Running 15 miles from Exeter to Dartmoor


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I signed up to the Grizzly trail race for March 2022 which means that, in a few months, I’ll be running 20 miles through bogs, along beaches, up giant cliffs and through whatever early spring brings mud wise. I’ve never run 20 miles before.

So the other day, I figured that it was probably time to start adding not only greater distance to my runs, but hills as well. Some big ones, preferably. Luckily, I live on the edge of Dartmoor in a valley, so hills aren’t exactly hard to come by. It’s December too, so mud and persistent rain are fairly easy to round up.

I needed to be at the dentist on Monday morning and my dentist happens to be in Topsham, which is a charming village on the eastern side of the River Exe. I started going to this dentist last year, when I still lived in central Exeter and Topsham was a blissful 20-minute bike ride from my house. But now it’s an incredibly inconvenient location to get to, as I’m in a one-car household. Even taking public transport there is a nightmare. I’ve been trying to make the most of dental trips though, because Topsham is on the train line and, as the nearest station to me is exactly 10k away, it gives me a nice linear run.

But, the Grizzly. So on Monday, I thought, hell, why not just run the entire way home?

I plotted the route on komoot:

Seems like a good idea

The massive hill in the middle is Haldon, a hill so brutal that it’s got its own population every summer of burnt-out VW campervans gently smoking on the verge. I cycled up it a few times when I lived in Exeter, mostly regretting the decision but at least my thighs are still talking to me:

Haldon Hill is halfway between Topsham and where I live and it really is unavoidable. On the plus side, it’s a good training hill, because it’s incredibly long and incredibly steep, no matter which direction you’re going in. There’s also a cafe and toilets in the Forestry Commission car park at the top, which I figured might come in handy at the halfway point – should I be running too low on one thing and too high on another.

When I woke up in the morning, the weather forecast suggested freezing showers all day. I duly got into my running stuff, filled my hydration vest and caught a lift to Exeter with my partner who had normal things to do on a Monday morning, like go to work. Luckily, I’ve convinced myself that running is a part of my job, so it’s the one thing I can do during the working day that’s not literally writing and doesn’t make me feel guilty. Ah, running a business.

My dentist always takes my outfits in good humour and I usually turn up for appointments in some kind of hole-filled sportswear. Once, I turned up five minutes late after having crashed my bike into a dog on the way to my appointment. He wished me luck when I said I was going to run home. On a related note, if you’re in the area and have always wanted straight teeth, I can highly recommend him – Dr Grant at The Whyte House.

Running a natural obstacle course

I set off about 10:45 from the dentist’s office and the morning’s rain had miraculously disappeared despite the dour forecast. At least for a while. I packed my OMM raincoat into my running backpack and set off on my adventure, first along the river path with its reeds and sailing boats bobbing nearby. It’d been raining a fair bit over the weekend, so I wasn’t intending on sticking with the tidal path for very long. Unfortunately, the marina where I was hoping to cut through to get back to the road was closed. So I was faced with a flooded trail.

Uh.