The Devon Coast Challenge from Votwo Events – 3 marathons over 3 days along the South West Coastal Path in North Devon. Hills, cliffs, scenery, food, and hills.
I wanted to write this while I can just about remember most of what happened, and because I like to look up races before I enter – so anybody planning to take it on can have a bit of information on what’s in store for them as you can’t usually find much about trail races or this type of thing (even though really it can be better to just enter into the unknown). Anyway here’s an overview!
You could just skip all of the following text and watch this, it’s up to you:
“Steep climbs and descents that test your concentration as well as your strength.”
Registration each day was from same holiday park in Combe Martin, where there was porridge (for a small cost), coffee, and tea all available here among the kit checks and race briefing. We were able to put bags on mini buses to be collected at the end. There’s not much else to say really as it was all pretty drama free – lots of buses available and bags were transported with ease.
Day 1 – Hartland Quay to Appledore
Checkpoints at mile 10, 16, and 21
We began with a long bus journey to get to the start – about an hour’s travel which is just enough time for your legs to feel still and cramped and for your head to really (or not really) realise what you’re about to do.
Out of the bus it’s worth appreciating the immediate scenery because it’s into big climbs straight away – a long plod up some steps and rocky trails mixed into some big undulations across the Hartland cliffs. Mind you it doesn’t really let up from this at all save for some relatively flat trails along the top edges of the coastal path. Looking back on this day it really felt like it was just up and down huge staircases the whole way, I made a mental note to practice step-ups a bit more regularly in my gym training.
Some long tree-covered trails about two-thirds of the way in felt like a pretty hard slog as fatigue was setting in but at least we were under shade! These were a lot of repetitive long trail, slight curve gravel tracks without the relief of having a nice view for distraction. The final 6 miles or so took us through a nice little seaside town then across a golf course which just felt like it would never end. It was fairly open fields on one side and sea front on the other, low and flat with seemingly no horizon.
The car park at the end which did eventually arrive was in a place called Westward Ho! which is a pretty cool name for a little town.
Day 2 – Crow Point to Combe Martin
Checkpoints at mile 6, 12, and 17.5 (optional at mile 23)
It was announced at the start brief that there might be another checkpoint at mile 23 – as it stood there wasn’t when we got to that area, whether it was added in a bit later for the walkers I don’t know. We coped without it but it’s still always nice to have one coming up to break up the distance!
A flatter start to the day really helped ease the legs, giving us a bit of a recovery run for a couple of miles before the hills kicked in again. A sneaky turn quite early on sent a few people the wrong way along a long straight road after missing a signpost. This happened a couple of times early into the day, a strong reminder to keep an eye out for signposts, and to not always rely on the .gpx files but just follow the Coastal Path signs!
A scramble down some rocks and a long run across Woolacombe Bay near the beginning brought a tough but very pleasant (to view, not to run) early section of the day. In fact a lot of day 2 seemed to be made up of holiday towns, parks, hotels, and beaches with many confused people on a seaside break wondering what the hell we were all doing running around & asking anybody we passed which way the Coastal Path goes as if they should know.
The middle sections of the route seemed to fully consist of lots and lots of climbing up and down steps (again). While roughly towards the end we headed through the town of Ilfracombe – a really nice seaside town that’s worth a visit for some nice walks, old shops, a weird looking theatre, and a little harbour overlooked by a massive Damien Hirst statue. Before you get too excited though there was an absolutely huge climb leading out of Ilfracombe and then about 5 miles of woodland trails and undulating roadside running before the finish line at the holiday park in Combe Martin where we register in the mornings. Nice to not have to jump into a bus today!
Day 3 – Combe Martin to Porlock Bay
Checkpoints at mile 8, 12, and 17
Thankfully there was no bus journey as we started at the registration area, but we were into immediate downhills. The downhills by this point are just as taxing and definitely just as painful, if not moreso, that the ups – but there was plenty of both so that’s a bonus I suppose? We did have a long climb up and around some large hills which took us to an incredible steep down-and-up through a woodland area which felt like a rainforest from the water, colours, and the warm sun which followed us all weekend and all the way up to Hangman Point – one of many, many areas where it’s worth to stop and have a moment to appreciate your surroundings.
Other noteworthy areas of day 3 were a large rock formation named White Lady which also brought us into a valley for a checkpoint (probably why I remember that rock so fondly), as well as heading through the little town of Lynmouth. This is another town well worth a visit after you’ve finished for a look around an old harbour town with a cliff railway, rivers & walking trails, and nice beaches for a relaxing way to spend a day.
9 miles between our final checkpoint and the finish line was a killer, but knowing in advance made sure that we all spent time making sure that Camelbaks, water bottles, and stomachs are thoroughly filled at that 17 mile point. We were treated to some final undulations and a lot of covered trails which was a nice relief from the heat while we were still able to peak through the trees to the blue ocean which had accompanied us for the past 3 days.
The woods headed us sharply down (which was just awful on my toes personally by this point) into Porlock Bay for a very welcome finishline to receive our medal and to be comforted by our loved ones while being filled with that strange feeling of “I suppose it wasn’t that bad really” even though it absolutely was.
Checkpoints generally consisted of a big mix of sandwiches, chopped up choc bars, flapjacks, bananas, nuts, and crisps along with a choice of water, electrolyte drink, or cola. To be fair there was probably loads more I just didn’t notice but they were hugely stacked up and each point had a few people there which is always nice. Personally I always had a bagel, a couple of cereal bars, or some other bits as well as water with me from the beginning to make sure I didn’t have to rely on aid stations but having them there meant that I could save my own bits. Bonus!
This whole event is absolutely amazing.
My kit was as follows:
Bag – Aonijie 5 litre vest which was more than comfortable, has loads of pockets, and only cost about £20
Shoes – Salomon Fellraisers (day 1 & 3), Salming Trail5 (day 2). I mixed them up just to stay feeling fresh – I did get a blister on one of my feet which is unusual for me, but then again so is running 26 miles three times in a row. Other than that these shoes were perfectly suitable for the terrain and more than comfortable.
Comfortable t shirt or vest, shorts, and socks along with a buff each day are all obvious additions.
Garmin Forerunner 735xt – did the job, no battery issues, recorded my route & elevation. What more do you want?
Spiderman sunglasses from Asda kids’ section – cost £4 and were comfortable on my head the whole time.
Written by me: Keith Fairburn
Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, S&C Coach.
Ninja Warrior Semi-Finalist, Obstacle Racer, Trail Runner.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve written in this post or want to get in touch, contact me.