I’m running down a Tor giggling to myself like an idiot as I see a series of flags cutting a beautiful sweeping line through jagged rocks and tussocks. For the last 10 miles I have been breezing my way up and down Tors and moorland pastures, thoroughly enjoying myself without a care in the world.
Dartmoor Highground 50 miler is a breath of fresh air to the UK Ultra scene. It is not a trail race; in fact, I would estimate only 7-10% follows any form of established path. It is this fact that makes this a tough race. It is a brute, guiding runners through wild and boggy terrain, rivers and over 34 hilltops and Tors, to accrue (according to my Suunto Ambient 2) some 11,100ft of ascent. In essence when you’re not going up hills you’re going down them and when you do hit flat terrain its strength-sapping marshland. This race is not for the faint hearted. I can honestly say, it is the hardest UK 50 mile race I’ve ever run. To give that bold statement a sense of perspective, I have run the Lakeland 50 five times, the Highland Fling twice, Hardmoors 55 and numerous Endurance Life events, including the Classic Quarter.
I won’t bore you with a blow for blow account of my race, as it is not entirely relevant to the theme of this post. What I will say is, I thoroughly enjoyed this event. I went out at a nice, quick pace, gapping the field early on whilst the weather was good. As I neared half way, conditions changed considerably, forcing a slower more measured approach: strong winds, rainstorms and at times hail swept in, reducing visibility and hampering navigation. Though the course markings were excellent, a compass and GPS were needed to re-join to route, delaying my arrival at CP4 by 10-15 mins. Despite this, I pushed on to take the victory in 9hrs 51 mins and considering I passed through the 25 miles’ point in 4hrs 02mins, the worsening conditions certainly slowed the pace.
If I’m honest with you (and indeed myself), I’m quite a hard person to please. I am a bit of a moaner. It’s not my best feature, but one of my many idiosyncrasies which makes me, well, me. With that in mind, I come away from Dartmoor Highground very impressed. The organisation of the event was spot on, the route was fully marked (not an easy feat to accomplish considering the inaccessibility of some areas of the moor), the Checkpoints where well stocked with all kinds of delights, including watermelon, cheese, flapjacks, bananas etc. and the race HQ had fantastic facilities open to the runners; there were camping and shower facilities, a bar (serving food and drinks) and an after party with a band to boot.
This event will grow and the course certainly has the potential to hold its own with the likes of the Montane Lakeland 50 and the Hoka Highland Fling. This year, had a certain underground feel, which I relished, and a great course with awesome camaraderie. I hope as that event develops , this is held strong and does not become a distant memory.
My advice would be, put this on your calendar for 2017.