So what’s happened? I would say a decent amount. I started this quarter with 1 race under my 2022 belt, I now have 6, so April, May and June have been busy – April especially:
I’ve been very satisfied by the progress this year.
Reading Half was a race that I took with one eye on Brighton Marathon only a week later. So I took that easier than I could have done and so was really pleased to get a 1:30 time.
Brighton Marathon was ace. I really wanted sub 3:30. I had in mind sub 3:15 (to beat my treadmill marathon PB from 2020), and given how well I was running, I had a bit of a dream that I might get close, or just sneak under, 3Hr. I didn’t quite make that but it was close – still comfortably a BQ time (!!!).
The IOW ultra has been bounced from year to year due to COVID and I was finally so pleased to take it on. A great race, some fabulous scenery and a lot of hills! A 6th place finish was very satisfactory.
The Hampshire Hoppit – a replacement for the cancelled Race To The Castle. A changed route to the now I ran in 2019, but still tough. Big hills, steep downhills and again, stunning scenery. Finishing 19th was better than expected.
Race To The Tower – This was amazing. The Cotswold Way is beautiful. Views go on for miles. The route is very challenging with hills a plenty. Some of the downhills are so tough they are harder to get down than some of the ups! Combining that with a nasty fall at around 20 miles, a 7th place finish and sub 10Hr for a double marathon was more than I dreamt of. That race is an instant winner in my book.
And that is the quarters events covered. The rest of the time training has continued following the Krissy Moehl guide I have used for a couple of years now. The mileage has been steady, but as we enter quarter 3, the mileage is going to grow towards the 100mile/week mark. Things are going to get tough.
The rest of 2022 has more races in the schedule. Most excitingly for me though is a return to Cornwall for some South West Coast Path running. My spiritual running home. The target of taking part in the 2023 Arc of Attrition means taking on some of the hardest hills I’ve ever run, over 100+ miles. So some time on the path this summer is going to be key to my training and conditioning for this challenge.
I also need to tackle some training with poles. I feel they are important to taking on the Arc. But not without practice. I have some cool Leki carbon fibre poles and a Salomon Quiver to hold them, so there’s no holding me back now.
One final thing for 2022. Nutrition. A lot more practice and research needed to fine tune my nutrition package for those long endurance events. I have good food options for mid distance ultra’s but long tough 20 hour plus races I need to work on. I have just started to look into Supernatural fuels so will report back on those. Im continuing to enjoy Veloforte gels/bars and have found Mountain Fuel a good addition to this, along with their night and morning fuel pouches.
So here’s to another 6 months of training and putting in the work to get me to the Arc start line in. January 2023. It’s going to be a real journey.
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.
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.
Here I am little more than 36 hours away from the start of what is regarded as one of the UKs hardest, most brutal 100 mile races. And I don’t mind sharing with you that there is a whole heap of nerves going on.
Having run for 5 years plus now and having taken part in races from 5Km to 100miles, I’ve started to reach a point of being comfortable in the fact that I have as much right as anyone else to be at the starting line. But this is different, this is a seriously different challenge. That sense of not belonging, that imposter syndrome is back with a real vengeance.
The reality is that I have worked hard for a year to get to this point, I’ve run nearly 3000 miles, I’ve finished well in many trail races, top 10 in a bunch of them, including some of the Centurion Running events, which are well attended and not the easiest. So I’ve earned this opportunity, and I’ve worked as hard as many, if not most, to reach the start line.
Why did I choose to take on the Arc?
Limits, that’s why! I’ve done OK in my running journey so far, I’ve achieved more than I could have ever believed back in 2017 when I bought a pair of New Balance shoes and strolled around my local park for 2Km thinking that this running lark was easy. However, one thing I have tapped into with running is that I have this desire to explore the limits of what I am capable of achieving. Running the 2021 Robin Hood 100 was meant to be that massive obstacle that took every ounce of my physical and mental determination to get over. And as much as I loved that race, and was overwhelmed with my 5th place finish and 20Hr 19min finishing time, it didn’t take me to the complete extremes physically or mentally. It wasn’t easy, don’t get me wrong, but I never reached the ‘chuck it all in’ point. I never came up to my limit and kept pushing against it to find a way to finish that race. I just ran around, had a great time, and crossed the finish line.
