Exmoor Trail Challenge – the best review

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So I recently took part in the Exmoor Trail Challenge 50km Ultra – here is my review of the whole thing, including the accommodation (camping) from the evening before.

The start line for the Exmoor Trail Challenge just happens to be on a small campsite called Cloud Farm in the Lorna Doone valley close to the town of Porlock in Exmoor.

So for £8 for the night I thought why not pitch up the tent next to the beautiful river and be ready for first thing in the morning. The setting is stunning I have to say:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The only word of warning I would have is to consider when pitching next to a river with small waterfalls etc. they are still pretty noisy at 2:00 AM and tend to keep you awake – best bet would be to pitch slightly further away from the water unless you’re a deep sleeper.

The other word of advice if camping here is to have your evening meal sorted – there isn’t anything on site so it’s a drive to a local town if you want anything. The local pub stopped serving at lunchtime.

The next morning was a nice early 6:00 AM start as registration for the Ultra is 6:30 – but as the clocks had just gone back it wasn’t too bad.

So the race started at 7:30 AM, a bit miserable and drizzly but due to clear later on.

The first couple miles of the race follows the river that runs through the campsite through a wooded area. Fairly wet and muddy but a lovely picturesque start to the race.

 

 

 

 

 

Once out of the woodland, at around 2 miles, we found ourselves right in the hills of Exmoor. Very open, very boggy and very hilly – exactly what you want from a trail run. It was still fairly misty at this point, but as it starts to clear you can see just how stunning the area is:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the point where people get over excited and go off like bullets.

#1 rule on a trail Ultra – don’t go off too quickly, it’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement. I’ll be seeing a lot of these guys later in the race.

So the first 10 miles are up on the hills, very open, fairly windy and very wet and muddy. It’s a tough start to the run so it needs to be taken easy – you will need to save the legs for what’s still to come.

Below is a few photo’s of the first 10 miles or so:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the marshland is done with the coast is in view. I’m really starting to look forward to the coastal path at this point as it’s going to be stunning but also dry compared to what I’ve just been through.

 

 

 

It’s at this point during my visit to Checkpoint 3 when things go slightly wrong for everyone. There are no obvious signs of where to go on the route but we are directed to the road which we cross and join a directional arrow up onto the coastal path. It’s not until about 3 miles further on and checkpoint 4 is on the horizon that the realization sets in that it has arrived too early (they are normally about 6 miles apart). Unfortunately, everyone on the Ultra was unwittingly directed towards the Marathon route. Of course, this now means that everyone running the 30-mile Ultra is actually only going to complete the marathon distance. Not to worry, these sort of things happen from time to time and I’m sure after 5,500 ft of elevation my legs aren’t going to mind too much.

So onto the coastal trail and forest (the longest in the country). It’s also the steepest coastal path as well, so if you really don’t like heights you may want to think about this one before you sign up. However, the sheer beauty of it makes up for it 10 times over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the time I hit the coastal path all the mist has gone and I am greeted with some of the most stunning coastlines. It’s at times like this that you realise what a wonderful country we live in. I still truly believe that the UK has some of the most stunning scenery that the world has to offer and I was so glad I had the chance to see this.

Once past the open coast, it’s time to hit the forest. Nice tracks, fairly rocky, so watch where you stand and take it easy down those slopes. I thought what I had already seen was stunning but it just carried on. It really is a race that has it all in terms of different terrains.

At this point, I’ve done around 20 miles and the legs feel good, I’m loving the views and I’m moving along.

I guess it might be worth mentioning the food I took up to this point. I started with the Oats for breakfast, with banana, berries, and maple. Soaked overnight and eaten cold as I was camping – still nice though.

For the run, I’ve just had the usual – Tailwind in one bottle, Coconut water in the other (this was great), an oat trek bar, although I ended up spitting most of this out due to being so dry. Trying to keep moving whilst eating one just didn’t work this time around. A couple of sachets of the fruit and baby rice from Ella’s kitchen, these are great, and about 8 Medjool dates which are just amazing.

Leaving the hilly forest trail it’s up onto a few country lanes and then up onto the open land again. This time it’s not the marshland like at the start, it’s fields which are much more friendly on the feet for sure.

I think the views at this point are just quite stunning. Obviously, this was helped massively by the weather.

At this point, the legs were getting a little tired and probably a poor nights sleep due to my decision to sleep right next to the river was starting to take it’s toll a little bit.

Rule #2 – you don’t need to run all the time. Walk the hills and take in the view. It would be a shame to miss it.

At this point, there are only a couple of miles left and thankfully most of it’s going to be downhill.

So once down the hills it back in the valley and I’ve joined up with the river that takes me back to the campsite and the finish line.

Unfortunately, I deleted the finish photo’s, but never mind, it was only a picture of a big inflatable. Finish time was 5hrs 59 minutes. 82nd overall so very happy with that.

The only downside – I need to pack up and drive home – which turned out to be a 4-hour journey due to traffic (back to reality).

So overall thoughts on the Exmoor Trail Challenge:

  • Stunning Views
  • Technical Trails
  • Lots of hills
  • Great marshalls and volunteers

Would I recommend?

Absolutely – anyone who loves trail running and stunning views need to add this to their wishlist of races to complete.

