Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Extended Report: Arc of Attrition 2019 UltraMarathon

Subtitle: Planning, Determination and extreme Effort

Marcus and Agata are just back from perhaps the most challenging sporting event we have ever entered:

This post took several hours to put together.  Inside you'll find precise details that can help you finish this tough race, and also some personal views that reflect on us.

World View (Motivation)
Whilst Marcus covered some of our preparations here I want to talk about some of the factors that now place health, well-being and exercise at the top of our personal priority list.

During my childhood exercise was never mentioned and the diet I was fed from an early age I now realise was unhealthy by today's standards.  As a consequently overweight child there were health and social issues.

It's now 2019 and both Marcus and Agata are firmly reborn un-natural athletes.  To be clear, we are short people, and neither of our physiques lend itself to UltraMarathons or even Marathon running.

Additionally, unlike some Athletes we now know, running or sports, or races was never introduced to us as children.  Quite the reverse. And so we've had to slowly discover this new way of living, ourselves, over time, in the last 2 decades.

But a combination of hard work via  training, training, and more training means that even at our advanced years we are at last the Athletes we might always have been as a child.  Marcus' motivation message is surely this:  Slowly but surely, and over time  (years) you can become the Athlete you aspire to.

Journey Down
It is only about 300 km from our home in Alcester to the Campsite and Race finish.  This is Eco Park 

Getting caught in a Snowdrift is not the best preparation for a 36 hour running race.  Apart from a potential delay it rather begs the question:  What will conditions be like on the actual race itself.  Will it be snow and hail as well?

Before Bodmin on the A30, a beautifully new road, things just ground to a halt.  The jacknifed lorry shown here is just one typical problem.

Soon we were completely stationary in both lanes. Initially we thought to stay awake in shifts in case we would start to suddenly move.

But after 2 hours of being stationary we were fed up

 If we had known that we would be stranded for over 6 hours here without moving, we might have had a lie down earlier.  After all, our race would require staying awake and running for 36 hours, let's not add another 24 hours previous of not sleeping to that total.

After almost 7 hours we started moving again as the motorway in front was cleared.  Progress was slow because to the left of us other motorists, (wankers), convinced that in their summer tyres they could keep going, had made 4 lines of traffic, on the hard shoulder and then the grass verge, only to come to a haphazard halt less than 100 metres ahead of us.

Ironically, our Motorhome is equipped with Winter Snow and Mud Tyres, so our traction was better than anybody with regular British summer tyres.  

We arrived to Eco Park at 2am

Another complication.  Eco Park was flooded and so the Campsite and Electrical hookups were not available.  So we had to just stop in a car park.

Next set our alarms for 7am to make breakfast, then goto the  equipment check 

Kit Check 08.30 Friday

Carrying all the mandatory kit for a significant race is a tremendous burden.   But necessary in case of Emergencies.  We had to rock up to the marshals and show them everything, then go and cram it back into our specialist rucksacks.

Since we are unsupported, i.e. no crew of helpers springing up along the way to offer us road shoes for the asphalt sections, or new recharged lights, we have to take advantage of a bag of equipment that we can have transported to the Halfway Lands End stop.

There it is our intention to at least change some clothes, and maybe a battery charger, and replenish some food supplies.

But we still have to carry the above list regardless!

Race Briefing 09.30 Friday

A comprehensive though rather intimidating Race Briefing. The cavalier/ ironic  attitude towards navigation particularly hurts. We tried in 2018: just simply keeping the coast to your left is not going to be enough.  Especially at night, once lost, difficult to recover.

But we all took in the wisdom offered, it could make the difference between making it or not.

On the Bus  10.00 Friday
After briefing everybody is taken onto some coaches and we are transported from the Porthtowan finish back to the start at Coverack

Race Report

Coverack 12.00 to Portleven 18.30 Friday

So at 12 noon we did indeed set off.  We both felt very prepared.   But still in our minds the big question, would we be fast enough this year.

