A couple of months ago I managed to convince a few people to sign up to what looked like a fun race organised by North Devon Road runners billed as 8 miles of hartache or 17 miles of hartbreak. Thankfully Mark, Julia and Anthony either signed up without reading the blurb properly, or are also a bit funny in the head, and before we knew it we found ourselves woefully undertrained and on the start line in the beautiful grounds of Hartland Abbey.
It’s a small race only in second year (around 300 runners), aimed at raising money for the Children’s Hospice South West. The atmosphere was super friendly and it was very thoughtfully organised with excellent marshalling, ample water stops and a great family friendly event village.
The course itself was fabulous. After spreading the pack out over some wide track and up the first hill or two, the course plunged downhill onto the woods where we followed a tiny twisting footpath amidst a sea of divine smelling bluebells. Reaching the coast, the niceties were over, and we were faced with a brutally corrugated section of coast path. The ups were so steep they were only just about walkable for most mortals, and after only a few metres of summit, the slithering down slopes or awkwardly spaced steep steps were not much respite before the next merciless climb. Thankfully the views were amazing, so it remained a surprisingly pleasant experience. After a brief flat respite round the lighthouse there were some more hills with some long, shallow grinding hills to add variety to the steep lungbusters, before a joyful downhill on the road back to the Abbey for the ‘8’ (nearer 9) mile finish. Here I shamelessly bailed as my legs didn’t have another 10 miles of this level of punishment left, and more importantly I was running so slowly they might have run out of beer before I got back to the finish line. My more hardcore friends reported the second section for the ’17’ (or 18 and a bit) mile course was like the first bit, but steeper, higher, and with added river crossings. There was also another even more glorious and twisty bluebell wood section that kept Julia bouncing with joy at the mere thought of for quite some time after the finish! The boys’ GPS watches reported somewhere between 3000 and 5000 feet of ascent over the 18 miles – the course setters really had squeezed every ounce of ascent they could find in the area.
Rehydrating on some fine local ales in the sunshine, the pain of the race subsided and everyone agreed it was one of the nicest atmospheres any of us had experienced racing – promptly demonstrated by the lovely ladies from the ‘caked in mud’ running club insisting we finish off their leftover cake. Oh, if we must…. and thank you very much, it was lovely! I’d like to say the course was nice as well, but I might have to settle for surprisingly enjoyable as pure evil goes.
Thanks again to the race organisers, proper job! For more info: http://www.hartlandhartbreaker.com/