Thursday, 28 June 2012

Endurancelife Classic Quarter 44mi. 23/06/2012.

Race 6 of 12 in the 2012 Runfurther series.

I'd been relishing my first experience of the South West Coast Path for months, ever since this race was added to the Runfurther series and my Grand Slam quest demanded that I get myself an entry. Runfurther was introducing me to yet another part of our beautiful country and so my 151st ultra marathon became my first Endurancelife event.

I was not disappointed by the sights, sounds and smells that greeted our senses. Our route took us along the most southerly and westerly extremity of Britain's coastline, in a westerly direction from Lizard Point to Land's End. The coastal scenery with its old mining relics was spectacular. The ocean was never far away and almost always within earshot, while the smell of honeysuckle and other sweet scented shrubs complemented the fresh Atlantic air.

After a comfortable yet criminally short night in the Land's End Hostel (far too good to be called a hostel in my opinion), a 02:45 alarm call got me standing with Alison Brind on the Land's End car park at 03:45 in the gathering light, waiting for the bus to take us to Lizard Point. Stuart Mills recognised me in the gloaming and came over for a chat. The last time we saw each other was at last year's Lakeland 100, when he was giving us enthusiastic support and taking some pretty cool photographs in the process. He will be back competing this year, as he would be today. "There go our Runfurther points", I thought to myself. He's simply too fast for our own good is Stu.

The bus was a few minutes late leaving. Registration in the reading room at the Lizard, the fitting of SPORTident timing 'dibbers', the pinning on of race numbers, the longer than expected walk down to the start and the race briefing* meant that we started running 25 minutes late at 06:25. The sun had already risen and it promised to be a warm sunny day (that is until the forecast rain would arrive).

* The race briefing. When describing how to 'dib in' at the timing stations, and holding up a SPORTident timing box, the Endurancelife MC said: "You stick the knob-end in this hole here". I waited for schoolboy sniggers to ripple through the impatient throng but nary a titter was uttered. Time had obviously dragged on too much and nostalgic memories of Viz, Carry On, Ealing Comedies and various other British institutions of smut and double entendre must have been temporarily forgotten.

The briefing.

The early few miles along gently undulating grassy cliff tops lulled us into a false sense of security. The healthy head wind was nothing that a plodder couldn't take in his stride, though I didn't fancy the chances of the speedsters. I'd started reasonably near the front to avoid the early bottleneck and I was keeping up quite easily, but that can never last for more than half an hour. I was soon getting overtaken as I settled into my survival pace. Although I didn't see, I heard afterwards that someone had shot off ahead of everyone else at the start. That had to have been Stu. There's no-one else who could pull off that strategy. He would be immune to the head wind, of course.

Water station 1 at Mullion Cove (6.3mi.) was welcome but the first timing checkpoint at Church Cove (9.0mi.) would do just nicely for the first water refill and electrolyte infusion, so I pressed on.

Our first beach crossing came at Loe Bar, an impressive strip of coarse sand that separates the sea from a lake of calm water on the same level on the landward side, which must surely be salt water. A sit-down after the crossing was necessary to remove grit from shoes. How on earth do MdS runners manage?

Water station 2 at the "Nauti But Ice" emporium (15.0mi.) was very picturesque. I don't know the name of the inlet but here it is:

Nauti But Ice (off stage to the left).

The following sections induced feelings of vertigo as cliff erosion had forced the path inland, across and back down towards the sea to apparently plunge us into that frigid death fluid that cannot be breathed. Being an avowed land lubber, I suddenly felt uneasy.

It felt like walking the plank to certain death.

The path zig-zagged its way, runners dotted along its length to the horizon to bring us to the derelict mine buildings that I had spied a long time earlier across the bay.

Two of many disused mines.

A warm welcome greeted us from the supporters and relay runners waiting for their runners at the halfway checkpoint at Perranuthnoe (22.0mi.), where we solo runners had our drop bags. I'd been looking forward to this point because my 600ml of Coke had run out and I needed a refill. Martin Beale, who was waiting for his relay runner to arrive, greeted me like a long lost friend, and I wasn't even in his team. (We do go back a few Runfurther years, admittedly.) He grabbed my camera to capture some moments. Picture on right shows dibbing-in (recall the race briefing if you will).

