Roseland Cornish Coastal Ultra Report

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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It’s been a long journey and its only just beginnning ….

That one was indeed for you Soak.

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To the barrow and back

It’s so easy to forget how lucky you are sometimes. We blow insignificant issues out of all proportion. I was thinking this as I ran the clifftops to the burial mound, one of my favorite places to sit and watch the channel as a break.  The fields atop the cliffs are as beautiful as the beach itself I just forget to appreciate them. I guess having lived around here all my life I take much of the scenery for granted – and I shouldn’t. So this post is for the unappreciated parts of runs, the fields and lanes that piece it all together.

Run-wise it was a quick 5 miles, everything felt pretty good and I noticed my pace on the flat has naturally fallen back into the 8-9 min per mile pace that feels quite comfortable.  Still blowing too hard on hills but who doesnt!? (rhetorical question)

 

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Coastal path between Monknash and Cwm Mawr
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Blue skies over the Vale – Looking inland towards Wick
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Sat pondering on the barrow mound looking out across the channel
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View back from Cwm Mawr to Monknash

 

Pebbling

I was out early on saturday morning to beat the heat of the day.  It meant that the tide wasnt quite right but I managed to get to the ladders just in time so I could come back along the clifftops.

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Met my buddies on the way
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The tide had just reached the pebbles so I got to walk along them in the shade for a while
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Pebbles and cliffs
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New buddies – Who wanted to come and see me and ran alongside for a field

Preseli Beast – What I done learned

Ok so in the aftermath of the Preseli Beast last weekend I promised to follow up on a few of the thoughts I had.  This might not be as interesting as I’ve used up all my photos of the day (well mostly) but will act as a useful reminder next time I’m running this event or similar so bear with me.

Kit

I used my Inov8 Xtalon 212s and they worked superbly – I was pondering which way to go with shoes as they don’t have the most cushioning but I love them for the grip and stability they provide – They turned out to be comfortable all day and the grip while climbing and descending was fantastic. I always trust these if I want to do a technical run and they never let me down.

I used an Inov8 10 Raceultra pack with soft flasks at the front. I was originally going to use my Inov8 Racepak but at 4L capacity it couldn’t hold all the kit required for fellrunning plus enough food and water so this was an investment for the future. It’s an extremely comfortable pack, I didn’t even notice it was there most of the time and it didn’t chafe or bounce at all. My only gripe with it is that the softflasks come with long drinking tubes which can slip out of their shoulder holders while on descents and bounce around in your face but I just slotted them under the chest strap and no further issues.

The rest of the kit was standard stuff, asics tech shirt, sturridge baselayer shorts (although I cricket manufacturer in the main I find their shorts are super comfy) and hilly monoskin socks (no blisters no chafing)

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Hydration and nutrition

As noted earlier I took 2 inov8 500ml softflasks with me, normally I run with a bladder in the back but I preferred this as the weight of the water felt better off my back and didn’t contribute to pack movement. Plus i was able to judge how much I was drinking and was able to refill easily at water stations without removing the pack.  I remembered to keep drinking all the way which was easy when it was hot lower down but once up on the peaks it was much colder with some wind so I was happy I remembered to keep sipping away.

I took a fair amount of my homemade energy bars with me which always seem to do the trick and tucked into the jelly babies on offer at the aid stations – after all why not!  As with hydration I judged this pretty well I think, probably could have eaten a little more and need to teach myself to eat when feeling shit on climbs.

Pacing

I had a plan which I was determined to stick to and it worked out pretty well in the most. I started out deliberately near the back and just hung around there so I didn’t get caught up in the excitement and hare off too fast. I knew there was single track through the forest after a mile or so and moved up in front of the slowest runners so not to get bottlenecked there. This left me around two thirds of the way up the field which I stayed around most of the day.  After around 5 or 6 miles I was chatting to a few guys around me and they were also there just to finish and I almost just stuck with them but realised it was just a mental comfort zone I didn’t really need and struck out at my own quicker chosen pace.

