This race has become an annual pilgrimage for Julie and myself, and as always, if it wasn’t for Julie I would probably never have entered it for the first time back in 2010. I accept it is a long way to travel for a race (154 mile round trip), but with a civilised start time of 10:30 and an easy drive up the A30, there are no valid reasons to not run this race except the cost of the fuel to get there. CAR SHARE!!!!!!!
So this year the plan was for “Sidney Skoda” to transport myself, Julie and a new addition to Sidney’s interior…..Helen Dodwell to the race. Would Helen be able to cope with us old croc’s and our constant chatter? Only time would tell.
Julie arrives at my house as planned but today she is not in the right frame of mind to run this race. Tragic news that I’m not going to expand upon, had left a mark on her and today was a day to get away, clear the head and hopefully refresh the soul. This is where good friendship comes into play and with 77 miles to Drogo, I’m sure we can provide some sort of therapy along the route. Helen Joins us at Kingsley village, and constant chatter accompanies us on the 1hr 15 minute drive into darkest Devon.
The last few miles to Castle Drogo are along rather narrow country lanes through the surrounding woodland. The trees are resplendent in their autumnal hues. I advise Helen to look to her right as we take a sharp left hand bend in the road, as this will be her first view of the castle, sitting proud on top of the hill. Ahhhhh what have the National Trust done? They have shrink wrapped the whole of the castle in white plastic. It really isn’t very pretty but the trees are amazing!
We turn right and drive up the long driveway to the Castle. Each year we attend this race, we arrive at 9:30, and each year we have to park further away from the castle. There are scores of cars behind us. Oh how this race has become increasingly popular, but the route can take it, well after the first mile and a half.
This is a National trust race. This means no mod cons other than what the property can provide. So at Drogo, that is good toilets and a nice café and shop. No showers! If you are a hardy soul, then you come prepared and my bag holds a whole set of clean clothes and plenty of baby wipes. It’s not raining, so this should be fine.
Race numbers collected from the tent next to the shrink wrapped castle and today I am sporting the mirror image of my age….15.
I must have been eager to enter this race? The air temperature was registering 7 degrees on Sidney’s dashboard when we arrived and I am shivering. There is no breeze, it’s just the damp that is seeping into my old bones. Long sleeve T, TRC vest and ¾ length running tights I think and most importantly, off road trail shoes. There could be a mud fest ahead.
I’ve not been very happy with my choice of this year’s multi terrain shoe that I bought to replace the previous pair. And road shoes are not really a good choice for the terrain we will be running along. I will just have to make do and then shop for another pair in time for 2014’s season. I might have to sneak a new pair into the house, whilst husband who doesn’t run, is out playing GOLF!
So today’s TRC team is James Lloyd, Helen Dodwell and yours truly! Where were all the other TRC runners who showed an interest when I first advertised this race on our FB page?????? Some of you might have been mad enough to enter the Cornish Marathon, (Steve Rawson being one of them) but where were the rest of you?
The three of us stand at the start line chatting whilst Julie goes off for a stroll towards Fingle bridge. We are stood towards the front of the pack, which I believe in this race, is a very wise choice. We may be trampled by faster runners in the first 100yds, but the first mile and a half provides several bottle necks which eat into your race times. We wish each other good luck, and we are off.
Garmin activated, Lungs behaving as we all hurtle up the short stretch of Tarmac before the sharp right turn down a set of uneven muddy steps and onto the footpath high above the Gorge. The view to my left is simply stunning. The forest on the opposite side of the gorge is made up of deciduous trees which are displaying a huge range of brown orange and yellow hues. The temptation to soak up the view rather than look where I am putting my feet is overpowering, but brain kicks into health and safety mode, and I now check the ground ahead of me for trip hazards. DG from St Austell running club is just ahead so we exchange a few words.
This path starts off level, then it twists downhill over some rough uneven stony ground. It’s at this point that about 15 stone of male runner (he may have been wearing a North Devon road runner shirt, white with red lettering) steam rollers through the group I’m running in, nearly sending me off down the slope to my left and into oblivion. I push him slightly with my right arm, but he is too big for me to mess with. I have a nasty thought, and hope he twists his ankle on the cattle grid coming up, but that’s unsporting, just like the move he has just made.
