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CTS Exmoor Marathon review – Alastair’s Perspective

I heard a great quote last week which sums up a trail marathon perfectly:

“Running a marathon is 90% mental…. the other 90% is purely physical.”

I’ve had my eye on CTS Exmoor Marathon since I first discovered the Coastal Trail Series. The event pictures always had stunning backdrops of Exmoor National Park and the ocean expanse falling away from the cliffs. The first CTS event that I ran was the Dorset Marathon. This was my first marathon attempt but unfortunately I had to drop at 27km due to a major nutrition fail and lack of endurance experience. Ever since that moment I vowed not make the same mistakes again and to “Never Give Up” on finishing a race, which coincidentally is the slogan on the finishers t-shirt which you get; if you finish.

With all that said, the Dorset race is listed as “Extreme” on the Endurance life website which was possibly a little ambitious for a first marathon. Two years later and I was ready to finally conquer their other “Extreme” Marathon. And Conquer I did!

Before starting with the race report, I should point out that the “Extreme” refers to the challenging terrain and large amount of vertical ascent (1800m).

Profile / Terrain / Distance / GPS Data.

Race Profile* along with my Gradient adjusted pace:

CTS Exmoor Marathon review - Alastair's Perspective 1 - Trail and Kale | Trail Running & Adventure

 * Note: This race start was shifted to a higher point this year due to a wedding at the usual start point. The route however was exactly the same.

Race Route:


As I have said before GPS Data doesn’t always tell the whole story when it comes to a trail race. Its important to also look at the terrain and weather conditions on the day. The coastline tends to bring high winds and changeable weather along with them. As this race is in April the weather will naturally throw some interesting conditions into the mix. We had to endure cold winds, rain, hail and thankfully warm sun at times. All this makes for an interesting and tactical race scenario 🙂

The terrain was very varied throughout the race including grassy fields, rocky trails, scree, forests, steps, roads, lots of mud and of course many steep climbs and descents.

Here is a beautiful video of the day from Endurance Life shot mostly with drones. This shows how hilly the route was:

If you would like to follow them then you can do so at:

Travel & Logistics.

We drove to Exmoor on the morning of the race which meant waking up at 5am in order to get breakfast down us in time. It only took around 2hours from Bath, which was pretty good going. This gave us enough time to to Check-in, get our race numbers & timing chips and of course go to the toilet.

Useful information about the Race Start HQ.

Endurance Life Race HQ
Endurance Life Race HQ

Due to the race now starting at a different location at a high point near the cliffs, parking was staggered along the descending road towards the ocean.

There were about 10 Loos available for use that never seemed to have much of a queue, which is what every runner wants to see before a race right? There was also ample time and plenty of space for a comfortable warm up session. There was a bag drop tent which also housed a small cafe for coffee, tea and soft drinks. There was also a small area with a masseuse for people needing the service after the race. The race briefing was held at 8:30 in a separate tent. The briefing was very concise and received a lot of laughs from all the sleepy looking, eager to run participants. And finally being at the top of the cliffs, the view was spectacular, which was an inspiring was to start a trail race.


The Race from my perspective.

Final check that our pockets & race packs are loaded with nutrition, and water bottles are full. Ready. Lets DO this!


 The race begins with a long road descent (past our car as it happens). I was being very self disciplined on on this first section as I have had a tendancy to blow out too soon in the marathon distance, I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. I know now that it’s never sensible rushing off at the start of a race that’s going to last close to 5 hours. So I held back and ran comfortably using the time and early kilometers to warm up the muscles and get the heart ticking over at a nice steady rate. It was nice starting a CTS race with a downhill instead of a climb for a change 🙂
Wearing a much larger smile than towards the end of the race :)
Wearing a much larger smile than towards the end of the race 🙂
It took 3 or so kilometres before we hit the first proper trail which was a short descent towards a river crossing. There was a bit of an expected bottle next here whilst people found their trail feet and tried not to slip over in the mud.

Shortly after came came the first climb which was roughly 20% grade and 200m in elevation. “Don’t run up this, you don’t want to burn out too soon again” I kept telling myself. I’m so pleased I didn’t because I had been meaning to put some recently learned hill technique in to practice. And who taught me this? None other than the super talented mountain runner, Anna Frost who won the world famous Hardrock 100 race in 2015, amongst many other during her still strong racing career. The technique was power hiking, which is essentially moving fast up hill with purpose, projecting yourself forwards by pushing down hard on your knees as you make large strides forward. I was amazed at how many people I passed on this section because of it. possible 20 people on the first climb. And it felt effortless-ish 🙂

I reached the top of the hill and changed posture to hold shoulders back and head up (just as Frosty taught us), to help much needed lung capacity to aid fast recovery after the hill work.

5 minutes later and down came the first hail shower, along with it the cold wind. I was pleased with my decision to keep my jacket on during the hill climb, even though things were heating up. This saved me a few minutes not having to redress when the hail hit. I passed a few more runners who unfortunately fell into that trap. I smiled to myself a little. Got to enjoy those lucky moments when you get them!

The first checkpoint came at around 13km. I grabbed some slices of banana and kept running. I didn’t know it at the time but I was in 47th position at this point, a position I would hold until the end of the race.

There were a few funny moments during the race where a some runners would keep going the wrong way and a guy running next to me would keep telling them the correct way to go instead.. How many peoples races he must have saved!

Its easy to go the wrong way when the views of the ocean and forests are so beautiful that you can’t take your eyes off them!

Later on in the race at around 26km in to the race I would end up with the start of the 10k race which brought with it the fast pace that I could have done without at that stage in my race. I suppose the silver lining was that their freshness drove me forward when I may otherwise have wanted to ease off the pace a bit more than I should have. It was nice to encounter a cheerful photographer during this tough point in the race.

