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Tales from the Arc of Attrition

The Mudcrew event, the Arc of Attrition is a coach favourite here at Camino Ultra. David was a finisher in 2020, and Daz has unfinished business there after attempts in 2020 and 2022! This year, toeing the starting line were long-time Camino athletes Anna Brown, John Atkins, and Julian Cazorla, who has been a long-time Camino friend.

Not for the fainted-hearted, the Arc of Attrition is a point-to-point extreme coastal race taking in the stunning and dramatic Cornish Coastpath. The unpredictable weather of the coastal region adds another layer of difficulty, with strong winds, rain, and sometimes even snow. The relentless course features steep ascents and descents that push runners to their limits. Its physical demands and strategic planning requirements set the Arc of Attrition apart. Runners must carefully manage their pace, nutrition, and gear to navigate the challenging course successfully. It's an intense and transformative experience, attracting ultra runners seeking a challenge.

Over to Anna, John and Julian, who have kindly shared their race stories to inform and inspire you. Let us know if you are thinking of signing up in 2025!

Anna Brown

The reason I entered the Arc is similar to most people - I got sucked up in the hype of dot-watching

entries opened and panic-entered. Of course, I’d have loads of time to train for the hills and

bad weather… it would be fine! Fast forward almost a year, and in the midst of the most

stressful six months of my career, working stupid hours, eating a terrible diet due to time

constraints, not sleeping enough and not having done the multiple recess and hours on the

stairmaster I’d hoped for - and it was suddenly race week. Luckily for me, my day-to-day life

is so stressful. I was able to go into last weekend, seeing it as a ‘break’ from reality, and I was

looking forward to it, regardless of how prepared I felt!

Despite what I considered poor preparation, I had been planning this race for a long time so

luckily, a brilliant crew of my three sisters and brother-in-law lined up to crew me. I had fit

in one recce in November, so had covered the middle 50 miles once and had replaced/upgraded most of my kit through a series of late-night Amazon purchases to ensure

I was prepared for the inevitably terrible weather. By Friday morning, I was as usual full of pre-race demons convincing me I had a cold/chest infection, eye infection and dodgy knee! But the weather was incredible, and Porthtowan was filled with lovely people who were all excited for the race, so I focused on just enjoying myself and hoped for the best! I had no specific plan for pace or nutrition, so my crew was kitted out with the Mudcrew timing chart and an array of foodstuff - prepared for every eventuality!

I found the first 10 miles of the race mentally and physically horrendous. I had stormed down

the road through Coverack as advised to get as far forward as possible before the

bottleneck onto the trail, but I hadn’t realised this also meant running up a pretty steep road

in order to maintain that position! I didn’t get as close to the front as intended, but in the end, I

was fine with this after reaching the trail, we continued up the hill for quite some time, and

I was grateful for the forced walk already as it meant it wasn’t my lack of fitness causing me

to be slow! After the long line of people started to disperse and it was more possible to run, I

ran as much as I could, but the hills were relentless, so it wasn’t possible to get much pace

up at all. I quickly started to feel discouraged as the nominal time required to reach the

Lizard to be on target for 30 hours was 2:18, and I only managed to drag myself there by

2:34 - way behind already?! I’d arranged my first crew stop at Kynance Cove, so I didn’t stop

to dwell on times but ploughed on the next few miles to meet them. This was possibly almost

the most grumpy they actually saw me throughout the race and I was seriously considering if

I’d have to pull out as I was actually exhausted already! I’d had a message from Daz though

saying that the next bit improved, so with that and the positivity of having seen my family, I

set off on the next stage - not having totally given up just yet!

A comedy moment followed where I realised my replacement bottles were so new, I’d not

even removed the plastic seals so I distracted myself for a good while trying to peel off the

fiddly things as I ran on feeling like a complete muppet! The trail was definitely becoming

nicer and it was a lovely mild afternoon of sunshine - I just needed to keep trotting on. I

chatted with various other runners which passed the time, one of whom was a guy called

Wez. We ended up running the rest of the way to the next crew point at Dollar Cove

together but we lost each other at that point due to crews being in different places so when I

set out from that CP, I was alone again.

The coastal path in that afternoon sunshine was absolutely beautiful and as the Sun was

setting to my left I was feeling much more positive and starting to enjoy myself - it had only

taken 20 odd miles to warm up into it! I reached the first checkpoint at Porthleven after

sunset but just about in the light and after glugging down a quick cup of tea and a coke I

pulled on my head torch and set off again on my own into the 14 hours of darkness. It was

unsurprisingly a beautiful evening after the gorgeous day we’d had and soon the full moon

was also out to brighten up the night as well. I wasn’t too bothered about the long night as I’d

mentally broken it down in my head to an evening run and a night run - its not night unless

you are missing sleep in my mind… so I was doing a long evening run until midnight, then a

night run which would only last 7 hours until dawn which was totally fine. I bounced between

different runners for most of the evening as our paces moved up and down depending on

how we were feeling and finally I arrived at Praa Sands for my next crew stop where my

crew had my hot Huel waiting for me. I struggle to eat very well while running, so Huel had

been a revelation to me as an ultra snack as you can smash down 400 warm kcal very

quickly and sort yourself out for a couple of hours. I was also managing to keep going better

than normal with the slightly diluted mountain fuel in one of my bottles so was trickling in

some calories that way.

