Bringing home the apples

 BOYD - 24hr Ultra - Bringing home the apples

COLIN BATHE·MONDAY, AUGUST 12, 2019·18 MINUTES

I woke up on Sunday morning with some really stiff tired legs and this fantastic trophy sat on the kitchen table. It lead me to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t all a dream..

 

One fantastic trophy. Credit Author

To say I’m on cloud nine at the moment is a complete understatement. I’ve been running for 10 years now and haven’t won anything more than a 3rd place in age category at Boconnoc. To come first overall in anything would be great but this race wasn’t anything, this was BOYD (Bring Out Your Dead), a 24 hour ultra, part of MudCrew’s RAT (Roseland August Trail) trail running festival. In total there were around 700 finishers on the Cornish coast path running 11, 20, 32 and 64 miles as well as the BOYD. There were likely more runners than this on the various start lines as the longer distances in particular are tough and there is a high DNF (Did Not Finish) rate.

MudCrew has been running the RAT festival for a number of years now but this is the first time that they have run the BOYD and nobody was quite sure what to expect. The idea is simple: start at Race HQ at Porthpean Activity Centre, run to the coast and then follow the coast path to Black Head, a promontory 2.5 miles to the south. Return to Race HQ via the same route and then repeat as many times as possible in 24 hours. Simple enough but MudCrew, as is their way, had added a few wrinkles.

First, the maximum time you could stop was 20 minutes, be it out on the course or in sanctuary at Race HQ. We all had GPS trackers fitted so stationary pauses longer than 20 minutes would be noted and you would be disqualified from the race. Harsh, yes, but it did mean that everyone was going to run for the entire 24 hours without any sleep beyond some very short catnaps.

Secondly, it was a 100% self supported race with absolutely no outside assistance allowed. Once you started the race, you had to live with just what you had in your race box at sanctuary. Sanctuary was a small taped off outside area just after the start/finish line together with a small room big enough to hold a sink and a tap but not much else. During the BOYD event you either had to be out on the course or in sanctuary meaning you couldn’t visit your tent, your car or anywhere else to collect your favourite pair of socks that you had left behind.

Finally, there is the route: the last 5 miles of all the different RAT routes is the same and is the toughest section. In particular there are steps. Lots of steps. Proper Cornish Coast Path steps. Steps that are monster high, uneven and occasionally not in great state of repair. The BOYD route was only the last 2.5 miles of the tough section but it included the largest section of steps at a place called Silvermine Valley with 250 of them. These steps have gone down in RAT infamy as being “the dreaded steps” and get talked about a lot. Having run 10, 19, 31 or 63 miles with one mile left to go, a long set of leg burning steps is the last thing you want.

 

Credit: Author

In total there are around 700 steps on the 5 mile BOYD route, 350 in each direction, depending on who is doing the counting. There is a bit of debate but this figure is close enough.

No assistance meant no help from other runners, supporters or from the marshals / helpers. Not even a jellybaby. This was quite a restriction especially as MudCrew have a reputation for have the best checkpoints in the running business with a wide range of goodies and physio / medical support.

The yellow skin and the thousand yard stare of the person that knows what is in for him...

Credit MudCrew

The start of the race was typical MudCrew theatrics with The Plague Doctor himself leading us out. (Video https://bit.ly/2Z0zJIq.) Asked at the start, Andrew Ferguson, one of the three race directors was asked how many of the 17 BOYD runners he hoped would get to the finish. “None” was his reply. Thanks Ferg. (Video https://bit.ly/303h0cJ.)

 

The Plague Doctor. Credit: MudCrew

We got our own back shortly afterwards as he lead us the wrong way from Race HQ to the footpath to the coast, a distance of around 100 meters. It gave us a bit of a laugh right at the start anyway.

Less fun was the road section down to the coast path which was long and very steep. It would be a lot harder on the way back up on the return leg but wasn’t fun downhill either due to the strain it put on your legs. RAT runners from previous years will know this steep road as being part of the final hill back up to the finish, however, for them this year the route had changed and instead went through a farmer’s field which was a lot easier. Unfortunately for us, there was an issue with sheep which meant for the first 15 hours of the 24 we had to use the old route and go up and down that damned road. I really came to hate that hill.

Once on the coast path we headed south up and over a couple of lumps before hitting my second least favourite part of the route, a steep grassy slope of an angle that made it uncomfortable which ever way you tried to place your feet. In a recent training run, I managed to get cramp whilst walking up this hill so I deliberately took it steady and didn’t push it up this hill at all. Even so, at the top on the first lap I was hot enough to remove the running top I had underneath my compulsory BOYD grey vest and I stayed in the vest and shorts for the rest of the run despite the rain.

 

The horrible grass slope. It is steeper than it looks! Credit: Author

The steep grassy slope up lead to Silvermine Valley and the steps. I know them well so knew what was coming and just plodded the 100 steps down and then the 150 back up. Although it had been very wet in the days before the event, the steps were in pretty good condition on the first lap, something I was worried about. You needed proper trail shoes with some good grip for the mud that was there but it could have been worse as we found out later.

