Race Report: Arc of Attrition
27th January 2023: I have woken up on the morning of the after very little sleep, the day is finally here, today I am going to try and run 100 miles! The Arc of Attrition......
30 January 2023
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But first, I have to get Violet ready for school. Despite the mammoth task I am about to undertake, life still has to go on. Come on Violet, get out of bed, lets get ready and go! Violet has her breakfast, for me I just don’t feel hungry but I force down some yoghurts. I should really have some porridge, something high carb but I just can’t face it. I have a cappuccino and then a double espresso and that perks me up.
I get dressed and get all my kit packed into my running backpack. I registered for the race the night before so that’s one less thing to worry about. I get my drop bag that I am to leave at Lands End stocked up with snacks. I probably won’t eat them but they are there.
Chris is going to take me to the Eco Park where the race starts on his way to work, first we drop Violet off at her Grandparents, doing the school run would have left it a bit tight, I still have to get my tracker fitted yet. Traffic through Truro at 9am was a nightmare and my anxiety levels are increasing, I can’t miss the bus to the start. Thankfully at 9.30 we arrive at the Eco Park, just as the buses are driving up too, its gridlocked, so I say my goodbyes to Chris and walk up.
The Eco Park is rammed with people, I spot a few people I recognise and have a chat, I see the lovely Jane Stevens too (Race Director) who gives me her mobile number in case I need to contact her during the race. I get my tracker fitted and leave my drop bag, hopefully I’ll see that again 55 miles in at Lands End.
I then get told to get on the bus, I find a seat and we are off. The buses left just after 10am, thank god I didn’t arrive late. The journey takes about an hour. I sit quietly for the first half of the journey and then start to have a chat with the people I’m sat near. The guy behind me has travelled from Sheffield, I ask what races he has done and was impressed to hear that he has done the Montane Spine race, 268 miles! The lady next to him, well this was her 5th 100 mile race I think. I now feel deeply inadequate and a bit of an imposter, Ive never done a race this far, I’m surrounded by people with so much more experience, what on earth am I doing here were the thoughts going through my mind. My tummy started rumbling so I thought its best I try to eat, I had a flapjack and a babybel and that eased my tummy, and I felt a bit better.
We arrive at Coverack, I get off the bus and to my delight see Gareth Perry, one of the Arc Angels and fellow Starc member. As an unsupported runner the Arc Angels are a life saver, I will rely on Gareth and the others to help me. I top up my bottles and have a banana and get some sweets to take with me. Its about 20 minutes to go, I see a few more people I recognise. Greg May who I went to school in Penryn with and Jeremy Warren who is also from my village, Polgooth. To have two 100 mile runners from the same small village must be rare!
With about 10 minutes to go I decide its probably a good idea to have one last wee before I start, to be honest though, I’ll wee anywhere now, if I need to go on the course, I will, and did about 15 times lol! As a runner you don’t care, if you gotta go you gotta go!
Its now only a few minutes until the race kicks off, the music starts, Led Zeppelin, Kashmir. What a tune, it instantly makes you feel pumped. The Arc start is Epic, its amazing to feel part of it. A 10 second count down and we are off, smoke flare things going off, wow, just incredible. I knew I didn’t want to be too far at the back because you can get stuck behind people where the paths narrow, so started about half way down. Running through Coverack I think I was doing about 10 minute miles, this is good. Then we approached the narrow coast path, we all slowed down to nearly a stop. I recce’d this part only a few weeks ago and knew it was a tough part, some very steep climbs and very rocky. I was quite grateful to stop in the queue of people as it allowed a bit of a breather. The path opened up after about mile and we could run again, I felt good and was making good time. The weather was stunning, perhaps even too hot! I was wondering if I should have worn shorts, it was glorious. I ran through Kennack Sands, Cadgwith and could see the Lizard up ahead. I was keen to move at a good pace along this bit, to try and bank some time, because I would need it later. I got to the Lizard in about 2.50. I topped up my bottles, one with tailwind and one with water. Another starc Armando Viera was at the Lizard, was great to see him, such a boost seeing people you know.
I left the Lizard and started on the next section, the stunning Kynance Cove was coming up, and then after this a big climb then a pretty flat boggy bit for while. In the past when I have run this part there is loads of standing water and you cannot avoid getting your feet wet. Thankfully due to the dry weather it was not bad at all.
