22 miles to run! I wasn’t sure the sub 30 was really still on. Given how I felt. But wasn’t prepared to give up yet. My watch was giving me the right information, but. I wasn’t reading it properly and thought I was probably 3 hours behind the actual time.
From St Ives my strategy developed. There was significant reliance on the poles now. Stricter on uphill hiking and downhill running – where it was possible as some of the downhills are too rocky or steep to run. I find with poles that even on flats they can be useful to help tap out a rhythm. Tiredness can destroy running technique at times. For me poles really help to keep things in shape. They were getting me through this.
Eventually I found my way to Hale, a quick flying angel stop and I headed to the Dunes. These Dunes are not too doomy, not really. In daylight they are OK to navigate and the GPX file for the route made it much simpler. Almost always finding the slate marker meant the next post was visible, but towards Godrevy they get a bit few and far between. I just new I had to follow theGPX route and all should be fine.
Through Godrevy now and some pretty reasonable running conditions appear along the North Cliffs. It was getting busy though as a lot of people were out walking dogs etc. It was nice to have the encouragement of so many of them. I had to dodge a dachshund or two, but the clapping, good wishes and shouts of ‘well done!” forom many was really heart warming.
Now, I knew there were some hills towards the finish, but I have to admit I couldn’t anticipate how I would feel when I reached the last few hills approaching Portreath.
By now anything uphill I was hiking, steps I was really relying on the leverage the poles were giving me.
The so called ‘bithces’ into Portreath are hideous. Such steep climbs up and down. I’m not sure how I would have gotten over those with the poles. They saved my quads from total destruction. The shark grips on the Leki poles worked so well at this point too. Without poles those climbs may have been a step too far for me!
Now there’s a sting in the tale, as I had misunderstood and thought that after Portreath I was pretty much done for hills (apart from the final climb). But I forgot about the infamous. Sally’s Bottom. This is a killer, and with 99 plus miles in my legs it looked insurmountable. The poles took the brunt of it. For a moment before I climbed up I took a deep breath and just dug in, then it was just step, step, step step. Getting to the top of Sally’s Bottom climb is such a relief.
From the top its easy running (or at least would have been if I hadn’t already done over 100 miles!!) To Porthtowan. I was still not reading my watch right so wasn’t sure where the 30 hours so had to do what I could to get there quickly.
As I descended into Porthtowan I studied my watch better and realised I had over 3 hours to do the final 3/4 mile to the finish! The releif was massive. Not only was I going to finish this brutal race, but I was going to get that buckle I so wanted, I was going to go under 30 hours! I had to work a bit to hold back the tears at this point. The emotion from the race, the tiredness and the knowledge that the journey of the last year to get me to this race was nearly over, and over successfully was overwhelming.
But … somebody decided that the best way to finish this race was with one final climb, a slow drag up a steep climb. But, to be honest, I don’t recall steps of any significance, and with the poles I was able to hike it out pretty steady. There was nothing left in the tank, it wasn’t quick up that final climb, but it was done, I ran through the fields of the Eco Park, turned the corner and saw the arch and knew I had done it. I had finished one of the UK’s most brutal 100 mile races with 9 hrs 13 minutes to spare from the cut-off. Utterly incomprehensible. Hard work pays off.
I’m going to do two other posts on the Arc.
One a bit more about being an unsupported runner and one about kit.
Thanks for reading
4 thoughts on “Arc of Attrition 100 Mile Race Report”
Congratulations awesome result and loved the race report. Hoping to do the race in 2024
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Cheers David. Good luck with your participation next year 👍
What a result! Well done! Great report (but doesn’t make me want to do it – I’ll stick with Angelling & crewing!).
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Thanks. The Angels are such a great asset to the race!