Thursday, 22 August 2013

RAT 2013 - a spectator's perspective

Plague (v) - to pester or annoy persistently or incessantly, to afflict as if with calamity

Last year saw the inaugural event from Mud Crew, the Roseland August Trail.  Offering three distances - the Black 32 mile ultra, the red route at 20 miles and the white 11 miler -along a linear stretch of the Cornish coastline this was to be trail running at its gruesome best.  Running on the coast path in Cornwall is essentially a giant repetitive hill repeat with added mud, rocks and precipitous drops; this section along the south coast of the Roseland peninsular is among the most challenging of all though it makes up for its difficulties with its striking beauty. I ran the 20 mile red route last year.  At the time it was the furthest I had ever run by quite a way and I certainly knew I'd covered the distance by the end.  This was also the beginning of a journey for me which led me to complete my first marathon and my first Ultra within a year and to kindle a desire to go further in future.  What made this such an amazing day though was the atmosphere, the organisation and the after party.  Think of the RAT as a festival for runners and you won't be far wrong.  Mud Crew were rewarded for their efforts by being voted best new run 2012 by Runner's World.

Fast forward to August 2013.  Not wanting to rest on their laurels the team at Mud Crew had come up with a devious plan to inflict even more pain and suffering on the unsuspecting runners of the South West and added a new race - the Plague was born.  This would be an out and back affair, 64 miles, starting at midnight and running from Porthpean to St Anthony and back again.  Each runner would wear a lime green top with the word "Victim" emblazoned on their chest.  Such fun!

Having completed my first ultra in June I was acutely aware of the effect my regular absences due to long training runs were having on my family. I had therefore, promised not to commit to another long run for the rest of the summer.  I wanted to be involved somehow in the RAT though so offered my services as a photographer.  I didn't want to stand still and just snap a nice portrait of everyone in the race, but rather try and document the Plague run from start to finish. 

And so at five past midnight I stood in a field of long grass with my camera and trusty tripod as 50 plus demented souls streamed past me, heading from the race HQ a short distance to the Coast path and off into the night.  I packed up quickly and headed to Pentewan, a 5 minute drive by car.  The runners would have to cover 5 miles of steep steps and narrow pathways before they reached me and the first check point. This section is known to be the hardest on the course and I wondered at the psychological effects of running 60 miles with the knowledge that those 5 miles would need to be repeated at the end.

And they're off
After a surreal half hour waiting with drunken hangers on staggering home from the pub for company (and a couple of nice families whose sons were competing) the first runners arrived, stopping only to dib their timing chips before moving on.  I did the same, my first few stops were close together and I could not afford to hang around.

Front runners arrive at Pentewan

Minutes later I was in Mevagissey. I started to set up my camera to capture the lead runners as they ran around the harbour but before I could get myself ready the leader was past me.  Hell!  He was moving fast.  Hot on his heels I managed to capture the next few runners with my flash before running back to the car for the third stop of the night.

On the front at Mevagissey
This next section was a short run but a longer drive so I knew I had no time to lose.  I arrived at a National Trust car park and quickly got onto the coast path.  This time I was in total darkness and aimed to get some interesting light trail effects as the "Victims" headed up the hill towards me.  Not wanting to inflict any further injuries on the unsuspecting competitors by blasting them with flash from the bushes I placed a sign down the path to warn them of my presence.  Nevertheless at least one runner was visibly disturbed by the explosion of light that met him at the crest of the hill.  By now the runners had covered about eleven miles; mostly running in small groups they were all chatting quietly as they approached and seemed to be coping well.

Running through the night, Vault beach, Gorran Haven
My plan from here was to head on to Nare Head and get an hour's sleep before everyone arrived but, feeling fresh for three o'clock in the morning, I elected to make an extra stop at Portholland and capture some more long light effects.  There was a marshal on duty here as the path skirts close to a dangerous drop onto a slipway before negotiating one of the rockiest sections of the route along the front and directions were given to each group as they arrived.  It was good to have a chat with someone for a while but soon I knew that, like the runners, it was time for me to move on.  

