So after the Rat Race Man vs Mountain Snowdon run in 2014 last years little challenge was the Shoreline Triathlon in Bude which was fun but a bit of a pain to train for and me not really enjoying swimming made me think I wasn't that keen to do another one in a hurry. So just a run felt like a good idea. I had done a half marathon road race (Vitality North London in 2015) but really its the trails that I like. The Classic was suggested by friend and (I am sure he knows it now) running mentor/coach and Ironman Ed Cornfield as he had done it before and I guess he thought I could do it. That was summer last year, by August I had signed up never having done a full marathon. So in the Autumn I went to France for a few weeks, well, Brittany turned out to be a hotbed of trail running and was great to kick off the training with some of the hardest running I had done up to that point. Brutal steep coastal paths of loose stones, steep dunes and steps, lots of steps. Over the winter I managed to keep it up despite the normal difficulties of motivation in the dark, cold and wet. Dartmoor in the winter though has a magic of its own and once you actually leave the car its a wonderful place to be out running. Come the spring and I'm feeling pretty fit after a winter of White water kayaking, running and some gym sessions including some dreaded treadmill sessions. Despite these not being that appealing I think they may have made the biggest overall gains to my running.
So my longest training run was 24 miles on Dartmoor./ the classic Princetown, Nuns Cross, Burrator loop followed up by the Princetown aerial, Foggintor quarry, Burrator. My aim was to do a marathon. I didn't make it. Suffering really bad cramps I walked the last mile of the 24. This was down to two things. Bad planning and going too fast. The bad planning was waking up one morning and think I would pop out and do a trail marathon. Just like that. Bad planning was not taking much more than water and a few chewy bars. No electrolytes or much more food. It was a hot but windy day and it definitely caught me out. Having run the first half of the loop before in under two hours I set off too quick. Lessons learnt: Take the right drinks and fuel, never over estimate your abilities. It did leave me feeling a little down and I was a bit hard on myself for what I thought for a day or two was a failure. Turns out that was the pre race success.
The Templar way from Haytor to Teignmouth was the last long run before the race and was a better practise session for eating and drinking. There was also a lot of tarmac and down hill. Things I had tried to avoid.
Check in Friday night so we don't have to get up so early on race day. Have a look at the first mile of the course. Plenty of jokes with others registering about how there is still time to run away but feeling the excitement and nerves building. Dinner and early to bed, a 4am start to get ready to race at 6.30am.
I love the start of a race. Especially the mass start ones. You can feel the energy.
So it was great, its slow to start as the path is narrow and there are a couple of hundred folks all trying to get along it. Holding off near the back you can see the front runners starting to pan out into a long line along the coast path in the distance, the leaders must have been at least a mile away before we got to moving off. And thats it, you are going, just try to get into a groove and not get caught up in the flow and pace of fresh legs. Well that didn't happen and we were at least 30mins ahead of the planned pace at the first checkpoint at 9.3 miles just two hours after starting. Stop watch was on and the plan was to eat something at least every 20 mins, even if it was just a bite or two and drink every 10, thirsty or not. I had had this weird plan of just popping the electrolyte tablets in my mouth, chewing and then drinking water so my bladder kept fresh and was just water. Not sure why I thought this was a good idea. It wasn't. my mouth got a bit sore from the tablets and I gave in and put them in the bladder. This unsurprisingly worked very well!
Running with my mate Sam we kept on for a bit and then very rudely and without really saying anything I kind of pressed on a bit. Sam is very good at keeping to pace. I just kind of go with how I'm feeling and being early on I felt good. However section two was not the longest, but took me the longest, maybe I had gone too quick in the first section. It did include a water stop and kit check though which must have taken a good 15 mins or so between them.
I wasn't really prepared mentally for the long flat road section to come between Marazion and Newlyn. It was long, flat, tarmac and boring. But see below for more. From here on its a photo blog.
Sam Davis-Harding at the half way point cp2. By his own admission he thought he might stop here. But because hes a legend he didn't, just fueled up and pressed on. At this point only 15 mins or so behind me and well on pace.
And arriving at cp 3, 33 miles into the race. Not only was this his first marathon distance but he had bagged himself an Ultra marathon distance as well. Top lad.! He stopped here, purely as he "was bored of running" Well at just about double the furthest you have ever run it really doesnt matter. The best thing about this for me was that he was at the finish when I came in. It meant a lot as we had trained together and he had been a part of my crazy plan from the beginning.