I left Praa Sands and was immediately confronted with having to climb around a wall and

jump between large rocks to avoid a small river that opened out onto the beach at that point.

That was the first of a lot of clambering over rocks that we were to experience in this race!

For the next section I ran quite a lot on my own, with just short sections with various runners

as our paces aligned, but by the time I reached Marazion for my crew point with shoe

change I was on my own again. My feet were doing brilliantly and I was really happy with my

shoe/sock combination which was my Hoka speedgoats with DexShell waterproof socks and

Injinji liners. I whipped off the Hokas and DexShells and just put my road shoes on over the

liners before setting off towards Penzance.

I absolutely loved this section - this was my time. Here was I surrounded by mountain goats

whose lists of races included Lakeland 100, UTS, the Beacons ultra, UTMB - the list goes

on. I have done none of that, let alone trained for any of that - I run on flat, I run on road and

I was off. It felt like I overtook loads of people running down the seafront in Penzance and I

had a huge smile on my face as I met the Angels to guide me into the checkpoint. They

seemed a little surprised at how happy I looked! They quickly took me inside, I gulped a cup

of tea and set straight off to find my crew in Newlyn. It was time to change back into trail

shoes so I whipped on some new liner socks before replacing my DexShells and Hokas.

I knew everything that was to come now for the next 50 miles which was equally comforting

and terrifying! I made my way through Mousehole and up the hill to the start of the more

gnarly section through Lamorna. It was somewhere along this bit where I caught up with

Wez again and it was great to see him. We negotiated the calf deep bogs and sludgy trails

together, discussing as we went how Mark Darbyshire would have tackled this particular

bit?! I almost lost a shoe a few times and had a few close shaves with slips, but we both

made it through unscathed and were on our way, closing in on the Minack and the halfway

point. Luckily both our crews were at Porthcurno and this time we decided to try and stick

together, so other than the minor setback where I decided I now wanted my poles and

therefore had to send my sister sprinting up the road to the car to get them (!), we didn’t

hang around long. The climb up the steps to the Minack was - as expected - horrible, but

once we made it there we had the sense of relief of being half way and it only being just after

midnight which gave us 18 hours to cover the second half and make it in under 30 hours,

even though I knew it was all about to get lots slower!

The section between the Minack and Cape Cornwall is all relatively ‘nice’ so other than a tiny

bit of organisation required when Wez was meeting his crew at Land’s End and I was

meeting mine at Sennen, it all went smoothly. We set off from Sennen together, fuelled and

psyching ourselves up for what we were shortly going to meet once we passed the Cape.

We had one more crew point in the car park there before they waved us off towards the most

remote and notoriously hideous section of the course. Since Pendeen Watch was off limit to

crew there had been the chance we wouldn’t see anyone until Zennor, but my crew were

quite concerned as to what my state of mind would be if they left me for that long with no

support on the worst and slowest part of the course. So the night before we had found a

small car park on the map we nicknamed the ‘small appendage’ which stuck out off the road

that passed relatively close to the trail near Morvah which was about halfway between Cape

Cornwall and Zennor. Luckily it worked as it was really slow going on the trail with mud and

flooded paths and rocks to negotiate, so it was wonderful as we approached the meeting

point to see they’d managed to get there to give us some nutrition and a cup of tea as well

as emotional support! We trekked off from this point knowing that Zennor was our next target

and getting there was a major milestone. Despite our incredibly slow pace, the tracker still

had our estimated arrival at Zennor was around 7:30 am which was ahead of target. There

was a lot of difficult terrain to overcome during this section including climbing up rocks and

down huge steps which involved us using four points of contact so as not to fall or put too

much pressure on our struggling knees! By the time we finally reached Zennor steps, which

themselves brought on a good few swear words, I was absolutely shattered. As we reached

the top of the steps I could see our crews waiting and it was so lovely to see them I had to

have a small sob on my sister’s shoulder!

There was a party atmosphere at this crew point as a lot of people were gathered there so

that definitely lifted my mood, as did the light. We left them behind to enter the last bit of

awful trail on the section into St Ives and there was literally nothing to be done but grin and

bear it, whilst trying desperately not to twist an ankle or trip and crack our heads on a rock! I

was completely oblivious to what time it was, so when Wez announced it was 10:30 am and

our estimated time at St Ives had been 9:45, it seemed totally plausible, if a bit depressing,

as we were nowhere near! I knew we were going slowly but had expected the time estimates

to recognise that so we were both pretty gloomy for a while - until he realised he’d read the

wrong screen and it was actually 9:30! Phew! We were still a little behind, but the 9:45 had

been the target for a 29 hour finish so we still had a little in the bank. We were lifted by this

realisation and it gave us a bit of a surge of energy to get us through the last slippery, water-

logged section to St. Ives. My crew were at the first car park so I stopped for a quick top

change (hat off, Camino buff on) - this was going to be the last kit change as we WERE

going to finish before dark! After our reset we headed off towards Hayle, Picking up a runner

called Tiarnan on the way, who had been heading out of town on his own. He decided to tag

along with us, so our little group then became a trio. We had an unexpected crew stop at

