The Raidlight Arc of Attrition 2019 Through The Eyes Of A Checkpoint Angel

All New For The Arc of Attrition 2019.

My first experience as an Arc Angel was last year, at the Porthleven checkpoint. Since then Mudcrew Events have made a few changes for the Arc of Attrition 2109. It’s still the same mind boggling 100 mile ultra running event, but now boasts a shorter (and kinder?) 50 mile option (the Arc 50) for the very first time. Naturally both sold out pretty quickly. Also new for 2019 were regular updates on MudCrew’s YouTube channel, MudCrew TV, meaning that each checkpoint had a camera installed capturing all the action. 

This year I was delighted to be part of the 2019 St Ives Arc Angel team. This is the final checkpoint on the course and greets the full Arc runners at 80 miles into their feat, and at 28 miles for those embarking on the Arc 50. As it’s the last checkpoint, it’s usually the place housing the runners who’ve been timed out or are too injured to continue. Basically, we were going to be super busy. 

In the run up to the Arc of Attrition 2019 there was the usual facebook chat, news, excitement and speculation. As Arc Angels we have our own message thread to stay on top of all the plans and organisation. Despite there being a trillion things to sort out, the burning question for 2019 was whether or not Race Director Ferg would cry. Apparently someone saw a little tear escape last year. I’ll leave you in suspense of that one, for now at least. 

By Saturday morning I was itching to get to the Guildhall in St Ives for one of the most inspiring and motivating experiences as a wannabe ultra runner. By the time I left home Kim Collison had already won the Arc of Attrition 2019 in a jaw dropping 20 hours 43 minutes, securing a new course record. Much like Kim, I rocked up a tad earlier than expected at the St Ives checkpoint on the basis that I was a little bit excited and wanted to get stuck in. 

Lady's back in blue hooded top

Arc Angels, What’s It All About?

When I arrived, things were in full swing. Some Arc Angels had been up all night and some of the speedy Arc 100 runners had been and gone. It was quite something seeing the 100 mile runners hobble in and out, intent on finishing the incredible distance they’d started. I remember one male runner, dressed in black, practically peeling himself off the chair, wincing in pain when putting his hydration pack on. Did he make it? I hope so. 

Being an Arc Angel requires a bit of mind reading or at least pre-empting what runners need. Some runners can barely string a sentence together or think about what they want. As an Arc Angel, it’s our job to think for them. After running 80 miles, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t know my name, let alone what I’d want to drink. The main questions/statements after “Hello” are “Can I fill your water bottles up? Can I get you some hot food? What about a hot drink?” All runners want to be on their way in plenty of time. Some need medical attention, some need a bit of physio. It’s important they get what they need as soon as possible, and can complete the course in time. 

Runner holding poles

The Arc of Attrition 100 mile Runners.

Not all runners had lost their minds 80 miles into the race. Some seemed remarkably chipper considering the distance covered and the conditions. One man from Tamar Trail runners, that’s you Stuart Queen (I think), joked that he needed a piggy back to the toilet. Well I assumed he was joking and readily laughed. Sorry if I missed a trick there Stuart, I didn’t take you seriously. I’m not sure my angel wings allow for piggy backs! If you’re wondering, Stuart was all right really. He made it to the finish in good time – well done. 

I don’t know who the 100 mile runner was that I spent some time looking after. I wish I did but I couldn’t see his race number and I never asked for his name. What I can tell you is that he left the St Ives checkpoint totally wired after having 3 coffees, with 3 sugars in each. I hope he finished, he seemed in good spirits 80 miles in despite needing his feet looked at by the medics. I’m actually waiting for confirmation that after riding the sugar fun bus, he may done the last 22 miles in record time. I reckon Tate and Lyle need to give him a shout and sponsor his next adventure. 

Man Running coast sea cliffs

There’s a strict cut-off time of 2pm at the St Ives checkpoint for the 100 mile runners. As time ticked on there was considerable tension and frequent checking of the live tracking for 2 local runners, Anna Pascoe and Laura Millward. Their respective friends were Arc Angels at the St Ives checkpoint, and last year Anna was the sweep for part of the course. At 1.50 pm a whoop of delight erupted from the room, coupled with a wave of relief, when Anna walked through the door. She was all pink cheeked and open mouthed, and was flanked by 2 fetching young men dressed in Unicorn onesies (if you’re going to arrive, arrive in style lads!). Anna didn’t stop for too long and I’ve never seen anyone down a bag of crisps so quickly. You have to leave the checkpoint by 2.20pm if you want to continue so Anna needed to get what she needed, and run. She went on her way and made it to the finish, securing a lovely shiny buckle for her collection. Unfortunately Laura didn’t get to the checkpoint in time but arrived in seemingly good spirits. Thankfully her friends were on tap to offer plenty of TLC and much needed pizza. Laura, I know you were disheartened. You’re wonderful and at 80 miles, I salute you. 

It was fantastic to see 2 other women make it to the checkpoint before the cut off. One lady was very unwell – I hope she’s recovering. That’s the thing about the Arc, you really see how it effects the ultra runners both physically and mentally. You can do all the training in the world but there are some things you can’t predict or control on the day.

Two more runners were greeted through our doors before Race Director Ferg officially announced that the cut off had been reached. The shift wasn’t over yet though, we had most of the 50 mile runners to cater for. The speedy ones had already been and gone, but the majority of the field were still out there. 

Lady running

The Arc 50 Runners Arrive

It wasn’t long before local Roseland runner Richard Holbrook came bounding in, looking like he’d just nipped out for a brief, brisk walk on the coast path. I’m not sure of Richard’s position at this point but it was good. He was looking assured and confident, and in my view, was nailing it. Richard only stopped for a water refill, some watermelon and was off! I was delighted to see that he landed safely at Race HQ in Porthtowan. 

