A 5.30am start the day before the clocks sprung up, fell over, dropped back, or whatever it is they did, meant hitting the beaches of Paignton, Goodrington, Broadsands and Elberry Cove as the sun burned into the early morning mist.
Picking up the Musgrove Trail for a while after leaving Churston Village, some of my favourite local trails. from the top of the hill the views take in Torbay in one direction and the River Dart the other way.
Past Greenway and down to the boat yard on the creek there before climbing the field on the outskirts of Galmpton. A bit of road from there until you get into Stoke Gabriel.
Picking up Fleet Mill lane towards Totnes where I can never resist running to the end of Long Marsh, particularly early morning, for the jaw dropping view down the river.
From Totnes, picking up the Torbay/Totnes trail, through the traveller’s site which has been there for decades, passing the Mare and Foul Sanctuary and into the shadow of the spooky ruins of Berry Pomeroy Castle.
The trails towards Marldon are fabulous running on soft ground, woodland and fields (with a very slow mile as I tip toed through some young cattle!) before running under the gorgeous underpass to head towards Occombe.
Passing the marathon point of the run in Scadson Woods before popping out on Preston Sea Front then running up through Victoria Park and home.
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.
We ventured deep into the South Hams on Saturday afternoon to tackle Pure Trails’ twilight adventure event, Race The Light. The forecast wild weather earlier in the day duly arrived.
We know it rained hard in the morning. We volunteered at Parkrun. The Torbay Velopark Parkrun attendees are a hardy bunch, usually numbering around 250. Well 103 braved the apocalyptic deluge and our lovely run group at Keywood Running pitched in with 10 of the volunteers for the day. We were ready for our hearty breakfast afterwards.
Arriving home, my beautiful wife, Nicky, and I de-robed from our soaking gear and built a roaring fire. As we steamed and warmed, the thought of venturing out again for another soaking was becoming less and less inviting.
After our good friend and blog regular, Martin (The Silver Fox, not ‘a’ silver fox, but THE Silver Fox), arrived to collect us, we duly goaded each other until we climbed into the rather clean interior of his foxmobile and headed for mudsville.
Nicky and I were both thinking we’d be trashing the plush leather seats after the forthcoming mud bath.
We weren’t wrong.
As one of the marshals, Iain, later commented on social media ‘It’s a great day when runners, marshalls and everyone can pull together… magic to see you all’
He was stood in the raging River Erme as we crossed it in the light on the way out. He was still stood in it some hour and a half later as we made our way back across in the dark. It did feel like such a team effort – there were race winners but the afternoon and evening were about so much more than that.
We’d felt the same at Parkrun that morning – as we handed the finish tokens to the drenched runners there was a real sense of having survived together. Our Monday run group had pulled together to help swell the volunteer numbers. (Expect a big blog soon all about Keywood Running, ’tis a fine thing.)
Yes Saturday was about everything that’s GOOD in running…. in life in fact. Such a warm feeling when we’re all looking out for each other.
The race directors at Pure Trail, Steve and Mark, seek out something different with all of their events and this really was different. A combination of the morning’s rainfall making its way down from the hills and moors and a wild wind holding the tide up meant the water, which should have been a trickle, was quite forceful.
People stuck together and toughed it out before enjoying a beautiful woodland out and back course alongside the estuary. The speedy boys and girls made it back before serious darkness fell whilst some of us got our money’s worth……..
And then we toughed out the crossing back across and trudged up the hill to the finish.
I guess the crew were there for some time after we had headed home for the final of Strictly in the dark, wind and rain dismantling the course. We are truly grateful to all of them – it was a fine day in the local running community.
Do check out Pure Trail‘s events, they never disappoint.
And if you enjoy the blog, have a delve through previous posts, particularly from the sister event Race The Tide.
Thank you to anyone who has made it to the end of the blog and thank you to all you for your patience in waiting these last few months for this post.
2019 begins with fresh starts, fresh challenges and a chance to recover from the grief of 2018. I know I occasionally over step the mark with how ‘personal’ I make the blog but I do wear my heart on the page……..
Looking forward to writing about my amazing, inspiring, determined and beautiful lady wife and our adventures together throughout the coming year.
Whilst I’m sure the development has caused consternation in many quarters, the new houses overlooking the river in Totnes have a feature which has added more traffic free moments to one of my favourite runs. Paradise Walk in Totnes connects the green lanes from Aish to the Long Marsh and Quayside in the town. Nice.
It comes at a price though. It so many ways.
At least the developers haven’t put a huge 40ft long sign in the hillside…….. er…….
Regular blog followers will know that life has been, and continues to be, beyond challenging and relentlessly and unthinkingly sad this year. Sometimes priorities change. The blog has slipped down the pecking order in recent months, as has writing in general. As has running. We’ve missed so many events which we’d entered this year.
