I’d like to be writing this post as someone who’s completed the Arc of Attrition (AoA). Instead, to feed my fascination with this outstanding event I volunteered as an Arc Angel, staying behind the scenes and taking care of all the wonderful runners that came through the checkpoint at Porthleven. It was a totally inspiring experience.
About The Arc Of Attrition.
The Raidlight Arc of Attrition is the brainchild of Mudcrew Events. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Ferg, Jane and Andy at Mudcrew towers, they offer some amazing events, and certainly like to test your mental and physical strength. While I’m a bit late to the trail running party, I believe they’ve changed the face of trail running in Cornwall, and have grown a well respected reputation as a company who offer the very best in trail racing experiences.
Like all Mudcrew events, the Arc of Attrition is a Cornish race and at 100 miles, is the longest ultra distance they offer. As with all their races, the Arc of Attrition takes place on the Cornish coastpath.
I’ve always thought you’d have to be a bit mad, but mostly amazing, to consider completing the AoA. Not only does it test your physical abilities, mental strength is certainly called into question. In fact, you can’t just enter. You have to have completed a 100km race and have some experience of night running in order to qualify.
The race starts in the gorgeous Cornish village of Coverack and finishes at Porthtowan on the north coast. It has a 36 hour cut off. This sounds quite generous but then you have to consider how runners have to scale elevations of about 4000m, and take on the coastpath in the dark. Not forgetting it’s February, so dodgy weather is guaranteed. Those who complete the course get a lovely shiny red buckle. If you cover the 100 miles in under 30 hours, your buckle is gold. While there are support crews on the course, this is a self-navigational race.
With all this in mind, there’s a reason why, on average, only about 50% of entrants complete the course. In 2016 the conditions were so bad that 75% of runners failed to finish. That’s a considerable DNF rate which means people return for more suffering another time.
Gaining My Arc Angel Wings.
I was delighted when my offer to be an Arc Angel at the Arc of Attrition was accepted. To give you an idea of how highly thought of this event is and how popular Mudcrew Events are, there’s even a waiting list for people who wanted to help. See, everyone loves it.
I had the benefit of being at the Porthleven checkpoint with Jane Stephens which meant I didn’t work through the night. This had the added bonus of ensuring I was in a good mood for the duration of my shift – angel by name, angel by nature. Some people stayed on and offered support for the whole event but sadly I couldn’t.
Porthleven is the first checkpoint on the course, about 25 miles in. The cut-off was 8pm meaning runners had 8 hours to complete this distance. Obviously the sooner you arrive the more likely your chances are of reaching the remaining 3 checkpoints within the specified cut off times.
Meet The Arc of Attrition Runners.
First to arrive was local Ultra running hero Paul Maskell. He’s no shrinking violet when it comes to ultra running. He rocked up with a smile and was greeted with an enthusiastic cheer from us. Paul seemed in good spirits, and looked like he was eating quite quickly before bolting out the door. While he was there, Steven Wyatt turned up. I think they tied first place last year (in 21 hours, I believe). There seemed to be friendly camaraderie between them, and at one point I wondered if there was going to be an eating race too to see who would be first to leave.
From here we had a steady stream of runners, one or two at a time. I remember Charlie Ramsdale turning up, who at this point was the leading lady. Sorry Charlie, I was a bit in awe and couldn’t stop staring at you, what you were doing, and trying to figure out what your strategy was. I was quite chuffed to see Charlie with the same Raidlight running pack as me but I’m pretty sure that’s where the similarity ends. I was also intrigued by the graph/diagram her support crew were referring to. I’ve no idea what this was but it looked interesting.
From here, it got busy. I would like to say that I remember each and every runner that came through the door, but I don’t. Looking at the official pictures from Bluekite Communications and No Limits Photography, faces look familiar but I can only recall a few names. I particularly remember Rick (or was it Richard) who had his shoes wired. I was assigned the task of helping him remove them. He was most apologetic but I remain convinced that no one has feet as bad as mine. Then there was Harry. I remember Harry because of his strong Scottish accent, and because his blue coat fell out of his bag while I was refilling his bladder. After panicking for 10 seconds, it was found on the kitchen floor – thank goodness. I did check out how Harry did on the live tracking. I was sad to see he retired at Sennen.
Steve Cousins ran again this year, the man behind Film My Run on YouTube (you can see his 2017 Arc efforts here but he was filming for 2018 too!). I’ve idled away some time watching his films with a cuppa and crisps (is it meant to work that way?) I was delighted to see he was on it again this year. In fact, I spent some time talking to his lovely wife about the race conditions once he’d headed on his way. I see from the results he secured himself another gold buckle. Well done Steve!
Of course I have to mention Paddy, who I went to school with. He rocked up at about 7pm, I think. I was keeping an eye out for him as he was the only runner I actually knew. I was delighted to see him. He appeared in good spirits but had knee niggles. He seemed determined to plough on and I sent him on his way with a cup of sweet coffee. (P.S. Pad, if you’re reading this, I never realised how tall you are! #cornishgiant.)
Towards the end of my shift I spoke to a female runner who had been at the checkpoint for a while, so I knew she wasn’t continuing. I want to remember her name, but I can’t (sorry). She told me that she had recently completed the Spine Challenge 3 weeks before (a mere 268 miles) and while she felt fine at the start of the Arc, it was clear her body was telling her otherwise. She had made the wise decision to stop after 25 miles. I think that takes some doing; to admit that you’re not up to it on the day and stop. It must be so tempting to ignore the warning signs. My mum commented that I’d be licking the grass and still wanting to continue.
Why Be An Angel?
I’ve helped out at a few events before and always enjoy it. Being a runner, I think it’s important to stand on the other side of the fence and support those who are taking part, regardless of distance. There’s something quite special about the Arc of Attrition. It may be the distance and the scale of the race/event, or just how highly thought of all the runners and Mudcrew are. Either way, I feel privileged to have been an angel and see what the AoA is like for those completing it. Every person on the start line is truly amazing. They all received a warm welcome on arrival and we tried to make sure we gave each runner a round of applause as they left.
I met some great people at the Porthleven checkpoint. Working with Jane and Andy, the other angels and valets, none of whom I’d met before, was fun and enjoyable. We seemed to just crack on when we had to and slotted in well together. Just don’t mention the urns!
I said at the beginning that I have a fascination with the Arc of Attrition and being an angel hasn’t really put that to bed. Part way through my shift, I looked around and registered how tired everyone looked. They were only a quarter of the way through the course. My immediate thought was something about never wanting to go this far as a runner. Once home, I was completely pumped up, and had to tell my friend all about it. While nerding out over the Arc of Attrition live tracking he said, “Pen, you’re worked right up. You could do it, I’ve seen you run. I know you could.”
Yeah, those buckles are really nice too.
Lets not get carried away! 100 miles is a phenomenal distance to take on. I’m happy for now to bask in the excitement of the event as an Angel. You can sign me up for that next year.
Thanks to BlueKIte Communications who gave permission for me to use their official photos.
Their facebook page is here.
The Mudcrew Events Face book page here.