Dorset Coastal Trail Series – 02/12/2017

You know your partner knows you better than anyone else when, for your birthday, she signs you up to a 16 mile, 5/5 on the difficultly rating scale, off-road trail race with 3,700ft of climbing. Is there any other way to spend a brisk Saturday morning in December? If there is, I haven’t found it yet.

The event fell slap bang in the middle of my ‘off-season’, where I’m trying really hard to not do very much training. However, as Katie had bought me such an awesome present, I wanted to show her how much I appreciated it by squeezing every last bit of fun out of the entire weekend, which would invariably involve me running the race the only way I know how; hard.

We travelled down to Lulworth on the Friday night; no more car rentals for us as we’re now the proud owners of Frank the Ford Focus – he’s an absolute geezer. After checking into the luxury B&B Katie had booked (Mallards, Moreton), we popped to the local pub for some pre-race fuelling and a customary ‘we’re on holiday so we’ll do what we want’ beverage or two.

After the crushing blow of not winning the raffle that was taking place at the time, we headed back for a relatively early night. Unfortunately and really frustratingly, Katie is still having problems with her knee, so wisely made the decision not to run. It’s been a really difficult period of time for her since Amsterdam, and I’ve got everything crossed she recovers as quickly as possible. If anyone has got any ITB injury advice/tips – that’d be very much appreciated.

So that left just me with an early alarm call and a porridge pot or two to make in the darkness, trying to leave her to get a bit of well deserved shut-eye. Breakfast successfully ‘cooked’, I scuttled off to the bathroom where I’d be able turn the light on, armed with a triathlon magazine to keep me company; who says that romance is dead?

After later having to observe what looked like a delicious B&B breakfast (I made a mental note to order everything on the menu on Sunday), we made the short 15-minute drive to the event start, needing every one of the 15 layers I had on as we wandered over to event registration to collect numbers and timing chips.

Dorset is one of a large number of events organised by Endurance Life, and the whole day seemed to run like clockwork, with registration being quick and the briefing informative. There even seemed to be enough toilets, which isn’t always a given..

Despite being 3 hours away from London, the Clapham Chasers had descended en masse, and I spent the time before the start catching up with everyone, whilst trying to glean some hints and tips on what would essentially be my first ever proper trail race. Cat very kindly lent me a pack to wear, as until Wednesday I was planning to carry all the required kit around in my hands, which looking back now, was an idiotic idea.

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Doing zero warm-up was probably not the most ideal prep, and I found myself on the start-line, cold, stiff and not very ready to go. ’15 SECONDS TO GO’. B*lls. Über triathlete Alan Scott, another Clapham Chaser, was also taking part. Alan won last years race, and also recorded a quite incredible time of 8:54 at this years Challenge Roth iron-distance triathlon. I therefore knew that, if I was ahead of him in the early stages, something had gone terribly wrong.

We set off and were directed straight up a massive hill; a sign of things to come. I was pretty much immediately gasping for breath, thinking that there was absolutely no way I could sustain this for half a mile, let alone 16. In less than 2 minutes my heart rate was at nearly 180 bpm and we were still climbing. I listened to those running alongside me; I wasn’t the only one struggling for air – a small morsel of consolation.

Once over the top, we had a precious few minutes of respite, in which time Durdle Door (apparently) appeared on our left. I was too busy trying to get myself together/smile for the camera/concentrate on not falling over whilst descending to actually see it, but from pictures it looks wonderful.

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Alan had told me beforehand that there’d be ‘some’ walking involved, something I listened to whilst silently thinking ‘yeah right mate, you run on ahead while muggins here walks, I’ve heard it all before.’ I hit the bottom of the next climb in 6th, and watched as 1st through 5th were brought to a near enough standstill as they attempted to summit what looked to me like a near vertical cliff. Looks like we’re all walking then lads.

Despite the lack of running on these climbs, my heart rate was still higher than it would be in a normal half-marathon race, and it was absolutely exhausting as you tried to keep up with those ahead of you. Every so often I’d steal a glance out to sea, to try and take my mind off the current suffering, as we edged our way upwards.

There were 4 chunky climbs in the first 5km, which I managed to cover in 28 minutes, at which point I was absolutely done in. Thankfully, from here we turned and had a long flat section before heading back down towards where we’d started the race. I could finally start getting into a rhythm and concentrate on controlling my breathing and bringing the heart rate under control.

I flew down the steep descent back into the start/finish area, well aware that falling now would send me careering all the way to the bottom, much to the delight of the onlooking supporters. Thankfully I stayed on two feet, passing Katie and letting her know how much fun I was having.

