The Polruan Shuffle (Saints & Smugglers Challenge, Pt 1)

Here we go again! Another Purple Gecko Event, navigating steep inclines and dishing up a few lessons for me as a seasoned runner.

East Looe Beach in low light

The Polruan Shuffle, from Purple Gecko Events, is the first of 4 races that form the Saints and Smugglers Challenge. No, I won’t be doing the others this year but they look really good. The remaining 3 events are of a much lengthier distance than the Polruan Shuffle. As I’ve paintings to finish for a small show in the summer, there’s not enough time to fit in both art and training (sadly).

At 12 miles, the Polruan Shuffle has the shortest distance out of the 4 races. Starting at Looe on the south east Cornish coast, the route stays on the south west coast path, finishing in Polruan. I’m partially familiar with this bit of coast path. I’ve strolled from Talland Bay to Polperro and have walked Polruan to Lantic Bay. I’ve not run any of it though, and as I swiftly discovered, the 2 stretches of coast path I have completed are probably the least challenging!

To make it easier, I’ll chunk the race up in parts, just like I did in my head on the day. From the start at Looe, I’ll take you onwards to Talland Bay. From there, the main places of interest are Polperro, Lantic Bay and the finish line. Even though I’m writing this within 24 hours of finishing, some parts of the Polruan Shuffle are a little sketchy in my head. I think this Cornish trail race shrunk my brain!

the start of the Polruan Shuffle in Looe Cornwall

Starting the Polruan Shuffle at Looe, heading to Talland Bay

There was a good show of runners for the Polruan Shuffle, about 140, I think. Purple Gecko are a dog friendly event company too, with most events offering a canicross option. Hats off to the dogs who took park today!

The Polruan Shuffle starts on East Looe beach and goes talong Looe Estuary. We cross Looe Bridge before heading up the other side. The first mile (ish) is all on road with the sea in sight. I have to say, Looe looks like it has some great places to eat.

Looe in Cornwall with runners doing he POlruan Shuffle event

We ran along Hannafore and pass Looe Island. It’s much bigger than I’d imagined. The road naturally meets a gate, signaling it’s time to hit the muddy fields and trails. I knew the Polruan Shuffle would be a bit of an “up and down” course but I stupidly told myself that it couldn’t be that bad. Surely, it’s not like the Roseland August Trail, is it? I was in for a surprise – there’s plenty of lovely steps. The first set came soon after we closed the gate.

Polruan Shuffle runners on an incline with the sea behind them

To be far, the first part of the Polruan Shuffle seemed ok. It’s hilly but these are all manageable. If you know the coast path, you expect it and just have to walk. For me, it’s the mixed terrain and hills and thrills that make running in Cornwall so challenging and interesting. On this course, I kept looking ahead, seeing the front runners weaving their way along and upwards. This meant inclines were easier to spot and gave me a few minutes to mentally prepare myself.

The views are scenic too, even under the low morning light and grey skies. With wet weather occuring in the days before the race, there was lots of lovely mud to wade through. I wore my new Inov8 Mudclaw shoes for this one. They were brilliant and grippy, and I ran confidently through the mud without sliding all over the place.

Talland Bay to Polperro

I seemed to reach Talland Bay relatively quickly, about 3 miles or so in. This meant that I had some familiarity with the next part, to Polperro. I knew, for example that heading out of Talland Bay there’s a very short but steep climb. Why does every gradient seem so much worse when racing? I’m sure it wasn’t this arduous when I walked it last Spring.

With my burning calves begging for the terrain to flatten, I pushed forward. I quite like this bit of coast path between Talland Bay and Polperro. Sure, it’s undulating but I knew it was under 2 miles to Polperro. I was happy with that. This also meant that the half way point was getting closer.

One man passed me here, saying, “we must nearly be at Polperro by now”, and he was right. I took his tone to be an indicator of how tough and strenuous the course was proving for many of us. I found there were sections where I could run and find my groove only to have to walk down steps or up inclines. It’s fair to say, the Polruan Shuffle kept me on my toes.

POlperro fishing village

Running into Polperro feels pretty good. It’s a downhill road section which meant I could get some momentum going. Prior to Polperro it felt a bit stop start with steps (more of that to come) and bottlenecks that come with coast path territory.

