Atlantic Coast Challenge

I can't remember whether it is some ancient Chinese wisdom or Greek philosophical saying but I heard somewhere that it is not a good idea to run three marathons when you have a suspected stress fracture. My foot was still complaining and I had missed a month of racing as a result.

When injured you have to weigh up the possible physical dangers of running with the emotional damage of not running. The latter is very real pain and is rarely understood by those who don't run. I was in pain in both ways and thought that by at least attempting this I would ease half of that pain.

The Atlantic Coast Challenge was set in north Cornwall and consisted of 3 marathons in 3 days from Padstow to Lands End. It was organised (and very well organised) by votwo events. Having done their previous event on the Jurassic coast I knew what to expect and was really looking forward to it, even if I didn't manage to finish.

This stuff is great to run on.

Everything is done for you in this race apart from the running. We get transport to and from the train station or airport, transport to the race from the accommodation that they provide. We get fed lots during the race and then a BBQ afterwards. 

The weather was perfect for most of the 3 days, about 17 degrees and sunny. We started at a place called "round hole" though it wasn't very round. The path started on fairly easy trail and there were not too many hills. I was told to expect this to be harder than the Jurassic, which was really really hard. I was expecting some evil hills to appear.

I took it easy because I was worried about my foot. Any wrong footing and I was going to struggle. Even though I was taking it easy I still ran ahead of Oli who was doing some weird training method that involved keeping his heart rate below 150 bpm at all times. I could never be a triathlete, living out of a spreadsheet, no matter what the performance improvement was.

Running through Newquay was interesting. I had been given the privilege once more of running as number 1. I had to endure the usual semi-coherent rants from the locals; "You should be in front number 1" and "Heyyyy Number 1 blah blah blah". I didn't use any of my usual number 1 lines in this instance. Running past lots of fish and chip shops was quite hard, especially when living in London where fish and chips are crap. 

The first day involved some beach running, perfect training for running with sand in my shoes. Something I am not expecting to encounter in the Sahara is a load of naked people on a beach. As I came down a path onto the beach I thought it was odd that a man was missing his trunks, then I realised that lots of people were missing their trunks/swimming costumes too. Luckily I did not have to endure it much. In my experience (of watching American films) I thought nudist beaches were pcked with women aged 18-22 and were constantly oiling each other. Unfortunately this was not the case.

I continued along the beach and was on my own as I crossed one of the many streams on route. They are small enough to wade through if you choose, most have a footbridge nearby. I got back onto the path and was about 22 miles into the route when I congratulated myself on making it this far without foot incident. I stopped and looked around to see if the guys behind me were still there and I could not see them. Then whilst stood still I turned around and kicked a rock that resulted in considerable pain. I yelled out loud, equally in pain and anger. If the stress of running on a poorly foot was to end my race then so be it. I would be really angry if I had to pull out because I kicked a rock while stood still.

Fortunately I walked it off in 15 minutes and could run again. The day ended in Perranporth and I met with Ian who had been there nearly an hour. My time was 4.42, but I was just pleased with getting through it without breaking myself.

We drove back to the shallets and everyone started their post-today pre-tomorrow rituals. Mine is to eat something and put on some tights. I don't do much stretching nor do I drink much water. I know I should I just don't seem to get round to it. The BBQ was great and it involved free beer which I took advantage of. I met a fellow fetchie and GUCR finisher Phillip (PS66) who told me about his last race. He did the ridgeway 85 miles and fell on a tree stump after about 30 and cracked some ribs. Amazingly he still finished and is still running quite well now, though he is taking it easy. Conventional wisdom yet again would be for him to rest but I fully understood why he was there. It was the same reason I was there, the pain of not running hurts more than broken bones.

It does not look very far on the map, however most of the route involved weaving in and out of these coves. Someone should tell these people about the shortest distance between A and B is a straight line...

The next day I felt a bit dehydrated (beer would be perfect re hydration liquid if it wasn't for the alcohol). Still I had almost completely free movement in my legs and my foot was not hurting any more than at the start.

The profile of day 2 was more or less the same as day 1. I continued to take all of the compulsary equipment that was required in my rucksack while others ditched most of it. Some of the stuff required seemed overkill such as lights, whistle, waterproof notepad, gloves, hat etc. I was not trying to win though so I didn't care. I also took more advantage of the food at the checkpoints which were about 10k apart. There were lots of chocolates, sandwiches and flapjacks. It was in the Jurassic challenge that I first drank Coke in a race. Since then I crave it when I need a sugar boost and there were plenty of them here.

