Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Arc of Attrition 2017

After Sparta I decided I needed to hit the trails again, 6 months of road running had took its toll. My plan for 2017 is to do 4 x 100s and all of them are to be (1) Trail (2) Difficult and (3) Hilly. I might switch it a bit and try for a 100 mile pb later in the year but I'll see how it goes. I had received an invite off the Spine waitlist but I wasn't feeling it. I really like to think I could run a whole event and the Spine I most definitely could not. I've been aware of the Arc for a while and was on the waitlist in 2016 but it certainly ticked my boxes for 2017.  Trail, yes, Difficult, definitely, Hilly,  17000ft of hilly. That was it, The Arc of Attrition 2017, I was in.
Training went well during the build up. I was feeling good, maybe a tad over weight, well half a stone of Christmas cheer still hanging in there. Then with exactly a week to go till kick off I developed a chesty cough. It left me unable to run, I took the time and rested up instead. Come race morning I felt loads better.
Just  before the off
Registration was in Porthtowan at the finish line. After my kit check I spent the time chatting with old friends and before I knew it the briefing was upon us. We headed to the buses straight after the brief which were to ship us all to the start. I sat at the back of the fun bus with Richard Stillion, the hour journey was soon done and we pulled into Coverack. I was raring to go and really looking forward to the journey ahead plus it was bloody freezing. I began to worry I was underdressed, I had three tops on and a balaclava maybe it was the nerves.
We were off, I stayed near the front as Richard had said the trail narrows up very quickly for several miles. I had no real game plan just to enjoy it. I do however like to get some early miles racked up without too much pissing about. The lead group pulled ahead within the first mile, there was maybe 10 of them but the pace was too quick for me so I just let them go. I was in a gap between the leaders and the following pack so I pretty much had the trail to myself. Very soon the trail was up and down, through mud, over rocks, pretty much exactly what I'd signed up for.
Only 99.7 miles to go
The coast line was  absolutely stunning I just wanted to stop and take pictures. It really was picture postcard stuff, what a joy to be out there. I arrived in Cadgwith and the first supporters. No need for a stop, I just wanted to press on and cover as much ground as possible before darkness. The first unofficial check point was at Lizard point about 10 miles in. I couldn't believe how many people were out, the support was fantastic. I almost felt guilty running straight through but time management was all important.
The terrain was relentless and the decision to wear my Hokas was still up in the air, what I gained in cushioning I certainly lost in grip and stability. So much so that soon after Lizard I was bumbling along and turned my ankle right over, I sprung back it felt like my foot had been run over! Always nice. I dropped into Mullion cove and grabbed some water off a random guy. I was quite warm and the tailwind in my bottles accentuated my thirst. I climbed the hill out the cove and found my crew (wife). No hard and fast meeting places had been set with my crew as we were going to wing it and see how I was feeling on the day. I fully restocked on gels and chews, I was a few hours in and had been necking my prescribed 200 cals an hour. It's an amount through trial and error I've worked out I need so I don't bonk. Easy to do early on but it gets tougher as the race goes on. I still have a rough patch at 18 mile ish but its just trying to manage that. I was moving well around 20 mile but already felt tired, all variants of terrain were energy sapping this was going to be a real test.
Still looking fresh
I was carrying my Etrex gps but still really had to have my wits about me, it is so easy to go off course. There are so many unsigned turns and splits in the path that getting lost would be a distinct possibility for anyone without a GPS. The path was easy to lose as I ran alongside the Porthleven sands it lead to a massive sand bar so a bit of beach running before picking the path on the other side. I jogged into Porthleven and the first official checkpoint. My plan was not to enter any checkpoints, they were all indoors and I really didn't want to get too hot. I find it takes forever to get a comfortable body temperature, I'd rather stay outside to maintain it. Otherwise it's wasted time keep changing layers. Also it's a good opportunity to leap frog a few other runners. So I had a quick cup of soup, a bottle change and I was off again. It was only a jog and progress wasn't fast but the 4kg pack was heavy so a jog it was.
The sun was descending fast and the light was fading fast. It wouldn't be long before the head torch would be out. I can't remember the name of it but I dropped down onto a tiny pebble beach, this really didn't seem right? I could see some sort of steps leading up the rocks on the other side so this must be the way. Only thing is you have to dodge the tide, so the waves crash into the rocks then leg it across before the next lot came crashing in. I climbed out of the cove on the other side and carried on my way. This was certainly turning into a diverse race. I'd managed to get my feet wet in the previous miles, I suffer badly if I get wet feet. They become macerated which in turn becomes eye wateringly painful. I was just getting the first signs of maceration which manifests itself as a needling pain in the balls of my feet. So I was relieved at the end of Praa Sands to see my crew again. I'd given my feet a light slather of Gurney Goo at the start but it's not water repellent enough. So I tried something new to me which was to cover my feet in talc and change to dry socks. Seems to work a treat. While I was there I loaded my pack with calories, ate some rice pudding and had a nice cup of tea.
As I left Sydney Cove my thoughts turned to how long a night was ahead. By my reckoning it would be 14hours of darkness. The trail is certainly unrelenting. My right hip, right ITB and right shin were all very sore, some of which could be attributed to my Hokas not giving me a solid base. I was certainly in pain I think the shoes combined with the terrain were causing me grief.
Darkness fell just before Marizion and after some pretty tough trail I hit the tarmac section, this was actually a relief. My crew was waiting again just up the road with a coffee, I downed it and ran straight onto Penzance. I'd started coughing as the cold air had set in. No major drama, I was just feeling a bit chesty. I stopped at the CP in Penzance and was ushered in, I really didn't want to go in but rolled with it. The soup at the previous CP had been excellent so I stood and ordered some from here. Tailwind Mick brought over some mushroom soup for me, I took a sip and did an internal gag, it was bloody awful!!  No disrespect to the chef but I was retching and nearly puked it straight up.
I'm not sure why, but I downed it and vacated the pub, I was in and out of this CP within a few minutes. As I jogged up the road my stomach gurgled as the mud like soup did its rounds. That soup will scar me for life!
The other side of Newlyn my crew was waiting with an omelette from the chippy, a fucking mushroom omelette! I took a couple of big mouthfuls but the mushrooms turned my stomach again. No more!!
It was a relief to join the trail again after Mousehole. There was some good running to be had and with the stunning moon I kept switching my light off to run by the moonlight. Had the trail been less rough I would of run by moonlight alone. I was stopping quite often now to cough, big chesty coughing fits. In and out of little coves the hills were not stopping anytime soon. As soon as I rounded another headland that would lead to another cove, this beast was living up to it's name. My right knee was really grumbling now and was starting to bug me. As I went to jump across some rocks my footing slipped and I went crashing down smashing me knee. The blood ran down my shin from my knee but strangely as I tried to jog off the pain of the freshly cut skin it had taken my mind off of the ITB pain. I'd take that, good compromise.
I jogged into Lands End about 1am. 13 hours in and roughly 55miles were covered. My crew was there waiting with and knew I wouldn't be going inside the CP so had vegetable chilli and rice ready alongside a cup of tea. We stood at back of car and chatted whilst I ate, my crew needed some rest so I loaded right up with gels in my pack, put an extra layer on, talced my feet and changed my socks. All in all I was done in about 10minutes. I'd prepared mentally for the tough night ahead. It was 1am, roughly 25miles to St Ives, I should be there by daybreak. Time to crack on. How hard could it be?
My chest was now really playing up I was coughing up solid lumps and my breathing was labouring a bit. I had changed my batteries on my headlamp to lithiums so hopefully they would see me through the night. The coast here is littered with mineshafts and gorse. So if anyone should decide to cut across they would either get shredded or eaten by a mineshaft. Stick to the paths! The going up to Pendeen was okay, tough but manageable. I don't remember running too much, every time I got a few strides together it was broken by some sort of obstacle. I bumped into a few Arc Angels en route to Pendeen and topped up on Coke and water. The coughing was now full on and I'd developed a pain right through my leg. I convinced myself that all the uneven terrain had broke my leg. I was at a bit of a low, energy levels had remained good so far but the terrain was taking it's toll. The next 13miles was some of the most brutal I have experienced. Hills, rocks, mud and near impossible to follow trails. At some point on this section 2 runners came from behind. They weren't hanging about. "Don't mind us we're not in the race, we are delivering a banana." then every 100metres or so I'd catch them up with then frantically checking their map. The path was so hard to follow I was grateful for my GPS. We switched places and I put the banana deliverers on track a few times. Until we dropped into a cove one more time, they decided not to follow me anymore. I never saw them again and am still questioning whether it had actually happened??

