In my head this is the last race of 2022, even though we are well into 2023 now. It’s a race renowned for being tough, due to technical terrain, some lumpy bits and often awful weather. The appeal for slotting it in here was that Wendover Woods 50 was also hilly and tough so it didn’t need a full new training block. I’m ultra running terms doing this race now was a sensible choice…
Training went both well and badly; I put together some decent runs and steady weekly miles, but none of it was very race specific. You’d think living on a island there would be plenty of coast path to practice on, but it’s not nearly as technical as the Arc route and the best bit is a half hour drive from my house. Ain’t nobody got time for that! My preparations were also lacking in other areas, leading to a last minute purchase of waterproof running trousers (the walking trousers I’d planned to use didn’t have taped seams) and an hour detour trying to find tailwind as the half bag I thought I had turned out to be fairly empty.
Still we had plenty of time, Sally and I travelled down without the kids and got to Porthtowan in plenty of time to register the night before. Kit check done and one anxiety removed. Said hello to all the twitter folk, then off to the hotel and the local pub for dinner. I sorted my kit again, laid everything out, talked Sally through what I’d likely need and when, and failed to decide what kit to wear. I slept ok but was awake at 4am despite setting an alarm for 4:30am.
An 8:30am race start sounds quite civilised, but because of the 200+ runners and the coaches from the finish to the start line we ended up arriving at 5am. I opted for leggings over shorts, mainly to keep me warm before the start. Jacket was on but it would be packed away at the last possible moment. Passed the coach trip chatting to Will, no idea where we went but we were soon there. The Minack Theatre is a very cool place to start a race, we had a warm cup of tea, a decent sun rise, dolphins in the bay, and some loud music to hype us up.
It felt like perfect start, which was great right? It just felt a bit weird as the toughness of this race is part course and part weather; were we being cheated of bad weather? This is obviously ridiculous and I’m very glad for the lack of wind, rain and freezing temperatures. So, after what felt like an awful lot of waiting around, we were off.
The first couple of kilometres were very congested, minimal overtaking spots and no chance for the field to balance out given the chaotic start running up out of the Minack. It was reminiscent of the SDW50 start and holding back for the first few minutes is probably a good idea. It soon opened out and I started ticking off the kilometres, nothing crazy, around 6min/km, 7min when it got hillier. Sally wasn’t meeting me til Cape Cornwall so it was just a case of enjoying the east bit.
Refuelled as planned at Cape Cornwall, I’d eaten about 300kcal and grabbed a massive handful of potatoes that took me ages to work through. Pendeen came and went unnoticed and then the going got tough. Now the slow splits were around 9mins and there weren’t any faster splits. That was fine though, I knew this bit would be tough and even though my pace continued to slow I felt like I was making good progress. It was just hard. Zennor came and went, I wasn’t in great shape but forces down an orange and some crisps (I think that put me around 1000kcal in since the start). I’d started running with a guy called Louis around Pendeen and we left our crew together and headed off for St. Ives.
I’d been warned the St. Ives headland never comes so I didn’t look for it, just kept plodding on. Louis was struggling with GI issues for a bit so I would take the lead, but once he recovered he lead the way to avoid me slacking off. On the rare occasion I could take my eyes off the path the coastline looked amazing, but with only a false headland in front and always the Cape Cornwall lighthouse behind I can see why people said this but never ends. Then we went up over a ridge and Louis pointed out the new landmarks on the horizon; we were pretty much halfway and could see the bay before St. Ives, Godrevy lighthouse and a small white dot in the distance that marked the finish. It’s not often you can see the finish line of a race from 25 miles away! I don’t think we saw it again until we got there and even then it was dark and a bit of a blur.
The terrain finally got less technical, the boulders thinned out and suddenly we were pounding the road into St. Ives. An Arc Angel ran with us to the aid station and another ran with me out again (I left Louis filling his bottles as I knew Sally was nearby). Sally had my road shoes so I swapped over, couldn’t stomach much food but refilled my tailwind. She gave me some Twitter updates; Will was steaming ahead, Jon wasn’t far behind, and Helen and Kerry had dropped out but were ok. Louis caught me back up and we headed off together, we had planned to stay together to St. Ives and then see how it went but our pace was pretty similar throughout (if anything I think I held him up but he was keen to stick together regardless).
Road shoes were an exceptionally good choice, the Altra Mont Blanc were not that comfy and my feet were mildly beat up. I’d hoped to get back to splits near 6min/km again here, which I managed for some but by now any sort of incline meant slowing down a lot. Going through Hayle was annoying, we travelled a lot of distance just to go in and across the estuary, but it didn’t matter. They were all kilometres ticked off, didn’t matter as long as we stayed on the course. It was in Hayle we started passing the 100 mile runners, we tried to find some encouraging words for them all but not many of them looked like they were having any fun. The Dunes of Doom appeared, and other than being a little longer than I’d expected, they were a breeze. They in no way earned their name that day, navigating them was easy and there wasn’t even that much sand.
I’d asked Sally to meet me at the less popular Gwithian car park and as we appeared from the dunes there she was. Force fed me chips and a change of socks and back in the Mont Blancs. It was still daylight but only just, so Louis took the opportunity to put his jacket on. Just up the road at Godrevy we met his dad and stepmum, and I got my jacket and headtorch out whilst he swapped shoes and got refuelled. This is the only part of the course I’ve run before, a few years ago when we holidayed at Gwithian, but we still very nearly went the wrong way out of the car park.
At some point soon it got dark and the ultra shuffle commenced. Around here for a bit we ran with Ally, I don’t think I slowed down but she zipped off into the distance looking (but apparently not feeling) pretty fresh considering. By this point we were steadily passing 100 milers but there weren’t many 50 milers overtaking us. One did though, carrying a cup of coffee as he went by! Turned out he was another Dave and we ended up running as a threesome for the best part of the last 10 miles. This bit (North cliffs I think) was all irritatingly runnable and so I tried to run as much of it as I could, knowing there was plenty of unrunnable bits still to come.
By now we were on Louis’ regular running trails so he was able to give us a decent breakdown of what was to come, but he undersold those bloody steps. Except, like everything in ultra running, they were awful until they weren’t. And once they were behind us I soon forgot the pain of them. The last couple of climbs felt slow but they came and went and before we knew it were following the glow sticks up the hill to the finish. We were obviously finishing together but I see from the results that Louis snuck a second in front of us. Cheek of it.
The finish line was packed and I instantly got lost and disorientated. Managed to grab Louis and Dave for a finish line photo together and then chatted to some twitter folk. Finally said a proper hello to Rach and Garry who’d I’d seen a few times crewing for Jon. Then a nice lady came and dragged me to the warm room for a cup of tea, she knew I was cold even if I didn’t. Tall Jon wasn’t far behind me so I waited to see him finish then headed off.
Post race analysis and I think it went as well as it could have. I was on the 11 hour predicted finish times to start with, that slipped to 11 and a half hours after Pendeen and slipped a little further at the end. Pretty decent seen as I’d told Sally best case scenario was the 12 hour predicted times. I was faster than I’d hoped on the tough bit, which was just as well as I was a little slower than planned at the end. It was a tough race, I can’t decide if I enjoyed it or not but I certainly enjoyed the fact that I did it. Type 2 fun right. I did really enjoy the time out of the daily grind though, already feels like a distant memory but the 9-5 life is utterly crushing and some time out was very much appreciated. Am I going back for the 100 miles? Not anytime soon, I can see the appeal but I’m still not sure if I’ve got the 100 mile bug yet.
As always, Strava linky.