|Hard-earned completion certificate!|
The LDWA Hundred, or the Camel-Teign Ivor's Dream 100 to give it the full name, was my target event for the first half of 2013. Although I've been taking it very seriously (after all if your first hundred miler doesn't warrant a thoughtful approach what would), I'd not been able to get an consistency into long runs for several months - life just keeps getting in the way. So the prep for this was infrequent 18-25 mile long runs, a single 50k (the Marlborough Downs Challenge) and a lot of dog walking. I felt pretty fit, in fact I'd done pleasingly well on a fitness test three weeks before the event, but I was very aware I was lacking in terms of hours on my feet.
The route was on the face of it very simple, a broadly west to east traverse from Wadebridge in Cornwall to Teignmouth in Devon, crossing from the north Cornish coast to the south Devon coast in the process. The route had diversions from the straight line to take in Bodmin Moor and Kit Hill, and also took a roundabout route into Teignmouth to finish, avoiding Newton Abbot.
As a result of my poor prep, I planned to cut my cloth to suit and to start very conservatively. The first 11 miles were all on the Camel Trail out of Wadebridge and were terribly runnable, so much so that I was scared I'd go way too fast and crash and burn later. I didn't really know the next 20 miles but I did know the terrain on Bodmin Moor. This would bring us to North Hill via Bolventor (home of the Jamaica Inn), where a further moorland section would drop us down into Pensilva.
I'd reccied from there to Dartmeet on the far side of Dartmoor at Easter on the basis that Pensilva would be the point it got dark if things were going not-so-well, and by Dartmeet it would be light.
So, on to the event itself. We arrived in Wadebridge about an hour before my start time (I decided to go for 11:30 rather the 09:30 because I would end up waiting at CP2 for it to open even at a steady walk off the earlier start). I registered and dropped my breakfast bag off with a few goodies to cheer me up when I got to Tavistock.
We wandered over from the Town Hall to the start in Jubilee field next to the river at about 11:00 and while most of the 70 or so walkers and runners on this start stood around I took the weight off and lay on the grass for a while in the sun. Then it was starting time and after a couple of brief speeches and instructions we were away. The predicted cavalry charge got underway straight from the off, but I stuck to the plan and walked (albeit at about 13 minute pace) to start with.
I chatted with Wendy who’d done a 100mile track walking race recently and was telling me about it. She and her other LDWA friend Tara, also around and about, had finished 5th together, the first competitors walking with a “normal gait” apparently – although they can both crack on a bit without having to “do the waddle”. We moved along past pretty salt marshes and long abandoned railway halts to Dunmere. Here there was a drop bucket for the number (presumably to save the organisers recording 500 numbers all at once). There was cake here, and I took a tiny piece of lemon cake.
The next stage had been rerouted and followed the Camel Trail almost to Blisland, with a manned self clip where we turned off the old railway. I walked with Andrew who’d done quite a few hundreds before and chatted through my tactics, which he seemed to think were reasonable (or maybe he was being polite and not telling me that 4mph on day 2 might be a bit optimistic?) Anyway Blisland soon came and we all took a ten minute break for some refreshments. I filled my bottle and used the loo, took a jam sarnie (left the crusts) and some melon and we were soon on the way again.
The next section went down a steep single track and crossed some interestingly rough scrub land.
|Tara leads the experienced LDWA fast walkers towards St Breward|
I jogged on ahead of the experienced LDWAers group (Wendy, Tara, Fabrice and Andrew) and promptly overshot the next turn, missing the gate which was supposed to be marked with a waymarker but wasn’t. The guys shouted me (loud enough in the end) and I jogged back from my 300 yard detour and caught them up as we came into the pretty village of St Breward and passed the first pub on the route (gosh that was tough). I was feeling ok and was ahead of the schedule a little here. We were soon climbing up towards the barn at Candra which was checkpoint 3, the last civilisation before Bodmin Moor.
|Wendy striding ahead across the west edge of Bodmin Moor|
|CP3 at Candra (mile 17)|
The checkpoint looked like a plague of ravenous creatures had been through – I had a shattered sausage roll and some water and refilled my bottle, and we were away again, still mostly walking but doing a fair clip. I’d agreed with Zoe that I’d text her from Candra if i wanted to change the plan to meet at CP6 and I did this now, as I was sliding around in my new socks a bit and could feel some hotspots developing on my feet. Not good 17 miles into a 100 mile event.
