The Jurassic Coast.
The Jurassic coast was the location for my next adventure with the Dorset Ultra, one of a series of races in the coastal trail series in the UK.
The weeks leading up to this 53km Ultra trail marathon had not been ideal. An extremely low mileage count since the Mourne Marathon and no real race based training meant the only thing I had in my locker was rest and good fitness from the bike and cross trainer. Would the long year of events catch up, was my toe possibly broken or would it flare up making this an impossibly long day. There was only one way to find out and that was by putting myself on that start line. Times, racing and the usual pressures were off, I had zero race nerves, felt a little nervous about my toe, but stayed positive. Emma was with me and would do the half marathon and Sinead and Owen had travelled from Ireland to take part. Myself and Owen had big plans of 3 and 4 UTMB points needed while Sinead and Emma were happy to knuckle down and run for enjoyment, or madness, who knows!
We arrived on Friday evening and by 8am Saturday we were all ready for the off. The start was in Lulworth Cove, a classic tourist hub on the southwest coast. It was dry, chilly but not freezing and the course was dry as a bone.
As always I will tell my story of the race, speaking to everyone else there were many ways of looking on the event. The ultra would consist of a 20km loop to the West, a 23km loop to the East, followed by a final 10km loop along the same route as the first 20. This consisted basically of running out the coast in one direction, looping back through farmland and then doing this in the other direction, taking in some stunning scenery as we went.
We crossed the line at 8.07am. I had promised myself I would enjoy the race, play it very safe until 25km and if my toe was still attached by then I would let rip and do some racing. This meant a start mid or almost back of the pack and a slow walk up the first hill. The first of many hills, rolling hills as Shaun Stewart informed me during the year! The first 4km consisted of a few juicy climbs and some nice downhill running in between. I really held back and concentrated on warming up slowly and not pressing over 5min/km on the flats. I was smiling, breathing easy and soaking up the coastal scenery. It really was fabulous. small fishing and shrimping boats were heading out for the days work and looked stunning on the flat seas. The terrain was almost all hard mud trail and grass, easy to run on and not too technical. After taking on the early hills the first 20km became flatter, rolling through farmland. I was in a group of about ten others, constantly changing positions. The other athletes were very friendly but talking was kept to a minimum as we started to concentrate on a long race ahead. I felt extremely good over the first half marathon and spent only a few seconds at a water stop as we came back through Lulworth before heading out on the very hilly second loop to the East. This is when things started to heat up. I had managed to stay comfortably in a roughly yellow zone, or there abouts, but was soon hitting the “orange zone” with the hills starting to arrive thick and fast. After leaving Lulworth a real energy zapping stretch of gravel beach came next, before climbing around a long headland and facing into a steep 180 metre climb just beyond this. The lungs were working, no restbites now. My lack of hill training of late started to catch up on the steep downhill sections as my quads took the brunt of the effort, still very much in pain as I sit here and write! At the 28km mark I knocked back some coke and jellies and this started to bring me out of my first low. My left quad was shouting and my toe gave the odd indication of something to come, but I was 25km from home, time to race.. I had been continuously picking off runners all day. One or two mini bunches even stopped at aid stations giving me the chance to leap frog here. I was stocked up therefore I paused long enough to re-fill water and press on again. I wasn’t counting but I must of passed up to 50 people since the start but really had no clue what position I was in. Top 20 would be kinda nice, whether here to race hard or not!
I reckon most of the Ultra race competitors found the second loop the real make or break section of the race. If it were a marathon it would be one hell of a tough one. I arrived back into Lulworth for the second time in 4 hours and 40 minutes. As you can see not my fastest trail marathon but I did have a 10km hilly course and some UTMB points to sort out on this last 10km mini loop.
I had a great boost meeting Emma on the course as she tackled the half marathon (26km). Yes it’s true in trail running that the distances are never really measured out! I later met Owen twice on the course as he slogged through 75km ultra plus. I never passed by Sinead which meant her race was going well.
I set off up the same hill we started on after a minute or two at the marathon finish. A few glasses of flat coke, a banana and some jellies. Let’s kick this ten kilometres out the gap. The uphills were slow hikes but I did manage to run the downhills, even with the pain increasing in the legs. I had nobody to chase and I couldn’t see anyone behind me over a vast stretch of grassy coastline, so I kept a steady slow shuffle all the way to the final hill. I powered up the hill as my toe began to throb. “FEIC OFF TOE” I thought, your not gonna stop this now. I ran down to the finish and gave Owen a high five as he headed out with another 30km to put in the bag. It’s a mental battle out there but Owen is experienced. I finished exhausted, but I have been worse in 2017. I never smiled as much in a race and was rarely as nerve free before hand. A finish time of 5 hours and 53 minutes wasn’t bad and 14th place overall. After some real tough races this one has warmed me to Ultra’s once again.
Most importantly all four of us finished happy and safe. I saw Emma’s finish and we were all there for Owen a few hours later as he hammered down the final hill in the dark. There was a 33% drop out in the Ultra plus so Owen’s achievement was excellent. As with all the events I take part in, it is the finish that is most rewarding for everyone. I hope to post some finish photos during the week. For now here is my race tracker, courtesy of my new Suunto ambit 3 vertical watch.. An early Christmas present. I missed the first 5 kilometres but it gives you most of the route.
Next up? The draw for CCC in Chamonix, France next year. It will shape my year if I get in but we will see how it goes!
Massive thanks again to Emma, Sinead and Owen who made Dorset a race to remember. The races with friends are easier, can’t beat having people to chat things through pre race and most importantly the big cheers with a few pints afterwards!