Ultra Trail South West 100 (UTSW)


Friday 22 nd – Sunday 24 th June

This 100 mile challenge race was billed as being the UK’s toughest footrace and one of the most challenging, nonstop, off road, point to point trail races in the world. The course didn’t disappoint. Starting on a pleasant Friday evening when most sane people would think about going down the local pub, Dan Barnett, Matt Moffat and I, crossed the start line at Porthleven, Cornwall with 78 hardy souls to embark on an adventure following the long distance path along the coastline of the UK’s South West peninsular to Watergate Bay, North of Newquay. My personal campaign got off to a really bad start, falling spread eagle within the first five miles, giving rise to a nasty graze, a bruised kneecap and an even bigger dent to my pride. Well only another 95 miles to go!

The route passed through many beautiful landmarks including St Michal’s Mount, Penzance, Newlyn and Mousehole as we worked our way towards Land’s End with terrain ranging from difficult rugged trails through to a nasty paved section that despite it being relatively flat impacted heavily on feet and ankles. Leaving Land’s End, it became more and more apparent the continuing lack of obvious marking of the course with Dan and I needing to ask which route to take as many runners were becoming lost or misplaced due to a poorly marked course throughout. Minute fluorescent stickers might work well at night, but during the day, no chance!

Running into the night my aim was to reach Pendeen Watch (40 miles in) before the start of the 60 mile route at 7.00AM. Dan and myself successfully reached this point by around 5.30 AM and were rewarded with emerging silhouettes, the changing hues of the old Cornish tin mines, crested waves and the first light of day. Spurred on by this we continued past Zennor Head and on to St Ives (53.4 miles, 3591M) before then being overtaken by the lead runners of the 60 mile route.

As the route continued any pain I once had in my knee had spread to other parts of my body. Mentally I felt fine, but sharp recurring pain kept shooting up my ankle as I started to feel like I was hobbling rather than running. Despite reservations to his level of fitness (compared to previous UTMB), Dan seemed to naturally take on this challenge and in spite of obviously being in discomfort seemed to block out all sense of pain and remained focused throughout keeping up good pace to consistently knock out 15 minute miles. At this point I tried to keep up with Dan who was running with the lead lady to enable me to reach Porthtowan with general relief as I’m sure Matt now realises what I have meant by ‘only’ 25 miles to go!

After taking an Ibuprofen ‘hit’ and gaining an almost instant adrenaline rush, I once again felt almost normal as all pain dissolved and I was able to continue on towards Perranporth on what can only be described as a mixture of technical ascents/descents with 1024 metres of climb in 10.2 miles. During this section Dan and I continued to run strong despite the weather changing and being battered around in the high winds and fine rain. After being left at Perranporth we crossed paths again, high upon cliffs, with the first lady runner who seemed disorientated and soaked to the bone. Giving her a warm top I carried for emergencies, we managed to get her going again until the weather took a turn for the worse with pelting rain, cold winds and the trails turning into rivers. As she started to develop hyperthermia, I wrapped her in Dan’s survival blanket to try and insulate her from the cold and get her moving as quickly as possible and aides a warning that it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure they are adequately equipped.

We continued somewhat erratically to get all our body temperatures back up again and fortunately due to a poorly marked route went off course to come out at a pub were Dan managed to get her to the safety. Dan and I continued running towards Newquay and were unfortunate that we could not cross the Gannel Estuary on the low tide bridge and needed to take a two mile diversion around the estuary. One again we felt we were plodding aimlessly to find the Fistral Beach checkpoint due to poor marking of the course. Just before 2.00am Sunday morning Dan and I were relieved to have finished the 100 mile+ course of 6518m (21,385ft) vertical ascents in 30hrs 55mins with Matt breaking 36 hours in 35:59:21 and a deserving finisher of his first 100 miler. With an incredible finishing time of 19:31:32 by Daniel Doherty we can all hope and dream, but I do believe it was an exceptionally difficult yet richly rewarding personal challenge and those 48 finishers showed extraordinary determination. Well done to all.

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