The return to the Jurassic coast for the second outing in the Dorset Endurance Life Ultra race would be a different experience to last year. We knew this before the race even started, with a wet week and a very wet day forecast, this was going to be one of those outings. I knew that I have always been good racing in the rain, not suffering from the cold and actually I think I enjoy it more than most. I decided pre race that I would once again have a reasonably relaxed week in the lead up to the event and on the day a top 10 finish or even a push for the podium would be possible. Myself and Emma travelled down and met the Irish gang in Dorset. Nine of us would race from 10k to 74k races the following morning and an air of excitement as well as some nerves was evident as we sat around for a cuppa on Friday night.
I woke up around 6am Saturday and as forecasted the weather was horrendous. Wind and rain battered the house as we cooked the scrambled eggs. Bring it on!!
Myself, Sinead, Owen and Pol, all part of the Chamonix gang from August would give the ultraplus a rattle, with Emma, Noreen and Paschal ripping up the half marathon, Aoife giving the marathon a rattle and Sharon would run the 10km in a pair of walking boots. All serious feats in different ways. The main thing I hoped was that everyone would have fun and cross the line in one piece. It was going to be slippy and treacherous out there.
After registration the race would kick off some time just after 8. We huddled behind a tent and almost missed the start as they moved it from last year’s location to near the registration tent. Of course in our relaxed state we were almost late on the morning and missed almost all the race briefing. We did get the idea in passing that the course would be altered due to the conditions. Not what I wanted to hear. It actually turned out that it was altered in a huge way and led to a very different race that expected. More of this later.
We were off. I have to say I had looked forward to this race ever since the CCC and with my training going well I expected I could perform and dig deep for a decent time. I decided to bunker in somewhere in the top 20 and take on the first few climbs with a cool head, stay out of the red for as long as possible and feel my way into the race. This is becoming a theme in my ultra running! Only 5km into the race I began to realise that the course alterations were massive. We took on two early climbs but then the trail led to farmers fields, mud and puddles and worst of all, FLAT. I had basically spent the entire last two months doing hill repeats for these short sharp hills. Now I would have to run at least 55km’s of this 75km race on almost flat ground. A completely different turnover of the legs, a different style of running and not to mention the conditions underfoot. One thought came into my head, ‘forget it, you are here now, you are strong and racing’. I soon found myself running with a guy of very similar speed and we started up some great conversations. Adam Gamble was his name and a super runner he was. It turned out we ended up running the entire race together. Adam, like myself had expected more hills, he was a 17 minute 5k runner and around 36 minute 10k runner, had completed the CCC and had plenty notches in his ultra running belt. All similar levels to myself so we decided to work with each other, encouraging the other when things were low and see how the day went.
At around 15km the lead ladies in the ultra caught us. They were doing the 55km course and were motoring. Becky and Bonnie were there names and Becky would stay with myself and Adam for a good chunk of the race. Both of them bit by bit catching my accent and wondering if they would go home sounding a bit Irish!
We completed the first 20km in about 2 hours and realised we would do that loop later on as well as half of it again to finish the race. That was after tackling which looked like a much hillier 24km ahead. We descended into Lulworth, grabbed some water, filled bottles with Tailwind and away we went to start the next section. This 24km was much hillier, following a decent amount of the course from 2017. WE skipped the beach section and one section of the coastal path but would run a few of the big hills on the coast as well. I was dying for hills at this stage and it wasn’t until nearly 25km that we started to hit a few. Of course I felt myself here and powered up the hills, barely breaking a sweat on one or two of them. Adam and Becky were going well too and we started to get a nice pace between the three of us. We descended one of the final hills and took a left away from the coast and across some farmers fields. The mud was relentless. Sticky mud, caking to the bottom of your runners, making your feet as heavy as led but we continued to have fun and a good laugh in seeing who could gather the most mud on their runners! The ploughed field went on and on and up a nice incline before we hit a ridge trail and took a left to start the 10km or so back to Lulworth, most of which was on the cliff ridges with one long climb on the road mixed in. This is where it all went PEAR shaped!
