Sunday, 4 March 2018

The Arc of Attrition 2018

Kit checked and got my number

Well, where to start. 

The Arc of Attrition is a point to point race which forms an arc following the South West Coast Path starting from Coverack to Porthowan. There are 4 Check points, which you need to visit and lots of mobile Mudcrew support teams with different goodies to help you move forward and keep you topped up. 
It is my second time in this race and the apprehension was huge. 
Last year, I didn’t know what it was to run a 100 miles and all my training and preparation was taken from guess work, my normal training habits and old friendly goat advice!!
This year was different, I knew the course and where I went wrong and knew my mistakes, between the right clothes, shoes or food intake. I knew I could improve my time and do better than last year. At least that was the plan A, but let’s be honest, I had plan B, C and D on the back burner if things went south. 
So knowing what I learn from last year and seeing what works for my girlfriend Laura, I changed my training with more miles per weeks, but slower with the odd speed work, more longer runs too and a weekend recce from Mousehole to St Ives. For people who don’t know the race or this part of the coast path it is a tough part of it and my advice would be to see it before turning up in the middle of the night on race day. That was the advice  given to me last year by Mudcrew runner Duncan Oakes and bloody worth every penny I spent to go down there and run it with Laura. 

Training went well, apart a DNF at wendover Wood 50. I over did it with too many long runs too many weekends on the trot before, and didn’t recover well enough. My left calf decided to give me grief and I had to make the hard decision to bail after 20 miles to concentrate on recovery and my A race, the Arc. I am not sure I have the discipline to turn up at a race and not give it my best shot.  Lesson learnt on that one, and I decided to do less races in my training. First DNF ever, and it did knock my confidence to be honest. 

Marty, Craig and me at the Blue Bar

To come back to the Arc, at registration I met up with a few running buddies; Craig MacAlpine who deferred from last year and Matty Hart who were running their first 100, Duncan Oakes, who is a local legend around here ( he won the arc twice and finished third last year) and Mark Brooks, part of Puretrail race organisers and all friends of course. 

Felt overwhelmed to talk and was looking forward to jumping in the coach to relax for the hour travel to Coverack and the start line. 
I sat in the coach next to Craig, we exchanged our doubts, vision and expectations for the next 30 hours +. 
I confessed of my doubt and couldn’t put my head in gear and into the race. The question of why I was putting myself through this race and what was I trying to prove to anyone was right in my face. 

Last year, I knew nearly no one at the start and was full of nerves and excitement, but this year, I felt I had to prove I could do it better and obviously put way too much pressure on my shoulders.  I just forgot why I am a runner and that I am supposed to enjoy the challenge coming. 
More to come later on my head not screwed right on my shoulders... 

Coverack at the start

The start was warm with a small wind, compare to last year which was cold and windy, I decided to start without my waterproof on and be on the lighter side.  Not a typical February winter day in Cornwall and I knew it wasn’t going to last until the finish. Heavy rain was planned during the night with a wind increasing and pushing everyone to the finish. 

At midday I took my place in the back ish of the pack with 150 other runners. We had a minute of silence to remember Matthew McSevney who took part in the last two editions of the Arc and was supposed to be here but unfortunately had a cycling accident and passed away. Mudcrew is sending a finisher buckle to his family, which shows just how this club and the running community are.

We all set off straight after that and were lead by Andy Trudgian (one of the three race director) out of Coverack to make sure the pack find the coast path okay. 
I always try not to start too quickly and let the pack make the pace they want, we all have 100 miles to go and I am certainly not planning the win, so nice and easy for now. 

It turns out the weather from the last few weeks (wet, wet and wet) made the coast path really muddy, and slushy. In France we call this kind of mud, a “loving mud” because it really sticks to you and can’t get enough of you!! It is going to be harsher under foot this year. 

I followed Stephen Cousins for a while, he is my hero from last year's  Arc, he completed the race while making a documentary film. I mean, I ran it last year and it was bloody hard to be honest but making a movie in the same time... what a star. You can find his different runs on YouTube and I advise anyone to have a look at the one from the Arc, it really gives you an idea of what is ahead of you with the ups and downs morale wise. 

The pack spread quickly and we went through the first diversion.  I caught up with a few runners and the pace went up when we hit the road missing the lush section of the Devils frying pan. 
I caught up with another running legend from last year's Arc ( at least in my eyes) Geoff Partridge. He finished the Arc last year and in 2016.  He was one of the 28 who managed to finish when there were two storms on race day. Last year stayed dry so we had it pretty easy. We shared a few experiences and details from last year and we pushed on. 

