I was inspired to look into an FKT due some friends submitting FKTs, which is how I found this website. I’m not fast, probably never will be, but I can run long. I had a look at the routes on the page and found one that really appealed to me – the Smuggler’s Way – and it didn’t have any submissions either. I later read that you can submit your own route, but it couldn’t get better than this: a) it’s in Cornwall, where I have spent so much of my summer, b) it’s a Coast to Coast, which makes a change to the Coast Path, c) it’s not a waymarked route and requires navigation, d) there is a variety of terrain, e) it summits Brown Willy, the highest point in Cornwall.
I wanted to attempt it Saturday 3rd October before the days got too short, but I wasn’t very well and there were very strong winds forecast so I postponed it a week. That gave me a change to do more prep too, as I’ve never felt so under-prepared for a route. I was following the route as given in the gpx on the FKT website, but I found a detailed trip report by a guy who had walked it following the instructions in the original Smugglers’ Way booklet, so I used this to re-plot the route in more detail, and to familiarise myself with all the sections. I decided to go unsupported, carrying all my food and drink in my pack. My pack was 6.3kg starting weight, and 3kg finishing weight by the time I had drunk all my water and eaten my snacks. I wouldn’t say all my prep went perfectly – my printer ran out of ink and yellow/pink OS maps aren’t so easy to see on route. I printed a mixture of 1:25k maps for the moorland sections and 1:50 for the road section, but I missed a section of moor so navigated off my phone for that. I also forgot to take chlorine tablets but it turned out I had enough water. I also wasn’t 100% fit and well yet, I had constipation after a week of diarrhoea – that sorted itself out on route though!!
The route itself was fantastic, if tough. I ate my first sweet chestnuts of the year, picking a couple of up before I squashed them underfoot. I surprised a deer on a quiet, overgrown footpath, and later a buzzard. I went the wrong way through a field, following the perimeter rather than cutting straight across, and walked past a bull I could have avoided. There were a lot more cows after that, but I used my 2020-learnt cow whispering skills and all was fine there. I was glad I thought to pack gloves, I wore them for most of the first half, but the weather was pretty kind, there were several patches of light rain but nothing that made me hide my phone in my dry bag. I initially tried to keep a heart rate cap of 153, but it kept creeping up to 160 and later on I could only go at one speed so I didn’t bother looking.
I’m not sure why the route takes such a convoluted zig zag path between the disused Davidstow airport and Rough Tor, there didn’t seem to be any point for the zig zags down to the plantation but I followed the route, not wanting to cut corners. I hadn’t been looking forward to the moorland bit since this was the one part of the route I had been to before – we’d set off for Brown Willy and given up at Rough Tor, and now I had to do both, but the sun came out for that bit and lifted my spirits. Only for a moment though – on the way down Rough Tor I twisted my knee on one of the loose boulders and wrench a tendon at the top of my calf which was excruciating. Gutted – just over 21km into a 58 k route (I usually work in miles but I had my watch set on km still from a recent 5k). I took ibuprofen and stretched it out. I had to walk all the steep descents but thankfully it was fine on most other terrain, and got better the further I went. It still caught me out unexpectedly on some later descents leaving me hopping around and yelling in agony, but there was no way I was giving up, and mostly it behaved.
What didn’t behave was my watch. Firstly, it gave me the ‘one hour to go’ warning twice as quicky as usual, so I plugged it in, and it took a full 10km to charge. Then - I had a lift arranged at the other end and I used my quarter times to work out what time to ask them to collect me (they watched me finish but didn't run any of the route with me). I then realised that when my watch said I was 3/4 of the way (43.5km) I’d actually only run 38km. It’s because I had my watch on medium gps accuracy (and the FKT website says powersave gps mode is fine), but I forgot how unrealiable it is then, it’s been a while since I ran an ultra distance). It’s supposed to only sample less often, but it seems to lose the gps too. In the Kilminorth woods towards Looe there were huge stretches where it lost GPS, although this has the silver lining that it offset against the longer mileage from before, and when I finished the total distance exactly correlated to that from the route that I had plotted.
My watch issues and my knee pain made me quite dejected for the second half of the route, but I still enjoyed the scenery. My favourite part was the West Looe river higher up, around Herodsfoot I think, but I was still using my phone to navigate from here and it didn’t show me the town names and it all passed in a bit of a blur. There were all sorts of interesting steps and staircases taking you up to a higher path whenever the lower one was about to run out in the water. I also enjoyed the road sections – I am not normally a road runner, but it was so much easier on my knee. There were so many sections of this route that were rough underfoot, usually with an obvious route along a channel between two walls, but through grass with no track, usually I’d relish this but today it was just painful. The final hill was a killer and quite unexpected too – why doesn’t the path take the lower route by the river?? It would be more consistent, and flatter! That part really dragged. I was thankful when I came out of the trees and could see Looe ahead and the concrete walkway. The section through town down to the Pier was familiar as I’d done that on a coast path run. And there it was – the pier. I couldn’t believe I had done it, harbour to harbour all the way across Cornwall from coast to coast! When I reached the first quarter point in 2:25 I hoped I could finished in under 10 hours, a nice round number. Due to my knee and the terrain this gradually slipped and my final time was 1:37:03 (strava elapsed time. My watch said 1:34:48 but I am not sure this is genuine elapsed time, as I paused and (very quickly) resumed twice to try and force is to look for the gps again when I came out of the woods)). The time didn’t matter though – that was just an secondary aim set as I run to keep my motivation up – the main challenge was just to complete it, and I had!
I wrote this report in rush last night based on some notes I put down on route, and I was very tired when I wrote it. I forgot to stress that it was extremely tough!! I recently ran for a week in Cornwall, and even though I was doing long runs on consecutive days, that was relatively easy. This was sooo hard, both mentally and physically. On the route I never had any doubt that I would complete it aside from the few minutes after I twisted my knee, but there were certain many times when I wished it was over!! I am very broken today, everything hurts - back, quads, achilles, knee, the top of my foot, the back of my hand and more. My legs are deeply scratched too where I took a wrong turning in the woods as I couldn’t find the path and went through thick brambles and ferns for a few hundred metres!! But I’m very happy to have news that my FKT was approved. Good luck to all with your own endeavours.
Congratulations Sarah. A truly amazing achievement. I posted the route to eventually try it myself and hope some others would eventually give it a go. Life got in the way for me but I am very inspired to give it my attention next year now you have set the benchmark and trailblazed for the rest of us.