Yesterday morning I found myself sneaking off of our campsite just before 5am, leaving my wife and kids to lay-in and then strike camp while I did something a lot less sensible. I was off to run the Puretrail Tsunami Ultra marathon. The weather forecast was wall to wall sunshine, and before I knew it I was on the Puretrail bus to Westward Ho and the start of the race.
As usual I will write a bit about the race itself, before going through my experience of the day.
The Puretrail Tsunami Races consist of an ultra marathon, marathon and 16 miler. They are point to point, the starts are staggered and they all finish in Bude. This presents some logistical challenges for Puretrail to get everyone to their various starts. Puretrail hired a bus+driver to help with this, and from my perspective it worked well. I chatted with the bus driver, a friendly chap, who wondered what kind of nutters sign up to do something as bonkers as race along the north Devon and Cornwall coastal path.
The ultra started from Westward Ho at 7am. The marathon started from Clovelly at 9am and the sixteen miler started from Hartland Quay at 10.30am.
As a competitor the atmosphere of the race was very relaxed. It was also very well organised, and the fact that the organisers are also avid runners was evident. I found the checkpoints to be excellent and perfectly stocked. The largest gap between checkpoints was 7 miles, and the smallest was 2.5. The mix of fruit (watermelon and oranges mainly), sweets and savouries was great. There was also plenty of water which was really important on such a hot day.
The event staff were all cheerful and helpful. There were also a lot of supporters on the route, some there to support loved ones in the race and others that just happened to be in the area and had been sucked in by the general craziness of it all.
The route was technical and challenging, made much worse by the heat of the day. Broadly speaking the first few miles of the ultra are tough, with lots of short sharp climbs, the route is then more rolling before the brutality of the last 15 miles. We were continuously dropping down steep paths into valleys and then climbing back out again. In those valleys the air was still and the sun relentless.
The finish was just perfect. It was on the grass in front of Bude Castle, and there were lots of people around. It felt great to finish to a loud cheer. Unfortunately I was so tired that I forgot to take a picture of it. You can have one of the medal instead.
I turned up to the Puretrail Tsunami Races thinking that they wouldn’t be too much trouble. Sure the course would be hilly and it would be a long day out with the course being nearly 60km. I’m used to hills though, so I didn’t think too much about it. What I didn’t respect enough on this occasion was the heat, and that changed my day considerably. I’ll wind back a bit though as my day started 3 hours prior to the 7am start when I was sneaking about our very tiny tent trying not to disturb my wife and kids.
When I first planned on coming to the Puretrail Tsunami Races I was going to come along and camp by myself, but the weather forecast was so beautiful that I dragged the family along too. It was nice to have them at the camp site. The kids got to run around while we setup camp and prepared dinner. Before we knew it we were all in our sleeping bags and playing Uno. It only seemed like a few minutes later when I was rolling up my sleeping bag and stuffing it into its sack. I’m normally an early-bird, but this was silly even by my standards. I still managed to brew up a decent coffee and throw some granola down my throat though.
Just before 5am I walked quietly out of the campsite and the 1.6 miles to Bude Castle. Registration took just a moment and I was on the bus and chatting with the driver at about 5:40am. I was the first one on to make sure that I got a seat near the front. I don’t travel particularly well on buses and at this point I was more worried about the bus ride than the race!
The journey to the start was uneventful and we arrived with a few minutes to spare.
When we started it felt quit relaxed, but about 12 or so people gradually started pulling away from me. It was fairly flat, but that didn’t last long. Check this out. It is the route profile and while the hills aren’t big they were steep and plentiful. Barely any time could be made up on most of the descents.
After a few miles of grinding uphill and picking my way down I suddenly hit a wide open trail called “The Hobby” which took me all the way to Clovelly. This was lovely and gave me the chance to make some time up. We had spent a lot of time under trees and I was bang on my target pace. I was eating, drinking and generally looking after myself.
When I got to Clovelly it was just a few minutes after the marathon had started. I paused at the aid station to switch from solids to liquid energy, and make sure that my water bottle was topped up. On the next section I caught a bunch of marathon runners. Most of them were running together to raise money, and they all stepped to one side on the steep technical descent to let me through. At the same time they gave a big cheer which they were doing to all the ultra runners that were passing them. It was awesome 🙂
Going up the next hill I started to feel a bit squiffy. I had pushed a bit hard on the ascent, so I slowed down a little to let my heart rate recover. I was now in the full glare of the sun, and remained in it for much of the rest of the day. As I got hotter and hotter I found it hard to eat. Each aid station became a mini oasis of fruit and water to look forwards to. I had to slow right down and the rest of the day became all about heat management. I had to stay hydrated, keep popping the electrolytes and keep moving forwards. I messaged my wife a few times to let her know that I would be finishing later than planned.
Along the way there were some beautiful views.
Despite the heat the route didn’t feel too bad until a mile or so after Hartland Quay. All of a sudden it was just one steep and deep valley after another. Each one felt like a slap in the face. Every time I popped up I would see endless hills and valleys stretching out in front of me along the coast. I just kept bringing my attention back to the one that I was on. Get down this hill. Right, now get up that hill. Repeat! Grinding onwards in the heat, sipping every couple of minutes from my water bottle. I tried to keep poking food in, but in the heat my stomach barely took anything and kept threatening to bring it all back up. Occasionally my thoughts would wander to the satellite dishes at Coombe. I expected to see them from some way off, but they took ages to appear. When they did it still took a long time to get to them.
Once I got to the satellite dishes Bude came in to sight, but it wasn’t to be all plain sailing. I could see the coastline rising and falling all the way to Bude. Oh well. One foot in front of the other. I had a race to finish. I crept forwards, trying to look like I had a semblance of form every time a photographer popped out of the scenery. At this point I was running with a couple of others. We weren’t purposely staying with each other, but we seemed to keep coming back together. It was lovely to meet both of you and really nice to have people to talk to when things were getting a bit desperate for all of us.
As we ran into Bude, past the lovely looking sea pool, it was weird to be surrounded by normal people again. I’m sure they were probably wondering what the smell was. I ran the final 100 yards in fine form, past the crowd reclining and cheering on the grass in front of the castle. I tried to look strong to the finish, even finding the energy to wave to my wife, but was sabotaged by my left calf which tried to cramp as I entered the finishing chute. A brief stager and I got control of it, crossed the line and came to a dead stop while they gave me my medal.
No matter which of the Tsunami Races you were in it took a lot to get to the finish line, and I felt totally humble when people saw the “ultra” on my race number and made an even bigger thing of it.
Massive thank you to all of the marshals and race supporters. You were all brilliant and helped to make the day really special. Thanks also to Puretrail for laying on a corker of a race and organising it so well. Here are a few more pics.