Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Arc of Attrition 100 Mile 2019 - Is it ok to DNF?

We have to scroll back in time a little to actually this time last year, I should've been standing on the start line to the Arc of Attrition 2018. Instead I was about to sail for a short notice 5 month deployment which as some of you know ended up a 10 month deployment instead. 

As I was sailing down the Bay of Biscay, I was envious of those racing around the coastline. Knowing that should've been me. Alas it wasn't! I had to defer my place and hope I'd be around for 2019. 

Rolling forward I came home end of November 2018 and whilst trying to give back some valuable family time, I also had to plan in some quality training for the Arc. Yes I had been running whilst away, but I hadn't had the quality training this event requires. It may have been too little too late, but I was going to give it a good damn go! 

Out on the CP for my first recce run
Having sat down with my wife, we worked out when best to get down to Cornwall and do some recce training runs. So I cracked on with my training in and around family time, before Xmas and then when January came off we went down to Cornwall for 3 weekends on the bounce. 

The paths were looking good over the three weekends,  testing out my kit went pretty well and I had my plan formulating. I did have a few niggles with my left calf, but I was managing it. 

During one of my recce runs, around the Kynance Cove area, I took the wrong path and ended up wasting time trying to get across, boggy lumpy marsh type land. I said to myself "right, don't take that one next time as it will be during the race, follow the path around closer to the coast line"

Sometimes on the South West Coastal Path, you could take the wrong path easily if not concentrating and you can waste a lot of time correcting yourself. 

With my recce runs out of the way, I was duty the weekend before and was able to give my left calf a rest the best I could. I had some fun times during the training, but did get some confidence issues. I'd been out of the long distance game for about a year thanks to work last year and my mental game wasn't up to scratch and it was something I would need to conquer soon or it might screw me over. Also knowing there would be people wanting me to fail as well, was also playing on my mind and I needed to make sure they'd not get too much in into my head during the race. 

How can you not love these trails?
Race weekend soon came round quickly, and I had to sort myself getting down to Redruth where my parents lived and where I was staying. My son was still in School back in Plymouth and didn't finish til 1pm on the Friday. So my support crew aka my wife wasn't able to crew me until she got down straight after picking him up from school and dropping at him at my parents on the way. This meant the first 3 hours ish I'd be with out a crew, I prepared for that kit wise and mentally wise. 

Thursday afternoon I got the train down, I took  with just some of my kit as well as the mandatory kit I was to race with. As we approached Redruth the weather had gone from rain to heavy snow. Suddenly this threw a lot of issues in the works, had I got the right shoes with me to start with? Had I enough warm clothes to race in? I had to to try and block that out my mind. 

It also got to the stage that I thought I may have to walk to registration just over two miles away as the roads might have been too bad for a car. Loads of people had issues on the roads traveling down, some didn't even get to the start sadly. That was my main goal, get to that start line. It didn't matter really after that, I just had to get to the start line. I really felt sorry for the organisers Mudcrew, although they always want the weather challenging, it usually storms not snow blizzards. It caused logistical nightmares!

I made it to registration, luckily the sun came out and thawed the roads enough for my parents to drive me there. Suddenly, I started seeing friendly faces  I've not seen in a while and my heart warmed up. With a hug from Jane Stephens one of the RD's for the race, followed by others I felt so happy. This was my happy place and I was back in it!

Snowfall in Redruth WTF?
After registration I went back for some food and tried to get a good night sleep. I slept pretty well, and because I registered the night before I was in no rush in the morning. My running pack was packed, clothes ready to go on and my parents dropped me down to the start. 

There was some snow still on the ground, it was cold and the wind made it feel colder. However I was surrounded by more friendly faces, and more hugs, handshakes and smiles were coming my way as I met and greeted friends who were either running, crewing or helping with the race. That's one thing I find with this discipline of the sport, the friendships made are amazing. I've turned up to 10K races before in the past and I may meet someone I know, but most of the time you are just a face in the crowd, you run, you finish, you go home. With these type of events, you see friends, you catch up, you make new friends, and then that friendship continues on regardless of how long it is until you see them again at another event if you don't see them in between. I love this type of relationship with other runners of this discipline. 


Jane and Fergie two out of the 3 RD's. 
I digress, so I got my tracker fitted by Richard from Racedrone. It was good to catch up with him briefly also, after which all of us gathered for our race safety brief. I had a joke with Fergie one of the RD's about reversing the course and telling everyone just to see their faces, but alas he never did. After our race brief, we all got on to the 4 buses that was provided and we were off on our way to the start line in Coverack. 

