Cracks Appear! (Days 4-6)
Blog no.3 in a series about the epic running odyssey that was CoastPathRun
By the end of the third day we’d covered over 230kms with around 8,300m of altitude gain, but there was to be no respite. With more huge days stacked up we were keen to avoid another late night finish, so we grabbed just a few hours of sleep before rising to an early alarm and making our way back to Crackington Haven for a 6.30am start.
The weather seemed set fair but we were going straight back into more big climbs as we headed south along the wild, rocky, cliff tops back to the village of Boscastle where we had overnighted. It was a sign of things to come that the first 11kms took over 2 hours to complete. My achilles started out very tight and sore but seemed to warm up a little as we got going. Instead it was my stomach’s turn to complain and for the next few days I was to experience a fair bit of acid reflux that forced me to follow a largely Perpetuem (liquid food) diet while running.
At Boscastle I said goodbye to my sister Jacky who was leaving that day to head back to California. It was a bit emotional as the next family I would see wouldn’t be for almost another week when my wife Sally and son Beinn were due to join us.
The next few hours were for me quite a lonely battle against the hills and the increasing headwind. Tom was leading the way out front and I’d only catch up to him at the support stops, then watch as he once again pulled away. Much as I’d have liked the company I knew I had to do this at my own pace and not be tempted into chasing him down. For his part I know Tom was worried about another late finish and wanted to keep moving at a decent lick.
We continued on in this way past Tintagel (of King Arthur fame) and along the spectacular clifftops that lead towards Port Isaac. This deeply dissected landscape was very poignant for me as it was while running this section on a cold winter’s morning early last year that I had the idea of one day running the entire Path. On that occasion I was in the UK to farewell my mum who had just died and I clearly recalled the stretch of track that I had run that day with tears in my eyes as I composed the eulogy in my head. None of this was helping my increasing feeling of loneliness that seemed to be sapping my already exhausted body of much-needed energy.
As we approached Port Isaac (the setting for the BBC series Doc Martin) the rain started again. On the climb out of this impossibly quaint fishing village Tom was happy to stick with me. His company helped lift my spirits again, but this was perhaps the first indication that Tom was feeling the effects of skipping dinner the previous night. As we sat with our support crew at Port Quinn he started feeling dizzy and left there to battle on around the spectacular rocky promontory of Pentire Point in not so good a shape.
We’d done the hardest parts of the day but the signs were ominous and our pace was slow. We were staring down the barrel of another very late finish and when we missed the ferry at Rock by just a couple of minutes our morale hit a new low. Rather than wait half an hour for the next boat we elected to drive around to Padstow instead and en route it started raining heavily again. It took all the will we could muster (and a hot Cornish pasty) to get us out of the vans and moving again. We were wearing three layers by now and were down to a walk. By Stepper Point we accepted that we weren’t going to reach our initial target for the day and pulled out 18 kms short. It was disappointing and weighed heavily on our minds, but on the up side we’d still got ourselves 57kms closer to our ultimate goal on a day when things had got really tough. Besides, we told ourselves, there was still plenty of time to make up the shortfall over the coming days.
After a night in a hastily arranged farmhouse B&B we were feeling a little more chirpy at the start of Day 5. But the headwind was doing its best to erode our spirits and it took a good 3 hrs for us to reach the point that we should have got to the previous evening. Clearly making up time was not going to be so easy after all.
In the early afternoon we reached the large seaside resort of Newquay, which was totally joyless in the rain that was once again falling steadily from the lead grey sky. At Crantock, just the other side of this holiday hellhole, Tom’s brother Mike, who had flown all the way from Aberdeen to join the support cast for a few days, met us. We ran as a threesome around a series of stark but strangely uplifting grassy promontories, oblivious to the wind and rain, our morale and pace somewhat restored by the addition of a fresh pair of legs and a new source of banter.