I could see Mullion now, and in the distance Porthleven, seeing a check point ahead is like looking forward to Christmas! There would be people there I knew, I can get some food and have a rest for a bit, I can’t wait to get there. The section between Mullion and Porthleven is quite runnable and I was still comfortable and making good time. Suddenly I heard a crash behind me, I turned round and someone had fallen, I went back to check there were ok. I think it sounded worse than it was, they brushed themselves down and off they went again.
I turned another headland and Poldhu Cove was just ahead, at the top of some steps there was Iain and Karen Walker. Iain is a 100 vet having completed it last year, and it was great to see him, he knew what I was going through and the difficult task I had ahead, it would turn out that he would be there for me right til the end, he popped up along the way many times, Iain thank you for all your support.
Coming up to Loe Bar now and the beach we have to cross, running over sand is so hard, it just drains you, so I walk it and try to avoid getting sand in my shoes. The sun is nearly gone now, I was hoping I could make it to Porthleven before getting my head torch out, but its no good, I cannot see very well now so rummage around in my pack for it. The sunset was amazing. But I knew now that it would be about 14 hours before I saw daylight again.
I made it to Porthleven over an hour before the cut off, it was nice running through busy streets, looking into restaurants and pubs. The checkpoint was about half a mile off the course, so I ran up to it, still feeling strong. When I got there it was great to see a good friend of mine, Izzy Irwin who was an Angel at the check point. I topped up my bottles and decided its probably a good idea to get some warmer clothes on for the night section, so I put my merino wall base layer on and my jacket, Im feeling cosy now. I had some soup and a few chips with cheese on. I can only manage a few, but at least it’s something. I see the sweep runners, Paul Stevens and Simon Powell, I believe they will start once the check point closes and I joke with them how I don’t want to see them again. I don’t see them thankfully at all!
I say my goodbyes to everyone and make my way along the next section to Marazion. Its very dark now, this section is not too bad though and quite runnable, I overtake a few people.
At Marazion there is now about 8 miles of road. Many supported runners change their shoes here. I have no crew so need to keep my trail shoes on, they are pretty comfy though, and to be honest its good not to waste time changing shoes. I feel strong going through Penzance, I think I was running 11 minute miles, which having 35 miles on your legs already is quite good going I think. I reach the Penzance checkpoint over an hour before the cut off. Fellow starcs Mel Rowe and Gwen Maggs are there. Unfortunately, they are out of soup, I have a couple of chips and a sugary coffee, and get my bottles refilled.
I know now that its about to get tough.
The road ends just after Mousehole, it’s a huge hill and then back on the trails. The next landmark is Lamorna. The run now has got hard, the trails are muddy and there is lots of standing water, my feet are wet. Ive been running more or less on my own now since it got dark, but its comforting to see the red backlights of people ahead and when I turn around I can see the glow of headtorches behind me, so Im not completely alone, people are near.
I get to Lamorna, I know that just after Lamorna the coast path is brutal, in fact its not even a path, its more like rock climbing! You have to climb over some massive rocks, and when you have over 40 miles in your legs this is not an easy thing. There is also a sheer drop to my left into the sea, I remember thinking just don’t look down!
I keep moving on, I get to St Loys Cove, a beach that is made up of massive boulders. It would be easy to have an accident here, I take it slowly, miraculously I still have not had any falls, I make it over here too.
There are some really big climbs here so I think it’s a good time to get the running poles out. I didn’t get them out at the start because I think I run slower with them, but they are a great support for when my legs are tired.
The first 40 miles had gone great but things were getting hard now, I was starting to suffer. My body was starting to hurt and I knew I hadn’t eaten enough. I never feel hungry on ultra runs, I know how important it is to eat but I was hoping that the tailwind would see me through along with just a few bites of food. As I approached the Minack I started getting awful tummy ache and feeling sick. I’m sure the climb up to the Minack didn’t help, its so steep! At the Minack, I saw another person I recognised, Paul Maskell, an ultra running legend! I had a sit down for 5 minutes and he suggested some ginger cake, the Angels had some, they cut me off a slice but I could only manage a mouthful. It helped a bit and I was ready to take on the next section, Lands End where my drop bag was. Depending on the time, I could spend some time here and relax for a little bit.