Lelant where both our crews had headed, but we didn’t stop as we were on a mission to trot

to Hayle on the road as efficiently as possible. At Hayle, we were in still in good spirits as the

Sun was out again and our crews had all got to know each other so there was some good

banter while Wez entertained us with circus tricks! We departed the crew point heading off

for the ‘Dunes of Doom’ - in my opinion the most overly-hyped section of the course - they

were neither really proper dunes, or full of doom! We made our way through relatively easily

with the help of the large slate markers and our GPX on our watches and before long were

out the other side and heading up to the carpark in Godrevy - only 11 miles to go!

By this point I wasn’t really eating much, but I had enough to get by so my crew weren’t too

worried. After a lovely surprise visit from my friends Megan and James, who now live in

Cornwall, we set off up towards the North Cliffs for the next 7 mile section to Portreath. The

cliff section itself was incredible and I was very jealous of all the normal runners we saw

running along the beautifully flat and groomed trail as our legs were now in so much pain we

could barely manage a slow trot and not even that for very long. It was very slow going and it

felt like we might never make it! I was trying - and failing - to do maths in my head which

however I calculated it, seemed to mean we’d not hit 30 hours. Wez disagreed, so I just had

to hope he was right! Shortly before Portreath we were hit with the first two of ‘the Bitches’

which were very sharp steep gullies right down to sea level and then steeply up huge steps

the other side. Wez was in a lot of pain in his knee so was struggling going down and I was

feeling weak on the climbs trying to haul myself on my poles up each step - we made a

comical pair! We finally got through these two horrors and were descending into town again

to where our crew awaited. We lost Tiarnan here as he had to stay behind to see his crew,

so we were back as a duo and it was at this point that Tracy from Wez’s crew told me there

were two more ‘Bitches’ at Sallys Bottom and they were steeper and higher than the last

two! I literally started balling my eyes out - how could they be?! I had serious doubts I could

even get up something like that again - even crawling! In hindsight it was quite funny as my

crew were all buoyant and excited that we were only 4 miles from the finish, and I was just

there crying and swearing about what was to come! Sorry crew!

As we reached the first of the two, Wez sensibly suggested I go first as I was faster on the

downs and he was faster on the ups, so by the time we got to the top of the next hill we

should even each other out - it worked! We negotiated the flat at the top and then headed to

the final gully - same approach, same outcome. Now we were finally descending into

Porthtowan and the hope of actually breaking 29 hours was still alive - but we had no idea

how far through town and up the hill it was! We got to the Angels who pointed us out of town

towards the bottom of a HUGE hill. We had 25 minutes - I wasn’t sure we’d make it, Wez

was but I still didn’t believe him! We climbed over the verge on the side of the road and set

off up the track. It was horrible, but we were making good progress and obviously Wez was

right and soon we crested the hill to be greeted by a beautifully flat grassy lawn. We rounded

the corner and after 100km together we ran in the final few metres together, passing under

the gantry to be met with a huge hug from Jane! It was done! Not only sub 30, but sub 29 - I

was so happy! After my mandatory press ups we entered the race HQ where the team

looked after us really well and checked we were healthy before allowing us to move off to

join our crews for a much needed cider/prosecco!

I can genuinely say I found this race harder physically than anything I’ve done before. I’ve

done some tough races, but the Arc is a different beast as there is no option to ‘just walk’

when you are faced with 2 feet high steps to climb up or down. It challenged every part of my

body in a way I haven’t experienced before in ultras that are more focused on just running.

We were incredibly lucky however to be blessed with beautiful spring-like conditions which

made our Arc a lot more bearable than previous editions. It was muddy and slippery enough

as it was, but I can’t begin to imagine how challenging this course is in a normal wintery year

- mind boggling!

I think my personal ‘win’ on this one was my feet. I have seen and heard so many stories of

peoples feet disasters since this race. I made the decision fairly early on to use waterproof

socks for two reasons - the obvious one being running 100 miles with wet and dirty feet is

bound to be cold, uncomfortable and result in blisters, but also that I know that not wearing

them will be more exhausting - purely from unconsciously trying to leap around puddles and

bogs. Wearing waterproof socks reduces energy expenditure as you can just plough straight

on through mud and puddles, knowing your shoes will be wet but your feet dry. I went calf

deep in mud on a few occasions and ankle deep in lots of water, but my feet were perfectly

clean and dry and I didn’t get a single blister (sorry!)

I’m not sure I’m brave enough to attempt the Arc again as I don’t think its possible to get the

same amazing conditions another year, but I fell in love with the Arc vibe, the crew and the

Angels so will happily go back to crew or maybe one day tackle the 50 and would encourage

anyone thinking about either race to give them a go! Massive thanks to my wonderful family

for getting me through this one and to everyone who has supported me and sent messages

before, during and since the weekend!

