Sunday, 23 June 2013

Endurance Life: Ultra Trail South West (UTSW 60) 2013

After a disappointing experience at this event last year (see my post from last year), I decided to part with my hard earned cash to give the Endurancelife UTSW 60 one more go. After all, it offered me the right distance at the right time and on the beautiful north Cornwall coastal path. How could they fail?

...not forgetting the £20 extra to get to the start line

I was hoping that the Organisers would have listened to the feedback they'd received and acted on some of the criticisms that came out of last year's event. Perhaps, a year on, they had gained a better understanding of their customers, understood the sort of experience participants were seeking, what their requirements were, and appreciated that participating in such an epic challenge was a big deal that had likely been the focus that individuals had been building up to for many months before.

I had low expectations, but sadly, they failed to even meet these. This is of course my own experience, and I am coming from a world of doubt and scepticism, so no doubt some people would have had a great time and achieved their goals, but I saw no improvement in attitude or delivery.

At the briefing, the organiser glibly joked that they should probably have set out more signs along the course, but hey! Then he established that the mandatory £20 cash participants were required to carry in order to pay for their own taxi back to HQ should they need to retire 'was quite reasonable' in his view. This style of delivery continued on the start line where, moments before the start gun fired, we were told that some checkpoints 'might have been moved'. It was already reeking of disorganisation and generous dose of winging it, but I held onto some final shreds of faith because, after all, my cash must have gone to some good use. I looked at the check point plan I had made and wondered whether to just screw it up and lose it in my pack.

We started just 15 minutes late, but the evening before the bus arrived 90 minutes late for the 100 participants. The start time of 6pm was duly adjusted to 7.30pm...more screwing up of checkpoint plans no doubt.

But we did eventually set off on our way, from a windy cliff top heading south. Wagons roll! I was keen to sample the delights of the checkpoints. I joke! I had no expectation that there would be any nutrition of use to me available, and so I was not disappointed. Endurancelife have quite a reputation now for under providing at the checkpoints - everybody knows they will be crap, and everyone tells each other how crap they are. It's common knowledge and standard race chat.

So I was plodding along quite nicely averaging 4 mph enjoying the beautiful scenery and views, chatting with fellow runners and the wonderfully supportive locals and tourists along the coastal path. I was on track hitting my targets and in good shape. I didn't want to push it because I'm nursing a minor hip niggle at the moment so the plan was just to cover some distance in training for the Lakeland 100 next month.

The checkpoints were evenly spaced but a bit too far apart for me. 7 or 8 miles is nice, 10 to 12 miles can feel like a long time. So I built in my own mini checkpoints at 5 to 6 mile intervals to allow myself  a smaller marker to aim for. It helps me to stay positive and break down the distance into more manageable chunks.

After the 3rd checkpoint at Rock, the plan was to make up some time. The next 3 sections into Wadebridge, then Padstow and beyond had very little elevation and were routed along country roads and cycle tracks so very runnable. I had noticed when studying the maps of this area that the section coming into Wadebridge was not on footpaths that were represented on the OS map and this had logged with me, but I assumed that the organisers had local knowledge and all would be clear when we got there.

This section raised concerns for me before
the event

The blue line is the planned route. You can see
that it does not follow any visible footpath and is
on a block of otherwise private land

This is where I lost the will to continue. After a good road and track section we made contact again with the estuary coming into Wadebridge. The Ennduarncelife signs were present but pointed towards the water! I had spent the last mile in the company of a couple of runners, one of whom was doing the 100 course, so we puzzled over what this meant. We reasoned that this must be a mistake, there was no way the route would take us into the water filled estuary?! So we had a scout around and found a path through a crop field which edged the estuary and decided to take this with the aim of rejoining the 'path' once we'd got beyond the waters. We left the fields and did another recce along the estuary but didn't get far before the water stopped us in our tracks.

By now I was in a group of six and we all tried hard not to voice our frustrations to avoid creating a  negative atmosphere. But we were walking around in circles on private land in rape crops that towered above us. It was a ridiculous situation. I had the gps out and am well used to navigating my way out of these situations, but what was so frustrating was that there was no where to go. There were no paths to pick up, just a road to the North from which we could hear the cars speeding along, and which presented a real danger as far as I was concerned.

We persevered through the crops and eventually spotted the track from the high ground at Burnier and rejoined the trail. We'd lost over an hour walking around in circles.

I'd had contact with my husband who was at the Wadebridge checkpoint and he had been relying advice from the checkpoint staff (just the 1 lady). They had not anticipated the high tide that had been predicted that day, and the path they had planned for us to use had been submerged by this exceptionally high tide. From what I understand they were advising runners to go back on themselves to find and join the busy A road, but at least 1 runner came in and complained about the danger they had been put in.

In itself, this was not a major catastrophe, but it really brought home the arrogance of the organisers, the complete disregard they had for runner's safety, and ultimately, that the organisation of the evnt, in my opinion, was complacent and flaky. I was thankful that I had been in a group. Had I been on my own I would have become panicked, I think. I would have felt very lost. If I had been running for 22 hours and not had my wits about me, it could have been very dangerous. Some of the 100 runners were in this situation and I think the organisers acted shamefully. How could they not have known about the high tide? How could they not have had a contingency? How could they have risked putting runners onto a busy A road without any signs warning motorists?