So when I came across the Arc dot watchers in January last year I had a few thoughts.
I’ve run a lot of that route and that’s a tall order!
Completing that would be a real challenge
I don’t think I could do that
Those 3 thoughts instantly turned into ‘I’m entering’.
I spent 6 weeks until the registration for 2023 opened flipping back and forth between doing the 50 and the 100. I thought I could do the 50. Yes it would be hard but I felt 50 was within me. The 100 I struggled to see myself getting through that distance, especially over the course that I have some experience with. Throw winter weather in to the mix and lots of darkness hours and I struggled to see the 100 as something I could overcome.
Come the start of March, I had to decide, and the decision came down to the realisation that I’m looking to find that challenge that pushes me to really explore the possible, maybe by finding the impossible on the way. I couldn’t easily visualise finishing the 100 mile route. That had to be the choice, taking the easier 50 mile option would have left me feeling a little like I had wimped out.
From that I knew I had to train hard. I entered a bunch of events that would give me some great training. The Isle of White ultra, multiple Centurion events, including the pretty tough Wendover Woods 50miler and the night 50Km. I ran night training runs along the coast path whilst on holiday, I ran nights, early mornings. I ran in the heat of the summer, I ran in howling gales and torrential rain. Nothing stopped me getting out there. Well, almost nothing!
Along the way I hit my Boston Qualifying time for the marathon (I’m in this years event in only 2 1/2 months!), I came within 100 seconds of breaking the 3Hr time in the London Marathon, and I finished in a number of my ultra’s in some good positions and times.
On top of the running I took up yoga and strength and conditioning sessions, I bought more yoga equipment than I knew existed previously! I signed uo to online sessions with the rather brilliant Carla Molinaro. I went all in for this event.
And the result, …
Well who knows.
I will toe that start line on Friday.
I will have all the kit I think I need.
I will wait for those drums to sound and the blue smoke to curl into the sky and I will head towards the sea, turn right and head towards Porthtowan, 100+ miles away.
Whether I get there, whether I finish in time and whether I get that buckle, that’s only part of my goal here. By lining up on Friday I have already reached my first objective. Finish or not, I will either get a new buckle for my collection, or I will find that limit that exists within me, right now. And both of those are good. I’m OK with either, What is true though and what is undeniable, either way I have more to find within me. I will continue to explore my limits, and when I find a limit I will explore how I can smash through that and push to the next one.
One of my big motivations is that I have 4 children, and my running journey is as much for them as it is for me. At 40 I found a platform to explore what I was capable of, to push my own belief and expectations I had formed of myself.
I want them to realise that there is so much that you can achieve no matter whether you think the limits have been reached.
Importantly I want them to see as well that you have to invest in yourself to make a difference. It takes work and effort, but with the right intent and dedication there is no reason why you cannot achieve something you previously thought was beyond your reach.
When you think that you are at the end of the journey, it is just the start of another.
One of my biggest uncertainties for the Arc Of Attrition 2023 is my shoe choice. I’ll explain my dilemma…
The Arc is 100 miles long (and a few bits of change), it’s on the Coast Path of Cornwall with every terrain from tarmac to sand, mud to boulders and anything in between. It’s also in January, mid winter, with all the weather that you can imagine.
Whilst there is a bag drop around 55 miles in and I could put a change of shoes in that bag, the terrain is varied all the way through, so apart from a fresh pair, there’s no real advantage. Oh and I’m going without a crew, just because that’s how I normally roll!
My thoughts on shoes from the cupboard …
Nike – road shoes – Erm no!
Trailfly G270 – my fave shoe. A top top shoe with great comfort and grip. I would opt for this without caution if it wasn’t for the mud. There’s pretty much a certainty of a good deal of mud and these shoes are like stilettos on an ice rink in those conditions. Not their target surface!
Trailfly G300 – very much like the 270, with extra cushion. Sounds a good start. But in my experience they are much less grippy. They were also the shoes that I slipped and smacked my head whilst wearing, at Tower this year (‘22)! So I’m not the most confident on the wet rocks and slippery downhills.