Suspicious characters, Portholland

On arrival at Nare Head I felt a couple of spots of rain so put up my tarp and got out my bed roll.  Unfortunately, by now I was too keyed up to sleep and as soon as I saw torch lights flicker on the horizon like tiny misguided fireflies I opened the shutter and slumped over my camera to watch their progress.  Although the sky was starting to lighten it was still essentially dark and, over the next ten minutes I got a birds eye view of what it meant to run a trail route at night as torches wound their way up and down the hill, some heading off route or moving back along the hedge line to locate a missing gateway.  How much extra effort must be expended by these little detours throughout the night?

Light trails as runners approach Nare Head
Eventually giving up on my little canvas cavern I moved around the hill and caught a few more shots of the runners.  By now though everyone was very strung out and, after a long wait for others to arrive I decided I better head on to Portscatho and arrived there with the first dawn light.  This is the final outbound checkpoint and after a quick chat with the guys handing out refreshments I ran over to catch everyone coming past Porthcurnick beach.  By now the cracks were beginning to show, faces were etched with the strain of running nearly thirty miles overnight, but everyone still had a smile and a laugh as they ran past which was great to see.  

Running strong at Porthcurnick Beach

From here I headed on to St Anthony and caught up with the black route runners milling around, waiting for the start.  God how fresh they all looked!  Once they were underway I shot off down the road a couple of miles to Towan beach and caught them charging over the hill and along the beach front.  A few plague victims ran past happy at least to know they were over half way but in no doubt about the challenges that still lay ahead.

The start for the black route runners
Homeward bound
I next caught up with the runners back at Nare Head, clouds were starting to form out west and the wind was freshening.  I followed the coast path west, stopping as I met them to shoot a few pictures and shout some words of encouragement.  These were mostly black route runners and they still looked pretty happy. The plague victims were moving more slowly for the most part but spirits were high. Minutes later the heavens opened and, not having brought either coat or brolly from the car, I made a swift exit.

Black route runners nearing the top of Nare Head
The loneliness of the long distance runner
On to Portholland; by now the rain was torrential and unrelenting.  Feeling weak for thinking of hiding in my car I headed along the front, after all the runners had no respite so why should I? However minutes later I was skulking back towards the car after my umbrella was dismantled by the wind.  In the car park the ever vigilant marshals had presciently erected a gazebo so I took shelter and photographed a few drowned rats as they stopped for refreshments. The Red route had started a few miles West at Portloe and their fresh faces mingled with those who had run from St Anthony or further.

Arriving at Portholland in torrential rain
On the rocks, Portholland
At Hemmick beach there is a hill leading up to Dodman point which many will struggle to walk up in good, dry conditions.  Put simply, its bloody steep.  Those heading up as I watched were surprisingly up beat, though I was unable to verify their mental state by the time they got to the top.  A little further on though as the path winds around the cliffs above vault beach the pace improved and everyone looked to be going well.  By now the rain had eased off to extreme drizzle and things were looking up - with only eleven miles to go even the plague runners could think of the finish and the inevitable pint awaiting them.

Heading up the Dodman
Moving well, Vault beach
I moved on to Mevagissey and arrived with more steady rain. It was early afternoon and I was starving so made use of the excellent Central Cafe; maybe it was the fact they were fresh from the fryer and served on a plate or perhaps it was because I hadn't slept now for over thirty hours but these were the best fish and chips I have ever eaten!  Once done I got myself into position on the harbour side and, having wrestled my umbrella back into some semblance of working order, I grabbed some more pictures.  There were lots of new faces here as the eleven mile white route was now making up much of the pack.

Mingling with the crowds in Mevagissey
I'd intended to walk into the heinous hills in the last miles of the route but the weather by now was really horrible and I was struggling to keep the lenses free from raindrops so finally headed for the finish.  How surreal it must have been to run up those last metres, after hours in all weathers, to be greeted by the sounds of a live set being played by a band at the race village.  Lots of people were gathered to cheer in the finishers and every one of them was clapped and cheered across the line.  Eventually though fatigue got the better of me and I sneaked guiltily off to my car for an hour's sleep.  