John Adkins

The Arc of Attrition. The name alone conjures up quite an image. Having completed my first ultra marathon back in 2021, the brilliant London Lea Valley Ultra, someone casually mentioned what is seen by many as the toughest single ultra run in the UK. 100 miles from Coverack in South Cornwall, through Lands End and finishing in the delightful Northern Cornish village of Porthtowan. Now their high-level description should have been met with thanks but no thanks; however, I quite like the South West Coast Path. Having also recently finished hiking the entire 630 miles with my father, it has a huge significance to me and taking in the sights and sounds of this coastline is one of my greatest pleasures. So, you can see where my brain goes next. Maybe it isn’t such a crazy idea. 

But back to reality and I’ve only just finished my first 50km race. And anyway, the 2022 race is fully booked, so it’s a no-go for now. Wait a minute. Is that an email from the race organiser, Mudcrew, in my inbox? A place has come up in the Arc50, the 50-miler race starting at the beautiful Minack Theatre and also ending up in Porthtowan. Well, I don’t like to ignore signs, so sign me up Scotty! 

What can I say about the Arc50 race in 2022. Well, it went brilliantly. Aside from some moments of mental struggle between Zennor and St Ives, but hey that’s a section and a half, I crossed the finished line in relatively good shape and chuffed to have nailed it first time. But you’re not here for the Arc50 story, you want to know how a certain more recent race went. With the Arc50 race done I set my sights on entry for the Arc of Attrition. Only one final hurdle. If I had to wait until 2024, as in 2023, I would be on the other side of the world. 

So, after a lot of training and a few races later, there I was, registering for the event. Now for context, my training in the weeks running up to the race had not been amazing. A busy Christmas followed by tweaking my left Achilles tendon in early January meant my final training sessions were limited and included wearing an ankle compressor. I would also be wearing this for the race too. My first lesson related to this race was an important reminder to not hit the ground running (slight pun intended) too hard if you haven’t trained for few days or longer.     

After having read the brilliant book ‘Buckle Up’ by Richard Meston, a tale of his 4 attempts to get his hands on that sweet, sweet buckle for finishing the Arc of Attrition, I had a few tips in my mind. One was making sure you kept hydrated and fuelled between being at the coach collection point at 0845 (you get on a coach from the finish line to the start line pre race) and starting the race at 1200. I had drunk lots but only finished my sandwiches and banana less than half an hour before the race began. Another lesson in the bank, better to give yourself more time to let things settle.

A tip I had been given by my coach, who himself had stood at this start line twice, was to ideally be at the back of the front third. Do not be standing next to Mark Darbyshire, who was aiming for a new course record (spoiler alert, he did it) but nor be at the back as early in the race there are bottlenecks in the path so can easily lose minutes. Not crucial in a long race like this but can stifle momentum. Noted. So stood (approximately) one third in, there I was at the start line of the Arc of Attrition 2024. The countdown starts and then bang, we’re away! I feel good as we leave the village of Coverack behind and head up onto the clifftop. My coach has been spot on, by holding my position I only lose seconds here and there whilst caught in running traffic. With the momentum the early kilometres pass seamlessly before first checking in with my crew 16km in at the Lizard Point. Quick top up of water and a flapjack and we’re away. Another lesson at this point for me, if particularly thirsty don’t go for a snack that is a bit on the dry side. Let us just say I found most of the flapjack two days later stuffed down the side of my running backpack.   

All is going well. But in this sport things can change quickly. The bottom of my left foot is starting to hurt and I’m suddenly feeling more tired than I would expect so early on. This keeps on increasing as I struggle down the hill at Mullion Cove, 27km in. Not great when 133 more kilometres to go. But as one famous person once said, doing the same and expecting different results is insanity. So, as I meet my crew, change is a foot. Another top tip is preparing for any aid or crew station a couple of kilometres before so clean in your mind what you wish to achieve in a given time.

As I lay on the ground getting cramp in my left shoulder, I think ‘this has turned sour quickly’. But need to stay positive, so painkillers taken and compressor sock off. I’m sure it is causing the discomfort and is leading me to be running imbalanced which is starting to cause issues elsewhere. Big risk is how the achilles does completely exposed. But let’s try. As a march up the hill munching an avocado sandwich (don’t judge me too much) the achilles is sore, but steady, so fingers crossed. 

Great news, the change has worked a treat and I pick up pace as I come from Church Cove which is looking stunning as the sun starts to set. Onto Porthleven and the first checkpoint is complete. Time for some delicious sausages and beans, couple of cokes and a chat to the host of the livestream. How am I feeling about 8 miles of Tarmac? Pretty good as will nice to mix it up. I also touch base with my crew and my cousin who has come to say hi. 

Things are going great until I realise I’ve left my silicone cup at the checkpoint. Damn it. Quick voice note to my crew to see if they can track it down. But need to put this to the back of my mind and maintain progress. Before I know it, I’m at Marazion and meeting my crew. No sign of the cup but I have been assured by stewards that it is not an issue. So into my road trainers for this next section, another great tip as it was nice to have fresh shoes that are more suited to this terrain. 