The initial conditions were not raining, but underfoot it was anything but dry.  Our clothing meant that very quickly we were upto temperature and running well.  Our first exposure to mud mud and more mud.  Whole sections of repeated 10's of metres of mud sections on thin paths with bushes either side.

In the daylight following the Coast Path signs was relatively easy.  But at every step Agata's Fenix 5 Plus watch with its tracklog and basemap gave us the extra assurance that we were on the right course.  There were lots of other runners around, but hey, it's entirely possible that one person goes wrong and everybody else follows.  So we always, always check.

By about 17.00 it was getting dark and so our headtorches were on.  And yes, all that testing  was going down well, between us we had blazing lights highlighting the trail upto 100 metres ahead of us.   

Arrival Portleven 18.02 Friday

Arrived to Portleven a full hour before the cutoff and we were both in excellent spirits.   I checked my Rucksack Bladder and it seemed to be leaking!   We had a leaking Nathan bladder a few weeks ago so this one was a new one and tested for 2 weeks prior to the race.  Had it suddenly failed, or maybe the top seal has slid open.  No time to diagnose and after a refill of the bladder and some small food intake it was important to leave asap.

Porthleven 18.23 to Penzance 21.59  Friday

Arrival Penzance 21.59

First section from Porthleven was a simple trail and coming upto Penzance it is tarmac followed by a wide, flat, well maintained tourist path.  So this section overall is easy!

Last year Penzance was our last stop because we arrived at this checkpoint about 2 minutes after the cutoff.

This year we were over 1.5 hours before last entry.  Wahoo!  Part of the improvement was that in 2018 there was a cliff path detour inland and an extra 30 mins was allowed.  But in practice that was not enough and many runners (like us) took much longer on that section effectively timing us out.

But the pictures say it all.  We are ready, able and willing to continue.  Bladder recharged with Glucose water + Nectar Pill for Marcus and Water for Agata and it is time to set out again.

Penzance 22.31 to Lands End  04.15

Lands End 04.15

A long ascent on tarmac upto Mousehole,  thin trail to Minack Theatre including 100m of running on boulders on the beach.   Pretty hilly all the time.  Reasonably technical.

After Minack the wind picked up, estimate over 30 km/h

A long and taxing night time run of almost 6 hours.  But the prospect of a long stop at Lands End and our stash bag or replacement clothes really motivated us.  Plus this is sort of the halfway point and after that, surely it will be easy?

We arrived over an hour before we had planned for  (05.30) we were not to know that in practice had we been any later we would have not made St Ives.

If we did it again we'd aim to spend less that the 50 minutes we spent here to make the next section easier.  I'd say aim to leave by 04.45 latest.

Lands End 05.03 to Pendeen 08.32 Saturday

On the positive side we were ahead of our projected exit from Lands End, leaving at 05.03 not the anticipated 05.30. Still it was a hard slog. Why?

We had HAIL and decently strong winds, I would estimate over 40 km/h, strong but not a killer. We just kept going because the 09.00 deadline imposed at Pendeen Car Park is a new and killer restriction.

It seems liked forever when at last we could see the Pendeen Lighthouse in the distance. The roads were wide, but the hail, winds, and water everywhere was not making it easy. We were so overjoyed when we got to the last 1km of actual tarmac and then the Car Park itself.

Pendeen 08.45 to St Ives 14.00 Saturday

Absolutely and unquestionably the utterly worst part of the course.  Why?  Because it is extremely technical  (i.e. bloody difficult) and so 04.15 is absolutely not enough for us to make it.

The worst part is that St Ives is not visible until about 15 minutes to the end.  We thought we were absolutely done,  but about 10 minutes from Checkpoint we met the first of the Mudcrew Volunteer Greeters.  They told us that if we pushed it we might just make the cutoff.