Last push

Finishing strong

Andy Trudgian checks in another finisher

I woke myself up in time to see the presentation of the awards, which were presented by Andy Goundry of Goundry's Estate Agents, "Marvellous" Mimi Anderson and representatives from USN - another sponsor of the event - and Childrens Hospice Southwest - a charity which Mud Crew are heavily involved with (Mud Crew were also sponsored by LED Lenser Head lamps and Red bull). Speeches were made, words were spoken; I can't remember exactly what was said but the sentiments were the same; everyone was blown away by the courage and spirit of each and every runner on the course and so very pleased to have been a part of another great day out courtesy of the Mud Crew.

Trophy time
This was a great experience but, while I'd love to do it again, next year I might just have to see how it feels to be a victim!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Trail Report - Newquay to Polly Joke

Last weekend I had to drop my daughter off at Newquay sports centre so had some time for a run down the coast.  Its easy to think of Newquay as a party town and not much else but the beaches just south of town and the surrounding countryside are some of the most beautiful in Cornwall. 

Setting off from the sports centre its about a mile to the estuary of the river Gannel.  There is a crossing up near the hospital round-about that is navigable in all states of the tide though the foot path on the other side might be under water at the highest tides; its probably not a bad idea to check with a local before heading off on a incoming tide. There are several other crossings closer to the Fistral end of Newquay which are tidal but would get you further down the estuary if you're coming from that end.

The path follows the sandy estuary for about a mile until a tributary joins from the left.  Cross this and find some rocky steps where the river bears left that lead up onto a grassy field and through a tree lined path, rising gently and still following the river toward the sea. 

A little later you drop steeply down to the National Trust car park behind Crantock beach; be prepared in summer to follow families of holiday makers laden with body boards and inflatables but don't worry, once you cross the car park and head back up hill you'll likely be alone again. Crantock is a massive, perfect stretch of sand, popular with holiday makers and surfers alike.  According to numerous signs on the beach though the currents are dangerous so you have been warned - stay between the flags people.

At the top of the hill the path crosses sand dunes at the back of the beach before turning right and heading out towards West Pentire, sandwiched between farm land on the left and cliffs to the right.  Its up and down for a bit with several options to descend to the beach before the ground eventually opens up onto the headland.  From here its a short while before you drop down into the next bay - Polly Joke.  This beach is narrow but, at low tide anyway, deep.  Its very sheltered and in summer is a great place for a swim.  

Polly Joke
I'd intended to carry on to Holywell bay, the sign posts indicate this would be another two miles, but I had a daughter to collect and time was short so this was my turn around point today. This run, out and back, totals a little over nine miles.  Depending on where in Newquay you start from you might want to add anything from one to four miles.

Friday, 12 July 2013

One mile

The last few weeks have been a bit odd really.  I haven't adapted to not having something concrete to train for very well and consequently have faffed about a bit, doing the odd run, the odd bit of climbing and a thrown a kettlebell about a bit.

I'm intending to run Truro and Bournemouth half marathons though and wanted to get a good idea how fast I could expect to go. I've only run one official half marathon road race and since then everything has been about going further not faster.

Lots of resources seem to show me how fast I can go at one distance based on my performance on another but I'm really interested on what is a realistic goal pace, i.e. how much can I knock off my current (and only) 1:57:20 half marathon time?

I think I can knock about 10 minutes off, would like to get under 1:45 and maybe even go a bit quicker again.  As with everything it depends on how much I'm prepared to put in.

That said, if I can't hit the right pace for the fast portions of my training runs then I don't stand a chance of achieving my goal.

So, in and unscientific test, I decided to run a mile as fast as I could and use this to extrapolate my current likely best achievement given 10 weeks or so of quality training.

Yesterday therefore I ran a mile along the industrial estate in 6 minutes and 49 seconds.  Not very quick really.  I started out faster than that, a little above 6 minute pace, but could no way keep it up.  At the end of the mile I was floored.  A sobering experience.  Put simply I'm a bit crap.  But then I've never tried to run this distance at any pace so what was I to expect?

Anyway, using McMillan running I found out that, with adequate training, a 6:49 mile equates to a 1:49 half.  Good enough for starters.  There are some caveats though, the bigger the gap between tested and goal distance, the less accurate the estimate, so I'd be better off timing a 10k. As I've never run a timed mile before I can almost certainly improve this time fairly quickly, especially since the ultra training meant so much long, slow distance. And, looking at the kind of training paces suggested I reckon I could perhaps aim a little higher for the half.  