 

Credit: Author

The next section above Ropehaven Cliffs is pretty runable and takes you to a car park and the location of Cocktail Corner, a bonus drinks station for the RAT runners. They wouldn’t be there until tomorrow so down a track in woods we go, being careful of slipping on some exposed polished rock. At the bottom was a bench seat which found some use by tired BOYD runners later in the race. A short rise and we are back out in the open on another runable section down to Black Head.

This final section was the most exposed of the route and the promised high winds had arrived so we were buffeted around a bit but it wasn’t too bad. On arriving at Black Head we reached the granite monument and our turn around point.

 

Mark Stockman, fellow BOYD runner at the turn around point. Credit: MudCrew

So two and half miles in we just needed to retrace all of our steps back to Race HQ at the Activity Centre to give us our 5 mile lap. A tough old route with a lot of height gain and many steps but runnable sections as well. In was now down to how many laps you could do.

My aim at the start of the run was still to be there at the end. If you dropped out before the end of the 24 hours you were disqualified and the distance you had done wouldn’t count. I wanted to avoid this at all costs so my intention was to start out slowly with something like a 90 minute lap. The next lower importance aim was to complete 13 laps or 65 miles so as to pass the 100km point and qualify for the Arc 50 / Arc 100 next year, another silly MudCrew race. I wasn’t going to enter either distance but it was a nice target to reach and one Race Director Ferg didn’t think many people would achieve.

A simple race plan so of course I just set off too fast as I commonly do, completing the first four laps in five hours or 75 minutes per lap. I do this at rather too many events and need to find a way to curb my enthusiasm.

One such cure was the bands of rain that came in during the course of the night. The weather was warm so I had decided to take the hit of getting cold in the rain rather than putting on my waterproof. The BOYD race vest had to be worn on top so you would either had to have the waterproof directly next to your skin or you would have required a third layer underneath. Neither appealed as I would have just overheated. I think I made the right choice. I did get cooler when the rain was at its heaviest, and it did chuck it down on a few occasions, but I never got cold as the rain didn’t last long enough.

The main problem with the rain was what it did to the path. The various steep sections, with and without steps really become perilous especially shortly after midnight when one hundred 64 mile plague victims came past us on their outward 32 mile leg. They helped churn up the path quite well.

 

Night time steps after the rain had stopped. Credit: MudCrew

When repeatedly running the same route time after time, you get to know the path very well and shift your thoughts to the little details that you spot in the oasis of light that your headtorch produces. The pretty snails on the path, the not so pretty slugs, the fallen gigantic sloe berry, the fallen apples that had been blown off the tree. Hang on a moment, I can’t remember seeing those apples on lap one? They must be being blown off by the gales coming through at the moment. By lap 3 there was a significant number and it was something I just began thinking about. On lap 4 I hatched the plan to use them as lap markers and picked up four on the way back. Each lap from then on, I picked up an additional apple and returned it to race sanctuary much to the amusement of everyone else.

 

Credit: MudCrew

I don’t run with headphones as I don’t find listening to music helps me the way it does a lot of runners. I am therefore just stuck with my own thoughts whilst out there for 24 hours. I don’t think of anything of consequence, mainly concentrating on where I am placing my feet, but there is room for silly ideas such as picking up apples and remembering to do so. It takes your mind off the pain that your legs and feet are experiencing.

Fortunately for me, I had no foot problems which helped a lot. Because of the rain and because running shoes don’t keep the water out, I was running with wet or damp feet for the first half of the race. This isn’t good so my trick is to change socks every 20 miles or so and to liberally cover my feet with Vaseline and I do mean a lot. This meant that I finished the race with feet that were muddy but otherwise undamaged.

Legs were a different matter with a calf pain in my right leg turning into calf pains in both legs in the last third of the race. Pain is there to tell you to stop but I still had 8 hours to go so I needed to somehow find a way to ignore it. Fortunately, I had a very big incentive to keep going and that was due to my position in the race.

I ran the first 4 or so laps in joint 4th place with Richard Wadman, with Brian Robb, Sy Powell and my mate Lee Treadgold ahead. Brian dropped back to join us in joint third place leaving Sy and Lee in the lead. At around lap 7, Sy unfortunately dropped out of the race completely leaving Lee in first place and myself, Richard and Brian in joint 2nd though we did change order a bit.

A few laps later, we arrived at the bench at Ropehaven to discover a body sprawled across it. If that was not bad enough, it turned out to be my mate Lee but fortunately, after a few heart stopping moments, a quick shake showed that he was just asleep and nothing worse. Lee continued along with us for a while before dropping back and then retiring from the race. He was absolutely gutted to do so but he was falling asleep whilst walking along and pulling out was the right decision to make however much you would want to continue. For me, I had conflicting emotions, to see your mate drop out of a race, and the lead of a race at that, is not nice. However, it also then meant that I was in joint lead of the race and a good chance of a result. That certainly gave me a boost. I felt good, my race was going well, I had drunk lots and had eaten well so I just needed to keep going and hope that I had just that little bit more than those around me.