Anyway we continued across the moor to reach the south ridge of Brown Willy, the highest point in Cornwall. Following the ridge up we were passing more and more of the 09:30 starters now. I reached the top a moment or two ahead of Fabrice who I’d been chatting to on the way up about the UTMB races, and walked the thirty yards from the manned checkpoint up to the summit tor (somehow I couldn’t come this close to the top and not go all the way).
|Catching 09:30 starters on the south ridge of Brown Willy|
|Tara limbing towards the summit of Brown Willy|
|Tara and Fabrice at the top of Brown Willy|
Coming off the top there was a short technical descent heading east, and I ran this and then run/walked on my own the remaining two miles or so to CP4 at Bolventor, crossing under the A30.
|Running down to Bolventor - mile 22|
This was the first CP with hot food, and I enjoyed a (too) small bowl of penne carbonara and a plate of apple pie and custard. Then I was away again, down the road then up the hill to a plantation before we turned south towards North Hill. I did much of this cross country leg with a fellow Shropshire entrant, Paul from Ludlow. He’d done the Houseman 100 two years ago in our home county, and was moving very well – we both mostly walked a stage which was a mixture of forest track, open moorland and finally lanes. Just before the North Hill Checkpoint, Fabrice, Tara and Wendy caught us up.
Zoe was waiting at CP5 with the socks as promised, so I went fairly quickly through the checkpoint and then to the car, where I changed my socks (but didn’t inspect or dress my feet). This was probably the biggest mistake I made on the whole event, one I’d regret in the second part of the night, and for the whole of the following day! There was a lovely steady climb from the village up onto the moor, where we picked up a former mineral railway. We skipped along the old granite sleepers which were ideally spaced for the ladies, but perhaps a little too close together for Fabrice and me. It didn’t seem to take long before we started the descent to Pensilva with the shadows now notably lengthening. Coming off the hill we could see Callington (CP7) and Kit Hill away in the distance.
|The Mineral Tramway|
|Descending to Pensilva - Kit Hill and Callington visible above the plantation|
At Pensilva I was again fairly quickly in and out of the checkpoint (37 miles,), and then met Zoe by the car outside. It was 9pm, so I changed into my overnight clothes (t-shirt and shorts off and thermal and thicker tights on – there was already a nip in the air, I was probably walking a little more than I expected and the last thing I wanted was to be cold overnight). Fabrice, Tara, Wendy, Andrew and Paul must all have been away from here before me, and I didn’t see them again (except Fabrice, briefly, at Callington) during the event. I did the next leg on my own, passing a few more 09:30 starters, and running quite a few sections. After a couple of miles I was using my headtorch to check the directions (although I’d been here before on the reccie and did recognise quite a lot of it), and by the end of the trails two miles outside Callington it was on to walk / jog with.
I spent a few minutes in the Callington checkpoint and then went out to the car for a brief chat with Zoe. She made me a nice mug of sweet tea and walked with me up the road for the first three quarters of a mile of the next leg while I drank the tea. Saying farewell for the night I set off along a back lane that would take me up to the start of the Kit Hill climb. Somewhere along here I met Ian Walker who I’d see later on several times. We had a nice chat on the way up Kit Hill, but I felt most comfortable running the descent down a big old inclined plane so left him behind for a while. A section of rough enclosed path led onto a lane which would take me down to the checkpoint at Luckett. I’d been recording a few voice memo diary entries for my friends’ podcast “The Long Run” and did one as I got onto the road. There was a full moon, still red and low in the sky to the south, but enough to light the road sections so I could put my headtorch in my pocket and run without.