For at least a few minutes we were not convinced, but when a second greeter said the same something changed and Agata and Marcus began sprinting for all that we were worth.  Down the asphalt path, and past the Tate Gallery, then straight ahead,  then right up the street and finally into the building.  Literally as it went to the 14.00 cutoff we ran at full speed into the building.

Had we made it?  We checked with the Race Director and they confirmed we were the last 2 allowed to the checkpoint before cutoff.

So now we still have a chance to finish.

You have to leave < 20 minutes after any cutoff so I was extremely concerned not to now fall fowl of this next rule.  So we got our Bladders refilled, then without eating our food we literally took everything outside of the Checkpoint: sandwiches, food, bladders, rucksacks, to absolutely prove that we are out before 14.20

St Ives 14.19 to Godrevy 17.30

This is apparently an easy stretch and yes we know this because earlier this year Agata, Marcus and Heather had done a reccy of part of the course including this one.

When I say easy I mean it's not a technical course and much is on asphalt. But there is a catch. The last 10 km is through sand and it is quite easy to get lost, especially if you enter this during the dark.

We were battling to get to the sandy section in the daylight!

Also we got together with another runner Ian who was having a hard time. I came up with the plan of 1Km walk, then 1Km run, then repeat, to try and encourage us all to speed up and not just walk it. It worked and we left Ian with his Crew where he was swapping his Tarmac shoes for trail before the sand section.

We entered the Sand section as light was beginning to fade, and then got to the Godrevy car park at about 17.30. This is the first year of the 50 mile runners and they were running past us frequently near the Sandy stretch. This was actually a help as it provided some confirmation that we were on the right route.

Godrevy 17.50 to  Portreath 20.29
(with Steve)

Godrevy is a stop in a Car park and it was not ideal.  It's not really a checkpoint as such and Agata had to goto the nearby National Trust building to beg use of a toilet.

Meanwhile I had nowhere to change but a Volunteer offered me the backseat of his pickup and I used this to put on some extra clothes, although on the downside I left some items like food and my rear light (!! doh) on his back seat.  I only found that out later.

For the last 21 km we became 3.  Steve was initially being guided back by a Mudcrew runner Dan since his navigation had packed up.    But then Dan, an ex Arc of Attrition Champion, this year Volunteer,  realised that another women was behind us and needed his assistance.  So we chose accompany Steve.

Although the pace was rather slow, we felt we would still make it in time, thus finishing the race successfully and that merely finishing would be a triumph for us.

The main point to note here is that the wind reached over 40 mph i.e 64 km/h .  Astonishing.  Completely by chance we both already just put on our Waterproof Trousers as an additional insulation layer.  Agata put on her Waterproof Jacket and I put on my baselayer under my Red Cycling Jacket  (i.e. I did not put on my Waterproof Jacket).

We set off and we were walking and not running.

Portreath 20.58 to Porthtowan 23.03
(Marcus collapses )

From Google Maps I identify this Bus shelter as the scene of the drama ...

It was all going so well until we met Steve's brothers for a coffee stop in the town Portreath.  To give Steve some privacy I was talking to Agata, who was sitting inside the above bus shelter against the wind.  I was showing her how painful my left foot was:

"Look, you see if I flex my foot this way it so painful that I feel ..." 

Marcus promptly collapsed.  And once down Steve, his brothers, Agata, and a few bystanders came to my assistance.

I tried to get up, and then Passed out a second time

I tried to get up again, and Collapsed a third time

I waited a minute or so, and  I got up and stayed up :-)  This time I felt 100% okay and we all set off.  Then, out of nowhere, the Omega Medical team turned up.  I pointed out that I was 100% fine and that I should be allowed to continue.  They agreed.  

Agata comments:  Next time my husband has a foot pain so pronounced that he can make himself collapse by extreme flexing it.  Then don't bloody flex it, idiot!

During the last 10 km there are some significant large hills to descend and then climb.   Somebody left this wonderfully helpful message after which we knew it would be an easy-ish run to the finish.

