Friday, 2 October 2009

ACC DAY 3 - Lelant to Lands End

My finishing position on Days 1 and 2 came as a complete surprise to me. I had wanted to finish in the top half (as I consider myself a midpacker) so to be finishing so high up was unbelievable. Despite this though I never went into the following day thinking about my positioning or where I wanted to finish. The goal was always far simpler than this, just to finish and give it my all.
It was always known that the final day was going to be different to the first two days. The terrain from Lelant to Lands End was going to be far more challenging by a factor of 10+. It was also the longest day at 28 miles partly due to an additional diversion caused by a land slide which closed the coastal path at Zennor Head.

I started Day 3 with the same routine. Getting up at 7am and polishing off two bowls of ready brek, some toast, and a coffee. Then around 9am, two hours before the start a banana and Luzocade energy drink. This kept my carb stores loaded for the rest of the day meaning I never had to worry about food whilst running, which helped a lot. After the final day course briefing where we were reminded in no uncertain terms to expect a tough time out there. We were loaded onto the mini-buses for the last time and driven to the start point in Lelant where we disembarked outside a church at 11am on a Sunday! The parishioners were somewhat taken back by the presence of 100 or so runners descending on their quiet hamlet. Yet some clapped and spoke words of great encouragement which was nice. I should add that this was the same reception we got whenever we were out on the coastal path. The locals and non-locals alike were a pleasure to meet on route so thank you to everyone who encouraged me forward.

I knew with it being the final day that I could give it my all and leave nothing in the bank, but at the same time it was going to be a long day ahead so I still had to pace it right. The start was low key just like the previous two days. No big fan fare, or a horn... not even a Ready, Steady, Go. I think there was perhaps just a GO... as we were set off on our way.

The beginning section was nice and flat as it hugged alongside the local train track. I kept my pace steady and found myself in common company with other runners that I had met and run with in the previous days. I chatted to a few which always helps to relax. Half an hour in and we soon found ourselves on the first beach of the day - Porthmin Beach in St Ives before running along the narrow cobbled streets around St Ives harbour.
Porthmin Beach

I took a call from my wife who gave me words of encouragement and then it was up to the top of St Ives watch tower before a short descent onto Porthmeor Beach and then a longer climb up onto the coast path ‘proper’. This is where the fun really began! The terrain changed from nice runnable surfaces to broken trails strewn with rocks of all shapes and sizes which made footing particularly interesting.

At this point I was running with another runner Marcus who I got speaking to around the harbour. Conversation always helps to make the miles go by faster, not that there was too much time to talk as one had to concentrate quite a lot on footing to avoid an easy slip and twisted ankle or worst. I had actually noticed Marcus towards the end of the previous day (he was the guy on the horizon I was chasing but never caught!). Marcus finished a few places ahead of me on Day 2 so I knew our pace was similar. So the game plan was to stick with him for as long as possible today. This worked a treat as we worked together to increase the gap between us and the runners behind us and reduce the gap of those in front making pretty light work of the rock strewn paths.

We followed the official diversion around Zennor Head off the coastal path and to the first check point of the day. We didn’t hang around, and followed the diversion signs back towards the coastal path. However the signs disappeared and we found ourselves trekking across rutted farm fields. We could see the Atlantic in front of us though, so despite going off course it was just a matter of time before we hit the path again, which we did dipping under a barb wire fence much to the surprise of the competing walkers that we bumped into on the path.

From here the terrain got pretty tough as the path twisted and turned, with short sharp climbs and awkward footing around the randomly placed rocks. You couldn’t run it all as it was just a maze with the path also extremely narrow in places. Despite this I was really enjoying the challenge. It was around here that we caught up with a group of four runners. These guys were obviously working very well as a team, and whilst they were slightly slower than us I was more than happy to stick behind them for a while and let them pick their way around the rocks. Eventually when there was enough room to pass, they commented that we could get past, which we politely accepted and we were once again on our way.