13 miles and not too happy.
That is when I started to struggle, and way too early to my taste to be honest. My head wasn’t in it, I could see I wasn’t moving as quickly as last year and I started not to enjoy my day whatsoever.  The sticky mud was a part of it but everyone had the same conditions. 
I arrived at Lizard point.  Lots of people were there cheering and encouraging and some Mudcrew marshals to top up water and coke. I didn’t hang around, my crew was three miles further away with hot coffee and encouragement at Lion rock.  I mentioned to them my not so great general feeling and they pushed me forwards with a kick in the back side and told me not to worry too much what everyone else was doing. 
The next time I would see them would be before Porthleven (CP1). We planned where I was meeting them and it was at regular intervals, avoiding the first two CP, thinking I would be looked after by the Arc angels there.  My legs loosened up and my head relaxed, just the fact to see some common faces made me feel great and made me enjoy the moment more. For now...

Focus going down

I met up with my crew at Church Cove, around 20 miles in, the fact I felt much better and up for the duty ahead of me reassured them I think. A quick coffee and a sandwich to eat on the go and I was on my way. 
I was with a few different runners then, but we didn’t exchange much, until I entered the longest diversion of the SWCP just before Porthleven. The coast path collapsed three weeks before or so, and I think we all knew there were going to have added  miles to the race. 
2 to be exact and that played with me a bit, but like I said earlier that is the same for everyone. Mudcrew decided to give 30 min more for each cut off for all the diversions before Porthleven, the race was 36 hours and 30 min long now. 

Sunset time 

At the Loe Bar, just before Porthleven a Mudcrew marshal sent us inland to avoid the damaged coast path section. I decided to fuel and eat something.  I heard a runner catching me up. When he caught me up I decided to run with him, that was a while I had no company and a chat would nicely push me to the first CP. So I met Paul Core, we exchange a few different experiences and past achievements and we arrived in Porthleven, easier miles when your mind is a bit distracted. The last year CP was moved up into town for capacity reason I imagine. A new thing introduced by Mudcrew was a valet runner who led the way to the village hall where the CP was. Great innovation and great touch. We could see they all had fresh legs though, compare to our very conservative ones with 28 odd miles on them!!

I sat down, the Arc angels topped up my water bottles, gave me some melon, coffee and soup (I think). I had a quick chat with Justin Nicholas from Climb South West and I saw Geoff here, but not anymore in racing gear. I could see he had dropped out and felt so sorry for him; knowing the feeling to DNF, and after the chat we had early about a hat trick for him. I didn’t say a word to him, but acknowledged him by holding his shoulder when I left. No words could have made anyone feel better then. I hope if you are injured it isn’t too bad and you can come back stronger next year. 
Paul and I fuelled for a maximum of 5 mins and left again together, clapped out by all the Arc angels. 

Not a shortcut, i promise.

Head torch time was soon and the night was coming, 13 or so hours of it. So I made sure my head torch was already on me when we left Porthleven. I have a couple of Petzl head torch which do the job well for the night.
The coast path goes up and down in the narrow way at some time but I am moving okay and managed not to get lost so far apart from going into the wrong field after only 5 miles and had to jump a fence where a cameraman was on the other side. He took a cool picture and reminder to look where i am going and not follow other runners. 

So when I arrived at the Trenow Cove beach, last year I didn’t realise the coast path wasn’t on the beach but up on the cliff. I missed the path again and passed 5 others runners who decided to turn around and find the right path. Because of my last year's experience I knew I could get to the coast path if I push forward. Not the quickest way but quicker in my mind than to turn around and look for the path in the dark. 
I arrived in Marazion and my crew were just after the town centre into a  sea front carpark with my road shoes. I drank some coffee and had some chicken soup. I decided to put my waterproof on, the temperature is dropping and I was feeling pretty good and moving well after 30 odd miles. 
It always feels nice to change shoes and socks. The change of pace and hard ground made my legs loose up and I am moving okay until Penzance and the second CP. 

Another Mudcrew valet run me to the CP which was in the sailing club this year. I arrived there with a bit of a sore tummy and not really sure what to eat. I had a bit of soup again, coke and coffee. Ang Martin was one of the Arc angels in Penzance, we ran a couple of times with the Puretrail group. She cheered me on and told me I am way ahead of the cut off. Thank you so much to look after me so well. I soldiered on, by not staying there too long and getting too comfy. 
I left Penzance on my own and still managed to move okay on the road. The pubs were busy and I was cheered on by some drunk people who let me know I am nearly there.... if they knew... haha!!

I met up with my crew at Mousehole for new socks and fresh trail shoes. No need to top up, I am full of food and liquid from Penzance. Lovely to change shoes , it made my feet feel fresh again, like I had not run so much, and that made me happy as strange as it sounds. I could see Paul Core in the distance before I stopped but we split again during my pit stop. 

