“Alarm set for 5 hours and 12 minutes from now”.
Anyone with an Android phone will be familiar with this notification when you set an alarm, and that feeling of: is that it? I’m not even in bed yet! Why do you tell me these things?!
Any worries about the morning’s arrangements were put to rest with a text from my sister (my lift for the morning): “Off to bed now, alarm set for 4am, call me if I don’t text you”
The next day started with a 3:45am alarm and a sleepy attempt at making my breakfast. I don’t normally have any problem putting food away but with 10 minutes until my lift arrived I was staring at this bowl of porridge thinking I can not eat this right now. I transferred it into one of the kids’ plastic bowls, finished my coffee, grabbed my kit bags and off I went.
Who is even up at this ridiculous hour? Oh yes, it was only 3 weeks ago that I was running the Jurassic Coast 100km event which started at 2am!
My excellent sis was already waiting for me, luckily much more awake than I was! We left Penzance and headed for The Lizard. The light of the dawn had already started to appear as we went past Marazion and Perranuthnoe, this would the halfway point of the race when I was back here later that morning.
The Classic Quarter, a run from Lizard Point, following the coast path around to Lands End, comes in at 44 miles, it gets its name from the Lizard being the southerly most point of the UK (who knew?) to Lands End, the most westerly. It does make you wonder why people don’t speak about John O’ Groats to the Lizard? Not quite as catchy I guess!
The exact race start-time is never quite revealed, we knew it would be 06:30ish, but had to attend a pre-race briefing at 6am & would start sometime after. It was blowing a hooly, it wasn’t too cold just swirling winds, I imagine it’s permanently windy at the Lizard! The briefing seemed to go on for ages and even included a warning of potholes in Perranuthnoe, I felt that that might be the least of our worries on this route knowing what was waiting for us at Lamorna!
And then we were off!
The chap in this picture checking his water bottle is Ceri Rees, a previous winner of the Grizzly and a half marathon PB of 70 mins! I’d heard he was running and imagined he would win this race with ease. I’ve never been anywhere near him in a race so didn’t expect anything different today! In this picture (about 5 seconds after the starting gun), I’m already in front of him – woo!
It wasn’t long before I realised how quick this race was going to be, I was sat in 4th position with 3 quick guys in front of me. Around every corner they pushed on, the only time I caught up with them was when they weren’t sure which path to take, so they would slow down, even stop to check which way to go. This was some relief and nice to close that gap every now and then.
We arrived at Church Cove, (Checkpoint 1) in under 1hr 13 mins, I was only seconds behind the others. I knew this was too quick, having looked up splits of other runners in previous years where most previous winners would arrive here in 1:15-1:20. I felt ok, so carried on.
In the next few miles the 1st 3 really put their foot down and pushed on the pace, opening up a gap of 2-3 mins. I left them to it, even stopping for a quick pee break. Ultramarathons are not won in the first half, and at this pace, I’d be dead by Penzance so I started preparing for a long day on my own, and if I was lucky I would catch them at some point during the last hour, on the more technical section!
As we approached Loe Bar and Porthleven, the views were just awesome, we were now coming into the part of the route that I knew well, which helped me relax.
Into Porthleven and a speedy top up of my water bottle, and half a banana quickly grabbed from the table. I couldn’t help but think I was losing more time on the guys at the front (maybe I was lying about being relaxed!)
After you leave here, the coast path takes a few twists and turns as it skirts around fields and barriers around cliff falls (all safe mum, don’t worry!), after passing a couple of old engine houses you reach Rinsey and are a stone’s throw from Praa Sands. Anyone who walks or runs the coast path will know that there are many occasions where the paths split, or don’t quite look like ‘the way’, but luckily having been out and ran this part of the route in previous months, I knew exactly which way would get me into Praa.
Approaching Praa Sands proper, I spot a cardboard sign on the floor next to a hose; “water for runners”, obviously one of the kind locals, although not sure many of us needed it as it was a cool day, with sea mist in the air – lovely! At least the heat won’t be an excuse later!
Into Praa Sands and I spot my parents for the first time, always a lift to see people you know, more so your family, and especially when they have supplies!
They handed me a banana and some water but I didn’t stop to chat for too long. I called out “those guys went off quick” and I struggle to hear the reply back.
It may have been “What guys?” as at the checkpoint just around the corner, the organisers told me I was 1st through! What had happened? A wrong turn perhaps?
I left the checkpoint at Praa Sands, and 2 of the 3 that were in front of me were now entering the CP. I jogged up the next hill, probably a little overexcited, as my pace increased as we went on towards Marazion and the road section of the race.
I reached the ‘halfway’ point at Perranuthnoe in 3 hours, 1 minute. A little quicker than I had planned to get here and pushed through to Marazion where I met my parents again for a quick shoe change and more snacks!
The run was now on the tarmac for the best part of 7 miles so I figured putting road shoes on here was a good plan to be more comfortable and to relax a little on the plush, bouncy cushions of my Brooks Ghosts. What I hadn’t planned for was my spurt of energy and rush to get to Penzance, I think being in the lead made me lose my cool and my race plan! My Grandparents were in Marazion, outside the Godolphin Arms, with St Michael’s Mount in the background waving and taking pictures, this was a moment I had look forward to, but didn’t hang around to enjoy. In hindsight I should have slowed down, said hi, given them a quick hug etc. Instead, I was on some sort of suicide mission to get to Mousehole as quick as humanly possible!
A few miles on and I leave the cycle path that leads into Penzance Bus Station. My Dad, step mum and brother are there offering me all the treats I had mentioned to them just the day before: Lucozade Sport, water and Snickers. With this much family support, what could possibly go wrong?