Being swept along a technical section with the 10k race
Being swept along a technical section with the 10k race

I eventually reach a split point where the 10k race bounded off in one direction and i shuffled off into another. I’m pleased I was on the ball enough to notice this as there were no other Marathon runners around me, I could have easily gone the wrong way if I wasn’t paying enough attention. The course very quickly turned into a steep and long ascent with plenty of switch backs and scree fields. I was amazed at how long I had been running alone for without seeing a soul, let alone another runner. It was nice in some respects but I also doubted whether I had taken a wrong turn at times. Sure enough I eventually caught up with a couple of runners who had been running the Ultra race which started earlier in the morning. I think they had been struggling as they were walking at this point. I say hello, and push forwards.

The final checkpoint was a welcome sight. I had run out of water so the first thing I did was fill up my bottle, and then grabbed a handful of salty crisps, some more banana slices and bounded onwards down the long steep descent. The Final 10k, is always the hardest, and the longest it seems! I was now in 44th position.

Finally, I hear someone say they see the “one mile to go” sign. This really gave my the motivation to catch the person in front of me who I had been chasing for the last 6 kilometres. I pushed hard until I caught up with him, then I pushed even harder to gain space making sure he couldn’t catch me again. I had to take these small victories as a couple of strong runners had passed me during this final stretch since checkpoint 3.

My watch says 41.8km and I can hear people cheering, in fact I can actually SEE PEOPLE!! I must be moments away from the finish line, I sprint for the “fans”, and myself 🙂 5 Hours 22 minutes and 47th Position!

A very well earned medal
A very well earned medal
Happy and clutching my very much needed recovery shake.
Happy and clutching my very much needed recovery shake.
The race finishes with a medal and some water followed by a bag check to make sure that you had all the mandatory equipment with you throughout the race. If you forget one thing then you risk disqualification in the CTS series. So read up before hand and make sure you have everything you need!
I Really felt like I used what I had learned from my previous trail marathons and the “Day with Anna Frost” at Run Coed Y Brenin with week before, during this race. And for me that’s what its all about. Getting faster and more efficient at going further. The stand out personal achievements for me here was smart pacing throughout the race, power hiking up the hills, having shot bloks for nutrition and using salt capsules which meant no cramping and feeling strong at the end 🙂

If you haven’t been running at Run Coed Y Brenin, Snowdonia before, I can highly recommend it. Its a beautiful place and the trail running Mecca for the UK. It also holds the beautiful Trail Marathon Wales race, which we will be returning for this year.

Big respect to everyone who ran at the Exmoor Marathon, It is one of the toughest Marathons in the UK, and for good reason!

I compete in these challenging races so that I can take myself to dark places which require REAL mental focus to pull myself back out.

Race Analysis:


  • Position – (Finish = 47th) (CP1 = 47th)(CP2 = 48th)(CP3 = 44th)
  • Distance – 42.5km
  • Time – 5:22:53
  • Average Pace – 7:36 min/km

Trail Bag.

In my Trail Bag
In my Trail Bag
  • ShoesSalomon S-Lab Sense Ultra 3 HG – I Still love these shoes after running 4 challenging trail marathons in them. Im starting to think that Salomon could do with adding a touch more cushioning in them, and maybe some wider laces where they pass over the top of your foot to stop any small discomfort when done up on the tighter side, this would probably make them the perfect shoe.
  • ShortSalomon S-Lab Exo Twinskin Short – Love these shorts and I wear them all the time. They are so comfortable, and have brilliant elasticated pockets for gels. They also look great.
  • SocksMerino Multisport – I Bought these recently on a trip to New York. Now I’m obsessed with Merino wool! They kept my feel so dry in such wet conditions!
  • TeeLulu Lemon Silver Scent Long Sleeve Top –  I’ve been wearing these tops for a few years now and they haven’t aged a day, brilliant build quality and the silver scent technology means they never get smelly. Love them.
  • BagSalomon Advanced Skin3 5 set – This bag is amazing, it fits so well and you never feel like you’re wearing a pack. The storage is perfect for a day race and build quality is everything you would expect from Salomon S-Lab.
  • JacketSalomon Bonatti WaterproofI Love this jacket, There is a lot of freedom of movement and I love the little button clip on the inside which allows you to unzip the jacket but stop it flying open whilst running. A very simple yet effective way to stay cool whilst keeping the jacket on.

RELATED: 5 Best Waterproof Running Jackets for Trail Running & Ultrarunning in 2019

  • WatchSuunto Ambit Peak – I’ve had this watch for about 3 years now and put it through some seriously gruelling events including two Tough Mudders. It still works perfectly. BULLET PROOF and my loyal companion on every race!
  • Hydration BottlesSalomon Soft Flask 500ml x2 – I love the way these flasks pack down as you drink the liquid inside. I would recommend using some flavoured substance in them as there is a subtle plastic taste if you just use water. Not a major problem, but it could be better.


  • Salts – Saltstick capsIf you suffer from leg cramping due to sweating, I highly recommend these capsules!
  • Water
  • Cliff Shot Bloks – (my new favourite and non sticky race nutrition)
  • High5 Energy Gels

I have dropped Electrolyte drinks from my nutrition since using Salt capsules which allows me to regulate water intake separately from electrolytes. So far so good!

I would just like to say a BIG thank you to the organizers for doing such a great job.

As the founder of Trail & Kale, and seasoned marathoner & ultrarunner, Alastair loves bringing our readers independent running shoe reviews and gear insights to help you run your best. Learn more about Trail & Kale here.


    • Hey Cameron!

      You’re welcome! You’re going to love the race, It’s brutal but so worth it for all the coastal views you’ll get, and satisfaction of finishing such a beast of a course 🙂

      Let me know how you get on!



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