Week Four – Muddiford’s to Exeter
The final week of my challenge began with my longest run of all – 20 miles from the Grand Western Canal into Exeter.
It was an easy, level start along the towpath in warm sunny autumn sunshine. After six miles I reached Tiverton and the hills began, a series of them overlooking the Exe Valley, reaching the highest point of 750 feet between Butterleigh and Silverton.
The other alternative choices would have been a muddy trek across fields or along the busy A-road between Tiverton and Exeter. For once the hills seemed a better option and they did afford some glorious views in return for the total 1,500 feet of climbing.
The route descended to Silverton and beyond, at Stoke Canon levelling out literally – with an enforced stop at the main Paddington line crossing. It proved a welcome rest before the climb up Stoke Hill, to be rewarded by the sight of the Exeter city sign and then a descent to the arena and the happy relief of finishing.
I’d reached my final destination, but there was still one half marathon of the challenge to complete – the Exeter Great West Run.
I lined up with around 3,000 other runners and set off at a steady pace, just below 9 minute miling. On this hilly course I wasn’t sure I’d be able to sustain that level of effort, but as each mile crept by I was amazed to see my time improving.
The spectator support on route was terrific, certainly helping me up the hills in the second half and on to an event PB of 1:54:45.
The whole challenge added up to 137 miles, taking 36 hours, 6,700 feet of ascent, at an average pace of 3.8 mph, and using 13,000 calories, mostly re-consumed in large quantities of cake.
I had a lot of fun, spoke to many people on route and in the process about dementia, about exercise and health and raised around £300 in total for the two charities BRACE and Exeter Dementia Action Alliance.
Yes, Any Mile IS Better!
Week Three – Taunton to Muddiford’s
The stretch from Taunton onwards started out well and was an easy level meander along the banks of the River Tone.
My friend Bev and lurcher Freddie were back with me, Freddie making the most of being off the lead in the riverside meadows and woodlands that made for a really scenic – at times a-maizeing – stretch of the route.
Apart from a close encounter with cattle interested in our lunch, all was going well until a wheel fell off. Or more specifically, a shoe.
A wrong decision by me about which side of the river to follow saw us head deep into a bog, and Bev’s shoe went in even deeper!
We wiped away the worst of the mud and eventually picked up the Grand Western Canal – a welcome sight, being both back in Devon, and with the ease of a towpath to follow once more, reaching Burlescombe in 16.5 miles.
Mud of sorts was involved in the next stretch, but this time the pleasant country house setting of Muddiford’s Court, hosting its first ever “cheese” themed five mile fun run, supporting the Exeter Dementia Action Alliance.
Nine members of Sidmouth Running Club took part in this well organised, social event, enjoying the route, the company and the cheese toasties at the finish.
A shorter day of just five miles to end week three with, but leaving enough energy for a 20 mile start to week four, destination Exeter!
Week Two – Glastonbury to Taunton
I’m now over halfway into my challenge both in time and distance – week two proving a serious test of ability to overcome obstacles, calm lively livestock, and navigation skills that saw us straying off route, though not quite as far as this milestone indicated.
Mars?! Unlikely, even for my dodgy map-reading. The stone is on the Bridgwater to Taunton Canal, part of a series dedicated to the planets.
Here on terra-firma on the stretch from Glastonbury to Bridgwater, it was fields of cattle, dense vegetation, mesh-fenced stiles, broken stiles, and blocked footpaths that proved taxing.
My friend Bev and my lurcher Freddie joined me for this stretch, which in between the challenging bits, made for a pleasant meander through the Somerset levels, of 16.5 miles.
Three of my Sidmouth Running Club friends – Helen, Polly and Jane – joined me for the section from Bridgwater to Taunton, along the canal towpath.
This was an easy level route, with – “Mars” aside – no navigation issues, sunshine and blue skies overhead, and even a convenient pleasant coffee, cake and ice-cream stop on route.
And plenty of opportunity for more photographs on the full 13.5 miles to Taunton…
Week One – Bristol to Glastonbury
Sitting at home writing this eight days in to this challenge, Bristol seems a long way off both geographically and in the sense of how much has happened since I lined up for the start of the city’s half marathon last Sunday.
After meeting Mark Poarch, BRACE chief executive for a photo call, I headed to my green wave slot, making my way to the front alongside the two-hour pacer, a cheerful girl with pink bunny ears and tail, carrying a logo flag of event sponsor Duracell.