A long battle with soft sand and headwind got us to Perranporth, where we sat in the Spaceships with the heaters on, supping hot tea and trying to muster the will to get out there and take on the elements again. Phil wryly noted that this was Midsummer’s Day and he was no doubt wondering what the hell he was doing there when he could have been diving in warm waters off Malaysia instead. When eventually we got going we were rewarded with another lovely section of awesome cliff top running in slightly easing conditions. By the time we reached Porthowan the rain had pretty much stopped but we were well and truly done. We’d been on our feet for 11 hrs and made 64 kms of progress. A good result in trying conditions but despite that we’d slipped another few kms behind the original schedule.
The reality of what we’d taken on had now well and truly sunk in. The chances of getting through this at all seemed to be diminishing. The chances of doing it in 14 days would have seemed remote had we had the mental faculty to stop and think about it rationally. But we didn’t. For the time being at least we continued to believe that we could make up the lost time and still knock this off in two weeks.
That night, which we spent at YHA Penzance, severe leg pains made sleep difficult for me. These would continue whenever I got horizontal for the next two weeks and were the cause of much nighttime groaning and moaning that was not particularly appreciated by my roommates. It just seemed so unfair that the pain should be so ever-present, even when not attempting forward motion of any kind. It was not something I’d really experienced before. It took its toll on me mentally as well as adding to my sleep deprivation.
Day 6 dawned and the rain had thankfully retreated – but not the headwind, which now seemed stronger than ever. This made what should have been a pretty easy, gentler section of cliff top running at the start of the day rather harder than expected. But there was no denying the beauty of the surroundings and we ran around Godfrey Head in good spirits.
Mike was with us again and he led the way down the 4-km long beach north of Hayle. With Tom & I tucked in on his shoulder we tried to draft off Mike who was being buffeted by the ferocious wind that was whipping in across St. Ives Bay. Finding firm sand was tricky too and it took 45 mins and way too much energy to complete the distance.
Our ‘reward’ at the end of it was a long detour inland through the town of Hayle, consisting of building sites and tarmac surfaces. When we finally reunited with the support crew I was feeling about as low as I’d been at any stage. With my left foot up on the chilly bin, icing my achilles, I browsed messages of support that had come in on Facebook. As happened whenever I could access these my spirits soared and my determination doubled.
After running through St. Ives we found ourselves on one of the most remote and inaccessible sections of the Path. It was classic trail running, much of it rocky and technical, for the next 22kms. The views were spectacular and for once the sun was shining. I just wish we could have done it on fresh legs. It took 4 hours to complete this and reach the Pendeen Watch lighthouse, but it was definitely one of the most memorable bits of trail for me.
As we left for the last leg of the day Tom was in a lot of pain from seized quad muscles. No amount of stretching seemed to help and our pace slowed considerably. We ran/walked through a massive complex of old tin mines and on towards Cape Cornwall, en route passing the first signpost for Land’s End and gaining our first glimpse of this pivotal point in our journey.
The day finished with a few short, sharp hills and Tom’s pain became even more evident. For the first time all week it was me that got away from him on the final downhill to a lonely, nameless stretch of road where the Spaceships awaited us. This was to be the turning point in Tom’s fortunes but he’s a tough cookie and was a long way from done yet.
Read Part 4 by clicking here
THANKS for all the support,
Massive thanks to Spaceships UK, Inov-8 New Zealand, YHA England & Wales, Bodyneed Ponsonby and Telecom NZ for their wonderful support.
I ran the South West Coast Path to raise funds for Mental Health Foundation NZ. If you are inspired by the story, please consider a donation to the cause – just click here to do so.
I had to return from Australia to Scotland to farewell my mother in January this year. I ran every morning through the streets of Glasgow and slowly composed a clunky but well received eulogy. Running is a gift, not only does it give you joy but it can also comfort you in times of need. That is about the only point in this ripping yarn I can truely relate too. The rest is almost too incredulous to believe – thanks as always for doing the hard yards so some of us can continue to dream