2016 Dartmoor Highground

Sept 2016 - Dartmoor Highground

After Lakeland we chilled out and took it easy for a bit, then into August it was the final organising and buying of TONS of stuff for the first Dartmoor Highground in early September.

In 2016 it was just the Dartmoor 50 and Dartmoor Marathon (Yes Tor Hill Race came along in 2017).  There was so much to buy to be able to do these races, things like shelters for checkpoints out on the moor, chairs, tables, more water containers and everything else needed to supply and make the races.

I didn’t know Dartmoor hugely well until I started to try and make these races, but over the late autumn of 2015 I would go onto the moor for a few days to recce the routes I’d put into my mapping software and link up the hills I did know.  

I used to go and park in Meldon Reservoir car park and run up Yes Tor, over to West Mill then via Black Down back to the car park.  Then I’d have a drink and food and pick up a bag, and head out the other direction, running along the reservoir and up to Branscombe Loaf and then out to Great Links Tor and the old railway track back over Sourton Col or back over Yes Tor before going to the car park.  I always really liked this route and those hills so decided to try and make a big route in this huge space, something like the Lakeland 100/50 events that we have always liked so much.

By the autumn of 2015 the other races I was organising were in the pipe line so I started to get out to try make some good routes on the moor.  I hadn’t been running too much by then after being ill, and doing this really helped me got strong again and most importantly to have self confidence in my own abilities and to look after myself in this kind of environment again.  Lots of times whilst reccying different routes and options I’d be out in zero visibility, running all day through bad ground (lots no good for a ‘running’ race…) and would be coming off the hill and back to my car in the dark with wind and rain all around.  

A recce day showing Nicky some of the route I'd been working on, West Mill Tor

A recce day showing Nicky some of the route I'd been working on, West Mill Tor

Lots of options didn’t really work or link up to make a good, sensible flowing route of good running.  The race routes changed completely a few times, but by then I knew which bits were good and what paths were on the ground etc.  So I could plot new routes at home using the good runnable paths and trods I’d found and then go up and run the routes to link them up.  

It came down to there being 2 ‘crux’ of the routes - both on the 50.  I needed to find a reasonable trail from Branscombe Loaf back to Kitty Tor to enable me to link up that loop and get the distance right for the race, and I needed to find a decent path through Tor Marsh earlier on in the race.  Once I had found acceptable lines to follow through these areas I was able to link it all together.

Now I know North Dartmoor VERY well!!!

The race is the Saturday on the first weekend of September which was chosen to fit in well with the venue for it, the firing ranges on the moor and hopefully settled weather…

We started to sign the routes on Wednesday, meeting my Dad in my van to resupply signage here and there.  This was one of the biggest planning things for the races - there isn’t access onto the moor (we weren’t allowed to drive onto the tracks of the moor, so had to change checkpoint locations in the build up etc as well…).  

Niko as we were signing towards Cosdon Hill on the Eastern section of the Dartmoor 50

Niko as we were signing towards Cosdon Hill on the Eastern section of the Dartmoor 50

To sign the routes this meant we had to have good enough signage for people to follow but it had to be small and light enough for us to carry a maximum of 12 miles worth of signage on us before we could meet the van to get more (CP 1 on the 50 to Belstone).  

My van dwarfed by the landscape in the good weather as we marked the routes before

My van dwarfed by the landscape in the good weather as we marked the routes before

I researched and found small surveyors flags on wire stakes and had 250 a5 signs printed that put we fixed on metal plant supports that we had cut into the right lengths (all 250 of them…) These worked really well.  We signed about 25 miles on the Weds and the rest on Thursday but last thing on Thursday we were coming off Fordslands Ledge in the dark and couldn’t see the line I wanted to take off this so signed a route down but I wasn’t happy with it.

We had strong winds on Thursday night and when I went back up over Yes Tor on Friday morning to re-do the bit I wasn’t happy with, LOTS of the signage I passed to get back up had been ripped out!

So I sorted out the bit I came up to do and a few other bits I could get to whilst up on the moor, but had to get back to the venue to set everything up there!  When this was done, at about 7pm Nicky, Simon and I went and ran different sections of the route to re-instate the signage on as much as we could before the 6am start the next day!

I got back to the venue at about 10.30pm on the Friday, having done 25 miles Weds, Thurs and another 20 Friday evening!  

Getting up at 4.30am on race day to open up and get everything going was fairly early!!!

The Dartmoor 50 started a touch late because of this as I wanted to brief people well about the route and potential signage problems.  It was really good to see them go off and start the route I had created and refined a year before, looking forward to see how they liked it and how fast they did it in!

