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Race Report: Cousin Jack

Cousin Jack Ultra 2023 – 35 mile out and back from St Ives to Cape Cornwall
Bys Vyken’s events are brilliant and challenging; the Cousin Jacks are no exception to this. For anyone who wants a taste of how tough the Cornish coast path can be then look no further than this event!

Race Report: Cousin Jack

Paul Johnson

5 March 2023

Link for further info

I ran this race with my friend and regular running partner Jake. Friday night was a stop-over in St Ives to help with the very early morning start (fortunately they sorted out the mix-up of the double bed which was swapped to a twin – that could have brought us even closer!) A good carb-loading meal and then early to bed.
Although the alarm was set for 3.45am my race body-clock decided 3am was wake-up time. Down to kit check on the island we went (why do you always worry that they’ll fail you?) and then a bit of breakfast and tea before race briefing and heading outside into the darkness for the 5.30am start.
Tail lights on. Headtorches on. And it’s go go go!
David the RD loves to make you suffer and the first mile includes running across the soft sand of Porthmeor beach to hammer your legs early and get some sand into your shoes for added discomfort. Once you leave the pleasant tarmac of St Ives into the darkness the coast begins to show its true colours.
Jake and I led an early cluster of 5 which adds pressure making you go faster than you had intended and feel obliged to run bits you wouldn’t have ordinarily run. We pulled aside a few miles in for a comfort break and let them push on into the darkness, leaving us a trail of lights to follow along the cliff edges.
It got light much earlier than I expected and my headtorch was turned off before 7am.
If you’ve never run this section of coast before it’s hard to really make you realise just how difficult it is. If somebody had designed it that somebody would hate runners. And want to cause them difficulty and discomfort. The ‘paths’ are strewn with boulders and stones that break any rhythm – I would estimate there are a few sections where you might manage 100m before having to stop. There are boulders that you have to step up or down over that are almost deliberately slightly too big to make things harder. However I have never seen this section so dry. A normal winter and it can be Somme-like. This weekend it was dusty with some minor patches of mud with some marshy bits. So no moaning allowed!
There are some sharp ups and downs mixed in with longer ones that get your legs burning and heart pushing in the area lovingly referred to as ‘Mordor-on-Sea’ or the Badlands. I also love ‘The Graveyard of Hope’.
That all said it is spectacularly and beautifully bleak and we are very privileged to call it our backyard.
Our race went well. For both of us it was a training run ahead of longer races building into the summer. A chance to run together and practise our nutrition and condition the legs. Both of us use poles and again I think they are invaluable. On the downs they help cushion the impact of the many steps and drops; on the ups they help you dig in and keep your posture (preventing back pain over the many hours on your feet) and they saved us both from many trips (although Jake had a pretty spectacular wipeout fortunately not ending his race but leading to an impressively bloody knee).
Our pace was decent (18 minute miling on this section is pretty standard!) and we reached the turnaround at Cape Cornwall in pretty good shape. Back through the spectacular mine workings of Botallack and then Levant before the spectacular cliffs of Pendeen and Gurnard’s Head. The remoteness of this section makes it feel so brutal but also beautiful (another siting of choughs: very apt on St Piran’s Day weekend). Then there are the 108 steps up the sharp ascent into Zennor that help remind you how far you’ve run!
The return leg always feels longer on any out and back as you tire. Fortunately I’ve learned that youmust not get your hopes on for siting St Ives as you don’t see it until you are a mile away (there are oh-so-many false headlands first!)
The last 3 miles are a proper sting in the tail with the terrain, stepping stones and meandering although thankfully most of it is downhill (ish!). Then you reach St Ives and have the beach crossing as a bit of bonus cardio with 34miles in your legs, then around the island and a final quick uphill to the finish.
Anyone who knows me knows that tea is my fuel of choice for running. With no tea or crew possible today I was gasping by the finish. That cup of tea went down a storm along with the pasty. We collected our wooden medals before heading home, mission accomplished with our training miles in the bag (around 25th place out of 40). A big well done to Jodie representing STARC and taking 1st female place – she is a machine!
If you’ve never run and ultra before than this one would be a baptism of fire. But the Classic Jack (18miles from Cape Cornwall to St Ives) would give you a good introduction to that section. So why not go for it next year?

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