A strong stint into Penzance, aided by running alongside a delightful runner who is trying to crack the Arc at her second attempt. A quick pit stop at check point 2 before strolling back out into the darkness with some tea. Just a mile later in Newlyn it’s time to go back into the trail runners and pick up the poles. In hindsight I wish I was putting on fresh shoes but it’s not crucial. Right, now time to take on the tough section around to Porthcurno and the Minack Theatre. I was reminded how gnarly this section was when reccing last month. I especially recommend a recce between Penzance and Lands End and then onto St Ives if you can. I was also very glad that my crew were there at Lamorna to break up the 25km section before they went to get some very well earnt sleep.            

I passed the Minnack Theatre and a little while later there I was at Lands End. Checkpoint 3 completed. I had been warned not to stay there too long. It is the highest DNF point, attributed to a tough section having been just done, a tougher section to follow and the danger of getting comfortable in the warmth. So with chilli inside me I venture back out. As I head further west I’m conscious my pace has been dropping and suddenly I’m a little nervous about the 0900 cut off at Pendeen Lighthouse. I’m reassured by my crew at Cape Cornwall and Levant that I’m all good and grateful for the reassurance.  

As I pass Pendeen I’m only just over half an hour ahead of this cutoff. I feel I had a solid race and yet, here I am, with the sweeper starting to appear in my peripheries. A reminder why this race is so hard, you have to keep going at a good pace significantly into the second half to avoid timing out. But my pace is dropping further and I’m struggling to even run the flats. Tiredness has come for me and I know I haven’t eaten enough in recent hours. A big lesson for me that I will be reflecting on and discussing in the coming weeks is where I create a downward spiral where I get tried, don’t eat enough, get more tired and on it goes. I need to push myself a bit harder in those moments to take on more food and fluids, even if it the last thing I want.   


11 kms later and I’m at Zennor. But my crew rightly say it straight: ‘Stay at this pace and it’s game over as I will time out at St Ives.’ I force down a banana and a small amount of baby food (a good trick if reluctant to eat but need something inside you) and push on. I put away the poles and tell myself lets put down everything we’ve got and just try to up the pace as much as I can. If I can make it to St Ives in time then I can strong march my way to victory. With all my will, I push away from the runners around me and take on the rocky section through to St Ives. Can I do it? I check my watch; oh you are kidding me. It has died. So now I’m running, occasionally glancing at my phone to see how I’m doing from a cut off perspective. A walker passes me telling me it’s about 3 and half miles to go. I just keep willing St Ives to appear, ironically as I had two years previously in the Arc50. Another walker tells me it’s about 2 miles now, oh how I wished I had more certainty right now. 

Then, like a holy beacon, St Ives appears. I cheer at a person in the distance, who it turns out is not my crew but who cares. I’ve made it and honestly one of my favourite ultra moments happens. I’m just to chuffed to have pulled out this section and lived to fight on from the brink. The crew and I have since admitted we both thought it was likely game over at Zennor. 

I settle down at Checkpoint 4 and alongside my beef stew and tea I sort my bag. And what appears hidden in a corner? My silicone cup was there all along and right there was the cherry on top of the cake. But no time to linger as my coach had said that it was key I didn’t linger here too long. The final cut off at Godrevy (1900) and the finish (2359) were generous but could not be taken for granted. 

As I walked out of St Ives the poles are back and the pace has dropped. Again a honest assessment at Carbis Bay from my crew, need to go faster to make sure get this across the line. They were right and I realised change was needed again. The poles were comfortable but I go faster without them. So, away they went, and time to march this home. No more drama, right?

I got through the Dunes of Doom and through Godrevy with other an hour to spare. Perfect. Honestly, I could have pushed a little harder but I was so determined not to injure myself, especially as darkness was upon me for a second time. I wanted that buckle and DNF’ing so close to the finish would be a heartbreak I didn’t want to encounter. Then before I knew it I was approaching Porthreath, which I’ve been told is pronounced Port-reath, not Por-treath which I’ve been saying for years. But more importantly just over 7km to go. At this point I was approaching a runner who was clearly struggling ahead. He was unbalanced and we were coming down a steep hill. I checked in with him and he was a fellow 100 miler. He was worried it was game over for him but more importantly I was concerned he might hurt himself further even before Portreath. So, despite his objections, I said I would stay with him. I didn’t concern myself with the race at this point, I just wanted us all to be safe.  Then from behind us I hear a call saying he was the sweeper. I had avoided the Grim Sweeper all day but he had finally caught me. That was ok, supporting others is far more important than a race. But he was saying I could go; he would aid the other runner through to Portreath and ensure he was safe. 

Again back from the brink! Right I’m marching now, through Portreath chewing a caffeine bullet to keep me focused. This is mine and no Sally’s bottom or any other valley is stopping me in the final 5km. Two valleys done and into Porthtowan, no other drama please. Oh this is ridiculous now, my headtorch has just gone out! And the last hill, the longest continuous climb of the whole race, thanks for that, cannot be done without one. I dig around, find the spare and minutes later I’m climbing the final ascent to glory. I start to hear the sounds of the finish line; it’s actually going to happen. I round the corner and there it is. I run with all my might and cross the finish line with the biggest Cheshire grin you’ve ever seen. Get in! I’ve done it and there in my hands, after 34 hours is the buckle I been thinking of for years.

