Look around and you’ll spot something which has become a virtual version of its former self.
Fitness classes performed at home. A screen full of fellow Zumba or Yoga enthusiasts has become common place. In fact, Nicky signing up for a Pilates class has meant that, 10 months after everybody else, we started to do battle with Zoom! Has it been a success? The jury is out! On week two we managed to work out how to enable the instructor to see Nicky as she contorted herself into the unlikely poses. Week three seems to have slipped by without it being mentioned!
Schooling, of course, is now delivered in multiple ways, and, in my humble opinion, teachers and school staff need bloomin’ medals for the work they’ve done these last ten months or so. Us grown ups too can be schooled via WhatsApp or tested online – Nicky has had dozens of video call piano lessons on her ‘phone and even passed her virtual performance Grade I. That was featured in one of my blogs trying to find the positives from 2020. The rate she’s already progressing, she may well be troubling the scorers for Grade II before you know it.
Job interviews, whole work places even, house viewings, trips to the zoo, literary festivals, so many of us have found, and enjoyed, innovative ways of still experiencing as much of life as possible via the internet.
We’ve already looked at the virtual world of books and book shops, so let’s have a dig into my other hobby and passion, running.
You’d think running was something which really can’t be replicated at home, well that isn’t necessarily so…..
Aside from people running marathons in their gardens, climbing Everest on the stairs or completing half marathons on their balconies, there is an (admittedly expensive) way of replicating running challenges without leaving the building. You’ll need a swanky treadmill and a computer and then you can run in the virtual world of Zwift.
We do have the cycling version here ourselves, as Nicky tries to keep her mileage up. Obviously it’s a bit easier with cycling as you can put your actual bike in a turbo trainer, far less cumbersome, and certainly more portable than a treadmill.
And then there are virtual events. Using apps, links to training programs and websites, smart watches or just good old honesty, we have been able to take part in events with others whilst running alone. As I put together my series of features onrunning events companies, I’ve been learning just what lengths some have gone to in creating virtual challenges.
Running clubs too are hosting virtual relays and time trial challenges. It not only gives members something to focus their training on, but also keeps people communicating in these anxious and sometimes lonely times.
I listen to a podcast, Running Commentary, presented by two stand up comedians, Rob Deering and Paul Tonkinson. Deering went all in and did the Great North Run virtual event and also the London Marathon. These events had the added technical challenge of everybody running at the same time! His reports on the two events were great episodes. Particularly the marathon, a huge achievement at any time, never mind without the usual London crowds or fellow competitors.
I’ve found myself clicking the enter now button for distance and elevation challenges. Mostly, it has to be said, from the quirky and quite excellent Bys Vyken. The Cornish event organiser has created a series of challenges during the pandemic, each with a back story related to the region. I’m currently about a third of the way through their GOAT 2 challenge (and three quarters of the way through Lamps On Lockdown too). The combination of these two virtual events means I’m often out running the local hills during the hours of darkness.
Do I miss doing events in the flesh. Oh my yes. Our road trips with our ‘team mate’ Martin are such adventures. The middle aged banter in the car, some coffee and more giggles waiting for the start are so much part of the experience. Bumping into regular faces at the types of trail events we tend to prefer give them a real community feel. Yes, yes, yes, we miss those days.
I’ve avoided any ‘see how fast you can go’ type of virtual event, but I can see the attraction for those who still enjoy training to better their previous times or win the bragging rights over a running nemesis. I’d rather ignore the watch and just keep enjoying my running on the trails we’re lucky enough to have on our doorstep.
It is no secret that Nicky and I love our trips to Cornwall. We’ve tackled some truly amazing events in the county. Mudcrew have hosted much of our fondly remembered Cornish running. It was my great pleasure to catch up with Andrew Ferguson (Ferg) and Jane Stephens who make up ⅔ of the Mudcrew team.
Mudcrew’s Black RAT (32 miles) was the first event I’d ever done in Cornwall. That was back in 2015. My beautiful lady wife had successfully completed the Red RAT (20 miles) in 2014 and absolutely loved it. The RAT (or Roseland August Trail) was also the first ever Mudcrew event, in 2011. That first year saw the 32 and 20 miles versions plus an 11 mile, White RAT.
The RAT festival of trail running has expanded to now include The Plague (the whole of the Black RAT in both directions!). 2019 saw the introduction of BOYD24 (Bring Out Your Dead), 24 hours of repeating the brutal last section of the RAT course. Truly for the lion hearted!
Mudcrew is headed by Ferg, Jane and Andy Trudge. Jane was the last to join the team after co-founder Jo Lake went on to new challenges.
The first RAT was an ambitious undertaking with coach transport for nearly 500 people to three different start locations and 32 miles of coast path to be marked and checked. Ferg was relieved that the first year was such a great success and made the effort that had gone into creating it worthwhile.
“It was a huge learning curve though. I didn’t finish marking the course until 5AM the day of the event, I was exhausted before the day even started.”
There weren’t the number of trail events companies that we are now spoiled with back then. Those that did exist were putting on some epic events, most of which Ferg had taken part in. Yet he felt that there was scope to add a bit more to event day than these early companies were offering.
“Although they were commercial pioneers, we thought the events lacked passion…….. We wanted to put on a party afterwards, with camping, so that everyone could chill and enjoy a social evening together….. The RAT afterparty is now legendary.”
Social media was in its infancy back then and the Mudcrew team were out there using the old school method of handing flyers to runners at other races. At The Grizzly (an epic trail race in East Devon) they tucked 1000 leaflets under car windscreen wipers. As the success of that first RAT proved, Ferg’s belief that they were offering something new and different was lapped up by the trail running community.
Jane was already a fan by the time she joined the team:
“I ran the Black Rat in 2014 and became hooked on off road stuff! MudCrew had been going for a couple of years when I came on board, so I was lucky enough to join an existing company with a great following. Apart from helping out at club level, I was fairly new to the game. My first event as part of the team was the RAT in 2015…… it was amazing, I was so glad I took the plunge.”
Andy, Jane and Ferg have naturally found how their individual strengths help the Mudcrew team work so effectively. Ferg points to Andy’s exceptional organisational skills:
“Andy is quietly behind the scenes doing all the crucial stuff, dealing with permissions, councils, timing and safety, financials, all the real important stuff that I would be terrible at!”
Ferg takes responsibility for the course and crew, plus their social media whilst Jane is, as Ferg explains:
“..super organised, the smiling front face of the company, she lives and breathes Mudcrew and the sport.”
Jane tells me how when it comes to race day, the team effort culminates in the incredible experience us runners are treated to:
“During the event we work very much as a team, doing what needs doing. Ferg tends to stay out on the course and Andy and I look after race HQ. I deal with the finish line and awards etc. “
Mudcrew’s other flagship event is the Arc Of Attrition. A winter 100 ultra marathon, ran entirely on the South West Coast. It is both revered and feared. With good reason. The finish rate is around 50% in a good year! A 50 mile race has been added to the weekend in recent years. Sharing a finish line with the 100 and starting on the stage of the iconic Minack Theatre, it is no ‘baby’ ultra marathon!
The ARC has been digging itself into my brain since I first learned of its existence back in 2015. I even wrote a piece (here) about how I would *never* entertain such a challenge…..
I had a place in the ARC 50 for this year. I was taking it very seriously, I’ve run recees on the whole course and was training hard. Like so many of us, my challenges are on hold, which is obviously frustrating, but health must be our priority. The amount of work Mudcrew put into creating these events means these frustrations must be tenfold for them.
