Friday, 17 June 2016

Classic Quitter - my first DNF

This year's Classic Quarter - a race I'd completed twice before - was one I'd trained hard for. In fact the last six months I've trained harder and more consistently than ever before. I did speed work, hill reps, tempo runs. I ran every section of the course. I also, crucially, lost weight. This really seemed to have an effect on the kind of pace I could run and I was suddenly making huge gains.

So when race day came around the last thing I expected to do was DNF.

Worse still I wasn't expecting to quit so easily. I've never even considered quitting a race before but the end to this one came remarkably quick and is something I've been regretting ever since.

Ever since I rang my wife and said "I'm done" and she came to collect me from the side of the road in Penzance I've been in a right old grump. But the truth is I knew this was a possibility; I'd got myself so convinced that this year not only could I complete this run I could set a fast time that when things started to go wrong I didn't really have a plan B. In fact the night before I'd said to myself that I'd go out with my most optimistic goal in mind and if I blew up at least I could say I'd tried. Well that's exactly what happened.

The thing is though I didn't run out of energy or get injured, I got cramp. And boy did I get cramp. From mile 16 I was getting little warning shots in my calves. By half way I was adjusting my stride to relieve occasionally cramped calves and stepping up onto high rocks or steps was as likely as not to deliver a nice pain in my hamstrings.

When I hit the flat along Mounts Bay things really deteriorated until I was pretty much unable to run at all without cramping up severely. And that's how it ended; at mile 29, fed up and hamstrung - literally - not willing to walk the next 15 miles just to get a finishers medal I sat down in the sun and called home.

So many runners stopped and asked if they could help, offering salt and electrolytes (I'd been taking salt pills to no avail and had gratefully accepted some electrolyte several miles back from another runner). Some I knew, like Loyd, tried to encourage me to keep it going. Another friend Paul even offered to walk with me a while but I was having none of it; I was done.

Maybe this is just the price I have to pay for racing an ultra rather than just running it. Maybe aiming high means you have to be prepared to fail in spectacular fashion and maybe its just as well to drop rather than risk serious injury when the race isn't going your way.

But for me, next time I think about dropping I'll be looking back at this week and remembering how crappy I felt. Next time I'll crawl to the finish if I have to.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Kernow Vertical Kilometre

There are certain races that pop up and you just know you're going to have to run them. The Kernow Vertical Kilometre was one such race.

The Vertical K is a race concept born in the Alps, where runners tackle a 1000 metres of vertical ascent in a point to point uphill race up a mountain. Not having any mountains of such stature in Cornwall the newly formed Freedom Racing came up with the idea to race a 1000 metres up and down in the shortest distance possible, this being about 15 miles.

The race was to start and finish at the beach of Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes and would follow 2 laps of a figure of eight loop taking in some of my favourite bits of coast path and inland trails including the largest hill in the area - St Agnes Beacon.

Looking West from St Agnes Beacon - on a good day!

I've run over the beacon many times and on a good day you can see for miles along the coast, but its also exposed and this being the start of April we were likely as not to be in for some interesting weather.

Sure enough the day dawned wet and windy - really windy - and we pushed and squeezed our way into The Driftwood Spars pub for registration and our briefing, all hanging back to the last minute before marching down the steep road and slipway to our start point just above the beach.

Soon enough we were off. Back up the hill past the pub and ever upwards through the village - viciously steep in those first few yards - this was a rude awakening. Winding up, briefly off road then out into an estate and a little flattish respite before out into the countryside we went - steadily climbing we crossed fields on our way to the beacon.
At the start witth my serious face on - photo © Freedom Racing

Another short section of road led us towards the back of the Beacon before we turned and climbed steeply up rough trails to our destination. On reaching the top of the hill we were blasted by the wind and turned to descend to seaward. Now it must be said, this was a surprise since I'd thought the course looped inland but I was breathing so hard I just followed the directions of the marshal and headed down off the hill on a long fast descent I knew well. It was soon obvious from the chatter ahead of me that I wasn't alone in my thoughts that the route appeared to have been altered - more on this in a bit.

Running down from the beacon is one of those amazing bits of trail that just make you smile, steep but not too steep, technical enough to make you think but fast, so very fast - and straight down towards the North coast with engine houses, farms and distant beaches all completing the picture. Soon we joined the road for a brief time before heading down again, onto the coast path and some technical granite steps leading back into Trevaunance Cove. As we entered the village a brief chat revealed we had indeed been sent the wrong way and missed a loop on the back of the beacon - all would be resolved on lap 2 with a double loop to make up the distance already organised.