At the time I couldn’t work out why but my energy levels were fading fast and I was overtaken along Penzance promenade by a chap who looked like he’d only just started running a mile ago. I reminded myself that I had never deserved that lead so to have now lost it was fine & I should concentrate on the impending coastal section to Lamorna that would soon be here!
Penzance Prom on a sunnier day
As I came into Newlyn, I saw a car slow down and stop on the narrow bridge, blocking my path with the only option to squeeze through and make a little leap over the guard stone, which I did. I thought “Silly car, what a place to stop” and then…
AAAaaaarrghhh! Cramp, or the Cramp Sniper as I like to call it had shot me right in the back of the left hamstring and locked my whole leg out. I was shouting/screaming in the discomfort of not being able to stop it; stretching it, rubbing it, walking, nothing was helping!
After about 30 seconds, it did start to ease off and people started coming to the rescue; first a local chap asked if I was ok, and said he thought it sounded like I had been attacked! (By what I’m not sure).
Next my mum showed up (as if by magic!) with water and offers of food etc., then the eventual winner (Paul Maskell) turned up, he stopped and handed me a salt tablet, I must get this guy a pint!
I stayed in Newlyn for what felt like half an hour but must have only been a few minutes. My legs were obviously paying me back for running a mile in 6m30s in Marazion and not slowing down for anyone (not even my gran!)
I shuffled along to Mousehole but I was wiped, currently in 3rd place but expecting to finish in 43rd, that’s even if I made it to the finish! I walked a bit, ran a bit, eventually got there for another shoe change; back to more off road shoes for the technical section ahead.
The next few miles are beautiful and the terrain really slows you down enough to give you time to look at it! I have trained and trained on this part but every run is slow; it’s winding, there are small rivers to cross, granite to clamber over, for a good 2.5 miles to Lamorna.
Picture taken on a training run: Approaching Lamorna (where’s the path?!)
I finally arrived at the Lamorna CP feeling sorry for myself. I checked in, ate lots of crisps, had a chat to the CP guy and a waiting relay runner, local Cornwall A.C. runner Zelah M. I was still contemplating pulling out as my energy levels were low and I was worried about cramp striking again out on a headland somewhere nowhere near a road! They were very encouraging and I thought to myself “I’m still in 3rd, I may as well carry on & see how it goes”.
I left the checkpoint, got about 20 metres away and sat myself down in a slump on a rock. I took a few bites out of a peanut butter sandwich as I stared at my watch; it ticked over the 5 hour mark, not bad, but still 10 miles to go. I’ve always said not to count down miles during an ultra, especially when you’re not moving very fast, so I quickly got that thought out of my head and moved on. I got out of Lamorna and was treated to this view; again, the picture was taken on a training run, on race day it was a tad more grey!
Just after Lamorna looking back towards Mounts Bay in the distance.
It wasn’t long before Zelah caught me up, but she was full of encouragement, no matter what she said, she didn’t know how I felt, but it was nice to have some positivity thrown at me! Off she skipped up the path, only a mile or 2 into her run. A few more twists and turns and river crossings and just generally annoying coast path and I arrive at St Loy Beach: The official coast path goes across big rounded boulders, luckily there is some sort of route that can be seen from the amount of people who have been here. My knee, or at least muscles that help stabilise it have started to hurt and every step on the left leg aches. This had started a few miles earlier but now it was occupying my mind more than anything else.
St Loy on a brighter day!
Still in 3rd position and knowing the hardest part is behind me, I do my best to stride on, thinking of the next goals: Penberth Cove, Logan Rock and then the Minack.
I pass Logan Rock (although I can’t see it in the mist) knowing Treen campsite is somewhere to my right.; I have good memories of camping here only last summer, this gives me the lift I need. My running style has fallen to pieces but I know there isn’t far to go now!
I descend into Porthcurno, knowing at least two of my family will be at the Minack waiting to see me- it’s been a lonely couple of hours!
The Minack Theatre is at the top of some big steps, some might choose to use their hands to help get up them, I wasn’t about to miss this opportunity to take the weight off my left leg!
Almost at the Minack, something like a smile
It felt like my birthday, with no less than 9 members of my family there for me, supporting and talking to me; including my nieces aged 4 and 6 offering me food, drink and a high-five! My sister even gave me a mini pasty, I’ll take anything right now!
The Minack to the end isn’t very far by road, so it surely can’t be that far by coast path, maybe an extra mile? I knew I had to go past Nanjizel, the coastguard lookout point and Porthgwarra before the end (no idea in what order).
The sea mist came in strong, it was a welcome constant cooling on a day that has been a scorcher in previous years. The only problem was I couldn’t really see the best path to take on the coast, I did my best to follow the acorns and remember runs I had done here previously to not get caught out on a headland or take a massive shortcut. I spotted a couple of runners ahead of me, their speed suggested they were out for a training run, and they weren’t on the same path as me, they appeared quite far inland.
I think I succeeded in following the correct route and enjoyed the sights of Nanjizel, the granite cliffs, Porthgwarra and eventually the outskirts of the Lands End complex.
One of the many options of route after Porthgwarra – you can see how easy it is to go a long / short route. My route shown in red.
As I approached the finish area, I went past a kiddies’ farm thing that they have at Lands End, I was obviously a bit delirious as I started laughing aloud to a duck which had a mohican. People I’ve spoken to who run ultras report of hallucinating during the overnight sections of runs, I can see why, although this was very real!
