I started running around 18 months ago and soon established that I wasn’t driven by fast 10k times or trying to run a sub 3 hour marathon. I was inspired to run because it allowed me to explore new beautiful places and push my body in ways I didn’t know it was capable of. This inevitably led me to the world of trail running, and living in South Devon I am spoilt for choice, surrounded by countryside and buffeted by the coast path and moor. I was driven by distance. After completing and winning the South Devon edition of Endurance lifes coastal marathon series in February I searched for a 50k to work towards. I settled on Keswick mountain festival and that became my goal. Even though my training was interrupted by a stress fracture from an accident at work I managed to hit my target of a top ten finish and a time of under 5 and a half hours. I am sure most runners can relate to the feeling of elation that comes after a target race and the hunt for another one. I wanted to do my first 50 miler and began my search.
I found Pure Trails big day out. They were staging 3 races on Dartmoor on August bank holiday weekend. A half marathon which crossed half the moor, the crossing (34 miles) which was from one side of the moor to the other and the extreme crossing (53 miles) which was the standard crossing route but with two additional loops that added 20 miles and increased the Tor-yield per mile. I haven’t explored the northern part of Dartmoor much so the race appealed to me in that respect and I have run the second half which I thought would aid me when I was struggling.
I left my car in South Brent where the race would finish and boarded a bus at 5:15 in the morning that would take us to Belstone to the start of the race. I felt prepared and had done training runs up to 40 miles to streamline my kit and nutrition. There were only 10 competitors, which was disappointing, I thought there would be more, the crossing and half attract nearly 200 each, but it was the first time the extreme crossing was staged and 50 miles is a long way so maybe people felt more comfortable doing the standard crossing. The registration and transport were well organised and stress free which is an important factor when you are getting up in the dark to run all day.
We started at 7am and the conditions were absolutely perfect. I do not think I have ever seen the moor so clear. You could see to the horizon and your vision was filled with the rolling tors and valleys of Dartmoor, with nothing but grazing livestock for company.
I set into a steady rhythm and was soon in the front with Lyndon Cooper. We ran close together until the first aid station at Postbridge, where we deviated off the standard crossing route for an additional loop taking in Lower white tor, Higher white tor and Longaford tor. We descended into Bellever forest and back to the Postbridge aid station. After leaving the aid station I had lost Cooper and the course took us over Bellever tor down through Hexworthy before getting onto the open moor again and making our way toward Princetown. This was the first time I started to struggle. My groin and hips especially were beginning to get painful and I was slowing down. I realised that I had made a big oversight in my training. I had thought that by chasing the ascent I would be able to cope easier with the relatively small amount (5500ft) of the race. But I overlooked the amount of damage the constant uneven boggy, rutted and stony tracks would inflict. I arrived into the Princetown checkpoint still in first place thinking I had a good lead, however as I was hoovering up Haribo and refilling my water I turned around and Cooper was right behind me looking much better then I felt.
I ran out panicking that he was so close behind me and embarked on the second additional loop. This was a much flatter section that should have been very runnable but the rocky track sent pain through my joints with every step. I was soon overtaken and was doing all I could to keep him in sight as we ran around Burrator reservoir and back to Princetown. I was losing ground and losing my mind. I knew I could push through it but couldn’t summon up the mental power to make myself and started accepting that I was now running for second. After dibbing at the Princetown checkpoint again we only had 13 miles to the finish, and after running the half marathon last year as my first trail race I knew this section well, and it had large sections of flat and downhill running.
My friends met me at this point and gave me a massive lift. I started to pretend that this was just a half marathon and that I could hammer it to the finish. The pain started to be pushed to the back of my mind and I was speeding up. Eventually 1st place came into view and now it was a mental game to will myself to maintain my pace to keep closing the gap. With 10 miles to go at a water station I finally caught and passed Cooper and started my charge to the finish. My frame of mind had completely changed and I was enjoying the race and the suffering again, in the knowledge that it was in my hands to win the race.
I crossed the finish line in 8hrs 47mins securing first place. The race was organised well and I was happy with my time as I was aiming for 9hrs. We were extremely lucky with the weather, it was warm and clear all day which reduced the bogs and made following the markings straight forward. My nutrition plan worked. I used tailwind and supplemented that with Clif bloks and whatever I could grab from the aid stations and had no lulls in energy. My main learning point was not to overlook the terrain. I should of done more of my long runs on the moor to get my legs used to running on uneven terrain for hours on end, because the jarring of every step became really painful by halfway.
- Inov8 Roclite 290’s
- Salomon Skinpro10
- North Face Better Then Naked shorts
- Salomon Fastwing tee
- Skins compression calf sleeves
- Suunto Ambit3 Peak