Feature image & all running images in this post are used, with permission, from Blue Kite Communications.
When Mudcrew asked for people to help at the 2020 Raidlight Arc of Attrition, I replied with my usual enthusiasm. I was even more excited when Race Director, Ferg, asked me if I fancied being a valet this year. It was a total no brainer – I was simply couldn’t wait to be up at the crack of dawn to help escort runners to the St Ives checkpoint.
The Lowdown On The Arc Of Attrition
If you’ve not read my previous posts on Mudcrew’s Raidlight Arc of Attrition, let me tell you a bit more. It’s a 100 mile coastal foot race and has gained the reputation for being the UK’s toughest ultra challenge. It’s in the middle of winter, so aside from the epic distance, conditions are unpredictable and certainly add to the challenge. It’s so hardcore, with those who finish earning 6 UTMB points. Runners start at the small village of Coverack and make their way around the arc of Cornwall, finishing (if they’re lucky) at the Eco Park in Porthtowan, on the north coast. There’s a 50 mile option, the Arc 50, with runners starting at Cornwall’s famous Minack Theatre.
The Raidlight Arc of Attrition doesn’t suffer fools gladly. With 4 checkpoints for the full Arc, the time cut offs are tight. The 100 mile distance has an average DNF rate of 54%. Similarly, the Arc 50 takes no prisoners. Not all runners make it round. The general thinking is, if you’re running the 100 miles and you make it to St Ives, there’s a good chance you’ll finish (injury aside) within in the 36 hour time limit.
What’s A Valet?
Valets were introduced to the Arc of Attrition a few years ago. All runners have to come off the coastpath and enter the checkpoint, even if they don’t stay. Mudcrew valets make sure runners don’t get lost and arrive at each checkpoint safely. Arc angels, physios and medics take care of runners once inside.
This year I was a valet at St Ives, the last checkpoint for all runners, regardless of distance. Situated at 78.9 miles into the 100 mile quest, and at about 28 miles for the Arc 50, we knew we’d be seeing many tired and long suffering runners.
Early Bird (But Not As Early As Steve Wyatt)
I was due to start my valet shift at 8am. With the alarm set for 6, I was impressed that I was ready to out the door in good time. That is, until I couldn’t find my car keys. Settling for the spare set, I made arrived St Ives in the nick of time. I heard how the leading man, Steve Wyatt, who would go on to win (again) came through at 4.30am. Steve secured a finishing time of 21:24, which is, quite frankly, bonkers. Since then, the valets guessed about 7 runners had been through.
It was a quiet few hours, with each of us glued to the open live tracker on our phones, looking for when the next runner would arrive. It was great to see leading lady, Anna Troupe come through, smiling and looking totally at ease. She went on to win in an impressive time of 25:21.
The first runner I took to the checkpoint was Dan, who was swiftly followed by Rich. Dan was up for it and challenged me to a 6 minute mile (Game on, Dan, game on). In fact, he seemed to be really enjoying himself and I laughed all the way to the checkpoint. Dan finished in 27 hours, totally incredible. I guess the party and high spirits continued after St Ives, no doubt proving that ultra running success is mostly in the mind.
The 2020 Raidlight Arc of Attrition Athletes
There were quite a few of us valets on shift by 9.30. We were expecting busy spells so Checkpoint Manager, Mel, split us up, placing us at different points along the route. The plan was for valets to pass runners to each other so we could return to our points quicker, ready for the next athlete. Understandably, those who were first to greet the runners ended up taking them to the checkpoint. It wasn’t that far, and with conversation and pace flowing, I can understand the wish to continue.
For me and my valet buddy, Nic, this made for a quiet morning. I was all geared up to clock up some much needed Garmin miles but it wasn’t to be. Instead we answered lots of questions from people wandering around St Ives, who stopped to ask us what was going on. Upon hearing the distance runners were embarking on, responses ranged from “you’re bloody joking” to well, total silence (one man stared at me and walked off!). The best came from an older man who asked what all this “Mudcrew business is,” asking if we were the people clearing up the mud. Not quite.
As the 2pm time cut off approached, more of the 100 mile runners came through. By this time, me and Nic decided to stand with others and escort the runners all the way to the Guildhall. We wanted a piece of the action. Plus, I’d worked my way through the Babybel bowl at the checkpoint, and needed to run off the cheese.