I get closer and closer, I can see the Endurancelife flags (the company that organise the event) and I think I can here cheering, it’s all a bit confusing, especially as I get to within 10 metres of the finish line and there’s an arrow pointing me right, which basically involves a big step up to a parallel path. Completely pointless and not very nice on my weary limbs! The finish involves putting for ‘dibber’ electronic tag in this box and it captures your time, slightly less exciting than I was hoping for whilst waving my Cornish flag around.
Trying to wave a Cornish flag as I cross the finish line, there isn’t one.
One of the things that kept me going and that helped me finish the race was the knowledge that SOMEHOW I was still in 3rd position, however I was quickly informed at the finish of the number of people that had already been through. Discounting the relay runners I was apparently now in 4th. How and when did this happen? I had actually picked up a little pace in the last 5k.
After a chat with my family at the end, I worked out that it must have been the runners I saw ‘inland’ after Portgwarra, it is an awesome shortcut if you know it or you accidentally do it.
It didn’t make a lot of difference, I was over the moon that I hadn’t finished 43rd and my time of 7hrs 16min was more than acceptable after the day I’d had! Also the knowledge (albeit inaccurate) that I was in 3rd place was worth more to me than the outcome; it kept me running, it kept me smiling and ultimately helped me complete the event.
My niece Lottie and I at the finish, my sister commented how fresh I looked. This was the post-race buzz which soon faded as my temperature dropped!
Results and reflection
I had a great day, though frustrating at times and will be back in 2 years to beat my time. Why not next year? Well, the Dartmoor Discovery is one I need to go back for (see blog June 2014: http://wp.me/p4Itii-a)
Also I think my family should only be put through this once a year. In February 2018 I will be taking on the Arc of Attrition, a 100 mile coastal run which includes the Classic Quarter route between mile 12-55! It continues onto Pendeen, Zennor and finally Porthtowan, it could be a long night! My aim is to get under 24 hours but anything can happen (and don’t I know it!)
The winner ran 6hrs 44m (still owe him a pint)
2nd – 6 hrs 45m
3rd (sneaky) did 7hrs 11m. A 5 minute advantage so I’m not sure I would have caught him anyway!
Ceri Rees dropped out at halfway with a bad back, so I guess that counts as the 1st time I’ve beaten him? I look forward to racing you again soon!
I’m not one for excuses but it’s good to learn from mistakes at races and I can think of a few!
- Trying to stay with speedy guys in first 2 miles
- Reaching Checkpoint 1 too quickly
- Getting carried away when I was handed the lead
- Reaching Checkpoint 2 too quickly
- Running a 6:35 mile in Marazion
- Only carrying 500ml of water / Tailwaind for the 1st 28 miles
- Not knowing about salt tablets!
- Running 100km on the Jurassic Coast in 13 hours, 3 weeks before (Oh yeah that might be it!)
Thanks for reading!
Official photos: https://www.endurancelife.com/gallery-view.asp?event=314&bib=165&photog=ANY&subgal=ANY&button=Go+%3E%3E
This is safe right?
Kids climb this all the time you say?
This is basically falling forwards and catching myself.
Just some of the quotes I came out with whilst clinging onto the edge of Crib Goch whilst on the approach to the summit of Snowdon.
Crib Goch is known as a ‘knife-edge’ ridge, this was the first time I’d walked/scrambled across a ridge of any kind. Within minutes of arriving at the car park we were running & within a couple of km, I was halfway up it thinking ‘This isn’t running!’.
During the climb, the weather threatened to come in and cover us, or as they call it here; ‘the cloud’. I was so busy concentrating on the run/walk/scramble, I had forgotten we were actually headed for Snowdon, another first for me! I was very excited but mainly trying to get there without any serious incidents!
A running friend, Justin had invited a small group of us to North Wales to explore the Welsh 3000s route (14 mountains in North Wales that are above 3000ft) to help him recce the course as a run. Once the date had finally come, it was just the 2 of us. I was basically given a 1-to-1 mountain walking multi-day trip with a highly qualified mountaineering instructor / ultra runner who grew up in North Wales.
His day job is his business Climb South West so I ask myself -Does he normally charge for this sort of thing? I won’t mention that in case he gets any ideas to charge me for our next run together!
So far we had had the mountains to ourselves. It was only once we’d reached Snowdon we actually started to see some other people (through the cloud) who’d taken either the mountain railway or the main tourist track. It was great to reach the top and see the view, or just to reach the top.
Off the other side & we drop a few hundred metres (possibly) down quite a tricky path where we meet some hikers (why did they come this way?!) “Are we nearly at the top?”, ” yeah not far” Justin says. Hmm. We then drop a bit further before approaching another ridge, Lliwedd.
This has another sheer drop on 1 side, luckily it was too misty to see it and too windy to even attempt a walk along the top. A few miles later and there is some relief at coming back down, knowing there is no more scrambling to do for today and soon there will be food. The last part of the run includes running on tarmac & a stone path around a lake. More nice views including the mountain rescue helicopter circling, we found out later it was attempting to get higher but was struggling with the thick cloud.
The final part of the run back to the car saw me running with the cows again, cows really didn’t bother me now after I felt like I’d just conquered the world!
We then headed to the refuelling station in Llanberis – Pete’s Eats! I’m not saying this lightly, this is one of the best places I have ever been for food, although the hunger after 3 hours in the mountains may have swayed my judgement a little! The quality of the food, the pint mugs of tea, the portion size, the staff, the prices, the relaxed feel of the café; the maps, books, pictures, they even had a shower! I ordered the Monster Omlette!
