First 50 miler – Dartmoor crossing extreme

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.

Route map

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.

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Me struggling with 13 miles to go

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.

Kit list

  • Inov8 Roclite 290’s
  • Salomon Skinpro10
  • North Face Better Then Naked shorts
  • Salomon Fastwing tee
  • Skins compression calf sleeves
  • Tailwind
  • Clifbloks
  • Suunto Ambit3 Peak
  • Buff

Keswick Mountain Festival 50k race report

Ever since getting into off road running and reading Richard Askwith’s brilliant Feet in the clouds I have been longing to visit the area and run. I have been keeping a look out for races in the Lake Disitrict that would be a challenging distance and course profile and would also provide me with some stunning vistas. So when I stumbled across the Keswick Mountain Festival I instantly bought my ticket. It appealed even more to me because the festival would collect likeminded people together for a weekend and they held talks. On Friday I went to Ricky Lightfoot’s followed by Nicky Spinks & Jasmin Paris , Saturday was Donnie Campbell who also ran and won the 50k, so for an aspiring ultra, mountain runner it was perfect.

The course

‘The course is a mixture of wide open trails, single track (fast & technical), big long ascents & fast technical descents, open valley running & very remote feeling trails around the back of the Buttermere/Crummock Water & the Newlands Valley area. It takes in area’s that you will not have run in before. Expect to be blown away by the views of the 4 valleys we take you through & overwhelmed by the quality of running you will be enjoying. This race is not only tough, but is also one of the most scenic routes in the Lake District & takes mountains & lowlands in its stride offering you the best trail running experience in the country’

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50k route
50k elevation (2)
Elevation profile. My Strava came out at 5946ft of elevation gain

The alarm went off at 4.30 am to allow me time to devour some Summit to eat porridge which was a freeby from the festival and get myself awake and to the start line which was moved next to the Theatre by the lake for the 6am start time. The weather forecast was for 60mph gusts and rain but the temperature was moderate, and I recently had a 18 mile training run on Dartmoor which blessed us with zero visibility and driving rain so I had confidence in my kit and my ability to grind it out when the weather has other ideas.

I started at a comfortable pace and had to remind myself that although it was flat now I had another 32 miles to go so settled in to enjoying the race and trying to find a pace that was difficult but sustainable. We climbed up through the woods where we appeared above Walla Crag. Early on I tried to manage my ascents by realising there would be large sections where I would be more efficient and faster power hiking then trying to run. This egoless strategy semmed to work because throughout the race I felt good on the hills and was able to up the pace on  the more runnable terrain. I was running well in the top twenty and started to pass a few people in the lead up to the Honister mines. I found this the most difficult section. The climb was very steep and difficult and the high winds were really felt here, to the point where any forward progression felt like progress. I consoled myself by thinking of the old adage ‘what goes up must come down’ But the descent via Dubs Quarry round the back of Fleetwith Pike was extremely technical and I didn’t feel like I could gather any speed or flow. Whenever I thought I was cracking this rocky descent business I would stub my toe and nearly fall or kick a rock into myself.

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The view from the top of the ascent down to Buttermere

I had managed to find myself in 10th at this stage which is the position I maintained until the end. From the bottom of the descent we ran around  the southern shore of Buttermere & then Crummock Water to the 3rd Feed Station (CP 3) of the day at the foot of the lake and follow-on to run back up the north side, utilising the shoreline footpath. This was pretty flat in comparison to the rest of the race and I tried to crank out some faster miles here. The route then enterted the Rannerdale vale which was very wet and boggy leading to a single track hugging Whiteless Pike and Addacombe Beck. This section felt quite deceiving, I thought I should be able to run faster but I found it slower and more technical then I thought it looked. This is the most remote section and it certainly felt it.

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Somewhere around Whiteless peak

Following another rocky technical descent towards the Newlands valley, you are on the home straight back into Keswick, having just ran 32.7 miles and covered 6000ft of elevation gain, I was pleased to finish but felt that I could of continued if necessary which is good to know If I plan on upping the training to tackle greater distances.

