“I love this off-road running. It sings to my soul.”
Happy birthday to us!
Haldon Trail Runners is now 10 years old, the first club run having taken place on Wednesday, April 7, 2010.
What Ian and Helen Lynch started all those years ago, has grown from a handful of friendly faces heading out once a week at Haldon to a club which usually has around 40-plus members. A second run at Haldon soon started – with Wednesdays and Saturdays still the regular club meets – and sessions were held on the track at Exeter Arena on Mondays for several years. Although members can’t meet up at the moment due to coronavirus restrictions, we thought we’d get the thoughts of as many as we could to celebrate the milestone. Thanks to Nick for the story.
We’ll start off with Ian and Helen, as they started the whole thing off after all.
Club chairman Ian said: “It all started in 2010 when Helen and I decided we wanted to set up a running club that was dedicated to off-road running in the nearby Haldon Forest Park. At the time there were very few clubs in the area that majored in off-road running, which is hard to believe now as there are so many around. We like to think that we were trail blazers! We set up the club with just a few members who were our friends from other running clubs and hash groups and scheduled our first run for Wednesday, April 7, 2010 at 7pm. Ten years later this is still our chosen weekly club run time and we have only missed a small number of dates, mainly due to severe weather when the forest is closed for safety reasons. A short while later we added a second meet on a Saturday morning at 9am to do a slightly longer run of about 10 to 12 miles, again this is still a regular event today.
The ethos we wanted to create was one of a friendly, supportive club with minimal bureaucracy that provided a framework for like-minded runners to come together in a beautiful environment for a bit of exercise. Happily, this culture has remained in place over the years and many of our members cherish this informal approach. Membership started with around six-eight of our friends but word quickly got around and we were joined by other runners who were looking for a similar type of experience. Many people who join have not been members of formal clubs before, some being put off by the thought of having to endure structured training and being compelled to join team events for races, etc. We have never tried to push that more formal agenda and we encourage members to do as much or as little as they wish with no expectation of having to compete in races if they do not want to.
Having said that, we have had a very competitive element right from the start. I’m constantly surprised at the quality of athletes we attract, with quite a few who regularly gain podium places, win their age categories or win outright in local races. We always celebrate these achievements and have a regular ritual at the start of our club meets where we recite any recent results and give a round of applause to each one, whether they are present or not.
Our club meets have mainly been based at Haldon Forest Park although we do try to get out to other off-road venues for our Saturday runs. These are usually pretty local and range from Dartmoor to the coast path. We encourage anyone to suggest run routes, the only criteria is that it should be mainly off-road and not more than about 15 miles.”
Helen, the club’s secretary, said a key factor in people enjoying being part of the club is a love of mud and an appreciation of hills. We thought as we loved running in the forest, others would too,” she said of the formation of the club. “As we had both belonged to running clubs in the past, we wanted to make HTR the friendliest club with the least amount of rules/regs/red tape.
As Haldon Forest Park is a challenging place to run as soon as you come off the top ridge, we knew it wouldn’t suit everyone. We unashamedly love running through water and mud, although this past winter was rather trying just getting our trail shoes dry between runs. We have an excellent relationship with Forestry England and feel we know the 3,500 acres that make up the forest pretty well. We have an excellent committee who oversee the general running of the club and we have as few meetings as possible. We welcome runners who enjoy trail running, don’t mind getting muddy and can cope with Haldon’s hills.”
Treasurer Anthea Whitaker can regularly be seen at races, proudly wearing the navy blue and jade and scooping age category prizes along the way. She emphasised the friendly nature of the club, and remembers very clearly why she joined – and why she is still a member around nine years later.
"I had done a little solo off-road running, moved closer to the area and wanted to change this up and run with other off-road runners,” she recalled. “I contacted the club and they were warm, friendly and gave me a couple of weeks to see if I could get the hang of it before joining as a member. The first night out was tricky, I was not used to running in the dark and my torch ran out! I spent the first six-eight weeks bringing up the rear as I got used to the terrain and running with a group. Over the years I have been a member I have improved my running, been encouraged by others and picked up great tips from the coach.
We share the joy of running, racing or non-racing it doesn’t matter – being the best we can be, whatever that is. We celebrate each others’ endeavours, racing, improving, sharing different routes, enjoying our beautiful countryside. I’ve met some amazing people – my running ‘family’. We have had people from a wide variety of backgrounds. The relationships we have start with the running as the common theme but they are so much more than that. We can contact each other and support each other when we need it. We ‘get’ the mindset of running off-road. It isn’t necessarily about the speed but the toughness/endeavour of getting around hard hilly routes. We have short distance runners, speed merchants, middle and long distance, a variety of ages, all with a love of off-road running.
