Friday, 27 May 2016

Kernow Vertical Kilometre

There are certain races that pop up and you just know you're going to have to run them. The Kernow Vertical Kilometre was one such race.

The Vertical K is a race concept born in the Alps, where runners tackle a 1000 metres of vertical ascent in a point to point uphill race up a mountain. Not having any mountains of such stature in Cornwall the newly formed Freedom Racing came up with the idea to race a 1000 metres up and down in the shortest distance possible, this being about 15 miles.

The race was to start and finish at the beach of Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes and would follow 2 laps of a figure of eight loop taking in some of my favourite bits of coast path and inland trails including the largest hill in the area - St Agnes Beacon.

Looking West from St Agnes Beacon - on a good day!

I've run over the beacon many times and on a good day you can see for miles along the coast, but its also exposed and this being the start of April we were likely as not to be in for some interesting weather.

Sure enough the day dawned wet and windy - really windy - and we pushed and squeezed our way into The Driftwood Spars pub for registration and our briefing, all hanging back to the last minute before marching down the steep road and slipway to our start point just above the beach.

Soon enough we were off. Back up the hill past the pub and ever upwards through the village - viciously steep in those first few yards - this was a rude awakening. Winding up, briefly off road then out into an estate and a little flattish respite before out into the countryside we went - steadily climbing we crossed fields on our way to the beacon.
At the start witth my serious face on - photo © Freedom Racing

Another short section of road led us towards the back of the Beacon before we turned and climbed steeply up rough trails to our destination. On reaching the top of the hill we were blasted by the wind and turned to descend to seaward. Now it must be said, this was a surprise since I'd thought the course looped inland but I was breathing so hard I just followed the directions of the marshal and headed down off the hill on a long fast descent I knew well. It was soon obvious from the chatter ahead of me that I wasn't alone in my thoughts that the route appeared to have been altered - more on this in a bit.

Running down from the beacon is one of those amazing bits of trail that just make you smile, steep but not too steep, technical enough to make you think but fast, so very fast - and straight down towards the North coast with engine houses, farms and distant beaches all completing the picture. Soon we joined the road for a brief time before heading down again, onto the coast path and some technical granite steps leading back into Trevaunance Cove. As we entered the village a brief chat revealed we had indeed been sent the wrong way and missed a loop on the back of the beacon - all would be resolved on lap 2 with a double loop to make up the distance already organised.

From here it's a long climb up the North side of the cove to embark on the second part of the figure of eight course. This long steady hill has little steps conveniently about one and a half paces apart to break your rhythm (and your spirit!) and is not quite steep enough to justify slowing to a walk, but too steep to be anything other than painful.

Near the top the hill eases for a short time as we enter a lunar landscape - mine spoil in this most industrial part of Cornwall - quickly though we climb on over the crest and down into Trevallas Porth via a super rocky technical descent. Also known as Blue hills due to the mining centre of the same name this is another heavily mined area and we run between mine buildings before the pig of a climb up towards Perranporth airfield. Here there are the signature Cornish steps - steep and deep and fronted with a wooden face - if you run on the coast path in Cornwall you'll get to know them well even though you may not like them. Its possible to skip around them and keep running but only for the fittest - mere mortals accept their fate and climb at a walk over these obstacles, the burn in the quads building all the time.

Finally at the top some respite - a flat section along the airfield - except today the wind in our faces slams us back and slows our progress to a hunched shuffle. Then its back into Trevallas via the road and back the way we came to the start.

photo © Freedom Racing
As I got stuck in to lap 2 I knew I'd gone out too fast, the fight was going from my legs and it was all I could do to keep pushing on up, back to the top of the Beacon. Here we were directed left and inland to complete a mile long loop - twice - dropping over a hundred metres down behind the hill. I'd never run these trails so it was all new and exciting. Great running spoiled only slightly by the knowledge I have to work my way back up at some point. The uphill part of this loop, much like the hills on the rest of the course, is just about runnable though I was walking on the last steep section at the top.

Another lap of this loop for make up for the earlier issues and we were back down to Trevaunance again, spirits lifted by clapping supporters and knowing, even though I was knackered, that the end was not far off. The wind seemed even stronger on the airfield second time around and I was seriously slowing but still managed a strong last mile (mostly downhill!).

Job done. A unique wooden medal and better still, a free bottle of ale brewed on site at the pub, were our prizes. I did ok, 29th of 80-odd. The race though, what a classic, sure to grow in years to come once word gets out. And since then Freedom Racing have started The Summer Sessions - a series of 10k trail runs in equally iconic locations along the coast path. Ones to look out for, for sure.

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