Thursday, April 03, 2014

Exe to Axe Revisited

On deciding to do the Exe to Axe race again this year, the first thing I did was check and see how long it took me the last time I ran it, "a couple of years ago".  I was horrified to discover that it was actually 2008, proving that as you get older (and older) time does indeed go by faster and faster.

This is a tough, point to point race starting in Exmouth and following the South West coast path back to Seaton. It's name is slightly misleading in that the finish is actually about a mile short of the River Axe, but I'm not complaining, it's quite far enough! One of the main difficulties is getting to Seaton by 8.30am to catch the bus to the start....on the morning that the clocks go forward.  After a largely sleepless night worrying about what the time really was, we safely arrived at 8.25am only to discover that one person had forgotten to put his clock forward....yes, you've guessed, the coach driver!  This was mildly amusing at first but by the time the replacement driver finally arrived at 9.10am it was no longer funny and I was beginning to feel stressed.

We finally arrived in Exmouth at 9.52am, leaving just enough time to sprint to the loo, shed a few layers, throw our bags in the van (hoping that we would indeed be reunited with them later as promised) and toe the start line.  So much for a nice pre race warm up............

On the dot of 10am we set off and after a brief stretch on the road turned onto the coast path and started climbing up to pass the Geoneedle and continue on the gentle uphill climb towards Sandy Bay. Martin and I were running together, this was after all a training run, not a race, and I displayed huge will power by not chasing after a girl who started very fast and soon disappeared into the distance.  This initial stretch from Exmouth, winding through caravan parks is both the least attractive and least familiar part of the route and it was with some relief that we picked up the wooded path that drops down into Budleigh Salterton. Martin was already muttering about the pace being "too fast" and that he wouldn't be able to keep up but unfortunately selective deafness meant that I couldn't hear him........

An easy run along the promenade into Budleigh led to the first water station and the point where the path turns inland along the River Otter for half a mile or so in order to cross the bridge and head back towards the coast.  At this point I became aware of both being able to see the leading lady ahead of me and also Axe Valley Runner, Amy, behind me, casually chatting away as I struggled up the hill desperately trying to get enough oxygen to run, never mind chat.  On reaching the coast there is another steep climb and at this point Martin started to drop back. As this coincided with the leading female coming back to me I callously abandoned him and kept going, still aware that Amy was breathing down my neck.

Another drop down into Ladram Bay followed - I could no longer hear Amy behind me and I found that without having made any conscious effort to increase the pace, I had caught up the speedy leading female. We both dropped to a walk up through the steep wooded section out of Ladram and had a brief conversation - which was slightly embarrassing as she clearly knew me and claimed that we had met at Barnstaple parkrun, another indication of my greatly advanced age as I had absolutely no recollection of it at all.  As she seemed inclined to chat and I was starting to think that maybe I could win this race, er, I mean training run, I started trying to drop her.  Considering how quickly I had caught her up she was quite stubborn. We passed High Peak (onto familiar Four Trigs territory now), dropped down into Sidmouth, along the front and then on a detour inland through the streets due to a land slide before starting the first of the killer climbs that feature in the second half of this race.  As we started the climb my clingy female rival finally started dropping back.

The key point to remember, should you ever do this race, is that all the "real" hills are in the second half - after climbing up from Sidmouth you drop down to Salcombe, before climbing up and then dropping down to Westonmouth before climbing back up and dropping down to Branscombe and the final horrendous climb up out of Branscombe. It's a bit like being on a slow motion roller coaster......One of the advantages (the only advantage actually) of the climbs is that they afford plenty of opportunity to look back across the valley and check if any sneaky Maiden Newton Runners are creeping up on you.  I was extremely relieved NOT to see Martin or any other women either, because my legs were starting to feel pretty tired and I'm not sure if I could have picked the pace up if the need arose.

After climbing up out of Branscombe there is some fairly easy running (on Grizzly territory now) before the drop down into Beer and the dreaded steps up to the cliff path.  My Garmin had already registered 20 miles and it was clear that the cliff path diversions had added considerable distance.  My legs were shot and I knew that there was still a stiff climb up through the trees on the new permissive path above Seaton ahead of me. Once I'd toiled to the top of that, half a mile of plodding along the road followed before turning back down to the sea and the final glorious swoop along the promenade to the finish......22 miles, over 3000 feet of climbing, glorious views, fantastic weather and a confidence boosting 12th place overall.  What more could you ask for... apart from beating Martin by 16 minutes and claiming revenge for the trouncing he gave me at the Grizzly?

I was especially pleased that I had beaten my 2008 time by 7 minutes, despite the distance being almost a mile further....perhaps age isn't such a bad thing after all.