Phil Hampton, the founder and original Race Director of the Dartmoor Discovery Road Race, passed away recently, on January 12th 2023 aged 87. He had been unwell for some time with a chest infection. Phil was a superb long distance runner who lived at Whitehall Drive, Elburton, Plymouth.

Phil came 2nd to John Tarrant (‘the Ghost Runner’) in the Exeter to Plymouth 44 mile race in July 1966 in a time of 4h:49m:43s, the eighth fastest time recorded for the event. John Tarrant was a legendary multi-winner of the race, held annually between 1964 and 1971.

In September 1966 Phil Hampton had just returned to Rosyth from three months at sea on HMS Gurkha. His boyhood comic-strip hero had been Alf Tupper, ‘the Tough of the Track’, who trained very hard in all kinds of weather. A member of the Royal Navy AC (South), Phil wanted to do a long run before the Edinburgh to Glasgow 42 mile ultra-marathon (in which he later finished 2nd in 4h:56m:53s). So he followed a signpost to the Kincardine Bridge, reckoning that if he continued to and crossed the Forth Road Bridge and then returned to base, it would be about 26 miles. He set off at 6:00 am on a Sunday morning expecting to return at about 9:00 am. Not knowing the area that well, he found he had run 20 miles by the halfway mark.

“Of course I had done my first 15 miles too fast, so long before I got to the Forth Bridge I was on my knees.  I eventually staggered home at about half past ten, to find my patient wife about to start a police search. When I had recovered, and it didn’t take long to get over that ‘to hell with it’ state, I realised what a wonderful course there was for a road race. I mentioned this to Mr Bill McPherson of the Civil Service Sports Association who, being a wonderful grafter, eventually organised the inaugural race which was a tremendous success and made me glad that I had done that training run.”

In 1969, after winning the Polytechnic Marathon (Windsor to Chiswick) in 2h:25m:22s, Phil finished third in the London-Brighton Road Race (5h:42m:16s). For many years from the 1960s until the 1980s London-Brighton was the premier ultra-marathon in the world - effectively the Ultra Distance World Championships. The distance varied from 50 - 55 miles.

Phil’s collaboration with Bill McPherson after his 1966 training run led to the founding of the Two Bridges Race, one of the real classics of Scottish ultra-distance running: everybody who was anybody in the sport, from all over the British Isles and even further afield came and raced it. It became Scotland’s most famous ultra-distance marathon and was run 38 times between 1968 and 2005, before it unfortunately came to an end due to road-works and a lack of organisers and helpers. Although it wasn’t exactly the same course that had inspired Phil, the race took competitors through spectacular and testing landscapes. The overall distance was 36 miles 158 yards (58.082km) from 1968 to 1985; and then 35 miles 498 yards (56.783km) from 1986 onwards. From 2004 the race was known as the Two Bridges Multi-Terrain Challenge and included 12 miles of trail, 9 miles on the track and 14 miles on road. Unfortunately, the Two Bridges race folded in 2005, mainly due to lack of support in the area and nobody coming through to replace the ageing race committee members.

Phil ran the first three Two Bridges races from 1968 to 1970, always finishing in the top ten. In fact he won the 1970 race in a time of 3h:41m:19s. He went on to have further considerable success, winning the Polytechnic Marathon again in 1971 in a time of 2h:18m:31s and then set a world record for 50 Miles on the track at Epsom in 1971 in an amazing time of 5h:01m:01s, barely a month later.

After finishing his competitive career he devised and organised the Dartmoor Discovery 34 mile ultra-marathon with help from a few friends from the running world and a group of volunteers from the Instinctive Sports running club in Plymouth, which he had joined as a runner and coach. The idea came about when he travelled to Scotland in 1996 to help out in the Two Bridges race and learned that the event was in danger of closing. So he decided to organise another race, down here in Devon, to replace it. The Dartmoor Discovery, or DD as it’s affectionately known, started in 1998 in heavy rain and gale force winds and attracted an entry of 90 hardy souls. Despite the weather, the race was a great success. It has gained somewhat of a cult status on the running circuit and is one of those races that runners from across the world have to have on their CV. The race starts and finishes in Princetown.

In 2002 the DD was shortened to its current distance of 32 miles, and although one of the shortest ultras on the circuit, it is one of the toughest and is now the longest single lap road ultra in the UK.

In 2010, at the age of 75, Phil reluctantly decided it was time to hand over the organisation of the DD to somebody else for the 2011 race. When Teignbridge Trotters heard the DD was looking for a new organiser, such was the passion within the club for this truly amazing race, they knew that they couldn’t stand by and see it fold. Club Chairman, Roger Hayes, a veteran of eight DD’s, became the new race director and remained so up to and including the 2021 race, when Liz Barnett took over the hot seat.

Phil was a contemporary and friend of many well-known international long distance runners, including Dave Bedford, Ian Thompson and John Tarrant (‘the Ghost Runner’) and the Dartmoor Discovery continues to attract more than the limit of 250 entrants from all round the world as a memorial and tribute to a remarkable man.