Updated: May 16, 2022
Arc of Attrition is a 100 mile footrace on the Cornish coast starting in Coverack and finishing in Porthtowan. The race starts at 12 noon on the Friday in the last weekend in January and you have 36 hours until the midnight Sat/Sun to complete the race. There are 7 time limit cut offs throughout the race. Across the 36 hours around 20 hours will be in the dark. This year in the 2022 race the DNF/time out race was 48% overall and 61% in women. 248 runners started the race (33 females) and 131 runners finished the race (13 females).
My finishing time was 34 hours 1 minute and 28 seconds. I finished 12th female and 117th
What attracted you to Arc of Attrition? The first time I visited Cornwall was in September 2020, we ended up going there for a holiday for our “reserve” honeymoon. With getting married on 29th August 2020 in the heart of the covid pandemic then our original honeymoon booked for the Maldives couldn’t take place. So we booked a holiday via Contour Holidays where you pick a specific trail to hike/run and you stay at different B&B’s/ guest houses along the route and Contour Holidays moved your bags along the route. We hiked the Cornish Celtic Way 125 miles from St German’s to St Michael’s Mount across 10 days including 2 rest days. Some of this route was inland but the last few days especially were on the coast path. The scenery was beautiful as well as the weather and we both really enjoyed the route (though the section that ultimately crossed onto the Arc 100 route was in reverse to the race direction). On one of the nights we were staying in Porthtowan (which is race HQ & where the race finishes) at a B&B with a lady called Irene and she told me each year she has runners staying with her at the end of January for this 100 mile race! Even though she isn’t a runner I could tell how she was describing the race it was really tough; she mentioned that not one runner who had stayed with her since the race started had been able to finish it, some runner’s trying 3 or 4 times. I think the first race edition of the 100 miler was in January 2015; not sure about the 50 mile distance. Hmm I was then intrigued and immediately after breakfast went upstairs to google this race and see if there were any entries. The race was full but it had a waiting list so both myself and David put our names down. Fast forward to the end October /start of November 2020 and we were both notified of places available for the Arc 100 end January 2021. Due to the fact that if the race was able to take place then it would need to be under strict covid rules; meaning that some of the normal organisation/supplies provided by checkpoints and the flying angels around the course etc may be under question, then we decided that it probably wouldn’t be sensible for us both to do the race and David would crew me. Plus with the possibility of extreme winter weather and the 7 time cut offs during the race; it was maybe a step too far at the point for David who would have turned 69 by the time the race was due. We have since discovered the oldest person to complete the race is Iain Walker who finished the January 2022 race edition aged 65 in a time of 35 hours 12 minutes 25 seconds and was the last finisher. He made the St Ives cut off by around 5-6 mins. However, due to the ever-changing covid plans by the government then the race was cancelled about a month before it was due to take place when all the tiers came in place across the country making it impossible for people to travel. So then postponed to the end January 2022. In a way this actually worked out quite well for me as if the race had gone ahead at the end of January 2021; I wouldn’t have been able to start due to the shin injury I sustained in the last 2-3 days of December doing my December calendar miles challenge (496 miles in 31 days running the number of miles for the date of the month) to raise funds for the RNIB in memory of my father in law who passed away on 12th October 2020.
