Yeah so last saturday I was set to run a 32 mile ultra in Cornwall from St Anthonys Head to Porthpean as part of the Mudcrew Trail Running Festival.
As you’ll know if you follow the blog I did indeed finish as I posted just afterwards so this post contains a little more detail for those interested.
I travelled down on the friday afternoon early to beat the notorious M5 weekend traffic and so got to spend a few hours reading and chilling on Porthpean beach before heading up to the campsite to set up my tent. The weather turned from sun to drizzle and I wasn’t envious of the Plague runners who were starting the 64 mile run at midnight from the site. I vaguely heard them starting off as I tried to get a few hours sleep as we were having our pre race briefing at half six!
I was wide awake by 5 and took my time to get ready and recheck my kit. We did the briefing and got on buses which were to take us to St Anthonys head which was our start and halfway turnaround for the Plague (64 mile) runners. We were to set off at half eight so there was some waiting around to get going which added to the nerves. No matter how ready you think you are there are always nerves when you haven’t attempted the distance before. It had also dawned on me just how hilly the Cornish coast is ….
We had a last minute briefing on the line and words of advice from the resident cheif paramedic dude, apparently around 25 plague runners had dropped during the night due to the weather and conditions underfoot. Some had fallen into rabbit and badger holes in the dark. Some hadn’t hydrated properly it seems as that was the main message he had to give us – and I quote “I really thought this would be teaching you lot to suck eggs but keep drinking” It was good advice because the drizzle had gone but it was getting so so humid already.
Finally we were off and everyone settled into follow the leader. Its pretty much single track at the beginning so it was a case of settling into groups and knocking out a few miles while the terrain was reasonably flat. The views of the coastline were fantastic but the trail was difficult enough to mean you couldn’t really take a good look for fear of being a rabbit hole casualty.
I won’t do the mile by mile account as it’ll bore you to tears but everything was clicking nicely for the first section of around 12 miles. I was sweating heavily due to the humidity but I kept on top of the hydration nicely and refilled at the 12 mile aidstation where the 20 mile race was about to begin – about 5 minutes after I passed through! It was kinda nice though as we had to run through the runners waiting there to start and so got a lot of support and applause as we hit the aid station which was a nice boost.
The next issue was that we were now about to be overtaken by the faster 20 mile runners so the next few miles were spent keeping an eye out behind and letting fresher runners through. The course was starting to get seriously hilly now and most of the climbs were requiring a powerwalk. Every now and again I’d run past a Plague runner who had covered 32 miles more than me! I take my hat off to these guys and gals, each one got encouragement from all the other runners going past which I hope gave them small boosts as they were going to need it.
Somewhere between 12 and 20 miles the left ankle started nagging and I knew it wasnt going to go away so it was time to start sucking it up and learning to manage the pain. Everything else felt pretty fine but I was finding descending trickier due to the impacts plus as its a coastal ultra the paths on hillsides tend to leave one foot higher than the other and angled which wasn’t helping.
The next aid station at around mile 20 was awesome – mainly as it had so much food! I ate everything I could stomach, mainly anything covered in salt as I knew I was losing loads through sweat. There were medics with massage tables and the back of teh hall looked a little like a hospital. It seemed that there were quite a few struggling more than me. I was glad to see two ladies I’d talked to earlier arrive as they were struggling with the climbs especially. One was helped out by a medic and I encouraged the other to get help now to see if they could get her moving properly again.
It was after mile 20 things started to get really tricky, from here on in it just seemed like hill after hill after hill. There was nowhere to pick up any sort of rythym. These hills were seriously steep too, many of them having steps cut into them which soon became an issue as the legs started to tire I could feel the first twinges of cramps. Somewhere around 25 miles I had a massive cramp attack in my thighs on a downhill section dropping into a town harbour. I clung to the rail at the top of a steep flight of steps and tried to stretch out. This was the only point where I seriously thought I might not make it. I was scared I couldn’t fix the cramps, I’d had calf cramps before but upper leg cramps are truly scary. After a few minutes though they faded and I hobbled down the steps. Thankfully there was a flat section through the harbour and I recovered a little.
The support from the public was fantastic all the way, through every village and from walkers on the path everyone shouted and cheered and clapped encouragement. It really is a boost when you’re in pain to have support and it was so appreciated. The same from the marshalls who must have been out there for ages considering the Plague runners had set uot 8 hours prior to us!
The last 8 miles of so are a blur of agonies, hope, hills and sheer fuck this, get it done and die later mentality. I was sort of comforted that it wasnt just me. It was easy to tell that the group of us together at that point were in the same boat. Everyone cursed the steps, everyone creaked over stiles trying not to cramp their legs. We kind of stuck together in a loose rolling ball of pain for those last miles. Maybe half a dozen or so of us, all within a few hundred metres and drifting back and forth together and all encouraging each other. One of the ladies I mentioned earlier was with us and I really admired her efforts on the steps. Despite her obvious pain she shuffled up every step and just kept going.
Every now and again you’d find someone sat and cramping. You’d stop and check on them and they would always do the same thing. Smile and say I’ll be ok in a minute you go on. And you would indeed go on hoping it wouldnt be you going down next.
Looking back now I know those last few miles seemed to take forever but clearly didn’t I ran when I could though it was more of a shuffle. I was determined that I wouldn’t walk it in until I could do nothing but. The last hill was a cruel one, from the beach I’d spent the previous afternoon on relaxing up an incredibly steep road to the campsite. It was like a deathmarch going up there. With less than a mile to go noone was celebrating, everyone was utterly spent. And then it was over, we could hear the clapping and cheering ahead and suddenly we ran onto the campsite and the finish line was there, 50 metres away. The crowds cheered and clapped and I even put on a normal run for a few metres over the line, they dropped a medal over my neck and I prompty wandered off and collapsed in a world of hurt.
It took an hour or so to be able to move without instant cramps, I’m not sure how muich further I could have gone if it hadn’t ended there. I don’t think very far. I felt pretty unwell for that hour but rehydration and some solid foods helped and I was ok enough to go out and clap some people through. There were so many people finishing after me I was astonished including lots from the 20 mile run who never managed to catch and pass me. I guess I wasn’t going that slow after all. The biggest cheers were reserved for the plague runners. Some of them had been out there for 19 hours, its hard to comprehend that, I finished in 8 hours and 7 minutes … another 11 hours out there? Not me thanks .. not yet
The whole event was superbly organised, I’ve emailed them to congratulate them on a superb effort. Everything was thought of, the aid stations were well stocked, they had medics and massages at each station. It was well marshalled and signed. I’d definitely recommened it if you want a weekend away in Cornwall with a race included. Just be warned the course is brutal.
So yeah that was my first ultra. It’s kinda hard to digest what I’ve achieved in two years. I made a promise to Soaky and I kept it. I ran the whole thing carrying her collar with me. Might have been a little extra weight but it was a whole lot of inspiration. Two years ago I couldnt run a single field on the way back from the beach. Last weekend I ran my first ultramarathon. Go figure. It does go to show if you’re willing to put in the hard yards, keep going despite setbacks, ignore the doubters and trust in yourself for once you can achieve your goals no matter what they are.
Christ this is sounding like an Oscars speech now but bear with me, I need to thank my parents, not for the first time for all the love and support they’ve given me, not just through my running but for my entire life, I certainly got lucky there.
I’d also like to thank you lot that read this blog and comment and provide me with inspiration and support. It really is appreciated. Even the bits where you tell me off and make me see sense 😉
Oh yeah and I guess there is finally a photo of me!
It’s been a long journey and its only just beginnning ….
That one was indeed for you Soak.