It was also a pleasure to see my school buddy, Paddy Talen turn up. He wasn’t running this year but was crewing Jeremy Warren. Again, they weren’t really hanging around. Jer’ was clearly keen to get on, but so was Paddy. He had a night out in Truro planned!

Hundreds of runners passed through our doors and I’d love to mention them all but obviously can’t. I remember a man called Leighton though, who appeared to be on good form. Looking at the results, Leighton finished in good time, well done. 

Lady walking at night head torch

As with the 100 mile runners, it was great to see the female runners reaching us in time too. It was a pleasure to meet Emily Cook who ended up taking first lady for the Arc 50, and I applaud the lady who was tackling the same distance and made time to breastfeed her beautiful baby. The amount of calories you need to do that, let alone run a 50 miler is pretty outstanding. There was another lady who came in full of chat. She was concerned about her husband who was tackling the full Arc of Attrition. She found him on the live tracker, totally relieved and thrilled to see the finish was very much in reach for him. I hope she had a good second half too. 

The difference between the 50 mile and the full Arc runners was quite apparent. Those taking on the shorter distance could walk properly by the time they reached St Ives and seemed full of beans compared to the 100 mile runners. Don’t get me wrong, the Arc 50 runners were tired. They talked of how hard the first section been, with running being almost impossible in parts given the terrain. 

Man sat at table
He’s very hungry!

We had a few men who were adamant they were going to DNF the 50 even though they didn’t appear to be injured. I’ve seen previous comments of runners on Facebook saying they were ready to DNF other gruelling Mudcrew events, only to say thank you for being encouraged to carry on. We do are best as Angels to get you back on the trail, even when you feel mentally defeated. Thankfully both runners changed their minds. After some food and drink and a quick rub down, runners seem to come to their senses. I believe there was a serious pep-talk between one runner and Arc Angel Zoe. I can’t reveal what she said to encourage him to his feet, but he didn’t argue and thankfully found the strength to continue. 

Once the cut off of 6pm was reached for the Arc 50 runners, we knew 2 people hadn’t made it to St Ives. It just goes to show how difficult the route is for both distances. Not forgetting that it’s February and all runners are battling the same horrendous conditions. The Arc of Attrition is a great event with such spirit and community attached to it. Friendships are made and everyone wants to be involved year after year. Even previous winners took on sweeping duties this year so I met Duncan Oates and caught with Paul Maskell. 

It wasn’t until near the end of the shift that I saw a Thank You card on the snack table. A thoughtful and warm gesture from Arc of Attrition runner Steve Mitchell, offering a sincere message of thanks to the Arc Angels. Thank you Steve, we’re grateful for your card. I think it’s fair to say there’s some mutual appreciation going on. We are amazed by every runner who takes on the Arc of Attrition and what you achieve. 

Thank you message

Cry Me A River? 

Back to Ferg and the crying. I didn’t see him cry at the Arc of Attrition 2019 but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen! And why not? I can’t imagine how it must feel to see such a major running event come together year after year. Ferg, along with Jane and Andy, organised another successful year. They work incredibly hard behind the scenes and really do steer a very steady and happy ship.

Me? I didn’t cry either but left St Ives totally buzzing. I felt excited, tingly, and completely in awe of every single runner who started the Arc Of Attrition 2019 and the Arc 50. You are all truly wonderful, inspiring people with guts of steel. Without sounding gushy, I’m proud to be a very small part in such an outstanding running event. I kind of excelled myself as an Arc Angel this year too. With the new MudCrew cameras at the checkpoint, I made my debut on MudCrew TV. Apparently I was “meandering towards the snack table.” Whoops. 

With the Arc of Attrition 2019 done and dusted for another year, I’m left wondering what sort of person aims to run 100 or 50 miles, and goes on to complete the distance. There’s so many things to allow for on the day, many of which we have no control over. This year, 62% of runners for the full Arc of Attrition didn’t finish which is about average for this event. 

To consider taking on the Arc of Attrition or the Arc 50 you’ve got to have guts, determination, mental toughness, and a good dose of tenacity. 

Oh heck, that sounds like someone I know….

I’ll see you next year – somewhere.  

Penny. 

All professional photos used in this post have been used with kind permission from Mark at Blue Kite Communications. He always does a tremendous job, thank you Mark. You can find all his fabulous race images from the Arc of Attrition 2019 here.

If this post has got you thinking and you would like to enter the Arc of Attrition 2020, entries open on 1st March. The Mudcrew Events website is here. Click at your peril!

Author: plbedford

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  • Great blog. The lady who wasn’t well at the St Ives checkpoint is doing really well other than having a chest infection and tired legs. I was one of her 4 crew members; the medics were brilliant with her. Stuart Queen is fine..his bright green underpants should have had their own number! The Angels were brilliant. Horrendous weather ..it was evil…but you all kept it going.

    • Hi Dana, lovely to hear Sarah is well. Green undies, sound like Mud Crew issue if you ask me! It was a fantastic event. I’m looking forward to 2020.

  • Lovely to hear something from the other side of the table Penny. Not sure if I met/saw you – as I pre-empted in my card I was a little weary by the time I hit St Ives – but a huge thank you for your and all the other Angels’ commitment to get everyone through what was an incredibly brutal event! I am very relieved to say that I made it to the finish to make my final delivery to the Porthtowan team and consider the Arc postal service now officially closed! For this year…? For ever…? We’ll see… Steve (117)

    • HI Steve, thanks for your lovely comment and your card. I didn’t start my shift until midday so you may have been and gone by then. Delighted to hear you reached the finish and received your buckle. It’s amazing what we’re able to achieve with the right training and mindset.