Leaving the Dunes
This section broke me. The first morning light arrived and the last of the night was behind me. It was a massive relief, so was hitting the stepping stones outside St Ives because I knew I only had a bout a mile till I hit town. It must of been 10am as I stumbled into St Ives totally shattered. My leg was killing me and I was wheezing like a chain smoker. The coughing fits were painful now. I was broken.
I hobbled off the trail and my crew was waiting with tea, porridge and fresh supplies. I couldn't believe what I'd just been through. Another sock change and fresh layer of talc. Just those few minutes with a bit of hot food and pampered feet were enough to re-motivate me. I was still convinced my leg was broke so I kind of expected I'd be power walking the last 20 miles but I'd come this far backing out wasn't an option. Time to push on. I still hadn't really bonked but had some real fatigue issues going on. Yes the terrain was tough but my shortness of breath really wasn't helping. I'd come into this event wanting to go sub 30 because that seemed a pretty good target but deep down I knew I was capable of 24 hours. 24 was certainly gone now but I still had 8 hours to do the last 20ish miles for sub 30 so that was my motivation now.
I marched into town and went the long way round missing the obvious cut through, soon enough though I arrived at the CP and was met by Fergy who kindly offered to lead me inside. I declined explaining that if I was going to have to march it in I'd better get going. It was also a good opportunity to get a head start on the other competitors who were able to run! I left town and was soon faced with an estuary which we had to go round. This was very counter intuitive and despite my gps and the sign posts leading the way I was convinced I was going the wrong way. After a couple of miles of head scratching I eventually came back on myself and was the other side of the estuary and about to embark ng on the Dunes of doom!

