Andy manoeuvres along the rocky coastal paths

Sting in the tail for Andy Gillespie at Atlantic Coast Challenge

Andy manoeuvres along the rocky coastal paths
Andy Gillespie had been doing some speed-work in the build up and had got himself into prime physical condition for the three marathons in three days Atlantic Coast Challenge

As he edges ever closer to the becoming an exclusive member of the 100 Marathon Club, Andy Gillespie was set to add marathons 90, 91 and 92 to his ever growing completed list in the Atlantic Coast Challenge.

With the event comprising of three marathons in three days, it’s ideal to help Andy chalk a few more onto his already impressive total.

Of course, doing three marathons in three days is a tough ask, but Andy is something of a veteran at that. He’s done all three of the triple marathon Coast Challenges, those being the Atlantic, the Devon and the Jurassic.

In fact, he did the Atlantic Coast Challenge last year, completing the three marathons in a total combined time of 18 hours 44 minutes. That gave him a target to beat for this year’s edition.

Having never failed to complete a marathon in all of his previous 89 attempts, you could bet your bottom dollar that he would complete all three marathons. The real question was, how quickly could he do it in?

This year was slightly different for Andy in the sense that he’d been making a real concerted effort to introduce more speed into his running. His parkrun times are improving and he’s been doing quite a few of the shorter distance road races in a bid to try to work on his speed.

He’s also slimmed down over the course of the year and managed to get himself into very good shape. That’s why this time round he was hoping to be higher up the leader-board in terms of time.

Anticipating a good performance, Andy was buzzing to get the event underway. However, in the week leading up to the race, something was about to happen that would change things for Andy.

Whilst out on a training run, he unfortunately got stung by a hornet. Ordinarily that would be fine. It might sting a bit but most likely wouldn’t impact any forthcoming race. For Andy though, it was a different matter.

Being allergic to hornet stings, after it happened, Andy began to suffer an anaphylactic reaction. Usually on his longer runs and when running a marathon, he always bring a syringe with him with the appropriate medication.

Because this was just a short training run though, he had nothing with him. That meant he would feel the full force of the allergic reaction.

The area around the sting swelled up and Andy’s leg became very soar. The allergy had taken hold and he’d had to take medication for it and it just knocked him for six. Going into the race, he was feeling devoid of energy and in a bad way.

It was frustrating as all the good work he’d done to get himself into peak condition had now been undone and it seemed it would be difficult to achieve the kind of time improvements he was looking for.

Nevertheless, Andy set off on his way and just hoped that he’d be able to battle on through, as he always does. The Atlantic Coast Challenge follows the South West Coast Path which is marked out the whole way by an acorn sign.

The conditions along the trail are notoriously windswept and wild, whilst the rugged terrain, steep climbs and technical descents are testing to even the most experienced of off-road ultra-marathon enthusiasts.

Andy has been there, seen it and done it before though and wasn’t phased. It was just really a case of managing the fallout from the hornet sting which was causing him to feel sluggish before the journey had even begun.

The route starts off near Padstow and finishes up at Lands End, some 78.6 miles away. The idea is that you run a marathon on each of three days, although the third day is slightly longer.

After completing the first marathon, you get to recover and recuperate for the rest of the day, go to sleep in the accommodation provided and then get up the next day and do it all again.

The route for the Day 1 started just north of Constantine Bay and finished up with a stretch across the back at Perranporth.

Andy Gillespie on Perranporth Beach on Day 1
Day 1 incorporates a trek cross Perranporth Beach

After 1 hour 34 minutes and 34 seconds, Andy arrived at the first checkpoint of Marathon 1. He was in 79th place at that point, so it was a very conservative start from Andy. He knows how to pace races like this though so that he isn’t left struggling towards the end.

At the second checkpoint, he’d moved up to 62nd place, arriving in a time of 2:35:23, then at the third checkpoint, he’d climbed to 52nd, getting there in 3:39:07.

View at 24 mile point on Day 1
Lovely scenery at the 24 mile point on Day 1

The tide was in at the end of the stage when he was meant to be going across Perranporth Beach which meant a bonus hill was added into the equation.

Completing the route for Day 1 in a time of 5:39:20, Andy was in 55th position when he crossed the line, so that was a decent start given the trials and tribulations that had gone before it. His elevation gain for the first day was 3,300ft.

View of Perranporth Beach
View of Perranporth Beach after Day 1 of the Atlantic Coast Challenge

The route for Day 2, which took the participants from Perranporth to St Ives Holiday Park, proved a much more difficult challenge for Andy.

He was still feeling unwell off the back of his anaphylactic reaction and that began to play a part and cause him to struggle. The high winds and rain combined to make it difficult when going along the narrow paths as well.

Andy Gillespie on Day 2 of the Atlantic Coast Challenge
Conditions were wet and windy for Day 2 of the Atlantic Coast Challenge which made it a struggle for Andy

Arriving at the first checkpoint in 1 hour 20 minutes and 39 seconds which put him down in 89th place. At the second checkpoint he was in 76th, reaching the designated area in 2:46:42. He was then in 70th at the third checkpoint, arriving in 4:15:01.

Old mines on Day 2
Some old mines provided an interesting backdrop on Day 2

Managing to gain a couple more places before reaching the finish, Andy crossed the line in 5:22:08, putting him in 68th place for the day.

It was a little further down the field than he would have liked to have been but, due to circumstances beyond his control, it was a very tough day at the office. The elevation chart for Day 2 had gone over 4,000ft.

Seals on the rocky beach at Godrevy
Seals on the rocky beach at Godrevy

It was now a case of rest up and recover as best as he could before the final day, which he knew was going to be a colossal task. This day is always considerably harder than the first two, with a couple of extra miles to cover in terms of distance. It’s also a very slow start to the day, with the rocky terrain providing a significantly slow running surface.

Andy has a reputation to uphold though so there was no ducking out of this one. He was in it for the long haul and was going to make to the finish and complete the challenge no matter what it takes.

The route for Day 3 went from St Ives Bay to the final destination at Lands End. At the first checkpoint of the day he was down in 91st place, arriving in a time of 2:46:16.

Structural ruins on cliff edge on Day 3
Structural ruins on the cliff edge on Day 3

Getting to the second checkpoint in 4:24:12, he was then in 89th. He knew at that stage he needed to dig and and start making up some ground.

By the time he reached the next checkpoint, he’d moved up to 80th place, arriving in a time of 6:10:49. After a very long and hard day out, he made it the finish in 78th place, crossing the line in 7:54:41. His elevation gain for the day was up to 5,550ft.

Drink station up a rocky climb on Day 3
Drink station up a rocky climb on Day 3

In the overall standings for the three days combined, Andy finished up in 58th place with a total accumulated time of 19 hours 21 minutes and 51 seconds. That put him 12th in the Male Senior Vet category. In total 166 out of the 172 who started the Challenge managed to complete all three marathons.

Considering everything that happened in the build up, Andy had to be happy with his efforts. He knew his anaphylactic reaction to the hornet sting and the fallout from that had left him not in his best physical condition. Fitness-wise though, he was in great shape, so that was frustrating.

Under the circumstances though, he gave it his best shot and that was all he could do. Just to complete three difficult marathons in extremely tough weather conditions and across very testing terrain was an achievement in itself for Andy and he can take heart from that.

It also brought him three marathons closer to the magic 100, which was another huge step forward. With a taste for these types of events, it certainly won’t be long before Andy reaches that monumental landmark. Then the countdown to 150 will begin.