“The task is brutally simple”…”difficulty is severe”…”there are innumerable steep climbs and descents just a stone’s throw away from the potentially pounding Atlantic swells”. Most normal people would not read this and go “Ooo, this sounds nice, let’s sign up” but, masochistically, I did.
The full Classic Quarter race is a delightful 44 miles long, going from the most southerly point in the UK (Lizard Point) to the most westerly (Land’s End). Thankfully, I only had 13.1 miles to worry about as I was running as part of a relay team to raise money for S4S, a charity which supports disabled children in Zimbabwe and with whom I briefly worked a few years ago. The other three runners were, Pippa, Isabel (S4S founder) and Harry (Isabel’s boyfriend).
Although I’d done a fair amount of short distance training over the previous couple of months, I had barely run more than 20km since the Rotterdam marathon, almost two months ago. I wasn’t too worried about finishing but I was a little unsure how my fitness levels would keep up near the end based on the difficulty. My longest training run (20.5km) the previous week suggested I should be ok, although I did have to take a break in the middle after someone scattering ashes on Richmond Bridge forgot to scatter downwind and gave everyone including me around a particularly grim experience.
Pippa and I travelled to Cornwall a few days early and, after two months of apparently uninterrupted sunshine, a distinctly Scottish weather descended on Cornwall with us. Other than the fact that it was bloody miserable, we were a little concerned when we got up on the morning of the race to see thick mist which transformed our view of the “mesmerising South West Coast path” to “one car, half a tree and white background”. As we were essentially running along cliff tops, this seemed somewhat dangerous.
By the time the race kicked off at 7am, the skies were clearing up and the race was looking less suicidal. Isabel had picked the short straw and ran the first leg which meant getting up at 4.30am. Despite the lack of sleep, she was in great form and knocked 10 minutes off her time from last year and, more importantly, beat her brother by about half a second!
After a quick handover, I was off just as the sun broke through what was left of the early mist. Although the tip of Cornwall really is the arse end of the UK, it’s a very scenic arse and the views as we made our way westwards were stunning. The race, however, was hell. Even the Marquis de Sade would have thought this was a bit much.
The terrain was a mixture of pretty much every surface which could be thrown at your: soil, mud, gravel, rocks, sand, tarmac, grass, roots, nettles… while some of the course was flat, most was either straight up or straight down with a total of just over 500m of climbing (and just as much descending), more often than not down paths about a trainer wide. Let alone needing to be as thin as a catwalk model to get down some of the paths, you also had to know how to walk like one to move at all. Also, forget about the nettles or minor cuts as dangers: the 50m drops a few metres from the path were a much bigger concern! Anyway, it was fun. Kinda.
Before starting, I’d been given a head’s up by Dan, last year’s fastest runner for the leg I was doing, that the course could be split up into thirds: an easier start, a hell-ish middle and a tough end. Setting off fast was therefore a good tactic. Finally!! After years of rehearsing this tactic, it might finally pay off!
While undeniably “not easy”, the first half was certainly not too fiendish. Most paths were wide enough to overtake and the gradient wasn’t too stupid. Nevertheless, my quads were aching from pretty early on and it didn’t take me long to start wondering whether my GPS was still working.
After 8km or so, I overtook a male runner in a steep hill who was wearing … sandals. WTF. I asked him why on earth he was wearing sandals, to which he replied in a slightly foreign accent “Vwell, vwhy not?” I could think of a few reasons… and I suspect he could too when we came across the 500m stretch of sand a couple of kilometres later!
Anyway, the race was going well and I was making up a lot of ground. Having run the first 10km in 45 minutes or so, I thought I was well on track to pulverise the course record. Or not, as I’d soon find out as the course just went utterly mental from then on.
Although I’d challenged myself not to walk any of the race, the zig-zag 20 degree climb for a few hundred meters at the start of the eleventh km was too much for me and I took the opportunity of being stuck behind a band of 20 or so runners who were walking to have a drink and recover briefly. Annoyingly, this would also be the only time, just as I was feeling my crappiest, that I would get overtaken: a minor kick in the teeth (or quads).
Eventually, we surfaced at the top and I re-started the “excuse me, can I overtake please, thank you, good luck” monologue. Truth be told, I was actually running quite well (must be the vegan diet!) and I must have overtaken a hundred or so solo or relay runners during my leg. I was also lucky to “only” get slightly lost once. Despite the organisers’ best effort to avoid mapping out the course with anything more than a few credit-card sized signs on most (but certainly not all) junctions, I got away with it by following a fairly sensible “keep the sea on your left at all times” rule of thumb.
Coves started looking identical and I cursed every time we went round a corner and there was no finish line in sight. Eventually, thankfully, the large flags appeared and I could spot the tell-tale bright lime S4S tshirts in the distance and I sped up one last time. I crossed the line in 1h57 (50% slower than normal!), the 8th fastest time for our leg. This brought us up from 36th after the first leg to 12th overall at this point. Pippa went on to run her leg in 1h58 (27th) and Harry in 2h12 (31st) meaning we finished 17th overall out of 80: a pretty good effort considering all of our team’s hatred of hills! This wasn’t quite the Marathon des Sables or the Badwater Death Valley Ultra (or even the full 44 miles!) but, to me and any other normal runner, this was tough!
I’m not 100% sure I’d recommend travelling all this way for this torture but it was a great way to support S4S (and I’d certainly recommend that!). On top of all this, the relay medals and ULTRA tshirts were identical to the ones you got for running the full thing so … I’m pretty sure that means I’m an ultra-runner, right?
Time: 1h57.26 (8th/80)