At CP8 I stopped for a 15 minute break (I guess) and took some food – mostly savouries and a cup of sweet tea on board. I later found out this was where I’d passed my friend Phil Clarke. He’d been having a rough time with his stomach and stopped here for an hour and a quarter, but he got up and got going again to finish his 6th hundred, this one in 37 hours or so. Leaving on my own again I had a peaceful walk/jog along the ridge on the Cornish side of the Tamar, with an amazing view across the valley which was filling with cotton wool mist to the opposite ridge, clothed in conifers and back lit by the moon. That ridge was in Devon, and soon I’d be at the Horsebridge where we’d cross. Almost halfway!
I did another voice recording on the way down to the bridge and then paused to take a very blurry picture of the sign before crossing into Devon. In the right county now!
I was abruptly woken from my nightdream (kind of like a daydream but after dark) by shouts from behind as I’d managed to skip on a section of the instructions and miss a turn. A big thank you to the folks I’d just passed there. There was a steep climb up from the river through some metal kissing gates: the air was full of wild garlic and I was feeling pretty at one with the world. The next section dropped down a road to enter the forestry land around several former mines. I’d accidently drunk water from a polluted stream here on the reccie but didn’t make the same mistake twice. You only need to see a sign with the word “arsenic” on it once I suppose.
At the end of the long climb through the woods I passed another couple of lads who seemed to be going quite well. We came out onto the road and after a mile crossed the B road. I was back on unknown ground now as I’d deliberately not reccied the run in to Tavistock – it was mostly road and disused railway. I was starting to really feel the soreness in my feet now, and I struggled to keep going at a steady walk over what seemed like a very long drag to the Tavistock checkpoint. I could hear the guys behind me and knew I was slowing down and starting to struggle a bit. Still, the lights of Tavistock and two interesting old viaducts helped me along and through it and I eventually dropped down into the grounds of Kelly College and the checkpoint (55 miles, 15:36 elapsed time).
Coming into big checkpoints after the longer stages (especially when you’ve been solo) is a strange experience: I often find it difficult to “come round” and start interacting with folks again, especially as all the helpers are usually so hyped up and keen to help, to gee you up and help you keep going. Anyway we were led through the whole process, collecting our “breakfast bags” (although I arrived jsut after 3 am), then moving into a changing room where there were bowls and hot water and soap to wash tired (and in many cases, wounded) feet. I got my feet out of my shoes and socks and sure enough there were 50p sized blisters on the balls of both feet. Not a great discovery with 44 miles still to go, but I kind of knew they were there anyway.
I cleaned and tried to drain the blisters. Hint here, a safety pin is not adequate for bursting blisters - much better something that can make a small cut. Next time I'll take a scalpel. I got the one on my right foot sorted and Compeeded up properly, but on my left foot I couldn't really drain it properly and made do, which was a bit of a mistake. I did enjoy a great bottle of chocolate milk from the breakfast bag while doing this though - that was certainly not a mistake. By this time Ian W had arrived and demonstrated the correct technique on his huge blisters using a tiny pair of nail scissors. As he cut into one blister a huge fountain of "juice" erupted from his foot. Not good.
Anyway I moved on, with clean socks, to the refectory where a very nice lady tried hard to persuade me to eat a full cooked breakfast. I wasn't feeling too great and only managed a couple of sausages and a couple of tinned plum tomatoes, washed down with the obligatory sweet tea. I spoke briefly to a guy who was doing the event with his girlfriend. He looked totally out of it, and she was even worse, returning as I left from an extended stay in the smallest room. Doing my best to put the negative thoughts away I handed my breakfast bag back (it would now be taken to the finish) and set off for Princetown.
It was still dark but the dawn chorus was underway as I marched the long mile towards Tavistock then up the steep sleepy suburban road to the golf course. Here the light was starting to come, and as I made my way towards Sampford Spiney a group of walkers caught up with me. We leapfrogged for a while and I was amused that a couple were repeatedly getting 50 yards ahead and then going the wrong way so I could catch up. I did tell them I'd reccied the section (it was a bit confusing in places) but they just kept on making the route up as they saw fit. 100 miles may not be so far (thanks for that b****cks, Karl Meltzer) but it's far enough you don't want to make it 110!
