lizard to land’s end: the classic quarter ultramarathon

When I began trail running in October I didn’t expect to have gone from running 12 miles to 44 miles in less than 6 months. But here I was signed up to the Classic Quarter ultramarathon from Endurance Life; a challenging run along the South West Coastal Path from Lizard Point to Land’s End.

After a long drive down to the very south of Cornwall straight after work, Jo and I had to pitch out tent in the dark after calling ahead to make sure the campsite gates would be kept open for us to get in!

All-too quickly the alarm clock sounded and it was time to get up for the shuttle bus to take us back to the start. The irony! Here we are at the finish, yet are paying to be taken 44 miles back to the start and all at 3 in the morning!

Lizard Point, 5.45am.

I was rudely awoken from my slumber on the shuttle bus at Lizard Point by one of the Endurance Life team giving us directions to registration. It was a short walk down to the cliff edge. The morning was slowly coming alive as daylight was starting to break over the night sky and I felt very special to be in such a wonderful place at such a peaceful time.

After registering I was moved by the tranquillity of the place and dwarfed by the enormity of what I was about to undertake. In need of a moment of reflection I scrambled to the very edge of Lizard Point and looked out to sea. I was on the most southerly point of the UK and, at that moment, was the most southerly person on the mainland. The sky was brightening from the east and the sea was undulating calmly. It was a magnificent scene and it seemed to give me an inner strength to take into the run.

Heading out with Lizard Point behind

When Gary from Endurance Life blew the horn for us to start I still had no real concept of what to expect from the race! We headed west along the coastal path down past Kynance Cove and along the wind-blasted tops with the Goonhilly satellites in the distance. I only fleetingly looked at the distant headland of Land’s End and banished any notion that I was actually going to run there!

The first five miles proved to be my worst. After many years of playing football my knees need a good warm-up. Due to the time and the location of the start point, it was difficult to get a good warm-up for the knees which resulted in me creaking my way through the first five miles or so. I didn’t think finishing would be anywhere near achievable if they remained like this and my morale sunk to an early low.

Thankfully my knees eased after the first checkpoint and I got more into my natural rhythm. The scenery was absolutely stunning and the conversations with my fellow runners were proving very interesting.

By the time St. Michaels Mount appeared in the distance I was becoming buoyed by the event. The sun was now giving out its warmth and I was well into my stride. I found I could now look at St. Michaels Mount, Penzance, Newlyn, even the far headland and think “I’m going to run over there”!

Stunning scenery from start to finish

The Tarmac along the promenade at Penzance proved difficult. The long, straight section with the incessant pounding prompted me to take some painkillers. My knees were not too happy with the unrelenting surface, but I was aided by the visual distraction of a crowd of trainspotters! They had congregated to record a small derailment that must have occurred the previous night.

The volunteers at the water stop in Penzance proved a wonderful morale boost and I left there with a spring in my step and feeling refreshed from copious amounts of water now running off my head. The Saturday shoppers of the South West really must have wondered who the crazy people were shuffling through the car park in dribs and drabs.

The Fair was in town and Gary had advised us of two route options; take a small detour around the Fair, or battle your way through the crowds and face the inevitable bemused looks. I opted for the latter as I was feeling good, if not looking good! Thankfully I didn’t cause too much of a stramash and I successfully avoided knocking over anyone’s candy floss. Or, at least I didn’t look back to see if I had!

Running through the harbour at Newlyn was a nice distraction and I strangely noticed myself becoming stronger. It felt like passing through Penzance had been the transition point; I was now well into my rhythm and I felt comfortable with the distance still to go. I felt good.

After nearly getting lost in the tiny, yet beautiful village of Mousehole, and after dragging myself up the desperately long hill out of the village, I was glad to return to the trail. The early summer foliage was strikingly vivid in the glorious sunshine and the bracken and wild flowers threatened to crowd out the path. It was like exploring a Cornish jungle!

Jo at Land's End

Looking back across the bay Lizard Point was just visible through the heat shimmer. My mind boggled at how far away it was and I laughed to myself at the absurd notion that I’d run from there! Subconsciously, though, it was sinking in and, combined with the turquoise water and the vibrant colours of the flowers, I was moved to tears on a number of occasions by the sheer beauty of the landscape I was running through.

The coves of Cornwall were packed with sunbathers and the scene was like something from a travel magazine; crystal clear turquoise water and golden yellow sands. The landscape made the hard climbs up and down each cove worth the effort.

At the top of Porthcurno Cove by the Minack Theatre I shared a laugh with the water stop volunteers and, again, I left them with renewed vigour. I knew I was on the last stretch and I continued to feel stronger and stronger as the race went on. For the first time I began to think of actually being finished! This proved to be a double-edged sword; I did want to finish, but I didn’t want to stop!

Running across the wind-stripped landscape with Land’s End looming ahead of me I felt as strong as I had throughout the whole race. I thought to myself “If they asked me to run another mile I would. If they asked me to run another mile after that one, I could”. I was enjoying this and didn’t want it to end

Lying flaked out at Land's End

I could feel a huge smile come across my face as the well-wishers clapped me home. The encouragement from fellow runners who’d already finished spurred me on at the Finish Line and I could feel my eyes well up with emotion. Dibbing my timer at Land’s End while looking out onto the Atlantic was a moment to be savoured. I’d done it!

I found Jo, who’d finished ahead of me, and we jostled with a wedding party at the bar to get drinks. Sitting in the evening sun, sipping an ice-cold beer, looking out on the Atlantic Ocean and thinking back on the day was truly fantastic. Once we’d recovered somewhat, Jo and I headed to St. Just for the now customary post-race celebration of fish and chips. This fish supper tasted sweeter than ever. What a day!

Position: 34th  Time: 10:49:53

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