Friday, 15 October 2010

The Atlantic Coast Challenge 2010 - DAY3

Sunday 3rd October Day 3 - Approximately 28 miles

The night of the 2nd October, all hell broke loose in the skies above Cornwall!! After a reasonable day's weather, it absolutely hammered down throughout the night and the wind was blowing a gale, rattling the palm tree directly outside our bedroom window.

I woke early (around 6am, although I wasn't too sure whether or not I had actually made it asleep) and my dad (a worrier when I partake in events such as these) was also up and about and greeted me with the news that the skies would clear by 09:30. Looking out of the window into the darkness, it was hard to believe.

4 scrambled eggs and some toast en route to the HQ was the order of the day (a far better sign over last year where I could only manage 1 slice of dry white toast on Day 3). Ellen drove me down to Hayle on her own as it was still raining heavily and I suggested that if it were to continue to not bring the kids or my folks out at all today. This was certainly the sensible thing to do, but not what I truly wanted. However, on arrival at the HQ the weather started to perk up and so Ellen decided that she would drive back and pick the kids up and would see me at the first check point at Zennor.

Al arrived and we got ourselves through the kit check and briefing before alighting the mini-buses for the relatively short trip to the start line at Lelant Church. There was none of last year's pissing on the church garden in front of a shocked congregation as the start was pretty immediate. Al and I were pretty wise to everything by now and we purposely held back to allow a decent amount of running space as we knew that we would soon be in single file trail before getting to Carbis Bay and St Ives. A nice steady pace was the order of the day; a constant forward motion as it was going to be a long day. We remembered that this first section was the longest section of the weekend, with a 10 mile run/clamber/wade through bogs before the Zennor check point. Boy, was it wet! So much for saving the feet.

We were in great spirits and looked after each other at every sign of fatigue and potential blister hot spot, and it wasn't long before we started picking off those runners who we knew had set off too quick at the start. The diversion away from the coastal path to Zennor arrived in what seemed an easier time to last year.
After a 10 mile section, a decent check point refuel was required. All the family were there and I took the opportunity to sort the feet out as quickly as possible. As per the previous two days, I refilled my rehydration pack and grabbed food to eat en route, not wanting to waste any more time in the check points than was needed. Another bonus was the fact that I picked up my Garmin from Ellen which I had forgotten that morning (Ellen, you're a beautiful star and I couldn't do these idiotic things without you!). Knowing we were around 10 miles in at this point, the Garmin would sort the rest.

From Zennor, it was a case of following the diversion until the route back to the coastal path. Most of the route was familiar from last year, however, we did end up getting lost (and not on our own) traipsing across a farmer's field before limbo'ing some barbed wire fencing onto the coast path.

The next check point was Trevean Cliff, an approximate 10k run from Zennor. An unfortunate series of events was about to occur....

On a high from a refuel at Zennor, we decided we'd have a bit of a sing song whilst going pretty much flat out on a nice runnable downhill section. Greenday's 'Basket Case' was the song and not enough respect was being paid to the granite boulder strewn terrain. One trip and over I went! Not too heavy and onto my knees, which bore the force of the fall. All was fine apart from my steadying hand which landed in a gorse bush. Time to concentrate methinks!

A bit further on, during a section of pretty deep bogs, Al managed to put one foot in what at first appeared to be a shallow puddle, but ended up being a knee deep bog. Although our feet were already drenched this wasn't going to help. We focussed on reaching the Trevean Cliff checkpoint where hopefully Marta would be there to provide dry, clean gear that Al needed.

On eventually reaching the checkpoint, congestion was forming due to the constrained nature of the area, with runners and walkers sitting directly in the path where people wanted to continue. We decided to grab fuel and head off to the side to where Ellen and Marta were waiting. This turned out to be the longest checkpoint of the entire three days and we both took the opportunity to change into drier kit; me, dry socks, and Al dry socks and trainers.

I was able to take a good look at my feet at this point. Not too bad apart from my second biggest toe on my left foot had turned into a balloon with the blister developed underneath the nail. The entire top of the toe looked like a filled purple water balloon; I'll refrain from posting a picture on this blog!!