Anyway we passed through Sampford Spiney (a beautiful hamlet) and dropped down a steep lane to cross the road and start the ascent of Dartmoor.
|Cox Tor and Staple Tors from the climb to Ingra Tor|
This wouldn't be too bad ordinarily, but at daybreak after 17 hours on the go, 64 miles into the event, I was finding it tough. Gradually the other guys around me pulled away and I found myself on my own, doing another Long Run podcast recording, climbing up to Ingra Tor. Not even this brief bit of fell-like terrain could help me and I was grinding desperately slowly upwards. Once I'd finished the audio diary, I got hold of Zoe and asked her to make her way back towards me along the railway path from Princetown. Now I had a mile on the lower section of railway and a short grassy climb to get to her. I jogged a little but mostly staggered along until I reached the upper section of the railway. After only a couple of hundred yards I met Zoe with about a mile and a quarter to go to the checkpoint.
I was really struggling but tried not to let it show too much, as Zoe's steady walk easily outpaced my pathetic attempt at keeping up with a jog / shuffle. Anyway we chatted a little and I found out the cottage was nice and she'd managed a few hours of sleep overnight so that was good. Eventually we passed the fire station and walked into Princetown to the CP at the school. I went in the CP and agreed to meet Zoe at the car 50 yds down the road when I came out.
Inside I came the closest to jacking it in. I pretty much had a complete physical breakdown as I had my tally clipped and sat down (more like fell into) the nearest chair.Various of the team manning the checkpoint fussed around me for a few minutes, asking whether I wanted food or tea or whatever, but I felt I couldn’t take anything. In fact I didn’t really feel much at all, I was just totally done in.
After a few minutes I gathered myself enough to hobble out to the car, and flopped into the passenger seat. Zoe made me sweet tea and I dozed on and off for maybe twenty minutes enjoying the heater. I managed to eat a little fruit and drink a can of Red Bull and Zoe made me patch up my feet again, adding more Compeeds to cover widening hotspots on the balls of my feet. Eventually I got out of the car and started to make my way down the road with Zoe. We got out onto the track towards Hexworthy and I asked Zoe to come as far as the self clip while I finished the tea.
I was starting to feel a little better as I clipped my tally, left Zoe and set off across the moor, catching up Ian (last seen at Tavistock). We kept each other company more or less to Hexworthy and having someone to chat to really helped pass the time. Initially the path went across the moor, then dropped down to cross the River Swincombe.
|Crossing the River Swincombe at mile 70. The guy in red is Ian W.|
We climbed across another short section of moor before dropping down to a killer Devon stile and onto the road at Hexworthy. There were several other walkers around us as we dragged up the hill to Huccaby Farm Barn (CP11 at the 72 mile mark). I was pretty slow on this leg and I’d spend a very long time at Princetown, so the split time / pace was truly awful for what should have been a fairly easy, mostly downhill five mile leg. I was also still in pretty poor spirits and not really able to eat anything, so I pushed on almost straight away to Dartmeet where I was meeting Zoe again.
Dartmeet’s a beautiful spot, and even in my state it was nice to sit in the morning sun and rest for a few minutes. I was very tired though and still feeling too sorry for myself, and as I rested many other walkers came by. I had a little cry with the frustration at how slow things had got and how crap I felt, but then I started thinking more positively. It was a lovely day, and instead of thinking I still had nearly 30 miles to go I tried to think about enjoying the walk over to Ashburton. I ate a couple of cereal bars which helped, sorted my feet out for what proved to be a final time (I didn’t really want to know after that) and eventually set off with yet another mug of sweet tea, up the big hill and off towards Ashburton.
