The Endurance Life Classic Quarter was my first Ultra, was in fact the first race that made me aware there even was such a thing, having known a friend who'd completed it. I ran it solo for the first time in 2013.
This year, with Lakeland 50 in my sights as my main goal I sat down and wrote out a training plan to get me there and decided I would race a 50k about 6 weeks out to try and get some semblance of start line self discipline, since usually all my sense goes out the window and I shoot off too fast, mooch around the check points and get all caught up in what everyone else is doing. This time, with a few few races under my belt, I wanted to get things right. So a tune up race would be called for. Pretty soon I realised that 6 weeks out was the Classic Quarter, of course this is no 50k - in fact its 44 miles, almost as far as Lakeland though with a lot less ascent. Close enough I reasoned, I'm in. After all, if I don't feel 100% I could always stop after 50k right? Right? Yeah right
My mate and long time climbing partner Gareth and I had a few weekends earmarked for a trip to Skye with a view to climbing the Cuillin ridge, but with a couple of dates rained off and only one chance left Gareth announced he wanted to sack it off and join me on the Classic Quarter. This was a first for Gareth who had previously not raced further than half marathon distance; great, should be fun. Hang on, shit, what if he beats me? Suddenly my relaxed approach to the whole thing was out the window. Can't let Gareth win, can't let Gareth win. Not that I'm competitive or anything but a bit of friendly rivalry can't do any harm.
Also running this year would be Simon, my friend and running buddy from down here. Simon always makes out that me winning is a foregone conclusion but he's a dark horse and recently having moved to a village off the beaten track his run commutes were adding up to a daunting number of weekly miles; I had my suspicions he would do a good job this year.
Over the first half of this year I'd gradually got over Achilles Tendonitis, or rather I'd found a way to manage it and still keep on running which is essentially the same thing really isn't it? The miles were adding up and things seemed to be going well until a month out I came down with the flu. Not the "man" variety, the laid up in bed, shaking like a shitting dog, can't do anything for a whole week variety. Damn, I hadn't been illl like this for years. After two weeks I was pulling through but the family holiday to France offered limited running opportunities and by the time I got home it was time for tapering! I'd had enough enforced tapering but a long run the week before wasn't likely to help and would quite possibly hinder me so I sat tight and hoped I'd done enough.
|The start line of the Endurance Life Classic Quarter 2015 (c) Gareth Hayfield|
I've been pretty happy with my nutrition on long runs for some time now and generally eat regularly from the outset - every half an hour, alternating between Torq gels and Baker boy flapjacks. The latter were a real find since they are tasty, individually wrapped and just the right number of calories. Better still, they're CHEAP. Given your average gel being about £1.50 and an eneergy bar a similar price running 20 miles or more can become a very expensive business. A five pack of baker boys flapjacks is £1.50 though, so this signfiicantly reduces the overhead. So far they haven't failed me...but this time around I'd shopped late in the week only to find that Tesco's were out of stock! Horrified I scanned the aisles for something similar, eventually deciding on Tesco's own range of very similar looking fayre. It wasn't until I bit into one a few miles into the race that I realised that looks can be deceiving; this was not the moist, buttery offering I am used to, more a super sweet dried out husk of a thing that clagged up my mouth and refused to be swallowed. Oh well, I'd have to put up with them they were all I had. This, combined with the increasing heat of the day meant I was taking in more water than I was used to, but I didn't see that as a problem early on.
The race continued through the first checkpoint - I came through Gunwalloe at 9 miles in 1:49, pretty much exactly on target pace for this section. The next miles out to Porthleven flew by and I chatted for a while with another runner who turned out to be local and a climber. I stopped to get more water in Porthleven - back in 2013 I ran out of water between checkpoints after running past a water stop and I was ken not to repeat that experience again. We ran around the harbour and out onto what I knew would be a tough section. Still I was on pace - ahead really - and feeling good, but as the hills arrived I forced myself to hold back a bit. I let the group I was with pull away and settled back into running my own race. Sure enough as the hills around Rinsey passed by I dropped down about 30 seconds per mile on average but this was all part of the plan. Provided I kept a steady pace up to half way I knew I would be faster on the flat section around Mounts bay and needed to keep something in reserve for that.
After a long stretch down from Rinsey and along the back of Praa Sands we arrived at the compulsory bag check. This was the first time I had encountered a mid race bag check and was expecting it to be a logistical nightmare. As I arrived I recognised Steve Wyatt and shouted out congratulations for his recent Enduroman victory. Steve kindly offered to refill my bottles while my kit was checked by a marshall managing to simultaneously check four of us at once. Consequently we were in and out in a couple of minutes.
The next section up to the halfway point is always harder than it should be - there are no really big hills but it undulates and so feels more runnable than it is. I felt quite tired as I approached Perranuthnoe and worse, I was developing a nasty bloated feeling stomach. It actually got so bad I skipped eating for an hour and decided at that point to try and just eat gels as I'd brought a few extra with me. Not wanting to stop I just filled up and ran through the check point and got up to Marazion in no time it seemed. This was where I needed to make some capital of the flat runnable section but it turned out my legs had other ideas. I just didn't seem to have any go and whenever I pushed the pace I could feel the beginnings of cramp building in my calfs. Instead of opening up and running strong I was reduced to a shuffle. Rather than stop and recover a bit I forged on at this reduced pace as I had it in mind that I needed to run this whole sectoin. In hindsight a walking break or two might well have got me back on track.
Mounts bay is interminably long and almost all on tarmac or concrete, following Penzance is Newlyn and I welcomed the hill out of town as finally I could allow myself a walk. Another mile or so lead me to Mousehole and the formidable regennis hill. Once done though I was back on the trail though to be honest I was in a bit of a low. I knew I wasn't going as well as I could do and I still had the hardest setion to come. Still it was a relief to finally arrive in Lamorna. Again a quick refill and off, scrambling up the rocks out of the harbour the reality struck - this was going to be a slog.
Last year at the Plague my quads gave out pretty badly about 40 miles in and I found running downhill a real problem but even in the final miles I was still able to climb reasonably well. So it was puzzling to find I could barely get any strength to get up the steep hills in this last stage. At several points I was having to stop and let the lactic acid ache subside before I could continue. I clocked some very slow miles at this point but then, out of the blue, I picked up. Around St Loy I started to feel a little better and found I could move more easily, even up hill. This is one of the funny things about long distance event likes this, suffering is rarely a linear descent; I was pulling out of the trough and cresting a wave of new found energy.
I arrived at Porthcurno in exactly 9 hours. With 5 tough miles to go I knew I would never reach my goal of getting in under 10 hours but I also knew I would finish, no matter what and at this point even if I walked I'd get to the finish faster than in 2013. Still I decided to give it my best shot and set out from Porthcurno with a mouthful of jelly babies and a mission head on. It had also occurred to me that I still hadn't seen Simon, he was clearly having a better race than me.
Smiles all round we headed off. Gareth and I were happy to hobble into Dominoes with Hannah and the kids before collapsing at home with a beer or two. Simon on the other hand was off out having forgotten his girlfriends birthday was on the same day as the race!