Classic Quarter, Lizard to Lands End, In Memory Of Sarah


Classic Quarter Endurance Life Event, Cornwall
Saturday 25 May
In memory of Sarah Smith!
“The task is brutally simple: to run non-stop from the southernmost point of England (Lizard Point), to the western most tip (Lands End), along the legendary South West Coast Path. This translates to running 90 degrees of the compass, hence the name, Classic Quarter.
This Cornwall ultra marathon challenge can be undertaken as a solo, relay team of two or relay of four. The atmosphere is of keen and friendly rivalry.
Following 44 miles of the mesmerising South West Coast Path there are innumerable steep climbs and descents. This is the ultimate trail runner’s rush, with spectacular exposure and challenging terrain all just a stone’s throw away from the potentially pounding Atlantic swells. There is also the unpredictable weather to contend with; every runner must be well prepared, both mentally and physically.”
– From Endurance Life’s website.
This was a challenge that appealed greatly back in autumn last year and was an ideal opportunity to meet up with friends Izabela and Jason Underwood since their move down to Bristol and our, recently departed friend, former Valley Strider, Sarah Smith, since her move down to Guernsey.
The relay team was perfect for Jason and Izabela and me, full of misplaced confidence, was up for solo. Sarah had far too many races and events pencilled in for May and June so she couldn’t commit but ummed and ahed into the winter until that terrible illness, cancer, made its devastating presence felt!
We committed three signed up and booked pitches on a campsite in Sennen, close to the race finish at Lands End and looked forward in anticipation!
I had some niggling injuries that impacted on my running but had a full calendar of races leading up to the Quarter. Northumberland Trail Marathon in February went well but came away with knee pains that stopped me running the Haworth Hobble in March. I managed to get myself in some sort of running shape to enter Heptonstall later in March. That went well, until at the bottom of the first descent, I took my eye off the ball, and took a heavy roll of the ankle and face planted. I was in agony! Luckily this descent was close to the road and event marshals and was bundled back to race HQs very quickly. I limped back to my car aware my ankle was swelling alarmingly quickly and unsure what to do. I felt confident that I still had good control of the ankle (the right ankle) to safely press down on the brake pedal so decided to head for home pdq.
By the morning it was hugely swollen and bruised down to the toes and up towards the knee. A visit to Harrogate A&E confirmed there was no fracture but “just” a bad sprain, so to the physio it was. A classic grade 2 ATFL ankle sprain and a more problematic high ankle sprain. I agreed with him that Manchester Marathon a couple of weeks away was not realistic and he laughed out loud when I asked if attempting the 3 peaks race at the end of April was a possibility! I was also down to run a leg in the Calderdale Way Relay in mid May and with a heavy heart I had to withdraw from that too.
The Classic Quarter was starting to look increasingly unlikely to happen!
I religiously and obsessively did all the rehab work prescribed and, possibly unwisely, started to put in a few short runs. The running was painful so I was not able to progress much further than a couple of miles each time. Mid May came with the Quarter getting ever closer. I had a few days with friends over in the Lakes in Wasdale and had a grand plan to traverse the Lakes with a fast walk from west to east over every ridge line possible and end up at Windermere, as a way to toughen up the ankle. I had to scale back that plan after the first day over the Scafell Massif realising my ankle was nowhere near strong or stable enough to cope with more rocky descents. I got to Patterdale on the second day and decided it was unsafe to to put my ankle and, at this point, my knees through any further stress so it was the bus over Honnister to Windermere.
Classic Quarter now just two weeks away and another session with the physio. I told him I was still wanting to do the Quarter whilst he was working on my tight calf muscles. I had the distinct impression the pressure on the muscles went up a few notches and I heard a resigned groan. Not really a wise plan he told me but I assured him I would keep to a pace that was just above the cut off pace and pull out if the ankle pain became severe. You’d better make another appointment he said!
So, having braved the bank holiday traffic migration down to the far tip of Cornwall, I found myself sitting nervously on the transfer coach from Lands End to the race start at the Lizard in the early morning darkness not knowing how this would pan out!
The sunrise welcomed us to the Lizard and even in my half awake state I was stunned by what a magically beautiful setting this was for a race start!
I had a quick chat with Jason at the starting area but missed seeing Izabela due to set off 45 minutes after the solo 6.30am start. We were off – along a cliff top path high above the sea, but at a snail’s pace in order to negotiate a few stiles in the first half mile or so. The slow pace wouldn’t normally have concerned me but I feared that I would be chasing the cut off times at each Checkpoint. The event website emphasised that “this is not a walking event!” and I reckoned I’d have to maintain at least a 15 minute per mile pace in the first half to give myself some margin of safety not to be timed out in the latter stages. Thankfully the field spread out over some stunning high level, very undulating, cliff top trails before a steep drop down into Mullion Cove to reach the first cp 7 miles in. My pace, surprisingly, was well below 15mins/mile, mostly because I was able to run the descents, becoming increasingly more confident that my ankle would not collapse. This pace continued through the next two checkpoints, in and out of beautiful secluded coves, up and over dramatic headlands and weaving through holidaymakers thronging the picturesque fishing villages! It was apparent though, after 14 miles at that third cp, Porthleven, my lack of running in the last 3 months or so was starting to tell and there was still 30 miles to the finish at Lands End! At least 8.4 miles to the next cp at Perranuthnoe was something I could get my head around so off I trudged around the harbour munching my way through a packet of salted crisps. The ups and downs became relentless and progress became torturous along the paths overgrown with vegetation! My pace was slowing alarmingly as both fatigue and pain and soreness in my ankle intensified. My miracle wish was to finish but my realistic plan A was to run as far as Penzance and catch a bus back to Lands End. However a more realistic plan B had to be formulated that would see me finish at Perranuthnoe, the next cp, which just happened to be where Izabela would be passing the baton onto Jason. My fingers were crossed I could get a lift back with Izabela to Lands End and see Jason finish. I calculated that, with my 45 minute head start on Izabela, we would finish quite close together but with 5 miles still to go she caught up with me absolutely fizzing with the runner’s high. I arranged my lift with her and she was gone in a veritable puff of smoke, wanting to give Jason as much time to get his leg done in the rain forecast for later in the day. The speed with which she left me behind made me regret saying I wouldn’t be too long finishing after you, as it turned out to be almost half hour after her finish in 4hrs 50mins. My finish of 6hrs 3mins was 12 minutes inside the cut off time. No one went on to finish the full 44 miles who got to Perranuthnoe after me (not that there were many!) so I’m relieved to have avoided that purgatory of trudging along the 5 miles of Penzance pavements!
On fresh legs Jason had picked up the baton from Izabela and made light work of the 7 to 8 miles of tarmac through Marazion, Penzance, Newlyn and the climb out of Mousehole to regain the highly technical coastal trails to the finish.
Their team “For Sarah” finished in a time of 9hrs 30mins, 49th out of 87 teams starting.
Peter Le Grice won the solo event in 6hrs 45mins out of 249 finishers. I was one of the 50 to DNF.
A glance through the results back to 2013 suggest that I’m the only Vet 70 to have attempted this event never mind to finish. I must go back with better fitness another year to tame this beast!
Highly recommended!