Saturday, 11 January 2014

At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge

Hi everyone,
So where do I start with this one? I think I'll start at the end? Over the course of the weekend of the 29th Nov 2013 I witnessed one of the most amazing feats of human endurance I have ever seen - my close friend and training partner, Steve Wyatt, smashing the At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge. The Challenge consists of 142.2 miles of stunning Cornish coast path, 25'000ft of brutal ascent and 41hrs of continuous running (no sleep stops!).

What started as a crazy idea because we didn't get in the 'Piece of string' race, had quickly evolved into the 'At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge'! The first plan was to run the whole of the North coast unsupported! Once Andy Jukes came on-board as Challenge manager, we soon realized that it was a ridiculous idea. Andy had just spent 10 days running the entire Cornish coast path (310 miles) for charity, so he was the perfect man for the job. After several meetings we had hatched a plan together, we would start on Fri 29th Nov at 22:00hrs at the Cornish/Devon border. As we made our way down the county, we would be followed by two support crews, this would allow us to have CP's (check points) every 7-8 miles during the daylight hours and every 5-6 miles when darkness came. Andy's organizing skills took over (thanks very much, mate!) He soon had support crews sorted, spread sheets for everything and I mean EVERYTHING!

Off we go to the border!

The Challenge machine was full steam ahead and D-day was fast approaching. The 29th Nov arrived, I collected the bus, sorry, the 'BUS' is my good friend Martyn's camper van. The bus has been on many adventures, or should I say got us through many adventures! Martyn had taken 2 days off work to help out with our support (forever thankful:)) and would be with us for the whole of the challenge (all 41hrs!!) The bus was loaded with all the kit and supplies, Steve Wyatt finally stopped working (yes, he did a full days work before the Challenge) and off we went to the Cornish/Devon border. The spirits were high and the adrenerline was pumping, all we wanted to do was get running and start this amazing Challenge. Stepping out of the car at the begining of the foot path that led to the border, we soon realized that the wind was blowing a lot harder than it was meant to be. Also, this is going to sound stupid, but it was really, really DARK! So a quick check we had everything we needed for the first section and off down the path we went. Andy led us down to the foot bridge where the Cornish coast path starts. It was quite a long way down so I was really glad Andy was there because it wouldn't have looked good if we had got lost trying to find the start! A check of the watches and 3, 2, l we're off! That 'OFF!' didn't last long, we went straight into one of the many big climbs that we had to tackle in the first 40 miles.

Running on the coast path at night is a strange beast, the hills seem to be a lot easier to run because you can't see what's coming. All you can do is focus on the 5-6 meters in-front of you that's lit by your head torch. It wasn't long before we could see the lights from the bus at our first CP, the first 6.5 miles had gone by really quick and we were soon making our way down the steep steps to Martyn. Stepping out of the wind and into the shelter of the bus was a great feeling, Martyn had put the heating on so it was nice and cosy. From that moment on, the bus was known as the 'luxury CP!', no offense, Mr Jukes, your stops were just as nice! A quick top up of water and we were off again, we didn't want to stay too long at the CP's because it was all time wasted. The first night section went by pretty well, we kept a good pace going through the night making sure we quick marched the hills so we saved some energy for when the sun came up. Even though we are grown men, it was still a spooky place to be in the middle of a windy night. There are still quite a few sounds and movements that can't be explained from that first night and I'm pretty sure that there was a couple of times when we speeded up because we were a little bit scared!

Ticking off the CP's through the night was a great feeling, because we both knew that when the sun showed its face, our spirits would go through the roof and we weren't disappointed either. The sun started to show on the horizon and it looked like it was going to be a stunning day. We took it quite steady over the next hour as running in the dawn light on the coast path can be dangerous and we didn't want any accidents now. With the sun fully up now, jackets and head torches started to come off and it was time to up the tempo in the glorious Cornish sunshine! It was going to be a lovely day's running with lots of blue sky and fluffy white clouds, we couldn't have asked for better conditions. With some good mileage in the bag and still feeling strong, we pushed on thinking that most of the tough climbs were behind us. Having both raced on this section of coast path before, we were trying to work out if there were any more hilly sections to come. I think we must have been suffering with sleep deprivation, because we came to the conclusion that we had run all the really hard stuff!! Through Boscastle, through Tintagel, "that wasn't too bad" we said. We thought we must have run the hard hills by now.
So we were through Tintagel and on to Trebarwith strand, it starts to flatten out from here, we thought! Then we hit the section from hell, I remembered it well once we hit it. I raced this section in the UTSW 100 earlier in the year. It's a section with 5 or 6 really steep, rocky ascents and decents with only a very short section of flat coast path between each up and down, it's pretty EPIC! We pushed on to Trebarwith Strand, with just a few muttered swear words along the way. It wasn't all bad, we had Jayne Angilley and Deb Grills waiting to join us at Trebarwith for some very much needed support. Seeing the girls waiting at the support vehicle was a great boost for me and Steve, it's always good to be joined by fresh minds and fresh legs to push you along the way. The next 20 miles went really well, the girls had lifted our spirits and we were running strong.