From here it's a long climb up the North side of the cove to embark on the second part of the figure of eight course. This long steady hill has little steps conveniently about one and a half paces apart to break your rhythm (and your spirit!) and is not quite steep enough to justify slowing to a walk, but too steep to be anything other than painful.

Near the top the hill eases for a short time as we enter a lunar landscape - mine spoil in this most industrial part of Cornwall - quickly though we climb on over the crest and down into Trevallas Porth via a super rocky technical descent. Also known as Blue hills due to the mining centre of the same name this is another heavily mined area and we run between mine buildings before the pig of a climb up towards Perranporth airfield. Here there are the signature Cornish steps - steep and deep and fronted with a wooden face - if you run on the coast path in Cornwall you'll get to know them well even though you may not like them. Its possible to skip around them and keep running but only for the fittest - mere mortals accept their fate and climb at a walk over these obstacles, the burn in the quads building all the time.

Finally at the top some respite - a flat section along the airfield - except today the wind in our faces slams us back and slows our progress to a hunched shuffle. Then its back into Trevallas via the road and back the way we came to the start.

photo © Freedom Racing
As I got stuck in to lap 2 I knew I'd gone out too fast, the fight was going from my legs and it was all I could do to keep pushing on up, back to the top of the Beacon. Here we were directed left and inland to complete a mile long loop - twice - dropping over a hundred metres down behind the hill. I'd never run these trails so it was all new and exciting. Great running spoiled only slightly by the knowledge I have to work my way back up at some point. The uphill part of this loop, much like the hills on the rest of the course, is just about runnable though I was walking on the last steep section at the top.

Another lap of this loop for make up for the earlier issues and we were back down to Trevaunance again, spirits lifted by clapping supporters and knowing, even though I was knackered, that the end was not far off. The wind seemed even stronger on the airfield second time around and I was seriously slowing but still managed a strong last mile (mostly downhill!).

Job done. A unique wooden medal and better still, a free bottle of ale brewed on site at the pub, were our prizes. I did ok, 29th of 80-odd. The race though, what a classic, sure to grow in years to come once word gets out. And since then Freedom Racing have started The Summer Sessions - a series of 10k trail runs in equally iconic locations along the coast path. Ones to look out for, for sure.




Saturday, 13 February 2016

Following the Arc

Last weekend I was helping out with the Arc of Attrition. Photographing the runners but also helping out with a bit of marshalling at various points along the route. Earlier in the year I had hoped to be able to enter this race, having filmed it last year but it wasn't to be; injury and family commitments meant I would be on the sidelines again this year.

Once again though it felt like this amazing community of runners down here in Cornwall came out in force to support, crew, marshal and do whatever they could to get involved in this iconic challenge.

 
Make no mistake, 100 miles of coast path is a big ask at any time of the year. But in winter its a serious undertaking. Last year, with a 6 pm start, most competitors endured two nights of running. The weather was cold and calm but reached minus eight celsius at times through the night. That said over 50% of the entrants finished and, sitting with Ferg in the sun at registration, I knew this wasn't quite the race he'd had in mind.

This year the start would be at 12pm. By the time everyone was receiving their briefing the news was out. Cornwall was bracing itself for some heavy weather. Gale force winds and torrential rain were on the cards and as many ass four weather fronts were set to converge on our little county during the 36 hours of the race.

Indeed the weather gods did not dissapoint; after a fairly calm start the wind whipped up and during the night the rain came. And boy did it come. With flash floods and impassable roads in places inland the coast path was a treacherous place to be.

Having taken photos early on to make sure I got everyone while they were nicely bunched up, I moved around the coast stopping at a few locations before finally seeing the field through Poldhu and Gunwalloe, about nineteen miles in. I had to head home for a bit to run my girls to guides and had a bite to eat with Hannah before returning around 11 and getting myself over to Cape Cornwall




I had a peaceful start to marshalling duties here; James Turner arrived and got a brew on and the winds had not reached full strength. Soon the lead pack of four - Duncan Oakes, Steve Wyatt, Pat Robbins and Jason Lewis - came through, running strong. Shortly after I was relieved by Juston Lowell and Paull Golley and settled down for a kip.