Curry time with a beer(s) for my crew. Laura, Nik, Don and my dog Basil

Entering Mousehole you run into the centre and pass the port before climbing out of the town. I remembered last year feeling so so at this time but this year my legs felt good and I was moving okay. I always feel I come alive when night falls and during the night. I left the road and entered the muddy coast path and heard a runner coming by behind me and moving pretty well (better than me) it was number 95 and he wasn’t really happy, he took a wrong turn and had just done a loop in the field. Not really sure what to say to him and let him run away at the first hill we found. He definitely had better legs than me. 

The trail at this part seems to go on a bit but with a good rhythm. Going up to the cliff and down, the running is broken by boulders and big steps at some point but I was covering ground well. I caught up Paul and we exchanged a few words in Boskenna (I think) where we got some coke from a Mudcrew support team. We left together and enter the Coast path, climbing back to the path through a few big boulders. 
I find my legs were still with me and I sped away from him, I knew my crew where going to be waiting for me at Treen or at the Minerack Theatre carpark. 

Half way and still looking okay (ish)

Three head torch were at Treen cheering me on when I was coming down the path, some hot soup and a  warm coffee waiting for me (I like it like that so I can down it quickly) and Don, Nik and Laura told me I was doing really well. I don’t ask more details because I still have a long way to go and only racing myself.  Up the stairs to the Minerack theatre, and I know at that point I am roughly half way and around 6 miles to Land’s End and CP number three. I am at that point on my own, no light behind me, no light ahead or a really long way away. One light house made me think that someone was just behind me a few times and I started to hallucinate a bit. Feeling the strain of the night a bit and my stomach is giving me grief. Food is starting not to be appealing whatsoever. Just need to move forward and the light of Land’s End appears on the horizon and I know I am close.

Land's End, sore stomach with cramps
When I arrive my crew was there and I decided to change my tops, buff, and socks. I am really organised when it comes to race day and I put all of that in a separate bag so it was well easy to find.  There are three runners in the CP, my friends Duncan, Marty Hart and someone else but didn’t know him. I am still blister free, but my stomach is starting to go south. My crew ask me to eat something so I put some soup down and another coffee but I am starting to be unhappy to be honest. My stomach is cramping and it is only the beginning of it. 
I stayed 10 or so minutes ( not really sure to be honest and left after everyone was gone) I am more forward in the field that I had imagined and my crew make me aware of where I am.

Next stop is Cape Cornwall, 5 miles to go and the terrain is becoming a bit more twisty and up and down. I first go through the old mine and I made sure I stuck to the path and followed my gps watch well, there are some disused mine shafts to be careful about. I could see head lights in the distance but I had no idea who it was. When I arrived at Cape Cornwall my stomach was cramping and I wasn't sure what to do about it. My crew were there all happy to see me and cheering as usual, i mentioned my gastric worries and they gave me a pill to help my digestive system to kick in a bit more and off I went toward Pendeen light house. 

Coffee break before the brutal section.

The weather was clear at first with the sky full of stars and a bit of wind. I don’t remember being cold, I wore a skin base layer and a OMM fleece top (brilliant couple piece of kit) shorts and leggings on top, gloves, buff around my neck, a warm hat and a light waterproof jacket for nearly the entirety of the event. The rain came during the night, not much at first and I knew the Saturday weather forecast wasn’t going to be as kind as what we had for the start. I arrived in Pendeen and I knew I had the worst part of the course ahead of me. 13 miles of boulders, slow muddy trails. I recced that section twice and the pace has always been slow, really slow. 

My crew were brilliant and decided to park the van close to the path and walk down to it to bring me some food and warm drink. Not sure where the first time I met them but after 4 to 5 miles I would say and the second time at Zennor and that's where I had a really bad time. My stomach was cramping so much then that no food was getting down, I was feeling really sick and I asked my crew if I could sleep a bit on the side of the trail.... My head was telling me my body at enough, and it took me a massive effort and a little cry to get up and crack on with the job. Funnily enough, when the sun came up I felt much better and moved okay. My legs were letting me part time run and st Ives was in sight. I had beat the worst part of it and was looking forward to a sit down but decided really quickly not to power nap even after pissing off my crew about it for the last three hours. 
 Laura and Don ran towards me just before St Ives and Don told me I looked much better than last year at the part of the run. 
Arriving in St Ives, 82 miles in on my watch

A mudcrew valet ran me into the checkpoint which is a big hall with a balcony. I tell you that because when I arrived inside I started to feel really nauseous and became really pale. I felt I had a couple of hot points under my feet and asked one of the medics to have a look. I lied on the ground and felt horrible, really cold and sick. Fergy (second race director) looked at me and asked me how I was, my only reply was I will get out of here in a bit.  

