The final round in the 2017 Cornish Grand Prix Series, the Cornish Marathon is reputedly one of the hardest road marathons in the country and it certainly is a toughie. With 535m (1755 ft) of cumulative ascent over the 26.2 miles, the race is indeed a real test of physical and mental strength. Anyone who conquers it is therefore fully deserving of the gold plated medal they get around their neck on crossing the finish line.
November can bring all sorts of wild weather to the Duchy, but Sunday 19th November 2017 dawned calm, cloudy and fairly mild - in fact perfect weather conditions for the exposed course across Bodmin Moor.
The race starts from Pensilva, a small village in the east of Bodmin Moor to the north of Liskeard. The first couple of miles involve two mundane but fast laps around the country roads to the north of Pensilva, before runners then climb a long drag out of the village onto the moor. A long fast descent down the infamous Crow's Nest then follows, to the quaint hamlet of Darite at its base. Why is this infamous you may ask? Because Crow's Nest is the final major hill you need to run back up between mile 24 ad 25 in the race. This is a sobering thought as you scamper down it early in the race with fresh legs. A small rise and then a further long descent follows to Golitha Falls, accompanied by fantastic support, then shortly after, another descent to the lowest point on the race. These early miles are therefore pretty fast and it's easy to get carried away here and put on too much pace, but there are a lot of miles to go, and also very importantly, some major hills to tackle.
The first of these involves a long and fairly steep climb in a series of stages up onto the heart of Bodmin Moor. These are quite taxing on the legs and you'll certainly feel it here if you went out too fast. Once up on the moor though, there is a fantastic open section across wild moorland, the summits of Brown Willy and Rough Tor, the two highest points in Cornwall, filling your view straight ahead to the west. A long undulating section to Jamaica Inn follows, which I found beautiful across the wild moor on a calm November day, but which I've sadly heard described as boring by others.
There is always a good crowd willing runners on at Jamaica Inn at the 15 mile mark. Now over halfway into the race, this support is much appreciated. More importantly though, it stands you in good stead for a crucial part of the race. The descent and then long 5 mile section through the Draynes Valley is often the make or break part of the race for many. I passed several runners here who were clearly spent and probably cursing the thought of ever entering it. By the time you climb out of the valley, you'll be at mile 21 with around 5 miles to run. It may only be 5 miles, but this is arguably the hardest part of the race with the associated hills and your increasingly leaden legs.
Firstly, there is a gentle climb back to Golitha Falls. This is not too bad. But then there is the long drag back up to Higher Tremarcoombe which is really tough around mile 22-23 in the race. The section back from Golitha Falls is the same as the outbound route, so we already know what is coming next. Firstly a nice descent back to the village of Darite...but then a sign pointing to Crow's Nest in 0.75 miles is anything but music to tired runner's ears.
The climb up past Crow's Nest is long, tough, and goes on for the best part of a mile. I found myself walking up a large section of this last year with my hamstrings threatening to cramp. The same fate befell many runners in this year's race. However I was determined I wouldn't walk any of the Cornish this year and powered on through. Despite my groin muscles starting to spasm, I survived. Then it's a final downhill sprint to the finish line in Pensilva and a great sense of relief.
I was really pleased to finish in 19th place in only my 2nd marathon with a 7 minute PB on last year. I need to train more for the next one and see what I can achieve! Thanks to Kieran for pacing me in the first half, it really gave me motivation when I was feeling tired around the halfway point!
Next week - the Mob Match and presentation back in Falmouth. The 2017 Cornish Grand Prix Series has been completed!