Kit and fueling

For the race I used from top to bottom

  • Buff
  • Inov8 AT/C Stormshell
  • Salomon long sleeve top
  • Salomon Skin Pro10
  • North Face better then naked shorts
  • Injini trail socks
  • Inov8 Roclite 290’s

Nutrition

I used all of my own nutrition and drink for the race apart from a few chocolate digestives I picked up at CP4. I didn’t seem to suffer from a lack of energy and I think I attribute that to constantly sipping on my Tailwind which kept the dreaded bonk at bay.

  • I put two satchets of Tailwind nutrition in my bladder
  • Clif bloks
  • Wiggle energy bar

Conclusion

I loved the festival, great food and talks in the adventure tipi were amazing. The town of Keswick itself is also fantastic. It is surrounded by peaks and the views of Derwentwater are great. When it was raining all day on Saturday I went into town and looked around the shops which are a dream for anyone into running and outdoor activities, a special shout out to the guy in needle sports I spoke to and even checked the forecast for Sunday on the computer for me. The race was well organised even with the high winds forcing some last minute changes, the course marking was probably the best I have ever encountered and at no point was I ever concerned about where to go. I also got my most ambitious result of a top ten and 5.30hrs so overall I was very happy. I do not recommend driving back to Devon for 7 hours though immediately after running  33 miles, I have been a bit stiff since.

Strava of the race

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The view of Derwentwater from the shore of the festival 

Pure Trail’s Deep River Trail race half marathon report

The race began at Piddledown common just off the drive way to Castle Drogo at the top of the steep Teign valley. The race would take us down to the river where we would then snake through the beautiful wooded hillside in a loop before returning to where the pain began. 7 of the 14 miles have positive ascent and 7 have more descent then ascent. This equated to around 2,400ft of elevation gain for the course. I actually enjoy a hill usually but the length and severity of what we were faced with really took the power from your legs, then your thighs got thrashed on the mad dash down. Unfortunately it takes twice as long to get up them, so the feeling of forever running up hill couldn’t be descended from.

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Elevation profile

I had this race scheduled months ago but due to the whole tree falling on my leg fiasco I cancelled as I didn’t think I would recover in time. However I managed to start running again, albeit gingerly 2 weeks ago so decided to reenter and run anyway with no expectations. Having said that I also felt good on the start line so thought I would try to hang onto whoever was in the lead for as long as possible. This turned out to be a great tactic until we reached the first hill and the eventual winner Lucy Mcalister stormed on, with two other men in toe and I  knew then that they were beyond me. After that realisation I just tried to concentrate on putting in some serious effort and to just assess how I felt. Where the tree landed on me is sore when I run and to a much greater extent when I race, it feels like someone has kneed me really hard in the side of my calf, but I don’t think it limits me much, that came purely from not being in the same class as Lucy and the others. IMG_20170319_173643_024

The whole Fingle woods area is truly stunning, and if you are going to suffer for a few hours blowing out of your arse running up and down hills it does soften the blow substantially when you are surrounded by such natural beauty. I finished in 6th place in 1:54 with the winner finishing 5 minutes ahead of second in 1:43. When considering the less then ideal build up to this race I was happy on reflection of my time. I found my major weakness to be speed. I kept overtaking the guy who finished 5th on the uphills and would always be overtaken on the down and unable to keep pace on the flatter fast sections. So I need to start to incorporate some speed work into my training if I want to compete at these events.

Me running up one of the never ending hills

It was a very well organised event. The registration was seamless and the marshals who are so integral to these events were encouraging and ensured I didn’t run down any wrong paths. And for those who like these things the medal was a bespoke little number that is one of the nicest  I have seen.

Kit used

Salomon skinpro 10

Inov 8 Roclite 290’s

North Face better then naked shorts

Drymax socks

Inov 8 tee

Buff

Clif shot bloks

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Medal