A stroll over the moors

This year, for the second time, I attempted the full Exmoor Perambulation route. Last time, we got to the final checkpoint – 26.5 miles in – when the event was called off due to dangerous weather conditions, and we were sent back to the start in a bus, 4.5 miles short of the finish.

(To see the full mapped route and elevation graph, click here).

My parents tried it the year before, and were stopped at the same place, again due to dangerous weather conditions. It still shocks me at just how quickly things can deteriorate up on the moors – you can go from almost clear skies to rain, wind and heavy fog in SUCH a short amount of time.

We got to the start at about 7:30. It was cold, windy and raining fairly heavily, but we felt pretty positive – and determined to see it through to the end this time! We had water and weatherproof jackets, gaiters, walking poles, hats, gloves and sturdy walking shoes. We had plenty of energy drinks, shot blocks, and snacks for refuelling on the go. I even remembered my neckwarmer:


Yes, it’s the end of June. Summer doesn’t seem to be happening this year.

The first half went ok, with the rain easing off every now and then, but the wind stayed around 30-40mph, with some stronger gusts on the higher ground. Just before half way, we got to our favourite (!) part – Green Mountain:

Crazy, crazy steep. So steep, in fact, that we couldn’t stand upright whilst climbing it, or we’d have fallen backwards! After 15 miles of hiking over hills, through boggy fields and streams, over fences and uneven terrain, an ascent like this – nearly 500 feet in less than a mile – is the last thing you need!

At the half way point, we stopped for bacon sandwiches. Man, bacon has never tasted so good! It was pretty pricey, but SO worth it.

In the second half, we got to a fast-running stream with no stepping stones, and nothing to shimmy across (as there was in some of the earlier streams) .. So we had to simply wade through:

Whilst some walkers removed their shoes and socks to cross, we were wary of sharp rocks and stones so kept ours on. Unfortunately, shoes are pretty much impossible to wring the water out of (unlike socks) .. But on the plus side, my feet couldn’t get any wetter, so as the rain got heavier over the following ten miles, it made no difference!

By the time we got to the final checkpoint – along an exposed ridge at the highest point on the route – the rain was torrential, and the fog had rolled in, bringing our visibility down to nearly nothing:

Needless to say, for the last few miles the camera stayed in my pocket – though by the end, even our waterproof jackets didn’t keep out all of the rain. I suppose in those conditions, nothing is going to stay waterproof for long!

We got to the finish line in 12 hours and 2 minutes, including our 25-minute bacon sandwich break in the middle. I have to say, this event really pushed me to my limits. Not just the physical side – though everything hurt by the end, and I don’t know how I’m going to cycle to work tomorrow morning – but the mental side. My parents agreed that this event was harder than their marathon, and I can see why. The conditions yesterday made it particularly challenging, but even on a sunny day, I imagine it would be extremely difficult. Whilst 3 miles an hour isn’t exactly a fast pace (though we reached the half way point 1h15 quicker than last year!), I think that the time spent on my feet took more of a toll on my body than my 3-hour training runs earlier in the year.

I feel almost the same as when I was recovering from those long training runs a few months back. All of my muscles hurt, my joints (and left shin, randomly) are in pain, and I have severe tightness behind my right knee, which makes walking extremely difficult and painful! To be fair, I kind of brought it upon myself, as I was too tired by the time I got home (nearly 9pm) to stretch and foam roll..

But it was a good way to kick-start my marathon training again, after 2 weeks off for a holiday this month. I’m definitely out of shape, but this event has made me hopeful that I have the mental strength to get through my training and the marathon next April, especially when things get tough (as any runner knows, they inevitably do). As for my fitness – I’m going to have to work pretty hard to get into shape!

My parents were inspirational. My Dad pulled something in his knee quite badly just before the half way point – and despite every single downhill being agonizingly painful, he refused to quit. He gritted his teeth and carried on, ignoring the option of being driven back to the start at every. single. checkpoint. (There were 7 in total). How is that for willpower? Mum hurt as badly as I did, but never once even considered quitting. And if they were going to push on through the wind, rain and fog, how could I not?

It’s thanks to their support, encouragement and unfailing positivity that I got to the finish. I couldn’t have done it without you guys, so thank you.


A little wander over the moors

There are endless training plans for running 26.2 miles; endless resources for ways to build up the distance, manage your hydration and nutrition, kit and everything else.

But what about training for a 31 mile hike across the moors?

According to the organisers:

This circular long distance walk, the Exmoor Perambulation, is a traditional walk dating back over 725 years. It’s one of the most challenging walks in the Exmoor annual calendar and during the 31 miles of cross country walking you will be taking in breathtaking views and accessing parts of the National Park not normally open to the public. You will also be participating in a bit of history! Every June hundreds of people from around the country come together to tread the boundary of the old Royal Forest of Exmoor and pass through some unique areas of Exmoor not normally accessible to the public.’

Granted, I’ll be walking it. But with a notorious hill dubbed ‘Green Mountain’, streams and rivers to cross, stiles and boggy fields to navigate, it’s not exactly a gentle Sunday stroll.

I’ve tried this event twice before. The first time, in 2010, my parents and I did the half distance. Not realising just how serious the event was, I turned up in a vest top and cardigan, with cheap trainers on my feet:

Surrounded by serious and seasoned hikers, and completely unprepared.

If it hadn’t been dry that year, there’s no way I would ever have made it to the end. Somehow, I did – and it was brilliant.

Last year, we decided to try the full distance. My parents had attempted it the year before, but severe weather conditions meant that they were stopped at the final checkpoint, with just 5 miles to go.

It was a bit grey and misty when we set off, but the skies cleared, and we enjoyed a little bit of sunshine as we passed the half-way point. We were in high spirits, and this time I was wearing sensible walking shoes, various layers, and had a waterproof coat in my rucksack (yes, I even had a rucksack that year). Unfortunately, the weather decided to shake things up a bit, and as we passed the checkpoint just before the FINAL checkpoint, the heavens opened. The volunteers asked if we wanted to get a lift back to the start, but being so close to the final checkpoint and those elusive five miles to the finish, we pushed on.

We soon realised that our waterproof jackets weren’t waterproof. We shuffled along an endless road, visibility decreasing by the minute as the fog rolled in, a bitter wind pressing our wet clothes against us and making us shiver. My legs had never felt so stiff. We never made it to that final checkpoint; instead, one of the organisers’ buses pulled up alongside us to pick us up, telling us that the event had once again been cancelled due to dangerous weather conditions.

Psychologically, it felt as difficult as I expect a marathon to feel towards the end – my whole body hurt, I was stiffening up, I was tired and miserable and wanted to give up. My legs ached for days afterwards. My parents had run Brighton a few months before, and agreed that both events were on a similar level.

When the sun came out, the views on the moors were spectacular.
You can just make out a few teeny people on the bottom right of the left-hand image!

But we refused to be defeated, and signed up once again to try the full distance. This summer, we’re determined to get to the finish line – this time, with waterproof jackets that are actually waterproof.

And preferably, without the torrential rain, bitter wind, and crazy amounts of fog.

Third time lucky, right!?