X-Talon – a great, grippy shoes and definitely ticking the mud box. These shoes did me well at the Wendover Woods 50 miler recently. But they too can be a bit uncertain on wet rock. Better than the G300, but still a concern on wet rock. Also they have the cushioning of a Cream Cracker! Might be tough over a full 100 miles 🤨
Roclite (300 and G275) – probably the right shoe in my collection – G275 over 300 simply on the extra cushion and fewer miles racked up so far. cracking in most conditions – a definite jack of all trades. BUT… these are not great on long distances. 40/50 miles and the feet start to suffer.
So you see the dilemma.
But then Inov8 do this …
Only days ago they release a new ‘Ultra’ targeted version of the Roclite. I already have enough shoes but this, this is surely the shoe I was looking for !!
I think I might have to think what’s best, time is running out. If I go for the new I need time to get them tried out, if I go for an established shoe I need some strategies for managing the grip issues or longevity concerns.
Trial and error
I’m in Cornwall for 36 hours before the race start so whatever I choose there will be a good few pairs coming with me to Porthtowan and a bit of route checking on the Thursday to make any final selections.
Whatever the case, there will be times that I’m in the wrong shoe for the conditions. It’s just a case of getting the right balance. I need confidence on wet rock to stay upright, I may have to go with a shoe that gives me that confidence but is less perfect for mud. But it also needs endurance and comfort for hours and hours of challenging running.
Shoes can make all the difference over this distance and terrain. But there’s a whole package to get right.
Firstly let’s get to know Wendover. It’s a forestry commission woodland in Buckinghamshire. It’s about 2 square miles and there are a lot of trees. Oh and did I say, it’s got some hills!!
How centurion get a 10 mile race route in that beggars belief. But if anyone can, they are the people to do it.
The route is a mix of leafy woodland, gravelly, chalky footpaths, a bit of field, a few yards of tarmac, some steps and some steep climbs which are muddy or chalky in general. It’s trail running in its finest form. If it’s been wet there will be mud all over and in dry conditions it can be a dust bowl in places. November is often a good time to run but it can be wet. On this occasion we had great conditions. Possibly perfect. It was dry, soft but not squelchy underfoot and just about the perfect temperature for a gentle run in the woods.
The start is in ‘trig field’. Car parking next to the start line. The route is 5 x 10 mile loops. You start in ‘trig field’ run around, through 1 aid station at Hale lane and then back to trig field to start the next loop.
Registration – nice and simple. Get a number (for the second time at Wendover I was 237!). Get a tracker fitted to your pack and hand over any drop bag. I tend to not have a drop bag and utilise my car. You are allowed to go to your car after each loop Naomi get the boot nicely set out and organised as my own crew station and find that much more efficient.
9:30 and race start. Lap 1 is a little different to the rest but quickly joins the main loop, promptly passing the Gruffalo (will see him 4 more times and in the dark by head torch he’s a little more scary 😱). And heading down a rocky footpath.
The route then takes you through the trees and around a loop with some long down hills before eventually heading out over an open field. This is a beautiful section. Lots of runnable terrain and great views. A gradual long climb before yet another fast downhill brings you back to the footpath and a good runnable section before hitting the ‘fake’ aid station. The looped course means you are often close to mother runners at other points of the loop (though you rarely see them because of the trees and elevation). But here you go within inches of the aid station, but have about another mile/mile and a half before you can use it 😖.
Another long, gentle climb (runnable but walkable as the loop count increases) eventually brings you to hideous hill number one. A long scramble with a tree to duck under. It’s a quad killer and on loop 1 you already wonder how you will get through 5!! After this there’s a downhill and ooh that’s nice. But before you know it the ‘Go Ape’ climb appears. Another long climb rocky and uneven and the already complaining quads are really starting g to hate you by now! As soon as you reach the top it’s back down hill again, and onto a decent footpath. Then the ankle mangle that is ‘Root Canal’. This is a shortish stretch with more routes than the AA Planner. It’s a real ankle worker but with care it’s pretty easy. It’s also very easy to turn your ankle and do some damage. Survive that and the aid station eventually arrives. I tend not to stop as the route being 10 miles works well with my 2 soft flasks. Enough fluid to get through.
So on i plod.
Another up hill – not steep, but long allows a fuel break. Perfect time to top up the calories and carbs. Then it’s a long undulating runnable section. Mostly gravelly and rocky with chalk underneath. A great spot to pick up speed.
