Taking on The Arc50 Cornish Ultra

As we drove down towards the beautiful Minack Theatre in readiness for the toughest run of my life, I reflected on the path that had brought me here. My love of both Cornwall and running has grown at an equally rapid pace in recent years, so when ‘Brutal Claire’ mentioned a Cornish ultra-marathon whilst interviewing her on the TRIBEathlon podcast, I knew this was the one for me.

Considered one of the toughest ultras in the UK, the 100-mile Arc of Attrition was certainly beyond my capability, but I thought that the 50-mile Arc50 might just be in reach. I’d previously run the required qualifying distance (50 km), and knew the coastline and terrain well, but this was going to be a tough first official ultra-marathon to attempt.

The 2021 race sadly didn’t happen, but having done the training I knocked out my own ‘staying local ultra’, clocking up 50 miles, whilst never leaving a 15-mile radius of the house. The ‘Rutland Ripple’ is, however, no match for the rugged Cornish coastline, so I knew the real thing was going to be a much tougher ask.

The Minack Theatre couldn’t be a more perfect setting to start the race. It is an open-air theatre, constructed above a gully with a rocky granite outcrop jutting into the sea. The theatre is at Porthcurno, 4 miles from Land's End. The theatre was the brainchild of Rowena Cade, who having moved to Cornwall after the First World War, carried rocks up the steep cliff to create the stage and seating. The result is the simply stunning open theatre with unbelievable views out to sea.

So, back to the day. As the countdown began, the tension built as flairs streamed, the waves crashed against the cliffs below us, and the bearded drummer hammered on the skin. Before I had time to think about what was ahead, we were off. Straight up the sheer climb back out of the theatre.

You can’t win an ultra-marathon in the first 10 miles, but you can definitely lose it; not that I had any illusions I was going to be winning this thing! I’d been full of a cold in the days leading up to it, so a nice gentle start was what was needed. My TRIBEathlon co-host Claire Fudge of 4th Discipline and I made sure that neither rose to the temptation of flying out of the blocks on the back of our adrenaline rush.

The early stages of the run are stunning. The coves of Nanjizal and Sennen, north and south of Land’s End are breath-taking. Remembering to take in the views was challenging, however as the terrain was tricky right from the off, and you had to watch every step. This became even more apparent when I went over on my ankle twice in the first 10 miles.

In a 50-mile run, you expect some dark moments, but not as early as mile 13. I started having a serious sense of humour failure, as Claire described it. My chest became tight, by calf and hamstring started cramping and my stomach didn’t take to eating solid food to break up the monotony of my gel intake. Between miles 13 and 18, I genuinely didn’t think I would make it half way.

Fortunately, we had our incredible crew on hand to rescue the situation. Warren & Erica Pole run sports superfood nutrition brand called 33Fuel. Warren had featured on the TRIBEathalon podcast, where he shared his enthusiasm for fuelling endurance healthily, and his wisdom of 35 ultra-marathons. Joining them was Kerry Sutton of Perpetual Motion Coaching and James Eacott. James is a highly accomplished Ironman, with a fastest time of an incredible 9 hours 7 minutes. Kerry, again a podcast guest, is a highly accomplished ultra-runner, having run everything from 215 miles across Scotland last summer, Marathon Des Sables twice, the jungle ultra in Peru, and the Spine Race, to name but a few. A more amazing crew we could not have asked for.

To get me out of the dark times, I needed to change something quickly. A cocktail of Sudafed, paracetamol, caffeine and more palatable gels, combined with the most tricky terrain of the entire run, got me back on track. My stomach, chest and cramps eased whilst negotiating the boulders, climbs and scrambles of the most stunning stretch of the run, from Pendeen Mine to St Ives, taking you past Gurnards Head and the quaint village of Zennor. Eventually, St Ives appeared on the horizon, the mental halfway point, as it feature the one and only feed station.

