My first Marathon – The Dartmoor Highground

I’ve done it, total success! I can now proudly call myself a marathon runner! It still doesn’t seem real. It was less than a year ago I lined up for my first 10km race and the thought of me running a marathon seemed like such a distant dream, something only ‘real’ runners could do and an almost impossible distance for me to achieve. Now, with a little bit of determination and a lot of hard work training I have done it. Best of all I even enjoyed the experience!

I think for me the least enjoyable part of it all was the final week tapering before the event. Trying to keep myself rested by doing as little as possible whilst feeling incredibly nervous is a very difficult thing to do. Sitting still is not something I find easy and with my mind stressing like crazy on all the things that could go wrong, concentrating to read or write was not happening. Luckily I had car shopping to do and a new pony so they were good distractions. I kept to all the advice I had read and just has a not too crazy bike ride the weekend before, light gym session early in the week then every other day steady short runs during the week. I had read a lot of contradicting advice regarding carb loading so I went with just eating normally healthy balanced meals all week, with lots of fruit, broccoli and spinach as I was worried about getting sick. However the night before I did eat as much pasta as I could!

The Elevation profile for the race

The Elevation profile for the race

It was a relief to finally make it to the venue the morning of Saturday the 3rd. My car hadn’t broken down, I hadn’t been struck down by illness or injury at the last moment, I hadn’t chosen the wrong pre race foods and been sick, all the training was done as best as I could or new how to, all I had to do now was run… simple.

The course map

The course map

The race was organised by Freedom racing and this was to be their first event. They were also holding a 50 mile on the day which had set off at 6.30am. The race base venue was the Pavilion at Okehampton college. This was a great choice as unusually in my experience so far there was a proper indoor cafe with seating area and a TV you could stare at to distract yourself. As the weather on the day was awful with high winds and rain this was particularly appreciated. Looking out the window at it wasn’t exactly filling me with confidence though. Matters didn’t improve when the race briefing started and chief organiser Tom Sutton proceeded to give us a lengthy description of the course with many warnings on being careful not to get lost and a visual check that we all had a map and waterproof. At the time I thought he was being really paranoid – more fool me!

chugging along

chugging along

As we gathered at the start I was initially panicked to see it was a very small group of 32 competitors taking part (this made it far too easy for me to come last) but by half a mile in after the front runners had vanished and most of stayed grouped together I realised it made for a very relaxed almost group run feel. I was chatting to a guy next to me about this being my first race and it being his first in 20 years when several of the nearby runners chimed in to say it was theirs too. I think it was a first for at least 5 of us and a return to the distance after a long break for several others. I immediately relaxed and felt less overwhelmed.

This marked the start of what turned out to be a very sociable day. Who would have thought that going for a ridiculously long run in the middle of Dartmoor in some of the worst weather you could imagine could be such a social event? At mile 4 I met top navigator and holiday runner Nicky and at mile 6 we were joined by Ang, whose cheery, chatty nature kept my spirits up right to the end. Us 3 stayed together for pretty much the entire race with brief stints with other groups too.

Happy drowned runners at the end

Happy drowned runners at the end with my all important can of Dr Pepper

Apart from a brief period of complete confusion where we got very lost off the top of High Willhaye tor and spent a good 10-15 minutes scrabbling through long grass falling in bogs and were only saved by Nickys superior skills with a map and compass the race went fairly smoothly for me. I really enjoyed the big adventure feel off battling against the extreme conditions and finding the way through the low clouds. I think it made all the difference being in a group and knowing there were checkpoints at regular intervals.

The final climb to summit Yes Tor the second time was I think the lowest point for all of us. It was so steep and with the poor visibility there seemed to be no end to it for our tired legs. The feeling of elation on reaching the top and knowing that was it only 6 downhill miles to go was immense. I had never thought it would be possible to feel so happy and full of energy 20 miles into a race. My body got me back though as the final flat 2 miles felt a lot like torture!

dartmoor-highground

I completed the race in a time of 6 hours 6 minutes and 16 seconds. I came 3rd female out of 14 and 11th out of 32 starters. 5 people were DNFs. Overall I was super happy with how the race went it felt like all the hard work in training has paid off and I felt strong throughout. The area I needed to improve on most was learning to navigate with a compass. I also think a better waterproof i.e not a £20 mans pac a mac that drowns me would be a sound investment! Of course I would love to be able to run it quicker but one step at a time …….

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