Report by Hana
Back at the start of 2014 I entered the Red RAT after a discussion with my good friend and running partner Julie who was keen to give it a go. I intended to train (A word I don’t use very often) for what I knew would be a tough coastal event and initially it seemed like a great new challenge, but as the months progressed so my doubts set in. Then two months before the event I carelessly break a toe and this meant I had to defer my entry to this year.
So here I am in 2015 with plenty of time to prepare and what do I do, bury my head in the sand, and as usual fail to do any specific training. I did manage two coastal runs, but neither was longer than 12 miles and only one was with me wearing my chosen medium for carrying my hydration and mandatory kit.
I had tried my “Osprey” back pack which is ideal for walking and is made for running and cycling but no matter what I did, it jiggled around and I could foresee rubbed shoulders and mental irritation. I also have a Camel pack hydration back pack lurking in the cupboard which came free when my daughter subscribed to “Runners World”, but that doesn’t have a waist strap or capacity to carry other than a phone and some cash. So I go out and purchase a “Jack Wolfskin cross run 2 hip bag” in bright blue which holds two water bottles and has just enough room for the rest of my kit.
Event day approaches and sadly Julie has to defer her place. My injured knees (see previous race report and badger hole) are still uncomfortable but I’ve managed to run the IQ Half painfully and then a 7 mile and 9 mile road jog without them getting worse. “Husband who plays golf” gives me the kick up the arse pep talk so I have no option but to turn up and give the RED RAT a go.
Julie has volunteered to chauffer me to and from the Porthpean outdoor education centre, the Race HQ from where she is going to cycle to check points to cheer the runners in and lift my spirits when they flag. The sun is shining, the roads are quiet and the drive gives us time to catch up which takes my mind off what I have signed up to do.
As we approach the outdoor centre we are directed to the parking area situated in a field next to the camping area. To enter the parking area it involves us driving along a now deeply rutted section of narrow field through soft mud. I look at the depth of the ruts and realise that poor “Sydney Skoda” who has been left at home today, would have struggled with this, due to his racy front spoiler. Thankfully Julie has brought a far more suitable vehicle with good ground clearance and the option of 4 wheel drive, so we are fine. Parking is free and the large field has glorious views out over the coast plus the aroma of bacon, which is being cooked by occupants of camper vans already in residence.
I head for the registration area where I have to display and have my kit checked before I am given clearance to collect my race number. My rain jacket ticks the ”Taped seams” box and is an amazingly lightweight little number of the Berghaus brand that I found by chance in TKMax. My long sleeve top I asked my “Husband who plays golf” to weigh on the electronic scales at home to see if it was the lightest of the options I had and it was. That too ticked the box along with my space blanket, Easy fold “IQ reducer” (baseball type running cap) fully charged mobile phone, 1 litre of fluids in two 500ml bottles and nutrition, well Kendall mint cake, small pack of Cheddars and a fruit bar (none of which I would open or eat). I’m now released with hand stamped and collect my race No 117.
Now, at the IQ Half Marathon I commented on Nigel K and his pot of Vaseline and Chaffing. So having mulled over the pros and cons I have actually gone out and purchased a small tub and today is “Test out day”. I have smeared some where a certain type of female undergarment has caused discomfort over the last 3 years so we’ll have to wait and see what does or does not happen.
The next part of the process is getting my “Dibber” attached to my wrist, by what looks like a concert/hospital/mortuary bracelet. I now look as if I have a canula inserted ready for intravenous hydration or stimulation but in reality the dibber is what a marshal at the “check in” points inserts into a gadget which registers which runners have gone through and at what time.
Time to locate the facilities of the more personal type, namely toilets and showers and I find a small block located close to the Race HQ. There are two toilet cubicles which are very basic but better than the portable ones, and they are situated where there are three shower cubicles and a couple hand basins. Outside this block are three free standing baths with a hosepipe. Could this be for the “cold bath therapy” to relieve aching muscles after a long run? Or for cleaning sandy wet suits after a day on the beach?
Julie has gone to get her bike sorted and I head off for the pre race briefing. In short they tell us the route is along the coast path with a few road sections and it is a self-navigating event so you need to keep the sea on your right. If the sea is on your left you are either running in the wrong direction or you are on the North coast. I am a little apprehensive, not so much about getting lost, but I am the biggest wimp when it comes to heights and my fear of them. Most of the time all I need is a hand to hold, but what if I all alone on a section of this route, and fear has turned me into a blubbering wreck? Julie has suggested there is one section I might not like at about mile 4, so only time will tell.