As a competitor I’d been kept informed about the incredible lengths to which Jane and the team had gone in order to make the event Covid safe:
“We had an incredible plan ready for the Arc that was really tricky to get right but the latest lockdown meant it was impossible.”
Both Jane and Ferg say that their favourite memories as race organisers are all about seeing those final runners through the finish line on both the RAT and the ARC. On a personal level, Jane also treasures the moment she got to present her own daughter with a RAT trophy.
Jane and Ferg are proud of the standing and reputation their events have earned in the trail running and ultra marathon communities.
Ferg, as will we learn later, is a fan of the big ultra marathons around the world and is chuffed to link The ARC to that world.
“I’m most proud that the RaidLight Arc 100 is now made it to Western States Qualification status. It was a personal ambition of mine for the race”
Janes ambitions for Mudrew are simply:
“To continue to grow our flagship events and to be a name known everywhere synonymous with great races!”
Ferg agrees, also pointing out that they have plans to extend the scope of their latest event to be announced, The South West Traverse. This will hopefully be the next event they host, if Covid risks and restrictions are sufficiently reduced by then.
As well as celebrating every single finisher in their events, the level of elite athletes who seem to be drawn to Cornwall to take these challenges is also a source of much pride.
Both Jane and Ferg say it can be frustrating when some participants don’t understand the work that goes into their events, sometimes bombarding them with queries when they are at their most busy, in the days immediately before race day. Or indeed afterwards, when they finally allow fatigue to take over:
“One of the busiest times for emails/ questions is immediately after a event when all you want to do/ can do is sleep … we can go 3 nights without sleep (or very little sleep) on the Arc sometimes.”
Mudcrew has quite a large loyal army of volunteers who help make race days so special, the ARC Angels are credited by many runners as the reason they managed to complete the event. Jane too says that their crew are the reason the events are so successful. She also has the support of her husband who, along with her daughter, make each event a genuine family affair. Although she does say “The thing I miss the most is being able to take part!”
In fact, carrying on the family theme, when asked who inspires her most Jane replies:
“My daughter and my close running friends.”
Jane is also grateful to the support Mudcrew have received during the most challenging of years for events organisers:
“It has been an extremely difficult year granted, but I love how supportive the running community has been on the whole. Sometimes difficult decisions have to be made (with cancellations of the RAT and the ARC particularly). It is made a little easier when you get messages supporting our decision.“
Ferg also draws inspiration from local running legends such as Jo Meek and Paul Maskell.
“Definitely Jo Meek , a good friend who has raced at the very highest level seemingly forever. She continues to train like a ninja and is as competitive today as ever … she shows no sign of slowing down or losing her zest for the sport“
“Paul Maskell is a GB 24 hour team runner who manages to mix training with family and a full time air ambulance paramedic job. 24 hour track running is by far and away the hardest discipline in the sport of ultra running, I have crewed enough of them to see how it has broken the very best in the UK.”
Mudcrew haven’t offered any virtual events during this challenging time, letting others fill that gap in our race plans. Ferg doesn’t find himself tempted to get involved but Jane has completed a few in the last year to keep her motivation levels up. She wasn’t able to create a “Lockdown gym” though, as her garage doubled as the Mudcrew store.
Both Jane ane Ferg are clearly motivated runners, as we discover whilst delving into their impressive trail and ultra marathon accomplishments.
Like so many of us of a certain age, they both came to this wonderful sport relatively late. Ferg, around the age of 40, had finished his football career and was looking to fill that void:
“I missed the social aspect and the exercise when I was too old to play anymore. I quickly found out that I was never going to be fast and that I soon got fed up with road marathons. I got into the trail ultra scene in the early days, around 2007. I did the very first Classic Quarter when there were only 18 entrants. I loved it and quickly got addicted to distance trail running.”
Jane seems to be equally addicted, she started her running journey almost 10 years ago and her glittering array of achievements in that time is extraordinary:
“I started running in 2011 and ran my first marathon in 2013. I then ran the Black Rat in 2014 and became hooked on off road stuff!
I have run approximately 75 marathons and ultras to date.”
Amongst this eye watering list of achievements is the 145 mile long Grand Union Canal race, which she rates as her proudest achievement to date. Jane has completed both the 100 and 50 mile versions of Centurion Running’s South Downs Way events saying the 50 is probably her favourite – “I loved the 50 because it was the second half of the 100, but in daylight!”
Ferg enjoys most of the local events, he tends to support them all. I’ve bumped into him at quite a few over the years. He gets frustrated at the lack of passion he finds at some events, but has high praise for some of the South West’s epic trail races:
“The Grizzly, which I’ve done at least 15 times…. As a Race Director I can see what a massive amount of work goes into it, with a mind boggling number of runners. I also really like Bys Vyken events such as the Cousin Jack, I love the passion which David puts in (Bys Vyken RD, see my interview with him here).”
Ferg has also completed the Grand Union Canal Race as well as an ever growing list of epic events from across Europe and beyond. These include such classics as The Spine Race, Leadville 100 and The Golden Ring 100 in Russia.
“I love to combine the sport with travel and have done several other major and low key events in Europe and beyond.”
These adventures are on hold for now. Jane and Ferg both have grand plans for 2021 if health and restrictions allow. Jane has her place in the legendary Marathon des Sables held back from last year, while Ferg has his eye on The Dragon’s Back multi day race in September. Along the way he is hoping to race in Spain and The Azores with further trips to South Africa and Thailand at the end of the year.
One fantastic Mudcrew event neither Jane and Ferg have mentioned is The Scrooge. Sadly the venue is no longer available for this Christmas trail running extravaganza. Many in the trail running community, particularly Nicky and myself, have very fond memories of dressing up in festive costumes and joining Andy, Ferg and Jane for some festive fun in Mevagissey.
“Lots of questions, but to be honest I needed no time to think in answering them.”
David Andrewartha, Race Director at Bys Vyken Events and Cornish Trails
In the next of my articles looking at the characters which make up our fabulous trail running scene here in the South West, we head across The Tamar into Cornwall.
Bys Vyken, a truly Cornish phrase, used as slang to mean anything positive but is from Kernow Bys Vyken meaning Cornwall forever.
Bys Vyken is in its 5th year of existence now. It feels like a gift to us trail runners. Founder, owner and race director, David Andrewartha created the company as a result of a rhetorical challenge from the organiser of a local race.
David had been running for about a year. Actually, he knows exactly how long:
“April 7th to be exact. I remember it better than my first kiss! My then partner (now wife) was nagging at me to join her for a run for almost 6 months. Eventually I gave in and ran for about 3 or 4 miles.”
During the next year he trained harder and harder in an attempt to beat a running friend, eventually managing this at a local race. I won’t repeat the phrase David used to describe how hard he had pushed himself, but it did result in him ducking under the finishing funnel tape to relieve himself of his breakfast.
“Lucky Charms…… yes, the cornerstone of any nutritional start to a day.”
Sadly, this led to confusion when the results were published. David found himself placed behind his friend and nemesis, prompting him to message the organisers to see if this could be rectified. The reply he received simply said “I’d like to come to the next race YOU organise”. As you will read, David likes a challenge….
The opportunity arose the following March with Bys Vyken’s inaugural event, The Cousin Jack Classic. Hosted on St Piran’s day, David used the event to raise funds for a local Christmas light fund. He had 100 runners through word of mouth and social media, and the most Cornish of events was born.