The run to Lands End was not enjoyable, so many little paths and never sure which one to take, I had to keep shouting to the people behind me if I was on the right route. I don’t use GPX files on my watch, I had run this section many times and was hoping I would know where to go, but the paths look very different and unrecognisable in the dark. I could see lights ahead, so thought Lands End was near, yes not far now! Unfortunately, what I thought was Lands End was actually a ship just off the coast. I trudged on, and then yes Lands End was just ahead. A valet came to run me in, and it was Jake Moore, I wont repeat what I said but Im sure some swear words were used! I was not feeling great now, 55 miles in and started to think it was unlikely I would finish. But, I made the check point again well within the cut off, and it was a goal of mine to keep going as long as I made the cut offs.
I got my drop bag and thought it would be a good idea to get some fresh socks on. I had another cup of soup and thought I should attempt to try some food. I was brought some meatballs and pasta, I tried a mouthful but it just would not go down, and I had to spit it out. There were a fair few people here who had pulled out, and I recognised one of them, it was the guy from Sheffield who I chatted to on the bus. Unfortunately, he didn’t look too good and had chosen to withdraw. I suddenly thought, Im still actually ok, I don’t feel as bad as that, I can still keep going. So off I went.
I ran down into Sennen and then along to Cape Cornwall. This was the lowest point of the race for me. It was slow going. At this point I started to have serious doubts that I wasn’t going to make it. I kept telling myself there is no shame in pulling out, but it was really early and I didn’t want to have to wake up my family to come and get me lol. So I battled on.
Then at Cape Cornwall, 60 miles a miracle happened. The sun came up. It just gave me a new found energy, I felt amazing. In the car park at Cape Cornwall I asked someones crew if they had a banana, they did, finally some food.
I started marching now, past the landmark that is the Crowns Engine house, and it was not far now to Pendeen Watch, I did calculations in my head, if I make Pendeen by 8.30am that gives me 5.5 hours to get to St Ives, 5.5 hours to do 13 miles, I think I can do that! There was a guy running near me and he said he was very impressed with my walking speed, that really boosted me, perhaps I can do this by power walking!
I got to Pendeen and Gareth, Gwen and Paul were there, it was so good to see them! I topped my bottles up and got some snacks in preparation for the most brutal part of the race, the Pendeen to St Ives section. I knew this part would make or break me. Its so remote, the paths are rocky, massive granite outcrops and headland after headland, its never ending. I could see Gurnards Head in the distance and I knew just after here was Zennor, half way to St Ives, just keep moving.
Ouch my feet, it felt like I had been stabbed with something, the pain was intense. I had to check my shoes to see if something sharp had gone through them, there was nothing. I think it was just really bad blisters! The path was also awful, so many little rocks that twist and turn your ankles. Just try and keep upright, don’t fall over.
I turned another headland, and I could see a little white house ahead, I knew behind this was Zennor. It’s a huge climb up some steps to Zennor, I had to keep stopping for a breather but I had made it. 75 miles down now.
St Ives now was my goal, I knew at St Ives I would see more amazing people, Leanne Smith, Jane Appleton and Joanna Rich, the thought of seeing them kept me going. It was hard now, I was in so much pain. My feet were killing. There were a lot of streams along this bit, with crystal clear water, it looked really inviting. I spent all this time trying to avoid water but now I need relief, I went in the water and it felt so cooling on my feet, Im not sure if it helped in the long run, but for those few minutes it felt great.
The lead 50 runner past me just after Zennor, he was like a gazelle running along effortlessly, and heres me like a sloth I thought, barely moving.
St Ives just never seems to come, you turn headland after headland and nothing, its so demoralising! I thought it would never come, but then like an oasis in the desert I saw houses, I made it!
By now though I was in so much pain and I was tired. Can I really do another 20 miles? Come on pull yourself together, you have done 80, you cannot quit now. Iain and Karen were at St Ives, Iain gave me a pep talk and told me I could walk it home now, I had 10 hours to do 20 miles, it was in the bag he kept saying, I wasn’t so sure.
I walked through the streets of St Ives, it felt good, so many supportive people. Then to my amazement and surprise I saw my sister Carmen, brother Lee and niece Shania up ahead cheering me on, they came up to me, I was not doing good, I told my sister I felt like I was going to die, I think she was a bit concerned and told me to stop then, perhaps I was being a bit dramatic lol, there was no way I could stop now. The valet and my good friend Ross Buscombe came to me and ran me into the checkpoint, again before the cut off, I made it. Paul Johnson was also a valet here and it was good to see him too, his wife Claire who had brought me the the chips the night before at Porthleven was also here, it has sure been a long night and day for these guys!