Time to climb onto one of the three coaches waiting to convey us to Portloe the starting location for the RED RAT and I’m joined by Mark M-S. The journey passes without event even with the relatively narrow roads we have to travel along passing a horse attempting to look like as a Zebra with a very snazzy black and white striped coat over it with rider atop. The buses disgorge us runners at the top of the hill into Portloe as going any further would be disastrous. We now all start to walk down to where the Dibbing point for the BLACK RAT and Plague runners is situated
We have been advised that toilet facilities at Portloe itself are sparse, and I note a rather battered and tired looking portable “Turdi” situated at a jaunty angle outside a house renovation project on the road we are walking down. I then see a couple male competitors heading for it. Rather them than me I think, and poor builder when he turns up on Monday to find his facility overflowing.
Once we reach the small quaint village of Portloe I decide that it would be prudent to speed up and overtake all the RAT participants walking ahead of me in an effort to locate the toilet facilities. I spy the public toilet building perched on the hillside on the other side of the small harbour next to the cliff path, but Fergie who is keen that I give all the toilet provisions a good review informs me that The Ship Inn is allowing us runners to use their toilets with some located internally and a disabled one on the outside, so that is where I head. As I walk through the front door of the Inn I see a man sat at the bar (it’s only 10am) and the floor is covered in heavy duty polythene sheeting. I feel as if I’ve entered a scene from CSI or worse still that the floor has been covered before they murder an unsuspecting runner, wrap them up and feed them to the fish out to sea or turn them into the “dish of the day”, leaving no trace of the crime behind. I think it’s time to disengage my vivid and warped imagination and use the toilet. Oh and I feel sure the sheeting has been put down to stop any muddy feet from the Black Rat or Plague runners that venture inside from ruining the carpets. Good planning is what that is.
The toilets are traditional pub quality ones which are basic and clean and for a Public House to let us use them without having to purchase a pint first is fantastic, so a big Thank you goes out to The Ship Inn. I am glad I used them whilst sober though as to get to them, involved climbing a few steps in a dimly lit section of the establishment.
We the RED RAT participants loiter by the water/food station and cheer all the BLACK RAT and PLAGUE runners who are passing through, having their dibbers dibbed. I can’t imagine how the Plague runners must feel they’ve already traversed 44 miles and still have almost 20 to go. I start to feel apprehensive, how on earth am I going to complete 20 miles on tough coastal paths? To top it all the weather is brightening by the moment and the temperature is starting to rise. I talk to the other mad TRC runners gathered in this location and there is a mix of excitement and trepidation. We discuss notes and Andy G is attempting to fix a Go Pro camera via a chest strap to his torso so he can film some of the run. Let’s hope I’m well out of view then.
It is time to muster at the start line down on the small area of “Beach” by the slipway. Thankfully the tide is out and out of the corner of my eye I spot a pebble with a lovely smooth surface and what appears to be two eyes looking at me on the ground. I pick it up put it in my bag as this will be my race memento/lucky charm.
Fergie gives us a countdown, Isobel sounds the air horn and if 20 miles of coastal path isn’t bad enough, we have to start this RED RAT on an uphill. We pass The Luggar Hotel to our right (I went there for dinner for my 40th birthday……many many years ago. Hopefully the staff are friendlier now) anyway, after a short section of road we head onto the coastal path via an area called Pucky’s Hill and the first of MANY steps. This path is narrow, speed is not an option nor is overtaking, so I settle into a slow pace which is what will dominate the whole of my non-existent race plan.
I seem to remember someone telling me that it is the last 11 miles of the RED RAT that is the hardest, with hundreds of steep steps to climb, but the first few miles are proving to be testing and lung and leg busting. I have decided to lighten my load a little…………don’t panic this isn’t a Paula Radcliff moment. As I don’t usually drink whilst running, other than the odd sip in a marathon, I pull out each of the two 500ml bottles I’m carrying in my hip sack and water the vegetation to my sides. I leave about 250ml in each bottle and make sure I don’t lose either of the bottles in the process for fear of being disqualified.
It isn’t long until we pass Little Perlea, Great Perlea and then Catchpole beach. The sun is shining, the sweat is gathering at the bottom of my hair line and the sea looks very tempting. It would be so nice to spread a picnic blanket out and have some lunch. Ah yes lunch……I ate breakfast at 7am (large bowl of porridge) I had a banana at 10am and the race started at 11am with no hope of me finishing it before 4pm, so what am I going to do about morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea?????
The next cove we reach is West Portholland followed shortly by East Portholland a location I visited for the first time back in June whilst out for a cycle ride. This location is reached by vehicle along wooded narrow lanes and consists of a car park, beach and a terrace of what must have been fishermen’s cottages. One of the cottages is also a small shop and cafe but we need to crack on so no coffee and cake for me today.