How did you prepare for the race and would you have done anything different? When overseas travel was uncertain again into the early-mid part of 2021 (I think it was only mid-May you were allowed to travel abroad again) but we didn’t want any last minute delays/cancellations so decided to go to Cornwall again across my birthday week in June. We decided to do the full Arc 100 route across 7 days using Contour Holidays again to move our bags and for us to just run between the B&B’s as near to the Coast path as possible. We do have a camper van but would have meant that David would have had to drive to the next section then run back along to meet me, instead of being able to run the route himself. So this worked out about 15-20 miles per day. The weather was glorious sunshine & all runs were in daylight and just a nice distance each day. That’s the thing about the coast path – a day in isolation of say 10-20 miles isn’t really that challenging (well it is if you push yourself and try & run up the vertical climbs it is..!) but it’s putting it all together for 100 mile (well my watch clocked 105 miles), having to keep moving without any rest to meet the time cut offs & the cumulative fatigue which make it very difficult. I was pleased to have done this recce of the route as it helped me mentally prepare and break the race down into chunks. I am coached by Liz Yelling and have been since September 2014. Specific training for the race was going to start at the beginning of November and I had the Montane Cheviot Goat 55 miler booked for the first weekend in December to scare me for the Arc 100. As I knew due to severity, exposure & navigational challenges of the Goat course I could be looking at maybe 15-20 hours for this race so that would be a good time on feet prep in winter conditions for the Arc 100 which could be up to 36 hours. Less than 24 hours before the Goat was due to take place it was cancelled as the Northumberland Authorities had declared a major incident due to Storm Arwen despite the storm happening the weekend prior and having plenty of time to implement this prior and discuss with the organisers the measures they had in place. We were due to go to Club La Santa Lanzarote for David’s 70th birthday mid December (a trip that had been previously cancelled by Jet 2 from the end August for our first wedding anniversary) which would be another solid training week. The last couple days of the trip my calves were incredibly tight so I backed off running & just did some cross training. It wasn’t until I got home and had a full week complete rest from everything which was really hard as this was also over Christmas and always like to run on Christmas; that I realised it was more my ankle/foot that was tender, which is an intermittent injury I have managed for a few years. I tried to take consolation from the fact I had done a decent 6 week block of training (332 miles, 32,000ft climb so average of 55 miles/5300ft per week) We were scheduled to go back down to Cornwall in the camper on the 27th December (split the travel across 2 days each way as otherwise you have to allow at least 9 hours in the camper for doing it in a oner, then planned to do the full course across 5 days). The plan was for me to run the route including sections in the dark and David to follow along in the camper to practice what was happening for crewing & check out all the crew points and the winding narrow roads. I was a bit concerned about travelling all way down there if my foot/ankle was this sore but decided to go as planned as we had booked campsites and see what happened when we got there. I tried a slow 10 min miles 5k run with David before we went and was aware of my foot/ankle & couldn’t really take too much pressure through it especially pushing off uphill. I knew whatever recce I was going to do of this course was going to have to be hiking only as if I pushed my ankle too far at this stage only a month from the race then I wasn’t going to be able to start the race. So instead of doing the full course across 5 days split by the 5 main sections of the race route; I covered about half this distance hiking and just kept jumping back in the van for a rest as and when each day. I still covered around 47 miles of hiking on the race route across those 5 days which equated to about 15.5 hours time on feet. I was a little concerned that I had only done about 6 miles of this recce in the dark (when there would be around 20 hours of the 36 hour race in the dark) as didn’t want to risk being alone on the remote coast path when I had this injury. Yes David did have a tracker on me and probably could get to me in an hour or two if necessary but there wasn’t any point taking unnecessary risks. However, on the whole despite the injury I was pleased we made the trip as I did experience some pretty bad coastal weather with 30mph plus headwinds, rain, freezing temperatures, very boggy conditions underfoot & thick fog where you couldn’t see more than 200-300 metres ahead. I felt even more prepared and as my memory is my strong point then I did remember the route from 6 months prior though I had my GPX file as well. So here we were about 3 weeks from the race and I still couldn’t run without any walk