The Cousin Jack has now grown to become a legendary trail running event. It is a celebration of everything Cornish, particularly the incredible Tin Coast and its mining heritage. Little Jack is as tough a 10km race as you could find, the Classic itself at 18 miles, now starts at the iconic Miners’ Chapel in St Just. The Cousin Jack Ultra meanwhile tackles the whole route in both directions.
I dragged myself through the 35 mile Cousin Jack Ultra in 2019, read about that here. This year (2020) I volunteered at the event and my beautiful wife, Nicky, ran the Classic and we made a little video.
From that first event David has tried to immerse his runners in the magical atmosphere and history of his home county.
“I have maintained my passion and enthusiasm for Cornwall through every single event, giving runners something that nobody else sees or does in the county.”
At the time of writing, Bys Vyken are about to host their first live event (Dec 12th) since The Cousin Jack back at the end of February. Fordh Sen Mighal is 11.5 miles of road and trails following the St Michael’s Way from Lelant to Marazion. The route follows the UK’s only Designated Route Of Culture and, like The Cousin Jack, it is quite wonderfully Cornish. And if The Cousin Jack takes your fancy, entries for 2021 are now open.
Staying motivated has been challenging for David. He has so far had to cancel or postpone 5 events and it has been a brutally tough year financially. As he explains, the way he runs Bys Vyken is more about what it gives to us runners than what it gives back (financially).
“Being an RD doesn’t get you steak and a Tesla when you run your business with your heart and not your head. Again, nobody gives more than me in this county and race after race it becomes even more of a proven fact. This is because giving people a couple of hours to forget about their shit means more to me than taking them for every penny and milking them for all they have. I never organise a race I’d not want to do myself.”
As lockdown arrived in March, David admits to a few days of dropping his head and fearing the future, “sulking” as he puts it. But then he started thinking about how offering virtual events might help keep his loyal customers motivated. He created events such as Laps In Lockdown, Dark Clyde Of The Moon and The Goat (I waxed lyrical about this here). This served to cushion some of the financial blow and supported local charities too.
Bys Vyken’s mascots have become stuff of legend amongst the South West’s trail runners, and using them as the face of events has helped raise £4000 for The Eve Appeal (in memory of David’s Mum). Being a man who likes a psychological challenge to accompany the physical effort, he also ran a marathon in his garden!
If you’re quick, there may still be places in Smiling’s My Favourite, Bys Vyken’s Christmas Day virtual challenge.
Let’s go back to April 7th 2014. David was, by his own admittance, not in the best of shape:
“I was almost 15 stone and had many habits which were not correlative with being an athlete! My first achievement in running was simply getting off my fat ass and taking the first step to becoming a better person.”
Quitting smoking, drinking and mixing with the ‘wrong crowd’, along with other habits which maybe aren’t compatible with a healthy lifestyle have all played their part in contributing to becoming that better person he talks about. There have been many lows along the way and he has suffered existential crises and at his worst moments has found himself questioning everything.
David is very keen to credit those who have given him hope and reason at these low times. Most recently, Colin and Laura from Run Venture Running Hub.
“They pulled me up from circling the drain during this time and gave me a job, which doesn’t just help with the bills, but helps with my head too.”
He describes Colin as the Brian Cox of independent running stores and is thoroughly enjoying working there. Colin and Laura are definitely the sort of characters I’d like to feature in this series.
Before we move on to David’s own running achievements and ambitions, I should let him answer, in his own words, the question, “What is your proudest moment as a race director?”
“My proudest RD moment is every moment I’m an RD because I get to do it with my best friend. My wife. Sally is the heartbeat of Bys Vyken because she’s my motivation to wake up in the morning. Without her I would never have been a runner and without her I’d probably not be passionate about anything.”
Not a dry eye in the house.
As for running, where do we start. How about the quirky? David has completed the Southend Pier Marathon (that’s 11 times up and down the pier), the Shepton Mallet Prison Marathon (just the 78 laps of 2 wings and an exercise yard) and, naturally, The Multi-Story Car Park Marathon (I dread to think!).
“The organisation and the love and passion from the marathons helped me to discover myself and combat my own mental health.”
The Endurance Life Classic Quarter and White Rose 100 are amongst the other highlights of a rather full and varied palmares.
His proudest running achievement so far came this year, during Storm Alex. Having trained harder than ever, he became only the 5th person (and first Cornishman) to run the entire Chesil Beach from West Bay to Portland. (He beat the time of the previous runner to complete it, which is the source of much satisfaction!)
Is he finished with that then? Nope:
“My next ambitions in running are to spend 24 hours on Loe Bar and to be the first person to run Chesil both ways.”
David’s ambitions for Bys Vyken are uncertain. The accumulating debt and increasing number of people jumping on the bandwagon are making the future look less sustainable. We runners can only support Bys Vyken’s events and hope that there is a bright and long future ahead for the most Cornish of Cornish running experiences
For me, the fact that Bys Vyken offer that depth of local passion and history (as well as the most stunning places to run) will hopefully mean that David and Sally will be the first choice when runners are choosing their Cornish Trail adventures.
Let’s have the last word from David. Those of us luckily to know him will have noticed that he wears his heart on his sleeve, speaks his mind (like it or lump it!), can be industrial with his language and lives life like he means every second of it. I was never expecting political correctness when interviewing David (and there has been some editing!) but it has been a joy to get a feel for the passion he puts into creating a special Cornish day for any of us that take on one of Bys Vyken’s events.
“So what, David, has being a race director brought to YOU?”
“Being an RD has brought me people I’ll always love and people I’ll probably never like. But both kinds of people spur me on to remain a better human that will never spiral back to those pre running days where falling asleep in a Tesco bag I’d just thrown up in was the highlight of my weekend.”
Nicky was right to double check. 3.30am really isn’t early morning, is it? More late night.
Tucked in our rented barn near Hayle, we listened to the rain batter the roof lights. The farm’s wind turbine was getting plenty of encouragement from the brewing storm to provide fuel with. “WHOOSH. WHOOSH.” it rhythmically insisted. The accompanying, constant whine from its motor completed the orchestra.
We did sleep eventually. But 3.30am comes around so quickly.
Shower, muesli and strong coffee and I was ready for battle.
It Takes Two (or three)
My inspiration, my world, my whole reason. That’s Nicky. Regular readers will know that my beautiful, amazing wife truly is the heart and soul of everything I do.
Nicky was ready for battle too. She has left the marathons and ultra marathons alone this year in order to concentrate on her ironman ambitions.
So instead of competing, Nicky was ready for scrambling under electric fences, abandoning the car in random locations and appearing at some of the most remote and inhospitable vantage points on the Tin Coast.
Our intrepid Border Terrier, Charlie, by her side.
And They’re Off
Bys Vyken Events‘ Cousin Jack Ultra (35 miles) set off from The Surf House on The Island, St Ives at 5.30am. A trail of head torches and tail lights snaking across Porthmeor Beach under a cloudless sky. (I know it was a trail of lights as I was right at the back so I could see all of my fellow runners!)
17.5 miles away, Cape Cornwall, in all its raw, bleak, midwinter glory, awaited us.
Our mission was to conquer this most inaccessible, isolated, desolate chunk of the South West Coast Path.
And then turn around. And conquer it all again.
Let There Be Light
A flicker of my head torch, as dawn approached, suggested an equipment failure was imminent. Fellow runner, Martin, magically produced a small hand torch, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I was able to return it to him as both the sun and my own torch both came alive.
The weather was remarkably kind to us. Sunshine was short lived and the wind was keen but the threatened storm delayed its arrival to this remarkable place until the event was pretty much over.