To my great good fortune I had a chatty spell on the climb and started nattering on to a chap who turned out to be the guy I’d seen at Tavi with his girlfriend. Emma had struggled gamely on to Princetown, but had stopped there, unable to eat and really suffering. Dave had been on the point of canning it too, but the two of them had decided he should go on and finish. Now he was feeling pretty guilty about leaving Emma. Anyway we found we had a common interest in fell running, and started to chat about the various races and events we’d been to. I felt a bit sorry for Zoe who’d dragged all the way to the top of the hill, left out of the conversation and carrying my tea mug. She turned back for the car to go over to the next checkpoint at Ashburton as Dave and I got into our stride with the gallows humour. Here we were, two runners on a great runnable path, totally incapable of running! We plodded on, occasionally stopping to check the nav or look at the view, otherwise just plodding, spinning yarns about the fells and taking the mick about how disastrously broken we each were.
|Lookng back to Sharp Tor - mile 75|
Eventually we dropped down off the moor to the River Dart, a little north of New Bridge. We came out at a car park with two of the LDWA old hands just behind us. All of a sudden there was normality, families going for picnics by the river, cars, traffic. We must have been overcome by it all and spurred into action. We saw a lady with a pram ahead of us and knew we had the speed and power to overtake her. We could have been going as fast as maybe 16 minute mile pace! We screamed past the pram and then 100 yards later hit the river. We weren’t where we were supposed to be. We walked round in circles for a bit. I’m sure I saw the lady with the pram looking at us. I’m not really sure what she made of us. Anyway eventually we consulted the route instructions and got it back together. We managed to find the path we should have been on and came out at the bridge just behind the old lags.
We then had a nav wobble through the country park without realising it, as we came out in the right place, again meeting up with our shadow pair, and joining forces up to the self clip near Knowles Cross. A cruel climb up a lane eventually led to a nice descent down right into the heart of Ashburton and CP12 at 81 miles in the Methodist Church Hall.
|Dave, me and the two LDWA-ists coming into Ashburton|
pic: Steve Clark / LDWA
|LDWA old hands about to enter the woods of doom near Sigford. We couldn't keep up, even|
when Dave wasn't on a nature break (you owe me several sheets of loo roll mate).
It was a different story once we were in the trees - a very tough and slow mile and a quarter with lots of slippery roots, mud, and stream crossings took us first down the main valley and then up a side valley to emerge at Coombe Farm. Foolishly we were thinking that must be the worst over for the leg, but we were soon grumbling again as the route continued to climb up yet another stony track to the summit of Ramshorn Down. I hadn’t copped this as a significant hill from my look-throughs on the map and route description, and Ramshorn is not by any means high, but it was a real effort. At least there was a reward though as we caught our breath at the top. I looked up and saw first the deep blue sea itself, then a town lying in a valley at the edge of it which I slowly realised was Teignmouth. WE COULD SEE THE FINISH! We just stood and looked for a minute or two, both quite overwhelmed by it I think. It looked downhill. Not too far now (probably 14 miles by our route, but it looked much closer in a straight line). We were going to make it. It was four o’clock on the second day (although I had no idea of this at the time – I’d dumped the Garmin and stopped looking at the clock on my phone long since). We had the rest of the day and all night if we needed it, WE WOULD FINISH!
This put a bit of a spring in our step (mentally at least) and we were soon down the long descent into Liverton – the descents were starting to hurt now, particularly in my quads. I checked with Dave and his were totalled too. Every so often one of us would feel it and go a bit sideways and the other one would start to take the p***.
The checkpoint at Liverton was amazing. It was in someone’s garden, in a marquee. There was amazing stilton and broccoli soup. And mini cheddars. Lots of mini cheddars. I ate a lot. We sat around chatting. I drank tea, Dave drank full strength coke. Life was good. Then we realised we had to start again: Zoe would be waiting for us at Chudleigh Knighton. But for that 20 minutes of heaven, Teignbridge and District Scouts we salute you!
The next leg was barely more than a 5k. It was also pretty much flat – a few fields, a track through a wood and past an industrial estate, and then the bog. Actually in the daytime it wasn’t too bad, we stayed on the marked route and were soon walking into Chudleigh K. In the night apparently it was altogether different and many finishers would relate how they’d only made it thanks to “Swampy” – one of the “Irregulars” (a rogue group of the LDWA if you can grasp that concept) who’d spent the night mostly alone in his bog, making sure that the occasional stragglers didn’t succumb to the mire by guiding them in to the checkpoint.
Zoe was waiting for us (she’d been waiting since we left Liverton I think) but we went inside and ate anyway. Prodigious amounts of pizza topping on toast in my case. Pints of coke for Dave.