The Polruan Shuffle course takes runners down the narrow walkway, home to Polperro’s sweet fishermen’s cottages. I went over the bridge and along the other side of the harbour. I have to admit, if it wasn’t for the lovely walkers standing on the steps leading to the coast path, I would’ve missed it.

Polperro to Lantic Bay

From here, there are steps, climbs and a few more steps. It was tough and I felt like I was moving slowly. Not far past Polperro, I was called by another runner who wanted to check I was going the right way. The path forked and I followed the sign, heading upwards. As it happened the 2 paths joined further along.

Polperro

There are a few precarious bits of coast path along here, where the conditions have led to bits coming away. We were warned about this by Purple Gecko, who always organise their events well and ensure all the safety of all runners.

In was during this stretch of coast path that we crossed a small natural waterfall and a gorgeous little cove (hello, hidden beach) called, Parsons Cove. With every larger bay, I told myself, “That’s Lantic Bay”, and I must’ve told myself this about 3 times. I was wrong every time, what a duffer 😂. I’ve no idea why I kept mistaking other beaches for this glorious spot. I know what it looks like. Maybe it was a bit of wishful thinking on my behalf.

runners on the coast path completing the Polruan Shuffle

I believe it was between Polperro and Lantic Bay that we embarked on The Mother Of All Climbs. I kid you not, it’s awful. As I made my way down a hill, I clocked it ahead and said, “oh my god” because it was very high and very vertical. I could see other runners walking up it, some stopping. All I could do was tell myself to keep moving so I did!

At the top, I was blessed with the most amazing view coupled with strong gusts of wind. Thank goodness the next bit was flat. I gently started to run, hoping my legs would recover from the test I continued to put them through.

3 runners heading down a hill on the coast path
3 runners on the coast path running the POlruan Shuffle

As I made my way towards Lantic Bay, I was flagging. I started having some unhelpful thoughts and I just felt sapped of energy. It’s no wonder really, I didn’t eat before the race. Yes, I know you’re reading this questioning my life choices but I rarely eat if I’m running first thing. A coffee with a dash of cream usually gets me going and the advice is don’t do anything new on race day. As a result though, I walked a lot of the approach to Lantic Bay and had a little chat with another runner.

the coastline in cornwall

Homeward bound to Polruan

Despite believing that I’d passed Lantic Bay about 3 times already, there’s no mistaking it when you see it. It’s gorgeous. With the odd tall rock and untouched butter coloured sand, I need to come back here soon! I also knew that there was probably less than a parkrun distance to go. This thought alone usually spurs me on.

At this point of the Polruan Shuffle, I started to tuck into some food. I shared my trusty Bara Brith with my new chatty running pal and then slowly devoured a philly sandwich (homemade sourdough, get me). It did the trick too. Moving along the path, I started to feel more energised than I had for most of the race and wish I’d eaten sooner.

The coast path on the south coast of Cornwall
the south west coast path in Cornwall

There was another incline to come, the last one, I believe. No steps this time, thankfully. This one took us slightly inland and it’s here, running across the fields on the edge of Polruan where I got lost. I wasn’t the only one either as finishers were coming in from 2 directions. In fact, if it wasn’t for a dog walker pointing me in the direction of the path, I would’ve circled a field and been properly vexed!

I could see the houses and rooftops of Polruan, I was almost done. I ran through the park (almost missed that too and went on the road). Once amongst the houses in Polruan, I embraced the final fabulous downhill dash to the harbourside finish. Happy marshals greeted me, and with my medal in hand, I tried not to get emotional.

Once finished, I discovered I’d been running a tad longer than hoped and anticipated. It took me just shy 3 hours to complete the 12 mile Polruan Shuffle. I tried not to be disappointed with my performance – it was done and another great running experience was under my belt.

The next achievement was getting back up the hill to the bus transporting runners back to Looe. Great addition to the race and I’d recommend booking it with your race entry. Thankfully, Jam First cafe was open and a hit of caffeine made it a tad easier. I only wish I’d booked in to Talland Bay Hotel for a bit of post race R and R.

You can find information about Purple Gecko’s Polruan Shuffle and the other Saints and Smugglers events here.

pinterest image for Polruan Shuffle blog post

Author: plbedford

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