Claire and I hadn’t run together before, so whilst we said we’d set off together, we were both expecting one or the other to disappear off into the distance. This happened, but we regularly caught back up with one another. It turned out that I was faster on the downhills and technical terrain, although Claire was quick to point out she was holding back to protect her dodgy ankle. When it came to the climbs and flat sections however, there was no stopping her. She would come bounding past everyone around her. So, as it happened, one of us would stride off ahead for long sections, but sure enough, like a bad smell you couldn’t shake, the other would appear again right behind them. As we approached the stunning and unusually quiet St Ives, I’d opened up a healthy lead over Claire on a long downhill stretch, but within 30 seconds of me arriving into the feed station, she had reeled me in again.

St Ives was followed by a run through Carbis Bay and past the venue of the recent and controversial G7 summit. We again met our loyal crew, and headed off onto the only real stretch on the road, taking us round the sand flats to Hayle. After a quick crew stop, we donned our head torches and headed out into the ‘Dunes of Doom’- a long stretch of sand dunes that runs behind Gwithian Beach and up to the iconic Godrevy Lighthouse. Named as a result of the tricky navigation and soft sand, the coastal path meandered between the dunes, with opportunities to go wrong at almost every stride. Claire disappeared off into the distance, for what I thought would be the last time, only to be blindsided by her watch, the key to successful navigation, running out of battery. Thankfully, I closed the gap between us, and keeping a close eye on my trusty Garmin watch kept us both on course.

There was no opportunity to take in the lighthouse view, as by the time we reached it we were running in complete darkness, only seeing what lay ahead in the arc of our headtorch lights. The stretch to Portreath from here seemed to go on for an eternity, but eventually we descended down into Portreath, the penultimate village. We met our trusty crew again, restocking and grabbing our poles. Much debate had been given to whether to run with poles or not, but thank goodness we took them for this last, horrific stage that I knew was going to truly finish off my legs.

Portreath to Porthowan is home to the steepest climbs of the whole route. Known as Sally’s Bottom, 2 brutally steep up and downs using knee high steps was certain to finish off our already broken quads. Thankfully the poles took some of the strain on the way down, and helped propel us up the ascent. Again, Claire disappeared off ahead, only to be flawed this time by a dodgy headtorch. I joked afterwards that it was only thanks to her failing technology that I had been able to keep up with her.

The Arc wouldn’t be the Arc without one last surprise. After heading down into Porthtowan, you could easily be mistaken into thinking that the work was now done. But no, there is one last surprise for you ahead. As you leave the village headed for the Ecopark, you ascend an incredibly steep and slippery footpath, just in case your quads were not completely trashed by that point. So, 12 hours and 53 minutes after leaving the Minack Theatre, my co-host and I almost crossed the line together; Claire ducking for the line to take a 1 second win.

Since completing the Arc50, people have asked me what is next, and here has been my answer. At 13 miles I didn’t think I would make halfway. At halfway I decided I could get round, as long as I made the cut off times. At 45 miles I knew I had it in the bag, even if I had to walk the rest, but I swore blind there was no way on earth I would consider doing a 100 miler. By Monday, I was researching 100 milers! So, watch this space.

People have also asked how I trained for this. Honestly, I think the longest training run was 21 miles, so it really wasn’t any different to my normal training regime. Some shorter, fast runs, some longer, slow runs, and some swimming and cycling to improve the endurance engine. It’s amazing what the compounded effect of good health and fitness can deliver. With good technique to avoid injury, an incredible crew to support us, a good engine and a positive mindset, it really is astonishing what the body can do.

This certainly won’t be my last ultra. It was an incredible experience with wonderfully friendly people. It gives you an awesome opportunity to see vast sections of landscapes that would normally take you days, week, or even years to explore. When else do you get to see 50 miles of some of Britain’s most spectacular scenery all in one day?

A few days later and the legs have recovered, and it is a race between whether the one blister I have will depart before a couple of my toenails, but the mental imprint of this day will stay with me for a very long time. If you too can combine (ultra) running with a part of the world that is special to you, take the opportunity. You won’t be disappointed.



Mental Health Awareness Week

As this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, it seemed obvious to have a theme of mental wellbeing running through this edition’s core. Weird times lead to weird reactions in our mind. As I saw on an anonymous post recently, ‘lockdown can only go one of 4 ways; you’ll come out a monk, a hunk, a chunk or a drunk. Choose wisely!’ It isn’t always that easy, so here are some resources that may help, regardless of which path you are currently taking.