I am fitter, feel better about myself and am continuing to run well even though I am years older. My general fitness has improved, it’s good for my mental health and has got me through some tough times. I intend to keep running into my 80s, and I know with this club I am not alone. I love this off-road running. It sings to my soul.”
Martin McEneny has also been a member since 2011, having been cajoled at a couple of local races by the Lynchs.
Like Anthea, he is delighted to have made friendships that last long after the run has ended and the mud has been washed away.
“In 2010 I had returned to running after an enforced seven-year lay-off. In 2011 I returned to racing and I was looking to join a club,” he said. “Having previously been an Exeter Harrier, I wanted a club which could offer track work as I knew how invaluable that was. But I wanted a running club rather than an athletics club.
I met Helen and Ian at the Honiton Hippo race in April. Helen immediately wasted no time trying to encourage me to join HTR. I explained about the track work I wanted and Helen explained that as level two coaches they were planning on introducing interval training to the club. The seed had been sewn! I took part in the Torbay half marathon in June at which Helen and Ian were spectating and cheered me on as they clearly remembered me. However, it wasn’t until July 30 that I finally gave the club Saturday long run a ‘try before you buy’ and promptly joined immediately on completion of the run!
What I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy is that we are a small club and as such, we are quite a friendly bunch and are supportive and proud of the achievements of our fellow club members. And I have developed friendships with clubmates which exist beyond the club environment.”
Another long-serving member, Charlotte Burrows, enjoys running in some beautiful surroundings.
She said: “I joined as my aunty, who I was running with at the time, said to me ‘I really think you would enjoy being part of a club, you could have some people to chase’. I love the family feel mixed with the most incredible trail runs which explore the beauty of Devon.”
Chris Hucker joined the club as he was looking to further his running, having taken it up more reguarly.
He has gone on to revel in the ultra-marathon scene, not for him the flat 5k on a speedy surface.
“I had just finished playing league hockey at the age of 40-something and sought a new physical challenge and decided going back to running was for me,” he said.
“I had always loved running since leaving school, having run around 70 half marathons, 10ks and a few Grizzly races. I looked around and found details of a trail running club. I joined because I was interested in trying out trail running, but mostly the lure of night running which fascinated me and remains a passion to this day. Over my years of membership I have found HTR welcoming, encouraging and inclusive, although I am still not convinced by short-distance sprinting. In 2015 I took on my first ultra-marathon, a Dartmoor 50-miler, and the rest is history. I thoroughly enjoy running with the club whenever I can and will continue to do so. Thank you HTR for motivating and stimulating me and for continually feeding my running habit.”
For Sam Broad, joining HTR has been something of a homecoming.
“Joining the club was a bit of a no-brainer for me,” he said. “I grew up in Doddiscombsleigh and, as a teenager, was running cross-country for school, college and Devon Schools, and (shhh…) Exeter Harriers.
My regular training runs were a slog up Tick Lane to get off-road on the forestry rides from the Belvedere or near Westwood Farm. To get a change of scene I’d sometimes get dropped off near the obelisk and run home.
Fast forward to the late 80s/early 90s and, after some time working in London, I was back in the area and living in Higher Ashton. As I was now driving I was able to access more of the other nearby trails so the Teign Gorge, between Steps Bridge and Sandy Park, became a regular haunt along with trips to Dartmoor. I did have one regular run over Haldon at that time: it normally entailed, having taken a taxi home the previous evening, clearing a Sunday morning hangover with a run into Exeter to collect the car abandoned there the previous evening!
In 1994 work took me away again, and this time the fast forward entails 24 years. After many years of mainly road running, friends in Pembrokeshire got me back into trail running and, on my return to Devon, a quick bit of googling revealed the existence of Haldon Trail Runners. I’m glad to be ‘home’ and, although I’m not the most prolific attendee at club runs, I’m thoroughly enjoying my running, very happy to be wearing HTR kit and meeting other members at races around the area. Here’s to the next 10 years.”
When it comes to coverage of the club, most of it revolves around races, which sees the likes of Lizzy Dyson and Paul Sadler grabbing headlines for their exploits. Both won races outright this year before the Covid-19 pandemic, but both also enjoy the friendly nature of the club above their personal achievements.
Lizzy said: “I joined the club because I liked the idea of having a group of people to go for regular off-road runs with. Almost six years later that is the reason I’m still a member. I love the fact that regardless of the weather or time of year there are always people keen to meet for a run and a chat.”
And Paul added: “In 2011 a pal at work kept encouraging me to join the club, which I eventually did that year; I never looked back. Helen and Ian have been truly indefatigable in running the club which manages to combine a focus on trail running as well as create a very welcoming atmosphere. Almost 10 years on through running with and for the club I have managed to achieve so much more running-wise than I could ever have imagined possible at my age.