breaks as my foot/ankle felt too tender to take the force. So with Liz we decided to just continue with the hiking for the time on feet and the strength building and just do some occasional run/walk mix for short distances where the 5-10 mins was the max duration easy run segment before having a fast walking break of equal measure. Now this wasn’t ideal and if this had been a road marathon then I wouldn’t have started the event but as this was a 100 mile race on tough hilly terrain where a certain amount of hiking/fast walking is essential, then I wondered whether I might just get away with it. I continued with various S&C exercises but it wasn’t until my physio appointment on 18th January that I felt like I turned a bit of a corner. We were due to leave for Cornwall on 26th January with the race taking place 28-29th January so it was basically now a case of hope for the best as can’t really try and test the injury healing out with any decent length training. In the end over the last 6 weeks leading into the race I only covered 38 miles of run/walk mix (with the maximum length of time running being 15 minutes) and 136 miles of hiking with around 25,000ft. I was looking forward to the race and was up for it mentally after what seemed so long for it to come round. The weather forecast was as good as it could be for end January race – around 10 degrees during the day, minimal rain, medium high winds and about 6 degrees overnight. My mind was strong, my course knowledge was good, my nutrition, kit planning & crew planning were meticulously planned as usual to minimise any time wasting. My hiking strength was there, the only uncertainty was how my foot/ankle was going to hold up to a) running as no matter how strong you are at hiking you can’t finish the race within the time limit & ongoing cut offs by hiking alone b) that duration of race itself. I had meticulously prepared my crew plan and David was briefed with instructions on a spreadsheet split down by what he had to do at each crew point in principle. Yes there would be some ad hoc things that came up on the day but overall I wanted an outline plan so we weren’t thinking or making too many decisions when sleep deprived. I had all my race nutrition split off into zip lock bags of a) what I would start with b) what David would bring to the main checkpoints c) what he would carry on him as floating nutrition for when I saw him in addition to the main checkpoints. I over packed massively but would rather it be that was round. Kit wise I had all the essential kit obviously for kit check, the kit I would start in, spare baselayers for ad-hoc changes, a complete full kit change if I wanted that at Lands End 55 miles. Plus my additional Montane Hydrogen jacket for the Fri-Sat night overnight as that is like a hug in a duvet. I also had 3 pairs of trainers, several pairs of socks and a spare pair of gaiters. I planned to start in my Hoka Evo Mafate 2 and change into my road shoes Hoka Clifton 8’s for the Marazion to Mousehole section circa 35-42 miles with a sock change. Then to change back into my Hoka Evo Mafate 2 for the most technical section until around 79 miles at St Ives where I would change into my Hoka Speedgoat 4 and a sock change for the remainder of the race where the trail isn’t as aggressive on the whole. I also then had a further separate bag of clothing packed for extreme weather conditions in case the weather forecast did a complete u-turn. All in all I wouldn’t have changed anything about my build up to the race apart from not having the flare up of my foot/ankle injury. Though who knows it could have been a blessing in disguise as think mentally it helped me be even more motivated as I felt like I had more to prove to myself if I could complete the race under these circumstances.
According to reports the weather was nicer this year than usual. What was your experience and ground conditions like? As I mentioned above I was really pleased when it was 7-10 days out and the forecast looked as good as it could be for the race as thought that is one more thing stacked in my favour! I did know from the December recce how bad it could get though so was still prepared for that in case the forecast changed at the last minute. We had around a 45 minute wait from memory at the start at Coverack before the race started after being dropped off from the bus. The race started 12 noon on Friday 28th January. I think I was actually overdressed when I started the race as had an Inov8 short sleeve merino base layer, long sleeve Kora yak wool base layer then a Berghaus zip up mid layer jacket. Bottom layer I had Runderwear base layer shorts to the knee & Montane thermal leggings. It was fairly humid when the race started so I did feel pretty warm (and later heard reports of a some runners dropping as they couldn’t get their breath) so I unzipped my Berghaus zip up and just had to get on with it until I saw David at 10 miles to give it to him as it was too bulky to fit in my backpack as well as the rest of my required kit. The conditions underfoot were still boggy in parts but not as much as the December recce. Though less than 10 miles in I did manage to skid on a really muddy section and went flat on my back skidding down