As I sit here looking at said buckle, I know that only part of it is mine. A part goes to Mudcrew and their Arc Angels for providing cheer even in the depths of the night when faced by runners having a tough time. A part goes to my coaching team at Camino Coaching, whose advice and guidance every day put me in the position to be part of this sport. Penultimately my father deserves a chunk for first introducing me to hiking and the South West Coast Path, without that I think this course would be beyond me. Finally, my partner and crew for this race. Without her amazing support and love, I would never have completed this. Thank you to you all and now I’m off to rest and recuperate. Wait, The Spine Race entries start in three days, could I? Do we ultra runners never learn?    

Julain Cazorla

I dot-watched the Arc of Attrition race in January 2022 and found the whole event fascinating. I

added it to my bucket list and signed up to run it in 2023 as soon as the registrations opened in March after the race. However, after a tough end of the year, my first Spartathlon having taken a toll on my body and mind, I opted to postpone the Arc by a year when the organisers (MudCrew) mentioned it was still possible to do so. I knew it was a difficult race and wanted to be in shape when toeing the start line. History could have repeated itself, given that I ran Spartathlon again in 2023 (without the ability to postpone the Arc a second time, however), but it went better than the first time around, and I felt I was definitely ready for the Arc in 2024. The event fit well in my overall plan for the year, which had more 100 milers lined up. It’s a Western States 100 lottery qualifier (that I hope to do one day). It was also an opportunity to race on the South West Coast Path (SWCP) National Trail, having a pet project to race on all UK National Trails at some stage (that would be my 5 th ). I felt I was ready, given I had a few ultras under my belt (some longer than the Arc distance, elevation, and time-wise) and confidence in my stamina and resilience even when things go wrong during races, with no DNF (did Not Finish) on my records to date. That being said, I had no experience with UK winter ultras in cold, wet, and boggy conditions. I did train on hill and mountain trails the best I could, although in warmer and drier conditions, but I did not recce the route (and had never spent time in Cornwall, in fact) and would not be crewed. I would enjoy the challenge and the adventure and wing it a little bit. Que sera, sera.

I spent the final few days before the race reading the posts from worried people (and worries are

contagious!) on the Arc Facebook page, race reports from previous years (including from fellow

Caminos), and watching YouTube videos, with a special mention of one by Stephen Cousins on his

Film My Run channel showing the whole route and advice where it gets challenging navigation-wise. The race has no specific markings apart from the SWCP acorns and signs. Following the lead of other runners is risky. They can take a wrong turn. Others followed me during the race and must have regretted it when I got lost myself. The path is not always neat or obvious, sometimes with unexpected turns or through boulders and dunes. Keeping the sea and the cliffs to your left is good to know, but it doesn’t help much. This leaves the watch gpx for navigation. Fortunately, MudCrew spent time preparing a very accurate, up-to-date gpx. I just ensured I set my watch to a high accuracy setting (implying batteries would empty quickly and I’d have to charge it during the race). Kit-wise, the mandatory list is fairly standard for a winter ultra. I added a few items ‘just in case’, reflecting my worries about the race and the fact I was uncrewed. Consequently, my vest felt too heavy, bulky, and uncomfortable, and I’ve since made a mental note to put in extra effort to reduce the load on future races. I decided not to take poles with me, given the climbs would be sharp and short compared to mountain ultras where I needed them, with narrow paths potentially making using them cumbersome. I opted for La Sportiva Akasha II shoes. Not the fastest, but the safest I had for wet rock and muddy ground, given their excellent grip. I did not fall a single time during the race, which is very much unlike me. With hindsight, I should have taken shoes with more cushioning; these ones have moderate cushioning and felt painful after such a long distance. I arbitrarily set myself a ‘A goal’ of finishing the race in 24 hours, just because you get a black buckle if you beat that time. I knew it would be a hard one to meet, however, but A goals should always be challenging to keep you going, and when looking back at my past race results, I rarely met them. After eventful January weather, with multiple storms (including Isha and Jocelyn right before the race) and a cold spell, the forecast looked promising for race day. A little warmer, clear skies. Balmy.

I drove all the way to Cornwall, stopped by the Porthtowan Ecopark (where the race finish is) for

registration, bib, tracker, and kit check, then went straight to my hotel a few minutes’ drive away. The excitement was building up, and after going through my kit one last time, I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep. I ended up sleeping a little later than expected; the place I was staying had a bingo night right below my room, and I got distracted by the microphone saying out loud ‘124’, ‘37’, ‘Almost there, Ross!’, ‘25’,...

