I started running again after a trip to Finland in February. For a long time I have been fairly slim and fit but with a recent change in circumstances I stopped cycle commuting to work, started home baking and put on a lot of weight. After looking at myself in the mirror in Finland i was amazed at how overweight I was. On the back of doing a lot of snowshoeing on the snowy fells in Akaslompolo, I decided to got back to running again (I used to do a few 10ks in my 20s but gave up because of injury). Some might think this blog is silly, but for me this is the biggest achievement I have undertaken since I cycled from John O’Groats to Lands End, in 8 days, back in 2012, and I thought I would record it for posterity.
The road back to fitness
The road back to running has not been not an easy one. Being over-weight and trying to burn calories left me with a few torn calf muscles but I managed to also do some turbo training (with some help of some club music blaring from the garage) which helped lose some weight. My knees have suffered for a long time with chondromalacia and also effusions and also a partly ruptured knee ligaments so running can be painful, but assisted with drugs LOL. Over 3-4 months however I lost 1 1/2 stones in weight by reducing carbohydrates and also being pretty much T-total. Most of my runs were on tarmac of about 3-5 miles, but as I lost weight and did more running I returned to trail running on Dartmoor, which I enjoyed last year. I managed a local half marathon distance (without water – stupid) locally of 13.5 miles which was a big step up.
I was finding tarmac running a bit punishing and also boring so I started venturing to parts of the moor that I needed to drive to. Because I put in more effort to get there I ended up planning bigger and bigger runs. The furthest I had run, until a few weeks ago, was from Okehampton to Wild Tor and back, which was very enjoyable in the perfectly cool and cloudy weather.
I was then determined to run a bit faster and signed up for the Torbay Half marathon. I yet again got an injury and tore my calf but luckily this healed and i was able to do 2 or 3 weeks training before it. I managed a time of 1hr 48m and was pleased with that. In my mind I had thought about doing a marathon, perhaps next year, but that was about it, but the thought of doing it on tarmac didn’t appeal.
My wife and I had thought about walking across Dartmoor for a while and we were going to do it but after some long local walks we thought that my wife might not be able to complete all of it. I then had the idea of running across it. Kind of mad really going from 15 miles to 23-24 miles but hey it’s only another 7 or 8 miles???
I thought about north to south but that would be a longer run and logistically more difficult so I set about a run from the west moor to the east moor. Peter Tavy seemed like a good entry point then find a good running route across. I set about the 1:25K OS map to pick up as many good bridleways and footpaths as I could.
When I was satisfied with the route the estimated distance was around 23-24 miles with 2500ft of ascent. The 15 miles I had completed previously was 1500 ft so I thought at a slower pace this was achievable. The weeks weather was hot and dry but the Friday was forecasted to be cloudy. Given how dry East Dartmoor was this was a perfect time to attempt it before we started to get more rain and the boggy conditions of the moor returned. I also discussed my apparel with a good ,and very fit athlete, Harshan Gill and he suggested I get some calf compression guards to help project my legs from the undergrowth and gorse but also to help with cramp and fatigue.
My wife kindly volunteered to be my support crew and I had arranged with her to drive to Postbridge/ Bellever and also to Grimspound to allow me to top up my two 500ml soft bottles I had in my running vest. We parked at the quarry at Peter Tavy and the route started at Smeardon Down . I warmed up, put plenty of sun cream on, used a buff as a Saharan-style head protector and started off on the route at 8am. I walked the first five minutes to stop me doing my usual thing of tearing my calf and then started a gradual run up the first long climb of the day. The morning was foggy to start with, which I was glad of, but was fearful it would burn off as it stared to break up. I took my phone with me, both for a detailed OS map (my Fenix sports watch had the route planned too), as well as to take some snapshots of the beautiful moorland I would be crossing.
Luckily the Dartmoor weather prevailed and the cloud stayed and followed me across The first part of the route was unfamiliar to me as I passed Stephen’s Grave onto White Tor. The track was well defined and partly cobbled and the climb but easy going and dry.
The path topped out and I could see Cox Tor, Staple Tor, Roos Tor and also Great Mis Tor in the distance. Although the route initially took a northerly detour, the thought of missing out those three climbs was certainly a positive one! The track became more ill defined as I reached White barrow, opposite Cocks Hill, and some very boggy ground (luckily bone dry).
After passing Conies Down I dropped into valley and crossed two tributaries of the River Walkham, trying to keep my feet dry (I knew I wasn’t but you can try).
A few minor soaks I ran back out up Conies down to Conies Down Tor.
The path became more and more obscured as I approached Broad hole but to my amazement I picked a dry path and hopped over Conies Down Water and was dry the other side.