Most events, particularly in trail running, and even more particularly in ultra marathon races, have time limits within which us competitors must reach certain points on the course. Primarily for the safety of runners and crew alike, they go a long way to ensuring we prepare as best we can before tackling these challenges.
The first cut off point in The Cousin Jack Ultra was at 9 miles and we had 3 hours in which to get there. Whilst this may seem generous, the terrain can change your day rather quickly.
I was pleased to be over 30 minutes in front of that target by then, but certainly not complacent.
How Hard Can It Be?
The first (and later on, last) section, between St Ives and Zenner is about 7 miles long and probably the most challenging on the course.
Lots of rocks, awkward paths made of boulders (even a boulder beach!), mud, special knee deep cow mud, electric fences, ups, downs and an increasingly enthusiastic headwind (not to mention the first 90 minutes in darkness) all contribute to the challenge.
Yeah, it’s tough. But maaaan-alive, it’s gorgeous.
How Tough? How Gorgeous?
The entire route is trail running heaven. As I mumbled into one of the video moments I recorded during the day, “Until I do a race that’s tougher and more beautiful than this, then THIS is the toughest, most beautiful race I’ve ever done.”
Cornwall. It gets under your skin.
It was an absolute privilege to be running here.
Lest We Forget
I raised a water bottle as I passed Levant mine. 100 years ago a catastrophic man-engine failure at the tin mine here resulted in the deaths of 31 local men. Countless others were injured.
This is poignantly remembered in the engraving on the wonderful medals awarded to finishers of this incredible event.
It was an emotional day. I found myself welling up every time I saw Nicky and Charlie (7 times, you need to come here to see just what an achievement that was!)
The land has a magic to it, as I passed these almost mythical places; Zennor, Pendeen, Gurnard’s Head, Cape Cornwall, I could feel the history.
This coast has become synonymous with epic trail running, certainly in the small world I operate in, and to be here, becoming a tiny part of that history, felt so special.
Dot To Dot
As a self confessed dot watching addict (many events fit participants with trackers in order to see their location on an online map), following the trackers of runners at these types of events, it was great to actually be one of the ‘dots’ this time around.
Suck It Up Princess
Flu (and I mean actual flu, not the ‘manflu’) had wiped out two weeks of running (and anything else) and I only passed my self-imposed fitness test two days before the race. I certainly wasn’t oozing confidence at the start line. Prior to the flu, I had prepared well, so I was hoping this fitness was still in me.
Turning back at Cape Cornwall and looking back at the first few headlands to be negotiated again, I took a deep breath…… I noticed the organisers’ sign: “Suck It Up Princess, You’re Only Halfway”
I was feeling a bit weak, my thighs already objecting to the relentless ups and downs, but I was loving every step. Every single step of the way.
I sucked in that bracing Atlantic wind (thankfully now at my back), zipped up my man suit and set off for St Ives.
She’s Got My Back
Nicky and Charlie met me again as I left Cape Cornwall, at Pendeen Watch, then in a random location far from anywhere, before scrambling to Gurnard’s Head, Zenner and finally at the finish.
I may have been exhausted but my wonderful lady wife and cheeky chappie Charlie deserve so much credit for what I achieved.
Crossing the finish line, I couldn’t wait to hold Nicky and tell her just how incredible she had been and how much we shared that proud moment.
Did Someone Say ‘Steps’?
After following my footsteps back to St Ives, perhaps not quite as quickly as on the way out, I did try and save a little energy for the last half mile.
I knew what was coming. A leg burning trudge across Porthmeor beach followed by the climb up The Island’s steps to The Surf House.
Cruel. But fitting.
Such a perfect, iconic location to finish this tremendous day.
Bys Vyken Events Put On Quite A Show
A small, homely feel to race HQ and all the pre-event information gave way to an epic feel to the actual race. All race communication was brutally honest, tongue-in-cheek and absolutely comprehensive.
The Race Director, David, and his fantastic crew managed what looked like a logistic headache (there were three race distances on offer, the 35 mile Ultra Marathon , The 17.5 mile Classic Jack and a Little Jack 7 mile) and the whole event started as planned and felt as well managed as any ‘bigger’ event I’ve done.
There were enough course markings, but not too many. Well placed and thought out aid stations were manned by exceptionally knowledgeable and supportive crew. Similarly the marshal points were enough but not overkill.
I felt trusted to have prepared properly and to give the course the respect it so dramatically commands. But, I also felt protected and at no point did I feel I was facing the challenge alone.
And It’s Goodbye From Him
I only fell over once! I only (briefly) went the wrong way once. I was still running (using the term loosely) across the beach after 35 miles before hauling my sagging legs and beaming smile up those final steps.
Beating the time limit by just over 2 hours too. I’m rather proud of myself I hope you don’t mind me saying.
What Will I Take From The Cousin Jack Ultra?
A stunning medal, a handshake from the welcoming Race Director, a hot pasty and a heart full of memories.
But nothing will top the moment of cresting yet another rocky headland somewhere on the way back to see Nicky and Charlie awaiting me. In the middle of nowhere. Car abandoned, they’d crawled under an electric fence and made their way through the wilderness to the coast path.
Well, an email plopped into my inbox. “THREE WEEKS TO GO!” Blimey, it’s here already. The (in)famous lime green vest will be handed to me at some point in the evening of Friday 11th August.
What is this nonsense of which you speak? I hear you gasp. Well, those of you that are regular consumers of this world of wonky wittering may well be aware that I’m a bit of a fanboy when it comes to the Roseland August Trail (R.A.T.) festival of trail running on the fabulous Roseland Peninsular in Cornwall.
Having ran the 32 mile Black Rat for the last 3 years with Nicky (who also ran the Red Rat, 20 miles, 4 years ago), I have taken the plunge and am tackling The Plague, an out and back version of the Black Rat. Yup, starting at 5 minutes past midnight on Saturday 12th August, a couple of hundred of us will step into the Cornish darkness and attempt to get to St Anthony’s Head and then back to Porthpean before they bring the curtain down on this fabulous event.
The furthest I’ve ever been in one go was The Gower 50 (Read all about that HERE – be warned, may feature fooked ankle pictures!) and I’ve not ran through the night before. I may not have done all of the miles I’d hoped for in this build up and I may not be the weight I’d hoped to get down to, blah, blah, blah, sandbagging, woe is me, blah, blah…
Here’s the thing guys and girls, I’m going to pull that lime green vest on and set off and give it everything I’ve got. And THAT will be enough for me to be proud, proud to be on the start line and proud to be taking on a CHALLENGE. If it was guaranteed I could ‘complete’ it, it wouldn’t be a challenge.
So, the mojo socks are being readied and they’ll be pulled RIGHT UP, I’ve oiled the zip of my mansuit so that too will be TO THE TOP……….
I’m going to run the runny bits, walk the hills and steps and try and enjoy every single moment of it.
Nicky will be getting off the coach at the St Anthony’s Head Black Rat start line and setting off at 8.30am. If my night has gone well I’ll have already turned by then and be heading East again. I have until 9am to make that turn, but if I’m close to that at halfway, I could well be struggling to make the following cut offs. And if that’s the case then so be it.
Check out the route HERE. There are A LOT of steps. And I’ll doing the all up and down (hopefully). See last year’s blog for how Nicky told everyone who’d listen that this was her last year on these steps…….
Mudcrew also stage the epic Arc Of Attrition on a bleak winter’s weekend every year. Nicky and I witnessed some of this incredible event when we were in Cornwall on holiday when this blog was in its early days – I mentioned how I’d never considered running 100 miles on a coast path, in winter. Nor indeed tow a caravan – Check out that bizarre wordery HERE.