It’s race morning. I have a quick chat with other runners staying in the same place while I enjoy a

light breakfast with bread, jam, and coffee. One thing I learned the hard way is not to overeat before these races to avoid being bloated later on. There will be many opportunities to fuel on gels and solid food all along the race later on. I drove to the Ecopark, caught up with a few other runners I knew doing the race (including Chris Cook, who would finish 4 th in a stellar time!), spotted the favourite and would-be winner setting a new course record under 19h, Mark Darbyshire, and tagged along with Camino’s Anna Brown. Anna and I would be bus buddies on the ride organised by the race to the start in Coverack for all runners. Coverack is a sleepy fishing village with a gorgeous beachside, like so many other villages I would see along the race. The weather was gorgeous, the atmosphere was electric, and the place quickly filled up with hundreds of runners. I tried to be towards the front of the crowd behind the start line, knowing it would get congested later on, but I would still find myself with many people in front of me. After a short speech presenting some of the front runners, the countdown started with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. Then it was noon, and the race started.

The whole crowd rushed through the streets of Coverack. People on the side fired smoke flares,

creating a surreal yellow smoke atmosphere. I heard someone shouting, ‘Duh! It’s foggy today!’ and

it helped ease the nerves a little. We quickly reached the trails, forming a queue given how narrow the path was. It makes sense to be at the very front of the pack if you’re fast, have high expectations, and want to start the race at your own pace.

The rest of the day was sunny and warm enough. The scenery was beautiful, and the path was mostly a series of sharp hills up and down cliffs and coves. It made it hard for me to find a good rhythm early on in the race, and I was slower than the pace I expected to follow. I was wearing a t-shirt with arm sleeves I could pull up or down depending on the wind and temperature, and I felt comfortable. Not using poles was the right decision in this section of the race. I saw people around me struggling to use them, perhaps for lack of experience but mostly because there wasn’t any space on the sides of the path to plant them. With the legs still fresh, the technicality of the path and the sharp climbs and drops weren’t too much of an issue. We came across our first bogs and waterlogged sections; my feet got cold and wet and would unfortunately remain so for the rest of the race.

We passed car parks, where many people were meeting their crews, and where ‘Arc angels’ were

helping those uncrewed. The Arc of Attrition only has 4 check points, but in many other places along the route, volunteers in MudCrew hi-viz jackets provide nutrition and hydration needs, as well as cheering and mental support. These Arc angels, as they are called, seem to come out of nowhere and make this event rather special. Anna and I met one before the start, with her cute sausage dog, who had her doggy MudCrew hi-viz jacket. I was happy to meet her and her dog again later on in the race. There were many picture opportunities given the landscapes, including some very photogenic ponies.

All we had to do was keep the sea on our left and enjoy the sound of the waves crashing.

It was late January, therefore daylight didn’t last too long, and after running on a pebble beach, I

reached Porthleven (the first checkpoint, about 40km into the race) just before sunset. I was greeted

by ‘Arc valets’, MudCrew volunteers who greet you and run with you the hundreds of metres before

the checkpoint for a chat, making sure you’re fine and asking you if you have specific needs (food or medical) for the checkpoint. I had never experienced that in previous races. The Arc atmosphere is special and unique! I knew arriving at the checkpoint in daylight was good, but I also knew that I hadn’t been fast enough so far. If I maintained the same speed, I would finish the race well under 24 hours, but I knew the harder part of the route was still ahead and that I would slow down just from fatigue. I pushed these thoughts away and enjoyed warm fries, a nice change from the gels, sweets, and flapjacks I’d been eating so far. Shortly after leaving the checkpoint, it was getting darker, and it was time to put on the headlamp. I didn’t feel like putting on another layer yet; it seemed that the south coast portion of the Arc had its own, warmer climate, and the path was relatively protected from the wind. I still needed to put my gloves on nonetheless. I was happy to start this section. I always enjoy running at night; the senses get heightened, and you get an impression (unfortunately, just an impression) of speed given that visual clues are much closer. While it felt good to run in the dark, I came across more bogs, more mud, and more sharp inclines and drops, and while my legs were still in decent shape, my feet and ankles

started hurting. It would get worse until the end.

There is a long concrete section around Penzance. People tend to dread it in race reports, and you hear those with crews changing into road shoes for it. I had dismissed that, given that I also like running on road, and was actually looking forward to it, hoping it would be easier on my ankles. Big mistake. Running on road felt ridiculously slow and was painful, given the shoes I was wearing and the damage I had already done to my feet. Other runners bouncing around with fresh shoes passed me, and I felt very envious of them. The road section was longer than I expected, and all I wanted then was to reach the second checkpoint in Penzance (about 65km into the race) and have a break. Once I got there (again with the assistance of an Arc valet), I felt a little better and cheered on some of the other runners, who, like me, were still wearing muddy trail shoes.

100km to go—that's what I was thinking after leaving Penzance. There was still a bit of road, but I knew I would start the hardest, most technical section of the race that would take me the rest of the night. More cliffs, coves, bogs, mud, river streams, and waterfalls, some scrambling, a path that would often disappear in the rocks. But the atmosphere was fantastic, with the moonlight and the stars for company. I saw animals running off the path; one looked like a beaver. I could spot the headlamps and taillights from the other runners, occasionally spending time with one or two others but being on my own most of the time.