The approach Lydford Tor I was pretty much running between big grassy tussocks trying to pick my line until I found the path as I passed over the ridge to the north of the much more familiar Beardown Tors (I had camped at a few weeks ago). I was a bit more concerned about picking up the right path than taking any images, it seems, in hindsight.
I dropped down the steep hill to the old homstead site and down to the West Dart and I could see the familiar Wistman’s wood as I approached. I had planned to cross where the bridleway suggested but I decided to run down to the more familiar weir, miss out the bog and cut off the corner; a wise decision I think.
Over then up in between the two Longford Tors and down to the gate and onto Powermills Pottery which I could see in the distance.
I rang my wife to let her know I was stopping for a quick bite (by the way Naked date bars are excellent energy bars I have found as they are not overly sweet and easy to eat and all natural).
Onto the lay by at Bellever where my wife was waiting. Her smile certainly picked me up and she said I was quicker than she had thought (Probably to make me feel better!).
After a 5 minute rest and refuel I said goodbye headed into Bellever Forest and out the other side, passing Bellever Tor, and headed out to Cator Common on the road. I have to say this 2 mile stretch of road was painful and boring so I was very glad to come off it along the bridleway to Soussons Down and onto a small stretch of road at Ephraim’s Pinch and the Forest Shrouded Cairn Circle.
Challacombe Cottages were a welcome sight having, cycled and run extensively in this area, and I knew the route from now on without a glance at the route map. I knew this section was going to be the hardest as I was only just approaching half way. I phoned my wife again suggesting I was 30 mins away but my legs were heavy and the hills were starting to take their toll. Many of the short steep sections I fast walked instead, to conserve my strength, not being seasoned athlete. Coming around the corned of Challacombe I saw my wife at Grimspound pull in, but it still took like what seems ages to get there, as I detoured around Headland Warren Farm.
The second and last refill stop was a bit longer. I said to my wife I knew I cold compete the rest even if I had to walk, but of course, that would be the last resort. I changed my sweat soaked top and refilled my water bottle, took on board some more bars and a couple of emergency gels. I said my last goodbye and started the first steep climb at walking pace until I reached the prehistoric village and then started a very painful and slow paced run passed Hookney and Hameldown Tors.
The flat section on top and the descent down, passing the East Webburn River, was surprisingly OK and reaching Natsworthy I had a quick breather.
I had panned to run over Swine down and back up to Hound Tor but I decided to run along the track parallel with the road to Swallerton Gate and then up Hound Tor. By this time I had forgotten to take any images as I was starting to badly fatigue and had locked up my consciousness into another room in my head. It was starting to really hurt. Lifting my legs was becoming difficult I have to say. My watch still said 7 miles to go. I realised my estimation of 23-24 miles was wrong and it was going to be 26. Not a lot more but enough to add about 20-30 mins onto the run at my pace. Oh dear…
I had met a few people on the run and mentioned where I had started, but most people either didn’t realise where Peter Tavy was or haw far away it was LOL, nevermind. I walked down from Greator Rocks (having only ever completed the MTB climb up it once without stopping) and then picked my way around the bolders after the clapper bridge and onto Leighton. By this time the steep climb up to Black Hill was at walking pace. It’s hard enough to cycle or run up it on a typical day.
This is where I had an enlightened moment and decided not to follow my planned route down to Trandlebere off road but to carry on a bit further and go down my favourite MTB descent, through Oak Copices, and then onto the permissive path through Yarner wood on the Templer way. This would bring me out at Lower Down.
I was nearly home and, although it was getting hard, I knew I was only 2 miles form home. I had a breather and a chewy bar and texted my wife to say I was 30 mins away. The last 2 miles along the Templer way into Bovey Tracey were hot and humid. I knew I was going to compete 26 miles, and as I approached home, I was trying to divert around to complete a marathon distance. I added on another 0.3 miles by doubling back, but then I really was struggling mentally. Although I didn’t accomplish a full marathon distance of 26.2 I had done an extra 0.3 miles and also a lot of climbing. I was spent and that extra .2 miles were not important.
The distance and stats were not really important but it ended up being 26 miles with >3000ft of ascent and a moving time of 5hrs 10m. Total time just over 6 with stoppages and photos.
I am not really an athlete, but if I am moderately confident I can do it, I probably will. I think many endurance sports are down to focusing and mental strength after having completed several moderate endurance events before (OK not crazy stuff like ultra marathons or Trans continental events). I’m pretty chuffed at crossing Dartmoor in one day and by running. I look forward to the next challenge like the Dartmoor 600m peak challenge or perhaps north to south on foot in one go. Also it is a great way to see Dartmoor and visit tors I have not visited before.
A BIG thanks to my wife for helping me. I could not have gone without fluids.
Edit: Here is the route in 3D fly though from Relive.