Why The Roseland August Trail?
The Mud Crew’s Roseland August Trail (The RAT) needs no introduction. I’m a Mud Crew fan. I’m a RAT fan. If you read my 2017 race review, you’ll know how keen I was to take part again. I’ve had two outings doing the White RAT (the 11 mile route) so I was well overdue to tackle the 20 mile course, also known as the Red RAT. The other distances are 32 miles (the Black RAT) and 64 miles (called The Plague).
I love running the Cornish coast path. Living near the start for the 20 mile race, I’ve run weekly along a stretch of it somewhere or other. I know every turn, stump and step. Although I trained diligently for the RAT, it’s hard to say how races will go on the day. I was worried it would be too hot as most of my training had been done in cooler climes (aka rubbish for Summer), and I had a period of a few weeks before the race where I didn’t have much of an appetite at all. However, on the day I was nervous, excited, and most of all, pumped and ready to go. I was aiming for a time of 4 hours 30 mins. I know the course well; it’s not easy and I completed a 17 mile coastal race in March so this time was an optimistic time. I had 4 hours 45 mins as a more realistic goal.
The First Half
The 20 mile race starts in the lovely village of Portloe, which in fairness struggled to accommodate the 200+ runners waiting to start. The great thing about the RAT is while waiting for our race to start, other runners completing the longer distances run through Portloe. It’s great! They get to have a good cheer and encouragement, and we get lots of inspiration from those who are crazy enough to do an ultra marathon distance. And if we get to Gorran Haven before the White RAT starts, we get the same treatment.
The start is on the little beach at Portloe, bit of a squeeze as it was high tide. The opening mile or so takes you up some steps out of the village at Caddy Daw. The path is narrow so overtaking in the first mile or so is difficult, but hey, we’re all in the same boat. Actually, I don’t like the first few miles. It’s a tough start and can feel relentless having to tackle climb after climb. The next village sometimes feels like it’s never going to arrive.
Within half an hour I reached the pretty hamlet of Portholland where we had to scale the rocks at the back of the beach. Winding up a hill (about the 4th in 30 minutes) we headed out to pretty Caerhayes. Mentally, I chunked this race into sections. First Portholland, then Caerhayes, Hemmick, and so on, with each chunk being about 30 minutes long. This prevented me from thinking too far ahead and kept my mind on the present. It’s amazing how close together some of the fishing villages and hamlets are though. Despite my familiarity with the route there were many times I thought, “oh, I’m here already’ which spurred me on. There were some spectators at Caerhayes too which was just amazing. It was uplifting to get a “well done” and a clap as I made my way past the castle.
Coming out of Caerhayes – yes another hideous climb following by a load of steps, the course remains challenging but there’s no denying how stunning it is. By this time, the field had spread out a bit but I wasn’t alone. I seemed to be working my way up the field and kept wondering when they would catch me up. The steps are hard going, even the ones early on in the course; they tire your legs. It’s impossible to run up them all so I just kept moving. I felt strong and positive.
The next section led to Hemmick Beach. After Hemmick there is the mother of all inclines so I mentally prepared myself for a walk. About a mile from here, at Dodman’s Point, it’s not far to Gorran Haven, where the 11 mile race starts. When I was training for the RAT, I fantasised about getting to Gorran before the start to enjoy the cheer from the crowds and expectant runners. I never thought it possible. My fastest time to Gorran from Portloe when training was 1:53. At best, I thought I would miss it by a few minutes. I was overjoyed, and a bit shocked to arrive in 1:41. I even clocked up an 8.28 minute mile on the coast path (ok, it was the flat bit). After a quick cup of flat coke at the checkpoint (best thing ever when running) I went on my way, milking the cheers as I went around the corner and up the hill.
The Second Half
It wasn’t long before the elites and head runners from the White start were zipping past me. I walked a fair way past Gorran – not quite a mile. I found my legs past the first gate and started running again. I wasn’t feeling 100% at this point, the flat coke was repeating on me (I did neck it!) but I wasn’t deterred. Knowing Chapel Point and Port Mellon weren’t that far ahead helped.