Something to Share:

A great resource that I stumbled across, and shared with my team earlier in the week, is a page put together by The Mental Health Foundation called ‘How to look after your mental health during the Coronavirus outbreak’. You can share or read it here.

TED Talk That’s Inspired Me

‘The Surprising Science of Happiness’ by Dan Gilbert, author of ‘Stumbling on Happiness’, challenges the idea that we'll be miserable if we don't get what we want. Our "psychological immune system" lets us feel truly happy even when things don't go as planned. You can watch it here.

Something That Made Me Laugh

Apparently laughing is one of the best antidotes to stress and I was recently reminded of this story. In lockdown we have all been a little tempted to try things at home we’ve never done before…but don’t try this! Read the story here.

What I’ve Been Reading

Caryl tends to read quite a lot around the subject of mindfulness, and I asked her for a recommendation for a book that you can just pick up from time to time to give you a pause for thought. She recommended ‘The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse’ by Charlie Mackesy. Richard Curtis described it as 'A wonderful work of art and a wonderful window into the human heart'. Enter the world of Charlie's four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons here.

Quote of the Week

“Life (or golf) is not a game of perfect.”

Dr Bob Rotella

How I’ve Been Improving My Mornings

Research shows that the first minutes of us being awake are some of the most important for our overall mood for the day. If we dive into news, emails or social media, this has the potential to immediately lead us down the wrong track.

Since lockdown began, I still rise at 5:30 every morning, but feeling a little less pressure to get my exercise done before the school run or getting to the office, I have taken to journaling for 10 minutes each morning before I head out on the bike or for a run. My research (and trial and error) has led me to the following structure so far - although often I won’t do them all:

  1. Gratitude: 3 things I am grateful for
  2. Best things: 3 best things that happened yesterday
  3. Lessons: lessons that can be learnt from yesterday
  4. Today: the most important things of the day ahead
  5. Conscious stream: just write (learn more here).

Finance Theme I’ve Been Considering

One of the things that stresses us out about money most is the question, ‘will I have enough?’.

Whether you are 20 years from retirement, on the verge of it, or already in amongst it, the same concern runs through us. Whilst detailed lifetime cashflow forecasting is the best way to alleviate that worry, we wanted to create something quick and easy to help anyone and everyone. Enter ‘The 2 Minute Retirement Plan’ a newly revamped tool to help you determine whether you will have enough which you can try or share here. Please don’t keep it a secret!

Stay happy and healthy, and enjoy a sunny bank holiday weekend.

Religion, My Life Library & The 2 Popes

This week I seem to have ended up learning a lot about religion. Not for any specific reason, other than pure happenstance. Religious or not, I hope there is something here that you find useful or interesting… and I also have a request for your help. Happy Friday!

What I’ve Been Reading

After a conversation in a pub one night, I bought the book ‘A Little History of Religion’ by Richard Holloway then never got around to listening to it. For whatever reason, on a bike ride last week, I decided now was the time, and have since almost finished it. What I have loved about it, is that it has massively broadened my knowledge on a subject upon which I previously felt undereducated.

Learning more about the different religions and their origins has given me a much better understanding of the people that we share this planet with. What I found particularly interesting was the commonalities between them; they really aren’t that different at all. Whatever your thoughts on organised religion (over the years it has caused a huge amount of bloodshed and a huge amount of good), this book has helped me understand the playing field a little better. You can read or listen to it here.

The Life Library

Reading ‘A Little History of Religion’ got me thinking - something I do a lot of when on the bike or running - what other subjects, whilst not being my core focus in life, should I expand my knowledge in? What books would be in a ‘Life Library’, if you like. What books should everyone have read to give them a more diverse knowledge of the world around us? Immediately springing to mind were books like Bill Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ which I read years ago, and ‘The Body: A Guide for Occupants’ which is currently on my reading list, ‘The E-Myth Revisited’ for business, ‘Man’s search for Meaning’ for purpose, ‘Born to Run’ and so many more.

