Act Boldly – Taking on the Classic Quarter Ultramarathon

11.06.2019 |

  • Posted by Mark Picken
  • Mark Picken at the 1 mile to go sign at the 44 mile Classic Quarter ultramarathon

    In February I attended an Unlocking Potential event in Wadebridge on disruption. The keynote speaker, Jim Lawless, spoke about acting boldly.

    As Jim said to me on LinkedIn: “Change starts with an event. We either wait for external events to force change or create our own event: The Bold Act.”

    Following Jim’s theme I decided to create my own event. I went home and signed up to the Classic Quarter. It’s a 44 mile ultramarathon on the Cornish coast between Lizard Point and Land’s End.

    And I posted about it on LinkedIn, so the decision was definitely made!

    What made me take on this challenge?

    It had been on my list of things to do this year. I’d said over the last few years that I’d do it when I turned 44 (a mile for each year). So I had to follow through, right?!

    For the previous 6 years I’d been part of a 4 person relay team so knew the course well. I just had to put it all together.

    The key take-home from Jim’s talk was how to make it happen – decision, action, result.


    Well, that was to sign up, which I did straight after the UP event (with the aid of a glass of wine).


    I was already in training for the Newport Marathon at the beginning of May and had a lot of running under my belt when I made the decision.

    My major concern was that I have tended to struggle on long runs with aching hips and cramp. It had impacted a lot when I had run single legs at the Classic Quarter in the past and was a concern. And nothing beats getting cramp in both legs when you’re clambering over a Cornish hedge.

    In order to help with this, I had already started a programme of strength and conditioning work with personal trainer, Jez Mancer (Motiv8 Me). Jez was a great choice for this as he does a lot of running, including the Classic Quarter. He knew exactly what the problem was and what I needed to do to solve it.

    To compliment this, I made sure that I did stretching using a few yoga poses everyday at home.

    The difference over 6 months was noticeable as I took on the Falmouth Half Marathon (3 minutes away from a PB on a hilly course), the Cardiff Bay 10k (recording a PB) and the Newport Marathon (getting another PB).

    The one thing that was missing was the coast path training. I finally got out to do a 20 mile run with some of the PKF Francis Clark crew 2 weeks before the big day.


    So, the result is that I achieved my aim. On Saturday 8th June I woke up at 3.30am, got picked up at 4.20am and headed down to the Lizard to register. 

    At 6.30am around 220 of us set off towards Land’s End.

    We had been battered by all the weather. I’d eaten salt straight from sachets to prevent cramp. I nearly ran out of energy after not getting enough food on board between Rinsey head and Penzance. I kept craving an orange Solero. However, I finally got to the 1 mile to go sign and could see Land’s End. The sense of elation was incredible and I managed to summon enough energy to run the last mile.

    After 12 hours, 37 minutes and 44 seconds, I crossed the finish line, collected my medal and had a very welcome pint of St Austell Brewery’s Mena Dhu.

    What did I learn from the experience?

    ✅ Break the task into small chunks. It feels obvious writing this, but the thought of  44 miles was daunting. Thinking in small chunks and focusing on 1 section at a time made it easier to achieve the overall goal.

    ✅ Have an awesome team behind you. I was incredibly lucky that my girlfriend got up ridiculously early and followed me around the course with a boot full of snacks and change of kit. It was also great to have the support of the PKF Francis Clark team and the Motiv8 Me bootcamp team. There was also plenty of encouragement from the other runners, their families and friends, and people out along the coast path. Good, positive support makes a huge difference in helping you reach your goal.

    ✅ Prepare for deviations. So, there was a slight miscommunication on one of the early meeting points!  This did mean losing some time, although I’m unsure how much difference it made during the course of the whole day. While it was frustrating at the time, it was important to quickly put that to 1 side so that I could focus on the job in hand.

    ✅ Tweak and adapt. I’ve already made the decision to take on the Classic Quarter again next year. I know what I need to do differently. This is mainly around food (less pretzels more fruit!), however, I have a better idea of where my breaks need to be. It’s all about testing and amending to get a better formula.