The Last km & Finish 23.03

New in the 2019  race is a change to the end destination.  Instead of it being in a bar in Porthtowan it's now high up on a hill at the Eco Park Campsite.  Of course there is a tarmac road connecting the two, so of course the organisers decided not to use that and sent us up one last 1km muddy trail.

Ah, what jokers they are :-)

 Agata finished and gets her buckle


 Some finishers were bright as a button

Others were suffering

Marcus knows how to celebrate in the traditional Red Wine style

Our wonderful Buckle trophies

The Secret Timetable

The following 3 spreadsheets contain the key to completing the Arc, because crucially if you observe the last checkpoint times, you cannot make it to the finish ...

 (click on any photograph to enlarge of course)

This first spreadsheet is populated with final cutoff times at each of the stops.  For example you must arrive at Penzance by 23:45 or you will be Retired.   And similarly you must arrive at St Ives by 14:00 etcetera.

 Before the race we analysed the numbers and realised that if you leave Lands End at 06:30 it would be impossible to get to Pendeen Watch Lighthouse Car Park by 09:00.  So we made a modification:  to leave Lands End hopefully by 05:30

But it turns out this is not enough.  The Pendeen to St Ives course of 21.90 km is impossibly tricky i.e. technical.  It takes way over 5 hours.  So here is the fully revised numbers and tactics

- try to leave the Checkpoint indicated by the time in Column B

- Allow at least 5.5 hours to get from Pendeen to St Ives

- Allow for a 45 minute stop at Godrevy to put on the extra clothes you will need for the last 17.71 km stretch.  Since this is in a car park it's quite difficult to refill with fluids, and put on clothes etc.  This is why you need 45 minutes.

What Worked + / What failed -

- Music

In the 8 hour+ delay in driving to the race I neglected to charge my Music Player and so after about 10 hours it stopped working.  Very annoying indeed. 

Agata offered to stop her player and so we happily talked to each other for the next 15 hours or so.  This proved a fantastic workaround.

- Bars
As feared, I just could not continue to eat Energy Bars.  After about 5 of them I could not face another.  And so for over 60% of the race I only ate food at the checkpoints.  Typically things like soup, Lentils, Bread Rolls with Cheese.

- Mineral Drink
In over 1 decade of running I have never, repeat never ran with plain water hydration.   For the last few years the Nectar Hydro tablets have always given flavour to my water.  But incredibly after about 100 km of running I switched to water only.

+ Speedcross Gortex and Sealskinz

Two products performed flawlessly and helped me complete the course.  These are Sealkinz Hydrostop socks and Salomon Speedcross 4 GTX

At the end of a 36 hour running race, through constant mud, water, hail,  my feet were dry.  Not even a blister.   Absolutely bloody amazing

Agata recommends the Saucony Peregrine 8 GTX trail running shoes

+ 3 watch Strategy

We documented it here.  It actually worked.  Namely

+ You can charge up a Garmin watch whilst running.  Just take it off and using the original cable attach to a Power Brick, Lock Watch buttons and place in pocket.  Meanwhile use an additional watch to navigate until your original is fully charged again.  This is about 3 hours for the Fenix 5 Plus.

Lucky Choices

+ Marcus Cycling Jacket
Marcus used a 3 year old+ Decathlon Winter Cycling Jacket for the entire race.  I also had a new version of this stashed at Lands End which I could have changed into, but chose to wear the original red jacket throughout.

This jacket was windproof and fleecy warm inside so that  without any baselayer kept me warm even in upto 50 km winds.

For the last section I added a baselayer but still no outer waterproof jacket for the 60 km+ winds on the last section.

+ Extra Layer before end run
At Godrevy Car Park we both put on extra layers.  Somebody said it might be cold and we thought ... okay the worst that can happen is that we will get too hot.

In fact the winds exceeded 60 km/h so putting on extra clothes in these conditions would have been very difficult, we were so lucky to have done it before


We done good!