On this basis, I decided I would like to put together ‘The Life Library’ to broaden my own knowledge, to share with others - in particular my team at Efficient Portfolio, and for the next generation entering the world of work.  So, I need your help. Please could you suggest any books you think should be in the Library of Life, and why? All recommendations gratefully received, and once complete, hopefully next week, I will share it with you, so you too can benefit from the same. Thanks in advance.

What I’ve Been Watching

By coincidence, Caryl and I watched the film ‘The 2 Popes’ last week, for no other reason that it was well promoted on Netflix, and it featured one of my favourite actors, Sir Anthony Hopkins. Knowing nothing of its story, I was surprised to find that I was watching the true story of how Pope Benedict XVI forms a friendship with the current Pope Francis, and then becomes only the second Pope in history to retire. A captivating film, that you can watch here.

Quote of the Week

“Live. Give. Forgive.”

  • Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Finance Theme I’ve Been Considering

Something that is often talked about in religion is the concept of tithing. It is said in the Bible you should give 1/10th of your income to your local church because sacrificing a portion of our income helps us look outside our selfishness and makes us more aware of the needs of others. Not only that, but by tithing, the giver will prosper with more than just money as a result of the mindset it creates.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, there are some important financial lessons here. It is easy to feel like you cannot afford to save; after all, you are spending everything you earn and sometimes more. I cannot overstate the change in mindset towards money when you know you are saving something for your future, regardless of how small an amount it is. You know you are earning more than you need, and I can personally speak of the power that brings to your mindset.

The same applies to giving money to charity regularly, whoever the benefactor. Giving money regularly to charity tells your subconscious that you do have more than you need, and the ironic thing is that mindset will lead you towards having more money. Crazy as it sounds, it is true - so make sure that unless you are retired, you are saving something (automatically is best) every month. Also make sure that something each month is going towards a charitable cause. It may just come back to bless you!

VE Day, The Infinite Game & Derren Brown

Friday Footnotes

As I am sending this email on the 75th anniversary of VE Day, it seemed right to let that theme run through this week's Friday Footnotes. After all, the sacrifice so many people made during that time is in some way similar to the key workers putting their own lives on the line for the greater good.

What I’ve Been Listen To

What better place to start than Winston Churchill’s speech on VE day, 1945. A man that had such a way with words, he is the third most quoted source in history, after the Bible and Shakespeare. He said "we may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing, but let us not forget for a moment the toils and efforts that lie ahead". You can listen to his speech here.

TED Talk That’s Inspired Me

Simon Sinek is one of my favourite authors; in fact, I am currently reading his latest book ‘The Infinite Game’. In this TED talk, Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership - starting with a golden circle and the question: "Why?" His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Wright brothers. You can watch it here.

What I’ve Been Watching

Would you be willing to sacrifice 1 life to save 5 others? This dilemma is seeing more discussion than ever with the introduction of autonomous cars. You can watch a brief clip about this problem here. What if that life were your own; would you be willing to sacrifice it for the greater good? Would you take a bullet for another person? This is something illusionist, Derren Brown, explored in his brilliant psychological experiment called ‘Sacrifice’. Find out if he can manipulate an ordinary person into taking a bullet for a stranger by watching it here.

Quote of the Week

It would be wrong not to quote Churchill this week, so some of my favourites are:

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

“One always measures friendships by how they show up in bad weather.”

“Things are not always right because they are hard, but if they are right one must not mind if they are also hard.”

Winston Churchill.

Finance Theme I’ve Been Considering

Sacrifice and financial planning often go hand in hand. You sacrifice spending all of your money today to create a better future for yourself. You sacrifice some of your money today to protect you and your family, should the unexpected happen. You sacrifice trying to make a killing in one single investment by diversifying your investments so that you also cannot be killed by any one investment. And finally, you sacrifice time and money today to get your estate in order, so that the people you love do not have a mess to clear up when you are gone and they are more focused on grieving.

Life is about making sacrifices for the greater good. What we can learn from both the World Wars, and the current COVID-19 crisis is that most of the people around us are actually amazing, probably much better than we thought, and that they too are willing to make sacrifices, some big and some small, for the greater good.

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