Back to the beach, slower and wiser 😉
Surprisingly everything kind of works!
Back to the beach, slower and wiser 😉
Surprisingly everything kind of works!
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.
Warning! This post is about internal musings not a run! No photos (Well I might sneak one or two in)
Last week I read this post on the excellent ultrarunning blog by James Stewart which got me thinking about not just how I run but why. As the winner of the Rocky Raccoon 100 in Texas last month I think its definitely worth a read from someone who’s “done it” and a great jumping off point if you want to get started but have doubts.
I checked with James and he was happy for me to basically scavenge his post in order to present my thoughts – well I said reference but i’m using it as a template. Theft is the highest form of flattery or something.
James uses 4 tips to set his goals. When reading these it made me wonder why I’m running. I kinda know but its not something thats straight in my head. My eventual goal is one that i hope to complete this year – an ultra. The one I have planned is a 32 miler along the Cornish coastal path in August
Which means I will have gone from unfit non-runner who literally couldnt run a tenth of a mile without dying to running an ultra in two years. Thats my goal.
OK I have a goal after all – I just didnt really realise I had arranegd this part without knowing.
After 16 years I knew losing her would be a huge wrench so I promised her I wouldnt mope about and would do something to get outside and keep my head clear. I still dont know why I picked running but it seemed a good way of continuing to visit the beach where we spent so many happy hours chewing wood.
As I improved fitness-wise the goal of an ultra just slowly worked its way into my head as the miles ticked by – You gotta have something to think about!
2. So next up James says ““Soon” and “One day” and “I’ll need to do that” and allthatshittypassivelanguage needs to be eradicated from your vocabulary.”
You gotta pick a date – Well I have that! I actually signed up when injured in a moment of cabin fever induced madness last year but this years date is perfect!
3. James says “Then, I tell people about it” Ok so this one is a little trickier. Most of my friends feign an interest in what I’m doing but don’t really comprehend it. I’m fine with that, it’s my journey not thers anyway and I like having it. My parents are incredibly cool about it, they read the blog and enjoy my progress and I know they are rooting for me in whatever I do. So the other peeople who get the sharing are you guys – I find writing the blog does two things – It helps me log my training records and photos so there are always reference points. It also gets me communicating with other like minded people. I have 128 followers now – who knew! And some of you I feel I know really well just through the blog. Your support is incredible, I get advice and a sense of community which is important as I am most definitely an anti-social runner out on the trails!
4. James – “In the words of MC Hammer (and many much better rappers) I then break it down.” break things down into smaller manageable chunks. This I’ve already done naturally without even knowing it. I’ve seen myself go from nothing, 1 mile, 2, 3 etc I remember when 8 was a huge deal, 13, 15 and now 20. I know I can keep adding and pushing a little bit til I get there. I have one big race in a few weeks – The Preseli Beast which is 24 miles of fell running which is going to be a huge test as its going to be a lot of steeeeeeeep climbing over a distance Ive not covered yet. I’ll give it my best and remember its just a bitesize step – Just a huge chewy painful bite.
Just as they say pick your fights carefully then pick your goals carefully – but pick them. Get off yo ass and pick them!
As I said at the start of this post (and well done if you waded this far) many thanks to James for his motivational post which got me putting all this into words. And again congrats on the Rocky Racoon win – I guess youre an elite now!
Oh and one more photo!
This moment perfectly why I’ve fallen in love with running and especially trail and ultrarunning.
100 miles, 22 hours 59 minutes and 30 seconds for this moment
If anyones interested theres a great read on the origins of the Hardrock here
And for those interested in individuals take a look at what Kilian is currently doing with Summits of my Life