Telling the 50 runners about some intricacy of the route they probably didn't need to know before starting them off (I can be a bit too specific sometimes) 

Telling the 50 runners about some intricacy of the route they probably didn't need to know before starting them off (I can be a bit too specific sometimes) 

After the start I jumped in the van with Greg, a friend that was helping us over the weekend and shot up to West Mill Tor CP.  He went to the top of Yes Tor to make sure the 5orunners made the turn East from the ridge and headed out onto CP1 and the Eastern section and I ran this route to CP 1 to check the signage was in place before getting a lift back to my car and going over Yes Tor, High Willhays, Dinger Tor, Lints Tor, Sandy Ford and Fordslands Ledge, Yes Tor and back to my car!

The weather was getting wild up there even by 8am, with the wind picking up A LOT, showers coming through and cloud coming down onto the hillsides.  The good signage we had placed was invisible when the cloud came down - needing a flag every 10 metres!

I got back down the venue at about 9.20am to say hello to the Marathon runners and brief them about the day they were about to have…  The weather was 100% FULL ON so one of the things I did first in the briefing was make EVREYONE show me their waterproofs!  

By this time one of the checkpoint shelters had been taken down as it was too windy for it to stay there safely so I was fearing for the others too.

The Marathon started at 10am so I jumped in my van and drove round to Nodden Gate checkpoint on the far western side of the moor to get out and run those sections too, heading out backwards along the route to get there before the runners did if possible.  

The cloud was right down by now, with all the moor covered and in very ow visibility, with very strong winds and lashing rain so I was somewhat fearful of an epic day on mine and my teams hands.

The first runner I saw was Phil, which was a surprise as he shouldn’t be leading the race!!!  The leaders had gone slightly wrong and missed a sign but soon got themselves back on track via the GPX in their watches, meaning we just missed each other.  Then I saw Fergy at Kitty Tor, buddied up with a couple of guys which was just as well, not being known for his navigational nous, in that visibility it could have been interesting!

Going across to Branscombe Loaf I saw Simon, one of our FR Athletes, come bouncing towards me on one of the roughest, wettest sections of the route.  Having done about 35 miles it really was impressive running.  We stopped for a brief chat but not for long as we were both getting cold up there in that weather.  From Branscombe Loaf I ran the route backwards to my van at Nodden Gate, pasing lots of people now as they were making thewir way up the track.  This was bone dry and dusty when we signed it, now a full stream running down it!

I had really been concerned lots of people were going to struggle to see the signage and get lost and not be enjoying it but it was completely the opposite!  By the time I got back to my van I had passed maybe 30 people and they all stopped me to say how much fun they were having and how much they were enjoying it!  Phew!

It’s funny, when I have been walking in the Lake District in awful weather, it is actually these days you remember more than the good weather days.  You don’t necessarily hope for bad weather, but once the day is complete you look back on it very fondly?!

This is what happened on this day.  People buddied up on the higher ground, looked after each other and bar 2 people everyone completed both races and had a great day in this HORRENDOUS weather!

The marshals and crew were amazing, battling with the weather themselves and making sure everyone was looked after in bad conditions.  2 of the brand hew shelters were ruined by the wind as they were being taken down and as organisers we all hoped that this was a once in a decade day we would have on the Dartmoor Highground!

I ran about 25 miles again that day, now at race pace, to stay in front of the actual runners and then we had to do another 2 days afterwards to collect the signs in!!!  It was a hard day for both participants and everyone organising and crewing it.  

Here are just some of the epic performances by the runners and crew;

Loyd at his and Ligas CP.

Loyd at his and Ligas CP.

- After less than half the runners had come through CP 1 on the 50, our crew Sue and Steve had to take the shelter down as it wasn’t going to stay put in the wind and did the CP sheltering behind the big rocks at the CP

-Simon won the 50, beating 2nd place by over an hour

- Tom & Ryan both did the Marathon (both FR Athletes), with Tom showing his quality by leaving 2nd and 3rd place around 20 miles and pushing on up Yes Tor into that weather and back to the finish first

- Greg was on registration from 7pm Friday night, 5am Saturday morning, then came with me at 6am to Yes Tor, then back at registration for the Marathon, then welcoming runners into the finish line and timing them, and then ended up being a last minute sweeper runner from Meldon Quarry CP with the last 50 runner, up over Yes Tor in the drak and full on stoorm having not run in the dark before!!!

- Nicky and Steve ran Meldon Quarry CP out of Nickys small van as the shelter was ruined by the wind just as they got it up.  Somehow our crew at West Mill Tor checkpoint, Loyd and Liga managed to find a perfect hollow/bank to get the shelter up in and with it battened down managed to keep it there all day for the runners!  (there were many more great performances and efforts made by all the runners and volunteers but writing this now 18 months afterwards it is harder to single them out)

I’d wanted to create an epic set of races on Dartmoor and 2016 certainly was memorable!  In contrast the 2017 event was very different, with stunning weather and sunshine all day; that will be another blog post sometime!

Greg (on left) after his stint on the moor with our last finisher.

Greg (on left) after his stint on the moor with our last finisher.