Last month, while I was on holiday in Devon I completed the Haytor Heller for the second time. I ran this race when we holidayed in Devon two years ago and I am pleased to say that I improved on my previous performance. I felt better prepared in terms of getting some hill work done in the run up to the event. Nevertheless, at times I felt like a bit of a novice in terms of this type of running and I know that my inexperience had an impact at times. The event is organised by Teignbridge Trotters running club and is described as, “Six miles of breathtaking off-road running in the heart of glorious Dartmoor. The Haytor Heller is a tough off-road event not for the faint hearted or inexperienced runner. The course is challenging, with several steep ascents and descents and is generally run across rugged, open moorland, apart from two sections through woodland”. The course is beautiful and Dartmoor is a special place, but one of the toughest things I find about this kind of running is that it is impossible to zone out and drift into a rhythm. My wits had to be about me at all times with various hazards to deal with en route.
One of the most horrific things about this race for me is that it starts halfway up a hill. It is a horrible way to start huffing up a steep climb. Many competitors start out walking. This was my first mistake in that I ended up a bit penned in and unable to overtake on several uphill sections due to the narrow nature of the path. The start of the race is to the left of this picture:
The start – I am towards back left of image. Sunglasses, black top.
The initial steep ascent is rapidly followed by a fast downhill section and here I noticed my downhill technique leaves something to be desired. Many competitors that I was able to slog past in uphill sections would bounce past me like gazelles on the steep downhill sections. It was definitely something about the footwork. Possibly footwear may be an issue too with trail running trainers perhaps working better. However, I have no doubt that fear played a big part too! I had horrible images of going the proverbial arse over tit or of being stretchered off the moor with a broken ankle or worse. I slowed myself down considerably on downhills and did not feel comfortable.
The woodland sections were my favourite and I enjoyed jumping streams, or splashing through when necessary. The uphills were challenging, but I had prepared myself mentally for this and managed to stay upright and running (trotting?) on all the ascents. By the time I reached the top of Haytor Rocks with the finish in sight I felt I had given everything and was pleased to enjoy the long downhill smooth tarmac to the finish line.
The final downhill dash:
My Garmin stats show the elevation gain of just over 1000ft. It took me just over an hour ( 7 minutes better than 2014). If I ever do this run again I am determined to beat the hour. I finished 3rd female vet 35. The whole “veteran” thing is a bitter pill, but I’m going to have to get used to it! Prizes were awarded to the first two in each category, so no prize for me. The race memento was a water bottle this year and water, crisps and peanuts were given to finishers.
I can thoroughly recommend the Haytor Heller as a well marshalled, friendly event. Both times I have participated the weather has also co-operated with sunshine for the 6pm start, but with comfortable temperatures of around 16 degrees. The event also represents good value for money at £12 (£10 for Association of Running Clubs affiliates).
And if you are a fan of beautiful scenery and wild horses, this event could be for you!
What’s not to like?