What to expect in the Dartmoor Prison Break race, summed up in one early-hours encounter…
It was four in the morning when I found myself ‘jogging’ down a narrow A-road somewhere in Cornwall (I honestly couldn’t tell you where). A van driver breezed past with ease. Still within eyesight I saw the van halt in its tracks and start reversing before I was met face-to face with its driver.
“Where you heading?” he asked me, in a thankfully non-threatening way.
“Uuuuh,” I hesitated, “Penzance?”
He winced a bit.
“I can get you as far as Truro?” he offered, at which point I can only imagine that I winced too.
“That’s really kind of you but I can’t – I’m in the middle of a race soooo… no hopping in a car.”
At this point he paused for a moment and it was as if it was all sinking in. Suddenly he seemed to have actually seen me; seen the hi-vis vest, the giant backpack I was sporting, the little headtorch atop my FYB trucker cap, and the less-than-fresh running attire I was sporting. In that moment, I became a bit more aware of it to and just how odd it must have all looked.
“How many miles have you done so far?” he asked, still clearly trying to make sense of our encounter.
“…60 miles, ” I hesitated to disclose.
And, with that, he was gone and I kept on stumbling in to the night.
This encounter came courtesy of the Dartmoor Prison Break – an excellent race organised and run by the Dartmoor Search & Rescue Team Plymouth. Entering this event supports this much-needed service which means that, along with getting to add one more race to the diary, you also support an incredibly good cause, which is a pretty awesome bonus.
Escape from Dartmoor Prison
In this endeavour there are two categories: 12 hours (known as ‘Delinquents’) and 24 hours (known as ‘Felons’), but you don’t have to go the entire distance if you don’t want to.
Each race participant is given a swanky GPS tracker that accompanies them on the run (and must be promptly returned afterwards). When you want to finish running all you do is call race HQ, tell them you’re finished and then follow their instructions to turn the tracker off. This means that, if you want, you could make this race into a 5K, a 10K, a half-marathon, a marathon, or hit a specific ultra distance and then opt to stop. The freedom of this is really encouraging and many participants came to get in marathon distance by running home, and then retiring happy, with a medal and free tech t-shirt in hand.
This wasn’t my goal for the 2019 race. I had done the Dartmoor Prison Break as my first ever ultramarathon in 2018, entering as a 12-hour Delinquent and hoping (mainly) to just survive for 12 hours. I accomplished that goal as 2nd Lady and a desire to go for gold in 2019.
Thankfully for me, Dartmoor Prison Break is brilliantly facilitated for a strong race. The Dartmoor Prison Break actively encourages participants to bring their own crew and has no rules against non-participants tagging along for a few miles (at least, not that I’m aware of). Crew were expected to be at the health and safety briefing. Mandatory kit checks were done efficiently at race HQ where tea, coffee and a small gift shop stall was also set up.
I really cannot fault the amazing organisation and atmosphere of the race HQ and, while running, the Director will even keep people updated about the race via their Facebook page, which is a nice touch. The call you make when retiring also feels very personal and encouraging, showing just how much the Search & Rescue Team appreciates runner participation and safety.
Planning the route
But, let’s face it, the real fun of a race like this is the amount of logistical planning and autonomy you have. Because the race is done ‘as the crow flies’, the name of the game is to get the furthest distance via a straight line. That comes in to how you plan your route and the choices you make venturing fourth.
Because I planned for a distance winner I opted to aim for Penzance and, in this goal, I knew I could head multiple ways. Without a set course map it really is up to you how you run. Trails, road, a bit of both – the choice is all yours. You get to determine how much crew you want, if you want any breaks and pretty much every other aspect of the race.
There were many walkers on course for just this reason, too, alongside groups of runners who had just come for a lovely day out together exploring the many beautiful elements of Dartmoor and beyond.
My own route allowed me to take in breathtaking peaks on the moors, amazing quarries, beautiful country lanes, demoralising dual carriageways, a few towns (that thankfully had easily accessible public loos) and the odd supermarket. I may have started by bursting outside of the archway of HMP Dartmoor, but I ended in a very small little village in Cornwall, where the cottages had thatched roofs, and trees and hedges beautifully lined its perimeter.
It was a massive relief (and a bit of a shock) to be told that I had come in as 1st Lady, 2nd overall, and had set the course record for furthest distance travelled by a female. I was honestly overjoyed, but that wasn’t what made the race for me.
24 hour races are no joke and this was my first. I honestly thought I’d be a crying, broken, harrowed mess by the end but, honestly, come the end I felt more alive and appreciative of running then when I ran this race. I strongly attribute this to the choose-your-own-adventure-like format of the Dartmoor Prison Break and the way that it doesn’t restrict crew or pacers in any way (even if I personally didn’t use a pacer myself).
If you are planning a 24-hour race in 2020, then I highly recommend the Dartmoor Prison Break. What will it be like? I honestly can’t tell you – the journey ahead is yours to decide.