The bunkhouse – After a long day of driving and running, climbing etc, it was time to get our stuff in the accommodation and meet the hosts. Ben’s Bunkhouse is a mini hostel that sleeps 18 and has all the facilities you need to cook, eat, dry your clothes; even better when only 2 people are staying!
It was warm, comfortable and just what I needed to shelter from the local weather system!
Not content with just 1 run, we decided to head out in the car & visit the local slate quarry- not part of the Welsh 3000s and technically not allowed into parts of it but still a good place to find some elevation. The slate quarry was something else! We park up, grab the head torches, we run, up a hill of course, which soon turns into a walk, and then we negotiate a way into the quarry, as it’s fenced off “This is cool right Justin?”, “Yeah fine” he replied. Just look at this slope! Probably used to transport men or slate up and/or down the height of the quarry.
After getting to the top of the 30-40% gradient, we took in the view and found a path to get back on as the light was fading. I am informed that some of the downhills we used to get back are used for a vertical kilometre race (1000m climb in a running event). It was a great feeling running downhill as fast as I could, even with very tired legs, it made for some great video footage. As the light faded further, we reached the last mile or so, and the rain came in. One good thing about visiting Llanberris out of season is there was plenty of parking in the village and barely anyone around for company on the mountains. As we came hurtling down the hill, back to normality, there wasn’t even anyone around to give us strange looks!
Pete’s Eats was in our minds but unfortunately it was closed, just a couple of beers from the local spar (Brains SA, what else?) then and more Nutella sandwiches, I could still taste the omelette.
Day 2 morning – Tryfan
Another day, another scramble, & more sunshine!
I’ve been told since this trip by a few people that Tryfan is their favourite mountain, & after today I think it’s mine too.
The path starts just off the road by a lake, and as soon as you start on the path you are walking (not running).
You can see the shape of it from the road & it goes up diagonally to the top!
This scramble was more challenging than the day before but at least it didn’t have a drop on both sides, this gave me a tiny bit more confidence to just keep going, because once you’re halfway up, it is not really an option to head back down the way you came!
About halfway up and we reach ‘The cannon’, a pointy boulder which looks out to the valley in 3 directions and on this sunny morning it was quite a sight, from this picture though, you can tell who was the more brave!
Kids climb this mountain right? Yeah all the time! So as we reached the top, the famous Adam & Eve came into view, I had heard about this double trig point before and the thing to do once at the summit is to jump from one to the other.
There are many pictures of it in Pete’s Eats; I thought about it and unfortunately it was the one thing I really bottled out of all week, maybe next time!
After about 10 minutes of setting up shots and taking photos, surprise surprise, the bad weather came in, we quickly scoffed our Nutella sandwiches, bananas and a few swigs of our drinks before trying to find a path back down. We eventually found one, picking up a lost runner on our way. He followed us down and soon disappeared off up the next hill when we said we were stopping for another fuel stop.
On our approach to the next hill, we could see the clouds cascading upwards and over the edge of a cliff, into the higher valley, it is a local spot known as Devil’s Kitchen in the guide books but I’m told, the original translation was something like Hell’s Arse!
We kept looking ahead of the beautiful downhill ridge we had coming up, just one more hill to climb (Y Garn)
This incredible downhill run rounded off a nice morning of running which included the first 10k being covered in 2 hours 59 minutes! Is that allowed on Strava as a run?!
Later that afternoon, Justin had promised an afternoon of climbing / exploring. I was a little tentative about the climbing but figured I’d just go with it, back to the quarry it is then.
Snakes, Ladders and Tunnels
This has to be the most weird and wonderful part of the trip, I ran up a good number of mountains on this trip and can really appreciate the beauty of the places I’ve seen, but we were again back in the mysterious slate quarry in our normal clothes, for a bit of climbing.
We had a set of instructions / guide from a blog which is included below, climbing a chain, abseiling in the quarry, going through tunnels, climbing up ladders!
The ladders used by the quarrymen were still there, bolted into the rock, almost 50 years after the quarry had been abandoned. Luckily for me Justin is not completely stupid and used his climbing equipment; ropes, helmets, clips etc. to get us up a few ladders. The quarry is set up with different layers / ledges where the men worked on various depths of the quarry, there are remnants of train tracks, pipes, and fully built huts, some of which look like a nice spot for lunch!
A few years ago one of the train tracks was still intact and left dangling between 2 levels, affectionately known as the ‘death bridge’, lucky for us it had been taken away / collapsed a few years ago. I’ll let the blog and pictures tell the rest:
Day 3 was the best day for running and a good day for an adventure. By the end of it we had run 20 miles, picked off another 4 of the 14 peaks, scrambled out of a valley, drunk river water and seen more sheep than I would normally see in a year in Devon!
Justin had a new plan for us, a route he’d never done before – “It’ll be all right” as he loves to say to ease my worries (to shut me up).
We parked up at a sea front car park, overlooking Anglesey and started our run ‘from sea level to summit’. I was quite tired from the cumulative mileage and back to back days of adrenaline-filled hill climbs and scrambles but off we went. Within 2 minutes we had to stop our watches; there was a bull and a cow in the path. I’ve been getting more accepting of cows recently but even Justin was looking to hop over the hedge into a field to avoid these two love birds!
So a slightly slow start to our quest for heights but we were soon off again and walking up a super-steep road, just to add another hurdle, this road was closed off as a building site, ‘no access yada yada’, after the quarry adventure, this was not about to stop us.
