Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Thursday, 3 December 2015

20th September: Something Wild

Something Wild, or if you’re LSS ‘Somewhat Miffed’… But more about that later.

My latest foray into the world of trail marathons was a trip down to Dartmoor and the first running of the ‘Something Wild Trail Running Festival’. The organisers, Wild Running, are a group of keen trail runners and outdoorsmen to take advantage of the taxing and beautiful scenery of Dartmoor.

I’d been tipped-off about this event earlier in the year by Kirsty, an old friend of mine living locally to the event, who was going to run the 10k with some of her friends, and with a half marathon option as well as the 10k and the marathon, there was a distance on offer for both LSS and I to run.

The weekend was to commence on the Friday night at the event base of the River Dart Country Park, where you could camp for the night to be ready for the morning’s run, with registration in the on-site bar and restaurant. On the Saturday would be the various races, a post-run curry buffet and in the evening a series of lectures given by various adventurers.

LSS, Spud and I took advantage of the combined camping and race entry ticket; me for the marathon and LSS the half with Spud to drag her onwards and we drove down to Dartmoor on the Friday afternoon. Having pitched-up in the lovely campsite, we registered and enjoyed a hearty dinner in the bar as the Rugby World Cup kicked-off on the big screen allowing us to watch England mediocre their way past Fiji.

LSS prepping for her & Spud's run.
Being briefed.
After a decent night’s sleep we were up and ready for the start, with all us marathoners setting-off a few metres away from where the tent was - absolutely ideal! Waving goodbye to LSS and Spud I headed-up the hill with the rest of the field, then carried on heading up, and up, and up!.. It turned-out that the first 10k was essentially all up hill until we reached the start of the moors and I was breathing out of my backside long before I approached the start of the wilds.

A short downhill before climbing to the distant moors.
With the moors looming up above us a little way off we passed through the village of Scorriton and the pub that was to be the new start of the half marathon, with plenty of the runners gathered there already to start - I looked for LSS and Spud amongst the throng as I jogged past, but there was no sign of them.

Through the gate just before the 'halfers' caught-up.
Up to the first tor.
About half an hour later I could hear the sound of people approaching at speed and the first of the half marathon racers began to pass me as I went through a gate leading upward towards the moors… It was here I was also caught by one of the full marathon runners, with whom I ended up running most of the rest of the route - as company is always better than slogging solo!

Looking back.
Another tor!
Passing through the last of the woods, hitting the open expanse of the moor itself was where the course came into its own, with plenty of mud to plow through on the wide-open expanse and herds of cows to dodge as we made our ascent on to the tor at Snowdon then north to Combestone Tor, the stack of obelisk-like stones standing out from afar, before descending the other side and to try and find the river crossing near Dartmeet - which about half a dozen of us got lost trying to find.

Over the moors.
Combestone Tor.
The course is essentially a figure of 8 with you first completing most of the lower loop in a clockwise manner with the shorter upper loop following in an anti-clockwise direction. Both loops intersect beside the bridge at Dartmeet with an aid station. The route around here being quite obvious, and with the location popular amongst sightseers the number of strange looks we were receiving from them was most amusing!

Crossing the Dart.
On to the northern loop and the change in the undulating moors was as unrelenting as the southern loop. You could almost describe the whole event as a ’tour of tors’ seeing as you chase from one to the other all the way round! Having said that being on the higher land at this time of year when its still fairly warm you have the benefit of being exposed to the cooling breeze as you make your way around… A couple of weeks later and it would probably be an unwelcome raging icy blast!

Heading north.
At the most northerly point of the loop (and the whole course) was mercifully another aid station, crossing the East Dart River at Bellever Bridge - and pretty picturesque it was too, an ancient stone bridge nestling next to a mature pine woodland picnic area and camp-site. Once here you knew that pretty much 2/3 of the course had been completed including the majority of the climbing so what was to follow would be easier by comparison to what we had already completed.

The bridge at Bellever.
The old bridge at Bellever!
Up and over the moorland once through the woods we descended towards Dartmeet again and the final leg of the route, commencing with another cheeky climb. Knowing what we had run along on the way out at least we we had solace that the last couple of miles were downhill with it retracing our steps back to the start. The old ego was boosted over this final section as I caught and overtook a couple of 10k runners on the way down the hill. Absolutely cream-crackered I crossed the line (no promised finishers medal to be had - I assume they ran out before I finished as I watched ribbons being strung to them as I went through one of the aid stations) to see LSS & Spud awaiting me looking very fresh. As I lay on the grass catching my breath, a couple of minutes later Kirsty crossed the line having finished the 10k and I was able to say hello.