After CP2 came the boring interminable flat section, where continuous running became too much of an effort. The flat running along the cycleway beside the railway line was like running through treacle. My running pace was others' walking pace. I got overtaken some more. I walked for some relief from the purgatory. I stopped to take pictures of the special charter train at the Penzance terminus for even more relief. It had vintage Diesel locomotives and old coaches with table lamps at the windows. I've ridden and enjoyed a few in my time. My interest was piqued, but not in the way that dibbing does, you'll understand.

After water station 3 beside Penzance bus station (26.0mi.), the Penzance festival required that we fight our way through a fairground to maintain the coastal path. The road had been closed and traffic had been replaced by joy rides, blaring music, commentary, screams and ghost train sirens.

Our ultra marathon route goes somewhere through there.

Shortly afterwards we were free and making our way towards the blessed relief of some undulations in the terrain - at last a valid excuse to walk and recover on the ups then run and let rip a little on the downs. The roads continued for a while but I didn't care because they were beginning to undulate on their way to Mousehole and CP3 at Lamorna Cove (34.0mi.), which was a long time coming.

A runner gets fed at CP3.

The route had already become mercifully rugged again. It continued in similar vein with a spot of rock climbing and boulder scrambling. The rain was beginning to threaten on the violently steep climb to the final water station at Porth Curno (39.0mi.). I loved it really. At least I wasn't getting overtaken now. The opposite was the case. Even some relay runners were now at my mercy.

I'd been playing cat and mouse with Alison until she disappeared ahead, I assumed never to be seen again until after the finish. However in the final four miles I spotted her characteristic speed walk (I have to jog to keep up) way ahead in the distance. I shuffled as best I could and slowly reeled her in. She spotted me when I was within ten yards, which encouraged her to try a bit harder and pull ahead again. Right, competition time (friendly of course). She used me as an incentive to push on and I used her as an incentive to hang on and catch up. We ended up running across the line in 10:28, together, the only way it should be. We both commented how tough the day had been. The course was so runnable much of the time, yet so rugged and steep at times as well.

Sadly there was no finish venue, no shelter, no post-race refreshment, chat or camaraderie. The local hotel and bar was closed for a special function. With half the enjoyment of doing these events denied us and everyone going their own way upon finishing, we both walked the mile back to the hostel, to a wonderful welcome back from Susie before the rain became a problem. However at 7pm by the time we emerged to go to the pub for dinner, the gale was blowing and the rain was hammering down. I felt truly thankful for the wonderful day we had enjoyed, and felt desperately sorry for the 100 mile runners who had started on Friday evening and were still out there, about to embark on their second night.

Runfurther Karen MacD soon found us in the pub and we were able to enjoy our own threesome of camaraderie, laughter and reminiscences of the day. The local crab salad with Pinot Grigio was food straight from the gods to begin the refuelling - a perfect evening to top off a perfect day.

All the pictures I took are here.


  1. What a super course, our family hols were spent in the heat of Lamorna Cove in 1976 & 77 and I aint been back since! fantastic to have the memory "jogged" so to speak :-) Congrats on 151

  2. Congratulations! Great report as well. Certainly a great but also hard race.

  3. Nice write up Nick & glad you enjoyed.
    Shame the bar was closed at Lands End - I found a bottle of beer in the tourist shop! Had a good chat & catch up with folk after though & there was a decent crowd for the prizegiving.
    I would def consider the 60 or 100 miler - stunning scenery and enjoyed seeing your photos, thanks for sharing!

  4. Hi Nick,

    Enjoyed reading this as I was one of the sorry and bedraggled 100 milers who was still out while you were in the boozer! (although I was done by 1 am thankfully)

    I believe the second picture you have on this post is Porthleven, where we started our race (looks very similar anyway), and those other pictures of the trail do look very familiar as well. I can imagine the section from Lamorna to Lands End being much more fun in daylight, we crossed that in pitch darkness, and I felt like I was constantly on the verge of going off a cliff. The Lands End Hotel was where we had our CP3, and we were actually in the room they were using for the function, so I imagine it took some work to clean up after we'd staggered through.

  5. Mike, we'll never top the arid heat of 1976 - 77.

    Oli, if the organisers had delayed the presentation by 25 minutes to allow for the delayed start, I would have made the presentation as well. (I can't imagine where they would have held it. The place looked like a ghost town with most places closed.)

    Dave, many congrats for slogging that one out to the end.

    1. Johann, I've just found your comments in spam (how very dare they). Fear not, I've educated Blogger.