a field for a while, poles dropped & hands covered in mud and mud from neck to heels covered down my back!! Fortunately, there were some flying angels with water tanks a mile or two down the trail so I could at least rinse my hands and pole handles! I hadn’t planned on changing kit at Porthleven the 25 mile check point but as it had been quite humid (and had been overdressed for the first 10 miles) I was sweating quite a bit so I put on a fresh Runderwear long sleeve base layer and as it was after 6pm now and dark got the Berghaus zip up jacket again that David had dryed out. I think there may have been some rain starting from memory as I was approaching the Penzance check point around 40 miles but I held off getting my waterproof jacket out until I got to the check point to leave with it on. The winds had probably picked up to around 20mph plus at this point which always feels stronger. This was around around 10:30pm now. As you approach Lamorna Cove around 44-46 miles this is very exposed & has massive boulder rocks that you have to scramble over for a couple of miles. Then pretty much from Porthgwarra onto Lands End is fairly exposed in terms of weather to batter you and felt this took it out of me a bit when I got to Lands End check point at 55 miles. It was like “mizzle” where it’s misty and you can’t see very well plus raining but not incredibly heavy but the high winds are making it come across you sideways, blurring your vision with the headtorch. I was really struggling to catch my breath; from when the wind was burning my throat dry & causing me to cough quite a lot. I had to stand in a doorway alley for shelter a bit when I got to Lands End to try and compose myself before going into the checkpoint. I changed into another Runderwear short sleeve base layer, put my snuggly Montane Hydrogen jacket on and then my Ronhill/Mountain Equipment “shake-dry” waterproof on top of this to head out as well as a couple of buff & liner glove changes. It was around 4:30am now so I wanted to be cosy as your body and mind starts to now realise you should be asleep now! The toughest section of the course terrain wise is from Pendeen 66 miles to St Ives 79 miles. Fortunately for me this section would be in the day light though I knew it would be slow moving so still kept my layers on until Zennor. Also even though it was daylight it was still early morning and chilly. It wasn’t until Zennor when I swapped David my Montane Hydrogen jacket for my Berghaus zip up and put my waterproof back in my bag. This was around 11am now. The whole 13 miles Pendeen to St Ives was tricky underfoot with big boulder rocks, sharp shards of rock sticking up, flowing mini rivers and mud slides and this was a good year. There had been a few falls, I’m sure I saw a couple of runners with bloody heads and one dislocated their hand/fingers as it was so easy to slip here. My focus was firmly on getting to St Ives before the 2pm cut off! I got there about 1:10 – 1:15pm though my tracker shows 1:20pm as I stood outside composing myself from pushing hard as thought I would be timed out, grabbing my dry robe & briefing David on what I would need when I came out the check point. After the shoe & sock change at St Ives, the only other kit change I did in response to the weather was at Godrevy around 90 miles 6pm Saturday when it started to rain heavy I got my waterproof out again and put my hood up and remained like that till a couple of miles before the finish. I tell you if that was a kind weather year, I would not have liked to do the race in poor conditions, but that is something that you can’t predict!!!
Did you have any bad moments and if so how did you motivate yourself to keep going? What was the bit you enjoyed the most?
I thought that the sleep deprivation would really get me as I love sleeping in day to day life but similar to when I did my 24hr race, this didn’t seem to affect me too much. Think I prepared myself mentally for it though by the time I got to sleep after 42 hours of being awake, I was looking forward to bed!
I think the bad moments overall were just constantly worrying I would be timed out. I just stuck to my mantra of “keep moving, keep eating until you get to the finish or get timed out trying”.
It wasn’t too pleasant when my feet were hurting. I have worn Injinji socks for years & love that they keep my toes separated as my toes are quite close together. I find Hoka’s really comfortable and cushioned. Plus I do pre-taping of my heels and little toes but getting blisters has always been an issue for me in long races; it’s as if the skin on the under pads of my toes are too soft and they rub easily even though they are separated by the Injinji socks. So we spent quite a lot of time twice at 35 miles & 79 miles David tending to my blisters & redressing my feet along with the sock & shoe change.
The Cornish coastline is stunning when it’s daylight – Poldu Cove looked beautiful as the sun shone on it on the Friday afternoon then the sunset on Looe Bar Beach just as it was sunset on the Friday was lovely to see aswell. Also it sounds pretty mad but I thought when I was out there, I’m pretty lucky to be able to do something that I love with a bunch of other crazy runners as well!!