I shan’t be blogging about our personal life at this torrid time. BUT, determined not to drop the blog, I felt a little running update was in order. In a vote as to whether or not to leave or remain the world of blogging, I went with REMAIN 😉
So. To the commit blog followers, thank you for standing by patiently! To new readers, errr, WELCOME, please check out previous posts, there are many tales from the world of challenges and adventures I share with my truly wonderful lady wife, Nicky….. (spoiler alert, you WILL find me gushing relentlessly about how this incredible person is my COMPLETE WORLD!)
Also spoiler alert, I ain’t no WordPress pro, guv, so please excuse any layout amateurishness….
Determined to arrive at next year’s BIG CHALLENGE in the best possible shape, I have kept up getting out for a few hours each week for a challenging longish run.
Early last Saturday, with daylight a fair way off and the rains falling, I set out to tackle the afore mentioned route. After a wonderful summer of sunshine and running in vests and 4am daylight, I’ve actually found it comforting to start laying out some kit the night before a big run. Well, these days this IS a big run. With over 20 miles and plenty of off roady, hilly stuff I knew I’d be out a while….. beany, cap, 2 buffs, running back pack, drinks bottles, oat bars, shot blocks, headtorch, base layer, t shirt, jacket……….
Straight down to the beach, passing a guy doing the walk of shame in the pouring rain, dressed in a teddy bear onesie. Past the people who’ve been camping under the pier for weeks, around the harbour and over the headland before heading inland. I really am enjoying getting back to running into the headtorch beam.
Through the lanes towards Stoke Gabriel, trying not to be spooked by sudden rustling of wildlife almost certainly being spooked by me. The rain had intensified by then but daylight was coming. There are so many little lanes and tracks to chose and I took a minor detour as some young cattle were less than impressed that the footpath goes straight across their early morning graze!
Through the hamlet of Aish and onto the green lanes towards Totnes. Despite the daylight I think the weather may have put off any early morning dog walkers meaning I had some lovely extended solitude until I arrived in Totnes.
The new path through the housing development is a welcome addition to this route and I added a further little loop to enjoy the river.
The route back towards Torbay takes in further green lanes, trails, paths, lots of lovely woodland and plenty of little ups and downs. After reaching Marldon, there are trails through Shorton Valley bringing me out withing a mile of home. This really is a fine route. In light of the state of the world around us, both our little world and the great big world, it is quite literally a breath (several in fact) of fresh air.
Anyone who is local or finds themselves in the area looking for some trail running – check out the route HERE.
If you’re looking for the finish line in a trail marathon, you won’t find it at 26.2 miles! Certainly not at the fabulous Dorset Invader. We’ve tackled many White Star Running events and you’re never short changed on distance. More muck for your buck, as it were. I whole heartily approve, we’d soon be moaning if it was short!
In a break from tradition, our wingman, Martin, was chauffer for the day, his new stead a step up in size from our mini. We settled into the Volvo luxury and headed east. Yet again, it was destination Dorset for #TeamBonfield and our sugar fetishist running chum.
As the main man at White Star pointed out in response to a couple of social media grumblings, these wonderful country routes which trail events companies map out for us depend on the good will of the people who own the land we have the pleasure of skipping through.
With farmland being at the mercy of climate and delicate crops needing to be avoided, routes will be varied and negotiated on a race by race basis. This year’s Invader route being quite different to the one we ran two years ago. A clever quirk of this year’s route was the loop which was repeated, the way it was set up, it never felt as if we were running laps.
With the forthcoming storms holding off until after we’d finished, there was only a wild wind to contend with. So much of this gorgeous route was on trails through woodland and alongside tall hedgerows that we were only intermittently exposed to the howling breeze.
“Are you two going to do ANY running?” Martin briefly turned to ask. The three of us started together, Martin speeding off as we, at best, sauntered up the first field. There’s plenty of time, we assured him, fully intending to use it.
A big centurion, and indeed a little centurion, both on horseback, ceremoniously set us on our way for this Roman themed event.
About 250 runners were soon spread out as the course picked its way through the fields and tracks of the host farm. After a couple of miles (bearing in mind, my memory is rarely chronological and certainly not detailed) we reached the one road crossing in the event. It was expertly and safely manned by a team of marshals, with clear and precise instructions as to how and when to cross.
Oh, and some 6 hours later, when we were on our way to the finish, the same crew were still there, still cheerful and still as attentive. A massive thank you to them and all of the fabulous volunteers, marshals and aid station crews on the day. Above and beyond as ever.
After the road crossing, we started to make progress as we warmed to the task. Nicky is a serial start-at-the-backer, much to Martin’s chagrin. His argument is that if you start behind somebody who is going to run at exactly the same pace as you throughout the event, you will end up behind them by the amount of head start you gave them. My argument is: SO?
Nicky’s thinking is a tad more considered. If she starts too far forward in the pack, then runners covering the ground quickly will be scuttling past. Potentially demoralising.