There was a reason for LSS and Spud looking so fresh. It turned-out they had endured a nightmare time of it since I left!.. Due to recent heavy rain which had necessitated in course alterations, the start of the half marathon had been moved to a different location: the pub at Scorriton a couple miles away and all the competitors were to be transported there ready for the off… All of them it turned-out had been, apart from LSS whom the organisers forgot about and she was left stranded at the campsite with Spud all raring to run. One of the organisers finally realised, but the only possible transport was to attempt to squash herself and Spud in to an already full hatch-back, so knowing that the new start was on the marathon route, she decided that Spud and her would make their own way there… 3 uphill miles later she arrived in Scorriton at the pub for the start long after all the other runners had already departed!

More moody landscape.
Faced with the choice of giving-up before the official start of her run or soldiering on for a ‘long’ half marathon, LSS decided for her and Spud to push onwards. Whilst catching her breath on reaching the first of the aid-stations, LSS had a chat with one of the marshals who was surprised to see her and informed her that they were in the process of removing the course markers as they had not been told that there was still a runner to come, but she was welcome to carry-on herself trying her best to keep the route! At this point 9 miles in to her run of 16 (should have been 13) miles, LSS decided it was for the best that she and Spud call it a day - with the area being completely unfamiliar to her she did not trust her direction finding skills to negotiate an unmarked route back to the start!

I found the course almost as challenging as August’s Skyrunner and it was certainly as tough as it was both enjoyable and picturesque… However the marking of it was a little ‘hit and miss’ with the markers not being very clear at times, leading to you scanning the horizon for them and doubling-back on yourself as you are not sure if you were on the correct path. The idea of having the route on ViewRanger at least gave you the chance to double-check where you were on the course, although it still requires you to stop and take your phone out to look at it and as such breaks any momentum you may have.

One final tor.
The post-race curry buffet was absolutely fantastic and well worth purchasing a ticket. LSS and I were able to eat our fill of one of the best curries we’d had the pleasure of tasting, with Spud eagerly polishing-off what we could not, so it certainly got his squeal of approval as well… Unfortunately when you are saying that the post-race meal is the highlight of the event, then things are obviously not right!

The setting and location were first-class. I would recommend the River Dart campsite to anyone, and having hot showers at the finish line is always a good thing! The scenery through which you ran was great, however the organisation was poor to say the least. Communication about the change to the route of the half marathon and its new start location was poor and the logistics equally so - it seemed they did not have any effective ‘Plan B’ or contingency for this happening and they had to make it up over the couple of days before the event. Even with these changes they had to make, not forgetting about one of your competitors - one of your paying customers - and leaving them stranded is rule 1! On the communication front, as well as the website for the run, they had set-up a Facebook page for the event but did not update it, they also have a Twitter account, but this seemed to be scant on updates for the day - besides not everyone uses Twitter - and if updates are being made you should point those interested in the event in the direction of where information updates will be from other social media platforms. This was a missed opportunity for them to engage with their participants, as well as prospective participants and to clearly keep everyone clearly informed rather than just leaving a wall of silence and frustration for the runners, their customers, whilst winging-it and hoping everything turns-out ok!

The valley into which we descend for the end.
The marking of the course left a lot to be desired at times, with the markers often being invisible on the moors through being to small, or with tape tied too low in bushes to be visible until you were next to them or had passed them - having the ViewRanger app was a good idea although saying this, all runners having it as a back-up should not be an excuse for poor marking of the route! That said the idea of using the ViewRanger app is a sound one and something that other event organisers could do well to pick-up on as the App itself is free and the mapping/ routes are open-source so cost nothing, although the up-sell is the purchase of OS maps.

After finishing the 10k my friend Kirsty had to go back out on the course with some of her other friends to try and find one of their group who had lost sight of the course markers and had become lost. When Kirsty had approached marshals about this they just shrugged their shoulders and were disinterested rather than offering assistance or even co-ordinating an effort to locate her friend. Fortunately she was found after about 15 minutes, having managed to retrace her steps, but nonetheless it was another oranisational failing here.

Today was the first iteration of the event and in the course they have a challenging and good looking route with an exceptional event base at the campsite, so Something Wild has a sound footing to grow from. The folks behind it are keen, enthusiastic and decent sorts, however they need to learn from their weaknesses in organisation that today has highlighted and to tighten-up on this side of their operation. Once these kinks are ironed-out then there is nothing to prevent this event from becoming a popular annual outing on the trail-running calendar through its family-friendly setting. Will I be back? hmmm, I don’t know… Maybe I’ll give it another try in a few years once they have had a chance to iron-out the organisational side of things but until then I'll be finding something different to run in Septembers!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

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