As the night wore in the winds reached ferrocious levels and runners were converging from various directions. It was time for me to move on and I set off to Levant to film a little and guide the runners as they appeared.

At some point I was asked by a runner how far to St Ives; caught off guard I guessed wildly that it was about 8 miles and was mortified later on checking my paperwork that in fact it was more like 14. I had to drive around to Pendeen to catch him and set the record straight. Sorry!

Pendeen was witness to some of the most horrific weather I've ever been out in; the wind was so strong you could barely stand up and the rain stung like needles whenever you turned to face the onslaught. Soon though I headed back to my original location to film a little more and see the last runners through - by now the numbers were dwindling as one by one they dropped out along the way. On my way through Pendeen I noticed the chippy was open and serving bacon butties. I got my self one and sat down to tuck in when a pair of runers came by, obviously suffering from the cold. One in particular was considering dropping as he could not get warm. I suggested he continue to Pendeen and decide there whether to continue and phoned ahead to let them know he was on his way. Feeling guilty after letting on I was feasting on bacon I nipped back around on a buttie run before heading all the way back to Porthtowan to film the leaders finish.

All this would not be possible without the live tracking, this had helped us all keep a really good eye on where everyone was.

After this I headed west again and stopped at the St Ives checkpoint for a bit, long enough in fact to be bought a beer - why not - thanks Paul!




Then finally I took up position on North Cliffs and filmed some more before heading home to rest and monitor facebook for news of the the final few to finish.



All in all and epic day out. I was blown away by the positivity of everyone involved, runners and crew alike, and despite the terrible weather I think everyone had a good time. I didn't hear anyone complain about their lot, they just got on with business.

Maybe next year I'll give it a go, though there were times over the weekend where I questioned the sanity of that sentiment.

Anyway photos are available here and there's a little film of the whole thing too:


Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Filming the scrooge

I was on duty photographing the muddiest of Mud Crew events; The Scrooge this year and managed to capture a little bit of film at the same time.

Held each year at the Lost Gardens of Helligan this nine mile run features mud, drops down waterfalls, steep climbs and deep water crossings.

Here's the film


Mud Crew Presents - The Scrooge run 2015 from Andrew Benham on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The Cotswold Century - Part 2

If you want to read about my preparations for the Cotswold Century its here.  For the details of the race itself, read on:


The Cotswold Century got underway at 12pm exactly. We filed out of the village of Chipping Campden in the Autumn sunshine and straight up a hill. I slowed to a walk pretty quickly, might as well get used to it. Before long we were heading out across open country and over ploughed fields at a nice easy pace.


We crossed a busy road and then dropped steeply down past Broadway Tower and soon we were in Broadway itself, having run 4 miles or so. Broadway is such a beautiful village, I grew up close to here and come through the village every time I go home to visit my parents who, as it happened, had turned out to wave me on and were eating sandwiches and clapping us on our way. A quick hello and off we went.





For the next few hours the running was good, undulating and varied, the sun was shining and I was moving well. Before long we'd covered 13 miles and arrived at the first checkpoint. A few peanuts and a top up of water and I was away, as I was carrying all the food I needed with me. The afternoon wore on and a few big climbs started to introduce a little fatigue. In fact, the truth be known I was not feeling as good as I'd hoped. Possibly the enormity of the undertaking was weighing down on me a bit. After a particularly gruelling climb I started to asses how I was feeling. 20 miles in and I was hurtung, how was I going to run another 80? I'd made the cardinal error of thinking about the whole thing instead of just concentrating on the next checkpoint. I had a word with myself and got on with it, and was soon feeling better.




As you do in these races I saw people pass me and then passed them later on. I was in a good rhythm and the field had thinned out; those before and after slowly became familiar faces. We nearly got ourselves lost at one point but a quick back track saw us back on course. We crossed over Cleeve common looking out over Cheltenham as the afternoon turned towards evening. Checkpoint 2 came all of a sudden and this was the first chance to access a drop bag, which for me just meant a restocking of my food supplies. I made the mistake of sitting down here and regretted it when I moved on as I'd quickly stiffened up. Still either the brief rest or the cola I'd drank gave me wings and the next section flew by in a rush of high energy.



By now the sun was low in the sky and the drop in temperature was very welcome as the evening took over. I was on my own again; stopping to sort out a stone in my shoe I looked up to see the moon rising big and bright behind me. Still skirting around Cheltenham the terrain below the Cotswold escarpment runs flat Northwards towards the Malverns and the sunset looking west was incredible.