I didn't want to be part of this anymore. I was disappointed and angry, so I reached the checkpoint and dibbed out. Lesson learnt.

This incident captures the flavour of the event for me. I was at the finish line looking for my drop bag when a runner came in and and was greeted with "Well done! You're 2nd...or 3rd". This says it all!

Of course, I have heard from folk who had a great day so I'd love to know how others fared and coped with the 'diversion'. Would you do it again? I wonder whether the results will show whether the diversion had any impact on drop out rates? Perhaps it was just me.


Before i sign off, I wanted to just pay my respects to the family of AO who I was lucky enough to meet and run with at the UTSW last year. AO completed the 100 then was tragically killed in a car accident whilst driving back to the airport on his way home. 


  1. That route is ridiculous. Did they get permission from the land owner? I know that bit of the coast well as my in-laws live there. And as you say the road is a busy fast route to the popular beach villages. Would have been better to go through Wadebridge. Anyway well done another great effort in difficult circumstances.

  2. Hi Sarah, well written review. I was equally apalled. Here are my thoughts on the 100.


    The Ultra Trail South West 2013 was deeply disappointing for the following reasons:

    • The informal manner of the safety briefing and kit check did not inspire confidence;
    • The mandatory kit that had to be carried was totally inadequate for the weather conditions;
    • No member of Endurance Life was present at the start prior to the bus arriving 90 minutes late after it had broken down;
    • Check points were inadequately manned, volunteers manning the checkpoints were not briefed and were unhelpful and irritable due to sleep deprivation.
    • Check points were only stocked with water, crisps, jelly babies and plenty of Cliff Bar products. Cliff Bar are a sponsor on the face of the Endurance Life website so it obvious that no money was invested here. By Saturday afternoon I was told they had run out of bananas at check points.
    • The course sent us down the banks of the River Camel at around mile 70 just before Wadebridge except that when we got there early Saturday evening it was high tide and the water was waist deep. The surrounding fields were impassable and the only other option was a significant detour. Runners phoned the organiser who could offer little guidance. We waded through the river which led to serious blisters, coldness and muscle fatigue. When we spoke to the organiser at the next checkpoint he tried to explain the situation away by saying he had planned it to be only knee high when we went through it. This is disingenuous in the extreme, they had not realised the river was tidal. With over 100 runners on the course with finishing times between 22 to 34 hours there is no way they could have managed to get everyone to beat the tide. They had made a serious mistake, otherwise it would have been mentioned in the safety briefing. There should have been a safety person at the river.
    • Over 24 hours in to the race, the final coastal path section from Padstow to Newquay was dangerous. In the dark it was difficult to find the coastal path and even more difficult to stand up straight in strong winds with sheer cliff drops a few feet away from the coastal path.
    • Runners should have been grouped and not allowed to run these sections alone. Some groups abandoned the coastal path and used the road. There was not trust left with the organisers at this point.
    • Only 56% of starters finished the UTSW 100 (solo category)

    Endurance Life put no heart and soul in to their events, I can only surmise they are run purely for profit. The organiser was overheard on his mobile to an injured runner saying “aren’t you making a meal of it”.

    They would have made approximately £10,000 alone in entry fees before any extras such as transfer to the start. £129 entry fee is very expensive. They would have paid for event insurance but otherwise the majority of people appeared to be volunteers, the checkpoints were largely stocked for free by their sponsor Cliff Bar, I doubt the Watergate Bay hotel charged anything as they seemed to know the owners and plenty of runners were staying in the hotel or eating in the restaurant. Even the finishing medal was the same as last years, it didn’t even say 2013.

    I made friends on the course and a small group of us ran together for 50 miles, we are highly experienced having done numerous 100 milers between us, we had signed our waiver of liability and we knew what we were doing but it was clear the organisers had let us down. Sending us through the River Camel was unforgivable and letting runners run alone on dangerous sections of the coastal path in poor weather conditions on the second night was asking for trouble. One day they might not get away with it.

    Unless you are desperate for the UTMB points, don’t run with Endurance Life. This was my third Endurance Life ultra so I should have known better. I’ve felt let down each year but his year went too far and I have no interest partaking in events where the organisers show little regard for their responsibilities towards paying runners.

    1. Ash

      I am disappointed but pleased to hear these reviews. Disappointed because you had a tough time but pleased because I thought I was alone in thinking the organisation was appalling. I was attempting my first 100 miler and was confident. An hour waiting on my feet for bags to be checked, the late start, no proper food at checkpoints, getting to CP4 at 4 in the morning with several others and having to wait 20 minutes for something hot! The girl said "I expect you need a rest", no understanding. I bailed out at 50 miles really peed off with the organisers. I moaned to endurance life and got a partial refund but still they thought I was making too much of a fuss, waiting at the kit check for an hour was fine! Shame because the route was potentially fantastic. I didn't even get as far as where the tide cut you off!!
      I think it might be time for other organisers to challenge Endurance Life in the South West. A few months on and I am still angry, and I will try my best to boycott EL events in the future.