I fell in step with the tight group around her, keeping pace with them for the first six out and back miles of the scenic Clifton Gorge. This busy A-road is closed for the event, so it’s an opportunity to connect on foot with a place you normally speed through by car.
I increased pace slightly as we returned to the city, being greeted by crowds of spectators, the route becoming a series of twists and double-backs past famous landmarks, the SS Great Britain, through parks and along historic cobbled streets.
On target for being inside two hours, and finding I still had a spring in my step, I pushed on, completing each of the last two miles in just over 8 minutes, crossing the line in 1:56:03, my best half-marathon time in five years. Elation! And back down the M5 in time to cook a Sunday roast dinner for John.
Thursday 21st September, World Alzheimer’s Day, was the second stretch of my route. My sister Jane and lurcher dog Freddie accompanied me for this leg, which began with a drive back up the M5 in atrocious weather, which hardly eased as we waited for the Long Ashton First Bus service into Bristol, Freddie enjoying the ride too!
We alighted where the half marathon had finished, and walked back past the city sights, soon reaching the peace and green of the countryside. From Long Ashton, at 5 miles, I jogged the last 8 miles alone along quiet, undulating, cycle routes as the showers finally gave way to sunshine and a dry, bright finish at the scenic Chew Valley Lake.
A quick cup of tea, before heading back down the motorway, in time to drive John, slightly late to his favourite local the Cannon Inn, for an obligatory evening pint.
Two days ago – though it feels more, as we packed so much in – I picked up Gina Awad, the lead of Exeter Dementia Action Alliance for our weekend adventure, walking on from Chew Stoke, through Wells to Glastonbury.
Being away overnight, John was in the capable care of our lovely home help Leeann, who also took charge of walking Freddie and our elderly terrier Archie.
Leaving the car in Wells, Gina and I were driven by friendly, chatty Bob, of A1 Taxis, to the Bristol Water managed-lake, a half-hour ride away across some seriously challenging hills. Still at least the lake was a flat start I reassured Gina!
After a refreshing pit-stop in West Harptree Stores, those hills soon unfolded, with the challenge of steep muddy fields underfoot, compensated for by panoramic views, glorious blue skies and inquisitive locals.
After what seemed like an age, we finally left views of the lake behind, heading through woods, open moorland, countless stiles, gates and junctions, to reach the edge of the ridge of hills overlooking the Wells valley, the Bristol channel and the breathtaking sight of Glastonbury Tor in the distance.
A steep descent to Wookey Hole taxed Gina’s aching knees. My GPS watch clocked up 13.1 miles, our half-marathon distance, but with Wells was still some way off, Gina carried on gamely to the welcome sight of the car, at 14.8 miles, and a 6.30pm finish.
After checking in at the Dragonfly Guesthouse, in Glastonbury, we were both too tired and hungry to shower and change, so headed to local Italian Gigi’s for a much needed meal of pasta, bread and salad, and a glass of wine to toast our day.
Charming landlady Angela served us breakfast the following morning, before we took the bus back to Wells, taking in the sights of the historic Cathedral and Bishop’s Palace, and time for a relaxing coffee and a chat about our shared passion for raising awareness about dementia.
The route to Glastonbury was initially much easier than the previous day, but still some challenging hills, that had Gina wincing in pain on the steep descents. A chance route choice took us through Paddington Farm where a hemp festival was just finishing. We tried out its properties in a balm for Gina’s aching knees, a hot chocolate drink, and met the enigmatic Geraint, who now goes under the name Free Love Cannabis, and advocates its use in many different forms Heal with Hemp
Whether it was the hemp, or knowing the finish was not far off, we strode strongly to the top of the Tor. Amazing! An incredible, stunning, deeply spiritual place of pilgrimage.
Ouch! What a descent for Gina and those knees, but she never faltered and soon we were strolling the last few hundred yards into Glastonbury town, where our attention was drawn to the fabulous Labyrinth Books, a former fire station that used horse-drawn wagons.
With the cumulative distance for the two days reaching 26.2 miles and a café nearby selling delicious cakes, we decided to make that our finish line for the day.
After a welcome refuel, it was back down the M5, and home in time to make a further Sunday roast dinner for John, and put my feet up.
Another two stages await this Wednesday and Friday, on to Bridgwater and then Taunton.
It’s a very different challenge to ones I’ve undertaken before, but it really does feel already as if any mile is better.