We eventually got to an off road path which resembled some of the rolling moorland we’re used to seeing closer to home on Dartmoor, only with huge mountains as a backdrop. As we rambled past the gorse and few hundred sheep, the valley we were aiming for came into view.
After a couple of tentative river crossings, we approached the valley on a solid narrow track; it appeared well walked but we were the only ones for miles around. It seemed the only way out was going straight up over the rocks. I was a well-seasoned scrambler by now but was still a little nervous to be going ‘up there’. As with a lot of scrambling, it looks a lot worse from a distance than it actually is when you get up close to it. The only way to describe this valley is like a 3-sided box with a river running down the middle.
The scramble was manageable & we were soon looking back at where we had come from to another stunning view, I still wasn’t getting bored of the scenery up there.
Now heading along the top of the ridge we had some fairly easy running, so took some cool video footage (link below). It was a relief to see we would be now running at a more familiar pace of 8,9,10 minute miling rather than the 30,40,50 min/pace I’d been getting used to!
A quick check from our man with the map says we go that way, more sheep and a few hikers and we eventually hit a sweet bit of downhill. Sweet referring to the perfect gradient for FAST downhill running. I clocked 5:30 pace for almost a mile and Justin was running away from me! A few more jelly beans and we head for home. I am getting tired at this point, 16 miles and nearly 4 hours in (and 3 days!), all I can think of is the coffee back in the van and the seaside we are fast approaching!
Day 3 came in at 20.2 miles and 4 hours something; a little scrambling for good measure but a real good day for the runner. We picked up another 4 3000ft peaks that day, 2 of which were less than a mile apart.
I guess this is how people can complete the Welsh 3000s in such a short time, lucky for us we weren’t going for a record that day!
So having just run the Dartmoor Discovery, (32 miles on tarmac – much harder!) I look ahead to Welsh 3000s in Oct; Justin is organising an event in early Oct which uses some of the same paths we ran including Crib Goch ridge.
The challenge is a 30 mile route, hitting the summits of all 14 Welsh 3000s in 2 days, with a choice of walking or running. I’m informed that it is possible to complete it in less than 1 day (if you’re in a hurry!) I’ve signed up to more scary heights and breath-taking views.
I am looking forward to the challenge of completing the route with a little more confidence having seen most of it before, and going back to Pete’s Eats for a Monster Omelette or 2!
4 runs, 44 miles, 14000ft of elevation, 8 of the Welsh 3000s
Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HqBhwZrpEI
Snowdon Horseshoe; https://www.strava.com/activities/581507723
Quarry run: https://www.strava.com/activities/581507747
Tryfan etc: https://www.strava.com/activities/581506286
20.2 mi run: https://www.strava.com/activities/581506349
They said it wasn’t possible, that running a negative split was a things of dreams, but after 2 hours, 40 minutes (this picture was taken) and just over a kilometre to go, I was about to achieve just that.
A negative split is running the 2nd half of a race quicker than the first, a potentially difficult feat that requires discipline (or just a very slow 1st half!)
Before this run, my only other experience of ‘fast’ marathon courses were Bournemouth 2014 & London 2015 where I ran 2:45:27 and 2:45:42 respectively, on both occasions I was aiming for sub 2:40 and you can guess what happened, a nice quick start, 1:19/1:20 at halfway and a slow and very uncomfortable last 10k.
I had entered this race with a fresh plan, to get around in under 2:45:00 therefore giving me a PB and the qualifying time to enter the race for 2 years in the Championship Start area, 2 hours 40 can wait.
With this attitude towards this huge event, I had put less pressure on myself and managed to stay injury-free in the build up, ironically probably able to run the 2:40 I so wanted, but I stuck to the plan: to average at 6:16 per mile.
I was lucky to enough to be starting the race in the Championship Start area, just behind the elites, reserved for men who have run a half under 1:15, or a full under 2:45, (similarly for women; 1:30/3:15). I knew the first few miles would be quick, with all the early race excitement, being surrounded by hundreds of runners capable of sub 2:45 and the lovely long downhill section during mile 3.
The first 10k before reaching the iconic Cutty Sark are relatively quiet miles with pockets of spectators, this gives you a warm up of what’s to come. There are all sorts of banners, flags, clangers, witty cheers and the noise, nothing can prepare you for the constant noise! In 2015 I made sure I had my name printed on my vest in bold letters and people really do let you know your name; I’ve been a spectator at races and there’s nothing more fun than shouting someone’s name at them, hoping it’s going to help them out (it does for me), I especially like to call out an alternative version to their name to make them think I know them: e.g. Vest: Jonathon, Cheer: “Geddon Jonno!!”.
There are also many little people on the route, many of them reaching their little arms out for a high 5. For the 1st few miles I was running with a man dressed as a banana and someone with Spongebob Squarepants on his vest, the kids loved that: “Look mum Spongebob GO SPONGEBOB!”, you get the idea.
Through Cutty Sark and I can only describe it as similar to a football stadium when the players walk out, just a wave of cheering, it makes you feel like a celebrity! With this noise came the urge to run faster but I try to just chill and “MIKE!!” I hear in the crowd, it’s Ishtar coming to support her sister for her debut marathon, a big smile and a wave are exchanged. 100 metres later and it’s another familiar face; Kat Watts looking out for her super-fundraising husband Andy also running his first marathon, I can only imagine the excitement that they are feeling and the emotion their runners are experiencing.
The next few miles are a blur apart from trying to stick to my pace plan and drink as much Lucozade as I could get my hands on, not normally my tipple but any drink with electrolytes in is a good way to try and avoid cramp in the later miles.
