I only found out about the event a few days before it was being staged but I only live a few miles away so was eager to get involved on my local trails, and to raise some money for charity. The route was originally from Start Point to Bantham but due to the yellow weather warnings for wind the organisers decided to shorten the route to 20 miles and make it an out and back from Bantham to Salcombe.
As it was an ‘event’ not a race there was no mass start and you had to pick up your runners card and set off. The race organiser made provisions for people to only complete the first leg to Salcombe because the weather was due to get worse later in the day so if you were slower your return journey would of been in the worst of the weather. I tried to run it hard and treat it as a race for training purposes, but after struggling up the first ascent from Bantham I soon realised looking at my watch to check my pace was pointless as I was scrabbling around in a gorse bush looking for my Buff that had been blown off.
The area from Hope Cove to East Soar was particularly exposed and slow going although on the way to Salcombe every now and then a gust would come from behind and you’d end up nearly sprinting trying to keep your footing whilst making forward progress. I started to get into the rhythm of running at an angle battling the wind and was beginning to enjoy myself. The descent to the turn around point at the Winking Prawn was sheltered and a much needed respite from the elements.
I turned around and set off back the way I came, all was going smoothly until I rounded Bolt Head and realised the organisers were right and the wind was much worse on the way back, almost grinding me to a halt at times. One runner carrying an anemometer recorded 100kmh gusts on the way out and 165 kmh gusts on the return, 100 mph gusts! No wonder I was completely immobile at one point, swinging my arms and legs at the wind to try to keep moving. I was enjoying it less at this point I must admit and just wanted to get back and out of the relentless elements. On the trails that bordered beaches the sand was being blasted into your face, it was part exhilarating and part infuriating. Eventually I climbed up from Thurlestone and began the descent back to the life guards station where our battle with Brian started. My watch read 2hrs 56mins, I picked up my beautiful medal and headed home for some food and a warm bath.
Congratulations to everyone one who completed the event and thanks to the organiser who resisted the advice to cancel the event. I believe that was the right call, I was never in danger just moved a bit slower.
Two peices of kit I found invaluable in the wind was my Buff which kept me free of ear ache and my aptly named INOV-8 Stormshell jacket which kept the elements on the outside.
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.
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 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’
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.
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.
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
Inov8 AT/C Stormshell
Salomon long sleeve top
Salomon Skin Pro10
North Face better then naked shorts
Injini trail socks
Inov8 Roclite 290’s
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
Wiggle energy bar
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Being from South Devon and wanting to try a marathon distance race, I thought this instalment of the coastal trail series would be ideal. Having not done a specific marathon training plan I thought I would take the safe option and race the first marathon of my life locally so if I blew up I only had to travel a few miles home. It also gave me the opportunity to run on trails I have many of my long runs on so I felt comfortable throughout the race.
The race started and finished in Beesands, a small fishing village. This meant that you could be dropped off, which I was or park in Chillington and use the free shuttle bus to and from the event. Endurance life’s website list the average marathon time as 04hrs, 59mins, and a total ascent of 3,526ft. However of the over 100 runners this year only the top 8 ran under the alleged average time, but this may have something to do with the fact my watch gave the ascent at over 4,600ft and after looking on Strava the ascent from other racers was anywhere between my 4,600ft to 5,200ft so significantly more uphills. So at 27.6 miles and over 4,600ft of ascent on the slippery rocks and mud of the beautiful South West coastal path it was a challenging event. However in my opinion the best way to overcome the pain of a run is to have a magnificent view to inspire you and this race certainly provided that.
The course is extremely undulating and rated as 4 (severe) by Endurance life. I didn’t find I had to walk any of the hills which many runners did but they were certainly steep and as I approached mile 18 I could feel them leaching the strength from my legs. It was also at this stage of the race that my left knee which I have had issues with before (IT band) decided to really make itself known. I didn’t panic but took two Ibuprofen and at this stage I was in second place so my competitiveness drove me on. Eventually I caught Ben Francis who had been in front of me from the first checkpoint at mile 11 on the straight at Torcross at around 22 miles, this spurred me on and I managed to win in a time of 04hrs, 24. I was extremely happy to win and to run faster than my target time of 04hrs, 30 especially as there was over 1000ft more of ascent then I had anticipated. I was elated to hear at the medal ceremony that my close friend and frequent adventure buddy Oli Thorogood won the half in 01hr, 39.
The race was incredible and the views really do help you to push yourself through your preconceived limts, which are always further then you think. Endurance life put on a very efficient event and I would recommend them as an event organiser to anyone.