I read somewhere some great advice – Never run something at the start that you wouldn’t run at the end. I had to modify this slightly as otherwise I wouldn’t have run anything over a 1% incline but its solid advice and keeping it in my mind meant that I didn’t overexert on the ascents.

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Descending

Descending gets a section of its own as it could well have been where the race was nearly over for me and was a major cause of pain and slowing down later on. I love descending, just as I love running quickly over rocks on the beach, it’s a thrill and a joy to speed along just at the edge of what my reactions and body can cope with.  However I’m not used to descents that last over a mile over rough terrain and so although it felt fine to fly down (And trust me I made up a lot of time and places doing this in the first 10 miles or so, everyone who went past me going up was caught going down) and it was sooooo much fun to descend quickly at the limits my quads simply weren’t used to this sort of extended pummeling. By about 10 miles I had a pain in my left quad that was making me start to alter my stride and the longish descent into the town suddenly switched to tarmac and I couldn’t sustain any sort of pace without serious pain in my legs.  This was then repeated for the next 14 miles – every descent was as painful as the climb. No rest for the wicked!

So I know I need to really work on my downhills to build up the muscles there that tend to get neglected. The next race in August also has a lot of climbing and descending though its coastal nature means shorter bouts of it.  I intend to identify places where I can do repeat hillwork – And everytime I get fed up of it then remember the pain and problems my quads caused last weekend and do it again. If I hadn’t suffered so badly with the quads I could have knocked a fair amount off my time and although the mission was simply to finish it’s always nice to give it a real go!

Mentality

I will quite happily admit I was nervous going into the race. I hadn’t run 24 miles before and certainly not in a fellrunning environment.  However I was coming in with a gameplan and a goal – finishing. The race had cutoffs too which was new to me and they added a little to the stress but in the end were happily immaterial. There were many times, especially once the quads were hurting, that I thought “I cant do this for many more miles” and each time I told myself to suck it up and keep going.  I cramped badly in my calves after the penultimate climb because it was so steep I was constantly on my toes and at that point I thought I was done (I’m not used to cramps) but I didn’t panic and just slowed to an amble and figured I could get by with a weird shuffle step until it passed – If it didnt pass I was on top of a bloody mountain so I was coming down one way or another anyway.  People passed me at this point and it didn’t matter, it was me versus my legs and the mountain. After a while and a bit of stretching the cramps faded and I could pick up pace again.

So if theres one thing I learned its DONT PANIC. Things will hurt, things will feel like they are so broken that you cant possibly finish. Get the pain under control until its managable, if you cant run then walk a bit.  At one point I had to sit on a rock to remove stones from my shoes, I sat for less than a minute. When I got up my quads were miraculously cured – for a short distance but it took a while before they reached def con fucking arghghghghhhh again.

Its a long day – its a long race and at the end of the day when you look at it time and places are immaterial. If you need to stop to regroup do so. There are no medals for running every step, there are no medals for breaking yourself to achieve a time or placing.

I hope I remember to read this and remember it before the next race. If I can do that plus add some hillwork I might just get away with pain instead of agony

 

 

Winding down …. ish

Tuesday it was back to normal following the Easter weekend. Well I say normal but of course I’m still off work 😉

So a quick 6 miler in the sun to stretch the legs. Along the cliffs to Cwm Mawr and back.

It feels a little odd at the moment with just over 2 weeks to go until the Preseli Beast. I’m now trying to maintain where I’m at without getting injured which feels almost like I’m putting the brakes on myself when the weather is sunny like this. Perhaps its overcaution but I really don’t want to screw myself over after 4 months of training for this run so I guess it’s listen to the body and force myself to rest every few days …. like today … hey I get to catch up with everyones blogs (and mine)

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Bane of a trailrunners life or a chance to stop and take in the scenery?
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Competition time – Spot the crow?
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Woods at Cwm Mawr which is the perfect turning point for 6