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James Manners – Arc of Attrition 2020 Blog

Breaking The Arc of Attrition 2020

My hopes of racing this years Arc of Attrition were initially dashed back in March last year when I realised I left it a little too late having been notified it was fully sold out and that I’d have to go on the waiting list. It wasn’t until the summer whilst in France on holiday that to my absolute delight I received an unexpected email from the organisers ‘Mud Crew’ confirming I had a place, to say I was buzzing was an understatement! To add further delight I was to be joined by fellow Jersey ultra-runners Leanne Rive, Rik De Louche & Harry McAlinden – the Jersey Dream Team.

Fast forward a couple of seasons we find ourselves in the depth of winter and having had a successful 100km night race in the lead up I was feeling confident and ready to take on the Arc of Attrition. We arrived in the small Cornish town of Porthtowan the day before the race and to our sheer delight and a spot of good fortune we find our accommodation was right next door to the finish line and registration building. After having our kit checked and receiving our race bibs we headed back home to go over our gear for the final time before heading to the local pub for some local fish and chips closely followed by an early night. The day was upon us and after having the usual pre-race nights broken sleep we all chowed down our breakfast and made our way to the Registration building where the coaches were waiting to take us to the start line.

Arriving at the start in Coveracks the heavens opened which queued everyone to don their rain jackets and huddle around waiting patiently for the clock to strike midday to kick off proceedings. After what seemed like an age, the countdown began 5,4,3,2,1…..BANG, we were off!!! I was warned the night before about the number of bottle necks in the first few miles so I made efforts to stay upfront which paid dividends as the cliff paths at the beginning were very narrow and naturally ordered everyone into single file. As the rain continued to pour down the expected conditions underfoot became apparent, there’s going to be deep wet mud and lots of it! 

The first checkpoint was 22 miles away, a monster of a distance to cover unsupported and one I underestimated leading to near disastrous consequences! At the beginning of the race I calculated only needing 1.5 litres in my bladder pack and a few energy bars which for me I knew I could manage over 22 miles. What I didn’t factor in was wearing my rain jacket for such a long portion of that leg which led to excesses sweating and a more demanding thirst of water. This oversight led to me running dry with 8 miles to go and with no water meant I couldn’t eat anything and I suddenly felt myself bonking, not good 14 miles into a 100 mile race, I need to get to the first checkpoint ASAP! I spent the next 5 miles slowly running out of energy whilst begging fellow runners for water like Oliver… “Please sir can I have some more!!?”, it was desperate times! 3 miles to go and I was flagging big time, that was until a knight in shining armour (a guys called Mark) ran alongside noticed I was struggling and said his wife who was crewing him was only round the corner with a car full of refreshments and that I could help myself. Sure enough round the next corner was a car with its boot open and what looked like a treasure of goodies laid out inside, I immediately made a beeline for the coca cola guzzling down as much as I could whilst grabbing a few sugary sweets. The energy pick up was comfortably enough to get me into the first checkpoint where I was welcomed by the wonderful Arc Angels who doted on me, fed me and sent me on my way with a round of applause, amazing.

With a belly full of hot soup & bread I felt like a new man and a million miles away from how I felt earlier on. I set off with a spring in my step, the next checkpoint was in a town called Penzance, a further 18 miles away. With the light fading fast it was time to don the headtorch and at the same time mentally prepare myself for 14 hours of night running. This leg seemed to fly by as I don’t really recall much until I reached the small town of Marazion where across the bay were the lights of Penzance and more importantly the second checkpoint. After running a joyful three miles of road around the bay I arrived into Penzance where I was greeted by the lovely Arc Angels  who guided me into the checkpoint and handed me a menu, yes a menu! I stuck to soup and bread as it served me well in the previous checkpoint, I also filled a little bag full of sweets and chocolate to nibble on during the next leg.