So this is me at the half way checkpoint, Perranuthnoe, 22.3 miles. Feeling ok at this point. In hindsite I should have been quicker through but the change of socks, food and toilet break were definitely needed. Blagging some factor 50 suncream was also a smart move. Our main man in support Ben was here and its really is great to have a friendly face and someone to make sure you do the things you need to. Eat and drink.
Blue skys, dusty trails, what more could you want?
How about another 22 miles?!
(photo Rachel Shar)
Around mile 28 towards Newlyn, I got a massive moral boost here after the slog of flat and dull tarmac section from Marazine through Penzance. James and Rachel and my god kids Maiya and Otis had travlled down from Exeter to cheer me on. As I stopped to chat for a few mins I was told off and given some great running advice from 4 1/2 yr old Maiya: "Wokfather, you can't win the race if your not running". Well with that nugget I had to leave! Nothing like kids to put things in perspective.
There was a bit more flat sea front to go, and I could see a snack van ahead, as I got closer I ran up to the lady serving and asked if she had salt sachets, no but I have salt. Well she tipped some in my hand as watched in disgust as I necked it and washed it down with some water. It did the trick and the slight twitches of cramp disappeared. lessons learnt from previous cramping training runs.
The worst part about the flat slog was having to run along the main road, next to the cars, you really suck up the exhaust fumes and then next to the trainline, that was particularly bad on the lungs. but its not for (what seems like) forever and you start climbing up to the treeline and the coast path again.
Between Newlyn and Lamorna its very up and down and very technical. Its just not possible to run in places and is more fast walking and scrambling. Not easy to pass people either but it is stunningly beautiful. Clear turquoise seas, granite cliffs and palm trees!
Coming into cp 3, cheers from relay teams who are swapping over and from those who have had enough.
10, thats right just 10 more miles to go. Check point 3, Lamorna cove. As you can see behind me its gorgeous, but from there on its still just as steep and rugged as anywhere on the course, in fact the last section had some of the steepest climbs on the whole course. From here I just kept at it, steady pace, hung out with a few others, enjoyed the company and then enjoyed moving on when I figured I could press on a bit. I guess I can get the time down a bit , quicker checkpoints etc, quicker water refills, I hadn't realised as I had never filled it before but the bladder in my bag needed to come right out of the bag to fill with water. This would take a good 2-3 minutes at a time as I had packed required essentials around it and when there was a queue for water this held you up for upto 5 mins sometimes.
The final section is a mixed bag of emotion. you know its not far but you also know its not over and everyone kept talking about the Minack Theater steps. Well actually they wern't that bad. With the cramp at bay the extra effort of the big and uneven steps was ok. the panic I had when I asked someone where the water station was and they had said back down the hill was not what i wanted to hear. the full relief as it was just in front of me! for the first time I also loaded up on jelly babies and set out for the last 4 miles. ran with a girl who was doing the last leg of the relay, well she had a good pace and it brought me up a bit, we didn't run together for long as she speed off . Just as well i didn't try to follow, I watched her come over the line 10 mins behind me...
The last two miles are hard, you want to go quick but I have to admit the legs ain't great at that point. Then the smallest little square near the ground is like a boost button..... One Mile To Go! the best sign I have ever seen, bent down, gave it a little kiss.
The last mile, at least half is up hill so no sprint finish but definitely one of my fastest miles all day. you got to finish as strongly as you can right?
I have to give a massive thanks to Sam for staying with it and running. Ben Watts for support crew, a job well done and hugely appreciated. Ed and Kate Cornfield for the coaching and feeding and general support, motivation and encouragement, the big man Oz, Altan Ozdermir from one2one fitness for the additional conditioning, the treadmill sessions, advice and encouragement and of course my wonderful godkids Maiya and Otis for the best running advice ever!
In a Top Gear style, and hes over the line!
Final results. 117 of 213 solo finishers. with a target time given to me of 10hrs I'm pretty happy with this.
P.S just going for a run now is not very exciting, post race blues is not uncommon I discover. After the wonder of the terrain, atmosphere and excitement it leaves you asking how do I get that again? Which ultra next???
All photos by Ben Watts.