Arc of Attrition: the product of Ferg’s beautifully warped mind.
Location: Coverack to Porthtowan, Cornwall
Distance: 100 miles
Elevation: 16,000ft (I think?! Though someone mid-race did say 22,000ft)
UTMB points: 4 points (old system)
Verdict: One of my best races yet
Usually it’s right about now that I’ll tell you how many hours I had to work in the run up to the race. Or admit how sloppy my preparation had been. But not so in this case. For the first time, my preparations had all gone well. I’m not talking about kit prep…nah, I was still faffing with that the day before.
I’m talking mind-prep.
I’ll freely admit that this was the singular best thing I’ve ever accomplished before a race: finding my bubble.
Feel free to laugh at this. I’m kind of laughing at myself here. I’m not normally one for the ‘touchy-feely-hippy-shit’. But if I could pin-point one single thing that made the biggest difference to my race, this was it.
Finding that inner calm came via a few routes:
- Giving my body a whole lot of love. That meant a LOT of vegetables.
- Yoga. Because yoga solves all.
- Daily gratitudes: positivity left, right and centre.
- Finding home.
I’ll not go into specifics, but my Instagram captions tell the story.
Vegetables: happy body, happy mind.
Just trust me on this one!
My crew: Luke. Oh Luke. Where to begin.
Luke and I met a few years ago at another MudCrew event.
It was after a race, and the dance-floor was empty…except for one drunken, very merry Allez-Cat. Luke, also being a shameless dancer, came to join me, and helped drag everyone else onto the floor.
Two very young, smiley, silly running, slightly piss-head peas in a pod.
The rest was history.
Getting to the start line
Travelling down from London, I decided to break the journey into as many stages as possible:
The night prior to the race, Luke and I stayed with two of his friends in St Austell: Paul and Abbie. Paul had run the Arc the year before, and Abbie is just as mean a runner. Luke and I were in good company to relax the night before it all began. We had tea and some homemade carrot cake. Oh yumma.
Starting a race at noon was a first for me. It had the potential to throw a spanner in the works – I’m used to 8am start-lines after all!
Thankfully the food seemed to be spot on. Here’s how it went:
Breakfast – porridge. Lunch – beans on toast. Dinner – a baked sweet potato and an avocado.
On the day
6.30am – two slices of toast
7.15am – cold porridge and chia smoosh (in the car)
8.30am – small peanut butter sandwich
10.30am – small peanut butter sandwich
I normally have one big breakfast before I start. Poop. Then don’t eat until two hours into the run. But with the race starting at lunch time, it was a case of trying to take on enough during the morning to see me through until the first proper ‘meal’ at the first check-point – a good 25 miles away!
Registration was at Porthtowan – the finish line.
Registration was well organised and a seamless process. You had your kit checked, your hand stamped, your tracker issued, then you were free to faff around until the safety talks.
It was at registration that I finally got to meet the lovely Jane for the first time! How could anyone feel uptight with such a smiley wonder buzzing around?!
It was at this point that a few of us went for a cup of tea. Sat in the cafe I could hear people chatting about what races they’d done before. How many hundreds they’d done before. It was at this stage I nearly allowed myself to feel a little out of my depth. I felt like I was one of the few doing this as their first hundred. I reined those thoughts in and reminded myself that I felt great. Prep had been good, and I knew my body and mind were on-point for a strong run. Ain’t no room for letting your mind piss on your parade at this point!
During the safety talks we were warned about the weather. 4 weather fronts coming in: rain in the evening, and then absolute chaos in the morning.
Excellent. Ferg finally had his wish come true!
In the safety briefing, crew were warned to look out for signs of hyperthermia. They were warned to look out for anything unusual, or their runner chatting jibberish. It was at this point I turned to Luke and wished him luck with that!
A final send off from the race dirctor
Eyelashes preened. Lip-tint applied. I headed to the bus.
I was given some final words of encouragement from Ferg:
‘You’re not going to look that good at the finish, I can tell you that!’
…to which I could only reply…
‘Nah, I’m going to look better!’
And with that last nugget of enthusiasm, I hopped on the coach to take me to the start line at Coverack.
Start-line to checkpoint 1
Aaaaand we’re off.
It’s odd, for the first time I was stood on a start-line and wasn’t feeling that nervous. Not because I thought the run was going to be easy – far from it – but because I’d made peace with the fact that I was there, and I would give myself fully to the run. Whatever would happen, would happen. I was there, present, and I wanted to enjoy the experience, rather than distract myself and my energy with pointless worrying. What a beautiful feeling that was!
So you know the start of a race when everyone is going off too fast, and not talking much because it’s a race? Well this was no exception. 100 miles or not, heads were down and people meant business.
I remember turning to the guy beside me and saying that I couldn’t wait for the stage in the race when everyone just chilled out and started to enjoy it.