Agata's clothing
WAA long sleeve base layer with hip pockets -> stored on/off items like gloves, buff, spare Ronhill beanie, jacket
Saucony top -> 1/3 zip was perfect for temperature regulation
Raidlight partially windproof tights
Under Armour xstorm beanie
Decathlon (quite) windproof gloves
Inov-8 merino all terrain socks
Saucony Peregrine 8 GTX kept pretty much waterproof
WAA pack with 1.5 liter Nathan top fill bladder
Between Minack and Lands End put on Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket and Inov-8 mittens
At Lands End put on fresh socks from the mid point drop off bag and picked up some gels/bars/blocks
At Godrevy parking put on extra base layer merino icebreaker and Ultimate Direction Ultra Pants
+ kept in comfortable temperature most of the time
- putting base layer isn't possible in the open air, requires shelter like a car or a toilet building

Marcus' Clothing

Ultimate Direction Rucksack
Decathlon Ski Gloves, Salomon Mittens (not used)
Decathlon Winter Cycling top  (Absolutely bloody brilliant and < 30 GBP)
Inov Stormshell waterproof jacket
2 very thin Decathlon Baselayers, 1 used on last 20 km strecth only

Sealskinz Hydrostop Socks x2 (Change at Lands End)
Raidlight Thermal Trousers   ( very old, modern equiv here)
Ironman Trousers from Switzerland  (thanks Kathy Zimmerman)
Salomon Speedcross 4 GTX shoes.  So amazing I did not change to my Speedcross Pro 2's at the halfway.

Agata Food and Fuel
2x 1.5l tailwind nutrition energy powder with caffeine at start and Lands End
3x 1.0l water at Porthleven, Penzance and St. Ives
Coffees and soups at CPs, lentil dhal at Penzance, buttered buns, banana, blocks, 2x SIS gel

Marcus Food and Fuel

NB: I was heard to say "That water tastes really good" for the first time ever after switching exclusively to water after Lands End in my 1.5 litre Bladder

3L of Nectar flavoured water with about 20 g Glucose Dextrose added per litre.
post Lands End
3L of Water only

For Eating I managed 3 Clif Bars and 1 SIS Gel before becoming totally sick of packaged food.  I switched to Coffee with Milk and Sugar at Checkpoints.  I had Lentils at Penzance.  Then developed a liking for Buttered Bread rolls wherever possible.  On the last 20 km stretch I was sucking on Clif Bloks.

Agata's blister prevention, mediocre result...
Pre-cut kinesio tape at start and replaced in Porthleven
At Land's End asked the medic to replace both with their Zinc Oxide tape, same for left foot in St. Ives.
Still ended up with 4 blisters, bit painful but bearable. Had to stop once before St Ives to remove tape on left foot as it came off


Marcus' feet have taken a pounding and I do have an injured left swollen ankle.  Although on the plus side no blisters of any kind on my feet.

Okay one toe is discoloured, but this happened in the two weeks of night-time forest run training before the race!

 Feet in absolutely perfect condition.  So happy!

So the only real painful inury is a swelling above the left ankle as can be seen here.  Grr.

Agata has a painful shoulder and some small blisters on her feet.

Many Thanks are Due
The biggest thanks goes to the Valet that encouraged Agata to run for the St Ives cutoff.  We had less than 10 minutes and it made for a sprint from the outskirts of St Ives, past the Tate and then several hundred metres, uphill of course! to the Checkpoint.

We thank Jane the organiser for answering all our many questions pre and post race

We thank all the fantastic volunteer helpers at each checkpoint who flawlessly brought us food and replenishment drinks

Marcus wants to thank the Omega Medical team for believing that I was okay to continue, after my wobble.  I was!

Podium Videos

On Sunday we attended the awards celebration.   We have something to aim for :-) in our future trail running career.

Women Arc 50
Men Arc 50
Women Arc 100
Men Arc 100