As darkness took over I latched on to a couple of runners who clearly had GPS and tried my best to stay with them. There were some big climbs and a few stretches through woods where I was glad to be following someone who knew the way, although the pace was a bit spicy for me. I knew from my watch we were closing in on the third checkpoint so made a point of keeping up. When we arrived at checkpoint three I got myself a coffee and saw a jar of gherkins. This was another case of discovering food I'd never usually eat but as soon as I saw them I knew that's what I needed. Before I could finish my coffee the group I was with were off and not wanting to be left behind I downed my drink and got going. Four of us left together but we were soon split into two groups as me and a chap from Bristol hung back rather than be drawn into someone else' pace.


Some steep climbs followed and the next ten miles or so went by in a blur, I was tiring, I had a blister on my left toe and the beginnings of some chafing in an unpleasant location. Although it had dropped colder as the night moved on we were moving reasonably well and I didn't feel the need to wrap up. At about 10:30pm we got to Painswick Rugby club, the only indoor checkpoint and a chance to get some hot food, assess the situation and get a change of clothes from my second drop bag. I changed into a long sleeve and whipped off my socks to find a massive blister on my little toe. Stupidly I popped it and then made a bad job of taping it up. A couple of cups of coffee and some veg chili later and I was ready to go. I'd run in with the chap from Bristol and we agreed to leave together. After a mile or so though I was feeling rough. Not wanting to try and stay with him I hung back to sort out a second layer and let him go on. Alone again in the dark and feeling pretty tired I wandered on.


I got my phone out and fired up Back Country Pro and checked my location on the map. folding it up small I oriented the map and got my thumb on the right spot. Now, pay attention and hopefully we won't get lost. It was a good hour before I perked up and found the energy I seemed to have lost in the checkpoint. From then on the overnight section was actually quite good fun. One problem that did cause me concern was the sudden dimming of my head torch around about midnight. My Alpkit Manta torch usually goes all night. Cursing my stupidity for not checking the batteries I changed them, checking the new ones as I did and finding they too only had half charge! How could this be? It would be a terrible way to go out, stranded in the dark with no head torch. Luckily I had a second hand torch - far brighter than the head torch and brought along to help spot the signposts from a distance - but this only has a three hour burn time and I only had a single rechargeable battery for it. From midway through the night as the head torch again started to dim I switched to the hand torch and hoped for the best.


Pretty much everything blurred into one over night. I remember a cup of tea at a checkpoint seemingly in the middle of nowhere, running round a never ending golf course, getting lost on the edge of a maze field and ending up stung and bloodied when the "path" I was on ran out. The section I had run a few years back I actually remembered pretty well, from Kings Stanley to North Nibley I felt almost at home. This was the section where we had been warned about not taking the longer route along the canal. I met some poor runners who, having rightly stayed on the correct path, had turned left instead of right and doubled back on themselves where the two paths rejoined.

When I arrived at the checkpoint at Wooton Under Edge it was just before sunrise. Commenting with another runner about how we were craving fresh fruit we were both humbled and forever grateful when one of the marshals produced and selflessly handed over his own supply of fresh pineapple. Just one of many acts of kindness throughout that made our journey that little bit more bearable.

As the sun came up I waited for a boost in my energy levels but none came. What did arrive were more hills. By now my feet were really achy, my toe a world of pain, the chafing a constant nagging irritation. Since about 60 miles my quads were really complaining on the downhills. Throughout it all though I was still motivated, still somehow moving forwards. Occasional bursts of energy came and went and I surprised myself on more than one occasion with a good block of running. I found I could move downhill more efficiently by changing my gait and rolling my feet from heel to toe, legs fairly straight I felt more like one of those Olympic walkers waddling along but it helped and raised my pace considerably.

Its all a bit of a blur from here. At about 80 miles we passed an  impressive tower, the map reliably informing me we were approaching the village of Horton and another checkpoint, I remember lovely homemade quiche, helpful marshalls buzzing around us and politely suggesting we'd sat down for long enough. This was our last drop bag location and I was in surplus so donated what I didn't need and made my way onwards.

