Running 100 Miles: The Arc of Attrition

Head of Rehab and ultra-runner, Dawn Nunes, reflects on her experience taking on the UK’s hardest winter 100-miler race along the Cornish coastline, the Arc of Attrition.

Race day started at 6am. I grabbed some breakfast then headed to the Eco centre for the 8:45am meet. 

The centre was busy and buzzing with my fellow runners, event staff and supporters, all getting ready for the busses’ departure to take us to the starting point of the Arc of Attrition. 

There was a cool breeze that morning, so we were all thankful for the covering. But even with the weather trying to dampen our spirits, the energy grew and grew. 

I triple checked my gear and then decided to look out for people that I’d connected with via social media who were also documenting their event prep and training. It was wonderful to meet them all in person after cheering them on in their training virtually! 

The buses seemed to take an age to arrive, but we thought that we would rather wait at the Eco centre than in Coverack in case the weather turned icy. Luckily, the cool breeze had been joined by glorious blue skies which gave us all a little boost. 

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The Start Line #

Finally, the buses arrived, and we hopped on. On route I enjoyed talking with a fellow runner, about all things running, our border collies, our expectations of the race and how lucky we were with the weather. 

Next thing I knew the buses were pulling up in the narrow Coverack parking area. We had arrived. 

We unloaded and I headed for the toilets; there was an advantage to being female because there are fewer of us in the race so for once, I didn’t have to wait to use the toilet! 

That sorted, I headed out and just soaked everything in. The buzz, the nervous chatter, the energy, and excitement. Looking around I saw a fellow runner with beautiful pink fairy wings – my own being rainbow coloured. 

We had a 45-minute wait which was just enough time to take it all in. 

I decided to wait at the back, but if I were to take on this challenge again, I would start in the middle of the pack.

The countdown started with us bursting through with a 321 goooooo’!

The race began with a downhill stretch on road, and we were all bunched up with coloured flares being set off either side of the sea of runners. As beautiful as it was the flares did get into my lungs a bit.

But I had no time to worry about that. The race I had been preparing for for months had begun and I wasn’t going to let anything get in my way.

I headed for the seaside to look at the coast for the first time and it was breath taking.

The next 7 miles were extremely slow going. Lots of ups and downs and mud with back-to-back people, many not confident to go a little faster on the technical terrain. I took this opportunity to look out at the blue sea and ravishing coastline.

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Soon after the 7‑mile mark it opened up and I got going and managing to overtake quite a few runners. I was running to feel, not pace, and felt quite comfortable in the pace I had set. Soon afterwards I joined a group which was going at a really good pace, which I felt I could keep up with, so I did. 

A few runners had a crew with them. I didn’t have this kind of support with me so when I came to any stops I would rely on the wonderful volunteers, appropriately called the Arc Angels, to grab a top up of water and then carry on as the group reformed. I found running in a group like this incredibly encouraging and motivating. 

My strategy was very much run while I can at a good pace, especially on the road sections, so I make good time. Then the tight deadline will be less stressful later on’. 

I was hoping to make the first check point before dark at Porthleven, which I did! 

There I made a quick stop, tried to eat the delicious food they had to offer – from pizzas to noodles to chips – but unfortunately I couldn’t get much down. This was already 40km into the race, so I was conscious that I needed to keep fuelling. 

The Night Sections #

You might be surprised to hear that I love the night sections. 

As we left I carried on along the road and headed back up on to the trail. This section is the shortest and had a lot of runnable’ stretches on road and non-technical trail, so I made the most of it. 

The main area of the race I remember was Marazion where I realised I was parallel to the path I needed to be on – so I quickly made the adjustment and was back on track. 

The group I was in previously had dispersed with runners choosing different paces etc, so by this stage I had been running by myself for most of the race. I had my music playing and thankfully found a great rhythm. 

The section before the second check point at Penzance, has a long tar section and I was actually looking forward to it. I made good time passing a few runners, but I could feel my feet were not very happy. I took the opportunity to get my feet looked at and pulled out the Hyperfix to sort them out. 

I had a lot of hot spots on the balls of my feet and heels and my little toes were starting to blister. It took longer than I wanted but I knew I needed to address these issues if I wanted my feet to last the rest of the journey. 

I also ate and restocked at the aid station, adding some much-needed coke cola to my bag, and I bumped in to my friend, Anthony, which I was surprised at because I expected him to be further ahead of me. I was pleased because it meant I was making good time. 

Out I went with my new found motivation, being met by more road but this time, uphill. I had anticipated that I might get lost in the Mousehole section as my watch only had breadcrumbs’ rather than a full map. Another lesson I’ve learned for any future long-distance events – get a more substantial navigation tool. 

To get around this, I would either wait for a fellow runner to ask them directions if it was split, or I kept an eye out for acorns which were a sign showing me to the south west coast path. I was getting good at spotting these! 

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After running alone I was pleased to find myself in a group once again as we navigated our way through Mousehole. A beautiful little town with windy streets. 

I was still feeling strong, and I pushed myself when I could but from Lamorna the terrain changed. Not to worry though, due to my thorough planning, I was expecting this. For me, this is where the fun began. 

This race had gone from runnable roads and trails to deep bogs and technical trail. I loved it! 

There were rocks we had to cross but, luckily, it was easy to see where to go as the front runners had left a clear and helpful path of footprints. 

