Huge vistas of open ocean, rolling coast path, mega steep climbs and epic forest were the greeting from the Maverick X Series opener in Exmoor. The most beautiful race on the Maverick calendar for sure.
I personally love the X series. Anyone who knows me will not have an iota of surprise about that fact. I missed out on Exmoor trail run fun last year so this year was a real treat. Being really honest, I was with probably many others who thought “Exmoor” and the image of bleak moorland comes into your head and it’s a long old drive for some for that but this route was more spectacular than many I’m sure people travel abroad for. If you don’t believe me, go check out the video of Ben & Justin running the route earlier this year.
The 4am alarm went off far too soon but crawling out of bed is worth it for a day of adventure and luckily I didn’t even have to drive (thanks Dan) so breakfast prepared, double kit packed (not chancing being caught out by wet weather again) and we were on the road half an hour later. At least summer early mornings don’t feel quite so bad when it’s already light outside. After weeks of incessant rain, I had everything crossed for some June sunshine but travelling through a few heavy showers I wasn’t feeling too hopeful.
Arriving at the venue, located on a farm tucked away in the Devon countryside you quickly get absorbed by the Maverick atmosphere with friendly faces all over the place and that buzz of excitement as it seemed the Maverick weather Gods were going to be shining on us today! For me, this was just a training run to strictly run easier and test myself to not push the pace, have time on feet, climb some hills and enjoy the view so I started in the middle and rolled with the pack. Again, if you know me I don’t usually like to take the easy road but luckily it wasn’t long before those epic coastal views started to open up and the first climb of the day was upon us which quickly split the pack apart – some taking it easy with a good 20-odd miles to go and others burning up at a fair clip knowing it wouldn’t be too long a day out. For me, the aim of the game was to hold on to that energy and reign in the pace to save myself…not easy when I fundamentally love an uphill grind…!
We tumbled back down to the coast path and trundled into Lynton where the short route runners filtered off and I, as usual, managed to go the wrong way by totally bypassing a left turn up hill and looping around town until Jay yelled at me to turn back. Pay attention Jules.
Back on track and back on the coast path we could move quickly on gravel and tarmac trails until we came into contact with the infamous Lynton mountain goats. Running through the Valley of the Rocks, we were informed there “might be some goats on the path”. Some goats meant about 20 HUGE billy goats coming at us from all directions, slightly terrifying when you’re not far off a big cliff drop straight into the sea. These goats were big enough to ride but goat rodeo was not an option today. After the goats came the hairiest bit of coast path I’ve ever been on with shaley loose paths that one bad footing on and you could be swimming home. It was only at this point that I realised my shoes have mostly lost their grip…slithering around and falling into the cliff to avoid probable death (me, over dramatizing much?!) these were some of the slowest miles I ran all day. Luckily, I wasn’t in much of a rush so focused on the task in hand & surviving which the few braver than I ran past as if we were in open fields with no danger of slipping off a cliff. Each to their own.
The coast path takes you to about half way and from there we weaved through trees with beautiful purple rhododendrons and foxgloves scattered in the hedges, skipping over rivers and moving quicker on the runnable trails. The second half mainly ran along the river heading back to base and with the field so spread out it was nice to run solo and trot along happily enjoying the sunshine and beautiful trails along the water. Holding back the pace and eating a shit tonne meant I felt pretty spritely trundling through the second half and the last few miles I had to really hold back from dropping the hammer, knowing how dearly I’d pay in recovery if I went wild. For me, Maverick race finish lines are not only a sense of achievement at having completed the course but the vibe coming back to camp with all the friendly faces I know so well waiting to greet you back. I crossed the line feeling like perhaps I should head out again for another hour or two to just see that epic route again and enjoyed some finish line chats, pizzas and the best milkshake I’ve had with my Maverick family and the legendary hound Watson. Hanging at the end is possibly one of my favourite bits (after the running of course) to cheer everyone else in, hear the stories from the trail and enjoy a beer in the sunshine.
Personally, I was proud of myself for not getting carried away and emptying the tank by running hard. It’s something I’ve been working on to truly know and appreciate that balance, respecting the purpose for each run to reap the rewards. It meant I could happily run the next day and wasn’t having to spend a week getting my energy levels back. I was equally proud to have embraced the wise words of coach Robbie and ate my way around. I managed to get through several Gus and bottles of energy drink & Precision Hydration – only a year ago I would have thought this unimaginable but you do reap the benefits.
Next year, come and play on the Maverick Exmoor route because you will not be disappointed. Until then, we have 2 more X series to go Peak District and (my now second favourite) SNOWDON!