The race started in three waves, I was in wave two and we could see the first challenge – wade out to a huge yellow float and back to dry land. You entered the water only a hundred metres from the start line, and it got chest deep pretty quickly. Onward we strode into the warm English Channel, a few hundred runners laughing and chatting, but the laughing subsided and the chat stopped as soon as we found we were no longer wading but having to swim. No life vests had been given out but the tide had come in fairly quickly. A few less confident swimmers turned back, I was game to plod on, albeit at a snails pace. I got close to the inflatable but the throng of people made me feel a little uncomfortable so about 15 feet short I turned around and swam back, happy that I was on my way back to shore.
A mile or so up the beach I saw wave one once again making a break for France into the sea. For this challenge we had life vests so I knew it would be deep, and it was also pretty far. It was maybe 200-250 metres out to a floating pontoon of happiness that I could see my fellow racers plunging back into the water from. This time I was able to reach the pontoon, climb aboard and then jump off and make my way back to shore. It was certainly an eye opening, ambitious start for an inaugural event as we hadn’t even hit two miles yet!
Onward we pressed, through a small river and onto the streets of Penzance through tight back alleyways and quiet country roads heading north cross country. Six miles in, and at the first pit stop, it was busy. I had kept at around a 10-11 minute mile pace, saving myself as much as I could whilst others bashed on at a fast pace. It was then off toward the coast and now, thankfully, off the roads. The paths were uneven and rocky, and went quickly from an open trail to a narrow one that made it impossible to pass on. Then we reached the coast, that tropical blue, beautiful coast. I could’ve stood there all afternoon; alas I had gone all the way down there to finish this race. I was still feeling pretty good, and most importantly, my shins weren’t bothering me at all.
Passing many mega cool marshals who were all encouraging, fun and eager for a high five, the next few miles passed with ease and I arrived at the cliff jump. Now, I’ve done 180mph on a motorcycle and nothing scares me as much as the thought of jumping into water. Thankfully the cliff jump(s) all had areas where you could go a little lower for those who were a bit nervous like me but I’m happy I managed something. Jumping into those Caribbean looking waters was almost a pleasure. Except I forgot to take my sunglasses off every.single.time.
The trail continued along the northern coastline of Cornwall as we slowly edged toward Lands End. A thought occurred to me, from about half way through the race, nobody was passing me, in fact I was starting to pass people fairly regularly even though I was adamant not to push too hard and burn out.
Electrolyte drinks (available at the stops) were being consumed in large quantities, energy gels started being banged down and my new found love for David Hellard’s Caffeine Bullets took care of everything else. The sun was beating down and the breeze from the sea up on the cliffs quickly disappeared every time there was the slightest hint of shelter.
The final pit stop came at mile 18 and the rock scrambles, climbs, cliff jumps and rocky trails just kept flowing at a pleasurable rate. Rock hopping has been a favourite pastime of mine since I was a kid, so I hopped, sure footed, across these areas. I was surprised to see that so many of the faster people who had scythed past me early doors were now struggling with the rougher rocks at the water’s edge. I could now see Lands End off in the distance; I kept trying to estimate how far - maybe three miles away? My watch said I was at 22 and this was meant to be a 22-23 mile race. I brief moment of worry hit me; I had been consuming everything at a rate that would’ve had me finish my supplies shortly before the end –and now I was going to finish them all too early.
Mile 23 came and went; cramp was settling in, along with some tightness in my back. I ran with a guy in the same boat as me and we chat and joke, eager to keep each other going that little bit longer. I give him a Caffeine Bullet to give him a little boost and I padded on ahead trying to maintain the best pain-free balance I can. The final water challenges were swimming into a tiny harbour to find “treasure” in the form of gold Rat Race coins bobbing just under the surface. An emergency fourth water stop had been set up, which was a relief as the course sharply led into the final climb from the sea to the top of the cliffs again. Lands Ends peeled into view and I was feeling pretty done-in, my watch clocked 34 degrees just before all this and my face felt scorched from the relentless sun. I figured my factor 30 had probably washed or sweated away.
I crossed the line trying to look strong, with my girlfriend Anna cheering me on. As I collected my medal, I overheard, “If you gave me £1000 right now I would never do that again,” which made us all laugh but I didn’t feel the same. I was happy, tired and a little burnt but at least my shins didn’t hurt. I sat in the bar to claim my beer, England vs Sweden kicked off minutes later, I laughed with some other runners; peace and quiet shattered as England trash Sweden 2-0. Anna, however, is more focused on my race position, as only a few dozen runners appear to have finished. A few days later the official numbers cited just over 600 finishers and I came 28th male and 32nd overall at a time of 5:39. My watched measured the race at 25 miles, some people got 26.5 miles! This possibly the best I’ve achieved in a large race to date, but there is no time to get complacent… There were only two weeks until Man Vs Lakes, so the planning was to begin all over again…