Have you done this race?

Have you run in a race you would recommend?

Would you like me to run and review a race you would like to hear about?

Drop a comment below and let me know.

 

14 comments

  1. Hi Mark.

    What a great experience you had. the whole two/three days sounded amazing and what and adventure you had. I must say I am a bit envious because I am a runner too, not on trails, but I can’t run the long distances you are achieving (2 road marathons is my level right now). The length of runs you can achieve allows you to see more of the world.
    I think it’s a really worthwhile activity to blog and report on these experiences so that other trail and ultra runners are informed of these events and you report all the good as well as the opportunities for improvement.
    I liked the photos you posted too. I wanted to see more detail in the photos, so one suggestion is that you publish/post them in full size or at least half/three quarters the size. I think most people would appreciate being able to see more of what you saw.
    I think the website is great, slick and easy to use and you are using quite a lot of techniques/social engagement/sharing and your adverts are good and relevant too I think.
    Great job Mark, really like it.

    1. Hi Fermin,

      thank you for your kind and constructive comments. 2 marathons is great by the way and is certainly not an easy thing to do.
      I will continue to blog race reviews in the future, I have a few coming up and I would really like to start video’s as well.
      I took your advice and I made the photo’s larger on the post because you are right, it looks much better with more detail.
      Kind regards,
      Mark.

  2. Very good article, I like the way you write that kept me wanting to read more. I think you are crazy I could not run that far, but it must be am an amazing feeling to have accomplished this! Like the photos, very beautiful place.

    1. Thanks for your great comments Rodney. Yes the running is not for everyone of course, but I would highly recommend a visit to the area if you ever get the chance.

      Many thanks,

      Mark.

  3. Hi Mark,

    Love your post! My partner and I do a lot of running although at the moment I have a back injury so confined to gym and bike. We are heading off to do the Camino De Santiago in April 2018. Have you done that? 800 K pilgrims walk to Santiago. Can’t wait.

    This trail run looks so amazing. It is definitely on my bucket list for my next UK visit. Is it run just once a year?

    Thanks for expanding my knowledge 🙂

    Kev

    1. Hi Kev, thanks for your great comments. Sorry to hear about the back injury, I know the frustration for sure.
      I just checked out the Camino De Santiago – I am jealous I can tell you. Definitely, something I must add to my list, it looks amazing and good luck when you do it.
      The Exmoor race is once a year through the organizers ‘The Trail Events Company’ although they do others throughout the year. Worth checking out the website.
      There are however other events in the same area. Another website is https://www.endurancelife.com/exmoor. They do one in April.
      The very best of luck to you next year and I hope your back injury recovers soon.

      All the best,

      Mark.

  4. Well…first and foremost…I am not a runner. But I have run…

    It was many years ago, and to get into shape, I decided to run in the park nearby. It was quite invigorating! I never understood the whole treadmill thing, going no place for an hour or more would drive me crazy!

    I have a good friend who runs extensively in Australia; he’s really trying to convince me to start running…funny thing is, I’m actually considering it! Any advice for a newbie like myself?

    Your pictures are quite exquisite and inviting, mark. Perhaps it’s time for the runner within to finally emerge!

    1. Hi Veronica, wow, your friend is really lucky running in Australia, I am jealous.
      Advice on starting to run – well for me it was a case of getting out and walking on the trails (I don’t like running on roads). Once I had started to get a level of fitness from walking I started to add a little bit of running into the walks and just progressed from there. I just think being out in the countryside and running is a fantastic way to enjoy what nature has to offer whilst getting fit at the same time. It was only 18 months ago that I didn’t run at all. In February I have signed-up for a 50-mile Ultra and later in the year, I am planning on an 86 mile run along the Ridgeway in the UK.

  5. Wow, this was a great review of the Exmoor Trail Challenge! I am curious where this is located? I had not heard of Exmoor before. Looks like a beautiful run. I am always so exhausted, I don’t or haven’t even thought of taking pictures on a run 🙂 I like your idea of walking part of the run, why not. I tend too be a bit too competitive. I have learned to loosen up on that some though. Great pictures and run!

    1. Hi, thanks for your kind comments. To answer your question, Exmoor is in Devon but also just about crosses the border into Somerset. It’s about 15 to 20 miles along from Minehead – or at least the section I did my run. We often holiday around the south part of Exmoor as it is such a beautiful part of the country.

  6. Wow, this trail looks absolutely stunning! Congratulations for taking part and completing it.

    I’m thinking we’ll have to take a trip here in our newly renovated caravan. Ok, I don’t run but I’d love to stay somewhere so beautiful.

    Will be following to see all the beautiful places you trail. Awesome camping tips by the way!

    Thank you for sharing.

    Bright blessings,

    L

    1. Hi there, thank you very much for the kind comments. I would definitely think about staying in the area as it was stunning. The hills and the coast right next to each other gives it such a variety of things that can be done.

      Kind regards,

      Mark.

  7. Hi Mark, what a fantastic experience the whole thing looked like. Bit of wind and rain (we love that) and some stunning scenery to keep the adventure fresh. Commitment to a run like this seems daunting but after reading your review it looks like such a rewarding experience.

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