You’re not going to believe this, BUT anyone who successfully completes all 100 quad busting kilometers of The Plague gets presented with a scroll inviting them to take up a guaranteed place in the following year’s Arc Of Attrition………..
Anyway, I ran 4 miles on the coast path with Charlie this morning, so I’d say I’m pretty much ready!
This is my 77th blog post…… Collectively they have been read over 11,000 times and I’m really quite humbled by that fact.
I imagine all of us bloggers are doing our ‘…of the year’ thingy right now, but I’m not going to let that stop me. So if you’re rather full of these lists then maybe you should look away now……….
MOST POPULAR BLOG POST OF THE YEAR
Inspired by some of the naïve errors I made back in my first ever marathon, I wrote this tongue in cheek BLOG POST about ten rookie errors guaranteed to make your marathon experience miserable.
TOP TEN BLOG-VISITING COUNTRIES OF THE YEAR
Aside from the UK, my rather humble wittering has been perused in 70 different countries – most prolifically in The United States, Canada, Ireland, Jamaica, Germany, Finland, Australia, France, The Netherlands, Switzerland & India. There’s even been a visit from somebody in Cambodia.
My book reviews are the least ‘viewed’ posts, but as I’ve always maintained, I absolutely love writing them, therefore every single person that might get a moment’s pleasure from reading is an honour and a bonus.
On this note (and I know they’ll be reading), a big “Hi” to Pieter & Samira from The Hague. They made a point of finding us at the Reggae Marathon to let us know they loved the blog – Happy New Year to all in The Netherlands x
PROUDEST MOMENT OF THE YEAR
A close run thing here – finishing the (32 mile – black) R.A.T. in a fantastic time (blogged about HERE) was a truly magical ‘Team Bonfield’ moment. Successfully completing The Gower 50 Mile Ultra in a time I was chuffed with, despite the rabbit hole incident! Yes, I was so, SO proud to have completed my first ‘solo’ ultra and first 50 miler – read all about it HERE.
BUT – I reckon there hasn’t been a better moment than when Nicky and I pitched up in Snowdonia for the absolutely FABULOUS trail marathon nervous about the 19 mile cut -off. Well, we arrived at that check point, the gateway to the main climb of the day with about 3/4 hour to spare. I waxed lyrical about that fabulous day HERE.
PROUDEST HUSBAND MOMENT OF THE YEAR
The transition master
As ever, the year was jam packed with moments of inspiration, adventure and achievement, as my beautiful, amazing, truly inspirational lady wife, yet again amazed me over and over again. Every single day I feel more and more blessed to have this incredible lady in my life.
So, she smashed her marathon PB at the North Dorset Villages Marathon (read all about it HERE), came so, so close to breaking 2 hours at the Bideford Half Marathon (chatted about HERE), yes it’s been a year of fizzing along. As I’ve said above, she achieved some amazing results in some epic trail events and combined an increasingly absorbing work life and a challenging, at times, domestic life with training for multiple endurance disciplines.
Yes, Nicky also completed her first triathlon and you can read all about that fabulous day HERE.
Also, there were some amazing proud moments as Alisa, Nicky’s eldest daughter completed her first events, alongside her Mum, as she continued her journey to fitness and on her health drive.
BUT, amongst this year of hectic, wonderful, adventurous and fun weekend challenges, my proudest coat-holding moment was the River Dart 10k swim. WOW – having completed this event last year, she set about attempting to break 3 hours this time. You’ll have guessed by now that yes, indeed, she did!
So amongst a forest of proud moments – read about my most bursting day – HERE.
MY FAVOURITE TEN EVENTS OF THE YEAR
Well, apologies to all the other event organisers but, for the best that trail running gives to me, it has to be the Roseland August Trail (R.A.T.) from Mudcrew. There are point to point 11 mile, 20 mile and 32 mile options. We have completed the 32 miles in each of the last three years. But – I can’t resist it any longer and the ‘out and back’ 64 miler is on my calendar for 2018! Check out the blog from this year’s event HERE.
For quirkiness, brilliant concept, route design, friendliness (I could go on), the Race The Tide from Pure Trail was also a fabulous trail event. (blog, naturally, HERE). As was the already discussed Snowdonia Trail Marathon.
We did some cracking half marathons (including a couple that were supposed to be marathons!), particularly enjoying the great atmosphere at The Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service Half down in Bodmin. My first race as a Vet 50 – scribblings HERE.
The previously discussed North Dorset Villages Marathon is probably my favourite road marathon and this was our second year there. Back on the trails, we also returned to The Larmer Tree from White Star Running for a second year. Yet another race with a superb atmosphere – varied and challenging off road route through the Dorset countryside. White Star offer something a little different to the trail running scene, and provide a lovely balance of true endurance challenges and hearty laughter. Guess what – there were words…. HERE.
Also from White Star, was the East Farm Frolic, it barely got a mention in the Blog as we were having a particularly ‘time poor’ period at home around that time. Basically, do as many laps (about 4.5 miles) of an undulating, rural, trail route, on a farm in Dorset, as you either can or want to, for 12 hours. A great, inclusive, fun event with a family atmosphere and camping
After managing to navigate my limping body around the 50 miles of The Gower Ultra – and what a gorgeous place it is – this was always going to feature in this list. With around 200 competitors and seemingly double that working on the fabulous checkpoints, it truly was a breakthrough for me, in so many ways.
So that’s 9 of my favourite events. We’ve done about 30 this year, so picking 10 (in no particular order) was hard. No ‘of the year’ list, though could possibly be complete without Mudcrew’s The Scrooge the ever popular trail running fancy dress romp through the Lost Gardens Of Heligan. See the blog HERE, Yet again, we took it VERY seriously…….
MY FAVOURITE RUNNING ‘THINGS’
My Karen ribbon. My sister was taken from us aged a mere 44 years and a week (9 years ago). On her last night, I ended up with an item of her clothing, which I cut into ribbons. My brother and I both tie them to our wrists for races and she’ll forever be at the side of the road yelling “arms, Kevin, ARMS!” as she expertly analysed my terrifying running style. Will be missed forever.
Fetcheveryone.comstill my favourite website. Brilliantly evolved under the loving gaze of founder and bloke-in-chief, Ian Williams, there still isn’t an online running community to match it. I would never have got anywhere near where I have with my own running without it.
To hear the man himself talk us through his world, check out his fabulous interview on another of my favourite running things Marathon Talk. This is a weekly podcast presented by Martin Yelling and Tom Williams, I’ve listened to every single one of the 400+ episodes and, as with Fetch, it very much has been part of my journey.
Other podcasts I heartily recommend….. Talk Ultra normally fortnightly, presented by the thoroughly engaging Ian Corless who really humanises the sport of Ultra running and manages to gather interviewees from every country, every distance and every ability.
Another podcast I’ve not missed an episode of is Running Commentary. On a weekly basis the two comedians and avid runners, Rob Deering and Paul Tonkinson don head-sets and record their quirky, irreverent, poignant, witty and downright entertaining banter as they run along. These three podcasts make my working week feel just that little bit shorter.
