Endurancelife CTS Exmoor Marathon

When I think of Devon, I think of cream teas, fudge and ice cream – so what could be better than a nice morning stroll around the coastal paths of Exmoor? Maybe I should have taken some notice of the warning on the Endurancelife website – “rated 5 out of 5 for difficulty – this course is TOUGH – come prepared!”

I had the day off work on Friday, so a nice relaxed journey down to Ilfracombe and a little guest house for the night.A stroll down to the harbour in the evening, some last-minute carbs and electrolytes, (chips with extra salt and an ice cream) and an early night set me up well for the 6am alarm call.

Checking out of the hotel in my running gear I waved goodbye to the bemused guest house owner who had offered to get up early and cook me a massive fry-up, (I opted for the trusty banana / porridge combo). The start was around 10 miles away and the terrain didn’t look too ominous as I approached the race HQ. Upon arriving at the start we were directed up a 25% hill to the car park which was about a mile away. I parked up, filled up my water supplies in the backpack and set off down the hill to registration.

Blimey – getting back up ‘that hill’ to the car park is going to be fun at the end – apparently last year the organisers had destroyed the clutch on a mini bus ferrying runners back to the top!

At registration my number was written on my hand in permanent black marker, interesting… I picked up my number, pinned it on and watched the ultra and 6+ hour marathoners head off. Phew, I’m glad I’m ‘only’ doing the marathon I thought :-)

The race briefing was entertaining with the organisers telling us it was going to be tough, and to try and not to fall off any 300-foot Exmoor cliffs, (is that why our hands were marked in ink – in case that’s all that was left?) It was all very low-key, friendly and relaxed with less than 100 runners setting off around 9:00am…

The first 10km featured a loop back to the HQ, starting off in the forest before climbing 300+ metres along the coastal cliffs on narrow sheep trails – most of the group stayed together to Checkpoint 1 at 4 miles and the start of the descent back to the start line.

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I picked up a conversation with a CTS veteran and plodded along with him for the next 4 miles or-so, back through the start and then heading off on a long and arduous climb out of the valley. We exchanged stories of our running escapades, alternating jogging and walking to the top of the valley where I lost him after starting to run again…

The next section to Checkpoint 2 at 10 miles was on the road on rolling terrain, (I would ‘normally’ call it hilly – but it’s all relative!) after which we turned off and back onto the moors. Things got pretty vertical for a mile or-two as we scaled the moors and then came down pretty rapidly through a switchback section which was exhilarating. By this point the pack was stretched out a bit – I managed to pick up another conversation with a chap for few miles which helped pass the time.

Checkpoint 3 arrived at 17 miles in the forest and another big climb onto the top of the moors, though a graveyard and then back down the cliffs on the coastal path to Lynmouth at sea level.

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I’d completely lost track of time and distance by now, probably around 20 miles / 4 hours. Lynmouth was bustling with tourists, the pubs were open and we got some support wearily plodding through the town. Things were beginning to get tough now and my legs were getting heavy. The heat had picked up and I knew my supplies of water were running low, but it was only a few miles to the next checkpoint.

Out of Lynmouth we headed back up the cliffs and then back onto the moors before climbing back up to 300+ metres… I remember thinking at this point that this is the hardest thing I’d ever done… Of more concern was the fact that I had run out of water, was very dehydrated and Checkpoint 4 was nowhere in sight…

After getting to the top of the moors and starting my descent I was met by a group of 10+ runners coming the other way – this didn’t look good… Yep, we’d taken a wrong turn at the bottom of the moor and were on ‘another loop’ of the course. This was bad news and clearly had broken the spirit of the group which included several runners who had started on the early start.

It took everything I had to pull myself together, head back down the moor and onto the trail. I think I did an extra 3 miles and spent over 45 minutes on the diversion. By the time I stumbled into Checkpoint 4 at ’24 miles’ it had been 2hrs15 since the last checkpoint! I had a chat with the marshals while rehydrating and eating handfuls of cola bottles. After showing them on a map where the problem was, one of them headed straight out to sort out the signs!

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3 miles left… Rejuvenated by the final aid station, my mood changed and once again I had a new lease of life. The final few miles flew past and I cruised into the finish in just over 6 hours with a total distance of 29.59 miles!

The official results put me in at 6:03:42 and 79th of 116 finishers… If I take off the 45 minutes I ‘lost’ then I place around 24th and 4th in my age category! Just wait until next year :-)

After gulping down everything in liquid form I could get my hands on it was time to tackle ‘that hill’ back up to the car park… While comparing war stories with another finisher on the way up a car stopped and offered us a lift, whether he would have done that knowing how much sweat I’d leave on his Mercedes leather seats I don’t know…

Would I do it again? Definitely… I’m already looking forward to the CTS series for next year and doing as many of them as possible :-)

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