By Serena Franklin
2022 was not meant to be a ‘running year’ for me. I ran a lot through lockdown and loved it but, as things returned to normality, I no longer wanted to plan my weekends around running. Instead I wanted to focus on regaining some of the strength that a long-term shoulder injury had decimated. While I was still doing weekly sprint sessions and gentle runs I had no desire to push further.
Then in June I got roped into walking Race to the Tower by a friend who wanted to prove that turning 50 didn’t mean she couldn’t still challenge herself physically! While we were walking the 52 mile route over two days there were people running and walking it in one go. It made me realise that I missed the joy of running events; the camaraderie between runners, the enthusiasm of the event staff and the feeling of pushing yourself to the limit. As we were walking I started to think ‘how far could I run/walk without any real training?’ I thought I could probably make it quite far…
It was this, part blasé part arrogant, belief that led me to run across Dartmoor in a heatwave. It was hard. So hard. I have never been so close to quitting a race before. The route itself was beautiful from Belstone to Ivybridge across some of the most remote parts of Dartmoor. While undulating it kindly avoided the tops of many Tors; skirting around the side of them instead. As far as an ultra across Dartmoor goes, this was a kind one.
I started well; probably too fast in hindsight but I was feeling good and wanted to get as much done before the midday heat as possible. I ran the first 18 miles in 3 hrs and was the first female by about 20 minutes. However, it was as I left the halfway aid station that it all went wrong. The issue with remote moorland is that there is no shade. Despite drinking continuously I became dehydrated. Having only done 3 training runs I was also out of practice when it came to nutrition, and I hadn’t eaten enough. Taking even small mouthfuls of food and water made me retch. I could barely run. On making it to the next aid station I sat in the shade for a good 10 minutes trying to take on fluids and assessing whether to quit. I decided to keep going and slowly I started to feel better. While I was not hydrated, I was no longer actively dehydrated and managed to up the pace (despite drinking around 10 litres over the day it took until 6pm to need a wee!). The problem with the heat wasn’t just how physically draining it was, but also that I didn’t know how best to counter it, or when it was getting dangerous and if I should therefore stop.
Despite the heat, I felt pretty chipper until around mile 25. The last 8 miles of the route was on a long, flat, stony old railway. It was utterly soul destroying. The mental effort to make myself run on exhausted legs was immense and I ended up bartering with myself; ‘just run 1 minute and then you can walk for 30 seconds’. This was not helped by the fact that the path tracked around the top of Ivybridge and so I could see the finish long before I was finally able to drop down from the moor.
I finished in 6hr 54 / 3rd woman. Objectively that sounds, and is, good, but my judgement is clouded by how hard I found it. Normally post run, especially the tough ones, I get a feeling of euphoria and that I want to go do it again. I haven’t had that this time. I now have just over 2 weeks to mentally regroup and psych myself up again for the Mendip Marauder; 50 miles (I’m a brash idiot!) across the Mendips.
Despite my slightly downbeat feelings, I can’t recommend the event, or the company ‘Pure Trails’ enough. They do a lot of races across Devon for all different distances and they were superb.