Rich Nelson takes on JP's Exe to Axe

Rich Nelson and Pat Robbins grind out the miles in JP’s Exe to Axe

Rich Nelson takes on JP's Exe to Axe
Rich Nelson was back in long distance action at the JP’s Exe to Axe 22 mile race along with Pat ‘Paddy’ Robbins

The year’s edition of the JP’s Exe to Axe featured two brave, budding Bournemouth AC bloomers in the shape of captain marvel Rich Nelson and ultra-extraordinaire Pat ‘Paddy’ Robbins. The Exe to Axe course runs from Exmouth Sea Front and follows the South West Coast Pat for around 22 miles before finishing up on the Esplanade at Seaton.

The Exe to Axe race is now in its 16th year and is a brute of a race but carries with it the caveat of containing breath-taking views throughout from magnificent cliff top settings. The race is split into four different segments.

The first stage is 4 miles long and runs from Exmouth to Budleigh. On this part, you go past the Geo Needle at Orcombe Point. It measures 5 metres tall and marks the beginning of the World Heritage Site that the runners are about to go through.

After that it’s Budleigh to Sidmouth, which is 6 miles long and features some of those outstanding views along the way. This stage takes the runner inland toward the River Otter before working its way back to the coast.

Startline for the JP's Exe to Axe race
The runners line up on the start line for the 2018 JP’s Exe to Axe

It’s then Sidmouth to Branscombe Mouth, which is just over 6 miles and there is where the going gets tough. The runners must climb to the top of Salcombe Hill, then down towards Salcombe Mouth and onto Salcombe Beach.

The final stage is from Branscombe Mouth to Seaton, which is a little over 4 miles. The part involves some serious climbing up to the top of Hooken Cliffs. A landslip on the Old Beer Road several years ago meant to route had to be changed from what was previously a 20-mile distance to closer to 22 miles. It’s a downhill run towards Seaton and onto the Esplanade before the final stretch along the sea front leading to Axe Valley Sailing Club.

Having not really done any long-distance training in the lead up to the race, Rich Nelson was dubious about how he would fair on such a tough and lengthy course. But he was prepared to give it a go, citing a tactic of walking up the steeper climbs and running the rest of it.

Exe to Axe coastal path runs from Exmouth to Seaton
The Exe to Axe race runs along the coast line from Exmouth to Seaton and incorporates some breathtaking views

Rich has been suffering with ongoing calf issues for quite some time now which have really begun to hamper his enjoyment of running somewhat. But it is starting to look like things are on the upturn now and fingers crossed he’s over the worst of it.

With the lack of training that he’s had though, Rich knew he was always going to find it tough but he was hoping he’d be able to dig in and make it through. And that’s exactly what he did. Sticking to his tactic of walking the hills and running the rest, Rich was able to make it to the 17-mile point in reasonable nick.

It was the last 5 miles of the race that really hit him hard. It’s not surprising really. Most people wouldn’t dream of entering a race like this without an adequate amount of training beforehand. But Rich is an experienced veteran of many a marathon in his time and managed to find the resolve to see it through.

It was a feeling of great relief for Rich as he finally reached the finish line, completing the race in 4 hours 11 minutes and 51 seconds. That is not a bad time at all considering the enormity of the task and the circumstances it was under. It put Rich in 88th place overall out of a field of 201 finishers.

Rich Nelson in the JP's Exe to Axe race
Rich Nelson put in an almighty effort to make it to the finish and to his credit he came out of it with a fairly decent time given his recent injury woes

For Pat ‘Paddy’ Robbins, there were no such issues. Pat is currently in training for the 24 Hour European Championships where he will be representing Great Britain. In preparation for that he’s really been stacking up the weekly mileage.

Given the challenge Pat is due to undertake when he hits the 24 Hour European Championships in Romania at the end of May, the 22-mile Exe to Axe race was a drop in the ocean. Of course, for Pat, just the same as everyone else, it still had its ups and downs.

Pat managed the race well though, crossing the line in 20th place with a time of 3 hours 21 minutes and 48 seconds. That put him 10th in the M Over 40 category. It was another step forward for Pat in his journey toward his big target race and no doubt they’ll be many other tough long distance runs he has to battle through before the big day arrives.

Pat Robbins in the JP's Exe to Axe race
The Exe to Axe race was merely a gentle training exercise for Pat Robbins as he is set to line up for Great Britain in the 24 Hour European Championships at the end of May