Another interviewee on Marathon Talk (he’s appeared on three separate occasions) is the infectious Colin McCourt. From an elite international 1500m runner to a rather portly, sedentary chap, he started this year with a challenge to return to his former speedy self. He charted this progress on his Instagram account and has become one of the best running stories of the year. He set out to lose a shed load of weight and attempt to break 16 minutes for 5km. Check out his Instagram and relive his incredible 2017. I won’t give any spoilers……
Oh, and although I’m not into plugging brands (check out my lack of sponsorship HERE) I can’t sum the year up without mentioning my Inov8 trail shoes – I bought them at the Coniston Marathon (BLOG HERE) after the shoe company lent us shoes to run the marathon in! They are, genuinely, gert lush (translation: very good indeed).
Obviously Faith’s (my energetic and LOUD grandaughter) Silver Wellies have stolen the show in any running shoe debate – she smashed her mile fun run at the Templar Ten in them – blogged about (naturally) HERE.
RUNNING BUDDY OF THE YEAR
Probably no surprises here……..
The most beautiful, amazing, inspirational, funny, charming, adventurous and DAMNED HOT person I’ve ever met – she truly is my world and as long as we’re together then “don’t worry, ’bout a thing, ’cause every little thing, gonna be alright”
Obviously, Charlie, the intrepid Border Terrier, is a close second!
Now, this being a happy place, there’s no room for negativity, bitterness, moaning, backstabbing or bitching. 2017 has been a challenging year, in many ways, for Nicky and myself, we’ve had to adapt and survive changes and developments in our world and work around the challenges. We’ve been (without bigging us up!) strong and determined, and ‘made it happen’ when ‘it’ didn’t look very likely on many occasions and we have those closest to us to thank for helping us absorb the impact of life.
Riddles, I know, but it’s hard to flamboyantly describe the slow down in the world of someone we love.
So, I’m proud of, and have loved, every minute of our journey together. Yet another year becomes ‘the best yet’ in this world I’ve been blessed to live in. And, yes, I’m proud of my achievements both in running and in life.
BUT, it’s Nicky that fills my heart and soul to bursting point with pride and more love than I could ever have imagined existed in the world……..
Yes, this lady has, in 2017, defied her crazy and demanding job, her crazy and demanding domestic life and her crazy and demanding, er, husband, and constantly, over and over again, pushed her boundaries, gone (literally) higher and faster, conquered new skills and generally been awesome in all of her fabulous endurance challenges…..
For example, she was (wo)man enough to admit that a half was enough at the Portland Coastal Marathon back in February, came back strong to complete cracking half marathons in Bodmin and Bideford, then matched our previous years time at The Larmer Tree Marathon. Another brilliant half at the Tavy 13 (blog HERE – I fell over!), the quirky and hilly Devonshire Dumpling Marathon (blog HERE)and then a blistering time at The Yeovil Easter Bunny 10k (HERE) before absolutely smashing her marathon PB at The North Dorset Villages Marathon (already talked about up there^^).
Then she beat challenging time limitations with (relative) ease at Race The Tide, Coniston Trail Marathon, Snowdonia Trail Marathon, The RAT etc etc……
Nicky blitzed her first ever triathlon, swam four tough open water events, The Swoosh, The Dart 5k, The Great North Swim and The River Dart 10k (breaking the 3 hour barrier).
This is a far from conclusive list, but I think I’ve explained just WHY, I think this lady is extraordinary in every way.
Apologies for this, but feel I need to include the one event that DOESN’T think Nicky is good enough. Think 5h30m time limit for a hilly trail marathon (12m35s per mile) yet has a cut off of 1h30m at 8 miles (11m15s per mile). Only it’s not ACTUALLY at 8 miles… etc etc. Yup THIS BLOG POST curled a few toes!
So. This is my 50th, yup, FIFTIETH post on this blog.
Back in February, I celebrated my 50th birthday (I know, I don’t look a day over 49!), and in the same week, I started this blog.
Inspired by having the belief to be a ‘writer’. That belief coming from the ‘me’ that is the ‘me’ that I never knew I could be. As regular readers will know, I attribute this ‘me’ to the wonderful world I am humbled and so fortunate to share with my incredible wife, Nicky.
The first blog post was inspired by, what I believed to be, a bit of elitism, a bit of snobbery, as we struggled to our epic DNF at Portland way back then. Check out that post here.
I went straight in to writing another post inspired by our fantastic holiday in Cornwall, and witnessing the incredible boys and girls taking on the Arc Of Attrition. Maybe have a read of that too, here, if you fancy.
The Arc Of Attrition. I don’t think it’s any longer a secret……. 2019…….
Having been told to ‘Man The **** UP!” by the afore mentioned Nicky, she gave the me gift of a journal to record my journey to attempting a 12 hour race, The East Farm Frolic.
Every day is like Christmas, the gifts of love, laughter, of adventure and of sharing life…. I truly feel like my heart has won the lottery. Every single day.
The gift of this journal is so symbolic, I’ve been to some dark places, literally and metaphorically, in the past. And here I am in the light. In the quiet. Inspired.
People from 61 different countries have read this blog (over 8000 times!). Hello South Korea, thank you for tuning in. It’s rather humbling to think of somebody in Brazil, Bulgaria or Bahrain taking the time to read my words.
So, as I suspected, I really, REALLY enjoy writing. I really, REALLY enjoy running and the running community. That’d be a marriage made in heaven then. What a coincidence…..
So, here we are, 6 months later, after plenty of adventures and events. One of us has smashed their marathon PB and achieved even more open water swimming goals (neither of them were me!).
We’ve done marathons, 10ks, ran in heat, in mud, in Cumbria and Snowdonia.
There’s been incredible tales of achievement in our family, young and old. There’s been chips, and pasties and cakes and ice creams (apart from when we’ve been ON IT!).
There’s been mild controversy, particularly after THIS POST. And I still stand by the ‘not good enough’ statement. We’ve been good enough for marathons over Mount Snowdon, the fells of Coniston and the 50km of brutal Cornish Coastline (to name but 3), but not good enough for……… (the race which isn’t mentioned!)
There’s been an almost political post, and I’ve touched on the pressures domestic life can stretch us, and how we support Nicky’s Dad.
But mostly, it’s been about running.
Oh, and me gushing about Nicky, much to her embarrassment.
She’s been at it again this week, inspiring and relentless. Last weeks RAT (see blog here) came in the middle of her preparing for a job interview and presentation….. Which were both successful. I don’t mind embarrassing her, I think we’re a great team and my pride in everything we achieve in life, and in being half of that team, swells by the day.
I have ideas for the blog and, as and when time allows, hopefully some of these will appear on this hallowed page. Maybe some interviews, maybe some more feature type posts. Any suggestions welcome….
In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away sharing thoughts and ramblings on this amazing journey that is life. The blog isn’t thrown together but there is improvisation. Last weeks post was pretty much composed whilst sat on a bag of cement during my breaks at work.
I’ll leave you with a montage of images from the last 50 posts and a massive THANKYOU for reading and engaging with these humble tales…
“I’m retiring. Yup this is my last ever ultra. Uh huh, it feels good.” Nicky (my rather gorgeous lady wife) proclaimed to anyone who’d listen.
“Without question, this is my favourite event EVER, and I’m coming back next year to do The Plague” I equally enthusiastically declared. Again, to anyone who’d listen.
Mudcrew’s The R.A.T. trail running races. As David (one of the kit check guys) declared, this is the Christmas of trail running.
All run on the breathtaking Cornish coast line, there are 11, 20, 32 & 64 mile options.
Four years ago, unbeknown to us, we were about to become a couple. Nicky was here completing the Red Rat (20 miles) and I was burying myself in eyeballs out road training, chasing faster and faster times…..
Here we are, now 3 time veterans of The Black Rat (32 miles), absolutely basking in our unapologetically self congratulatory glory of another medal well earned.