The start line was busy, music playing, everyone getting those last minute selfies prior to big the off. Fergie, introduced the top 5 male and female runners for the race. It was an exciting start line for sure. 

Soon start music was blaring, drums were banging and we were awaiting the horns to set us off. It wasn't long before those horns sounded, we were off down the and along the road. Smoke flares blowing in the wind as we ran past spectators and crews cheering us off. This was it, I took a big breathe in and said to myself "Let's get this done"

At the Race HQ prior to starting
My support crew wasn't going to appear until further down the course, so I set in my mind to just do what I can, manage my fluid intake and keep pushing on. As long as she got there at some point in the first section I would be ok. 

As soon as we started to leave the Coverack area, we hit our first diversion on the path. This took us up and away a little from the actual path via a steep climb, but wasn't a major diversion as such more a pain in the arse especially so early on in the race, as it was narrow and we soon were bunched up. 

Eventually though, as the miles started to tick off, we all opened from each other with some breathing space but able to see each other ahead to follow. I was on plan, and things were going alright. I was in a happy place and making head way. The weather to start with was pretty good, but the path was not as good as it had been during my recce runs. It was sticky and slippy mud, and my first error was noticed. 

Myself and fellow Muskie Sarah (she's bloody great!) pic taken by Carl Champion
I chose to start the race in the Saucony Peregrines because the path had been pretty reasonable prior. I could only take one pair down with as I couldn't carry spares on me during the run and my others were being brought down. I was keeping my more aggressive lugged Koa's for when I reached Land's End knowing they would be fair better for that section afterwards.

So already in the sticky mud, my lugs on my shoes were full of mud, so I couldn't get the traction I needed. I wasn't how ever going to let this put me down. I cracked on, up and down the hills as best I could. The temp warmed up a little and some runners took off a layer, I however was comfortable enough and didn't remove my jacket. I knew it would get colder soon enough and it would save me precious time not having to put it back on again. 

I then had a company for a little while, in the form of a lovely Swedish runner called Lupita. We had some conversation, and I assisted her in directions through a cove. Soon enough though she was off ahead and eventually I was by myself. No one in front or behind for a while, I was alone. Something I trained for during my recce runs was lone running. I enjoy company and if I get some it's a bonus. However knowing I was more than likely going to be alone for majority of the race, I needed to be mentally prepared so despite having offers of training with others during recce's, I decided I needed to be use to being on my own. It worked for the duration of my race anyway. 

Eventually I made it to Lizard Point about 11 miles in my left calf was a little sore, nothing major, but I was a head of my plan schedule by about 15 minutes at this point. I needed a bottle filled, so the Marshalls filled a bottle up and put one of my sachets of Tailwind Nutrition I had in. It was going to be another couple of miles yet before I hopefully get to see my crew. 

I cracked on to Kynance Cove, trying to make good progress where I could. I saw a friend who happened to be one of the No Limits Photographers doing pictures for Raidlight the sponsor of the event along the way. I gave her a hug and thanked Harriet for being out (I know she had to be but that hug is what I needed to keep me in a good place). 
At Kynance Cove having just met my support crew. Pic taken by Mudcrew appointed Photographers
I made it to Kynance Cove and as expected my support crew was there, with bottles ready to change, so I had fresh bottles to get me to the next meeting point at Mullion Cove. I was doing ok at this point. As I made my way after Kynance Cove I soon came to a point where I messed up during a recce run. I saw the path I took last time which was wrong, I knew it was wrong so I then went with what I thought should be correct. I said during the recce don't take that path during the race, as it took me over marshy boggy land and would slow me down. So I followed another path closer to the edge of the coastline and it started to lead me down and around. I saw what looked a foot path as I went round and thought is this the path, it wasn't quite right, but didn't want to stop and waste time or head back and waste time. It was when I looked up and noticed I was at the bottom of a sheer cliff side. "Fuck" I'm such a dick. I missed the correct path as I ran round and cocked it up again! I gathered my thoughts which were over the place, and had to decide whether to go back which would cost me time, or climb straight up in hope to find the path. Thing is I was slowly gaining on the runner in front I could see him on the other side of the cove, and not only had I wasted time, I had cocked up catching him up. 