Once through little Port Mellon, we nudged into busy Mevagissey. Mevagissey was definitely busier last year. I found my confidence and warned tourists and locals I was a “runner coming up on your right”. Last year I weaved my way through and it was a bit of a pain. I don’t like the stretch of coast path going out of Mevagissey. There’s a steep climb going out of the village, and more steps before it evens out over grassland and goes back onto traditional coast path. By this time, I was looking at my watch, wondering what on earth I was playing at. Surely I couldn’t keep going at this pace? I kept trying to predict my finish time, knowing the last section would take me longer than others because it’s so bad. I was just running based on how I felt, which was relaxed and comfortable. I decided not to think about it too much and crack on.
As I ran towards Pentewan, it wasn’t long before I could see the beach and Pentewan Sands campsite. That’s before you scale a massive hill of course. Once that’s out of the way, there’s a wonderful descent onto the road. I made my way to the centre of Pentewan village to the last check point. It’s in the beer garden of the village pub, who cleverly put on a beer fest the same day (nice move). I remember this lady, a spectator who I don’t know, giving me so much encouragement. She clapped as I went by but leaned forward, looked me in the eye, and told me I was doing an amazing job. It was most sincere and I really felt she meant it. Thank you.
I stopped at the check point, topped my water up and drank another cup of flat coke. I left for the final 5 miles munching on a piece of watermelon. I then proceeded to have a stitch but I decided to ignore it and carried on.
The course is hilly and if you are linked to the Facebook page, there is always a yearly conversation in the run up to the RAT about “the steps”. To be clear, there’s bloody hundreds of them and they figure throughout the course. However once past Pentewan, someone was having a laugh. There are loads of them. Not one or two at a time either. There’s 3 (maybe 4) sets and they go on and on and on. There’s part of me that doesn’t find it funny, but you’ve got to laugh because it’s ludicrous.
At least I could say I was forewarned, and forearmed. There was one runner on Facebook saying he had trained for the RAT but hadn’t figured in any hill training. Poor chap, he had a shock, I’m sure. I didn’t do loads of training on these actual steps but I found myself powering up them. At one point I was asking other runners if I could get past. The penultimate set of steps led to considerable thigh burn but I didn’t stop at the top. There was only about 5k to go too. When I come to this point in a race, I see this as the last stretch. I can do 5k. I felt like I had some miles left in my legs and when I got to Trenarren, I knew there was only 2 miles to HQ.
It’s a wonderful feeling, running a race on the coast path and seeing the last beach on the course below. For this race, that’s Porthpean beach. Unfortunately the race doesn’t end there. This is the Mud Crew and that would be easy. Instead you’re directed up a huge incline to Porthpen village. It’s hideous. You then continue onwards and upwards on to a muddy trail, up 4 more steps (very funny!) and finally, you arrive at Race HQ.
There was a crowd waiting, lots of cheering, the lovely lady from Pentewan was there, offering more fabulous words (Mud Crew need to find this lady and hire her!). My family, my mum, sister and nephew were all there. I fist punched the air because I was still running. I felt great and my watch was telling me I exceeded my expectations. I was feeling tired and in pain, but crossed the line with a smile. Then the tears came. The relief of finishing along with the sheer fulfilment and joy that comes with completing my favourite race once again, and it being an uplifting and one of my best running experiences to date.
So, how did I do? If you follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram you may have seen it already because it went very well!
Official Time – 4:00:43 (who knew?).
35th out of just over 200 runners.
8th lady. (No age group results this year.)
A Big Thank You
The Mud Crew are legends. They work so hard to make sure all their events are impeccably well organised and managed on the day. They work really hard and it pays off. Race Director Jane Stephens sincerely congratulated every runner as they finished and is rapidly gaining a reputation for giving the best post-race hugs in Cornwall.
I know I’ll be back next year. The problem with The RAT is it offers 4 distances. I’ve completed the 11 miler twice and now the 20. Flipping heck, I feel like I’m on a slippery slope to an ultra marathon. We’ll see….