Hameldown Hammer - brutal half marathon across frozen Dartmoor
The Hameldown Hammer...the hardest half marathon I've done to date! The wild tors of Dartmoor basked in bright sunshine as we climbed up on the narrow windy hedge-lined roads to the small village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor in the heart of the fantastic Dartmoor National Park. But what looked like Spring from inside the car felt nothing like it outside. The car thermometer was reading -1c and with the wind chill even down in Widecombe, it felt like that.
Some races have a nice gentle introduction before hitting you with brutal hills, lulling runners into a false sense of security. Not this one. Right from the start you curve round a bend and are faced with a steep tarmac climb. This is a race for the serious runner, a real test of endurance, and that is made clear from the very start.
Thankfully the tarmac section is brief and soon we were climbing over rough ankle-twisting cobbles before emerging onto the moor. The climb up to Hameldown Beacon and the start of the Hameldown Ridge is then at an easier gradient but is long...thankfully the bright sunshine and stunning tors surrounding us made for some breathtaking scenery. It was also to some relief that the gusty icy south-easterly wind was predominantly behind us, pushing us on up across the Hameldown Ridge to the highest point, Hameldown Tor, at over 540m. That was already a climb of ~300m. I was already feeling pretty exhausted. But that was still less than half of the total ascent of this race and we were only about 3 miles in...
Finally, we got the chance to descend off Hameldown Tor. The ground though, mostly frozen solid, rock hard and offering limited grip underfoot made this slightly trickier than it should have been, and soon proved more than my ageing Salomon Speedcross could handle. I found myself tumbling over in synchronisation with a runner right in front of me on a shaded rock solid frosty slope, rolling over, bouncing up and carrying on. Turned out I'd bashed my knee a little more than I realised and carried on oblivious until noticing the trail of blood down my leg at the finish line.
An easy section followed, as runners followed a rough cobbly track around the lower slopes of Challacombe Down, before climbing to the bealach with Birch Tor and then the slopes of Hookney Tor. Heading eastward into a strong gusty headwind made this section tough going, my quads were screaming, and one side of my face was gradually freezing into a fixated expression of determination. Time to focus, take a gel and carry on.
Eventually we found ourselves back on another brief but very steep downhill section of tarmac, very unpleasant on the knees, before a beautiful section of pine forest, terminating at the final water/food station. Time to refill. Reason why? We had to make a second ascent of the Hameldown Ridge. The grassy climb was steep and I walked a lot of it, but as it levelled off, I could pick up the pace again. What gave me extra encouragement was I could see I was closing down Steven. He had passed me on the first downhill off Hameldown Tor and pulled out a pretty big gap but now I was coming back.
Once up on Hameldown Tor, it was for me the highlight of the race. A long downhill, a little technical over the rough frozen ground and granite slabs, but fast and at a perfect gradient. We were flying off into the icy headwind and a strengthening late February sun. Passing people who had earlier passed me, I was in my element. The final descent back to the village is steep and quite tricky, over rough uneven cobbles then unforgiving tarmac, before an abrupt finish in the village centre. A cracking race and cracking day out!