I’d been planning another tilt at the Discovery almost as soon as i’d finished the memorably scorching 2006 edition. It was clear that this 32 mile slog across the hilliest roads on Dartmoor had spoken to my inner masochist and won over his dour Calvinist heart. The race has its roots in the head banging tradition of British Ultra Running that has spawned such classics as the 54 mile London-Brighton and the original 35 mile “Two Bridges” race in Scotland (both now defunct, sadly).
This time, I had decided to make a weekend of it, and drink in the pre and post-race atmosphere (which is worth sticking around for). Accordingly, I had booked myself and the other half into the Two Bridges Hotel, just down the road from the Race HQ at Princetown. After signing in on Friday night, there was little to do except retire to the hotel for a traditional pre-Ultra feed of pan fried fillet of Devon Beef in a truffle and armagnac jus, accompanied by parma ham wrapped asparagus spears and washed down with a perfectly acceptable shiraz…
Unfortunately the Two Bridges made no allowances for the pre-dawn breakfast requirements of DD entrants, and so I was forced to rise at 6:00am and hoss it up to Princetown for a decent high carb brek at the Fox Tor Cafe. The cafe had opened especially early for the DD, and race organiser Phil Hampton was in residence, berating those present for the lack of DD-themed clothing on display and pouring scorn on “fun runners” and others lacking the competitive spirit in his plain speaking Yorkshire way!
Later on, as I made my way to the start, who should I bump into but our very own Carlos “Hornblower” Harwood RN! He wasn’t running, leaving the way clear for his colleague Brian Coles to claim a third consecutive DD crown. Instead he was in charge of a cohort of Marshals supplied by Dartmouth Naval College (where he’s currently undergoing reprogramming to turn him into an officer and a gentleman).
As the minutes to 09:30 ticked down, 164 of us assembled on the start line outside the Railway Inn, and gurned our very best race faces until the man with the hooter did his thing.
The first mile down to Two Bridges was way too quick, as usual, but the “phoney war” ended as Dartmeet loomed large and the serious contenders shook off everyone else. My game plan had divided the 52km course into five 10k chunks, and allowed for completing the first two with an even split of around 48 mins, and slowing slightly for the last three sections to finish at around 4:40. For a while after Dartmeet, I fell into step with a Teignbrige Trotters runner i’d chatted to at the end of last year’s race. He was looking strong, but admitted he’d done very little training since the beginning of the year after a bout of shingles – for him, the goal was just to finish. On the longest climb, up the 1:6 hill out of Ashburton, the string finally snapped and he wished me well as I disappeared onward and upward. My favourite part of the race is just after the 20 mile mark on the ascent from Widecombe up onto the high moor, and it was here that the spectre of cramp started to probe my calves, forcing me to keep my toes pointing upwards as I climbed, and reminding me to keep drinking. Just after the marathon mark, the route rejoins the main road back over the moor near Postbridge. At this point, I started to overhaul some runners who had been laying down marathon pace effort, and forgetting about the extra six miles. Many were shuffling or walking the long road back to Princetown – aye, experience is a hard teacher, right enough!
I was starting to get my second wind on the run into Princetown – Carl’s squaddie pals had been well briefed and I got several personalised shouts “Looking good, Don!” along the way. Danger was lurking in the wings, however! Just before I descended to the dip at Two Bridges, my radar had sensed some incoming pursuers, so I put the (toffee) hammer down at the start of the climb back to Princetown. As the first houses on the main drag came into view, the claps of encouragement in the background alerted me to the fast closing distance between me and the runners behind, so with only 1/4 of a mile remaining I girded my loins and willed my mangled legs to one last 10k race pace effort. I rounded the corner of the Railway Inn with thighs aflame and let rip with a trademark roar (hope that wasn’t the bit that made the Westcountry News?!). Official time was 4:37:00 and 26th place – almost 20 mins up on last year, not surprising given the perfect running conditions this time.
After something to eat and drink and a bit of a rubdown I was ready to party! The prizes went pretty much according to pre-race seedings with Royal Marine Brian Cole defending his title and Heather Foundling-Hawker of Honiton AC defending hers. As a lone outsider, it was interesting to see local rivalries being played out at the presentation – Erme Valley Harriers clearly felt they’d been robbed by the Teignbridge Trotters fine second place in the mens team award – if MBH had a couple more runners in the race, they might both have been crying in their beer!
I wasn’t planning on entering next year, but I fear that i’m hooked – the appeal is that strong! The Discovery stands pretty much alone now, as far as road based UK ultras go, and to those in touch with their inner headbanger I say: think about it. It’s almost on your doorstep, and you really owe it to yourself to sample the joy and the pain of this unique event before it disappears into the pages of the history books like the London-Brighton.
Who’s with me?
Don “AikenDrum” H
Full results Here