There always seems to reach a stage in longer races that people lighten up a bit and are happy to talk and have a laugh with you. Granted, that stage is different for everyone, but the thought of head-down focus for 100 miles surely wasn’t on the cards for everyone…right?
The first 10 miles or so were boggy and slippery. They were filled with hills, and for at least the first 5 miles I started to have some concerns about my asthma. I’m not great out in the cold – or rather, my lungs aren’t – and I could feel them threatening to get shitty on me. Thankfully it never came to anything.
Somewhere in mile 3 a bunch of us ended up in a boggy field that we weren’t supposed to, and had to climb over a fence and down a wall to get back on track. It would seem that this detour would set the tone for the rest of my run!
Thankfully the rain hadn’t yet set in, but the winds were reasonably strong. I rocked into Lizard Point at mile 10 with my all scratched up: I’d been knocked clean off my feet into a gorse bush!
It wouldn’t be honest if I said I fully enjoyed these early hours. Some runners have the ‘toxic ten’ – those crumby first ten minutes when they’re trying to get into their run. For me, I generally don’t get into a run until around the two hour mark. On this occasion, it took me until around mile 18 for my body and mind to settle into a happy place. It took it’s time sure, but it was worth waiting for – that mind frame didn’t shift from thereon-in!
As the darkness slowly set in, the winds picked up. Running along next to the cliffs, seeing the white of the waves crashing in was exhilarating. It was beautiful to see such mother nature’s power in such a raw setting. No central heating, no window panes, no protection: just me and the elements.
I settled in next to a guy called Simon, and we pottered on together to reach the first checkpoint.
A pub. And chips. And warmth. And tea.
Ok, so I didn’t fully utilise all of the amenities, but I still enjoyed this check point a lot!
I had: two big cups of delicious green soup, half a cup of tea and a bread roll.
I reached this checkpoint at around 1745 – so enough of time ahead of the cut-of. Those cut-offs were not generous – I’m used to reaching checkpoints with hours to spare! I suppose that’s what makes this run so exciting.
When I went to the bathroom, a lady started congratulating me, saying that they’d been watching me and how well I was running. She kept talking to me even when I was in the loo cubicle! I have to say, the lady’s comments gave me a real boost. If ever you’re crewing or see other runner – give them a well done, tell them how strong they are looking…it’s amazing how big an impact it can have.
It was also at this point I decided to have a couple of points on my feet taped. Prevention is much better than cure when it comes to blisters!
A quick sock and shoe change and off I headed with Simon and a man called Dan.
Dan is a fellow vegan, and we ended up running a lot of my race together. We talked about green smoothies, chia seeds, fruitarian diets, monomealing…ALL sorts!
Checkpoint 1 to checkpoint 2
By this stage, it was pitch black and the rain had started coming in.
If I’m honest, I don’t actually remember all that much about this leg of the run.
There were coastal steps. There were hills. There was mud. There was an emergency loo stop behind a parked van – I’m all class, me.
There was also a road section.
Luke had told me in advance to bring my road shoes for this leg, so as I emerged from the bushes, Luke was there ready and waiting with my road shoes. I plonked down in the car and chatted to my mates Simon and Vicky as Luke helped switch my shoes.
The road section was around 8 miles or so, and would bring me into checkpoint two.
What can I say? It was a road section. Breezy underfoot terrain, my ipod and some well-fed legs saw me motor along this section. My feet felt good, my legs felt fresh, I wasn’t tired…I was ready to run! So run I did.
I knew that the section after checkpoint 2 was going to be challenging underfoot, so I decided I’d make the most of having easy conditions, and ran a decent pace without stops until I’d reached that checkpoint. May as well make the most while the going is good!
I’d been saving listening to my iPod for a quiet section of the race, and the road section seemed appropriate. One particular highlight was when Al Green’s ‘Let’s stay together’ came on. How could you not feel happy when listening to that?!
A mile or so prior to coming into checkpoint 2, there was a queer sight. I could see on my left, a scarecrow. As I approached, it seemed that there was an entire allotment filled with scarecrows and other horrifying voodoo-type creatures. Were these the infamous night-monsters? I’d mentally prepared myself that I might have hallucinations, but shit, if these were my hallucinations, what other terrifying beasts would my brain produce later in the race?! I reminded myself that it was on 2230 at this point, and that I’d not been out for long enough to fall victim to any brain tricks yet. But to be on the safe side, I asked one of the other runners when I arrived at that next checkpoint.
Bloody scarecrows.Who even…??
I arrived at 2245ish, so I’d taken a decent chunk of time off on that road section.
More soup. More bread. More tea. More tape.