“My favourite moment: having fish and chips in a Seaton cafe with the club, all of us aching but buzzing post Grizzly race.”
Speaking of racing, a not-forgotten part of the club’s history is the Haldon Heartbeat, an 8.5-mile trail race the club staged for six years. It started and finished at Exeter Racecourse, with most of the route in Harcombe Plantation.
Ian explained: “From the start this race was designed to be a charity fundraiser, starting with a cardiac support charity based at Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital that had supported Helen when her mum had heart surgery. It ran for six years and raised more than £9,000 for various charities.”
Also not forgotten are those who used to be members but aren’t now for whatever reason. Like all clubs there has been a steady turnover over the years, with those who have frequented the trails helping to make the club what it is today. One such former member is Anna Fraser, who served on the committee for a number of years.
Keen to return one day soon, she said: “I started running with the HTRs back in 2010, I came across them by chance while running from Chudleigh to Haldon Forest one evening while training for a local half marathon. I went along to a club training night the following week and met the lovely and enthusiastic leaders Helen and Ian. After that I never looked back, I soon became a regular HTR, going out as twice a week in all elements. I discovered my perfect trail shoes and head torch and pushed myself more than I ever had before. I want to thank the club for all their support and motivation over the past 10 years. It really has helped me massively in so many ways, not only improving my fitness and inspiring me to run mountain trails but boosting my confidence and meeting some fantastic fellow runners along the way.Although I’m not running regularly at the moment I am looking forward to getting back on the trails very soon. Those bogs are waiting for me to jump in to!”
And then there’s club president Jim Mouat. A legendary mountain-running figure from his pomp, Jim joined the club in 2011. But unlike other members, what saw Jim sign up was not the appeal of off-road running or the scenery of Haldon. It was the design of the club’s kit, or more particularly what his wife Bobby thought of it. Settle back, and let Jim talk you through it in his own words.
“Bobby and I had spent 15 years among the Saxons in North Devon, where I ran with North Devon Road Runners, with a few highs and many lows because my engine had managed over 150,000 miles and was in need of new knees and Achilles tendons, which tended not to snap I also needed a new club, when we’d journeyed south.
“I’d tried commuting up for the mid-weekly North Devon relays, which I loved, but the driving and pounding on roads didn’t help the sciatica and other aches. So, which club? I was stumped and thinking of an armchair in front of the fire reading Agatha Christie, while supping pints of Legend. But then my wife Bobby noticed the Haldon kit as I struggled around another Totnes 10k in 2011. ‘They’ve got the best vest,’ she said. ‘The rest are rubbish. You join Haldon.’ And that was it. I always do as she says! And although I have almost wept on some occasions, I haven’t regretted her decision, ever.
There have been tears though. The first time came when I drove to find Mike (Aylmore) running from coast to coast across Devon. I’d met Mike’s dad at Morchard Bishop. We looked north, searching for a glimpse of Mike running through the gloom, escaping Exmoor. Then we saw three horseless men running out of the woods. Not de Tracey and his murderous mates, but Mike, flanked by Jan and Nick. That’s when I choked; there was no music, but it was a magnificent moment as they ran towards us in fine fettle. Jan had looked after the navigation and Nick had provided inspiration. And now it was up to me! Fortunately, it wasn’t, really. I had a wonderful time. After scoffing everything, in a genteel manner, that his itinerant chef put before him, Mike was on his feet and we were off, into the darkness. I had raced time trials along the old Exeter road and I knew where I was, to start with. But after the first half hour I were mazed. I don’t recall Mike reading a map or device, he just seemed to know that the black holes we entered would lead us round the farms, some threatening and deserted, apart from howling dogs. Later, after more hounds emerged out of the landscape, Mike led me down a very unlikely cart track, at the end of which was a solitary light under which Mike’s inspirational dad, who had first shown him this route, was preparing de’jeuner sur l’herbe of a Devon bank and it smelt delicious. And then Mike was gone, heading south over dark Dartmoor via the Warren House Inn, while his dad drove me north, closer to my car. I wasn’t there on the beach when Mike completed his 109 miles in 30 hours and eight minutes, but everyone else was and they were in awe.
There have been other great runs. It’s always a joy to see Lizzy dancing up mountains, her hair cascading behind, or Paul Sadler running another intelligent race, and I love looking at photos of our jade vests prominent at the front-end of races like the Heller, the Templer and even the around Brixham with swashbuckling Jan leading the way as porte-drapeau. However, there are other great stories in adversity, such as when Paul injured his leg at one London marathon, but Martin got him home.”
So there we have it, 10 years of Haldon Trail Runners. Thank you to everyone who has been a member, past or present. You make the club what it is. Here’s to the future, and – as Sam said –
here’s to the next 10 years!