Due to the length of stay in the check point, people started to go past, although we knew it was going to be time well spent as it would be beneficial in the latter stages. However, it wouldn't be long until the feet were wet again.

On leaving the check point we eventually came to a valley river crossing that we remembered from last year. However, due to all the rain, the usual stepping stones were covered by about a half a foot of raging torrent. It was inevitable that the feet were to take a proper dunking! As I scoured for a drier place to cross, another competitor called me a pussy, despite not having gone through himself. This riled me and I went straight through. I never did see him again after that. EAT MY MUD SLOWCOACH!!

Energy levels were great at this point, a complete contrast to twelve months ago. At around 7 miles between check points, we had again overtaken those that had passed us at checkpoint 2 and we were determined to maintain position. We arrived at Cape Cornwall around the same time as Kev, Sheila and Melanie (The Pink Ladies!) and I carried Zachary the length of the car park for a super quick refuel, making sure I had enough to get me to the end. The next time we would see the crew would be the finish.

An air of exitement followed us up the steep hill out of Cape Cornwall and it was at this point I decided that we would knuckle down and go for the strong finish. We stayed with the pink Ladies and Kev for a mile or two until we rounded/rock climbed a headland and saw Sennan Cove. We upped the pace. We knew the end was close and so upped the pace some more to open some ground between us and the runners behind. It soon became apparent that we were pretty safe in our position and once we had conquered the sand dunes we landed onto the roads and car park of Sennan Cove. Just to the other side of the village and up over the headland; running/walking/power walking all the way and overtaking some walkers who were also on the verge of finishing.

It had been a fantastic three days and Al and I had vowed to stick together to the end of each day. This really made it for us and we had had a blast all the way and met some great people too. We had achieved what we had set out to achieve, in that we fuelled properly and paced well and more importantly we were both standing and still strong at the end of each day. We are never going to be the fastest at events like these but on the other hand we aren't the slowest either, and we always have the best time and try to offer a little help to others on the way. There is little point in doing these things if you aren't going to enjoy them!

We finished strongly hand in hand aloft, knocking 40 minutes off last year's time...........really ready for that pasty!!
Al & Gaz on the run-in to the finish feeling good!

ACC number two done and dusted.....what a ride!
Not forgetting the original reason for doing this back in 2009, again we were collecting sponsorship for Ataxia UK. Last year we collected just short of £1,300 for research into a cure for Ataxia and this year we won't be too far short of that sum with £1,090 raised to date with more sponsorship promised.

Here we are at the end following a quick change.....

See you in 2011.

Monday, 11 October 2010

The Atlantic Coast Challenge 2010 - DAY 2

Saturday 2nd October Day 2 - Shorter day approximately - 25.4 miles.

Friday night was a blast! A table for 14 of us in Pizza Express in Newquay with views over the sea. You could even see the lighthouse at the start of Day 1 at Trevose Head. I didn't manage a beer though, just a bit of my dad's. A good chill out night all round........then we had to get up for the next marathon!

Grandad and Grandma were looking after the kids all day today whilst Ellen could concentrate on following me around the course with Al's girlfriend Marta. I think she had a great time without the worry of keeping the kids entertained, and loaded with the biggest packed lunch ever that my dad had made for her!

Yesterday was about getting into the feel of the coastal path and included a fair amount of beach running which can be a real work out, however, today was the start of the real ups and downs where the route took you along a more remote part of the coastline, compared to yesterday, and where the ascents and descents really come into play. It was time to test those quads!

As per usual, we arrived at the HQ in time for another thorough kit check and registration briefing. Nothing to report in terms of route changes and the weather was looking favourable. However, with the previous day's deluge, the conditions would be far from straight forward underfoot!

I remember the first check point catching a lot of people out last year as it comes pretty soon. The information suggests a distance of around 10k but after just 4 miles you descend down into St Agnes. Being such a short section, we grabbed some food and headed straight off; no need for liquid top ups as we had plenty. What I did find next was quite amazing - I had randomly picked out a packet of pickled onion space invader crisps (you know the one's we had as kids at 10p a packet?) and it must have been the mix of salty, starchy potatoe, but the boost it gave me was incredible. Thoroughly recommend them to all!!

