A very long day began with the alarm going off at 2.30. Everything readied the night before, so only a case of struggling out of bed, getting dressed and grabbing some breakfast before Justin Lowell, my MudCrew colleague, picked me up on the way through from Penzance. A quick 15 minutes and we met up with Sharon Sullivan, also Mud Crew, who was driving us up to Exmoor and back. The trip up was a bit of an adventure in itself, with a few wrong turns which meant we saw Okehampton 3 times in the early hours!
We arrived at Hunters Inn, where the race was to start and finish, and it was a glorious location at thebase of a wooded valley. The first thing that struck us was that we were surrounded by extremely steep hills, and there was clearly only one way out! It was at this point some kind person pointed to the massive hill behind Hunters Inn, and told us this was the start of the race, not only that, but we had to repeat the same 10k loop at the end, after we had already run a marathon, to make up our ultra distance of 34 miles. Justin and I had already decided to run around together, as neither of us had ever run this distance, and we already knew the terrain was graded as extreme, and just by looking around we could see that was justified. Because of our lack of ultra experience, Justin and I planned just to get around in one piece, running at a pace we could comfortably sustain. After 18 months of injury interruptions, and a longest run over the last 2 years of 22 miles, that was a stiff enough task.
After a very long (too long!)briefing we set off at 8.25, and started on the first climb of many during the day. The route broadly consisted of brutal climbs, and gruelling descents, incredible views and stunningly beautiful scenery which made it all worth while. We completed the first testing 10 k loop, settled into a sustainable rhythm, and headed off to the east towards Lynton. We went through beautiful woodland and coastal areas, Woody Bay, Lee Abbey, Valley of the Rocks, Lynmouth, Watersmeet, up to the top of Countisbury Hill, back down to Lynton, climbed back up to the Valley of Rocks and headed back before repeating the original horrendous 10k loop. Quads were screaming from around 18 miles, a combination of the endless ascents and descents. If you looked ahead it looked horrendous, if you looked back you were amazed at what you`d run already! Without doubt, this fantastic route makes both the RAT, and the Classic look positively mundane. I should think it must be the hardest route mile by mile in the SW, and a great challenge for any runner. My quads were getting worse and worse by about 29 miles, although feeling really good in myself. Justin and I decided to part company at that point. At about 31 miles I was able to move relatively freely again, and ran in most of the last 3 miles, finishing in 8.27. Without doubt, I would have got in under 8 if the quads weren’t a problem, and had loads left in the tank. It was a great learning curve, a “very steep” one actually, but these races are completely different animals. Definitely a must go back and do again race. If you don`t know the area, visit it….its awesome!