This is pure running adventure.
“Does anybody else fancy driving this down these lanes?” enquired our chatty coach driver as we inched our way towards St Anthony’s Head.
An hour earlier, four coaches left Porthpean at 7 am after a safety presentation and welcome from one of our incredibly enthusiastic race directors.
“Keep the sea on your right!”
A small bank of portaloos welcomed us to the National Trust car park at St Anthonys, and our good friend and fellow adventurer Martin made short work of the sprint from the bus, ensuring a clean seat and fresh paper for his pre race rituals.
Some nervous chattering and shivering as we awaited the clock to strike 8.30 in the morning drizzle.
Like the security guys in the car park, during registration and at kit check, numerous smiling, happy and enthusiastic Mudcrew marshalls were overseeing the start.
Before we knew it, we were off. Straight on to the coast path, encountering a couple of Plague runners (these guys had started at 5 past midnight and were doing the course as an out and back 64 miles) who still had time to make the turn before the 9am cut off. They received much applause and encouragement, it had been a rough night of weather in the dark for those incredible chaps and chappesses.
Apparently the leading pair turned by 6am!! And finished in just over 12 hours, a mere 6 seconds apart.
Last year, with us not quite so well prepared, the field had eased away from us quite early and we didn’t much change our position throughout the race.
Cooler air this year, and Nicky stronger than ever, carrying Snowdonia’s efforts of a mere 20 days previously, but relentless.
The first checkpoint appeared in no time. As always, attentive, thoughtful, encouraging and knowledgeable crew, in numbers, to ensure we had food, drink and no ailments. Onwards. Tucked well up into the pack of runners, Nicky, watchless, pushed on towards her alleged retirement, unaware that we were putting time into our previous best on this course. Running the runnable bits and marching on the tricky bits and eating up the steps.
The Roseland Peninsula offers a new and spectacular view after every turn, picture postcard fishing villages and terrain to test even the most hardened trail runners.
Lots and lots of steps. Or ****ing steps as they increasingly became known as morning became afternoon.
The second checkpoint, at Portloe, also served as the starting point for the Red Rat (20 miles), those runners having been set on their way some 30 minutes before our arrival.
As I double checked that we truly were going as well as I’d thought, we were again fed and watered by the incredible team of volunteers. Seeing us on our way with huge cheers and encouragement.
It’s quite a while before the next checkpoint, but again, despite this, time just flew by (as it always does when we run together) and we were still catching the odd fellow Black Ratter and occasionally a Plague infected warrier.
“I enjoyed the night, lovely and cool in the rain” one responded as I tried to glean tips and tales in anticipation of me wearing the lime green vest this time next year (The Plague runners wear their official vest as their top layer at all times making them easy to identify.)
“The night? It was a ****ing nightmare!” said another.
“No!” said another, head down, determinedly trudging on after a mere 45 miles or so! I didn’t push for an elaboration!
I’d better not turn up unprepared next year either, there’s nowhere to hide and no easy way on this course!
Two ultra veterans, Jessica and Duncan Williams set up a ‘pop up’ aid station at Port Holland. This is an annual tradition and their ‘P’ themed fancy dress this year was priests……. a very welcome drink and great to see Jessica, one of the runners we had cheered on in The Arc Of Attrition back in February. That was back when this blog was a shiny new thing – read that post HERE if you fancy.
Met this guy, Andrew, a couple of times during the day, he was savouring the chips in Mevagissy
I managed to resist tempatation twice in Mevagissy, firstly the incredibly smiley and enthusiastic marshall offered us chips!! Secondly we actually passed within 100 yards of our B & B for the weekend and it’s warm shower and welcoming duvet……..
This last 10k or so is probably the toughest we’ve encountered in any of our events, the climbs, descents and ****ing b****** steps go on and on and on.
This final 10k section also starts with the most atmospheric aid station and checkpoint I’ve encountered in trail running. The Ship Inn at Pentewan shares its outside space with The RAT for the day. The busiest checkpoint of the day even has ice pops, refreshing water melon and yet more attentive, caring and knowledgeable crew. Filling your water bottles, fetching your fruit and looking us square in the eye to check we were as we should be.
Or the best we could be at this stage of the race!
They know what they’re looking for too. Over 60 successful 100 mile events have been completed by the Mudcrew crew on duty.
With the pub having live music in the garden, and it now being well into the afternoon, there were some quite beery cheers too, to set us on our way.
We could not have been in safer hands, with the addition of fabulous medical cover and massage on duty at all the checkpoints, all we had to do was enjoy it!!!
“I don’t care how long it’s taken, just happy to get it done” lied Nicky as we trudged up that last hill.
“We’re on 8 hours and 9 minutes and the finish is literally just at the top of this hill” I remarked, this being the first time I’d shared our progress on the clock with Nicky.
“WOW!” she said, I sensed just a little more skip in her step, “that’s so much faster than either of our other races here!”
It sure was. Feeling like superstars as we held hands and sprinted (well, maybe not actually sprinted) for the line. Great big smiles all around.
Catching Martin’s eye as we were presented with the medals (7h30m for the Silver Fox, chapeau sir) there was an exchange of fist pumps. This moment was caught beautifully on camera by our number one supporter Gloria, another RAT ever present, cheering everyone home in the fabulous crowd at the finish.
All three race directors (this event is 18 hours long, never mind the time before and afterwards for the organisers) cheer, hug, back slap or shake the hand of every competitor across the four distances as they head for the line.
I don’t mind saying I’m proud. Firstly, my bursting pride to be able to share such wonderful adventure with the most incredible, beautiful, inspirational, HOT lady in the WHOLE world!
Proud to be part of this top, top event and amongst the best of the best in the trail running community.
Proud to share the weekend with such great friends in Gloria and Martin, who make the whole experience so much fun.
Do you know what? I’m proud of myself. I don’t apologise for having a moment of self congratulatory indulgence. These endurance tests aren’t for the faint hearted and preparation and the hours in training are essential to maintain the effort level and to have maximum ENJOYMENT on the day.
If our proclamations are accurate, next year, one of us will be having a sleepless night, the other will be having a full cooked breakfast……………
Two weeks until the Frolic now, I’ve put in lots of miles but probably not as many as I would have needed to be doing if I was to be in with a chance of hitting my secret target…..
Nor the target Nicky has set me – “if you don’t win, don’t bother coming home!”
I feel like a bit if a fraud. It certainly is a reality check listening to all those interviews with participants, including both elite athletes and mere mortals like us, about mammoth endurance events such as the Dragons Back and The Sky Running events.
BUT, Nicky and I are veterans (in both age and events) of 10 years of running events. Both of us having completed 30something marathons, including a few 50km races and, in Nicky’s case, a 50 miler.
AND, I’m having my post prolific year yet of mileage, averaging over 200 miles a month.
SO, maybe I am ready to step up to call myself an ‘ultra’ runner…. I mean, I’ve got some Inov8 shoes and a rucksack and everything!
As regular readers will know, I’m leading up to The East Farm Frolic (EFF) in August where I’m looking to keep going for all 12 hours and hopefully take myself into the 50 mile club, if not further.
AND, listening to this new (to me) podcast is only fuelling my desire to ‘go long’. Specifically to ‘go long in Cornwall’…….
Which got me to thinking….. my beautiful lady wife, chatty Martin and good friends Jan & Gloria had formed a relay team to compete for the 12 hours at The EFF. All change now as they have moved to being solo entrants, like yours truly.
With 5 of us now entered….. surely 5 go long in Dorset…..
