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|
|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|
|Running through the night, Vault beach, Gorran Haven|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|Andy Trudgian checks in another finisher|