After the stunning Spring weather of the 2017 KVK and all of the photos which popped up on social media and used to advertise the race so brilliantly, the weather on race day in 2018 couldn't have been more different. A cold damp wind whipped in a stinging rain, which gradually became more persistent as the afternoon went on. There was no doubt that the course this year was going to be slower than 2017, making an already challenging race just that bit harder.
The KVK represents Cornwall's only vertical kilometre race, with the cumulative ascent of 1000m attained by two laps comprising a 15 mile figure of 8 around St. Agnes on Cornwall's north coast. To open the race to the wider running community, the race can also be run as a team relay of two, with each member of the team running one lap of the course, totalling ~7.5 miles and ~500m of ascent. After running the full course last year, this year I opted to try the team relay with Jenna. I would do the first lap.
It's a good idea to be well warmed up for this one, not just because the weather on race day down in St. Agnes was cruelly cold and damp, but also because you are straight into the hills right from the start. After starting on the road just above Trevaunance Cove, there is a nasty climb up to the start of a public footpath, followed by a further climb to reach a main road. After a less pleasant but essential trip through a housing estate on the outskirts of St. Agnes, runners are back out into the wild again, through the fields with the peak of St. Agnes Beacon as their destination. I ran a recce of the KVK just three weeks ago and felt that normal trail shoes would suffice, however heavy overnight rain had turned these fields into a muddy quagmire. Salomon Speedcross would have dealt with this bog much better than my trails.
Another brief road section then leads to a track which climbs the final metres to the very exposed top of St. Agnes Beacon at 193m above sea level, completely open to the elements. Rain drops blasted in on an icy wind, hitting your face so hard that they felt like ice pellets. Luckily I was just passing through, but I did pity the poor marshals stuck up there for the duration of the race. The descent off the beacon though is one of the best sections though, a superb and very fast descent on slightly technical rocky trail through the heather, a real delight for the fell runner.
The cumulative 500m ascent requires a lot of Cornish hills though, so you can guess what is coming next. Yes, a second ascent of the beacon after losing so much height. I found myself walking in the upper section to preserve my energy for the fast descent on the other side and was losing little time to the guy in front of me, who was desperately doing all he could to keep up a jog.
Another fast and technical descent then follows on rocky trail back to the coast path, in places quite steep and a part of the race where an experienced fell runner can make up a lot of ground. After a second spell of urbanisation, runners are back on the coast path for a splendid section undulating along rocky trail next to the pounding sea, before descending back to cheering crowds in St. Agnes.
I'd clocked up 5 miles by this point, probably the hardest 5 miles I've run in a Cornish race, but I wasn't finished yet. The stunning but challenging Blue Hills awaited. A steep ascent to the north of St. Agnes leads to a lunar landscape, covered in the old mine tailings. The climb is steep, but as soon as you are up, you're heading steeply down again, on a treacherous section of coast path into Trevellas Porth, complete with disused engine houses. Not so far to go now, but the worst climb is coming up, the steep and long haul up to Perranporth airfield. Needless to say, I walked most of this, completely fatigued by this point but there were no other team relay runners around me. I had made the gap. From Perranporth airfield runners then turn and head for home, one more steep hill then a rapid descent into St. Agnes. My part was done and it was time for Jenna to take on this beast. She did a stunning job on the second lap, running up hills she did nothing but complain about during the recce, consolidating our lead and bringing us home the first team prize and the first ever race win for both of us.
A great day out with thanks to Tom Sutton Freedom Racing for once again putting on such a fantastic, well-marshalled and friendly event!