St Ives Bay 10k and the Dune of Doom

Sunset over St Ives bay with text superimposed on the mage saying 'St Ives Bay 10k and the Dune of Doom'.

I’ve wanted to do the St Ives Bay 10k for a long time. It takes place pretty much on my mum’s doorstep, with the start being on the beach. I knew I would be in Cornwall when it’s on this year, so I entered. The race is organised by Hayle Runners, so I was also happy to be supporting a local running club.

After entering the race, I started to wonder whether I’d made a mistake. I’ve run 5km on sand before and hated it. Then I read a few blog posts about it:

Oh dear! What had I let myself in for?!

Preparing for the race

Stu had to work this week, so I went to Cornwall on my own with M. We spent most of the day at a soft play centre. We were quite lucky as it was very quiet, however, it’s still not my favourite way to spend a day! M was happy to play there for 4.5 hours, so my plans for lunch were scuppered. That meant that I hadn’t fuelled well before the race.

I got dressed at home. I’d spent a while dithering about what top to wear, but as I’ve not managed to do any triathlons this year, I figured that I’d give my tri club vest an outing.

Tamsyn's Southampton Triathlon Club running vest with a St Ives Bay 10k race number pinned on the front.

My mum got back from work at 6:15, which meant we had 45 minutes to get to the race start and collect my number. Unfortunately, I realised that my wallet was missing. I didn’t need it for the race but immediately started panicking as it had all of my bank cards in it.

Getting to the Surf Life Saving Club

We had decided to walk over the towans to the start of the race. The first problem we encountered was that my buggy was too wide to go through the stone gateway to the towans, so I had to get M out and fold the buggy up. Then I had to get the buggy through a kissing gate. Further across the towans was another kissing gate before a fairly narrow path where I had to balance the buggy on two wheels. Aaarrgghh! Then I had to bump the buggy up some wide steps and cross the caravan park before we finally made it to the Surf Life Saving Club (Race HQ).

I collected my race number and then went back outside where my mum and M were waiting. We had a couple of minutes to chat before the runners were told to go down to the beach for the race briefing.

Friends in Southampton had been posting online about how hot and humid it had been there all day. I was quite grateful that it was overcast and relatively cool on the beach.

View towards St Ives from Hayle beach.
View towards St Ives from Hayle beach. © Fyn Lees

The race briefing

The race is capped at 150 entries and I was sad to learn that there were still 50 entries remaining on race day. I’m sure there must be plenty of runners holidaying in the area, so maybe they were unaware of the race. Alternatively, the descriptions of the course as being extremely tough may have put some potential entrants off.

Runners on the beach.
©Fyn Lees

The race briefing clearly described the route. The first half (roughly) of the race is on sand. At Gwithian, we would have to climb some concrete steps, before venturing off onto the towans and sand dunes. Then we would head back onto the beach for the final mile.

Satellite view of the St Ives Bay 10k route.
A satellite view of the St Ives Bay 10k race route. My mum’s house is roughly on the bottom edge of the picture in the centre.

There were plenty of runners wearing various Cornish club colours, with quite a large contingent from Falmouth Road Runners. This made me somewhat nervous that I might finish last. We’d been warned that this isn’t a PB course and I’d noted that the times of some runners from the previous year were 6+ minutes slower than their PB. My 10k PB is 51:06, but I think the one hour mark is closer to my current fitness levels. Would I manage to complete the race in under 1:15?

View towards Gwithian from Hayle Beach.
View towards Gwithian from Hayle Beach. ©Fyn Lees

And they’re off…

Runners lined up at the start of St Ives Bay 10k.

It wasn’t long before we set off.

Runners at the start of the race.

The first 25m was through a large puddle. I’d positioned myself to the left as I could see that this would give me the shortest distance to run through water. I decided to tackle it cross country style by just going for it. There was no point in trying to stay dry.

Group of runners going through a large puddle. Tamsyn can be seen on the left of the photo.

I had been dreading running on dry sand, but the wet sand was tougher than I expected. The wet sand was soft and, with each step, pools of water were forming beneath my feet. I was aware that it would be energy-sapping, but even then it was tougher than expected. The front runners (and the mid-pack) disappeared off into the distance. I just focused on the people who were immediately ahead of me, including a chap from Falmouth Road Runners. He was going at a steady pace and didn’t seem to be getting further away, but I couldn’t close the gap.

I’ve since found out that the first mile of the race (or thereabouts) is a Strava segment: ‘Beach run to Gwithian‘. Despite feeling sluggish, I’m currently 10/33 women and 80/135 overall!