The weather was good and the paths were reasonable but ponding large areas en route. The bigger climbs came straight after St Agnes, with a steep ascent straight out of the village into a more rustic area littered with abandoned tin mines and steep river valleys which were the first quad busters of the weekend. This year, we didn't make the mistake of thinking Porthtowan was Portreath (so much for local knowledge!) and cruised through and onto the treacherous climb out of the village. A steady pace, interspersed with some very steep climbs, soon brought us to the headland into Portreath where we could see the VO2 vans far below at the harbour car park.

This time last year I was in a bad way. My fuelling was wrong and it had been a baptism of fire into the world of marathon running (last year's ACC Day 1 being my first!). This year I was feeling fantastic and we cruised down into the town to be met by the girls. First sandwich stop of the day with more crisps and a top-up of SIS drink in my pack. We were off in no time knowing we had a big climb out of Portreath to contend with and that it would give us the opportunity to eat on the hoof instead of wasting time at the check-point.

Gaz, Al & Tim contemplating the climb

The next check point was one I'd been looking forward to for ages - Godrevy Point. Last year Ellen had missed this checpoint as she had driven the kids back to my folks to avoid them being too tired for the last day. This year, she was able to enjoy it in it's full splendour! Last year we had run straight past, however, this year Ellen was able to show us a beach just before the check point with loads of seals sunbathing themselves; quite a sight! At the check point it was a snicker and top up of fluids and then onto the long beach section to the next checkpoint.

(Al and Gaz) Coming down to Godrevy Checkpoint

Sand, sand and more sand. At least there were no sand fleas like last year which seemed attracted to sweaty, grimy legs! Some runners were attempting to traverse to edge of the dunes whereas we headed straight for the beach despite it being the longer route. Not much to say about this section really, it was just an endless beach section of no particular excitement; what I can say, however, was the surf was pumping - overhead with not many people out!

Eventually up onto the point off the beach, we located the single track that would lead us to the additional check point that would prevent people from taking a short-cut across the dunes to the race HQ and end of Day 2. Ellen and Marta were there to cheer us on again and we also met up with three runners who we had met, and who had entertained us, on and off throughout day's 1 and 2.

Kevin, Sheila and Melanie are the type of people who make events like this. Singing their way around much of the course, with infectious smiles. We joined up with them for the last leg of the day and they were grateful of the opprtunity to be running with people who had completed the event before so therefore knew the route back to race HQ. A nice steady run to the finish brought us in a full 25 minutes quicker than last year with plenty of juice left to spare.

Job done, 2 down one to go. Weather forecast for Saturday night - Torrential rain and gale force of joys!

Friday, 8 October 2010

The Atlantic Coast Challenge 2010 - DAY1

Friday 1st October Day 1 - 26.22 miles

The day had arrived that I had been looking forward to all year, and with it forecasts of heavy rain and gale force winds - it didn't dissapoint. Staying with my folks again in Newquay, I awoke early after a very restless night and the weather was atrocious! A relaxed breakfast and then Ellen drove me the half an hour to the VO2 HQ in Hayle where I met my best bud Alex who ran the course with me last year. An air of electric anticipation awaited us as we met for the race briefing after a thorough kit check. A few familiar faces were dotted around, included Adam Holland who on the Sunday was due to finish his 99th marathon in his quest to be the youngest 100th marathoner.
'If it's not raining, it's not training' quipped Ben Mason (VO2 Director) which did a lot to lighten the mood. A quick show of hands from those returning from last year also brought a chuckle after Ben quipped 'don't you ever learn?'

