Dartmoor 50 - Race Report

Mark Aston reports back on another ultra race, this time from the wild moors of Dartmoor.

"A somewhat delayed blog post on the wonderful Dartmoor 50.

I started running in the summer of 2014, with my first half marathon that August.I keep these blogs both for myself, to track my progress; and so hopefully other newbies can learn from my mistakes.

The point of saying this is that a lot of my blogs are about how lovely the British countryside is. In truth I seek races that provide scenery – not for me the London Marathon, nor some 24-hour loop around a park.  That all said, I think that the Dartmoor 50 is up there with Lakes in a Day as a bucket list race.  The low entry numbers provide that feeling of remoteness you want from a Mountain race, and the scenery is quite breath-taking.This is definitely a race I will be doing again.

I chose the race because I have never been to Dartmoor.  Beacons, Lakes, Snowdonia, Peaks, Scotland, but not the southern moors.  The Beacons has places with ‘Bog’.  It is not fun (well it is if you’re a bit insane like me) dragging yourself out of thigh deep bog, by some pathetic looking, but surprisingly tough spiky grass, and hoping it will hold because there is no help for miles, and no-one seems mad enough to come this way in the pouring rain…..well you get the point as to why another bog didn’t sound too appealing in my early adventures.  Big mistake on my part, and I am glad I have found this Gem of a race, to show me the beauties of Dartmoor.

The race is made up of three different loops, that centre around Yes Tor, near Okehampton.  I wasn’t sure before the race whether this would feel as if we were repeating the same features, but in the race it was more comforting, and I certainly didn’t feel as if it was in anyway repeating.

The Race Centre/Venue

I arrived the night before at the sports centre in Okehampton.  A lovely little place, that serves good food, and if you are younger than me – nice beer.  The centre is small so gives a welcoming homely feel, especially after a few hours drive to the event.  Camping literally a few yards from the start is nice, since that makes life a little easier at 5 in the morning.

The Race

Mark Aston Dartmoor 1 Six o’clock start, which sounds a little early, but is in fact perfect.  It was just before sun-up, so we made the very most of the daylight for the day.  Certainly the sun is up by the time you are on the moor.  The day starts with a pretty run alongside a river that leads to Dartmoor itself.  Then a long amble up to the Highest point of the day – Yes Tor.  The first part of the day gives you a taste of what is to come, some staggeringly beautiful rock formations, and a bit of bog.  The bog was manageable and runnable.

Mark Aston Dartmoor 2Once over Yes Tor it’s a long descent and over a hill to the first Check Point.  Check Point food was excellent.  As a ‘naughty’ vegetarian, the options were great for me to eat without having to ‘cheat’.  Grabbed a few sarnies for later on, on this long stretch – the longest section between checkpoints.  The distances between checkpoints is quite large at the beginning and gets shorter, which is kinda nice as you get that feeling of independence when fresh, but get support as you get more tired near the end.

On this long stage, the rock formations are breathtaking.  You get a feeling that you are really in a pre-historic age.  There are ancient stone circles, sinister looking teeth gnawing their way out of the ground to trap you in a Wraith like underworld.Jurassic  Park (some earth scientist will tell me my rock aging is incorrect) other-worldy-ness, weather beaten formations with timelessness spirit. 

There is a lot of climb and descent, but all in a way that a good pace can be maintained. 


Mark Aston Dartmoor 3 I see a lot on Social Media about nervousness with cows, and you will certainly meet a lot of them on this race.  But if there is ever a time to overcome that fear – this race is it.  They are really cute and lovely.  There was one point where a cow was standing on the road with her calf, and I thought better of going between them.  After a while you get used to their chilled laid back, cud chewing, gazing at you.  There are rare Dartmoor varieties on the moor, and they are cuddly.  They gave the moor that special feel.  I was entering their world, and I was the visitor to somewhere special.  It wasn’t just another park.

Loop Two

After returning via Checkpoint 1 again, its back up Yes Tour and out to the western end of the course.  Down a long run to a river crossing.  The race is fun in so many ways.  The crossing was a bit ‘What!’ at first, but once in, and across was ‘That was fun’.  And that happens a lot in this race.  Up a pig of a steep climb to Kitty Tor. Then a few miles of slightly boggy moor and track to the westernmost Checkpoint.  Here you meet the marathon runners on their loop, nice to have a bit of company.  The Checkpoint here is just at the point where I start to struggle, in the +30mile distance.  But you have that knowledge that you are on the way home now – making more or less a direct route back to base.  The first few miles after the CP are just about runnable, since there is a climb.  There is a bog section here which as I mentioned above I was apprehensive about, but on the day was nothing like Beacons standards, and runnable. 

Back down the steep climb from Kitty Tor, and across the river again.  I had misread the map here, and thought the next climb was only half way up.  But no…a long trudge, that was the toughest climb of the day for me.  I suppose it toys with your head that there is still ten miles to go.  Once at the top though, there is a lovely long run down to the penultimate Checkpoint on the Meldon Reservoir.  The run is enjoyable, because you get some miles under the legs and feel as if home is now achievable.

Final Leg

Mark Aston Dartmoor 4The final leg of the day is nowhere near as hard as forewarned.  There is a very steep section immediately after the penultimate check point and a section that keeps drifting away from Yes Tor that you know you have to do at some point.  Eventually you get to the top of Black Down, and make the downward crossing to Yes Tor.  Then the last climb of the day.  Whilst steep, knowing this is it, makes the slog mentally easier.  One last look at the top of Yes Tor, and you know you have to leave this beautiful scenery for the day.  Scramble down the hill to the last Checkpoint.  Its only about 4 or 5  miles from here, all down-hill.  Psychologically that helps, because you only need to focus on getting through the first 44 miles, the last six or so are joggable on even tired legs since gravity helps a lot.

I got back to the woodland stream just as dusk was falling.  The six o’clock start was perfect.  Back to the Centre for a lovely post run meal, before the drive home.

Just under 13 hours for me.  The route was hilly with 3000M climb.  There was bog.  Yet there were runnable sections.  The balance of the route was pleasant.  You will feel challenged with the hills and bog, but there is sufficient forward momentum that you always feel as if you are making good time.

For those worried about navigation, the marking was excellent, and I rarely, if ever had to use the map.

There were only about 25 starters, which gave the race a very special feel of comradery.  That with the scenery and route, and lovely event venue means I will definitely be back

 Finally, thanks to the photographer on the day – I ‘borrowed’ your shots – they were better than mine 😊"

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