What kit could you not live without on this race and also what was your favourite form of nutrition? All of it! Layers are key for winter races! Plus having options for shoe changes and thinking of extreme “what if” scenarios and being prepared for them! I have only recently purchased my Montane Hydrogen jacket which is a brilliant piece of kit to keep you warm and toasty in winter conditions; that you can wear alone if not raining heavy or also under your waterproof jacket. Mountain Fuel Extreme Energy was my go to liquid carbs – I tried to have one sachet per flask (80g) of carbs for as long as I could tolerate it. Think around 60-65 miles I asked David to reduce the strength to (40g) of carbs across both flasks. I aimed to have around 60g of carbs per hour if I could but this was across food/drink I had with me and some snacks I took from checkpoints. It didn’t always work out exactly like this as when it’s really windy, you are using your hands to balance on boulders or hold poles you can’t always constantly eat but I did make sure I had a steady stream of food. I packed way too much food and had a massive range of things. I had some 30g & 50g chia charge bars , individual soreen bars, Tunnock caramel wafers, Lindor chocolate balls, Mars bars, Boost bars & Cadbury’s fruit & nut chocolate. I did have a couple packets of shot blocks & a couple of gels. Also had a few Babybels, some Salt & Vinegar crisps & a chicken sandwich. Plus other options I didn’t even touch! The check points had loads of lovely hot food options as well but I tried not to get dragged into that as knew that would take even more time when I felt I was already pushed for making cut offs.
Any tips for newbies who may be considering this event?
Have a crew! It isn’t essential but I would definitely advise this if you can!
Practice your nutrition and kit in winter conditions.
Recce the course if you can as though you do get a GPX file it’s good mentally to know what to expect and visualise where you will be at different times of the day/night and this will help you formulate your crew plan. Also it’s good to train on specific race terrain.
Have a good chunk of time on feet in training even if hiking and not doing fast runs all the time.
Prepare yourself mentally for what is to come and how you will break this race down to deal with it during tough times. Yes you will see other runners and meet your crew/ check point volunteers along the route but in theory you could be out up to 36 hours with around 20 hours in darkness.
Navigation can sometimes be difficult definitely when you have longer nights. Was the route easy to follow?
On the whole the route is keep the sea on your left but you aren’t always constantly right by the sea and as the course is quite twisty/turny then when it’s dark with poor visibility it’s easy to become disorientated. That’s why I think having a recce of the course or certain sections is advisable as well as constantly keeping focused on if you’re going the right way. Think I only made one navigation error around Penberth that cost me 2/3 minutes. Plus potentially taking a few wider paths here and there when I could have taken a closer inland one. I got exactly 105 miles on my watch (across two watches) so once you factor in walking about inside at checkpoints & outside at crew points plus a small navigational error I would say the race length is probably 103.5-104 miles.
Tell us about your recovery. It definitely looked amazing. We flew to Maldives on the evening of Monday 31st January which was our original honeymoon for September 2020. This was definitely a good plan recovery wise from a massive race like that as it was total chill time. Especially after the stress to get on the holiday as we obviously had to pack for the holiday as well as the race. After having only about 5 hours sleep on the Saturday night through Sunday after being awake 42 hours for the race; David had to pack all the race stuff up as I could barely move and drive 5.5 hours from Cornwall to London Heathrow to get there for 7pm the Sunday night so we could take out PCR tests as Maldives require them within 96 hours of travel. I was panicking so much in case I was positive from the race (which I think also pushed me more in the race as I thought I need to succeed in case we don’t get to go on holiday!). Fortunately we were both negative so the Monday was just a case of filling out the Maldives immigration forms and repacking the bags a bit to then head to Heathrow around 3pm. It was like being in total paradise, we had 9 nights there. I can’t tell whether that was enough or whether I would have preferred to go for 14 nights. I think it was just because I was spaced out and fatigued when we got there from the race, travel (so we also lost a night’s sleep in the air) and then a 5 hour time difference. Kuramathi is one of the larger Maldives Islands around 1.2 miles long and it has a massive range of restaurants and bars to choose from. We stayed in one of the water villas over the reef; it was beautiful!
I have the Portland Pig Backyard Ultra at the end of April which I booked last June when these type of events became popular so I’m looking forward to that!
It was great to catch up with Rachel and hear her story. Good Luck with your next Ultra.
Who's up for next years Arc of Attrition?
The Summit Crazy Team
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