Somewhere around mile 12 I see the frantic waving and shouting of Sophie, Nancy and Tom, my support team. I told them that it was too easy, it was a risky strategy; being so confident so early in the race!
Mile 13 and Tower Bridge; this year I was able to appreciate the views, running over it is probably the first uphill in the run so I tried not to overdo it. The other side of Tower Bridge and the course goes along a road that you come back on later in the race. With a start time 30 minutes before us, I could see some of the blind runners running with their guides in the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) race, what a massive inspiration they are, they had started 45 minutes before us and were currently on mile 22. I went though halfway at 1:22:08.
As we headed onto the Isle of Dogs, we went through a tunnel, it felt long; no cars ,crowds, no music, no GPS signal for our fancy watches, just a few of us runners and the 15 mile marker with a big digital clock= 1:34:50, 51, 52 tick tick tick, a quick bit of mental arithmetic, we’re still on course.
There is a short, sharp slope at mile 19ish and I specifically remember it from the previous year as this is when I started to suffer and slow down. This year I ran straight up it, just to get it out the way and focussed on the road ahead, to get of this Isle!
The highlight of the race for me has to be reaching mile marker 23 and expecting to see 22; this section of the race runs in the opposite direction to the runners reaching the halfway point (where I had previously seen the IPC runners). You run facing other runners for over a mile. I had concentrated on pacing each mile and not getting carried away that I had actually skipped a whole mile! I knew my splits were still ahead of target so continued on my way, just hoping and wishing I would not get cramp, (which had got me at a recent 50k event with 3 miles to go).
Apart from taking on electrolyte drinks and water I have found the best way to avoid cramp is to not allow yourself to believe it’s nearly over; if you keep telling yourself the run is still a couple of extra miles more than there actually are then you seem to be able to get your head down and focus. With less than 3 miles to go, I kept thinking 5 to go, with 2 miles to go I told myself I still had at least a whole parkrun to go (5k).
The last few miles of the London Marathon along the river are so iconic, having watched the race for years on TV, seeing the pros run along the river, come past Big Ben, to turn at the Mall, past Buckingham Palace (Happy Birthday Ma’am), this was my chance (again) to be a part of that. The wall of noise has now reached a climax and you just want to KEEP RUNNING!!
As you turn for the finish (with cramp still asking for permission to appear), you see the sign 200 metres to go, you don’t care anymore, you know it’s over (you pretend it isn’t) and you make a beeline for the finish gate.
The time on the clock is always slightly out but I was well under 2:45 and it was just a case of how many seconds can I knock off?
My final time was 2:44:10 which breaks down in halves as 1:22:08 and 1:22:02. The elusive negative split had been achieved (just). I’m not sure I’ll enjoy a race this much again!
“Mum I’ve got a stitch, I’m going to walk” I called as I spotted my mum at the junction for Pentawen, I knew this meant a checkpoint was close. “Come on, let’s run!” She said. I then found myself jogging again with this crazy lady in sandals, she had unbounded energy. I had been running for 3 hour & 50 minutes in complete isolation (just how I like it), across beautiful coastal terrain, yet this flat 100 metres of tarmac, alongside my mother, with 26.2m on my watch was a moment to remember.
The Roseland August Trail (RAT) has 3 distance options, 11, 20 or 32 miles. The 32m race sees the runners hopping on a coach & riding down to the start at St. Anthony Head. Here, you are not far from St. Mawes, with awesome views of the Fal estuary. The task was simple; run back to the campsite in Porthpean, St. Austell where I had left my tent & most of my belongings 2 hours ago. This was already turning into a long day!
There was a lot of buzz around the start with talk of the ‘Plague’ runners and how brave/crazy/tired they must have been. This is the 4th distance option- Having started their run in Porthpean at 12:05am, they were tasked with running to St. Anthony, & back, just a cheeky 64m of Cornish coastal path.
There were many personal stories to be told, and reasons why people were running on this fine Saturday.
Deb Grills was completing her Cornish coast path charity challenge. In the past few months, she had previously run the whole of the Cornish coast path, 10-15 miles at a time, inviting friends, local runners and anyone else willing to join her on each leg. She now had just 32 miles left to tick off.
Sharon Daw was about to complete 100th marathon, (and just go that little bit further).
‘Marvellous’ Mimi Anderson tailing the back of our run. This woman can run and run and run, probably forever. I cannot even begin to tell you about her achievements, she has run some of the longest races on the ultra circuit, and then turned around and ran back to the start!
Link to Mimi: http://marvellousmimi.com/v2/
It is always special to be in the company of such inspiring runners.
Start – 4m and checkpoint 1.
The gun went and the race was on. Although it doesn’t feel much like a race when you know you’re going to be running until after lunch time. A runner in a bright orange T-shirt had a pretty quick start, ran off into the lead and by 2 miles was already 90s ahead of me in 2nd. He stayed ahead of me for the next few miles and I concentrated on my own running. “See you later” (maybe).
The first checkpoint and 2 guys are dressed as Del Boy & Rodney going to a fancy dress party. Then Robin calls my name and I’m supposed to know who it is? He’s in disguise! A quick check in and we’re on our way again.
About 7 miles in and I spot the early runaway leader, he is only 20 metres ahead. I assumed he’d just got lost, because no one can blow up that quickly. This helped me relax because at least I knew he wasn’t some international crazy mountain athlete who I was never going to see again, at least now we could have a race, (or something like it at least).
By the end of mile 9, with 68 mins on the clock I decided to overtake. Not with any real speed but just enough that I could have a clear view of the ground ahead, there’s nothing worse than having your vision impaired whilst trail running. So I was now in the lead, with 23 miles to go, oh dear.