My valet duties meant that I met David from London, who had never done the Arc Of Attrition before. Smiling and chatty, I was left wondering where he got his energy from. Looking at the results, and all the potential Davids, I see this was David Bone. Well done David, what a run you had. I see you finished in 31:22 and claimed a lovely silver buckle.
I also ran with Will, who I can only remember as being very tall and wearing a yellow jacket. His family were waiting for him and there was a burst of joy upon seeing his wife and son. There’s nothing like knowing you’re going to see your family en route to keep you moving. Will completed the Arc, reaching Porthtowan in 32.47. Next up was Tom, a softly spoken man who didn’t reach St Ives on his previous attempt at the Arc of Attrition. He had plenty of time to spare and I was confident he would conquer the Arc of Attrition this time. Looking at the results, I’m delighted to see he rocked up in 34:18. Great stuff, Tom
As I left the checkpoint, I noticed a familiar female runner from 2019 who collapsed after leaving St Ives. I was delighted to see her back for the 2020 Raidlight Arc of Attrition. She arrived at St Ives in time to go out again. I’m pleased to tell you that she finished and put the Arc of Attrition to bed.
Enter the Arc 50 Athletes
As the 2pm checkpoint cut off for the 2020 Raidlight Arc of Attrition approached, we prepared ourselves for the Arc 50 runners. The winning man, Jamie Stephenson, came through way before 2pm. He managed to somehow cover 50 coastal miles in 8:27. Seriously, how is that possible?
Throughout the afternoon, the Arc 50 runners flowed in and it certainly felt busier. While the field had inevitably spread out, runners often arrived 2, 3 or 4 at a time. Just like last year, the Arc 50 runners generally had more life in their legs; many were running at a steady pace. Some even had time to stop for an ice cream, approaching the checkpoint, cone in hand (chocolate, in case you were wondering). I even spied a Warren’s Bakery bag, but this is Cornwall, and there’s nothing like a bit of pasty power.
We saw a surge of runners inbeteeen 3.30 and the 5pm cut off. I was delighted to see local Roseland man, Luke Cracknell, arrive at St Ives. He was running steadily, although I missed the opportunity to escort him to the CP. Luke did good, finishing the Arc 50 in 13:31. Luke, I’d be happy with that, well done. I’m glad the “cold” didn’t hold you back!
As the time limit approached, we all noticed a male runner running towards us with gusto. (By the power of deduction, my money’s on this being Mark Smitherham.) We all looked at each other in panic, asking the same question, “Who’s going to take this one?” He was seriously tanking it (maybe he’d had a pasty too). Of course, I ignored my dodgy hip and met the challenge head on. I’m clearly unfit as I was out of puff by the time I reached the checkpoint. It was the fastest I’d run in months – I only wish I’d fired up the Garmin.
With 4 minutes shy of the 5pm deadline, 2 runners just made it through. Just as we were looking on the live tracking to see how many hadn’t made it, we heard a shout to our left. A runner had ended up on the adjacent road and was wondering where the checkpoint was. With 2 minutes to spare, one of my fellow valets doubted she’d make it. How wrong they were. Apparently, her foot was in the door with 5 seconds to spare. Thank goodness.
Once 5pm came, we heard there were at least 9 or 10 people who hadn’t reached us at St Ives – a further testament to how hard this event is. Running isn’t possible in many stretches, with climbing being your best option.
A few minutes past 5, 2 runners were swiftly making their way towards us. We all looked at each other, “Do we take them to the checkpoint?” “Do they know they haven’t made it?” “What do we do?”
Of course we took care of them!
I escorted them to the CP. The runner immediately behind me said he knew they hadn’t made it. I’ve no idea how they felt but I was in the company of a man who wanted to run to the checkpoint. “I’m determined to get there,” he said.
And sure enough, he did.
It’s a Wrap
And therein lies the spirit of this event and the runners who resign themselves to really go for it.
There’s much determination, spirit and self-belief behind the decision to apply for the Raidlight Arc of Attrition and the Arc 50. Not everyone makes it, and I think that’s part of the appeal. You can train your body and your mind but there’s so many things that remain out of any runner’s control. Those who don’t make it the first time come back. For some, they’re on their second or third attempt and I can see why. It’s part of what keeps us all coming back and wanting to support every admirable runner in their incredible venture to be an Raidlight Arc of Attrition finisher.
Entries for the 2021 Raidlight Arc of Attrition and Arc 50 opens in March.
Until next year … who knows, maybe I’ll sweep?