Jayne Angilley and Deb Grills waiting to join us at Trebarwith Strand

That was until a little voice sprung up in my head! There comes a point in most ultras when you have to "Man Up" and push through the tough times and it's never been a problem before. The voices come and go and I normally just keep telling them to "Shut Up" and keep running, but this time it felt very different! Darkness started to come and my negative thoughts got stronger and stronger, my body was starting to tighten up, hips and lower back. The nearer I got to halfway (Watergate Bay) and the CP that Duncan Oakes was joining us, the worse it got. Having never felt like this I didn't really know what was happening! On reaching the CP, there was only one option, my mental strength just wasn't there. All the voices in my head where so negative, there was no positive thoughts to fight them. It was OVER! Myself, Steve and Martyn went into the bus for one last effort to get some positive thoughts in my head, but it really wasn't working. All the motivational speeches in the world wouldn't have made any difference (thanks for trying, guys!). I could see that my decision had come as quite a big shock to Steve and I didn't want it to effect his positive mind-set. He was looking really strong and still running well, I knew he could make it to Lands End. A quick chat with myself, Steve and Duncan and they were getting ready to run again. Steve couldn't have asked for a better guy to pair up with for the second half of the Challenge; Steve and Duncan had run together before in the UTSW 100, 2012. Duncan is the kind of runner who takes everything in his stride (if you'll excuse the PUN!), nothing seems to faze him, always smiling and always positive! Just what Steve needed.

My intentions changed once the decision was made to pull out, I was staying to support Steve and Duncan to the end and help them in any way possible. Dealing with the disappointment was really hard at first. Martyn drove me to the next CP at Porth where Liga and Scott were waiting to take over the support duties till Andy came back out for his second night. Seeing Liga at Porth was tough and emotions were high, to be honest, I was just trying not to break down. It was Martyn's turn to get some rest so myself, Martyn and Liga left the support duties in Scott's capable hands and headed off to Trevaunance Cove. Scott had been a massive help, giving up his time over the weekend to cover for Andy during the day sections when he had to go home. As soon as we got settled and Martyn started driving, I was out like a light, I must have been a lot more tired than I realized. After an hours deep sleep I felt much better. This was also hard to deal with because now I thought that I had given up too easily and should have just pushed through! It's amazing what just an hour of sleep can do in these situations! I was feeling better, my knee pain had all but gone and I was much more positive about the whole thing. Duncan had made a big difference to Steve's running, believe it or not, Steve had speeded up and was setting an amazing pace! We saw them through a couple more CP's (Porthtowan and North cliffs) and then we were off to Hayle so Martyn could catch up with some sleep.
Andy was keeping us all updated on Facebook with pictures and messages. After 100 tough coast path miles and two long nights of running, Steve was starting to look really tired (surprise, surprise!) but still running strong and in good spirits. We got the kettle on and waited for their arrival in Hayle. Steve is quite partial to a nice warm cup of tea when he's doing his long runs so we wanted to make sure there was one ready for him and Duncan when they arrived. A few minutes later two head torches came bobbing round the corner. We quickly got Steve into the bus for a warm up. The next section was going to be super tough on Steve's tired legs, with long sections of tarmac running through Hayle to Lelant. You would think the guys would love some flat miles after all that tough, hilly coast path but it's actually the worst thing possible. Your legs and mind are so used to that type of terrain that when you get to the flat stuff it's really hard to handle, physically and mentally.

Looking pretty good after 112 miles!

As they left the warmth of the bus and hobbled off into the distance chatting as they went, we were all so in awe of what we were witnessing, a truly amazing spectacle. The plan now was to get over to St Ives for a quick sleep to recharge the batteries and get ready for the guys to have a bit of a longer stop. By the time they get to St Ives around 7am it would be getting a bit brighter so we wanted Steve to have a change of top and take on some porridge and a warm cup of tea! The section of coast path from St Ives to Lands End is some of the most technical running on the whole of the Challenge so we knew that this would be the most dangerous part of the run for Steve, specially with the condition he was in. Lots of wet rocks to slip and trip on and the added bonus of several sections of exposed path where a trip would mean game over. So it really was the fitting end to this EPIC challenge, shall we say it put the "CHALLENGE" into challenge!

The guys arrived at the St Ives CP, Steve RUNNING up the hill to the bus! They had been joined by Andrew Brenham in Lelant (thanks for your support, mate!), he was going to run with them for a few miles and then turn around and run back to his car. It was great to have him along for the next technical section, a fresh pair of legs and eyes was a big help. We got Steve and Duncan into the bus for their porridge and tea. I was a little bit worried at this point when Duncan started telling me stories about Steve hallucinating at the last check point. He said at one point Steve was bent over pointing at the ground, saying "there's a snake, Duncan!". I had heard many people who run ultras talk about similar things but because I have never gone through that experience it was pretty scary to hear. About twenty minutes had past and the guys were fed and ready to run again. Just before they left, I gave Steve the safety lecture "be really careful through this section, lots of walking and lots of concentration, GO STEADY!" I think he listened?? It was still dark when they left the bus so real care was to be taken over the first few miles till the sun came up.

