David Dicks, of Penrith-based running club Eden Runners, who tackled the 100-mile Arc of Attrition Race in Cornwall on Friday 1st February, was expecting a gruelling physical challenge and a sleepless night. What he wasn’t expecting was a snow-filled nightmare journey adding an additional dose of arduous sleep deprivation to this onerous task.
Every competitive athlete, from pro to amateur, knows the critical value of race preparation. There are the many months of long hours spent training with physical demand to achieve the performance and result you are looking for. Alongside this, consideration has been given to the pre-race routine focusing on strategies for a restful and stress-free experience to ensure peak performance on the day. Put simply, pre-race is often as important as the race itself, particularly where the mind and mental aptitude are fundamental to success – as is the case in any ultra-marathon.
David (48) was no different in this regard. Having competed in many ultra-marathons including the Arc two times previous, he knew the necessity of good mental strategy and good sleep. Armed with two of Eden Runners’ finest support crew, his partner Joanne May, and friend Carolyn Burns, they headed off from Greystoke on Thursday morning. Expecting, as with the two previous times, to arrive in Porthtowan at 4:30pm. From there the plan was to register an hour later, sort out his kit, head to the local Inn for adequate nutrition and be back, relaxed, and tucked up in bed for 10pm.
Given the brutal weather that battered the UK this weekend, particularly in South West England, this wasn’t to be. Snow showers hit the A30 at 3pm, slowing traffic and critically causing a three-lorry Jacknife which brought traffic to a standstill.
As darkness fell, and having been stuck for 2 hours David recalls; “Now we realised we wouldn’t make registration, wouldn’t make tea, and the hot-tub had cooled down!”
From there the situation continued to deteriorate. With inadequate supplies to cover that evenings meal in the car, the trio were forced to start on supplies intended for the next day’s race – delivering another mental blow to such well-considered prep. Munching on cold hot-cross buns and cheeselets, and with Carolyn joking the ‘Percy Pigs are being rationed’ they continued to remain stranded alongside many other motorists.
Eventually freed from the icy motorway grid-lock by police and snow-ploughs, David and his support team made it to their lodgings just after 2am Friday morning – almost 11 hours later than planned. Stressed, tried and cramped from the confinements of such a long car journey there was time only for a very quick kit-sort and eggs on toast before bed. Rising at 7am David was faced with the grim reality of a 100mile trail race on a minimal 3 hours sleep.
The Raidlight race, is a point-to-point extreme coastal path race in Cornwall in harsh winter conditions. Officially billed as 100miles it covers a whopping minimum 12030 ft (4010m) of elevation and is no small under-taking – accounting for 5 qualifying points for UTMB – the pinnacle ultra-trail marathon held in Chamonix.
As the race got under-way the weather improved though the sunlit photos do little to convey the harsh winter realities of freezing temperatures, icy ground and bitterly cold winds. Struggling with extreme fatigue David was contemplating dropping out at Zennor. However, through his powerful determination and magnificent tough-love support crew, he continued. ‘Basically, I was told they wouldn’t let me get in the car!’, he said.
The mens race was won by fellow Cumbrian Athlete, and former Eden Runner, Kim Collison who is now a Raidlight and Mountain Fuel sponsored athlete. Setting an astonishing new course record, Kim made it home in 20 hours and 43 minutes, further cementing his name amongst the UK’s greatest distance trail runners. David came in at 33 hours and 18 minutes earning himself a belt buckle, chance to enter UTMB next year and a very well-earned rest.
Of the race he said: “To say I’m chuffed is an understatement. Considering at one point the day before I thought I would still be stuck on the A30 when the race started. I can’t believe I have started and finished on 3 hours sleep.
“What a brutal race! It is my third time doing this and it doesn’t get any easier. In fact, with the added uphill to the finish it is definitely harder this year!”
David added; “Massive, massive thanks to the best support crew. Joanne and Carolyn are the best and I know they had a big hand in getting me to the finish line. Also, thanks to the race organisers and marshals, especially at the well-stocked and much needed feed stations!
“As a last word on this, it was brutal, the last 10 miles were the hardest 10 miles I’ve ever run, but one statistic that makes it even better is knowing that this year, the drop out was almost 60%.”