The path appears to turn into a rock scramble along a very narrow ledge just above the beach. Julie had warned me about this as she knows I’m not good with heights and no sooner had I seen this than my inner wimp appears just like a genie when the lamp is rubbed. I falter and state out loud “Is there another route” to which a nice lady sat on the beach shouts “go via the beach”, so I do. This was a much easier option and less of a health and safety nightmare as Suzie B who had been running just ahead of me had opted for the ledge and found herself sharing it with a large German shepherd (the canine variety not Bavarian hill dweller that rounds up sheep) who didn’t want to give way.
Along the coastal path we slowly walk/jog uphill and down dale. I would like to say that I broke into a sprint or even that I had a spurt of speed, but no walk/jog was all I was capable on this terrain. At mile 4 we arrive at Caerhays where we have to run, yes run, down a steep road section before crossing a car park at the top of the beautiful beach. Then it is back onto the coastal path and straight back up yet another steep section across a field with very fluffy looking Highland cows.
I would love to paint you a picture of all the beautiful scenery we pass but due to the footpath being uneven with copious amounts of trip hazards, stinging nettles and brambles my eyes are glued to ground just ahead of my feet. It is only on the steep uphills where my slow walking gear is engaged that I dare look out to sea.
I am never far away from another runner, sometimes they are literally just inches ahead and at other times yards. There isn’t much talking going on as everyone is finding it hard enough breathing without making polite conversation, but from behind me a female voice is heard to say “its Hana isn’t it?” “I’m Jane’s daughter and I read you race blogs”. Well would you believe it, there I am with “IQ reducer” cap (New lightweight easy fold model even more unflattering than my usual one) on head. I’m not even wearing a TRC race vest, I’ve got silk shorts on and not my usual cycle short style ones and I’m still recognised from my rear view. We have a short chat once the path levels a little and I have no idea whether I ran ahead or whether she did because as the event progressed so my mental faculties started to fail.
It isn’t long before Andy G catches me up. He had been running with his daughter, but due to heat and irritation she had told him to go forth and run the race at his own faster pace, or words to that effect. I use to run with my daughter from time to time and initially that was fine, but now it is best to do your own thing to keep peace and harmony flowing through the family. We’ve reached a KISSING gate, and over the many races I have run where I have come upon one of these gates I have never once been kissed. Today my luck was in; I even think Andy suggested it. “Is your go pro running?” I enquire. Thankfully the battery had run out so I will not be featuring on any internet sites snogging during a race. Don’t panic Karen G; it was in truth a very quick peck on the cheek, too old, too hot and too knackered for anything else!
At mile 9 we reach Gorran Haven and our first dibbing point. I spy Julie with her camera and she waves frantically and helps this Old Croc towards a kindly race marshal who grabs my dibber and inserts it into some hand held device. I seem to be OK, so I head into an Aladdin’s cave full of food and drink. There are tables full of Melon, Oranges, jelly babies, sausage rolls, banana segments, peanuts, crisps and much, much more. On the opposite side of the room there are tables full of various types of liquid refreshment, sadly no G & T or Red Wine but I remember Julie telling me that flat coke tastes like nectar, so even though it’s a drink I hate I give it a go. Oh my god, I had forgotten just how thick and sticky Coke or a supermarkets own version of it actually is and how it leaves a disgusting fur on your teeth, but I manage to drink about 100mls and it sits quite well in my temperamental stomach. I also consume two slices of watermelon which tastes wonderful, and then I pick up a muesli type bar and sneak it outside to give to Julie as she’ll need it more than I will with all the cycling she is doing in this hilly part of the world to cheer us TRC runners on. I head out the door with sugar now surging through my veins. I feel slightly fortified or is that “High as a kite” and trot off with a sort of renewed zest with Julie cheering me on.
Through the narrow streets of Gorran I trot trying to look intrepid and failing miserably. There are lots of wide bottoms milling in the way of my line of travel all preoccupied with their ice-cream cones and the view. I could have done with an air horn as my polite and not too loud (for fear of causing a coronary) “excuse me” wasn’t working very well. Time to widen my shoulders and muscle my way through, ah it appears someone has finally noticed this sweat soaked, knackered looking “Old Croc” in IQ reducer and running shoes behind them and believing me to be an escapee from some secure unit, they now quickly clear the way and I trot on thanking them as I pass.
Up Cliff road I go turning right then back onto the cliff path and the start of the second half of this race. I’m feeling relatively OK, a tad too hot due to the beautiful weather we are having and the fact that my internal thermostat just doesn’t work. This is the last 11 miles which all the previous entrants to this event have described to me as being the worst. I have to say the first half has been pretty horrendous so god help me from now on.
3.5 miles later I reach Mevagissey where to reach the harbour we have to go down some very steep metal steps thankfully with good sturdy railings on each side for me to hold onto. I appear to have caught up with some female runners I haven’t seen before then I recognise one of them as being Rachael from TRC who doing a very good mother hen job and is looking after and encouraging some other females who are attempting the “WHITE RAT”. Good on you Rachael, only wish you could pass on some untapped energy and a pair of new knees for me.
