April 12, 2008
Andrew Siggers 4:40:32
Vicky Skelton 4:58:19
No. of Finishers
292 (75 marathon, 135 half-marathon, 82 10K)
As a general rule there are probably as many mountain goats, sheep and ponies in Exmoor as there are people – but on April 12 there was a mini invasion of fell runners who had come to take on the inaugural Exmoor Coastal Marathon. This was the fifth and final stage of the Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series, with previous races in Pembrokeshire, Portland, South Devon and Cape Cornwall.
It was the first time an off-road marathon had been held in Exmoor – the total climb of almost 10,000 feet perhaps providing a clue as to why it hasn’t been done before! For those not feeling brave enough to tackle the full marathon there were options to run a half-marathon or 10K instead along the same initial section of the course.
Conditions were perfect – light rain in the morning gave way to bright sunshine as the race got underway, and many runners came back with a hint of sunburn.
The course was designed to take advantage of the diversity of the Exmoor terrain – the area straddles parts of West Somerset and North Devon and is a patchwork of different landscapes, encompassing moorland, woodland, coastal terrain, cliffs and even waterfalls.
Nearly 300 runners lined up outside The Hunters Inn in Parracombe for the start, with 75 opting for the full marathon. The course worked westwards around the cliffs of Heddon’s Mouth and over the exposed moorland at Holdstone Down before heading east for a long descent through winding woodland tracks to the halfway point at Lee Abbey.
There was no time for any back-slapping however, as the next two miles were a tough uphill climb through the Valley of the Rocks, the reward for which was a breathtaking panoramic view from the top of the South Wales coastline.
After skimming the outskirts of Lynton and passing the fast-flowing rivers and waterfalls at Watersmeet (the 20-mile mark), the weary trail runners made their way round to Foreland Point, passing briefly into Somerset before picking up the coastal trail route back to Parracombe.
The overall length of the marathon and half-marathon course was longer than normal. The race organisers explained that this was due to the difficulty in accurately charting distance over uneven terrain, and they confirmed that the half-marathon was actually 15 miles and the full marathon 28.
Everyone who finished the gruelling course was rewarded with a race T-shirt, Endurancelife dog tag and – much more importantly at the time – a big steaming bowl of delicious chilli.
Organisation was slick and efficient, and many of the competitors were already planning to repeat the experience next year, citing it as a perfect choice for anyone wanting to get back to nature and avoid larger mass-participation events.