The miles were flying by and before long we had arrived at the 2nd checkpoint of the day which was at around 15 miles. This checkpoint jutted out over Trevean Cliff and was an impressive point to stop and get a photo taken for the album!
The sun was beating down again so I reapplied the sun lotion and got my camelback filled up to the brim. I probably spent more time at this check point than on any other on the challenge, and because of this Marcus had obviously run on as he wasn’t going to hang around on my behalf. I spent the next 5 miles trying to catch up which certainly helped to focus the mind and keep me moving forward with reason. I did get the occasional glimpse of Marcus in the distance but he was too strong a runner to be caught.
This didn’t stop me enjoying the scenery though and if anything now that I was on my own again I was able to take a few more photos than I had done in the first half of the race. Including the lighthouse at Pendeen Watch, The Enys, Pendeen New Cliff, the old Levant tin mine, and De Narrow Zawn, all of which were on the same stretch of the coastal path.
Lighthouse at Pendeen Watch
The Enys (big rock in middle of picture with Pendeen New Cliff in the background
Levant tin mine
De Narrow Zawn
Once done with the sightseeing I pressed on towards Cape Cornwall and down to the last check point of the day. I caught another glimpse of Marcus before he disappeared over the next hill. From here you could see Lands End in the far distance but despite what the check point marshall said about it being 5 or so miles left to go I estimated it must have been nearer 7 or 8.

I kept telling myself that it wasn’t far to go. I would normally cruise such a distance in my lunch hour, but this wasn’t my lunch hour and with 22 miles already in the legs not to mention the 50 or so miles from the previous two days I was obviously starting to feel it. The terrain didn’t let up either and involved a lot more up and down especially around Carn Leskys and Carn Gribba which I took slow and steady. Despite being so close now to the finish line my morale was the lowest it had been throughout the Challenge. I don’t know exactly why... I should have been overjoyed having got so far, especially after learning from a competing walker on the path that I was in 6th place for the day, but somehow at the time this didn’t matter. All I could do was just to keep going however much I wanted to stop.
Smiling through the pain... Lands End in the background

I eventually got to Whitesand Bay in Lands End where the coastal path continued on sand for a short stretch before winding down into the town. From there it was another climb back up above the town where I took this photo before the final mile marker for Lands End.
Upon reaching the top of the last ascent and getting more words of encouragement from a local I finally saw the finish banner. I would normally sprint finish most races but not this one... I picked up the pace slightly and crossed the finish line!! YES!! I’d finished in a time of 5hrs 46mins (6th fastest of the day) and completed 27.97miles in the process. My photo was taken with Ben Mason – Race Director and I got my Cornish pasty and trophy. Hooray I did it!
My family arrived only minutes later just missing my finish as I couldn’t get a mobile signal on my approach to Lands End to inform them of my earlier than predicted arrival. But all that mattered was that they were here now.
A very proud daddy and daughter

My aims when starting out on the Challenge were to complete it, enjoy the journey along the way, take in the amazing scenery, meet new people, and test myself to my limits running further in three days than I had ever done before. I managed to do all these things, and the icing on an extremely tasty cake (‘Rocky Road’ flavour!) was that I finished in 9th position overall on the Challenge with a total time of 14hrs 56minutes. I have to be mighty happy with that!!

Thanks to the Mad Dog for all his wisdom whilst in training for this, and to Coach Ken for his continued support across the other side of the Atlantic on his podcast show Running Stupid. And to my wife for her continued support and understanding of my crazy running stunts.

So what next?? Well I received confirmation only this week of my place in first Virgin London Marathon next year. However I have bigger plans than this and have entered the Devon 100 ultra run (North coast of Devon to South coast) which falls on the same weekend as the London Marathon next April. So my training now begins for that but not before I put my feet up (and my swollen ankle) for a week or two first :-D
Lands End


  1. I think you pretty much summed it up on the difficulty and scenery of the course. Strong run and fantastic finishing position. 100 miler! Enjoy, that will be a great challenge. Though after something like this I guess you just have to keep thinking of ways to top it really, I'm making some big plans myself, not sure what yet. Hope that ankle is ok?

  2. That's a great account, Stu. You're certainly going for it with this ultra running, and getting some good successes in the process. Make sure you let yourself heal with some good rest.
    Looking forward to meeting you again next April at the Devon 100.

  3. nick - if not before...! let me know what you are up to and perhaps we can get some training races in! i'm thinking about the tring to town event in January perhaps.. 40 miles each way on sat and sun (80 in total) might be too much in training but will definitely do one way for sure...

  4. Nah, too flat and boring. The legs wouldn't like it. I'll probably be doing many of the Vasque events again. Other than those I'm unlikely to be venturing too far south. Sorry.
    I will be doing the Scottish Hundred in May and the UTMB in August. I also have my name in the hat for Western States in June but the chances of getting in now through the lottery are slim. I'm reserving judgment on whether I do the Lakeland 100 in July, and whether five hundreds in five months might take the edge off my already mediocre performance.