Down a rough lane we continue to run. Note the word “DOWN” we’ve been going downhill for what seems like ages, and you all know that can only mean one thing. Well we cross a cattle grid, climb a stile, then we reach the suspension bridge over the river. I go into shock. There is no queue, the bridge is easy for me to run over and then the few steps up to the stone stile take seconds to traverse. I’m slightly disappointed, as this bridge is usually grid locked like the M25, giving this old croc time to converse with those around her. Not this year, we are straight through, totally unhindered.
The next mile is undulating, with various depths of mud and rank puddles of fermenting leaves to plough through, but at mile 3.5 HELL arrives. Hell is a hill of about ¾ mile in length. Those of you with stronger lungs and legs than mine could run it. I tried back in 2010, then realised that walking was faster. My face has started to dissolve. I appear to have salt water springs emerging from all sides of my head and my security hanky isn’t as absorbent as I had hoped. It’s not even summer, how will I cope next year in Palma?
I actually overtake quite a few people on this hill. One girl runs past me, then gives up and resorts to the far more sensible option of walking. We reach the top and we undulate along more muddy stony paths before a great downhill section. A downhill where brakes don’t work and keeping both feet off the ground is the best way to tackle it. To novices in this race, it may appear that the hills are done, but no, before too long we have yet another long climb upwards, but the gradient is such, that I don’t have to walk this time.
I must be on fire. My sprinkler system has started up again and if I stood still for any length of time, I could even form my very own salt water lake fit for a flock of flamingos.
At last another downhill. It’s mile 7ish (the mile markers are not very accurate along the route of this race) and my big toe nails are screaming out at me to stop. They feel bruised and each step forward forces them to the front of my shoes only bruising them further. I grit my teeth and hope I reach the bottom soon.
We are back down to river level, and the track here is very uneven with a surface made up of lumps of small stone, mud, puddles and at least 3 small river crossings ( I exaggerate here, but there is water leaking out of the hillside causing small streams to cross the path) which you can either leap over or plough through?
At the end of this FLAT section there is a water station. Now we passed this same station earlier in the race, but I must have been in a trance at that stage as I have no recollection of it at all. I abstain from taking on any water, and proceed onto some tarmac that leads over Fingle Bridge, with the pub of the same name to my right. Up ahead I hear someone shouting “Come on Hana” and there are Izzy and Fergie cheering me on. I high five Izzy, then ask, “Why aren’t you running”, well I had no idea she had run some huge distance race the day before!!!!!
I may have been smiling a few seconds earlier, but it was now time to climb the “Hunters Path”. Yes Climb! It winds ever upwards and sucks all traces of oxygen from your lungs. There is no choice but to lean forward, put your hands on your thighs and speed walk. Once again a lady tries to run past me, but in no time at all, I overtake her as she can no longer run. At this point in the race, you know that you have less than 2 miles to go and that thought keeps you going.
I reach the top and my legs really quite like walking. Running on the other hand, doesn’t seem that appealing, but I’m overtaken by a lady with greying hair, and this kick starts the inner terrier in me, so I give chase.
We play cat and mouse for the last mile along the top of the Gorge, then before I know it, it’s a sharp right turn up a grass, turning to mud, slope and onto Tarmac and the final 50m. I go for the sprint finish. I overtake the lady with greying hair but she is having none of this and with 20 feet to go, she scoots past, I smile and the finish line is crossed.
I check my Garmin and can’t believe what I can see. The last two years I have run almost the same time of 1:38 41 and 1:38:45 but today I cross the line in 1:35 almost 4 minutes faster. I’m a very happy bunny.
Helen and James are there waiting for me, James though has what looks like an ice pack in his hand as he emerges from the St Johns Ambulance lair. Julie takes our photo, then as my body is cooling too rapidly, it’s time to use the wet wipes, pile on the dry clothes and drink hot tea.
We don’t win any prizes, the Race Memento is a technical T Shirt which although labelled as SMALL, must have been fashioned for a small elephant, but this race is FAB!
- The scenery is magical.
- The terrain is challenging but not extreme.
- And the toilets are spot on.
I will be back in 2014 if the body is willing. How about You?