1:45 equates to 13 8 minute miles.  This then will be my goal as its better to aim high and miss than aim low and be left wondering "what if?".

Now I just need to get a plan sorted out and get training.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Wot no training schedule?

Having finished the Classic Quarter and so ended ten months of being focused on that one day I spent last week recovering while feeling a little deflated and wondering what I was going to do now I didn't have to train for an ultra any more. 

The plan I have had, more a promise really, was to lay off running long for a while.  At least to get summer out of the way without me basically not being there most Sundays.  Its tempting to break my promise and push on to another longer route - although I was hurting for a great deal of the Classic Quarter I did get a lot out of it and I am still keen to see where I could take myself with more effort.  However, for many reasons this would be absolutely the wrong thing to do.  Even if I hadn't made a promise I have to face up to reality; my body needs to rest and recuperate - I am not twenty one, I am forty one and I haven't had years of running experience to hone my frame into perfect running shape.  In short if I keep on pushing longer and longer I will start to get injured.  I already have had a good few issues this year.

So I plan train for a half marathon or two.  I was going to enter Indian Queens Half in August though I might leave that one; I am definitely planning on doing Truro again in September and maybe Bournemouth in October.  Since getting serious about running I have always been focused on running further rather than faster so it will be good to concentrate on a single distance and see if I can get a vaguely respectable time.

I also hope to get back into climbing, which has been on the back burner for the last six months or more.  That said, this weekend the forecast is for rain and therein lies the rub; climbing is a fair weather sport whereas running asks for little other than the will to get out and do it, so maybe I'll be running and not climbing this weekend after all.

Friday, 14 June 2013

The Endurance Life Classic Quarter 2013

At the finish line of the Classic Quarter last year, having run as a team of four, I started to think that maybe I could complete it as one of a pair with enough training.  By August two of our team, Simon and I, had run the twenty mile red route at the Roseland August Trail.  This begged the question: if we can run twenty miles now, where's the challenge in running twenty two next year?  And so a it was decided, we would run the 44 mile Classic Quarter solo in 2013.

Mark, Gareth, Simon and I, Lizard, June 2012

Fast forward ten months and Simon and I found ourselves on our way South to the Lizard.

The previous week had been hot and sunny and the forecast was for more of the same.  However, by the time we arrived at the Lizard the sky to the south was dark and punctuated by increasingly frequent flashes of lightning.

Arriving in the car park the queues for registration and the toilets were both quite short; I made a decision to head to the loos first which turned out to be a mistake since, by the time I returned from the toilets, the rain had started and the queue to register stretched right to the back of the car park. By the time we assembled down the hill at the start line everyone was soaked and shivering.  The storm raced off ahead of us though and as we started the rain stopped.  The count down chorus was followed by anti-climax with all but the front runners forced to a walk as we funnelled onto the cliff path.

Cold, wet and raring to go!

Simon sporting typical summer atire
The first two miles were a stop start affair with plenty of bottle-necks; this no doubt helped a good few of us avoid an over-enthusiastic dash to the first check point and gave everyone a chance to ease into their pace gently.

Chasing the storm.  Eerie light at the start of Classic Quarter

We're off! Runners snaking over the hills just North of Lizard

Running down to Kynance Cove

At Kynance we gingerly crossed the pebble beach before starting the first big uphill slog of the day.  From here the going was fairly easy and I made a good pace along the rolling hills to Mullion.  

Arriving at Mullion Cove

I got to Gunwalloe and the first check point in under two hours and it was a big lift to see so many people waiting around (mostly here for the relays I guess) and cheering us on. Forcing down a gel and some flapjack I set off again towards Porthleven.  I had a few aches and pains in the first couple of hours and my back had made itself known a few times but, as the third hour wore on, these early niggles faded away and I ran on comfortably.  

Porthleven came and went, and as we left the houses behind the rain began again.  The course from here to Praa Sands has some spicy hills and by now the passage of those ahead combined with the sudden onset of wet weather had churned up the path into a claggy mess.

Muddy trails, Tremeane
Switchbacks through the undergrowth, Trewavas
At last I came to check point two and on arriving met my wife, Hannah and eldest daughter Bronwen who were generously giving up their day to be my support team. Its amazing the lift you get from seeing a familiar smiling face. I was also surprised to see my friend and climbing partner Jeremy, a Classic Quarter veteran, had popped down to cheer me on and offer some advice.  

