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Thursday, 28 October 2010


A year that will always create a shiver for those who read Orwell’s classic vision of the future...but I guess you had to read it before 1984 for the effect to be truly gripping.  For me, however, it’s a year that marks two pinnacle moments on my life.
The greatest moment, as any loving parent will acknowledge, was the birth of my first child: Bryony Grace.  The labour was a long ordeal for Olwen (which rather puts long distance running into perspective) but at the moment of Bryony’s birth the pain seemed to be forgotten and the sense of euphoria was palpable. We had been in the Maternity Unit for about 23 hours and it was early dawn but I was certainly on an emotional high and my run that day just seemed to flow...indeed the records for the rest of the month show good mileages and comfortable striding.
This was all building up to my second 100 miler...the ‘Dartmoor 100’.  Dartmoor is a bleak place of windswept moor, high tors, treacherous bogs and majestic vistas.  It is often associated with the brooding image of the Victorian prison there but it is also a place of great beauty and one of the few remaining wilderness areas in Southern England.  I had lived close to Dartmoor and run on it many times while living near Plymouth in the previous 3 years. This would prove to be an enormous benefit as one of the great psychological struggles in ultra running is the fear of losing the route...this becomes acute in the dark and, when tiredness threatens to overwhelm you, even a half mile deviation becomes a monstrous fear.

Typical Dartmoor Trail

The event was based at Crelake Barracks in Tavistock.  Being reasonably local I volunteered to assist the kit checking and registration of the first wave of starters (those talking up to 48 hours to walk the route). So I was away from home by 0630. I then registered myself at 1345 and started at 1500.  My diary records: 

“Rain, wind, sun, hail. Went out rather fast, joined Jim Guy and Keith Arnold at about 6 miles. Worked well until Aish Tor (about 45 miles) where I broke away. Alone for remaining 55 miles.  Crelake Barracks 1120, a ripple of applause, a taste of glory. Hard work, I must remember how much this hurt and think hard on the memory before entering a similar event.  Feet blistered, knees stiff, right shin very sore, neck tender, mouth sensitive, otherwise fine.” 
The Small But Significant Aish Tor

This diary entry tells some of the story but let me recall a little more.  The route was often on track with occasional bits of road. There were also expanses of open, energy sapping moor.  There were checkpoints about every 6 miles where tea and food were supplied...often the food was cake and sandwiches.  I carried a plastic 1 pint mug so that I could drink the tea whilst walking out of the checkpoint.
The ‘break away’ from Jim and Keith was hardly a tactical manoeuvre as even I would recognize that ‘kicking’ with 55 miles to go is a little early, it’s simply about what your natural and comfortable pace is and I felt I wanted to go just a little quicker.
The breakfast stop was at about 60 miles...and this was a full on breakfast: cereal, tea, full fry up of egg, bacon, sausage, tomato and beans, tea, and then toast and marmalade...and tea.  The first half mile after breakfast was not a was barely a walk...but my much punished body somehow crept back into its rhythmic motion.
After the breakfast stop, however, my ability to eat almost disappeared. From then on I could only manage cold rice pudding and a couple of apples.
My weariness eased as the sun rose but I was certainly drawing on the bottom of the fuel tank.  I knew that I was the leading entrant from wave two and that, if I maintained my pace I would be the fastest finisher but I began to be obsessed by the fear of strong finishers sweeping past me.
The route demanded an overall ascent of greater than 10,000 feet and I wearily dragged myself on to the moors above Tavistock. With about three miles to go I met one of my college lecturers (himself a very fine cross country runner) taking his Sunday morning run.  I remember my frantic questioning of him, “Bob, is there anyone behind me?”...I was having trouble turning my neck and was oddly fearful of stopping to look behind.  Bob reassured me I was on my own.
And so I dropped into Tavistock and back to Crelake Barracks.  The first, and only, event I’ve been first home in.  I choose my words carefully here, the event didn’t recognize a first place but I had the very great satisfaction of knowing that I was first home.

I spent several weeks recovering my running form after that extraordinary day.
And what was the highlight of 1984?  Without any doubt, seeing my daughter Bryony enter the world.  In December of this year I will walk Bryony down the aisle to her future least I won’t have to ask Bob if there’s anyone behind me.    

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