Some good memories here as I joined the start of the 20m run, one which I had taken on in 2012. You may not believe it but navigating a coastal path isn’t quite as simple as it sounds and here is where I had a small reminder.
A couple of miles later and I’m in Portholland, a handful of haribo followed by clambering on rocks “I used to love doing this as a kid!” I told one of the holidaymakers who waited as I passed. What must they think of us?
Mum had had the foresight to freeze a bottle of water & bring it all the way to me from Penzance, this I still think is the reason I was able to finish the run that day. After running with her for 100 yards we stopped at the checkpoint for some more luscious flat Coke. I don’t normally drink it but this ultra running has changed me.
Around the corner was my parents’ van and my lovely little niece Lottie there to welcome me. After a chin wag with parents & 1-year old Lottie, I was on my way, onto which I knew would be the hardest part of the run by far.
26.2m – finish
Steps, stairs, hills, dips, badger holes, and cramp! This was, as expected, the toughest segment of the race, with my 7-8 min miles being pushed back to 12-13 pace. But with some stunning views, the determination to finish and an emergency stash of electrolytes I managed to get myself across the line in 4:46:23(ish) and keep hold of my 1st position.
I had no idea where anyone else was behind me, I had a feeling Clare Prosser couldn’t be too far, and there she appeared, 8 minutes later. I found out later that she had clawed back 7 minutes in the last 4 miles, mighty impressive over that terrain and a very similar achievement to 12 months ago where she closed a 10 minute gap to 1 minute, overtaking every guy but one!
The plague had been a tied finish, by two women. An incredible run by both of them, clocking 12:34 for double the distance!
There are many factors which helped with the success of this run, here are some:
Running off road, a lot.
Running hard up any set of stairs whilst out running in the past 4 months.
Running the Dartmoor Discovery (32.4m tarmac).
Being taken out on epic adventures by my East Devon Ultra Runners comrades, (including a 50k Dartmoor run).
The support from friends and parents before the event and on the day itself.
The supplies and support of the organisers, Mud Crew.
Knowing that people on the course had run for as long as me PLUS 8h30m! (Well done to those strong-willed individuals).
Anyone thinking of tackling this run, I would thoroughly recommend it. If you are new to trail running then the 11 or 20 might be a better idea, bearing in mind the 20 will take the same sort of time as your marathon best.
See you next year, I will be going for the double distance in The Plague so I may be a little more forlorn when you see me!
“Oh it’s ten to ten” I said, as we stopped our watches & all agreed we should walk the last quarter mile back to the car.
We’d been running for 2h30m & with stop/starts of the watch it was easily another 15-20 mins. Now heading into near darkness, with one man down; hungry, tired, bordering on desperate. WHERE IS THE CAR?! Apparently only 1k away… At 7pm when things were a little more fresh I’d packed a gel & some water & thought this would be fine.
I ate my gel at the hour mark & was so enthusiastic about the Raspberry Ripple flavour that I offered it round for the guys to try; schoolboy error!
Just over 2 weeks after my glorious Dartmoor run I find myself here again, although this time the flashbacks were a little more 2012-esque.
It’s been a good few months since I’ve taken a head torch on a run & really didn’t think I was going to need one on a clear summer’s evening. Yet here we were, hurtling down a rocky path with a slither of tarmac down the centre, the path covered by trees. It reminded me of training runs with the Tamar Trotters, led by Paul ‘Willy’ Wilsmore. Regularly on winter runs we would end up running down a stream, a loose rocky path, or what could well have been someone’s private land! And on Spring/Autumn runs we would go ‘this way’ & worry heading down a dusky Cornish lane as the evening light fades away. Willy always had an air or confidence on these runs, any moaning greeted with ‘be a’right’.
So how did I get here?
It comes back to a little thing known as Strava and a local race called Exe to Axe.
Anyone who knows me will hear me mention Strava or the Exe to Axe race at least once a week(!)
Strava is a site where people upload their cycle/run data straight from their GPS device. It then let’s all of your followers know how far you’ve been, how fast you’ve gone & keeps a weekly, monthly, even yearly total of your miles & hours exercising. It can be very addictive logging all those miles & what really makes it exciting is the segments!
Segments are mini competitions; little races on a certain stretch of road (normally a hill). If your run includes a segment, you make the leaderboard. I have been known to go for my normal run & charge up any hill I see, just on the off chance it’s a segment.
A local runner from Budleigh, Justin seems to hit some of the same segments as me whilst training on the Woodbury routes so we suggested a run together, and look where it got me!
Having run Exe to Axe back in April I was in contact with another crazy trail runner, David, a friend of Justin’s. And with 2 of their mates the ‘East Devon Ultra Runners’ were born!
The route Justin took us on is the route of a local race called The Four Trigs, this sounds friendly enough. What I hadn’t realised is what trigs actually are- triangulation points for navigation, usually found at a look out point on the top of a massive hill!!
The climbs were quite impressive at times, easily hitting 15% gradient. The 2 other guys were a little less familiar with this style of running but they hung on in there (almost) til the end. We may have lost one on the way, not sure how late he got home!
We picked up some of the Exe to Axe route backwards & Justin & I tried to show off our fell running skills, sprinting down the steps & hills, it was pretty scary!
Our next meeting is a run from Okehampton to Ivybridge, toughly 30 miles & I’ll be sure to pack at least 5 gels each!
Our little group is growing, recently joining members of the madness:
Update to follow on the ever growing group….