We were then herded onto the mini-buses for that tortuous 40-minute journey to the start.
Everyone shivered on arrival at Trevose, anxious to get going to warm up. The weather was unrelenting from the start. It took a while to wrap my brain around the fact that feet were going to be wet no matter what I did to try to protect them. All I could think of was the fact that on Day 3 last year it was the wet feet that brought the blisters on. However, Salomon Speedcross were the shoes of choice this year and soon into the start they became a very wise choice. The trails were already churned up by the early starters in the walking group and the mud very often became ankle deep. Many runners were still in their roadies and one guy was obviously struggling in a pair of Vibram's!!

I'd completed many more training miles in the run-up to this years ACC which became obvious from the start as I felt pretty good. Also, my fuelling last year was appalling so I was determined to conquer that too. I quickly realised during my training that energy gels are not my thing as they made me nauseous for days after, not the ideal thing for a multi-day event. Thus, 'real food' was the order of the 3 days.

The first check point at Mawgan Porth came after a pretty gnarly start. Flood water ran down every valley side making it pretty treacherous on each descent. We took it pretty steady as we wanted to make it through the 3 days and not have to retire because of some stupid injury through lapse in concentration.

'Don't hang around in the check points' was the decision of the day. We knew it was going to be a slower first day than last year as the conditions were a whole lot worse so grab a drink, some food and consume it on the walkable ascents. This strategy worked really well; we power walked every ascent which nobody around us seemed to be able to cope with.

The second check point at Lusty Glaze, Newquay, (roughly half way) brought us into the town that I grew up in. With it, brought some flatter, hard surface and a chance to pick up the speed and get some easier miles in the bank. Similarly to last year I was able to assist in the navigation through the streets of Newquay. Tempting as it was to leave people to their own devices and leave us with a chance to make up a few positions I decided that Karma may have it's wicked way with me and bite me on the arse later on in the weekend. About 5 or 6 other runners tagged along in the end and I got them around the official route no problem.

It was when we got to the southern end of Fistral Beach that we realised that there were some people that were taking obvious short-cuts. People who we recognised as overtaking before the first check point were suddenly ahead of us again. When you overtake the same people twice in a race, there's definately something not right.

Check point 3 of the day brought us across the River Gannel estuary and into one of my most favourite places, Crantock. The gang were there to meet us, Ellen and our 3 kids, Al's girlfriend Marta, and my folks. A special mention, given the sponsorship that we have raised this year, goes to Lara, who is my daughters best friend (7 years old) who suffers with Ataxia, who turned up her family Nick, Sophie and Freya and Finn. It was great to see them there and it really gave us the spur that was needed to keep going. We were about 18 miles in at this point.

After Crantock the sun came out! We adopted a run/power walk strategy from herein, especially on the ascents, with the aim of conserving energy for the next two days, and we were soon onto the beach at Holywell Bay. At this point, we again noticed a couple of runners that we had left well behind before the first check point. Maybe we should have just ignored it, but it really wound us up. Intentional or not, they were only cheating themselves - where's the glory in not completing the entire course? No names mentioned, obviously, but it turned into a bit of a race from herein, despite us knowing we had put in the greater mileage. This continued onto Perranporth Beach and the long run in across the sand.

The finish point had changed from last year and had moved from the beach car park to the top of the cliff. As we neared the end of the beach I checked my Garmin and we had completed the full 26.2 miles. We had a choice; run through the car park and up the cliff road OR run through the river and up the cliff steps (the shorter but much steeper route). Well, it was a no brainer. We had completed the distance already so the river and steps it was. However, it seems like our two competitors had the same idea. Despite the 26.2 miles behind us, the fire in our bellies ignited and we found ourselves sprinting to reach the river first. The adrenaline was like nothing I had experienced before; where had this energy come from? The other two hesitated at the sight of the river; not us. 'Straight through it Al!' and we launched ourselves off the foot high bank and straight through to the steps on the other side. Straight up the steps to the sight of the VO2 flags.

The sprint finish!

Straight into the river!

Job done. I was walking around on a complete high, NOT flat on my back as I was last year. We were 5 minutes slower than last year but the conditions dictated this and as you will see, we made up for this on the following two days!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

ACC Report to come....

I'm back, I've had a blast but have sh*t loads of work to do so the race report will be soon. Watch this space!