Leaving Perranuthnoe

Still smiling, halfway in
After a change of socks and t-shirt I headed off, bound for Marazion and a long, flat section of the course.  Stiffness had set in during my brief stop and it took a good half mile to get myself going again.  By now the rain was long gone and the day was heating up.  Arriving at Marazion I took the opportunity to stop for an ice cream, dunked my buff in the river and wandered onto the new cycle path above the beach.  

At Penzance sea front

Throughout this flat section I alternated running fifteen minutes and walking five until finally arriving at the sea front in Penzance. Here I met Hannah and Bronwen again, who ran alongside me for a while before leaving me to continue along the road into Newlyn and then Mousehole and the infamous Raginnis Hill. At the top of this massive hill I regained the coast path finally, by now exhausted and really feeling the heat. The route from Mousehole to Lamorna was, to be honest, brutally hard with plenty of steep climbs and rocky sections.  Added to this I had underestimated the effects of the heat on my water consumption and consequently ran out two miles short of the check point. 

Looking back down Raginnis hill.  Its steeper than it looks
I arrived in Lamorna at the same time as my team - apparently my directions from Newlyn to Lamorna had been woefully inadequate and Hannah had gone round the houses trying to find her way.  After rehydrating I grudgingly left my resting place on the harbour wall and set off. The route from Lamorna to Porthcurno is generally believed to be the hardest section of the course, and the huge hills in and out of St Loy and Penberth certainly took their toll.  Everyone was looking pretty beaten up by now but it was great to see how we all looked out for each other as we passed others or were overtaken ourselves.

Bloody steps!  St Loy
Porthcurno was in full holiday swing and the temptation to walk onto the busy white sands and dive into that perfect turquoise sea was hard to resist. As I walked up the path towards the Minnack I looked up and saw Bronwen beaming down at me from above; she ran down and held my hand as I climbed the steps to the car park where Hannah was waiting with food and encouragement. 

Porthcurno in full holiday swing
Five miles to go. A lunchtime run, nothing more.  I was lucky to latch on to a couple of motivated souls who pulled me with them for a while, though after we got to Porthgwarra I just couldn't quite keep up and found myself alone again. Walking more than running I finally arrived at Nanjizal Beach, the best beach in Cornwall, and I knew I had a mile and a half to go.  I had twenty minutes to go to get in under twelve hours.  With such a short distance to travel there was no sense holding back and I surprised myself with a final spurt to the finish line, coming home in 11 hours 55 minutes.

Nanjizal, best beach in Cornwall

Simon made it in an hour or so later, having suffered knee problems since the halfway point and swearing he would never again run so far.  For me, I'm not so sure.  Not for a while maybe, but I wouldn't say never. 

Stumbling over the finish line

Simon finishes in perfect evening light

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Sage words

Four days until Classic Quarter.  no room for doubt.  The hay is in the barn. What will be will be.  In the interests of "Total Training", a la UltraStu, I've been re-reading some motivational texts.  From the book Born to Run this quote from the mouth of Caballo Blanco is one of my favourites:

"Think easy, light, smooth and fast. You start with easy, because if that's all you get, that's not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don't [care] how high the hill is or how far you've got to go.

"When you've practised that so long that you forget you're practising, you work on making it smooooooth. You won't have to worry about the last one - you get those three, and you'll be fast."

Sometimes now I get easy.  Occasionally I get light.  I'm a long way off smooth and we can forget fast for now, but that doesn't matter.  On Saturday, I'll settle for easy.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Extreme Tapering

I've had a bad back for a few weeks. Nothing too serious but enough to send me to the Osteopath on Friday. He suggested laying off running for the final week before the Classic Quarter. 

Initially I wasn't keen on the idea, after all its just a niggle right? But then I thought, what do I really have to gain from running ten miles today and a few short miles in the week? I'm tapering anyway, easing off from the big miles of the last few weeks. And what do I have to lose? If I run and I'm fine then I gain very little, but if it hurts then, psychologically, I add a week of stress and worry about how things will pan out on the day. I already have enough worries without adding to them. So I will sit back, relax, rest, eat well and await the big day. 

