In the early hours of 4th May, 47 brave souls accumulated behind an orange spray-painted line on a quiet country lane. They were just outside the pretty village of Offwell, East Devon, preparing to start the East Devon Round Ultra Marathon.
This new 62mile/99km course, painstakingly put together by race organiser Alastair Moffett and his army of volunteers, would take the runners through farms, villages, along cliffs paths and of course up some of Devon’s most daunting hills. This challenge was certainly not for the faint hearted.
The weather looked like it would be kind, with sunshine but cool temperatures forecast throughout the day. Each runner was equipped with a TracAce™ GPS tracker, which would help supporters, race organisers and marshals keep tabs on the competitors as they made their way around the Devon countryside. The trackers were also fitted with emergency SOS buttons, which when pressed, send out a message with their current location to the race organisers.
At 6am, the race started. Lucy McAlister, who was running to the half distance, took the early lead, followed by Tristan Stephenson, Jessica Raynor (half distance runner) and Alex Sabo-Beky, with Lee Herbert not far behind.
The runners would pass through 9 checkpoints (CP) roughly 10km apart throughout the course. Each CP was manned by fantastic teams of enthusiastic marshals offering all sorts of food, drink and words of wisdom to keep the runners sustained and motivated. The organisation and effort put in by these volunteers was nothing short of staggering, and greatly appreciated by every competitor… and a few passers-by!
Lucy was still at the head of the field as the leaders reached Axminster after CP1, which was about 15km into the race. Next, they headed east to Penn, crossing the A35 before heading down into Lyme Regis. The leaders passed through 20km without incident, but Andrew Norcott and Mark Narramore had a slight navigational mishap, accumulating a few extra kilometres before arriving at CP2. Fortunately, their trackers kept the race team informed of their location and they were soon back on course.
After CP3 at Lyme Regis, the route took the runners along a beautiful but hilly stretch of the SW Coast Path towards Seaton. Lucy continued to set a fantastic pace, with the rest of the runners spreading out along the course.
The halfway mark was just outside the village of Southleigh, north of Lyme Regis. Lucy McAlister reached this CP5 and the end of her half distance race in 5hrs14mins – the majority of the runners were still some way off CP4 at Seaton when she finished! Jessica Raynor came into CP5 just over 10mins behind Lucy and alongside Tristan who was the first of the full distance runners to reach halfway.
Peter Golton finished 3rd in the half distance race in just under 8 hours, followed by 30mins later by Mark Withall, then David Wright and Kerry Venn.
The race might be done for a few, but the majority pressed on to Sidbury and CP6. Despite a little ‘detour’ between CP5 and CP6, Tristan’s managed to maintain a good lead. Lee Herbert and Adam Hennessey were working hard to stay in the chase with Duncan Taylor a little further behind them. At this point, Lisa Hatchard was the leading woman, sitting in 12th overall.
CP 7 was located just west of Honiton and Tristan arrived there just after 2pm – a full 8hrs after the start. The field of runners were now out spread over 30km of Devon countryside. This was when TracAce™ really began to come into its own: The marshals at each CP could check on TracAce™ to see exactly where each runner was on the course, thus ensuring each CP was opened and closed at the right moment and the correct resources were available where they were needed most.
After reaching Honiton, the course took the runners on a loop up to Dunkeswell, through Luppitt (CP8) and back down to Combe Raleigh (CP9), via Dumpton Hill. Tristan arrived at Luppitt at about 3.45pm. Elsewhere on the course, Steve Curry, Chris Scott and Dan Orford were tucking into snacks at CP7, Lisa Hatchard who was running with Mike Hoskin was halfway between CP6 and CP7, and Jade Offord was the 2nd placed woman, just a few km’s behind Lisa. Sandra Williams and Roger Devereux were the last of the runners, halfway between CP5 and CP6.
Dumpton Hill was a tough challenge and the leaders closed up a bit between CP8 and CP9. Lee Herbert was leading the chase behind Tristan, and behind him, Adam Hennessey held onto 3rd from Duncan Taylor. Ziya Yerlikaya was sitting in 5th place and Robert Leonard 6th.
After his final check in at CP9 in Combe Raleigh, Tristan had just a short(ish) last section of the course, which took him back through Honiton and the bluebells that littered Offwell Woods. At Offwell Village Hall, the race organisers and supporters eagerly watched Tristan’s progress on TracAce™. At 6.21pm, Tristan trotted into the village hall carpark with a big grin on his face. He made his way along the roped off gangway as Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ blasted out of the sound system and friends and family clapped and cheered his final steps. Tristan broke through the finish line ticker tape in a course record of 12hrs 21mins (and 39seconds!), receiving a big hug from race organiser Alistair for his troubles!
Throughout the evening, this scene was repeated over and over – as TracAce™ showed a runner approaching the village hall, Alistair and other supporters headed outside to clap him or her across the line. Lisa Hatchard finished 12th overall and was 1st woman with a time of 15hrs 2mins. The final competitors; Mark Collins, Sandra Williams and Roger Devereux crossed the finish line at 2.25am on Sunday morning, after more than 20hrs out on the course. The perseverance shown by these runners was nothing short of amazing.
As someone who has never even attempted a half marathon, I have to say that watching these runners cover such a mind-boggling distance in a day was truly astonishing! The incredible teamwork and spirit shown by the volunteers was also remarkable and without doubt made this event such a success – I’d like to add our thanks and appreciation to Alistair and his team for all their efforts and continued support for local companies like ourselves. We are already so excited by the prospect of returning with TracAce™ in 2020 so we can all watch the East Devon Round unfold once more…