Somewhere in the next leg, while moving well and pulling away from the group behind me, my right knee suddenly started to hurt on the inside of the kneecap. After several aborted attempts I realised I woudn't be running downhill anymore. The day wore on. By now it was warm again, lovely in fact, but I just wanted it done. The knee pain graduated from the downhills to any kind of running and I was consigned to walking. With more than 10  miles still to go I hobbled into the checkpoint at Cold Ashton. the marshalls here, as everywhere were extremely welcoming. I dined out on biscuits and gherkins, drank coke and agreed with the other runners that despite the assertions of the marshals that we were looking good, we certainly didn't feel it!

Leaving Cold Ashton the medics noticed I was limping and offered to bandage my leg. I agreed gratefully but a quarter of a mile later things seemed to be worse. Reasoning, rightly or wrongly, that the bandage was not helping I removed it and carried on. Shortly after this was the mother of all downhills, steep tarmac for a good half mile. It was here that things took a turn for the worse, my knee now becoming painful even walking downhill. For the first time I considered the possibility of dropping - and immediately discounted that as an option. I'd come too far and hurt too much to stop now. Over the next few miles time stretched out to the infinite and on I walked. I'd managed to find a way of hobbling downhill that limited the pain in my knee but must have looked bloody ridiculous.

Luckily there was a long section up on a kind of plateau - and another golf course - which went quite well, but the final miles towards Bath were very hard work, being all downhill. I'd also got it into my mind for a couple of hours that I had an hour less than I actually did so was seriously concerned I woudn't get in within the cut offs. When I realised my mistake I relaxed considerably and my mood lifted.

My Garmin was already reading well over 100 miles as we neared Weston and finally, arriving at the final check point I felt like the end was in sight. I also felt like I had nothing left. I sat on the steps by the side of the road while a marhsal filled my water bottles and considered what was left. Two miles or thereabouts. But what a couple of miles! Two huge hills followed, the railings on the walkway the only blessing, allowing me to drag myself up. Still it was the downhills that hurt the most. Coming down into a park near the center of Bath I actually turned around and walked backwards for a bit which was blessed relief but not too practical. My biggest worry now was getting lost, though with the map and an occasional pink arrow - this was the only signed section of the course - I made my way into the town center. Even knackered as I was I couldn't fail to appreciate the beauty of the architecture here. Then all of a sudden I was in amongst the throngs of shoppers and touists. Now Bath has a few buildings that look like they might be a Cathedral and, after nearly ending up at the doors of the wrong one, I asked for directions from a big issue seller. Lo and behold, minutes later I was crossing the square. Running in front of a busker who sang me in to the finish line with Bobby McFerrin's "Don't worry be happy" was a bit surreal. Somehow I managed some semblance of a run and then it was over. Kurt shook my hand and presented me with my medal and I said some rude words to him and that was it. I'd done it.

Finishing a 100 mile race in the center of Bath without any friends or family present made the next few hours a bit of a challenge to be honest. The YMCA was the next destination where showers and drop bags awaited; five minutes up the road to any normal human being but a world away to me. On arrival I was confronted with a steep set of steps. At the top the man in reception apologetically told me my kit was in another building at the bottom of said stairs. Bummer. I returned sometime later with my kit and a belly full of soup from another pair of amazing volunteers. Of course the showers were on the first floor! Removing my socks I found that all the skin had parted company with my little toe - well almost. Comical scenes ensued as I tried to reach my feet in the confines of the shower cubicle so I could finish the job and clean up the mess. Eventually, all washed and clean I left with instructions on how to get some food and a bus to the YHA. The 15 inch pizza I ordered was the finest meal I'd ever eaten, though people walking past were clearly perplexed by the homeless man in an expensive gortex jacket who looked as if he'd not eaten in a week. Finally giving up on the bus that never came I called a taxi. As it happened I wasn't the only one staying in the youth hostel and we made a pretty pair hobbling around the halls that evening.

It was good to finally get home on the train the following day though, especially as my youngest daughter had prepared a welcome home banner and Hannah had a bottle of fizz chilling in the fridge.


Two weeks later and the scars have healed. Of course now I only remember the good bits and am already thinking about how much room for improvement there is next time.



















Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Cotswold Century - part 1


On the weekend of the 26th September I completed the Cotswold Century, my first 100 mile event. This, even for me, has turned into a bit of a massive post so I've split it into 2. First my preparations for the event and then the race itself, so if you just want to skip to the good bit its here. Otherwise read on:

After running Lakeland 50 and with planning permission granted for our house (re)build next year effectively cutting out any chance of long distance racing in 2016 I was keen for a last big race. Looking through the list of events that took my fancy in Autumn I came up with a list , containing several more Lake district races, the VOTWO Atlantic Coastal Challenge and the Cotswold Century. Hannah wasn't keen on my travelling to the Lakes again and the associated costs so we narrowed it down quickly to the ACC or the Cotswold century. The former is a 3 day 3 marathon affair on the North Cornwall coast path. I've never run a multi stage event so that would be a challenge in its own right; the latter a 100 mile race along the Cotswold Way. The Cotswold Way had piqued my interest when I was lucky to run a section of it a few years back and has been on my wish list ever since.

Hannah asked which I'd prefer to do and, without hesitation I said the Cotswold Century. Not wanting a change of heart from either of us to scupper my plans I signed up for the race, boooked the youth hostel and the train tickets all before bed that night. Now I was committed.

I had 9 weeks from completing Lakeland 50 to race day at the Cotswold Century. Here's how that broke down in training:

Week 1 : no running
Week 2 : 21 miles - no running for the first 4 days then 3 runs over the weekend
Week 3 : 32 miles - build up week, no hard workouts and a long run of 16 miles
week 4 : 50 miles including 20 mile long run
Week 5 : 54 miles with a (not quite) 20 mile long run
Week 6 : 56 miles and a 29 mile long run
Week 7 : 35 miles - starting to taper - 16 mile long run
Week 8 : 20 miles - tapering right off; no long run
Week 9 : Race week, no running in the 5 days prior to the race

This was as good a lead up as could be expected for me. I needed a goood rest after Lakeland and reverse tapered back up to peak mileage. In the three peak weeks I ran a hard workout each Tuesday - hill sprints or speed work. On the Thursdays I ran to and from work as well as my normal lunchtime run - this would make a 20+ mile day and, combined with running home with my laptop in my rucksack, gave me some good mental preparation for running on tired legs. My weekend long runs as usual were done at a very slow pace carrying all manadatory kit and fuelling as per race day.

The Coswold Century is a self navigation event following the Cotswold Way National Trail. Previous competitors have reported that route finding can be difficult in places; there are no additional course markings bar the existing National trail signs and with 12 hours of darkness to contend with this was a real concern. I'd got myself a copy of the Harvey map that accompanies the trail. With it being such a long course I'd have needed numerous OS maps whereas the Harvey map covers the entire trail all condensed onto one double sided map. Of course the downside to this is that the map, at 1:40,000 would not offer too much detail such as field boundaries, etc. So at the last minute I downloaded an app for my phone called back country pro (Android, £8.99). This allowed me to download all the relevant OS maps I needed and I was also able to overlay the route gpx. Although it wouldn't allow me to folllow a track with appropriate warnings it would at least serve as a backup to verify my location on the map if needed.

The usual tapering unpleasantness of achy legs and lethargy accompanied the build up to race day, plus I was panicking about travelling to and from the event since I would be alone and at the mercy of public transport. While travelling by train isn't my normal form of transport I arrived at Bath YHA  in good time and well rested.

Bedding down in the YHA I noticed another bloke in my dorm was sporting a Plague t shirt and introduced myself. It was Paul Reeve, from Portreath, just up the road from home! Turned out he and Sharon Sullivan were up from Cornwall and staying there. We've never really met before but all recognised each other from around about the various events we've been at. We met at breakfast and they kindly gave me a lift up to the park and ride where we would catch the bus to the start line at Chipping Campden. There's nothing like an hour in a bus to press home exactly how long you will be running! Chatting on the bus to those around me took my mind off the impending race but soon we were there and piling through regsitration at the school.

Kurt's briefing left is in illusions about the challenge that lay ahead. There was nothing left now but to run the race; 102 miles or there abouts of rolling British countryside awaited us. We were escorted into the center of the village and hung around nervously in the market place waiting for the off.

In part 2 I'll describe the race itself.....

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Trail report: Lands End to Pendeen

Being a creature of habit I've got a certain bunch of routes I tend to run fairly regularly and, having covered most of the coast path within easy shooting distance of home this idea I had of documenting every stretch had sort of dried up. There remain however a few gaps - sections I have never run. The bit from Land's End to somewhere just West of Zennor is one such section. Shameful really as it turns out to be an absolute corker!

