Man Vs Mountain is one of Rat Race's long standing and best loved events; a few years ago it gained a sibling in the excellent Man Vs Lakes which has one of the best starts to a race I have been involved in - seriously, look it up! That’s why when it was announced that 2018 would see the launch of Man Vs Coast, bringing the Man Vs family up to three with a snazzy connecting series medal I knew I had to be there. Set on the stunning coastal paths of Cornwall it always going to be something special and boy, did Rat Race deliver.
As is usual for Rat Race the registration takes place the day before the main event to avoid long queues and delays before the start while mandatory kit checks are carried out. Thankfully after an 8 hour Friday afternoon drive down to Penzance, the team were smooth and efficient in making sure we got our race packets and bus tickets to the start for the following morning. The finish line and campsite were located a quick 15 minute drive away at Land’s End. The views when we arrived, as the sun was setting, were spectacular with clear skies promising great weather for the event. Camping passes were handed out to those that had booked with last minute purchases available, (thought is advisable to book in advance to ensure you get in). Although the option of a hotel is always there, it just doesn’t feel right. The campsite was well set out with plenty of toilets and that rarest of post race luxuries; hot showers! Worth the price of camping passes alone!
On the morning of the race the campsite was buzzing with people double and triple checking their kit to ensure they had enough fluid and food for the promised 22 miles. It was only 6am but the sun was already high and it promised to be a blazing day, meaning hydration would be vitally important for everyone out on course. The busses were expertly manned and got everyone to the start line by St Michael's Mount on Marazion beach.
There was plenty of time before the race briefing to catch up with friends, load up with a pre-race coffee at the local beach cafe, helpfully opened early to serve the near 1000 Rat Racers who had descended on their hut at 8am.
When 9am rolled around it was off to the start line, where we were briefed about signage on course and that just 50 yards from the start we would encounter our first challenge. Getting a quick start was vital as 50 yards in, bags were dropped at a numbered marker and it was straight into the freezing Cornish sea for a swim out to a float to duck under and back to shore. Whilst the dip was exhillarating and welcome given that the temperature was already creeping up I think this possibly would have been better received if it were a kilometer further up the beach to allow a more even spread of runners and avoiding an almost immediate bottleneck as people slowly waded in. Further down the beach there was another chance to get wet with a swim out to a floating ledge to climb onto then dive off. Again, I think this could have been a little further down the beach and would have benefitted from the same numbered bag drop areas of the first station as what was a near clear area when entering the water was suddenly a sea of bags upon returning and it took a while to be reunited with packs after searching the sands. Once out of the water for a second time, the course pressed on to the end of the beach before cutting inland to carry us north to the start of the gruelling coastal path back to Land's End.
This section was mostly easy running on small Cornish roads with gentle inclines and easy trail. The views were still fantastic; it’s easy to fall in love with the Cornish countryside and it’s always amusing to find some of the quirkily named villages on route; Ding Dong in particular raised many a smile!
After about 6 miles we hit the Coastal path near Rosemergy and the difference in technicality of the path was almost instant. It narrowed to almost single track and our feet which were, minutes before, able to smoothly progress forward over the gentle trails were now dancing their way between rocks and roots. Thankfully this is also where first of Rat Race’s always well stocked aid stations were, and and we were able to grab jaffa cakes and refill the vitally important water and isotonic which was disappearing fast in the temperatures during the race. Sidenote: the lemon Rat Race drink is nectar of the gods!
From here the challenge was the terrain itself, for the remainder of the course we were pushing ourselves uphill or picking our way down between rocks that I swear were sentient and playing a cruel game with me; jumping out of nowhere at the last moment to try and take me off my feet.
There were some excellent sections where we descended off the marked path to make way across the rocky outcrops down at sea level. Hopping between the rocks and scrambling up them was huge fun, but for those inexperienced and without the confidence to fully commit. it was quite the physical and psychological challenge. With the paths narrow and safe routes limited, this did lead to some heavy queues later in the day especially at a section where there was a single ladder to get back up to the path. That will need to be taken into consideration at next year's event
The highlight of the challenging path is undoubtedly going through the old tin mine and seeing the Bottalack engine houses which have previously been named as one of the most stunning views in the world. It’s is like running through a different time and it's easy to lose yourself in the surroundings of stunning ruined mines, turquoise blue waters and white sands. Not views or weather you would readily associate with the UK.
Coming in to the last few miles there were more unique Rat Race elements awaiting us; body boarding, diving for sunken pirate treasure and just when our legs were asking where the finish line was; a section of rock hopping with two large high rope bridges and a superb cliff jump. Hitting the cold water again at speed really gives you a jolt and gave me the energy again to record almost my fastest 2 miles of the day to get to the finish line (wanting to get in with time to have a shower before the England vs Sweden game may have also had something to do with it). Finishing at Land’s End was a fantastic choice as there were members of the public enjoying the views and getting into the spirit of cheering the runners home. That always gives you a a boost for the final push. At the finish line we were greeted with an announcement that you were approaching, the MC keeping up to date with the live tracking and announcing every runner over the line is something I appreciate every time. I also have to say a well done on the medal design and the addition of the connecting series pieces - a great incentive to do all 3.
While there are definitely areas that need to be looked at, like the location of certain challenges, and how elements will cope with high volumes of people to ensure a continuous flow and avoid people queuing in the midday sun, Man Vs Coast’s inaugural event can only be seen as a success. It boasted a well plotted course in a stunning location with Rat Race’s usual pre and post event excellence. I have an amazing sense of wanderlust, and with that, it is easy to forget just how lucky we are in the UK to have locations and sights like this. With the Man Vs series, Rat Race are doing well to remind us of the beauty the UK has to offer.
I’ll be back and what's more, I hope to see you there too.