All my spare brain capacity now went into working out where I was relative to the other two, well apart from remembering to pick up an apple of course. Richard had dropped back a bit but Brian was still looking strong. At each end of the leg, I timed his position relative to mine. He was 5 minutes behind then 12 minutes, then 20 minutes. It was going the right way but there was still 8 hours to go and my calf had started to hurt. It was a good lead but nowhere near enough to be comfortable. Keep on pushing. Unfortunately for Brian, he went through a bad patch and I started to pull ahead by around 30 minutes a lap. This enabled me to catch him and lap him giving me about 90 minutes or 5 miles of a lead. It also meant that I knew that he had to catch me and unlap himself if he wanted to pull back which let me relax a bit.

However, whilst I had been pulling ahead of Brian, another runner, Steve West had caught me and overtaken me easily, looking in very good form. He was a lap down having run the first part of the race slowly with his buddy. Now that they had split up, Steve could go faster and it looked like he may well have lot more pace than me. Could he catch me up? Fortunately for me, he had an initial burst of speed and then dropped back to a similar pace to myself. It enabled him to overtake Brian to get into second place but not enough to damage my lead. I did keep a very close eye on the gap though to ensure I could react if needed.

With three and half hours to go, I was back in sanctuary still in the lead from Steve and Brian by around 5 miles or 90 minutes. Another 90 minute lap would then leave me with 2 hours for a leisurely final lap and a guaranteed win as there was no way either of the other two could complete three laps in the same time. This enabled me to relax and really enjoy myself. It was great being able to take the time to run and chat with some of the other BOYD runners for a while during those last two laps as I no longer needed to push. It was a great feeling although my legs were still trying to make themselves known on pretty much every step.

For the last third of the race, the Cocktail Corner drinks stop was up and running. I’ve no idea what they put into their fruit punch but last year at the end of the 64 mile Plague run it tasted absolutely fantastic. This year on BOYD, it counted as outside assistance so wasn’t allowed. It was very tempting and it would have gone down a treat but not one sip was drunk.

 

Very very tempting. Credit Nik Bathe

I passed the stall many times but the bonus was on my second to last lap when I met my lovely wife Nik who was coming to the end of her 32 mile RAT together with Cassi Bende. The pair did well.

I was still running by myself for most of the time and my brain still needed something to think about rather than listening to my legs. An idle brain comes up with silly ideas and so a plan was hatched to finish in style...

For the entire event the support was excellent. From the people at the start, the marshals, the other runners, the people I know and the people I didn’t. With out exception, the encouragement, the “good luck”s and the “well done”s from everyone was fantastic. The aura around a MudCrew race and the RAT in particular is something special. It is one great family that does great things. It might not always be easy but it is something worth cherishing and we are all in it together.

The BOYD group of 17 runners were the best. There was always encouragement or a funny quip as we passed, as well as the look. The look is the look of understanding. You both knew what you had already done, what you had left to do and the effort it took. It was the look of mutual respect. Apart from Laura of course. She just always had a big smile on her face. I’m not sure if anyone told her she was doing something hard!

With our route being at the end of all the other runs and finishing at their cut off time, it meant that we got to see all the other runners as they came to the end of their runs. I gave out a lot of “well done”s and many “thank you”s to those that stepped out of my way as I passed. They returned the compliments in kind and it gives you a boost. They are runners too and many were in a worse state than I was in, having given it all in their race. Some gave us respect for doing the BOYD but others, who likely knew a bit more about running, thought that we were mad or bonkers to want to spend 24 hours doing the same hard 5 mile loop. They were a lot closer to the mark. Running for 24 hours is silly stupid thing to do and it takes a certain type of crazy. Might as well live up to that...

My lovely wife Nik had placed a silly multi-coloured umbrella hat thing in my kit box whilst I wasn’t looking and it had been playing on my mind as to what I could do with it. Going over the finish line the final time whilst wearing it sounded like a suitably stupid thing to do so that is what I did! I also put on my multicoloured Sturdy By Design tights, put on my rather stupid looking running glasses and had a can of Black Flag BreweryFang to drink. Bonkers thing to do? Yes. But it was that sort of race.

I will remember this for a long time.

Fang-tastic finsh. Credit MudCrew

After crossing the line, due to the way the rules worked, I had to wait 15 minutes with a lot of the other BOYD runners for the clock to reach 8pm, marking the official end of the race. As we were still in race conditions, we still weren’t allowed any outside assistance and this included hugs! The beer was mine though so was allowed and went down a treat. The wait seemed to go on for ever but finally it was over and I could put my arms around my wife who also had had a fantastic day completing the 32 mile Black RAT, her second ultra.
Credit MudCrew
Big thanks to everyone involved with the RAT trail running festival, but a special big thanks the Andrew Ferguson, Andy Trudgian and Jane Stephens, the three race directors for putting on such a special event. Especially one that was being put on at the same time and in the same weather that caused Board Masters to be cancelled.
Final thanks go to Map My Marathon for mounting my finishers medal so expertly as a bonus prize at the end of the event.
Nailed It - Sums up my race nicely - Credit Author and Map My Marathon

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