Next stop was Lands End at the 55 mile mark, a short 15 mile jog away. As I left Penzance I bumped back into Mark (my knight in shining armour) which was a nice and welcomed surprise as I’d been running on my own for a good number of hours. It wasn’t long until we quickly agreed to pally up over this next leg and enjoy some much needed company. All was going well until the inevitable happened…. we found ourselves off course and a wee bit lost, we seemed to have missed a turning somewhere and found ourselves amongst waist deep bracken, sh1t. Remembering the safety briefing about the abandoned mine shafts littered around the area and not to veer too much off course I decided to resort to my phone for guidance and within 10 minutes we were back on course, albeit a few placings down. It must’ve been around midnight now, the temperature was relatively mild, but the wind was consistently howling along with the ever sobering sound of huge waves crashing into the Cornish coast. I recall some points of the path literately hugging almost hanging off the side of sheer drops into what sounded like oblivion, scary thoughts crossed my mind momentarily whilst carefully negating these sections “Don’t trip don’t trip!” I quietly said to myself. The lights of Lands End finally appeared and it was again another welcome sight…. warmth, food and civilisation, that’s what I was craving.

St. Ives was the next target, a chunky 23 miles away, the most dreaded part of the course and for good reason. The chatter amongst runners in the build up to this race seemed to centred around the last 10 miles to St. Ives with previous experienced runners stating that if you make it to St. Ives within the cut-off you’ve broken the back of the Arc and the rest of the course will seem easy. After making good progress and picking up an Irish guy ‘Rob’ along the way we inevitably hit the dreaded section which involved what seemed like almost zero running and mostly jumping over wet slippery rocks. The paths had become almost impossible to run and if you weren’t clambering over slippery rocks whilst climbing out of huge valleys you were sinking in giant bogs of mud sometimes knee deep or clambering down really steep steps. Now Imagine 10 miles of that, in the dark with legs that are already 60 miles old – welcome to hell. Progress was painfully slow, clocking up 20 min/mile pace consistently, it was a mental battle to try and ignore how slow we were actually going and to just accept it is what it is and to just keep moving forward. I remember feeling tired at this point, I was hallucinating and my medial ligaments in my right knee were killing me (too much puddle jumping earlier on) I was hitting another low point. I knew I just needed to get to St. Ives and have some food and I’d be alright, the fact I was occasionally seeing gorilla’s and dogs amongst the rocks was the a different story, but one I kept to myself! Daylight appeared and what a welcome sight, we only had a few more miles to go which included the infamous ‘Boulder Field’ a section of massive boulders where you had to forge a path up a side of a cliff, just what the doctor ordered with legs 70 miles old!!! With the Boulder Field behind us we soldiered on and as I looked up I seen a group of Arc Angels all in their Hi-Vis, what a lovely sight, “Look guys Arc Angels ahead”…. Rob & Mark both looked up and said ‘Where?’ I continued to point ahead adamant as to what I was seeing until they said ‘nope that’s a gauze bush mate!’ – I needed to get to St. Ives pronto!!! After coming to a clearing the town of St. Ives eventually appeared and the sense of relief that the devils back yard was behind us felt amazing. I was met with beans on toast and a cup of tea and I can tell you that sorted me right out, Mark on the other hand was in a bad way, his hamstring was knackered and he could no longer run.

The home stretch was upon us, 22 miles to go and with the sun out it was a marvellous morning. Mark however, was reduced to walking and as we’d been through so much we all agreed to walk for a while. We power walked on, but all the time Mark was getting slower and slower to the point he decided to DNF leaving myself and Irish Rob to take it home. We started making good ground and were now into the last 10 miles, the countdown had begun. 5 miles to go and we had to negotiate some really steep sections of costal paths dropping down to sea level and then straight back up to the top via a never ending pathway of stairs, our quads were taking a beating! After a series of these (what I called… unnecessary) drops and climbs we made it to Porthtowan where we just had one final climb to the finish. A quick slap of the legs and with the bit between my teeth I powered up to the top, climbed over a fence and there it was, the finish line in all its glory. I high fived Rob and we both ran over the line experiencing that feeling only a ultra-runner knows – 100% relief followed by a mixed bag of emotions that you can’t really describe quickly followed by “Thank f**k for that!”

Crossing the line in 27hours 47min in 18th place and receiving the coveted gold buckle, my job was done. Rik crossed the line in an amazing 28h46, not bad for his second 100 mile race. Leanne crossed the line in 29h15 claiming 3rd place in the ladies, absolutely bravo. Unfortunately Harry pulled out halfway through, but is determined to finish it in next years event, good man!  

This was by far the hardest 100 I’ve ever done, the conditions underfoot were ridiculous, the sheer volume of mud and bogs we had to run through was off the charts, the Cornish coast is most definitely ‘savagely beautiful’.

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