Incidentally the weather forecast is suggesting hot and sunny for next Saturday. Not ideal, but better than a deluge.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Trail report - Rinsey to Marazion

This Sunday was the last (and the shortest) long run before the Classic Quarter and really represents the beginning of my taper, since it was a very manageable eighteen miles.  I actually ran from Rinsey to a car park in Long Rock; however, as a scenic coastal run I would suggest turning around in Marazion, since after that the route follows a road and cycle track next to a railway and this last bit was just so I could log the miles I wanted (plus I got to see a little bit more of the CQ route which is always useful).  Anyway that's the route I will describe here and it weighs in at about 7 miles each way if you turn around in town, maybe 7.5 if you decide to run over the beach for a close up view of the Mount.

Looking West from Rinsey Cove
I started out stupid-early this weekend - the forecast was, for the second bank holiday in May, a sunny one and the kids were keen to max out on their beach time. Funnily though as I left the house at 6ish, there was a frost on the ground, but not even this could distract me from the obvious fact that it was going to be a glorious day.  By the time I was rocking up at the car park above the beach at Rinsey the sun was already warm on my back, the air was still and the sea was oily calm.

The start of the route sees you running down the hill towards Praa Sands through the ubiquitous narrow gorse lined pathways common throughout Cornwall.  Before long you are treated to one of the finest stretches of sand in the West country.  I'm blessed to be equidistant from both Praa to the South and Gwithian to the North, allowing a choice of excellent sandy joy based on the prevailing conditions of the day (and time of year unfortunately - Gwithian wins hands down in the summer due to it being, in part at least, dog friendly whereas Praa can only be enjoyed sans Canine between Easter and October 1st).

Arriving at Praa you have a choice - follow a permissive path of road and a little bit of dunes or drop onto the beach and run along the shoreline. At the far end of the beach are Cafe's, The Sand Bar and Stones Reef Surf shop, not to mention 80% of the visitors who plonk themselves down within a minutes walk of the car park, toilets and refreshments.

Leaving the sands and the tourists the path climbs relatively steeply, though not so much you can really get away with walking, to a pretty headland and the start of a very pleasant undulating run along low cliffs, passing Kenneggy Sands (or rocks, if the tide is in).


Before long the imposing house at Porth-en-Alls comes into view.  This and the buildings surrounding Prussia Cove are part of a private estate and are available as rather impressive holiday homes.  The path runs between the buildings and below a small wooded area before rounding the headland where Prussia Cove itself comes into view.  Prussia Cove is named for John Carter, a smuggler who lived there in the 18th Century and called himself the King of Prussia during childhood games with his brother.  Prussia Cove, like Kenneggy, is wholly tidal and only a small pebble beach is available at low tide.  However, the rocky shelves allow access to the water at all states of the tide and are popular with fishermen.  The entire cove is a brilliant spot for snorkelling and there are lots of places to jump off the rocks into the sea.  Dogs are allowed year round and the  Cove is very sheltered, making for a great family day out on a sunny day.

Old buildings above Prussia Cove

Moving on from here the path traverses fields in places with a couple of steep drops and before long opens out onto a road leading into Perranuthnoe.  I've never spent any time on this beach though it appears to be a good size at low tide.  The village is very pretty and has a Cafe, craft shops, toilets and a pub.

Leaving Perranuthnoe, the path follows fields and is fairly flat all the way into Marazion.  There are a couple of places where the correct path is not obvious but its easy enough to work it out.  Just before you get to Marazion you drop down steep metal steps onto a rock beach, skirting some private residences before climbing back up, via more steep steps and a road to reach the main drag through the village itself.  Follow the road as long as you wish; its possible to get down to the beach in a number of places.  From here, take a trip over the causeway to St Michael's Mount, continue along the beach (or the road) or turn back and retrace your steps. There is something magical about Marazion, a beautiful sand and pebble beach leading out from between the Mount and the white-washed fisherman's cottages of the village - what's not to love?

On a personal note, despite this being the shortest and flattest long run I've done over the last month I found it extremely hard going - the last few weeks have finally caught up with me.  Luckily I get to ease off for a couple of weeks so hopefully by the 8th June I'll be ready to roll.