I walked into the checkpoint and seeing Leanne, Jane and Jo I thought I was going to cry. But no tears came out, think I was too dehydrated, I had also nearly lost my voice. They were all amazing. They helped get my shoes off and socks, they were disgusting, I really admire them because I am not sure I would want to touch someones manky feet! Leanne cleaned my feet, and Mel Maskell treated and taped them all up and they got my shoes back on. I had some more soup and a coffee. My mouth felt awful, you know that furry feeling you get when you eat loads of sugar, and I had not brushed my teeth for over 24 hours. Jane gave me a load of tic tacs and they really helped. I was suddenly craving ice cream/lollies. Unfortunately, they had none at the check point, but my sister went and got a twister and a magnum. I said my thanks and goodbyes to the St Ives Angels and off I went through St Ives eating my ice creams, they tasted so good!
So only 20 miles to go. Thank god I had banked time early on, I could do this now by power walking. I’m going to make it.
I leave St Ives and head towards Lelant, this part is quite nice, no huge climbs, and great views of Carbis Bay. Someone is just ahead of me, they look like they know me. Its none other than Karl Walker, how great it is to see him, and then just further up Dani, such another great boost. Also here were Andy and Dawn Young, a special mention should go to them, they are Angels who had been out supporting since the day before, in fact I had first seen them at Cadgwith more than 24 hours earlier. They gave me a banana and I got ready now for the dunes of doom. However, I was hitting them in daylight, which was great! Going through them in the dark can be a bit disorienting.
Despite going through the dunes in daylight I still think I went wrong, but I knew which direction to go so it wasn’t too bad, I came out and there was Iain, Karen, Karl and Dani. I did this race unsupported, but I certainly was not alone! A little further on were Izzy and Jodie Gauld, more support, I felt great, and now only 10 miles to go, Godrevy was just ahead.
Daylight was starting to disappear now, so I needed to get my head torch out, the second night, I still cannot believe I am still going. The ARC 50 runners were going past me now in quite high numbers, everyone so encouraging. I had been running now for nearly 30 hours.
Coming into the North Cliffs I was still marching as fast I could but started to feel very cold. I had 4 layers on. I was getting a bit worried. There was a car park coming up and I could see some crew, so I asked if anyone had a jumper I could borrow, a kind person lent me theirs and I told them I would leave it at the Eco Park. The jumper sorted me out, in no time I was cosy again. But now I needed to prepare myself for the next section, just before Portreath there are some climbs called the Bitches, and that they are! I slowly made my way down to Portreath, I was moving at least.
5 miles to go, Im nearly there!
I run through Portreath and now back onto the final trail to Porthtowan. Im tired, aching but its so close now. There is Sally’s Bottom to contend with, a very steep descent and climb. I go along the path and come to a big hill and think actually this isn’t that bad, then continue along for a mile or so. I suddenly see headtorches disappear then reappear up into the sky. To my absolute horror the hill that I did 20 minutes ago wasn’t Sally’s Bottom, this was it. I go very slowly down the cliff, and then start the ascent the other side. I think it took me about 30 minutes to get to the top! But that was it, no more coastal climbs, the only hill left now is the finish hill to the Eco Park.
I run along the path in the darkness wondering when Porthtowan was going to appear, it seemed to take forever, but finally there it was. I marched down into the village and then could see the final climb. Fergie (Race Director) was showing runners where to go. He didn’t recognise me, and was surprised I made this far after seeing me struggling in St Ives, he said I’d made good time and gave me a big hug, it felt great. This was it, 10 more minutes of hell and I’m nearly there.
I slowly made my way up the biggest hill of the whole route, I could hear the crowds cheering, a warm feeling came over me and I was full of emotion. I was at the top of the hill and there just ahead me was the finish, I thought about running, but really just didn’t have it in my legs so slowly walked over the line, I heard someone shout my name, it was Chris and Violet, it was so good to see them. Jane gave me the biggest hug and handed me my buckle.
I had done it. 34 hours 34 minutes and 51 seconds.
Will I ever do it again? Probably not, but maybe ask me again when the feeling of never running ever again wears off!