The Holiday makers wondering around the town once again seem to stare at me in disbelief. I can almost hear their thoughts processing as I pass by. Some applaud just to be kind and others just try not to make eye contact for fear I might approach them. Anyway I stagger through as quickly as my tired legs will allow and climb back onto the coastal path once again.
I can’t even start to describe the route between Mevagissey and Pentewan due to the fact that I seem to be perpetually going up very steep slopes/steps or struggling down the other side. My poor knees are protesting, my inner self wants to just sit down or better still curl up and have a sleep, but no I have a lovely chap who is running the Black Rat using me as a pacer. I kindly offer to move to one side to let him pass, but no he wants me to stay ahead. If I was 30 years younger I could understand but a V50 rear end can’t be that appealing surely. He chats away merrily, but I only have just enough strength to get up the slope with none spare for passing the time away with idle talk. You could never market this event as a form of “Speed dating” that’s for sure.
I’ve managed to reach the outskirts of Pentewan and I’m pointed towards the next watering hole and feeding station. This Wilder beast needs a pick me up, and my wonderful friend Julie is just the tonic. I obviously look dreadful, because having been Dibbed a marshal asks me if I’m all right. I manage to say “yes” he isn’t too convinced so asks again and grabs one of my drinks bottles. Bl—dy Hell he’s about to stick liquid in it, and I protest. Julie comes to my rescue and says “She always looks like this” not the most flattering comment a girl can receive, but at this moment in time it was the most honest and truthful one. Thankfully he replaces my water bottles back in their appropriate slots in my hip sack and I grab the most wonderful food sensation I have ever eaten in my entire life, a red coloured ice pop, plus two orange segments and a slice of water melon. I pose for a photo, not a very flattering one as per normal and walk along the road sucking on my ice pop.
The road leads out of the town and up ahead I can see the lovely Michaela H one of the many great race marshals waving tinsel pom poms and trying to point me in the right direction. I give her one of those horrid hot sweaty hugs that I try to shun when people try to give me one and she takes my empty ice pop plastic packaging as I stagger on my way.
I’m now on the final 5 miles. They are hot hilly and exhausting. I seem to think that quite a lot of these miles I walked, along with many other participants, but I must have run some parts as well. I see one male runner washing his face in a stream we cross then there are steps, endless steps the sort that can make your GPS watch think you have stopped because they are so vertical. I pause half way up one set, not really wanting to take another step. I feel as if I want to cry, then I take a reality check, and tell myself that there are “Plague” competitors who have to covered this section on the way out, knowing it will be there on the way back when they are fit to drop. With that in mind, I lift right leg and slowly plod ever upwards with head only looking firmly at the ground.
Porthpean arrives a tad earlier than expected as although the RED RAT is marketed as 20 miles, it is nearer 19. They even throw in a final hill back up to the finishing line, but as I enter the finishing straight the support from the crowd is amazing. I cross the line in 4:31:57 and I am happy with that. Julie is there to cheer me in and gives me a hug, makes sure I’m OK and buys me a cup of tea. This is true friendship for which I’m ever grateful and it’s never taken for granted.
I’m truly shattered. It is the hardest thing I have done in my sporting life; I take my hats off to anyone who has completed the BLACK RAT (32 miles) and the PLAGUE (64 miles) because I just don’t know how you did it on terrain I’ve just covered. I’m now thinking the Cornish Marathon looks quite appealing in comparison! Should I enter that one?
So all in all:
- Parking: Plentiful, Free and in a field. Could have been problematic if it was a wet weekend though.
- Race HQ: Great. There was camping for those who wanted it, and room enough for people to gather inside or out. Plenty of catering facilities also available and a post-race party for those still able to move.
- Toilets/Showers: I found two ladies toilets in the shower block with no queue and they were clean and well supplied with toilet roll. The showers were fantastic. They may have been basic and not 5 star in appearance, but the water was hot, plentiful and with a good power to the water jet. Sheer bliss if you ask me and very rejuvenating for those tired, dusty and soaked in sweat.
- Race Marshalls: Fabulous. Always smiling, always helpful and they kept your moral upbeat. Thank you to you all.
- The route: stunning countryside in a beautiful part of the world but not for the faint hearted. It’s tough due to the inclines but if this Old Croc can manage the RED RAT (20 miles) then there are plenty of you readers who could do the same. You can’t race it unless you are an elite trail runner but you can complete it. Give it a go and tick another race off your “to do” list.
Fergie and crew I’ll give you 11 out of 10 for this event, but I’m not sure if I’ll be back next year. Mind you I said something similar after the birth of my first child then had a second!