I prefer to run on my own in these kinds of things and just chat to people as and when they overtake or I overtake them. I found myself on all three days running very similar times to a couple of others without really running with them. I'm not one for constant chatting when running and quite like my own company, which is one of the reasons I love these runs. I did though bump into lots of people who were doing the MDS nest year and for many this was their first event that was more than a marathon. I'm really looking forward to meeting others who are doing the MDS over the next 6 months in others races I've got planned.

Day 2 ended up being fairly pedestrian. The navigation was easy and the paths were not that hilly again and I jogged home in a comfy 4.32. The finish was at the holiday park that we were staying in which allowed us loads of time to lounge around at the end of the day. Ian and I played crazy golf which was pretty crazy. Average number of shots to get it in the hole was about 20. The BBQ was great that night with plenty of burgers, sausages and cheescake. There was more free beer and chatting.

I never get bored of hearing about other peoples running tales and of telling my own. I do get bored of hearing about training schedules, pace graphs and heart rates and all the science stuff behind running. I never preach to others how they should approach any race and I do not like to hear it from them. I just like to talk about how I did things and hear about them. I love to talk about the GUCR and it often amazes people to hear about it. It's one of those races where you have to decide first whether you really want to do it. Then if you do you can. I say this and not much more about the "training" I did.

There was a video played of some of the other events that votwo organise. One that caught my eye was one that involved gorillas jumping out of woods and scaring the runners. They had to negotiate all sorts of water slides and the crowd were allowed to throw wet sponges at the runners. Looked like fun. We retired to the chalet and Ian, Oli, Jo and I watched the Lord of the Rings on TV. It really felt like a holiday camp, it was so relaxed. I completely forgot that I'd run 2 marathons and still had one to go.

The best was saved till last. We were told that the third day would be the hardest as the terrain was very tough. I knew it wouldn't be as hard as the first 2 days of the Moose however I was still a bit worried about my foot. It was hurting just a little bit more than at the start of the first marathon and one slip could send me right back to that first day in Canada.

The first few miles were fairly easy running though some villages on the sea front and then we headed up into the trail. It was as expected, very rocky, muddy and uneven. The mud was especially hard to run on and the hills finally came out. I was still going slower that I would and a few people overtook me including Oli who just bounded past, obviously worried that his heart rate was to fall below 140.

It was a lovely sunny day after what has been a miserable summer and there were lots of people out and about. It became tricky at some points on the narrow trail but most of the locals were very happy to move aside and let us pass. The hard trail didn't last too long and about halfway through we were running on quite open path through abandoned mines and other random buildings. I didn't really know what they were but it felt like I was running through places on historical significance. It felt quite cool to be running to the end of the country.

The last checkpoint was positioned at 21 miles and we were told there were "just over 6" miles to go. I didn't mind the slight lengthening of the stage, I'd come to expect that in trail races such as this one. Sorry, did I just write "races"? I meant "challenge".

The remaining 6ish miles of running were spectacular for so many reasons. The path was hard sand, undulating but totally runnable. The sun was out shining upon the last big effort of the weekend but the best thing was that I could see Lands End. Although I was 6 miles away and potentially an hour from the finish I could see where I was running to ad it felt great. I forgot about my ankle and just went for it.

Towards the end I overtook quite a few others as the route winded through a small town. There were a couple of final hills to climb before the downhill sprint to the finish. The finish line confused me as both flags were positioned on a wall to the side and I assumed that we had to run between them so I jumped through, ensuring a comedy finish as usual. There was not medal for this but a Cornish pasty. I'd been thinking about the pasty for a few hours and I almost laughed when given the choice between meat and vegetarian. I doubt I'd be able to do this kind of running eating tofu and spinach (though Scott Jurek manages it).

Finish - Just over 6 hours

We didn't hang around at the finish too long but I got the chance to chat to those who finished around me. The day was still glorious and I'm so glad I took the risk and did this event. My foot felt no worse or better than at the start so I took that as a good sign.

I thought it was easier than the Jurassic Challenge due to the lack of hills and possibly because of the weather. I recommend them both though, ideal training for MDS or GUCR or whatever. I'm quite sad that I won't be coming back next year to do either events as they clash with the MDS and Sparathlon. I do intend to return in august where they will be doing the ONER on the Jurassic Coast, running all 3 marathons in one go.