John O'Groats 874, I'm not giong quite that far today
Parking at Land's End good and early (if you live in Cornwall you can get free parking - local's pass available here) I set off up the coast. The weather wasn't looking too good though I was sure the reports had been fair. The first mile to Sennen is an enjoyable romp over laid granite paths and a few quite technical bits. The little coast guard lookout - like a tiny castle turret on the cliffs - marks the cliffs of Pedn-Men-Du - the black cliff. Sennen cliffs are one of the most popular climbing destinations in Cornwall and rightly so. Short but powerful routes on perfect granite abound though I'd not be getting involved in any of that today.

The steep run down into Sennen takes you quickly into civilisation though at this early hour there was no-one around. Leaving the promonade its generally the done thing to run along the beach - on the way back I traced a far harder and longer route over dunes and down a path behind the car park - not recommended. The line off the bach is pretty obvious and it was about here that the heavens opened. Waterproof on for the first time in a good few months, I trotted along a good path above the rocks between Sennen and Gwynver.


Leaving the beach at Sennen as the heavens open

Not the coast path!
Now things went a bit wrong for me when I got around the corner to Gwynver. The path appears to track diagonally up the grassy bank behind hte beach, just below the lifeguard hut. Don't make the mistake I did and take this route. If you do you'll end up reaching some long, steep steps and will no doubt follow them. Doing so led me to a road. So I followed it for a bit...and got hideously lost. Continuing on I spent hte next hour following footpaths across fields, always close to the coast but certainly not on the coast path!

Eventually I found a sign that led me back to the cliffs just west of the Cot Valley. When I arrived at Cape Cornwall I found a sign for Land's End saying 5.5 miles, but by then I'd done 8.5! I got it right on the way back though and can hopefully help others not to  make the same mistake. At Gwynver, stay low! Keep to a sandy path right at the back of the beach, you'll arrive at the bottom of the aforementioned steps but carry on and soon all will become clear. This section, for a couple of miles, is a real gem. the path is close to the sea and weaves in and out of boulders - lots of sections are redirected a few feet inland and with good reason as the original route is undercut in many places. There's a good bit of boulder hopping and some lovely technical running in a remote setting to rival any on the Cornish coast. Always undulating but never too steep the path winds on, crossing open ground in some places, skirting fields of crops in others, gradually gaining height as you close in on Porth Nanven.

The Brisons from Porth Nanven

It can be tricky to take the best path down to Porth Nanven, ideally head down to seaward and a lower path early on, before turning into the cove itself. If you don't you'll find yourself on a very long set of switchbacks winding slowly to the base. The better route takes you straight down to the stream just behind the pebble beach. Porth Nanven is one of the most photographed beaches in Cornwall being made up entirely of large, smooth, granite boulders and with lovely views of the Brisons, the rocks a little way off shore. From here you'll need to head up the road a few hundred metres until an obvious path leads steeply up the other side of  the valley and on towards Cape Cornwall. The views of this magnificent outcrop are well worth the journey. Most of the buildings are owned by the National Trust and the landscaped gardens and white washed walls contrast the rugged outline of the cliffs beyond.


North of here the path again leads inland and down into the next valley - Kenijdack. Home to the Boswedden mine this area is steeped in indutrial history. Dropping down below the Cape Cornwall golf course you enter a lush secluded and sheltered valley, hidden from the onslaught of the prevailing winds by the Cape. Climbing out among the mine workings and up onto the Northern side of the valley the rugged North Coast re-appears with the mine workings of Levant, Geevor and Botallack laid out ahead. After this steep climb there is a welcome flat section, though the paths are rocky and demand your attention. The observant will recognise the engine houses used in the recent Poldark series as they pass Bottallack. The Crown engine houses, situated just above the sea are a well publisiced attraction. 

Poldark Country
Looking back towards Cape Cornwall from Levant

Further on the Levant mine appears - the buidlings here have been restored and are managed by the National Trust.



Geevor mine closed in 1990 and you will see remains of a more modern nature. The scars in the landscape are fresher here and the romance is slightly tarnished - this is a bleak industrial landscape showing the true nature of mining - a tough, dangerous business. Geevor itself is now a tourist destination - allowing trips below ground and many displays and activities. Its well worth a visit if this sort of thing interests you.

Heavy industry at Geevor

The next mile or so towards Pendeen watch are more undulating and incredibly beautiful. This day I turned around shortly before the lighthouse but if you managed to get this far without going horribly wrong like I did then you should arrive after about 10 miles and have time for a good look around.

Pendeen Watch