With the aim of arriving at River Dart Country Park in vaguely sociable hours, I set off straight from work on Friday. The car was loaded, and I had checked, double checked and triple checked my sleeping bag was packed this time! I was off to Wild Running’s Something Wild Festival – a fun and family orientated event with a whole range of races and activities. For once the traffic was kind to me, and I made it to Dartmoor for about 10 pm. After saying a quick hello to event director Ceri Rees, it was time to pitch the tent and get some kip for the race the next day.
Driving through the park in the dark I hadn’t had the chance to take in how beautiful it was, so it was lovely to wake up early the next morning and explore the spectacular base for the weekend. Soon it was time for race registration. After Lakes Sky Ultra the weekend before I was down to run the half marathon. Every part of me was tempted by the full marathon as it looked like a great course. However, something told me that my legs might still be a little tired after the 13hr45mins they ran last Saturday! Registration was well organised an excellent opportunity to meet some of the other runners. People ranged from regular fell runners to racing newbies there was a lovely atmosphere, and everyone was so friendly.
At 9 am all the half marathon runners were transported to the start line, a short drive out of the park. Then after a few wise words from Ceri, we were off! Uphill to start, we set off running up towards Puper’s Hill and Snowdon (yes really! I never knew there were two). I settled into a good pace, the legs were sore and a bit stiff but seemed to be holding up for the meanwhile. In contrast to the week leading up to the race, the weather had also made a complete turnaround, and we were lucky enough to be racing in glorious sunshine. The large amounts of rain had saturated the ground making the route particularly muddy – this was great fun especially on the single track down to Huccaby Steps. I’d like to apologise to anyone I covered in mud, splashing through the puddles like a 5-year-old!
Having downloaded the tiles and route onto my Viewranger app before I came down proved to be a significant advantage. While well marked there were a few areas of the course where I could have got a bit confused without it, and it was so good just to be able to double check where I was going and keep an eye on my timings. It also meant I could relax and enjoy the race, not having to worry about overly about navigation.
As I am sure you can imagine, my pace for this race was not a particularly fast one! Despite the good start, there was not much in the tank, and I felt like I was running with the handbrake on. A few months ago I would have got frustrated with myself for not being my fastest or strongest, but training and more experience has taught me it’s okay just to enjoy it sometimes. After all, is that not why we all run in the first place! Plus scenery wise this route have everything – open moorland, rocky crags, wooded paths and more. It was great, not having run in the area, before to just settling into a nice pace and simply enjoying each view as it arrived. I even had a brief encounter with a few wild animals, including a tiny pig and Dartmoor pony!
Beautiful wooded path – slightly blurry as running and photographing!
Before I knew it, I was crossing the finish line! In a way, I was sad to end as I had been having such a good time but the sight of more friendly marshals handing out water, sweeties and a medal was a good one. Even better – an area for sports massages had been set up by the river providing the perfect spot for a post-race fix by Kathryn Miller. This was exactly what my legs needed – it was amazing! After my massage, I quickly showered in time to watch the marathon and 10km runners come in. Going by myself I worried that I would be billy-no-mates, but everyone was just so friendly. A real effort had been made to cater for all ages, and alongside the main events, there were smaller races for the kids and activities like a bird song walk and nature workshop with Devon Wildlife.
Later that evening we had prizegiving followed by talks from a selection of speakers. I was surprised and delighted to see I had come 1st place female in my race and was lucky enough to win a pair of Vivobarefoot shoes. Having heard quite a lot about these and their benefits, I am keen to try them out, and will, of course, let you know how I get on asap!
After prize giving, we were treated to a stunning video by Dartmoor Timelapse before talks kicked off. It was great to see some of the places we had run past only hours before. Our speakers for the evening included Adharanand Finnkicked – author of The Way of the Runner, cross-Atlantic rower Dave Whiddon and historian Matthew Kelly – author of Quartz and Feldspar. This proved to be a great combination.
First Adharanand spoke about his time in Kenya and Japan and how the culture and values of each affected running performance. It was great to hear that part of the Kenyan’s success was attributed to their ability to rest and more laid back approach to training. I will certainly be thinking of this if I skip a run in the coming colder months in favour of a hot chocolate!! Joking aside I picked up some interesting pointers, and it certainly opened my mind to looking more at how overall lifestyle can contribute to performance.
Next on the bill was Dave Whiddon, who spoke to us about his journey rowing across the Atlantic unassisted in 60 days and 17 hours. Alongside teammate Lloyd Figgins they took on a constant two hours on/two hours off rowing shift pattern, meaning neither slept for more than an hour and a half at a time whilst battling major storms, near collisions and even sharks. Asides from the physical stamina needed, I struggle to imagine the mental strength and determination required for such a task. It was very inspiring and also got me thinking as to what challenges I would like to take on one day and how hard I could push myself.
Last but not least Matthew Kelly took to the stage to give us a brief history of the ground we had been running on only hours before. I particularly enjoyed how the topics of the three talks were so different to each other and were all areas I previously knew nothing about. Matthew’s talk was interesting and informative giving us enough details to understand the history of the area without being too baffled. Mentions of Hounds of the Baskervilles and Dartmoor Prison meant that later that evening I walked just a little bit faster back to my tent!
The next day it was time for a slight variation on Capture the Flag! Having heard a lot about the mountain biking in the area, I was more than happy to volunteer to do a bit of tidying up, collecting the race flags from the day before. So after breakfast, I downloaded the 10km route on ViewRanger and set off on a very pretty route around the woods collecting all signs and flags. It was a lovely way to end a very enjoyable weekend.
Thanks to Ceri and all his helpers for putting on such a fun festival. If you are looking for a friendly and relaxed atmosphere to run some beautiful routes in I would definitely recommend popping in an entry for next year!