Then we were off, in almost a gaggle. We crossed the River Teign (the last of the major river crossings) and then the A38. Ian had reappeared and we came across him plodding along assisted by his friend. Ian was wearing a pair of crocs. He was totally b****red but there was no way he was stopping! We climbed through fields up to a cottage at Gappah which Zoe and I had driven past on the Friday afternoon, doing our car reccie of the final sections. There was a long section of road above Chudleigh next to Ugbrooke Park (all we could see was the typical high forbidding estate wall), before a fast but quad mashing descent on more road down to pass the lakes and landscaped gardens of Ugbrooke House. Then we were climbing again, up towards Ideford, crossing under the A380. We were a mere six miles from the finish now, and very close to the last wayside checkpoint.
And here began a horrible sting in the tail. I’d been flagging up the hill, Zoe was chatting with a couple of other walkers and I’d been dragging along behind. Now we started along a lane to the checkpoint. It was surfaced in sharp angular stones about 2 inches in diameter. My feet were destroyed. I tried to pick a line through the stones, walking on the flatter bits and the odd bit of hard mud rather than risk flaying my feet. But it wasn’t working. The path steepened downhill and I just had to plough on and grin and bear it. Eventually we reached a cross tracks at a bridge and the checkpoint was 50 yards off to the left. We nearly missed it but fortunately Dave and a few other guys we’d been walking with had found it.
I sat down for a moment or two, but I didn’t want to stop. Now I just wanted to get the job done. Dave agreed and off we went, together with another guy (Paul Keech I think), a lady who looked out on her feet (Sue Tarr) and Zoe. After a hundred yards of relative smoothness the path went uphill, and was even worse, if that were possible, than the section before the checkpoint. I dropped in with Sue and tried to find a decent line. After 500m we were out onto a road, but still climbing. Our little group stretched and flexed but stayed broadly together, Dave and Paul out front, Zoe bridging the gap and Sue and I at the back. Having Sue to “look after” was at least taking my mind off how bad I felt. Soon we were off the road again and still climbing, this time on a retted washed out track with sections of intact old tarmac. I picked my way uphill on an endless climb. The gradient eased and we passed into woodland. The map said it was 500m to the top, but it felt like for ever. Eventually we came out onto the golf course and passed the trig point at 247m. It would be downhill (almost) all the way now.
And my quads were shot. The road dropped 700 feet in a mile – there are fell races with less descent. Cruel, cruel, cruel. I dared not run. I’d fall forwards and hurt myself or my quads would seize altogether or cramp. I’d finish in an ambulance. So it was a painful but quick walk down to the outskirts of Teignmouth. The sun was setting and it was just starting to get dark. Somewhere here we passed the 100 mile mark, meaning there was a mile to go. Finally the gradient eased. Sue had gathered herself enough to check her watch. She’d started at 09:30 and was desperate to finish inside 36 hours. Would we do it? Probably...
We pushed on fast through the streets of Teignmouth. Paul had dropped a little behind on the way down from the golf course. Sue was still with us. We climbed a short hill and turned to see first Dave’s girlfriend Emma, and then the gates of the Community College with a marshall. Dave and I crossed the road and ran it in, following seemingly endless tape to pass through a cloakroom into a large, brightly lit hall. People were sitting eating. A round of applause started. Someone showed us a desk in the corner which was the finish. My tally was cut from my rucksack and I’d done.
Dave and I stood there. He hugged Emma. I hugged him.
Sue arrived and got her own very deserved round of applause, then Paul a few minutes later. Ian? Ian made it too, an hour later than us. Those last ten miles must have been epic for him.
I ate, chatted to Janet from our local Marches LDWA group, and staggered up the road to the car. Zoe hadn’t come into the hall – she doesn’t like crowds and didn’t want anyone to think she’d done the event. I said my thank yous to her later.
And I'll say my thank yous to all of the people who made it possible now, particularly to the Devon & Cornwall LDWA and the Teignbridge and District Scouts. Thank you all so much. I had the experience of my life.