Anyway, by going long in Cornwall, I mean specifically go long from Coverack to Porthtowan, by way of 100 miles of the coast path, in February 2019.
I fell for the charms, the challenges, the tales of successful and unsuccessful attempts, the beauty, the uniqueness of The Arc Of Attrition (AOA) as we spectated back in February, see my blog post from back then.
In fact one of the reasons I was so inspired to start blogging get so enthusiastically was the wonderful experience of following this year’s edition.
The AOA is organised by Mudcrew, responsible for my absolute favourite event, the (black) RAT and many otherwise including the festive hilarity of The Scrooge.
Mudcrew’s head honcho, Andrew Ferguson, is a pretty serious ultra runner himself, recently competing in the fabulous looking Laverado Ultra in Italy , and his name pops up all over the trail running scene.
All who crew at these Mudcrew events are runners and understand the needs of those on the trails. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I think about the AOA, and how I will prepare, on most of my runs.
By that I mean I try relate the run I’m on to how I would be feeling after 24 hours of coast path. I think about eating proper food whilst running, about kit, navigation, isolation, weather, etc etc.
I’ve also developed a new mantra, “NO LAZY STEPS’ meaning I should never assume the next foot plant is flat and predictable. Small protruding roots under dark tree canopies could end the race. I need to make sure to learn to remaim alert under extreme fatigue.
The enormity of the AOA’s challenge has dictated the time scale. I need to qualify, I’m hoping to have a few events which serve as qualifiers, maybe doing something like Hope 24 amongst them.
The traditional Mudcrew stepping stone is to do the 100k version of the RAT (Nicky and I are doing the 50k for the 3rd time this year) in 2018.
The Plague, as this 100k is known, serves as a qualifying event and also comes with an AOA invite to accompany it’s finisher’s medal.
The best part of all of this process is spending time outdoors, with my wonderful amazing beautiful lady wife, Nicky. After the great adventures of last Saturday (see last post) we took to the coast path for 3 gloriously hot and sweaty hours.
These joint jaunts are serving as training towards Snowdonia for the two of us (which is rapidly approaching!), as well as building my mileage towards The EFF. They are also wonderful shared adventures, precious and treasured times.
Oh the witty banter on these sweaty long runs, “blimey you stink” “not as much as YOU stink”…..
The Talk Ultra podcast is presented by Ian Corless, a fine ultra and trail runners in his own right and now an event photographer too. The show is mainly made up of interviews with big names from the world of ultra-distance running, as well as those from further down the field.
It’s all an education to me, probably only being aware of the headline events and maybe our local long distance challenges. I’m learning the names of the stars of this mystical world and getting to grips with the lingo. Don’t expect me to be attempting a FKT on a course with loads of VERT anytime soon…..
Oh it turns out my 20 miles running, to Teignmouth, on the coast path, isn’t even a warm up to most of these boys and girls.
‘Blowing out of my arse!’ I’ve no idea where that expression came from but it seemed to fit my rather cumbersome effort as I did a time trial after work last night. Blowing out of my ears and nose too. Open mouthed and squinting from the sweat stinking my eyes, I gasped for every breath. Desperately weaving through the many dawdling pedestrians, enjoying their evening stroll in the sunshine, I just about managed to maintain 30 seconds per mile slower than I’d hoped for the 1.8 miles
We’d elected for this instead of waiting another hour and going to the club night. Whilst I was cracking paving slabs either my clomping strides, Nicky and Charlie joined the rest of Paignton, walking along the sea front.
It was with some relief that I finished my effort near a toilet. Then, whilst not getting any cooler during my cool down, I bumped into my beautiful wife and raggerty hound and needed no further prompting to end my rather unfortunate effort RIGHT THERE. A stroll back along the beach followed by eating chips on the sea wall and all was well again.
A few years ago I’d have been disappointed with that run but these days I enjoy laughing at myself and moving on. 3.75 of jogging with Charlie in the woods at 5.30am this morning soon put that right too.
Something similar tomorrow then a weekend of long endurance adventure beckons, including some kayaking to accompany the intrepid Mrs Bonfield on an early morning river dip.
Enough of this rambling, keep on keeping people……..
Well, today we celebrate 2 years of marriage. I am a lucky, lucky, LUCKY man. I get discouraged from gushing about how in love I am…… but Nicky truly is my miniature hero!! (and, yes, she does approve of the pet name!)
A silly pet name, really, what with, you know, us being ON IT and everything…….
SO, I shan’t go on and on and on about just how wonderful my life is with Nicky…. well, only a bit…….
Anyway, we did the Imerys Trail (half) Marathon on Sunday. Unfortunately we didn’t quite make the cut-off at 8.2 miles and were diverted on to half course. Clearly we aren’t fast enough runners for this event:-
The apparent race time limit of 5h30m (this would be 12m36s per mile) wouldn’t have been a problem, Nicky has recently ran a 4h24m marathon and whilst this is definitely a more challenging route, with her relentless and consistent pacing we would always get there. Lovely, settle in and enjoy the run……
Hang on, the cut off at 20 miles is 4 hours (12 mm). Oh, really, well, we’ll get to that relatively safely and even if we are tiring, that would mean we had 1.5 hours to do the last 10k (and as we now know, the last 3 miles are pretty quick). Smashing, we could average high 11’s and see how we felt at 20…..
Oh, HANG ON, the cut off at 8 miles is 1.5 hours, that’s 11m15s per mile!!! Er, why?? Anyway, I tried not to let this concern me as I set about pacing Nicky as best I could to this first cut off point. I can’t tell you too much about the course, as I was trying to get the right effort out of Nicky without burning up valuable energy for later in the race.
We ALWAYS start at the back. This serves two purposes – firstly, it avoids being dragged along by runners going faster than we should be and secondly it stops the demoralising process of quicker runners coming by as they find their place in the field. This was a mistake today!
It took us exactly a minute to cross the start line.
After a lap of the Cornwall College site we hit a rather bad bottle neck. Stationary. 90 seconds.
Then, an uphill very narrow grass path, at a gentle walk as there were plenty of half marathon runners enjoying the greenery as they were, of course, under no time pressure. How much quicker might we have done this section, maybe 30 seconds, maybe a minute?
The final nail in the coffin of our marathon was when we passed the 8 mile marker with 1h29m50s showing on my watch but with no sign of the split.
A few hundred yards later we were 2 minutes too late for the poor chap charged with the task of informing us! You were bravely firm and apologetic sir and I hope we weren’t rude!
We completed the ‘half’ in 2h28m feeling bright and fresh, a bit cross(!) but could merrily have gone around again.
Such a shame that my beautiful wife, a seasoned veteran of 30 marathons, including a 50 miler, 4 50ks and numerous tough off road events is now saying that she feels that she simply isn’t good, or indeed, fast enough.
I guess we’ll just have to be more careful to ensure races we enter are aimed at runners like us.
A cracking venue and course, numerous and enthusiastic marshals and volunteers and an inclusive half marathon with no time pressure.
Not all doom and gloom though, a pasty and an ice cream as we chilled on the beach at Charlestown was just splendid, followed by a lovely evening and night in our favourite bolt hole in Mevagissey.
And now we look forward to some lovely weekends of running and Nicky is getting right back into her open water swimming again.
Hopefully I haven’t come across as bitter and twisted. As I said to a nice chap in a Mudcrew vest as we stomped our way through the last few miles, I need to shut the wotsit up and stop moaning. “Oh no, he said, if you’ve developed a life skill you should definitely use it!”!!