Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Thar be piskies up to Dartymoor...

...An’ tidden gude yew zay there bain’t.
I’ve felt ’em grawpin’ at my heart,
 I’ve heard their voices callin’ faint

The Dartmoor Highground was in the right place at the right time in every way. With Spartathlon 4 weeks away I had Carte Blanche from James to run a race that weekend provided it wasn't much over 100km and was going to be training rather than all out racing. 

For the past 5 years I've lived on South Dartmoor, running the tracks and trails around Burrator Reservoir, Princetown and the Walkham valley. These trails had become my second home and, after my fracture, my rehab playground. From hopping one-legged across Yelverton Airfield on crutches to marching along the Walkham trail in my squeaky Donjoy brace, the call of these trails was what got me off my bed and back outside in those early post-injury days, when I felt that my world had crumbled beneath me. I love the open expanses and freedom of the moor. Since my early teens my nickname has been Pixie...I feel at home in the open wilderness.

However, I am also a creature of habit, and poor at navigation to say the least. There were times I would stare out over the moor, longing to just take off, but knowing full well the ease at which the familiar landmarks distort and disappear, and how quickly I would become inextricably lost. With a very real risk of being 'Pixie led' (http://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/piskie_led.htm),  my forays into the moor have been limited to the outskirts around my home. 

So the chance to run on Dartmoor, that beautiful, wild and untamed expanse, but on a fully marked and supported route...that sounded too good to be true!

But it wasn't. Thanks to the Freedom Racing crew. They have made the dream come true with this race. 50 miles of open moor. Slogs across bogs, scrambles and climbs up the highest tors, bouldery yet runnable descents to soggy river crossings. This was like a cross between mountain and fell racing. But fully marked! And WHAT markings! The challenge on this route would have been to manage to get lost! There wasn't one point that I wasn't sure of where to go. For me, someone who loves to just run unencumbered by the worry of 'where to', this really was a dream come true. 

An early start was worth it for this sunrise

The race started early, and the beauty of this was that we were treated to a spectacular sunrise across Yes Tor. Bathed in orange light we started the first climb. Tom Sutton (Race Director) had made his way to the first major turn in the route to make sure no one missed it. This attitude pretty much sums up the Freedom racing team. Running their race you are in experienced, capable and very caring hands. 
Boudicca the Bionic Knee takes on the first tor

The first loop was mostly runnable hills and trail. A few stony paths, some lovely grassy downs on the outskirts of Belstone. It eased you into the run in a gentle way. From the first/second checkpoint things got a bit more gnarly. Down one descent I lost a shoe in the sucking peaty mud. This then gave way to more brutal climbs. Although shorter in distance than some climbs in the Peaks and Lakes, Dartmoor Tors have no real paths up them. The ground underfoot is reed and long grass, tussocks, bogs and boulders. You have to focus, pick up your feet, really concentrate on the best line of attack. Sometimes you feel like you should be running, the gradient isn't that steep, but the ground underfoot is so technical you simply can't. It plays tricks on you. 

Down the descent onto the third section I passed the marathon runners coming up the climb. I really enjoy races where there's a bit of a cross-over of courses. It's a chance to give and receive some love from fellow runners. My shouts of 'crack on guys!' were met with yells back of 'you're flying!'. Real camaraderie from people in simultaneously the depths of misery and heights of euphoria! 

The final section was, for me, a mixture of a tough energy-less drag followed ultimately by total freedom. I found out at checkpoint 4 that I was in the lead. I knew Adam Holland was running this race, and having seen a tall dark figure sprinting off at the start, had assumed he was still ahead. Having never met him, I didn't realise that he was the guy who I had overtaken at about 30 miles. When I found out I was now ahead of him, I started looking back over my shoulder. The trouble was, I also didn't realise that the marathon runners would by now be behind me. So I beasted myself up to the final big climb, not realising the dark figures in the distance behind me were actually on the marathon course! I had bonked just before the 4th checkpoint, as I stupidly neglected my fuelling and had wolfed down a load of coke and malt loaf at CP4. This sugar rush kicked in half way up the final big climb. From that point I was flying. Add to that a pretty much entirely down hill 4 miles to the finish...wooHOOOOO!!  The descents on this run were all gloriously runnable. I still struggle with anything very steep and technical, but these were all descents I could really fly down. I was using a pair of shoes given to me by La Sportiva..Helios. They really let me use my feet where my knee starts to get weak. I cruised along the leafy riverside path back to race HQ and the finish, to come first overall in a time of 8hrs 37. Over an hour faster than the guy in second. 

This race was an absolute dream from start to finish. Impeccably organised, in a perfect location and with a course that was so meticulously marked that even I couldn't get lost. I sat with a beer and chips from the café at the finish line, cheering the other runners in, in a happy post-race euphoria. 

Thank you so much Tom and Nicky and all the guys at Freedom Racing. You have created something really special here! 

Thar be piskies up to Dartymoor....

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