By this point we’d covered 10km and were now heading east along the coastal path from Lulworth, and I was still sitting in 6th position. We were sent over a beach (think more stumbling over stones than sunning yourself in the sand), with everyone choosing to take a slightly different line. I opted to run higher up the beach, on the bigger stones, where grip seemed to be easier, but the possibility of rolling an ankle increased ten-fold.

We then had some more huge climbs to negotiate (surprise, surprise), which mostly had had steps built into them as the gradient was so steep. At one point Alan was somewhere high above me, and I couldn’t resist shouting up to him, telling him how ridiculous I thought the whole thing was. I was slowly making my way through the field, picking off 5th and 4th, trying and failing to find any kind of rhythm or flow.

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Looks suspiciously like some walking to me..

I found one of the most difficult parts of the day was trying to work out when and when not to actually run. To road runners that might sound silly, but I quickly found that when it gets too steep, running just isn’t an option. But when do you start again once you’ve stopped? Then there were the grey areas where you feel like you maybe ‘should’ be running, but weren’t quite sure – all a bit of a puzzle.

Luckily, on the more open sections I had Mr. Scott to unknowingly assist me – I figured that if last years winner was walking/running, then that was good enough for amateur Adam over here. The problems arose when he got too far ahead, and I was all alone with my decision making. I then imagined the guys behind me running; this offered incentive enough to get me moving again.

The far end of the course is at 11 miles, and the splits tell me at this point I was 90 seconds behind Alan, in what I thought was 4th place. From here we started to head home, and we got tonnes of support from runners heading in the opposite direction, which was hugely appreciated.

I swapped a high-five with Nick Gibbs, who was pushing on after running with his wife (that sounds weird) Charlie, who unfortunately had to drop after 10km with an injury. I was absolutely barrelling down some of the descents, aware that a fall would almost certainly result in broken bones or worse. Totally worth it though; there was a box of free Cliff bars at stake after all.

I was pretty sure I was also starting to reel Alan back in, so this gave me added incentive to push on. I was nearly foiled by my arch nemesis, the metal gate, as I struggled with the latch and lost a few precious seconds. I hadn’t been practising my gate-game in the build up, but this’ll go down on the list of things to improve upon in the future. It’s one of those things, like getting dressed during a triathlon, that can be practised in day to day life. If Katie finds me rushing ahead of her to open the gate for us; she can rest assured that I’m probably just doing it for my own benefit..

We hit the final descent, and I tried to creep up behind stealthily (I’ve had years of practice at this), before being foiled by a lovely chap who asked ‘WHAT DISTANCE ARE YOU RUNNING MATE?’, to which I tried to reply as quietly as possible ‘half‘, but the game was up.

We hit the beach again at the bottom with 25 seconds between us and that’s how it stayed. I’m sure if Alan had been chasing someone else the gap would’ve been greater, but the winner thrashed us both by a good ten minutes. I came into the finishing area, absolutely spent with my legs in bits, thinking that 4th was a pretty good result.

It was therefore a nice surprise to be told I had actually finished in 3rd place; we had passed the guy who was running in 2nd at some point, but I hadn’t even noticed (it could have been at an aid station or an unfortunate cliff fall – I saw him at the finish so can confirm he’s still alive). Alan and I had both finished a couple of minutes inside his winning time from last year, but as mentioned, Mo Farah’s mountain running cousin had turned up. Still; 3rd place in my first ever trail race isn’t too shabby.

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My time (completely irrelevant in these races, which was a feature of the event that I really enjoyed), was 2 hours and 12 minutes for the 16 hilly miles, an average of 8:17 per mile. This is over 2 minutes per mile slower than the speed I normally run at for a marathon, and this was a full-gas effort; highlighting how brutal some of those climbs were.

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We hung around for the prize giving; as if I was going to miss out on a free box of cliff bars. A WHOLE BOX. The joke was on the guys that finished ahead of me; everyone just got the singular box, regardless of what step of the podium you were on. I obviously knew this, otherwise I’d have tried much harder. I’m never sure if my sarcasm comes across in these blogs or not, or people just think I’m a knob.

I’ve never been so hungry after a race, and proceeded to eat my way through mountains of food for the rest of the day, with two pub meals in the space of 3 hours. It seemed as if we had a Clapham Chaser on the podium for every distance and we all celebrated with a few drinks in the evening, reminiscing about those horrendous hills and vowing never to do anything like this again. That’ll be me doing the marathon distance next year then.

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5 thoughts on “Dorset Coastal Trail Series – 02/12/2017

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