I decided to climb the side of the cliff back up, it was horrific, I found the correct path and I had lost about 45 minutes to the error. I knew the race was over, I'd be chasing time instead of time chasing me, but I knew I could scrape through the CP1 cut off and see how far I could get before being pulled. I had to control my thoughts, and get on with the job. 

Pushing on earlier in the race. Pic taken by Mudcrew appointed photographers
I then pushed on as hard as I could. I got to Mullion Cove 18 miles in and my support crew was at the top waiting. I passed by one of the Mobile Marshal Crew at the top first, it was Daz a runner from my club. He checked I was ok, he was wrapped up trying to keep warm, the Arc Angels out and about were amazing. The weather had turned and wasn't pretty any more. I had a quick change of bottles, picked up my poles and made my way onwards. 

My crew continuing to meet me along the way, changing bottles if needs be and some Cola if I wanted. The sun was going down, so as I knew my race was over, I quickly took a picture as it went down , so I had something positive to take away from the race. It was beautiful and it's what brings me to the path often. 

I made my way to Loe Bar (a beach section) and crossed the sand to the right side of the fence as directed in the Race Brief. I wasn't that far from CP1 now, it was dark my head torch on. I made my way up the diversion to the top of the hill and headed towards Porthleven. 

I was about a mile out, and saw time was getting close, so I picked up the pace. I hit the tarmac and it was getting closer to the cut off. I was determined to get there. I was flying now down the road into Portleven. I reached the Arc Valets waiting on the corner, they shouted I had 5 minutes to get to the CP. I carried on with my fast pace, I was blowing hard. I had one of the Arc Valets running with me. Soon I had a few Arc Angels around me, encouraging me on. I went past my support crew, who grabbed my poles of me as I ran. I went passed the previous old CP1 (I would've made the cut off had it not moved from here) and was disappointed for a moment as I ran passed it LOL. I was told we had to run up a hill to the CP1, so I turned up the hill and gave what I could. It was hard! I looked at my watch, I was told it was only 100m to go (it wasn't it was more like 400m) and I had 30 secs left. I couldn't do it, so I slowed to a walk. I saw other runners on the way back out from CP1 continuing on to the course and wished them well and good luck. For me I knew it was over, I was a minute over the time and that was it. I had run 26 miles and gave everything but it wasn't good enough. I felt good, I could've done more and wanted to do more but knew that was that. I walked in the CP1 and saw Jane one of the RD's and got a hug.
Just got to a top of another climb and shocker someone there to take a pic whilst your blow out of your arse. Pic taken by Mudcrew appointed photographers

I gave back my tracker and drank a cup of tea and had some soup. Although my race was over, I was ok about it. This is my 3rd DNF in 7 years, first was at my first ever Ultra, 2nd was the 2017 RAT Plague which I attempted after finishing my North Wales to South Wales attempt the day before. So it's not a new thing, and I've learnt from each of them. This one was ok, I was pulled from the race for being rubbish not because I gave up. 

Me and the wife left the CP and I caught up with two friends having some food whilst they were in the middle of crewing another friend. It was lovely to catch up with them, and the kind words Sarah and Anthony gave me afterwards was nice and I knew then I was in a good place. 

Myself and Lupita. Pic taken by Mudcrew appointed photographer
So that was it, Arc of Attrition 100 mile over. I ran a marathon of it, cocked it up and now I have to just get on and focus on future events. Will I return? I hope so. I enjoyed myself out there and that is what I wanted from it. I reached two of my goals - the start line and CP1 so I have easily something to improve on for sure. Is it ok to DNF? I think so, when an event has a high DNF rate like the Arc has, there is nothing to feel bad about DNF'ing. There were many reasons runners fell short of the finish, the adventure to the start line made them worthy of being there, everything else is a bonus. I was so pleased to see some of my friends reach that finish line, one made me shed a little tear. Mark Evans who had attempted 4 times prior finally crossed that Arc finish line. All of us were so happy to hear that news. 

The course record was broken by Kim Collinson who ran it in 20hrs 43 mins and 46 secs, beating 4 time winner Steve Wyatt. The Female record was also broken by Laura Swanton. 

To all the runners whether you finished or not, you all amaze me and thank you for being on the start line with me. Thank you to Jane, Fergie and Andy all the Angels, Valets and Marshals. Mudcrew events are something special.

So now my next event is the London Marathon, if I end up cliff climbing on that I really have cocked things up!!

Thank you to my support crew Cathy aka the wife for doing what you do for me out on these courses. Thank you to Tailwind Nutrition and Uglow Sports for the continued support. 

Until next time



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