Trip down from London was a painful 7 hour drive. Negotaiting tractors, combines and those ruddy caravans. Still arrive in Salcombe around 930ishpm at the lovely Sylvias home to a warm reception. Quick introduction to the family then straight to bed for a 4am get up.
Gave myself an additional 15 minutes in bed which was a mistake. As as soon as I remembered what I was doing it was mass panic time. Kit check, water filling, teeth and of course hair. However I then started to get a leaky bladder (of a hydration pack kind) which was frustrating as it started leaking into my bag. Nightmare, still there wasnt much time for phaffing about so it was to the car for some sat nav time to save the day. Now as a rule and I should learn by now, Sat Nav doesnt always give you the fastest route so by this time (aprox 430am) I was storming through the country lanes of South Devon at 80mph trying to get to the collection point for the coach (the idea is to park at the finish point and then get taken to the start – easy).
However I get to the car park at the Winking Prawn Bar and Restaurant where Im supposed to be meeting the coach – £5.90 for the car park ! and did I have any money for the meter….er nope ! so I rush to the bus expecting to find a bunch of friendly people to help with some change or such like, however to be greated by what can only be described as fierce looking army macho fitness types who just grunted and laughed. At this point , my leaky bag in hand, it was once again, mad panic time. The bus was on the verge of leaving and I couldnt leave the car anywhere. So mad dash back to the car, drove to a small side road, quick kit check, leaving bag and slammed by hands in the car door. Yelp in pain (by this time its 459am). Run down to the coach and sit next to a grunter who proceeds to wind down sunglasses and grunt / sleep. So by this stage by bag is leaking over the coach, my funger is bleeding all over my bag and I want to go home, back to bed.
45 minutes in the coach and then the driver cant find the start point so has to ask directions, this whole event for me becomes a bit farcicle at this point. Get to the start, lots of Endurance branded flags, people milling around and general running banter.
Hmmm what to do, Billy no mates signs in, gets the number “69” written on my hand and leg to much jovial grunts from the ultra atheletes who some of which, look as though they want to eat me. A friendly fella from Basingstoke comes to chat as it appears we have the same shorts and watch and we both dont really know what we are doing here. That said and done, he has been for a 28 mile run the weekend before, I had done a mere 18 (with backback mind !). we say our farewells and wish each other luck and make our way to the start and safety briefing.
This is when the panic subsides, the grunting stops all around and the buzz begins to hit as I realise Im just about tostart a 33 mile race. Like any normal race, the start marshal counters down with are you ready, set go ! and the race begins…
Trying to keep up with these ultra athletes seems quite easy for the first 6 or so miles –quite happily trotting along at a steady pace.
However as we all get to the first estuary crossing every one else seems to have a well rehearsed strip into the skimpies, pile everything into the dry bag and dive in to the freezing cold sea water below. I, on the other hand have other plans, or should I say, no plan at all !
Firstly – I hadn’t actually tried to see if my dry bag fitted over my rucksack however when it came to the crunch it did, but then adding my shoes added extra strain to the rather flimsy material. Then closing it the way as instructed wasn’t as easy as there was too much stuff in there to contain. Another factor I seemed to overlook was that many of the hardened ultra guys had some kind of bungee chord attached to them and their bag to allow for ease of swimming. Put it this way, I hope the photos of me doing doggy paddle and pushing a bag in front of me don’t appear on their website. Then there was the issue of cramp that suddenly appeared. My first reaction was laughter and then embarrassment, then pure fear. However after a while the pain subsided and I was able to continue my elegant traverse. Hitting the bank the other side, there was a photographer who persisted in taking photos of me getting out of the water. Firstly I was only dressed in my lycra shorts at the time, secondly Im normally prepared for such frequent occurrences and suck in my belly to hide the evidence of my fitness – this was forgotten. And thirdly it was very cold out there !
Back on the trail, the race continued in this vain until the second crossing where after we got to the other side, I went the wrong way. This is all very well and good but I didn’t realize for about a mile going in the wrong direction. Suddenly there was no coastal path to be seen. I referred to my race map (which of course I cant read very well as it just shows contours and detail I don’t understand – hope nobody follows me in the Jungle !
Through some freshly harvested fields it was a very pleasant route and I came across a country lane and took what in my mind was the right way towards the sea. The most sensible solution to this would of course be turning back however I wasn’t sure at which point I had gone amiss. So without wanting to waste time (and being a bit stubborn, I continued my quest for the path. Swearing loudly at myself by this point I stumbled across a lovely old couple and in my best queens polite English asked for directions.
Without further a do, I was chasing my route down towards the coastal path. Slight hitch was when I reached my destination point from my new found friendly old couple, there was still no path to be seen. In fact I was back in another field this time going in the opposite direction. By this point I was shouting at myself, shouting at the organizers and blaming them (never my fault) and cursing the whole thing. So with one foul mouthed swoop I said “ F@*# IT ! and ran towards the sea I could see in the distance, running quickly and jumping fences, bushes, getting stung to buggery on my legs and crossed whatever got in my way. Then, similar to when Bingham discovered Machu Piccu I found the path. At this point I wasn’t sure if I had cheated and missed part of the course out or added miles to my journey. On close inspection of the map I downloaded from my GPS watch, I went an additional 2 miles ! I managed to catch up with a few people and surprisingly enough I wasn’t last !
Following this part of the adventure I continued battling against the extreme terrain until I came to the familiar terrain on my approach to Salcombe. There is something magical about this place that puts all worries to bed, the people are genuinely delightful and talk to you on your way and wish you luck. The scenery is beautiful and it takes over, adding about my 10th wind to the race and a rather comfy final 5 miles to the finish where I collected my Cornish pasty. A long day, a great day and followed by a chilled out journey back home with various incidences of cramping up in the car which was a bit dangerous at times but hilarious.
For my critics out there who think Ive gone mad. I have, but Im having so much fun going madder !