The Atlantic Coast Challenge consists of 3 marathons in 3 days taking place in Cornwall along the South West Coastal Path starting just North of Constantine Bay, finishing in Lands End. Whilst most competitors do all 3 days, a significant number complete 1, or 2 days. As a quick summary I'd say the event as being very well organised and included good transport to/from the start, regular checkpoints, very friendly marshals and support; however, it does involve some basic navigation skills and due to the logistics, is more expensive than most marathons.
The challenge HQ is at the St Ives Holiday Park, where there is a variety of accommodation including campsite pitches, caravans and pods. Each day begins with a mandatory race briefing, kit check (minimal kit is required) and then transport to the start. Each competitor is given a dibber which is used for timing. The first day is logistically the longest and involves getting a 45min coach to Constantine Bay and running a marathon to Perranporth and then travelling back. Due to the number of competitors (~300) the coaches did 2 journeys to get all the competitors to the start. Before the event you are asked to specify which group you wish to go in, the first group is primarily for walkers.
As I was in the 2nd group, I arrived at the start quite late (around 11:00). I recognised another purple shirt (I struggle to remember a running event where I haven't seen another AA member competing!), but unfortunately didn't recognise the runner (sorry!). The route is generally well marked as it follows the coastal path and as long as the atlantic is on your right, you are generally on the correct path. The course is extremely scenic, with lots of stunning views. The tricky part on such a long run is starting off slowly and I did my best not to get caught up in the moment. I found myself running alongside other runners of a similar pace and got into a good group of 4. Around half way in we started to pass some of the walkers, and made it into Newquay. Unfortunately, the route signs diminished in the town and we took a couple of wrong turns, and had the humilation of passing a couple of walkers more than once, after a slight detour!
I felt relatively strong until I had around 5k to go where my legs started to feel heavy and I ran out of water. The route finished with a run along the beach, which I decided to take easy run/walking in order to save my energy for the next day. I was happy to finish in under 4:35, on a fairly undulating course.
The second day involved travelling to where we finished (Perranporth) and running back to the base at Hayle. There were 3 groups, and you could choose which one you go in on the day. Due to staying at a friend's and travelling back in the morning I decided to leave in the 3rd group, which ended up being quite small (only 8 runners). However, the start of day 2 was on narrow paths, and in larger groups could have made overtaking trickier. As I felt quite good at the start of the 2nd day I set off at quite a fast pace, which lasted until the midway point. Similar to the first day, towards the end of the second day there is a long run along the beach. This actually felt quite nice as the soft surface makes it easier on your joints. One piece of advice I was given was to run nearer the sea as the sand is firmer and easier to run on, which appeared to be the case as we were passing lots of walkers further inland. Once off the beach there was a short climb to the finish, which I attempted to take easy again to save myself for day 3, and was happy to finish in around the same time.
Throughout the first 2 days there were various rumours of the last day being the toughest. Lots more climbing, rough terrain, rocks to scramble over, and the 'marathon' was long, people saying 27, 28, even 29 miles! I decided to have a bit more company in the 2nd group, but tried to get to the front so I wouldn't be caught behind a group. I found I got off to a good start and ran the first part with a local who was just doing the last marathon and helped me navigate through St Ives a few miles in. Once through St Ives course took a turn for the worse and the rumours became a reality: a narrow cliff side, with a variety of sizes of rocks. The smaller stones required a lot of concentration to maintain a rhythm and run over, the larger ones were more of an unelegant scramble. I was forced to slow right down, and at the halfway checkpoint I had taken over 3 hours! I started running with someone who left in the first group, and we helped each other navigate and keep morale high. We were overtaken by a couple of faster runners, including the comfortable winner Clare Prosser (who started in the 3rd group and who appears unaffected by the laws of gravity by maintaining the same speed running up a hill as down it). The last '10k' seemed to last an age and although I can't confirm, a lot of garmins were implying this was well over 26 miles. Either way this was by far the toughest day and took me over 6 hours with no-one breaking 5! However, the complementary Cornish Pasty at the end made it all worth while.
All-in-all this was a fantastic challenge. The views were spectacular and a great way to see the coast. I was also fortunate enough to have near perfect weather (I was very lucky to avoid rain and high winds). There are similar challenges, one on the Jurassic Coast, which follows a similar format. This event was ideal for people who enjoy scenic trail distance running, and who don't mind a bit of navigation or potentially rough conditions.