We always say, as runners disappear away from us early in the race, if they are that much quicker than us, then we won’t see them again and good luck to them. If they are a similar pace to us then they may be setting off too quickly and we’ll catch them later on anyway.
BUT, we won’t have had a stream of faster runners whizzing past us.
It didn’t do us any harm, despite starting with a saunter up the hill, behind everyone, there were over 100 behind us 28 miles later. Actually, it didn’t do Martin any harm either, he finished an hour in front of us and third in his age category. And we ALL got stonking great medals at the end, regardless of where we finished.
There was a quite flat and runnable 2 mile section along the old Somerset and Dorset Railway which is quite unusual for a White Star event and some of this featured twice. A cracking section to tick a few miles off and fascinating to run through what used to be stations.
If you enjoy running on corn fields, gravel tracks, wooded trails, quiet lanes, old railway lines, farmyards, bridleways and like a good few hills, then this is definitely for you.
We took the whole thing VERY seriously….
Well, we’re off to Cornwall for my favourite ever event in just over a week. The R.A.T. festival of coastal trail running (read all about last year HERE). With this in mind, completing a lovely long trail marathon has given us both a confidence boost about our fitness as we start to, er, ‘taper’……..
You can check out our Dorset Invader performance on Strava HERE.
So much to say, so little time…. stay tuned and keep on keeping on folks…..
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!
When is blogger not a blogger? A runner not a runner? A writer not a writer?
I’ve been soul searching about questions of my ‘identity’ for the last few weeks. With the positivity I’ve been encouraged to nurture I’ve concluded that, as long as I’m returning to any of these, that’s enough to still ‘be’.
I’m still a blogger (phew, I hear you all gasp). There’s always something in my head which will end up in the blog sooner or later.
If I’m blogger, I’m writing, no? That makes me still a writer then. BUT there is sooooo much more to me as a writer now. Since becoming a member of Writers’ HQ I feel I have started to belong.
Whilst, as yet, I haven’t bitten off huge chunks of their plethora of course material, I have been breaking crumbs off the corners and nibbling on them.
I’ve particularly enjoyed the short fiction exercises, blogs and course content. Many an idea has become the start of something tangible – a challenge, a character, a scene, a quandary – I’m in the habit of scribbling all these thoughts and ideas into either my trusty notebook or a clever app thingy whenever they materialise.
So, at some point in the future, you can look forward to tense friendships lived in a dream state through old postcards, eyes with tiny but endlessly deep black pupils, lucky Blu Tak, an unlikely apocalypse and much much more.
The novel is still flickering too (one of the short stories is rapidly becoming ‘long’ too) and I’m still tinkering, reassured by professionals of this craft the first draft is ‘supposed to be shite’.
So, yup, whilst I’m not doing much in the way of ACTUAL WRITING, I am very much still a feckin’ writer.
Well, 4 weeks today we’re planning a boat trip from Mevagissey to Fowey. I’ll either be celebrating having completed The Plague the previous day, nursing battered legs and eating ALL the food…. Or I’ll be recounting heroic tales of how and why I didn’t complete the whole 100km. One. Hundred. Kilometres.
Nicky, and blog regular Martin are both doing the 50km again and another friend, Jan, doing the 11 mile version. This will be my 3rd visit, and Nicky’s 4th, to this, my favourite EVER event. Read about how much I enjoyed it last year HERE (and also about how Nicky was ‘retiring’ from ultra marathons!)
I’ve managed some running lately, hitting the trails for a few 3,4 even 5 hour runs these last few weeks, squeezing in other runs where I can.
I promise you (and myself) this: with everything I’ve got I’ll be on that start line at 5 minutes past midnight as Friday becomes Saturday (12th August), hopefully skipping through the finish line sometime later on Saturday afternoon.
Right now, as I sit in the garden writing this, the reason I might just make it (to the start AND finish lines) is lying on the rug next to me ploughing through a Charlie Resnick thriller, commenting on how novels written of their era can become dated – 2018 thrillers don’t tend to feature cassette tapes or searches for telephone boxes.
My beautiful wife, Nicky, and I embarked on 20 mile training jaunts around the tracks, lanes and trails of South Devon this morning. This afternoon we are treating ourselves to rummaging through The Observer, racing through the afore mentioned Resnick thriller (by John Harvey), dipping in and out of The People (a Seline Todd political history) and DOING SOME ACTUAL WRITING!
Nicky (how, just HOW did I get to be this lucky, every single day I wake up to find out my heart has won the lottery!), my soul mate, my team mate, my lover, my best friend and my constant inspiration, has quietly, determinedly, carefully and lovingly nursed my tired body and soul through this last month to get us to right here. Right now.
Identity? Well, the most wonderful role I’ve ever had in my life is being one half of the magic that is ‘US’. Everything else only works BECAUSE of that.
In an attempt to be relentlessly positive, this blog post comes to you without any ‘there’s no time’ or ‘I’m too tired’