View towards St Ives from Gwithian with the sandy beach in the foreground.
© Fyn Lees

Reaching Gwithian

After passing lots of marshals (and a few runners), I made it to the turning point at Gwithian. It was located just where a wide stream ran across the beach. My feet had nearly dried out and were now going to get wet again.

I put in a big push and caught up with the chap from Falmouth Road Runners just as we got to the steps, so I was able to pass him.

After walking up the steps, I could see the drinks station a short way ahead.

Tamsyn running on the path at Gwithian with Godrevy Lighthouse in the background.

I picked up a cup of water, drank half and splashed my face with the rest. Although it was overcast and there had been some refreshing sea spray, I was feeling hot.

Run around Upton Towans

The next section brought different challenges. It was on a mixture of terrain: gravel, sand and grass. There were also some tight turns and it could definitely be described as undulating.

I recognised where I was but was also feeling slightly disorientated and half-expected to see my mum’s house appearing over the next dune.

The course goes through Upton Towans, which is also known as Dynamite Towans, as it’s where the National Explosives Company was founded in 1888. This company produced dynamite for use in mining operations. It’s quite an interesting place to run. The derelict buildings give you something to look at to take your mind off your lungs and legs!

The Dune of Doom

At almost 8km/1 hour into the run, we encountered the ‘Dune of Doom’ (known as ‘Dune Mother‘ on Strava).

View of runners walking up a steep sand dune. Photo taken from the bottom of the slope.
© Fyn Lees

This view from the bottom shows just how long and steep this incline is. The loose sandy path is flanked by marram grass, so there was no possibility of running on grass. If you peer closely at the photos, you can see me halfway up. My vest mainly looks white and I’m ahead of the two men in red.

Runners tackling a large sand dune. People can be seen walking purposefully.
©Fyn Lees

I was surprised to see people nearly bent double or crawling up the dune. I wasn’t moving quickly and didn’t try to run. However, I’ve visited Mexico Towans Beach enough times in my life to be confident about going up and down sand dunes. (The only way to get onto the beach is by running down a steep sand dune). I made sure that I planted each foot in someone else’s footprint and just kept focused on the next couple of steps.

After that, it was an easy section downhill. I was surprised that the people ahead of me were walking. Why waste some free speed?!

Final mile on sand

I got onto the beach and was again frustrated by how soft the sand was. At no point had the sand been wet and firm. We were also running into a headwind and my lack of training was showing. (I’ve only done 5 runs of 10km or more this year!) My legs felt like lead and the runners who I’d been near for most of the race were racing off into the distance. I was 1:30/km slower over the last kilometre than I was over my fastest kilometre.

Sunset over St Ives from Hayle beach. Rippled sand can be seen in the foreground.
Sunset over St Ives from Hayle beach. © Fyn Lees

I decided to focus on enjoying the rest of the race, even though I was feeling tired and was still stressed about my missing wallet. The views towards St Ives were beautiful and I knew I’d see my mum and M soon.

At the final corner, the ‘puddle’ was waiting for me. I ran through it as fast as I could, wetting myself from toes to head. Then it was into the finish funnel.

Receiving my medal

M joined me at the finish, so I asked the marshals to put my medal around her neck. She looked very pleased with herself.

Hayle Runners St Ives Bay 10k medal.

There was then enough time for a few photos and a chance for me to catch my breath back whilst drinking a cup of water. I was relieved that I wasn’t last.

Marshals standing at the finish of St Ives Bay 10k.
Sunset over St Ives from Hayle beach.
Sunset over St Ives from Hayle beach. ©Fyn Lees

How did I do?

We then walked home where I cancelled my bank cards… and promptly found my wallet!

I’ve now seen the full race results. I was 75/103 in an official time of 1:08:36, so I beat my goal time… and am tempted to train hard and come back next year to crack the hour mark. I think I was 22/36 female runners.

Overall, I really loved taking part in this race. There was a great atmosphere and the marshals were absolutely fantastic. They cheered on every runner as they passed, no matter whether they were local or not. I also found it motivational to have on a vest with my name on it as it helped people to cheer for me. Although Hayle isn’t where I live, it will always be my home, and this is the only race I’ve ever done on home soil (or sand!).

Have you ever raced on sand? What are your top tips?

3 Responses

  1. I ran it this year too! I’m more of a road runner, so was unsure about how to run on the sand. I turned to youtube and suggestions were: shorten your stride, up the cadence and land mid-foot, rather than toe or heel, to avoid sinking. Mile one was a bit soft, but the second mile was pretty firm. The last mile felt like running in treacle – I think my form had disintegrated, due to the dune, and I was probably landing heel-first and sinking as a result.

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