After the dreadful weather for the Grizzly a few weeks back all eyes had been on the weather forecast in the days leading up to the race. In the early week the weather was really spring like with an unusual easterly wind which would have propelled the runners nicely along the route towards Exmouth. Then it slowly deteriorated until the Saturday night before the race when it became simply evil, with driving rain and icy cold winds.
Cometh the morning however and the sun was shining and, although now westerly, the wind was bracing rather than biting. The atmosphere at the Hook & Parrot was very convivial as the runners looked forward to the challenge and completed their preparations, or hastily registered as the case may be. There were a good number of runners who had come to the area just for the race who were unknown quantities to us, some of them clearly experienced Fell Runners. Local favourite was Garry Perratt from the Axe Valley Club who has put in some storming runs this year although struggled in the cold at the Grizzly. Amongst the teams Exmouth Harriers had pulled out the big guns with both their ‘A’ and Vets teams, backed up by a strong two person Ladies Team.
Straight from the gun (hooter?) Garry made his intentions clear and lead the field along the beach and up over the first hill into Beer. At the first checkpoint on Branscombe Beach (4 miles) he was a full minute in front of Dave Stone running for the Exmouth team with two groups of individual runners at minute intervals behind him. The field was well stretched out by then with 18 minutes between first and last but at least the people at the back were still smiling and enjoying their day out along the coast.
The next 6 miles to Sidmouth contain much of the climb as evidenced by the fact that the gap between first and last at the Sailing Club checkpoint had increased to over one and a half hours. Some of those at the back were still smiling and Garry had increased his lead to two minutes and was still looking very strong. There is a great picture of him on the site as he approaches the crest of Salcombe Hill looking back towards Weston. Malcom Bayer from host Club, Sidmouth, now comes into the picture moving clear of his group and closing on Dave Stone who was running the first two legs for his team. Remarkably Hugh Marsden, running for Exmouth Harriers Vets, appeared from seemingly nowhere to be right behind Malcolm at the change over, having made up about 20 places since Branscombe. Well Done, Hugh. Tim Laney from Clayton -le-Moors Harriers was a further minute back and Richard Williams from the Plymouth Hashers a further 90 seconds back.
After Sidmouth though it starts to hurt. Garry started to slow and was overtaken for the first time by the two Exmouth teams. Jon Croome ran an excellent leg for the A team
Whilst Richard Selby for the Vets kept up the impetus gained from Hugh. Malcolm Bayer also pushed on over his home territory and took the individual lead from Garry. Dave Stone who ran the first two legs for Exmouth continued as an individual and was also making up ground on Garry very quickly. A couple of minutes later Tim and Richard arrived at the Budleigh Check point together. Matthew Bryan running for a two man Crewkerne team was also picking up a few places and was right behind them.
Garry, an experienced trail runner, had – it seems – misjudged the race badly. At Budleigh he hit a wall of significant proportions and was obliged to rest for a while. To his credit he picked himself up and although obviously distressed struggled on to finish in 16th place. A good effort but surely a disappointment for him.
Meanwhile the two fresh Exmouth relay runners revelling in the conditions romped home comfortable winners with Steve Hocking-Thomson taking the ‘A’ team to victory just ahead of Steve Merry for the very strong Vets. Those who don’t know him may have then been surprised to see Malcolm storm home in First place having put another 4 minutes into Dave Stone since leaving Budleigh. Dave, finishing with his usual cheerful smile, held on for Second place whilst Richard Williams turned up the heat to take Third leaving Tim Laney in Fourth. These two were also overtaken by Matthew Bryan of the Crewkerne Team, who also had Dave in his sights at the end.
The results are given elsewhere but all those who took part did well. Incidentally the Wells City Harriers team did in fact finish. They sneaked in just behind Teignbridge Trotters. Mention must also be made of the Dawlish Coasters Team. They couldn’t decide at the start who should go off first so in the end they all did and eventually all four of them ran the whole distance together. Not the fastest of teams but they really enjoyed the run. That sort of Club Spirit is an inspiration to us all.
The course of 20.3 miles with many serious climbs is a real test and the individuals as a whole found those last 4 miles into Exmouth very hard. Tough? Next year it is the other way round and all the hard bits are in the second half. Why not make up a team and just enjoy the day?
A final comment should be made on the amount of Climb over the full distance. This has been the subject of much debate. When the race was first submitted to the Fell Runners Association for assessment they said that we would have to specify the climb involved so as to give runners an idea of what they would be up against. Contact was made with a member of the FRA who had the necessary software and ‘Anquet’ maps to do the calculation. The figure arrived at was 5 935’ and this was given as the figure in the FRA Calendar. Another exercise was carried out later when the figure was disputed. This was done on an Ordnance Survey Map by counting the contours – a nice job for a wet and windy Sunday! This produced blurred vision and a figure just over 4 000’.
Back then to another computer using the same software but in the hands of a local who knows the route well. Lo and behold, it comes out very close to the first one at around 5 900’. At something of a loss at this stage we let things ride until the day of the race itself where we had 3 runners equipped with those Magic Gizmo’s that tell you where you’ve been, how long it took you, your body temperature, heart rate and most importantly how much you climbed.
It’s fascinating stuff although unfortunately the evidence is still not conclusive. The first reading given to us was done on Barometric pressure and gave us 3 641’, the second
4 050’ and the third 4 488’. I am however indebted to Stewart Bondi and Martin Longhurst who came up with further information. Stewart gave me a magnificent print out which conforms exactly with my interpretation of the route profile. At Seaton, Branscombe and Weston where we go right down to the beach it shows us a few feet below sea level but that is not critical and they were probably both on their knees at the time. There’s more stuff too. Max height, how long he was running on the flat, the climb and then the descent, heart rate, max rate of climb and descent and the name of his maternal grandmother’s second child. I really must get myself one of these things.
Martin also tracked it using GPS equipment. Using this the total distance was 20,75 mile against the original computer calculation of 20,3. In fact I saw him staggering a bit on the last mile and that would account for the difference. His (and Stewart’s) max height also tie in with the Ordnance Survey map at Salcombe Hill. The only problem is that the GPS calculates the climb as 5 044’
We can talk for hours about it as we runners do but my feeling is that, whatever, it is clearly a Grade ‘B’ Fell Race, it is a very hard run but a great course and from comments received we will see you all back next year for the reverse route.
We look forward to it.
Finally a word of thanks to our Sponsor, Ironbridge Ruuner, and the many helpers on the day. Thank you.