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.