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Atlantic Coast Challenge – Patrick Wadsworth shares his experience from this 3 day Ultra

I signed up for Atlantic Coast Challenge this year having completed the Dorset coast equivalent last year. Organised by Votwo (pronounced Vot wooo by those not realising it should be VO2!) Three days of running along the South West Coast path between Trevose Head and Land’s End. The event is based at a holiday camp in Hayle and I opted to share a comfortable mobile home. The organisers randomly pair you up with others who want to share and as you have something in common it makes for a very pleasant experience.  My fellow campers had never done a multi-day event, one having flown in in that day from Dubai (he works for Costas and managed to need to visit corporate HQ!) and taking part as training for the Marathon de Sable.

The holiday comp provides a base for the whole event. Transport is provided to the start and back from the finish of each leg and there is plenty of food on offer for breakfast and lunch and a great atmosphere.

A surprisingly easy drive down on Thursday afternoon and I met my chalet buddies and we bonded over the evening meal and free beer. I Spent the evening faffing with all the mandatory kit and discussing the finer points of socks, sole patterns etc. and generally getting ready for the early start the following day.

cliff views

My new friends were on the early walker/slower runner start whereas I opted for the later runners option.  You can swap between groups but the intention is to keep the time needed for marshals at the checkpoints to something reasonable. A full English breakfast and then registration, kit check to ensure you have all the mandatory equipment with you, performed by our very own Max Woods and then it was time for the race brief.  Safety instructions and navigation points that needed care and it was off to the minibuses and the drive to Trevose head. Each person gets an electronic tag which is ‘dipped’ at the check points and records your time and helps the organisers account for everyone. Warm clothes off and into a spare bag which would be taken to the finish. Dip in at the start and off I went. Day 1 is an easy day (!) 26 miles of coast path, up and down it went, in and out round coves. Generally good conditions under foot and amazingly good weather showing off the scenery to great effect. We could have been in the Med.  Each checkpoint was easy to find and had a selection of sweets, chocolate and sandwiches available. Coming every 6 miles or so they made the time pass and camaraderie on the course meant lots of casual chats as people passed. The leg finished with a beach run. Not a noisy shingle beach run like the Grizzly but a couple of miles over the sand into the head wind with sand and spray blowing at you. The beach runs around the headland to the finish but as I got to the headland the water was beginning to lap the base of the cliffs so a short backtrack and up the zigzag to the top of the cliff and back down the other side – just what was needed after a day of climbing! Onto a waiting minibus and back to the holiday park for a shower, dinner and recovery. The local brewery had provided a couple of barrels of free beer which went down well with the lasagne on offer while we watched a spectacular red sunset over St Ives.

more views

Up early again for breakfast. What a change in the weather. Grey overcast sky, hints of rain later and the wind had picked up. Onto the minibus for the short trip to Perranporth. Legs a bit tired but the paths were generally good with plenty of ups and downs. Occasional excursions away from the coast but generally close to the sea. The headwind picked up and although on at least one occasion I was blown up the rising path. Often the path is very close to the edge, not good if you are nervous about heights. A few minutes of real rain but generally the day was damp. I pitied the marshal who had to keep warm for hours while we were keeping warm by running. The final stretch was an even longer beach run, made worse by the fact that we could see the holiday camp we were staying at above the dunes. No wind by now and firm sand to run on so just keep the legs moving. Onto roads and a checkpoint to ensure no-one took a shortcut and along the road back to the finish at the holiday camp passing a lovely sub-tropical garden. The finish was back at the holiday camp and 100m from the chalet – very convenient.

Having looked at last years results for people running similar times to mine for days one and two I knew the third day was going to be long. Max and Sacha Wood who have run and marshaled the event before, said it was tricky underfoot and about 28 miles. The start was a short journey from the camp and we had been warned that as it was at a church a visit to the toilet before the journey was a good idea! The first few miles were through St Ives and with narrow paths twisting and turning there were few opportunities to run. Once out of St Ives I realised what Max and Sacha had meant.  The path became a series of stepping stones through boggy ground or picked its way across boulders. A couple of Grizzly Bog of Doom moments and my feet were definitely muddy.  The distance to the first checkpoint was about 10 miles rather than the usual 6 so I made sure to eat something along the way. I finally made the first checkpoint and a warm welcome from Sacha who had decided against running today, and looked at my watch – over 3 hours and I was less than half way. The 7:30 from similar runners for last year looked unlikely! Conditions improved slightly for the next leg with some sections that could be run but these were few and far between and did not last long. Scrambles over rocks at the top of tall cliffs made things interesting and finding the exact path was difficult in places. However the scenery was fantastic. Checkpoint two came and the scenery became full of industrial history – remains of iron and tin mines, wheel houses, fenced off mine shafts. Checkpoint 3 was at the top of a cliff on a rocky outcrop.  It is designed to encourage people not to linger as there is no room and people constantly arriving. A few sandwiches and I was off on the final leg. Definitely going to finish and definitely in more than 7:30. This section had the most running of the day but my legs had had enough and my shuffling run was only just faster than my walk. Somewhere in this section my Garmin started telling me the battery was running out so I knew 8 hours had gone by. A long while later the end came in sight. Another beach run across Sennan Cove, watching the surfers riding waves and over a headland. People telling us it was not far to go, barely catching people out walking their dogs, finally the end with lots of people cheering and the thought of the promised Cornish pasty.  I was glad to have finished. No need to stop my watch as the screen was blank but just over 9 hours. On with my recovery tights, warm clothes and back in the minibus and back to the holiday camp.

I have no idea why I was so slow for the final day. I found the amount of walking hard and maybe I need more experience of rock scrambling. The final day is definitely the hardest of all the days on either the Jurassic or Atlantic challenges. Overall a great event with great organisation

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