The only respite in that section would be the third checkpoint at Land’s End (90km into the race). It

was only just past midnight when I got there, but I knew I had just failed the 24-hour target. No black buckle for me, but a golden instead (for those finishing under 30 hours) if I didn’t make any serious mistakes till the end. Although I felt frustrated about that, I also felt more relaxed and decided I’d take my time and continue keeping it safe from then on. I sat down and enjoyed some warm food and chicken soup. I changed my headlamp battery; the light had started fading, and the night was still young. Being in Land’s End was exciting given its geographical significance in Britain and because of the LEJOG/JOGLE challenges, which gave it some mystique. I left the checkpoint, saw the ‘First and Last House’, thought I had to go to the other end of the country (John O’ Groats) someday, and carried on.

I passed Pendeen and Zennor, that many people doing the race seem to be worried about but that I personally enjoyed. The race really felt like an adventure; it felt rugged and remote. It was also

getting very technical. I grazed my knees while bouldering, and for a minute I was worried I would

get into trouble when I saw blood in the same spot I had split my knee open after falling while racing UTMB a few months before. But it was just a worry. After Land’s End, the north coast is more

exposed to the wind, and I started shivering. I put on an extra layer. I did get lost a few times despite the gpx, but the biggest issue I had by then was fatigue and feeling sleepy. I could have easily lied down on the side for a nap, but I didn’t. Although I enjoyed the night, I was looking forward to daylight, knowing it would wake me up. The sky turned gray, and dawn finally arrived as I was reaching St. Ives, the final checkpoint (128km or so into the race). The rest of the race would be less technical and flatter, but still a challenge given the state of my feet and ankles. I felt there was gravel in my shoes. I tried to empty them, but the sensation remained. I found out later that it was because my feet were in such poor shape that I would keep feeling pins and needles regardless. I spent some time at the checkpoint enjoying more warm

food and chatting with the volunteers, and then it was time to go for a final effort. Just about a

marathon till the end! But it would be a very long one.

Out of St. Ives, the path was easy to run; I just wish I had fresh legs and feet that didn’t hurt. After a

few miles going around the Hayle estuary, it was time to enjoy another section of the route I had

heard a lot about—the Dunes of Doom. Although there are stones with acorn signs to show the way, it’s easy to miss them and get lost in these dunes. Again, the gpx saved the day. I got more sand in my shoes, which really hurt (literally like running on sandpaper), but I carried on, knowing every step would take me closer to the finish. The rest of the route followed the North Cliffs. It was still undulating, but the path was an easy one, being relatively clean or with gravel. A place that would have been perfect for a run with road shoes. But the pain in my ankles was too strong, and all I could do was shuffle with a few walking breaks. I knew I would just have to pass the village of Porthreath and finally reach the last one before the finish, Porthtowan. I spotted a colony of seals down the cliffs on the way while I was counting the hills, always hoping the villages were right behind the next hill (but often not, and another hill would show up instead). There would still be some sharp descents and climbs with steps way too big for my small legs (and I thought the recently refurbished Box Hill ones were too tall already). They were likely similar to others done in the night section, but seeing in daylight the incline we had to climb was impressive. I had already overshot the 100-mile distance on my watch by a few kilometers and really wanted it all to be over. Reaching Porthreath gave me one last wind. Race marshals showed me the way to the final hill to climb. I knew about that one but didn’t mind, knowing the finish line was right at the top. That final hill didn’t have any stairs, fortunately. I reached the Ecopark, followed the signs to the finish, and crossed the MudCrew arch. I had completed the Arc of Attrition, 26h25, 167km, and over 5,000m elevation on my watch. The MudCrew team greeted me with a huge gold buckle. I felt chuffed, victorious, and relieved.

The medical team checked out on me, and I saw how bad my feet were after one final effort to remove my shoes and socks. Behind the mud, they were drenched, and my soles were blistered and burning like crazy. I swore myself I’d use waterproof socks on all boggy ultras in the future. I felt lightheaded as I started relaxing and my blood pressure was dropping fast. I got more help from the medics and lied down with my feet up to keep the blood going into my brain. I was a little worried, having experienced it once after my second Spartathlon finish, when I ended up needing IVs, but the light-headedness feeling eventually went away. Sustaining effort for so many hours takes its toll. After feeding, resting, and getting the all-clear from the medics, I left for my hotel to enjoy a hot bath and some well-deserved sleep.

The Arc of Attrition race name hints at what you’re in for. Your energy and focus will be

under constant strain, and your task will be to keep enough of them to last until the finish line. Many

won’t make it. Out of the 362 people toeing the start line this year, the DNF rate was 40%. It’s brutal, technical, and uncomfortable but also scenic and beautiful, with an amazing crowd of runners, supporters, and volunteers. MudCrew has created a fantastic event. As I was driving back to London the following day, I was already missing these trails. There are some races I’m happy to leave behind. This one will likely draw me back. Maybe on the 50-mile version (covering the second half, so I could see in daylight what I missed during the night section), or maybe the full 100 miles again.

Get in touch with us for a discovery call if you are thinking of coaching for the Arc in 2025!

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