Checkpoint 2 to checkpoint 3
I had started to leave checkpoint 2 when I decided that having wet cuffs on my running top was going to annoy me, so back I headed to switch my top.
It was at this point that Luke paired me up with his mate Stu. I’d said to Luke that I’d really like to push on with someone for the next section: my navigation is shocking, and I’m a wuss in the dark. Plus, it’s often nice to have someone to share the experience with.
Stu and I had all sorts of conversations along this leg, but the stand-out one was about seaweed. Stu was explaining to me the basis of his PhD.
This next section was boggy underfoot to say the least. At one point I saw Stu’s entire leg from the knee-down be swallowed up with a vat of…err…something brown. It’s usually best not to ask questions!
There were small river crossings, and plenty of opportunities to total-wipeout or otherwise make an arse of yourself. Thankfully Stu was a gentleman and gave me a hand crossing the river sections. I’d have been swimming otherwise!
The boulder beach…so this is where our run gets interesting. Stu and I find ourselves on a boulder beach. So along it we head. We keep going and keep going until we’re at the end. We kept an eye out for any turn offs, but didn’t see any, so pushed on. This is when we find ourselves between a sea-cliff and a big rock face.
We try several different routes to negotiate our way out our predicament, but none looked especially safe. Quite why we didn’t just turn back is beyond me. I think we were both pretty keen to get off that sea-cliff pronto!
In the end we see a steep, grassy climb with a rock face at the top of it. I think Stu was reluctant to drag me up it, but eventually could see I was more than willing to go for it. So with hands and knees, we make our way up this grassy climb. The only problem here is that when Stu goes to take his next move, his foot catches my headtorch, and sends it right back down the slope! So down I shuffle on my butt to pick up the sodding headtorch, and I make my way up again.
Now, we’ve just got the issue of the rock. Is it going to be safe enough to climb? What’s at the top? I offered to investigate first. ‘Stu, can you please give me a punty up onto this first ledge?’…short-arse over here can’t actually get onto the first section on the rock! Once I’m on there though, I scramble on up and can confirm that we’re good to go, and that it’s our ticket out! This rock, it turns out, was Coffin Rcck. I’m very glad that there were no additional coffins needed after that climb! It could have been a very different story if it had been a few hours later when the winds and rain had picked up again.
Finally, we get to the top. We have no idea where we are, but we know we can’t get back down the cliff, so there’s only one way forward. And that just happens to be through an expanse of thigh-deep gorse and bramble.
I definitely whined more than Stu. There was half-whining, half-laughter. There’s not an awful lot you can do other than laugh at how ridiculous the whole situation is. The noise of my waterproof trousers getting shredded still rings in my ears though!
Finally we start to see some headtorches, so we run over in that direction, Cool, only 45 minutes or so lost, and my position as 5th lady down the pan. Still, we’re both safe and sound, and we’re back on course. Ish.
On we potter and we get to a big set of steps: Minack Theatre. Stu knew that I loved stair climbing, so let me scramble on up first. Too much fun!
Luke and Vicky were waiting at the top, and Luke’s first greeting was:
‘Where they bloody hell have you guys been? What took you so long?!’
It was at this point I explained that I’d upheld his legacy of getting lost on the boulder beach and went for some free-climbing practise. Two peas in a pod.
Only another 7 miles until the third checkpoint. Allez allez!
The only memorable thing from these 7 miles was that I was constantly asking people around me:
‘Are you eating enough? Is everybody eating enough??’
One response was ‘Yes Mum’ ha.
At one point someone said no, so I told them to hurry up and eat something, because I didn’t want them bonking on me!
Turns out my nutrition was completely on-point during that race, I didn’t have any massive highs or crashing lows. Just a good ole steady-eddie.
It was after I had some beans on toast that I decided I was going to call it a day.
A little prior to the road section, I could feel a bit of a niggle in my right Achilles. I’d brushed it aside and did a good job of ignoring it for the best part of 5 hours.
At the checkpoint I had some food, switched my socks and top, and took a moment to take stock of where my body was at.
Push on to finish the race, and risk ruining my year of racing? Or call it a day.
I opted for the latter.
In truth, it wasn’t my decision to make. The decision had already been made by my body: it was just a case of waiting to see how long it took for my mind to admit it.
I initially felt like I’d dragged Luke out for nothing, like he’d been to all of this effort for me not to even finish the race. I quickly set that thought aside though. If he wasn’t crewing me, he’d have been crewing someone else.
When I finally admitted my conclusion, I had a little bit of a cry. The tears weren’t for the fact I wasn’t finishing my first hundred mile race, but for the disappointment that the fun I was having was being called short. I was having such a blast out on the course, and felt absolutely alive. I was in my element, and I was disappointed to have to stop there.
I was pleased though that I’d got to ~60 mile mark without any sugar at all. I’d been saving any sugary food until the last 10 miles. All of my food in the race had been whole-foods. Yay for oats!