The shop's ('At-Your-Pace') owner Kay had turned up to join the support crew at St Ives, she couldn't sleep and wanted to know how the challenge was going, so she got up at 3.30am and came over to meet us at St Ives. It was great to have her on-board. I was still feeling pretty rubbish about dropping out and her positive words were a big help to me. With Andy covering the next CP at Zennor, we made our way to Pendeen Watch to wait for them there. My legs and head had recovered quite a bit by now, so I was wondering whether I should run with Steve again. Scott Abraham had come back out and was waiting at Zennor head to run with Steve and Duncan to the finish. It was quite a long wait at Pendeen, with the section from St Ives to Pendeen being super technical and Steve's body really starting to suffer, it was slow going. We were joined by Steve's wife and kids, and Kay was going to run with the guys from Pendeen. It was a great feeling when we saw the guys come over the head land as it had been some time since we saw them last. I ran down to the corner to meet them but as Steve made his way down the step rocky descent, I could see he was struggling with his foot! It turned out that he had got his foot wet and this made a big blister on the ball of his foot split. However this didn't stop him running up the hill to the support bus. With Steve's family being at the CP to see him, emotions were sky high. I think it was at this point that Steve let his defences down. With only 11.5 miles to go to Lands End, he knew he had made it, he could crawl on his hands and knees to the finish from here! We got Steve into the bus so we could have a good look at the damage to his foot, believe me it wasn't very pleasant! I don't mean the blister, I mean the SMELL!!! I know he had run 131 miles in the same socks and shoes but they did stink, sorry, Steve :)

With the foot cleaned and taped and a nice fresh pair of socks he was raring to go. At Cape Cornwall I was going to lace up my running shoes and join Steve to the finish, I thought it was the least I could do after pulling out at halfway. Watching Steve push though so many mental barriers along the way and keep smiling was truly inspirational! With my trail shoes back on, it was great to be back out on the coast path with Steve. I could soon see that he was having to dig deeper, way deeper than he had ever dug before. When you are this close to the end after running 130 odd miles you would think it would get easier but the nearer you get to the finish, the harder it gets. You start to relax and your focus drops, so everything starts to really hurt and mentally you are very weak. The sight of Lands End as we approached Sennen was one of pure delight and with only 2 miles to go to the finish, Steve started to realize what he had achieved. He had run the whole of the north coast path of Cornwall in one go, covering 142.2 miles, 25'000ft elevation, NO SLEEP and 41.5hrs of running! As we got closer and closer to Lands End, I was desperately trying to keep my emotions under control, I was so proud of Steve and what he was achieving. Having run the first 72 miles with him and then staying on to support him in the second half of the challenge, I probably knew better than anyone there how hard this had been on Steve. It was truly, truly EPIC! One final push up the steps out of Sennen was needed and we could see the bright white walls of the Lands End Hotel shining in the sunshine, this was a wicked sight for Steve and his battered body and shattered mind.

I must be honest, I was still gutted that I had pulled out at halfway and wished I could turn back the clock, but it wasn't meant to be, it wasn't my time! What started out as a bit of a mad idea had turned into this incredible journey for myself and Steve. We had both massively underestimated the scale of the challenge but this didn't stop Steve from reaching the end of the At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge. As we ran up the slope to the iconic Lands End sign we were greeted with rapturous applause from the support runners and support crews, but in true Steve Wyatt style, no fuss, no drama, he had FINISHED! I know the challenge had evolved into the At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge but Steve would have turned up at the Devon/Cornwall boarder and run the 142.2 miles to Lands End and then gone home and not told anyone. He runs because he loves to run, not because he wants to impress anyone, but what he had just achieved needed to be talked about and people needed to know! Steve had definitely set a super tough challenge but it has been SET! The At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge is open to any other runners crazy enough to take it on but don't take it on lightly! This challenge will push you to your limits in so many ways.

I must finish this long blog, REALLY LONG BLOG, by saying thank you, thanks to all the people, friends and family who supported us in our challenge because without your help none of this would've been possible. So many people gave up their time to help us along the way and we are both very thankful. My final words must be, that I will be back to tame the beast. I will not let the At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge beat me! Watch this space! :)
If anyone is interested in taking on the At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge, please get in touch. We are currently putting together a Challenge pack, it will include all the information you need to have an official attempt at the North Coast Challenge. Contact by emailing me at

Steve Wyatt (first official finisher of the At-Your-Pace North Coast Challenge)
29th Nov - 1st Dec 2013
142.2 miles
25,000ft elevation
41hrs 30mins and always smiling!

Watch Steve become the first official challenge finisher:

A massive thank you to Liga Lacekle for putting together this amazing film!

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