Thank God that's over
The pain had subsided in my leg by now which I think had a lot to do with the terrain being somewhat flatter. The coughing however was much worse and I was hacking up solid lumps, I really thought parts of my windpipe were coming up. Yes I am a hypochondriac. As I entered the sands I saw a big black cloud heading our way and decided it was rain so started to sort my waterproof coat out. I seemed to take forever to get the coat on and get comfy. As I zipped it up the heavens opened, nothing too severe but there was some hail and wind in the mix. The dunes went on for some time and I was grateful this part of the course was marked. There was lots of different paths and I can imagine without the markers runners would be all over the place. As I left the dunes I was greeted by my crew once more. More tea, more porridge certainly enough to raise my spirits anyway. I was probably in 5th place right here with about 9miles to go but I could do nothing to hold this position and was aware of at least three runners right behind me. I picked up a walking pole from my crew to help with my failing right leg and plodded forward.
Rounding Godrevy point the coast was typically Cornish and rugged again. The path wasn't too bad and I was able to switch from power walking to jogging to shuffling but mainly shuffling. Over the this section the following 3 runners became the followed as they eased past me. They looked so fresh and I felt so shit. I entered Portreath with a bit of newly found vigour  the thought of nearly finishing was spuring me on. I grabbed my other stick off my crew and headed up the hill out of the village, my vigour ebbed away and was quickly replaced with the fatigue, my breathing was really laboured and my quads were jelly. This was a battle. I hiked the steep path and rejoined the coastal path. I was passed again and again even on this short section. There was a couple of really steep descents and ascents and my quads were a wobbly mess but I was making the best of it. It occurred to me at this point that I hadn't spent any of the race with anyone else. From mile 1 I had been alone for the whole race. Apart from being passed and passing others it had been a very lonely event. I was now in 11th place and thinking back I probably entered the trailhead in about 11th place.

Not my best look
I rounded the final bend and could see the finish from the top of the hill, I broke into a jog, all the way down the hill round the cove and up to the finish. The relief was immense. I nearly cried as I ground to a halt. I was handed my gold buckle and had finished in 27hrs 44. With that I had a massive coughing fit and was ushered in for a check over by the medics. I felt incredibly silly with a blanket over my shoulders and a monitor on my finger, everyone else looked fine! I wasn't, I was busted, it ha certainly been an Arc of Attrition!
Nice bit of bling
Almost two weeks later and having had time to reflect. Physically I'm fine although the last of my chest infection is hanging in there. That race was a beast, an absolute monster. You really need to be on top of your game to do well. I do believe I could go 24hrs on that course but it just hadn't worked out on the day. That is probably enough of a draw to get me back again for another shot. Just need to make sure when I do toe the line again I'm in tip top shape. I had entered because I want to run tough races and I really got what I paid for. We were blessed with the weather though so I'm sure I won't be so lucky next time. I didn't really use the CPs but the level of support was fantastic, everyone from the RD down had been a credit to the Ultra running community. You guys were great.
Next up for me is Western States, after all these years of trying I'm finally getting my shot. Training starts early March and I will be in the shape of my life. There is a silver buckle with my name on it!


  1. Great read Dil, it's easy to assume the guys at the head of the field don't suffer like us mere mortals. I'll put a halt on development of Mushroom Tailwind. Hope the chest clears soon and you can get fully stuck into WS training. Mike Tailwind.

  2. Great read Dil, it's easy to assume the guys at the head of the field don't suffer like us mere mortals. I'll put a halt on development of Mushroom Tailwind. Hope the chest clears soon and you can get fully stuck into WS training. Mike Tailwind.

    1. Thanks Mike. That soup will stay with me for life ;-)