Just when you think it’s been a while since a decent climb the rope appears in view on your right and it’s a long upward slog on a slippery chalk hill, heading up to the Hill fort loop. This is hard work, especially later on the race. In the wet grip is hard. We were lucky this time as the conditions were good and pretty dry – thankfully!
This next bit is pretty runnable for some time before the last few climbs. Firstly it’s a short(ish) scramble where hands are as useful to prepress as feet! It’s steep and by lap 5 you can’t help but curse the course designer!!
A brief downhill and a short climb again send you down for on of the final times. A bit of decent running brings you to the start of the final climb action ‘railing in the years’. Some helpful climbing rails brings you eventually to within touching distance of the marquee. A bit of tarmac, a stile, a bit of grass and the loop is done! Repeat 4 more times 😂😂.
Loop one was OK. Two already started to feel like hard work – but mind over matter is key. After lap two I stopped, changed shirt to cool down and cracked on. After lap 3 I thought time for food – I wasn’t hungry but wanted to try eating proper food in an event. So I headed to the car and ate a one pasta I had bought with me. That went well. Could have been a bit wetter, but it gave me no GI issues – a success!!
Lap 3 is just a grind. The legs ache but that’s all it is – an ache. No need to give up!
Before lap 4 I grabbed the poles from the car. They were a revelation.
Pole to pole
I quickly for the poles into action climbs I would have walked I got into a fabulous march with the poles. I got up some slopes much quicker as a result. Some of the treacherous downhills were stabilised by using the poles carefully. I also use them on the runnable sections to keep a rhythm. When tired form and style can get ragged. The poles really helped me keep consistent good form. I’m still
New to poles but they were so helpful. Some of the climbs are too steep for poles if I’m honest but generally I give them a massive thumbs up! 👍
For reference I use Leki poles, the Cross Trail FX.one Superlite. They are light, easy to put up and take down, and come with the excellent Shark grip glove. love these poles.
Precision hydration fluid all round. Each loop was a fresh 2 x 500ml. I had 4 cups of coke too.
Eating wise – the pasta I bought, veloforte gel, spring apple cinnamon gel, veloforte bars and a satsumas. That al worked well. I. Ever felt dehydrated or under fuelled.
I really wanted to complete the course, feel good in relation to fuel and hydration, get more pole experience and not feel like I had been hit by a bus. The main objective was to reach the end feeling I could carry on. And I’m glad to say I managed to achieve all of that.
I intentionally held myself a little back, I could have pushed more, I could have left it all out there! But I am training for the Arc of Attrition 100 miler. It another hilly technical route. It’s no easier than doing 10 loops in Wendover. So getting through 5 and feeling I could carry on was superb. Wendover 50 miler is the toughest race I’ve done (twice now!). The Arc will take that mantle come January 2023, so feeling I had more left to give was exactly what I wanted.
That said I still beat last years time by 10 minutes – the last 12 months training has definitely helped me become a stronger runner. All year I have hit new PBs across many distances. Let’s hope this is the perfect base to reach the Arc in a state good enough to get through 100 gruelling miles and reach Porthtowan within the 36 hour cut off.
I’m not setting any goals except finishing. I’m not crazy enough to think anything else. The Arc promises to be a beautiful adventure whilst being a brutal challenge of true endurance. If the weather decide to kick our arse it could be immensely challenging. I’m up for the challenge, I’ve put in thousands of miles to feel confident of having earned my right to start. I’m also realistic enough to be absolutely scared stiff. Nothing comes close to this challenge I have set myself in so many ways. I’m in it to finish not just take part.
If you are in Cornwall on Saturday the 28th January then I’ll be at Porthtowan sometime in the afternoon /evening. I will get there and I will love every step of the adventure.
If a challenge doesn’t scare you is it truly worth taking it on?
Yesterday I did my first stint of volunteering. and I really enjoyed it. I took on the 3am to 11am slot at Pangbourne for the Centurion Running AUTUMN 100. This was the aid station between Goring and Reading so, was the final station before the finish line.
I was a little concerned that the graveyard shift would be tough. I knew I wasn’t going to get any sleep (or nothing worthwhile) before heading out. I also wondered if we would get the real walking wounded, dead on their feet runners that really needed massive help.