During this section, I ran with others on and off depending on our paces and when they aligned. All runners have different strengths. For example, I was more confident and faster on the downhills, while others power hiked harder than I did. 

I had briefly forgotten about the Minack steps but was abruptly reminded as I began to climb the famously steep steps. 

Carrying on I made my way to Lands’ End and what a sight! 

There was a gorgeous, welcoming building with massive tables and the amazing Arc angels waiting to help you with whatever you needed. As I didn’t have a crew, I was allowed to have a drop bag at one of the check points and this was where I decided to leave mine. 

So, I grabbed my bag and tried to eat but my mind was on my feet – I needed to get them sorted out first as I could feel they were rapidly getting worse. 

Luckily for my toes, there was a brilliant medic on site who helped me. They lanced the blisters on my little toe and bandaged up the rest of my feet the best they could. I also changed my shoes and socks as well as my tops. 

Again, this stop took longer than I wanted it to, but it was necessary to give my feet a fighting chance. 

The Ups and Downs, Highs and Lows #

I knew this next section was going to be the toughest and longest section between check points and I was becoming very aware of the looming deadline to arrive at St Ives. 

So, I pulled out my poles and focused on the fact that the sun would be coming up soon, and I’d get to enjoy a beautiful sunrise with an even better view. 

By this point I was well over half way to finishing the 100-miler race, my feet were a mess, but I kept going. I ran the flats and downhills as much as I could, but unfortunately from Pendeen I lost the plot. To be honest, I was almost waiting for it to happen. I felt sorry for myself, every step was like walking on glass and I missed people and the support of my family and friends. 

Then I remembered something magical. My brother had recorded some WhatsApp voice notes for me for this exact moment. They were from a few friends and family encouraging me to keep going!’, Grab that buckle!’, and You’ve got this!’. 

The emotion bubbled up inside of me and I had a good cry. Everything I had trained for, all the hard work and long hours, the planning, preparation, the mental training, and now the incredible love and support from my nearest and dearest, it all came to ahead and I had to let it out. It was incredibly hard, but when I heard those messages, I felt full of joy and happiness, and they gave me a well needed second wind. 

I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and start making good decisions. So, I stopped to eat something more substantial as I had started to feel my energy fading. This worked and I carried on feeling well fuelled. 

In my renewed state I continued on past Zennor. Loads of runners were over taking me as my feet had become so painful I was no longer able to run the down hills. 

I then had a really dark moment. I was calculating times and realised that there was a chance I may not make the St Ives cut off. So, I decided that my feet were going to have to suck it up! I then ran every downhill from Zennor to St Ives. My feet hurt like crazy, but I relied on the poles and just kept going, one foot in front of the other.

As we came to St Ives I found myself running with a small group that had formed, and I knew that I was going to make it. It might be close, but I was going to make it.

The day was again glorious with the sun shining brightly. It was tricky navigating the town but before I knew it the Arc Valet was coming to fetch us and show us in to the check point for a well needed break and refuel.

All I remember is sitting down and crying. The relief was all consuming. I was spent, but so happy that I’d made it this far.

After a few deep breaths I was able to enjoy my surroundings. So many incredible human beings, encouraging each other, sharing a few stories of the experience so far, all over a delicious bowl of stew.

I didn’t stay long though. I filled up my bottles, unloaded all the extra food in my pack that I knew I wasn’t going to eat and made my way back out, knowing it was going to be a long walk to the finish line.

There was one word running through my mind at this point. Determination.

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The next section was relatively easy; winding roads all the way through to Hayle. I really enjoyed it. Again, I was alone, and I felt it, but ultimately I was enjoying it. 

Before I knew it I was in the Dunes of Doom where another runner and I decided to walk it out together. The time passed remarkably fast, and he navigated really well through the dunes. 

As we approached the Godrevy car park, I could see that it was bustling with people. There were loads of crew members, and 50-miler runners coming past fast and furious! Out of Godrevy there was a long steep climb with beautiful views – a very different energy from the busy carpark. It was nice to see lots of dog walkers and people enjoying the scenery. I liked that there were always people around, not too far ahead or behind at any one point. 

The next section is a blur in my memory, but it took me longer than any other section. The dark had settled in, and the temperature had dropped so I added a middle fleece layer and attached my headtorch. 

There were plenty of flat bits, ups, downs, and steep stairs thrown in for good measure! 

I tried to run but each time my right hip would spasm and I’d have to stop and wait for it to relieve. The best, and only, way forward was to walk it. Step, pole, step, pole, step, pole. 

The check point in Portreath came and went, with the highlight being the sweetened parsnips I ate and the friendly faces I saw to give me one final boost! 

The Finish Line #

Then it was time for the final climb. The long and winding path to the finish field and the Eco park in Porthtowan. 

I cried the whole way up that trail. I felt pain, relief, excitement, happiness, complete fatigue, and everything in between. But as I came to the top I could not stop grinning from ear to ear. 

I remember feeling like I was running at full force across that field but in reality I was probably hobbling! It didn’t matter though because I was crossing the finish line and felt utterly overjoyed. 

I had done it! I had travelled 100 miles on foot in 33 hours 30 minutes. 

The Arc of Attrition is an experience I will never forget. I’m so grateful for the opportunity, the support from all the wonderful people in my life, my body’s ability, and resilience, and all the lessons I’ve learned along the way. 

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