The Plym Trail Marathon Series runs four times a year, plus a bonus for Christmas, offering both marathon and half-marathon distances. In this review, I explore the Autumn event, but each one follows the same route, albeit in very different weather conditions!
Taking a turning off a long Devon road, I run onto to the Moors and en route to the little village of Clearbrook. As the road narrows and Clearbrook’s village hall (race HQ) comes into view, I find my route hindered by a bunch of cows! They’ve decided their need to enjoy the path is of more importance than any human desire to pound the pavement for 26.2 miles.
At that point I decide that this is the race for me.
About the Plym Trail Marathon Series
The Plym Trail Marathon Series isn’t a single event; it’s a series of marathon or half-marathon opportunities sprinkled throughout the year. This makes them perfect for anyone chasing numbers (such as 100 Marathon Club contenders) or seeking a social weekend out.
Firstandlastrunning (the organisers) offers Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring and Xmas options, typically with both Saturday and Sunday races for both distances. The route itself is part of a UK AONB. You will run through the National Park of Dartmoor on Cycle Route 27, which is pretty road-shoe friendly terrain.
At the start
The Plym Trail Marathon Series events are what I would describe as personable in nature. These events are small scale, and all done out of a cosy little hall in an equally cosy village. You help yourself to tea and coffee beforehand with payment being a donation in the charity pot. A lot of people at the race will be ‘regulars’ and, as such, if you do a lot of running events then you’re sure to meet a friend or two at race HQ.
Davey Green, the Race Director, is an accomplished runner himself and is very attentive to runner’s needs and what makes a course work. The result? A course that absolutely delivers in almost every regard.
The Plym Trail Marathon course is a two-lapped course, the first of which is almost identical to the half-marathon route (save for a little additional section at the beginning). Being a cycle path, you’re basically running on road the entire time, but this is a road that cuts through the Moors. You’re almost always surrounded by stunning forests or awe-inspiring over-bridge views that take your breath away.
There is also a section of the route where you run by a charming little railway. At the turnaround point here you’ll find an aid station and loos (a godsend, I’ll say right now).
At your aid
One of the course aid stations offers water and juice, and the other offers water, juice and some snacks, with the halfway aid station providing the full roster. This makes this a very well-supported course in terms of fuel and hydration, though you’ll still want to take personal nutrition needs into account. Bring your own cup, though; this race is one of many awesome events that are moving towards being cupless.
Because this route is mostly road, it’s pretty much an ideal marathon for anyone who wants a taste of the Moors, but is daunted by the idea of rugged trails or self-navigating. However, this route is still not to be underestimated.
I don’t know what I expected from this course when I turned up (other than cows and company), but I have to say that it earned my respect along the way. Running a road marathon with a generous cut-off in a small setting sounds like a dream, but you should always remember that this particular marathon (although it has the potential to be a PB course) is still run on Dartmoor, so inclines and declines are included.
It’s almost innocuous how the Plym Trail Marathon’s hills wear you down. At first you’re too busy being drawn in by the luscious woodlands, taking photos of birds of prey on bird-spotting bridges, and sharing the odd nod with a cyclist or dog walker… Then, all of a sudden, you realise you’ve got about three or four hills that you can remember until you get to the next aid station and you’re gassing hard.
Thankfully none of these hills are monsters; they’re just long, slightly sloped inclines that will need to be accommodated for in your pacing plans.
The marathon I did in October 2019 was also uncharacteristically hot (thanks global warming) and so it is with great relief that I must tell you about one of the best Plym Trail features: the deep, dark tunnel.
Okay, it might not be called that, but I’m going to slam that name on it.
The deep, dark tunnel is a section near the start/end of each loop where you go into this long tunnel, which is completely dark (save for a few dim guiding lights), and essentially run through until daylight breaks on the other side. I can’t say I’ve ever run through a tunnel quite like it and, on hot days, it offers quite the welcome reprieve. I can imagine it’s also a welcome break from the elements on rougher days too, so I am all for this striking part of the course.
Sharing the Moors
My Plym Trail Marathon series experience was an absolute delight, with lots of support, lots of friends on course, and the added bonus of many cows and sheep present to witness the absurd nature of the human runner. Finishers get a season-specific medal and a little goody bag of refuelling items. (Some of which aren’t vegan or gluten-free friendly, but you can always pass those on to another runner if they don’t meet your requirements.)
I highly recommend the Plym Trail Marathon Series and have already booked another visit to this stunning cycle path. No doubt, the trials of the course will sneak up on me again, but prior preparation and planning makes for a pleasant experience.
See all the upcoming dates of the Plym Trail Marathon Series on the website: firstandlastrunning.com