According to an ancient proverb, the small, two-legged Scottish highland animal, the haggis (pl. haggae) have one leg longer than the other so that they can stand on hills without falling over. The same can be said of the good people of Lynton, Devon, who have a spectacularly gradiented environment to live in. Even my little Renault, ‘Cliopatra’, sounded like a food blender when climbing the hill to our hotel in first gear. “The hills send some visitors crazy”, explained our hotelier, John. Then I explained to him that I planned to run up them, to which he replied “you’re mad”. It was worrying to hear a local say such things, but with the words ‘crazy’ and ‘mad’ ringing in my ears, I headed to bed on Friday evening, both excited and nervous about what lay ahead.
The run itself is called the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series Exmoor Half Marathon: a collection of daunting-sounding words which, in hindsight, I was thankful included the word ‘half’. This was no casual stroll. At the start you are warned to look out for exclamation marks on signposts that let you know that “something scary is coming up, like a cliff edge”. I also had to ensure that I had a set of mandatory kit items that many a cub scout wouldn’t possess, like a foil-blanket and a whistle. The series of races is synonymous with tough tracks and this particular one is renowned as the toughest. It has a total incline of 350 metres, which were scaled within the first 5 miles, and there was around 1000 metres of ascent, which would burn even the hardiest of thighs.
The path was often narrow, the edges often steep and the footing not always sure, as I discovered when a misplaced step sent me tumbling head-over-heels down a hill! The uphill sections were physically draining and mentally demoralising, especially when you struggle up to the brow of a hill, only to find another stretch of climbing waiting around the corner. There were around 4/5 sections where everyone was walking up, no human could possibly run them. The downhill sections were hardly relaxing. Knees were tested on the uneven surface and you were forced to duck and weave around branches, roots, bushes and sheep. That said, the scenery was truly epic and this was as good a way as any to appreciate it.
Several didn’t make it back in one piece, so I’m fairly relieved I did. I finished in 2 hours 23 minutes, which placed me right in the middle of the field, many of whom were experienced ‘trail runners’, not ‘mildly overweight city types on a weekend in the country’.
Now for the shameless plug: I was, along with some workmates, raising money for Parkinson’s UK and although finished, it is not too late to donate. Every penny makes my stiffness this morning all the more worthwhile! To donate visit the Just Giving page.
By George Lines