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Taking on the Arc of Attrition

Arc of Attrition
Sutton Strider Richard Thomas taking on the 100-mile Arc of Attrition ultra-marathon

Sutton Striders ultra runner Richard Thomas is no stranger to mega-endurance events, having run some of the UK's most challenging races at distances up to 100 miles.

In February, he took on arguably his toughest challenge yet - the 100-mile Arc of Attrition around the most southwesterly tip of the Cornish coast. He's how he got on.

Richard Thomas - Arc of Attrition

"Having run 100 miles a few times now,  I’m always looking at different events for my next challenge, so I stuck my name on the waiting list for the Arc of Attrition. A race I knew nothing about apart from its 100 miles (actually 103); it’s in Cornwall, and the weather can be [expletive]!!

I was offered a place in October and I quickly handed over my money. I mean, why wouldn’t I? It’s a hundred miles, and I can do that, right??

I did little prep for the race in terms of research. I knew it followed the South West Coast Path (SWCP) and started and finished in different places. All I had to do was turn up, stay on the path and get to the finish!!

Route of the 100-mile Arc of Attrition
Route of the 100-mile Arc of Attrition

The week before, I watched a few videos of the course, and then it dawned on me the huge effort it’s gonna take to make the tight checkpoint cut-offs, let alone finish!!  The path looked so beautiful in places and horrendous in others. Even my kids started to joke, "Oh look, that’s where daddy will fall off a cliff!!" I now started to sh*t myself. Anyway, a week later I’m registered and raring to go.

Nerves had turned to excitement, and the weather on the Friday was perfect.

At 12pm, the gun went off, and we were off. 

Nearly 400 eager runners started on their journey. We began in glorious sunshine, although it was cold. There were quite a few bottlenecks in the first few miles, so it was difficult to get into a rhythm.

Looking at the stunning Cornish scenery made up for it. I was grateful for this later on, as when I was running, looking up at the scenery became impossible due to watching the trail and thinking about where to land my feet.

Lizard Point was stunning, and a massive crowd was cheering everyone on. It gave me goosebumps.

The first checkpoint in Porthleven was at 24 miles, and it had just turned dark. I spent 10 minutes eating, topping up bottles, and getting the headtorch on before venturing back out onto the SWCP in the dark.

It just got real!!

If it weren’t for having the route on my watch, I’d have been lost.

The terrain is relentless and the constant hills battered my legs.

I slipped on the soggy heathland, which hurt my right knee. I battled on and hobbled into Penzance and the 40-mile checkpoint. The medic looked at my knee and told me I should consider retiring. My response was, "Can you fix me, please? I’m not bailing at 40 miles!!!" She worked her magic and off into the night I went again. My knee felt good, and I ran for most of the next leg to Lands End.

Now 54 miles and at around 02:30 am, it was time to eat, change some clothes, have a good stretch and head back out into the cold, dark morning. The trails are much harder to follow, but the light from the full moon helped a little. There were a few times I was running on the cliff edges, and all I could think about was what my kids had said about falling off. Running through the night is ace, and weirdly, tiredness doesn’t really hit you until about 5am. It’s a struggle for a bit and your eyes want to close, but you carry on. Then when the sun rises, and it’s light again, you don’t feel tired.

The one section I was worried about was the 13-mile stretch from Pendeen through Zennor and on to St Ives. Everyone had talked about how tough it was, and you’d be lucky to get 3mph. It was as tough as they said and some more.

Steep climbs, large boulders, mud, stairs and more soggy heathland. That section alone took me 5 hours and at one low point, I sat on a rock by the cliff edge, ate some roast potatoes and asked myself why the f*ck I was doing this!! I pulled myself together and cracked on into St Ives.

This was the last main checkpoint, and I’d got through the hardest part of the course. There was no way I wasn’t going to finish this race. I ate well, filled my bottles, and left. The next section was nice and runnable until I reached Hayle and the Dunes of Doom. Running across sand dunes at 85 miles isn’t funny, and I was glad to see the back of them. I was back on the rugged coastal path now, and it was a bit of a slog for the next few miles.

I’d then worked out I had just over 2 hours to get 9 miles done to finish in 30 hours and get that Gold buckle. What I hadn’t factored into that was the biggest climbs were in the last 4 miles. I picked up the pace and ticked off more miles. I was on target to finish and then I had nothing in the tank. Every bit of energy seemed to disappear. Walking was all I had left. The light faded to darkness and I was getting close. The finish was at the top of one last climb. It seemed to take forever, and then there it was. The finish!! I can’t put into words the emotions I was feeling.

Sutton Strider Richard Thomas finishes the Arc of Attrition
Sutton Strider Richard Thomas finishes the Arc of Attrition

Totally exhausted and overwhelmed. I’d finished the AoA on my first attempt. The hardest UK winter Ultramarathon. Not in the 30 hours I wanted, but still well happy with 30hr 58m."

Thanks Richard, incredible running and incredible write up - Well done!!



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