St Ives drama, second time in two years.
Brilliant medic who sort out me feet and gave me strenght back

The quick pit stop turned into a 40 mins plus and my last year's St Ives CP recovering time repeated itself. I decided not to worry too much and managed to get geared up and get out of the door. My feet had suffered with the wet ground and the skin in the bottom of them folded on itself and rubbed. Too much skin there apparently, and not sure how I can deal with that better than I did, by changing socks and hardening the skin beforehand.                                                                                 

On the way to Portreath, my dog is keen to follow

The first few miles out of st Ives towards Hayle aren’t the best to be honest. A mix of path, road, going through the garden of an hotel and a dual carriageway (short sections). My legs weren’t responding really well and the running changed from a fast walking pace. Even with my training which I hoped would let me run longer stronger I was nearly out of fast movement and that frustrated me. A couple or maybe three runners went by. I wished them luck and congratulated them to move past me. I was a bit spent to be honest. 

I arrived in the back of Hayle where my crew were and the rain was properly following then. I changed into warmer close and put my waterproof trousers also. Followed the notorious Dunes of Doom and to be honest they didn’t feel that bad. I liked the change of ground, the rolling section of them and the fact to be a bit easier under foot. Godrevy was in sight and the last 10 or so miles. My gps watch was just clocking 95miles and I was cursing the inland diversions at that point. 
The coast path and the mud come back more apparent after the town of St Ives and Hayle and the dunes. 

Just want to finish at this point 95 miles in.
There are lots of carparks and the road isn’t far so my crew is there nearly full time walking with me and force feeding me soup. My stomach gave up a while ago and I had the feeling nothing was going through anymore. I have never been worried too much where I was in the field and my vision of doing a race is to pace myself to be spent at the end but still have enough to move forward and don’t get passed too much. I find it better for my head, and if my head is right everything works better. On the two Arc of Attritions I did and only 100 milers I failed and haven’t achieved that. The last miles were a bit of a drag but I had to push hard within and crack on with the job. 

Portreath. My face said it all, I have not much left
Portreath was in sight and I could see a runner catching me up. My girlfriend Laura went up the hill from Portreath to bring me some coffee and told me to not worry and keep going. Michael Robinson passed me going down the hill leading in town, we exchanged a few words but he seemed in better shape than me and he was the chaser not chased... sigh... but I did my best. I passed him back when his crew gave him some food and we got out of Portreath together. The coast path is just up the steep hill, a Mudcrew team made sure we went the right way. Michael ran and pretty well, I shuffled and knew we were three miles ish to the finish with two massive sets of steps to climb. Last year I felt good when I arrived there and managed the last climb without a stop. This year my legs and stomach made it a proper struggle, I cursed myself to not be able to finish more in style but I gave it all. 

Running to the finish

The last mile was lush, rocky path rolling in a general down way, before hitting the tarmac and feeling the relief to see the Blue bar, my crew and Jane Stephens (the third race director) with her famous big hug (Anyone need to finish to know how good there are). I finished in 28 hours and 7 minutes. Nearly 40 min slower than last year, but so happy to have my second buckles on this tough race. Managed a 13th place which is amazing in a field of 150 odd runners and i definitely done much better than i imagined. 

At the finish with Jane Stephens

This Buckle belong to my crew (Nik, Don and Laura) , without them I wouldn't have been around.

The experience was different from last year, I had already been through it all and I knew what was ahead of me. 
At the end of last year's  race, I changed, managed to cheer a few runners and had a beer and a burger at the blue bar. This year, I changed and felt horrible. I managed to make my way in the back of my girlfriend car, and before that was just sick... Everything my body didn’t digest went out, and we stopped on the way back for more sicking time. My nutrition was my down fall and I will have to work on it to not experience this again. The next day of the race I still felt poorly but apart from that I was in one piece compare to last year when I had a right shin splints, a buggered left knee and two massive feet. So pretty happy finishing in one piece. 

The Mudcrew are brilliant in the organisation of this race. A big thank you to the three Race Directors, all the Arc Angels, the Mudcrew mobile support teams and everyone who cheered and was out there during the two days. Thank you so much for my support crew to have been there and understanding when things were going well or not so well. I need to add a word for the people who start this event whatever you finish or you DNF. It is a toughy, do not think it is going to be a walk in the park because it isn't, I find dark moment out there and anyone who sign up to this event are or need to be aware of it. So well done to anyone who took part, and i wish all the best to everyone to get this so cherished buckle.
Next year I will be on the support crew team side to push forward Laura and take a break of this race but I will be back for sure. 
Now quick apologises for taking so long to write this report and don’t be too harsh it is my first race report ever. 
See you all on the trail :)
My proud possession