Thursday, 8 October 2009

ATLANTIC COAST CHALLENGE Day 3 - Levant to Lands End

I woke up this morning feeling like I had a washing machine in the pit of my belly. I managed just one slice of white bread toast and that was it. Not a good start to what was to become one of the hardest (both mentally and physically) days of my life.

Today was the day when Ellen and the kids, plus my parents, would be at every check point. Massive love to all of them as this would turn out to be a marathon day of their own.

Al and I got to the race HQ early enough to get a cup of tea before loading into the mini-buses. There were a few faces around who looked like how I felt, but then we also noticed that there were a few absent faces from the previous two days and the race briefing was a lot quieter. It emerged that quite a few people had either dropped out completely due to either exhaustion or injury, or had opted to join the walking group who left at 09:00 and were, by now, well on route. This in itself was a great boost and I was proud of myself for what I had achieved so far.

Only a short drive in the buses today to Lelant on the other side of Hayle harbour and we met with the gang outside the start point at the local church. Much to Jack and Ellie's amazement, Batman and Robin had joined us for the last day! It turned out that these guys were seasoned ultra-runners who do this sort of thing week in week out.

I have no idea what the local church congregation thought of a large crowd of runners waiting (and some watering!) their lawn, however, we were soon off and running.

We were warned in advance that today's distance was to be extended to around the 29 mile mark due to a land slip earlier in the year closing part of the coastal path and therefore a diverion inland had been implemented. In addition, CP1 at Zennor was not until around the 10.5 mile mark and therefore the first section was probably the longest between checkpoints of the entire weekend. Nevertheless, this also meant that a significant distance will have been covered before the first stop.

The first few miles started off on a single file track up and down the headland and around to St Ives. Throughout this section I had managed to manoeuvre myself in the top half of the group. I also met up with a guy who I had met on the first day whose parents lived in St Ives and therefore he was able to show the best route through the town which was greatly appreciated. We were all very tempted by the smells emanating from the many pasty and fish and chips shops within the town so I promised myself that I would bring the family for fish and chips the next time we came down to St Ives.

On the way out of St Ives, the coastal path started proper with soft, and often muddy (despite the lack of rain) tracks with either sharp shale rocks or large granite rocks and boulders providing obstacles on the way. A typical section of this part of the course can be seen in the photo below: -

Unfortunately for me, it was at this point where I first got my right foot wet. However, I had to continue and hope that Ellen had remembered to pack my spare socks and trainers for when we saw her at Zennor. I plodded on at no great pace up and down, zig zagging whilst avoiding and scrambling over rocks and boulders until I checked my Garmin watch which indicated that just over 10 miles had been covered. My right foot was very painful at this point as the wet socks had rub and the blisters had started. This was the big turning point for me on this final day; the blisters that I had managed to evade for the previous two days had arrived with terror. I finally arrived at Zennor to meet the family. I needed to sit down and sort the feet out. On arrival I was still in the mix with a lot of runners around me, however, they didn't stick around for long but I had some urgent repair work to undertake.

Ellen, my saviour on so many occasions this weekend, pulled a fresh pair of socks and my spare trainers out of my kit bag; what a star! I taped up my feet as well as could be and put the new kit on. Despite the dry feet, the damage was already done. Bruised flesh underneath the blisters on my right heel and three other blisters on each feet to contend with for the next 18 miles!

On arrival in Zennor. Cuddle first, feet second!

On leaving Zennor it was basically a bit more run, walk, run, walk until the feet numbed up a bit. This was the point where we had to take in the diversion and then make our way back to the coastal path. It wasn't long until we were back on familiar ground where the 'running' became more scrambling and climbing.

As per the previous two days, the unforgiving sun arrived around midday. We needed to get to around the 15 mile point at the infamous CP2 at Trevean Cliff. I wasn't sure whether any of the gang would be there to meet us, especially the kids as it involved some climbing and dangerous drops. Despite being only 5 miles from CP1, the distance seemed endless. After relentless climbs and descents over headland after headland I finally saw the flag and, even better, Ellen!

The VO2 guys were fantastic. Ellen got me a cup of sugary tea (yeah, I know but it really boosted me!) and we perched on a rock for a couple of minutes. What would you choose? 1) To run an 80 mile ultra off-roader or 2) go for a swim in this...........

Despite the temptation, I chose to carry on!

Before I left, my dad came over the hillside with Ellie which was lovely and he couldn't believe the terrain, but I couldn't hang around. I needed to get going to Cape Cornwall. As I left this was the path and the terrain we needed to cover: -

With lacerated feet, a heavy head and with the sun beating down, I set out for the last check point at Cape Cornwall. The path began to widen out a little a couple of miles on from CP2 but the remorseless sun beat down as we passed by the old Levant tin mines and Pendean Lighthouse, on and on until Cape Cornwall. Exhastion had well and truly set in now, but giving up at this stage never entered my mind.

The support crew at Cape Cornwall.

Day dragging on at the beautiful Cape Cornwall

A mix a opinions from the VO2 guys over the distance to Lands End varied between 5 and 8 miles. Due to not knowing the exact total length of todays run my Garmin wasn't much help. It really was the home straight from here with just the finish line to go.
By now, Al and a lady called Lyn (who I had run with yesterday and for a lot of the second half of today) had stretched ahead due to the excruciating pain on my feet on the downhill sections, although I was able to catch up a little on the flats and uphills. I realised at this point that the next time I would see Alex would be at the finish line. As the paths levelled out more and took on a bit more width I was able to pick up the pace and caught up with Lyn at Sennen Cove. We ran together through the dunes across the beach and down to the car park until we passed a sign 'Lands End 1 1/4 miles'. We ran passed and had to conquer one more ascent to a headland. It was here that I finally saw the finish line and the VO2 flag.

Where it came from I don't know, I've always said that 'if you sprint the finish then you haven't pushed hard enough during the race'. But that's what happened and there was still about a mile to go. I thought I'd gone too soon at first but I managed to maintain it until I saw the finish and everyone waiting for me. Ellie had run about 200m to meet me and then Jack eventually joined us to make a perfect finish with them both holding my hands as we crossed the finish line.

It's all a bit of a blur from this point. I was exhausted. I vaguely remember getting my trophy, pasty (shared with the kids) and looking around for a Forgoodness Shake to no avail. The one thing I do remember is sharing the fantastic sunset with Ellen and all my brilliant support crew who had been waiting for me all day long.

My beautiful family.

Mum and dad.

He came, he saw, he conquered!

28.5 miles - 08:20:00
74th position out of 143
Overall 3-day total 20:18:00
80th position out of 127 3-day finishers
I swore at the time I wouldn't do it again, but looking back I'm pretty keen now that I know the set-up and the terrain involved.
A massive thank you to everyone who has supported me through this adventure and to all who have sponsored me to support Ataxia UK. In total, we have all managed to collect around £1,300 in both online and offline sponsors. BRILLIANT!!
More training, Paris Marathon in April.
See you at the start in 2010.
Gaz x

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