Luke and I headed over to the St Ives checkpoint from here for a quick nap and to help the rest of the runners. Once we’d seen in his mates, we made our way to the finish line.
Finish line fun
Waiting for the second lady – Sarah – to come in was one of the most exciting things. The anticipation of welcoming her home felt like a current of excitement through the race hub. It was wonderful!
All of the helpers, crew, volunteers, medics and race directors were wonderful. They were all so helpful, lovely, and full of enthusiasm for the event. No frowns here, no no.
After a few drinks and the party starting to wrap up, Vicky, Luke and I went back to stay with Luke’s monster-running mate Rick, who had been out supporting too.
There was the offer of a sofa and pizza. Yes, we’re in!
One last thing before bed: a shower to get the cow-shit and mud off my feet. It was safe to say I was pretty tired by this stage. I posted this the following day on Facebook, but here’s how it went down:
The mind: could easily hold me in a happy place for 17.5 hours in lashing weather, to grab me an hour’s kip, then to stay up for another 18 hours to support other runners…but could not cope with the lack of hot water for a shower at the end of it all. Midnight and I’m huddled in a towel in tears. Haha. Feeling good today – legs feeling good, no DOMS, but the inevitable cold is en-route!
Luke had also managed to hog the sofa, so I ended up sleeping on the floor.
Nothing a good cooked breakfast couldn’t sort though!
Why my miles are ‘ish’
If there’s one thing that can turn my mood sour, it’s being somewhere near the end of a race, but not knowing what time it is.
I nearly lost my rag in the UT110 when I was nearing the finish line but didn’t know what time it was, or how much further I had left to go. I was in some kind of mini-rage. When I found out that I had four miles left, rather than around two, I nearly cried. I was keen to avoid this happening again!
When I bought my Garmin (Forerunner 110), I didn’t think that I’d need a battery life of longer than 8 hours. Little did I know! My Garmin will generally die around the 8 hour mark if I’m using GPS, and I can rely on my phone to be dead by the end of a long race, so I’m often left for the final hours of a race not knowing what time it is.
In longer races, I’m generally not that fussed about what pace I’m holding since the terrain and ascent inevitably change what pace is suitable to run at.
For this race, I decided not to bother using the GPS. I used my Garmin as a watch, rather than for any other function. A pocket watch would have done the job! I paced myself by what felt right for me, rather than by my watch. I’m happy to say that it all worked out fine.
Luke kept me posted on how far it was until I’d next see him, so it was easy enough to keep a tab on how far I’d run, and how much further I had to go.
Normally just knowing the actual time of day is enough for me, but since it was dark and I didn’t want to keep faffing with rolling my sleeves up, I just didn’t bother looking.
Seeing a 14 minute mile as you’re climbing a hill might be helpful for some people, but since I generally run by feel on long distances, I don’t really gain much benefit from knowing my exact speed.
The Achilles aftermath
A few prods, squeezes and stretches later, and it all seems to fine.
The top three highlights of the weekend
Knowing that running doesn’t always have to be shite. When I ran the UT110, my mind and body went through hell. I’d imagined that was just what running for 18-19 hours felt like. No. Not at all. Those 17-18 hours of the Arc absolutely flew by, and with a heart full of love, I have the time of my life out there. The weekend of the Arc was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, and it has opened up a whole new chapter in my running. I can run for a long time, and run happy. It’s a state of mind. That was a wonderful realisation. I guess the stair-training in the gym probably didn’t go a miss either! I loved the elevation profile of the race, and handled it with a lot more ease than I’d expected. Again, PMA. Positive mental attitude.
The love and support from friends, family and strangers. I’ve never known kindness like it. Messages and hugs in abundance. So much love from everyone. To everyone who made the weekend so special – those near and far, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Bringing Sarah home. This was my ultimate highlight. Bringing home the second lady – especially after hitting some bumps in last years run – was one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Everyone was genuinely thrilled to be bringing her home, and the emotions were just unreal. I couldn’t believe how emotional and how happy I felt for her. And I can assure you, it was more than just me with the waterworks.
Seeing the relief, the love, the gratitude in Sarah as she came through those doors was beautiful. And when she gave her grandchildren a hug, I could have popped with pride for her.
The following day when I was explaining to Luke how touched I was, I cried again. It was the epitome of community, watching everyone cheer and celebrate Sarah’s triumph. It is a memory that I will hold dear for a long time to come. This atmosphere of love and community is why I run.
Final note to Ferg
Ferg, I’d expected hell. And hell I did not receive.
I’ll be looking forward to discovering the true darkness of your race when I hit that beastly stretch after checkpoint 3.
Oh wait, does this mean I’m doing it next year?
I guess it so!