by Dan Cocks
On the 31st of January and 1st of February 2020 I attempted Mudcrew’s Arc of Attrition, a 100 mile non-stop ultramarathon run entirely along the challenging South West Coast Path in Cornwall from Coverack to Porthtowan. Runners have 36 hours to complete the distance and the average finish rate is just 46%. It was my second attempt at finishing the race, one of the hardest winter ultramarathons in the UK, after retiring injured in 2019 battered, broken and tearful after 68 miles of harsh winter conditions and coast path. This year was again tough and full of incident but it felt completely different, with past experience on my side, a more positive attitude and a great ‘crew’ supporting me the whole way. I also decided to run the race and raise money for Cornwall Mind.
I picked Cornwall Mind because of my personal experience of how running and trail running in particular has improved my self-confidence, provided a balance for my office-based work and boosted my overall personal development. I am naturally anxious, introverted and self-conscious which brings out a neurotic side of my personality that I struggle to deal with. I needed to remedy this side of my personality but didn’t always know how that would happen or if I could.
Luckily for me, I was introduced to running and more specifically trail running about 9 years ago by a couple of work colleagues. Running on trails and the Coast Path in particular is what I enjoy. It is less about pace and looking down at your watch and your feet, and more about looking up, exploring your surroundings and taking it all in. The feeling of openness and freedom is a natural antidote to our often confined modern lives. It counteracts hours staring at your computer screen, smartphone and social media. Running is hard. But this also makes it a massive confidence builder. There is no instant gratification. Achieving something for yourself that you saw as being difficult, maybe even impossible builds true confidence. Running and trail running in particular, where you are hopping around, climbing over obstacles and dragging yourself over epic vistas embodies that experience and simultaneously teaches you about persistence and its rewards. It hurts. It takes time, effort. You don’t always succeed, like me on the Arc last year, but accepting what I saw as failure and learning from it was ultimately a part of the journey to the finish line.
The trail running community is the most positive, generous and supportive I have encountered. This is because it understands what every runner goes through. At races all around the country people cheer for each other whether they are front runners or back markers, speed is irrelevant. Everyone faces their own journey, their own set of circumstances, their own motivations for setting out to achieve their goal. I certainly could not have completed the Arc without the support of my wife and family who ‘crewed’ me the whole way, or the Arc Angels, an army of volunteers who support the runners during the race.
In these especially challenging times where we are perhaps more isolated than ever, it seems especially important to consider our mental health and how we can help ourselves. From my experience, getting outside and appreciating our surroundings, especially in Cornwall, is a bare minimum. Since it worked for me I’d always recommend running and definitely trail running for giving you a focus. I certainly never thought I could run 100 miles, but then I wasn’t sure I could run 5k back in 2012!
The most important thing is to enjoy the ride and learn from the journey.
I also raised over £500.00 for Cornwall Mind!