Strava data: app.strava.com/activities/158165957
Dartmoor Discovery is a 32.4 mile ultra marathon, organised by Teignbridge Trotters in Devon. It has been going since 1998 and used to be 34 miles; the Trotters have had the race for 4 years now & the race has been going from strength to strength since.
Anyway, back to the DD;
Just an image of how steep it is in places!
The weather gods were kind again, they must know I suffer in the heat. It was a cool day, rain was forecast and rain came about half an hour before the start, half an hour into the race and again about an hour in.
I did my usual in this weather; hat, vest, compression socks and this time my new, tried and tested Brooks Pure Flow 2, a 4mm drop lightweight training shoe, designed to give a more natural feel. I was a little apprehensive about these shoes but having already done 2 marathons (Taunton + a 26.2m training run) in them I knew they could do the job.
The first few miles I just tried to settle into a sensible pace, I had been looking at the Garmin/Strava data from 2 years ago and remember doing a 6:21 first mile, this time I did 6:27 (too quick?). I watched 3 runners run off into the distance in the first 2 miles and I knew I wasn’t going to go with them. One of them was John Ward, the winner from 2012 who ran 3:33 and this time had made it known he was going for 3:29. 1 guy went with him, & 1 guy went ahead of him! I just sat back, tried to maintain something a little more sensible than last time. I got to 10k in 40 mins (too quick?) – the same pace as before, but I knew I had done more training this time and I walked up a hill when I thought I should, just to retain the energy for the latter stages. I also had recently discovered Torq energy gels, they do not use artificial sweeteners in their gels so I figured I would cope with them better than others, and in training they had been very good, and the flavours include; Rhubarb & Custard and Rasperry Ripple, yum!
I went through 13.1m in 1:26, again this sounds quick but it was 1 minute slower than last time and it is almost all down hill from Princetown to this half marathon point at Ashburton, and still no sign of the top 3! This didn’t bother me because with this sort of distance you are either going to catch them or you are not, there is little point at this stage trying to race anyone or chase anyone, even if it is very tempting! A car drove past with 2 Plymouth Harriers in cheering me on and I knew Ashburton would have a few locals clapping us, probably no idea how far we were going, or why we were doing it.
There is a huge hill coming out of Ashburton, I think you gain 500ft in the mile. I walked some of it, peed in the hedge halfway up, and at the top caught the early leader! Into 3rd place and still 17 miles to go, where are the other 2? I’ll take 3rd, too early to think about that, anyone can run 15 miles.
The next few miles went by in a bit of a blur but there were 2 steep hills and a couple of painful down hills. The next memory is the marathon mark & when it came I felt an overwhelming sense of achievement as I saw 3:02, my 2nd quickest ever marathon and 8 mins up on 2012 (too quick?) Too late to worry about that now. I felt good, I was about improve on my time, and even an hour last 10k would get my roughly 4 hours. As I came around the corner after 26.2, I spotted the man in 2nd – Dave Tomlin! Wow will I catch him? Will we get each other to the finish? These questions in my head meant I started to well up slightly (weird) but quickly shook myself out of it. By mile 27 I passed him, he exclaimed I forgot you were in the race! Like I said, there is no point worrying about others in this event. John Ward was nowhere to be seen and did indeed get his 3:29, I was on a mission now to get this over and done with and get the best time possible.
Just as I passed Dave, a good friend, Jimmers from Tamar Trotters drove past, I knew he’d be surprised / impressed with where I was, as he has been kept up to date with my crazy long training runs. He was kind enough to pass me a bottle of water – didn’t he know we had 10 drink stations?! Anyway I really really needed it, having struggled to drink any of my electrolyte drinks in the last half hour and throwing away a gel. This water went half over my head, half down my neck, by this point there was enough rain and sweat on me that it didn’t matter anymore.
I finished in a time of 3:45:55 so sub 3:45 might be a target for next time, or even a crack at John’s time in a few years when I’m a bit more experienced. For now it’s- No. of ultras run: 2
Now I look forward to less tarmac bashing and more trail running including a fair bit of coastal path practice.
Teignbridge Trotters and Roger Hayes the race director do a fantastic job, from before the race, during and after. I thoroughly recommend it as a first ultra or just anyway! See you next year:
The rest of the splits (and elevation) are here on Strava http://www.strava.com/activities/151525152
Inov8 X-Talon 212, 2013 colour
Runs on any surface*
*not too much road!
(My first blog post ever…….)
I have recently got my hands on these rather interesting looking shoes, the Inov8 X-Talon 212.
For anyone not familiar with Inov8, they are a UK-based company started up in 2003 to create minimal shoes for a specific purpose; fells and off road. They later started to make road running shoes, stripped back, low profile and minimal. These shoes became very popular with the weight lifting and Cross Fit community because of their almost flat feel, perfect for lifting weights and feeling the ground when doing workouts.
-6mm drop (heel to toe differential)
-Sticky rubber, suitable for so many terrains.
-Deep, aggressive lugs for fantastic grip on soft and awkward ground.
I have put 1000+ miles on my old pair easily and are only now showing signs of wear, around the heal where my foot slides in, but I blame myself for this!
I have never been so confident in a pair of shoes. I have even done a 20m coastal trail race with completely dry terrain and had no issues at all.
I have done the following races in the shoes;
Exe to Axe (twice)
Colyton Rebel Run
Roseland August Trail
Wild Night Run
TR24 (twice = 110km)
The Big Cheese
Hit The Trail
Drogo 10 (twice)
Dalwood 3 hills (twice)
Beast of Bryn
Michael Robinson on Twitter @MuddyMikeR