I have to admit that whilst I have always been grateful to volunteers and the work they do, until now I have never truly appreciated what effort it takes to cover all the support a race like this needs. The long hours, lack of sleep, countless cups of tea and marmite sandwiches – and that’s just the volunteers themselves 😂 But what I saw in my 8 hours were the most inspiring support from a bunch of near strangers I can describe since I started running just for people to go out on a run and take part in a race.
Runners of all shapes and sizes, of all ages and races all with one thing in mind – getting their 100 miler buckle. So many felt beaten and broken, so many questioned they could continue. But for every one that felt down there were a dozen that (even after 95 miles) came into the station with a jolly Sunday morning skip. They weren’t going to let anything get in the way, they had this. A quick refuel, some shouts of encouragement followed by pointing them in the right direction and they were off.
At times there were tears, snoozes, sickness – we had most things – but what we did was make sure nobody gave up just because their head was telling them too.
We made tea, more tea, soup. Gave people a few minutes to compose themselves and then they were out. Sometimes with a bit of leverage from us to avoid them staying too long and regretting it. We counted them all in and we counted them all back out again.
We had no retirements. We sadly had one time out at 95 miles. But he was the perfect example of what running a first 100 means to people. So pleased to have made it to 95. Disappointed, but now so much more prepared for the next crack at doing a 100 miler. Well done 👍
And that’s not where things ended. We had the pack down, cleaning, van loading all to do.
The team at Pangbourne were great. The runners inspiring and the experience humbling.
I always appreciated volunteers. I am always grateful for their help, encouragement and endless positivity. Now, I have a deeper and far greater appreciation for the efforts taken to help us somewhat madcap runners achieve the targets we set ourselves.
It was definitely a chillier than hoped for morning but as I walked from the car park at the station to get my train to Goring at 7am I still knew it was going to be a good day.
CW50 was another of the races I had chosen to build the body up ready for the Arc in January. Hills, trails, varying terrain – all sounded good.
The race itself starts on the riverside in Goring, heads south on the Thames before turning away from the river and heading eventually north into the Chiltern Hills. This first section is narrow river paths so not a time to be a front pack runner starting at the back!
The route then takes you north, through stunning Stonor Park, and onto the Turville windmill – yep that one from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 😊. The path takes you straight past it, however there is a beast of a hill to get there!
From there hang left, head to the highest point near Christmas Common and Watlington Hill. This then means a good long descent is due heading down to join the Ridgeway and begin the stretch through Swyncombe and eventually Grims Ditch.
Finally it’s a weave through some pretty runnable rolling trails until you find yourself on the edge of Goring again and finally stumble across the ‘Finish this way’ sign.
The route is stunning. The hills are great, the downs just as good. There’s also plenty of forest/woodland running which is one of my favourite terrains – must have strong ankles then ! haha 😆
Usual Centurion style. Simple but very effective. Water, squash, coke and tailwind to drink – and a variety of sweet and savoury snacks including fresh fruit and sweets. They put on 5 stops. The first around 10 miles in and the rest 7 or 8 miles apart. Just about right 👍
As usual volunteers were ace. Enthusiastic, supportive, quick to help you through the aid station. Centurion volunteers are the best!
This was a B race for me. I wanted to do well but it was still training for the big one. I focussed on nutrition, really hitting it well in the first half, struggling a bit as time went on and I need to get more wet food in my plan to fix this.
I wanted to perform well but not batter myself either. I have London marathon 15 days after and I want a good time! So a little reserved in the second half – holding back a touch on a few hills and coasting a few flats.
Not many – beside the race itself !
About halfway (I think) I got a tweak in my right achilles. Carried on a little and thought it’s a blister brewing so stopped. Nothing obvious but it wouldn’t go. So I stopped, shoes, sock off. Plaster over my taped heel to add some more cushion and off I went again. That fixed it and no issues after.
Though I was not putting everything into the race I still smashed my 50 mile Pb by about 2 hours to 8:15.01. That blew me away. I thought 10 hours but 8 😮!!
And a top ten finish at a Centurion Event! I’ll take that every day of the week.
London is around the corner, my first attempt at the iconic race. I would like a good time but I’m just really excite to have made it through the ballot! Then it’s the long run into the Arc in January. That’s going to be here before we know it.
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.