A little while ago one of my favourite charities announced they would be doing a race. I’ve been a big fan of Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team Plymouth ever since they came and helped me on my Ivybridge Everest a couple of years ago. I also run a lot in the area of countryside and town covered by the team and never know when I might need them!!! Anyway, I always said that if anyone organised a prison break style running from Dartmoor Prison at Princetown then I would be up for it, and that is exactly what they did.
The race would be simple. Choose to be either a Delinquent (12 hour race) or a Felon (24 hour race), turn up on the 21st October and run as far as you can using public rights of way in the time allowed for your category. The end result would be determined by your distance “as the crow flies” from the start.
Naturally I entered as a Felon, but had no idea how far I would actually go on the day. My problem was that it wasn’t a target race for me and it would be coming early in my training plan as I head towards the Cape Wrath Ultra next May. I had to find a way of doing the race without interrupting my training, so originally I was going to run around the moors for a bit and then head for home, probably placing last with a distance of about 10 miles.
Of course as the race approached I decided that simply would not do. The weekend before I had pitched up and cruised around the Eden Project marathon (my 30th race of marathon distance or longer 🙂 ), then managed my normal training week. Surely 6 days later I could trot my way around the Devon countryside for a few hours and at least put on a moderate showing at the Dartmoor Prison Break. I couldn’t help myself especially as halfway in between the two races I turned 41. What a way to celebrate 😀
Storm Brian was in full effect, so I planned a route heading east with a continuous tailwind. Lots and lots of rain was forecast, so I packed accordingly and started off with head to toe waterproofs. My awesome Mum was in support, so I filled her little Hyundai with all my spare gear and was ready to rock.
Dartmoor Prison is a bleak and foreboding place. DSRT Plymouth had setup a robust camp at the prison farm, and we were all given a race buff and paper weight for starting. It was great to chat to members of the DSRT team as I grabbed a cuppa, registered, got my kit checked and had my tracker taped onto my bag. I noticed a few really good runners around, with Adam Holland being an obvious candidate for the win having a lot of race wins under his belt including the Eden Project Marathon the week before.
The start was brilliant. We all lined up just inside the outer prison walls, and as we started off the DSRT vehicles all started their sirens. How atmospheric!! I had a big grin on my face every time I thought about it. I probably looked like a right dingbat legging it in the rain and wind across Dartmoor with an ear to ear grin 🙂
My route was pretty straightforward. I would run down the road to Moretonhampstead, then deviate from the obvious route to take some really quiet back roads to Exeter. From there I would pickup the Exe Valley Path to Tiverton, then the Great Western Canal and the West Deane Way. Not an obvious route for distance, but it had some trail on it as well as a few hills and would be a bit of fun. I wasn’t going for a particular mileage, and would stop if I felt like I was having to dig too deep to ensure that I could carry on training the following week.
It all went perfectly, and to be honest I had a lovely time. I ran slowly to keep the exertion down. I ate well, alternating between flapjacks, malt loaf, Peperami and Bounce bars. I drank plain water, with salt tabs in my pocket that I didn’t need and had a ham roll at Exeter and Tiverton. I figured that at slow speed it would take me 2.5 to 3 hours to get to Moretonhampstead, then same again to Exeter and same again to Tiverton which broke the route down really well. I pretty much hit that right on the head with a 5 to 10 minute stop in each one restocking and changing wet socks for dry ones.
I really enjoyed the feel of managing my own race, knowing there was a competition going on, but feeling slightly remote from it. Being responsible for my own checkpoints (thanks Mum!) and doing my own navigation was great. I was totally surprised to find at one point that I was in second place with Adam Holland a commanding 10 miles ahead. He was really fast and just seemed to keep going.
When I got to Tiverton I was a couple of minutes late to meet Mum. It was about 2130 at this point and I had been running for 9.5 hours. I had taken a wrong turn in town and prior to that I was delayed finding my way through a very muddy field in the dark. I was having a bit of a sense of humour failure. My energy was starting to run down, so I picked up my walking poles after meeting Mum and set off into the renewed rain. I struggled initially in the dark to find the start of the canal tow path, but got there in the end. I was just walking now with a bit of trotting here and there. I wanted to do a few more miles before calling it a night. I wanted to at least be out and about past the end of the 12 hour race given that I was in the 24 hour race after all.
I eventually called it at about 00:30 and phoned in to the race HQ from Tiverton Parkway station to let them know that I was wrapping it up. They were really cool about it. I was still in second place, but knew that was likely to slip with so long remaining on the clock.
My distance on the ground was 50 miles and my distance as the crow flies was just under 38 miles. Adam Holland finally finished at about 67 miles (80 miles on the ground) because he had nobody else pushing him on. He did a sterling job and I couldn’t have got near him even if I was taking the race seriously. The guy that eventually got second place, Andy Moir, did amazingly as he had chosen to go into the wind and into Cornwall. He kept pushing on into the wee hours of the morning until he had a couple of miles on my final distance. The most heroic attempt of the race if you ask me.
Anyway, I had so much fun that I really hope they run the race again next year. I was going to target a 100 mile race after the Cape Wrath Ultra, but after the Prison Break I have a couple of ideas and think I can go an awful lot further……I really want another shot at it and this time I’m going to be pushing 🙂