I don’t remember when I agreed to run across Dartmoor with Mark. I’m not even sure I did. I remember vaguely bouncing some ideas around about taking on some running challenges; something to motivate us to get out for some long runs through the winter months. Maybe we could attempt some different things? A sub 20 minute Parkrun, some coastal runs, perhaps some long distance events? Apparently at some stage I committed to a 30 mile run across Dartmoor at the end of March.
Mark leads a very active lifestyle and is in a permanent state of readiness for this kind of challenge. With 2 lively young boys, a busy job and all the other joys life can bring I’m more in a state of permanent tiredness. I’m 41 and while I’m not totally out of shape (I try and do a Parkrun most weeks) I’m not exactly what you’d call in shape either. At this point (November/December 2015) it had been some time since I’d run any further than 5 miles. Years probably.
Now I’m no expert but I’ve read Runners World before and I’m pretty sure what they don’t recommend for relatively sedentary people in their 40s is to go out and run 15 miles on day 1 and then just keep adding to that distance each time. This was Mark’s plan though. Fine for him – he was starting from a very high base. I elected to ease into it more easily aiming to complete a 15 mile circuit around Exeter after perhaps 6 weeks or so of steady build up. I even considered this to be going it some. My main concern was whether by overdoing it I might end up with an injury. Mark was unimpressed and thought I was just dragging my heals (metaphorically) and that my mind was letting me down – if I’d just commit mentally to it then I’d be fine. I really felt it was the legs.
I got there in the end though and by February things were looking good, I was running decent distances but more importantly my fitness had improved to the point where I was actually enjoying it. I could even talk during our runs sometimes! A welcome break from the soap opera of Mark's roller-coaster love-life. Then work and life intervened writing off a good chunk of February and March. I tried to keep getting out but failed. This time it definitely was in the mind. So as the final deadline approached I was if nothing else pretty well rested having had a 4 week taper. It’s fair to say I wasn’t now particularly looking forward to the day but was keen to get it done.
We dropped a car at the finish the night before and Mark’s dad gave us a lift out to the start in the morning. We had been keen to be on the move by 9 and so agreed to try and be on the road by 8. Mark was adamant this meant leaving my house by 7.30. I tried explaining that his parents lived only 5 minutes from my house so actually we could leave a bit later. Why not leave mine at 7.50 and have a bit extra in bed? So at 7.30 the next morning Mark arrived at my house. He’s like that.
The weather that we had for the day was mind-bendingly good. I still can’t believe how lucky we were. We had blue skies all day and the temperature was perfect.
So despite the trepidation and despite feeling exhausted even before we got to the start we were in good spirits as we ticked off the first 10 or so kilometres. Now it’s not that I hadn’t prepared well or had underestimated the terrain but…well, ok I had. It became apparent to me very quickly that running across Dartmoor was not going to be easy. Why this was news to me I’m not sure. I thought it would be muddy, wet, and a bit hilly, which it was, but the real problem was not being able to get into a rhythm as the terrain was changing all the time. Why they don’t build big sensible paths there I have no idea.
Despite this realisation I felt good and didn’t really mind having to deal with some slow stuff like when we had to pick our way across some bogs. If you are interested in exactly where that was and how far we’d been you’d have to check Mark’s blog. He’s into all that kind of stuff. He's probably even done one of those pictures of all his gear laid out in neat rows. I’m more of an ideas man really – the bigger picture.
After the bog the going was pretty good and it wasn't too long before we were enjoying the easy run in to Postbridge, a short jog up the road to Bellever and a well earned rest.
Stopping for lunch was one of the high points of the day for me. It was great to sit amongst the trees, soak up the sun and have a well-earned honey sandwich. We were still in good spirits and were actually enjoying the day. We'd even had a good laugh as Mark quoted Coming to America. Nonetheless I was worried because with only 20km down and about 30km left to go I was already feeling pretty tired and was wondering how on earth I would ever finish. Mark seemed to have no such concerns and just to drive that point home decided to do a little yoga routine while I rested my eyes for a couple of minutes. I knew this would come back to bite him later and in any case I had my own strategies; I had been practicing chewing very efficiently and knew, as I finished my honey sandwich with minimal effort, that this was where the real gains were to be made. I was also limiting the amount of blinking I did and I couldn’t help but notice that Mark was still blinking at a normal rate. It seemed amazing to me that despite all his fitness and outdoor knowledge and familiarity with Dartmoor he’d not considered the blinking. Later on in the run I even noticed him continuing to talk. I’ve no idea what he was saying; I’d switched my ears off by that point to save water.
Things were pretty much all downhill from here for me. Sadly not literally. I was tired, reduced to plodding and my left foot was really starting to hurt. Mark kept running off ahead 'to check the nav' but I’d get the odd glimpse of his back as I crested a hill or turned a corner. Ploughing on hopelessly on my own I was genuinely in a bad way by now – every step was hurting and it seemed such a long way home I really couldn’t get my head round how I was going to make it.
The only thing that kept me going was the promise of the Two Moors Way. Apparently it’s like a gently sloping motorway of a path that delivers you to Ivybridge and the finish gate. As I stumbled my way down yet another hill I was met by Mark holding his phone aloft filming me as he explained that we had finally hit the Two Moors Way. I have never seen anything looking less like a motorway in my life. It was more of the same: uphill, across streams, over rocks, slow, heavy going.I was borderline hysterical by this point veering wildly between euphoria and despair. It was a great relief after some distance (I genuinely have no idea how far) to finally get onto ‘the motorway’. I knew now I was going to make it. The legs had pretty much given up by this point and we had to walk some of it, but still, I was going to make it.
Mark and I had both been through a bit of a rough time leading up to the run and had joked beforehand that if either of us broke down in tears at any point then we both had a duty to just keep running and pretend it wasn't happening. Most importantly it must never be mentioned. Ever. The last 10km or so I was very close to tears. I kept thinking about my wife and two boys and how desperately I wanted to see them and have a cuddle with them and hold their hands. And relax and tell them about the day. It was quite pathetic really – I’d only been away from home for a matter of hours and I’d only done a walk across Dartmoor! I’d like to say I ran across Dartmoor but really that would not be true; it took 7.5 hours which is basically walking speed. We did run lots of it tho and to be fair we stopped quite a lot for photos and videos which counts for some of that time but still, we were never going to breaks any speed records.
We did it though. We did finally finish. And it was a relief. We saw an (utterly pointless) idea through from concept stage to completion which was pretty bloody satisfying. We got a bit fitter, got ourselves out of the house on a regular basis and even stayed friends. Who knows I might even consider doing something similar again. Just as soon as my foot recovers.