Probably the 2nd hardest part of this race was making the start line at all! Shortly after I entered I aggravated then ankle injury that has been troubling me all year. Straight after the Chester Marathon full focus went onto rehab-ing the ankle (and yes, if I’d done this properly months ago this year may have been very different) and after a few weeks of boring, painful manipulation of the ankle I finally started to get some more side-to-side flexibility. Short sections of cobbles that had me nearly walking over them just before Chester could now be happily tackled full tilt. 2 weeks out I went for a fell run with Harsh round the roughest bit of the Edale Skyline (the section that had caused me a lot of pain during the race itself) and other than going thigh deep into a peat bog I came through this with no problems. Game on!
The Dorset race is the third round of the EnduranceLife Coastal Trail Series and certainly one of the toughest, with 1200m of up and down in the 26 (and a bit) miles. Being a Dorset lad myself I knew most of the route and could also call on the pre- and post-race hospitality of my Mum and Dad (thanks!). Arriving at race HQ early on Saturday morning it was grey, windy and cool. We registered, got kit sorted and then waited in the hall for the briefing and the start. We also saw the start of the Ultra (32 miles) and the slower Marathon runners who all went off about 40 minutes before the main start. Turned out that it was a TT style start with a dib in on the line, so as 9am approached we went out to the start pen to find that it had started drizzling a touch. Wished Viv a good race then made my way into the pen to get a start in the top 20 or so.
After a short steep tarmac climb away from the start a right turn over a stile and onto the Coast Path which we follow for the next 12 miles. The first few miles were mainly distinguished by some very slippery mud which made descending interesting and climbing laborious. I was a bit worried that it would turn out to be a 26 mile XC course! After 2.5 miles predominantly downhill, then the long climb up White Nothe, the fun really starts as the route is relentlessly up and down from here on in to the halfway point. Beautiful scenery but very hard work! The majestic rock archway of Durdle Door hoves into view then a climb and a nasty cobbled descent down to Lulworth Cove and a checkpoint at 7 miles.
I would have chosen to go around the beach in the Cove, but no it was up round the back of it then a horrible descent on steep steps. A short stretch of flat running past the Fossil Forest was a relief before the incredibly steep climb up Bindon Hill; approaching it looks more like a cliff than a hill. Straight down again to Arish Mell, then back up Flowers Barrow, down to Worbarrow Bay then up Gad Cliff. Up down up down I think you are getting the picture.
By this point it has to be said that it had become clear that I had rather underestimated how hard this run would be and I was running about half an hour behind my predicted schedule. I’d also not taken nearly enough food and despite three gels by 12 miles I was starting to feel pretty empty. And after the early rain it had turned into a bright and relatively warm day – so I didn’t really have enough water either!
Descent to Tyneham which was 13 miles with 2hrs 15 on the clock and met Mum, Dad and Bella (dog) who had come out to spectate. After a quick chat off again on a long but steady climb up to Povington Hill, a short out and back section here was good to see some other runners with a checkpoint at the end where fortunately there was water and some sweets and shot bloks, so stuffed my face here to make up the calorie deficit and also refilled my water bladder.
The return leg promised to be a bit lighter on the climbs but on the flip side we were now running into the Westerly wind. Approaching Lulworth for the 2nd time I started to feel a bit fatigued, also had the only point on the route where the route choice was a little vague but picked the right (left!) way, down into the village and to the checkpoint. Seemed like rush hour here as after a relatively lonely run from Povington the Marathon route now coincided with the Half Marathon which turned for home at Lulworth. Plenty of overtaking was good for motivation on the next 3 mile section steadily uphill into the wind; head down, counting to one hundred with a rhythm of four steps per count – boring and geeky but gets the hard miles done.
What goes up… because the next three miles were mainly downhill and despite some cramping I managed to pick up the pace all the way to the Smugglers Inn at Osmington Mills this is only a mile from the finish and felt sorry for the Ultra runners who had to turn around and head away again to add an extra 6 mile loop onto their route! Was soon feeling sorry for myself though as it was uphill again on the slippery mud nicely churned up from our earlier passage. Throw in a few stiles to really trigger off the cramps and it was a tough final mile for sure. But eventually onto the tarmac for the final 200m downhill to the finish line.
That was a tough race! I finished with 4hrs 34 on the clock for 10th place, happy with that. The winner Stuart Mills (who won the Lakeland 100 in 2010 and is a quality ultra runner) did 3 hr 47 which shows how tough the route is. Viv finished in an excellent 5 hrs 23 for 5th Lady.
Also my ankle came through unscathed again so it’s full steam ahead planning for some more ultra-running fun and games for 2012!