As the 3 of us followed the markers along the ridge, joining the trail we had come up on we realised the trail was following the fence. This would be our downfall. We kept going and began to meet lots of the ultra plus, ultra, marathon and half marathon runners coming in the opposite direction. We hopped a stile and began to descend a long descent that we had come up earlier on. As I ran I was delighted to see Owen and Sinead and flew by as they said, ‘you sure your not gone wrong’. In my haste I thought they were joking and we continued to run. Almost at the bottom of the hill now and I started to wonder and look around, looking for arrow markers. We decided we had gone wrong. I let out an incredible amount of disgust, at myself, in the most gracious of language before gathering my thoughts a little. We could descend to the bottom of the hill and try rejoin the trail inland but we felt we should do the course properly and go back to find where we went wrong. After ascending the hill we eventually found the point where we went off route. There was a gate 30 metres to the right of the trail and an arrow further back on the trail we had missed due to following the fence. There was no X on the stile we had hopped and therefore we had kept on going. Definitely our own fault but the arrows on the course were poor and I have better proof of this a little later.
As you can see from the photo the conditions didn’t help our chances of seeing the small signs, no excuse for going wrong, but at the same time the strong winds led to moments where we all dropped the heads. The rain had eased at this stage and as you can see I had my jacket off and was enjoying the cooling effect that had.
So after rejoining the actual route we knew that for Becky her chance of top 3 ladies in the ultra was probably over and we knew that myself and Adam had been very much pushing the top 5 if not already in the top 5 before things went arie. As you can see from the next photo, we continued to have fun, this taken only 10 minutes after we rejoined the trail. We had met a group of little kids along the trail and all high fived us. Some of them so tiny we barely reached down to high five as we passed.
This photo was taken on the final climb before a roughly 6 kilometre run back to Lulworth. A quick refuel, grab some dry buffs from the drop bag and on we went. Becky was just ahead and stayed there until she turned for home on the ultra as myself and Adam continued to slide our way back around the 20km section of mostly flat but undulating course. The trails were now very wet and the mud was slippier and thicker than before with hundreds of athletes running in the different events all day. Both myself and Adam hit lows during this 20km, but as promised earlier on we talked each other through these lows. How incredible is a sport where you can meet someone for the first time and end up helping them through hard times and making a friendship all in an 8 hour period.
There was little to report on this section as we were a bit slow on the way out to the 10km turning point. It took us close to an hour and a half and the following 10k around an hour. This was of course still good running with 60km in the legs, including our 4.5km detour earlier on! The second 10km was particularly fast in parts (helped by my religious can of coke on ultra race day!) and we began to feel really strong again. During this particular section of the race there is a trail through the forest. At one point you come to a T junction and turn right. The sign here was telling us to turn left and head to the beach. I touched the sign and it spun around. The staples had come loose and a person or the wind had hit the sign. This just goes to show how easy it is to go wrong when you rely on course markers. I am not blaming the organisers as in these races the conditions/weather are the biggest issue and they did have to change the course at the last minute as well. My biggest worry in the long term is that these races lose popularity due to cutting corners on food, medals, tshirts and the likes. A lot of people come to enjoy the finish line banter, the soup or cake, together in celebration. There was little of this to be seen in Lulworth I’m afraid (rant over, now back to the race).
We arrived back to Lulworth for the penultimate time at about 3.45pm and decided we would really try to smash out the last 10km. Back up the steep hill out of the cove for the last time we went, knowing the route like the back of our hands at this stage. We really began to move. The ground seemed to be drying in the wind and the mud began to harden a little. Let’s finish this in style. My legs started to come back to life and I was flying the downhill sections again.
An hour later we were descending once again to the finish line. We crossed the line in unison and let a couple of goat like roars out while doing so! Emma was there, having finished the half and as always it was amazing to see her. That incredible finish line moment is always worth it, even if there was very little to see or do at this particular finish line. A protein bar and a photo and we were sent on our way.
On crossing the line we had no idea where we were placed. The computer print out soon saw us in 10th and 11th place, on the same time of course, but we were delighted. We added 30 minutes to the course with our route but still managed a top 10 time in 8 hours and 53 minutes. Taking our mistake out of the equation, we were very much in the mix for top 5. This was definitely a good example of a type of teamwork. It would of been a really really long day on this course alone. The views were limited to gaps in the mist and the ground was poor underfoot. The banter and craic made the day fun and I thank both Adam and Becky for this. Becky ended up fourth lady which was super considering the detour.
Lastly well done to the gang, everyone giving it their all on a day to remember. I’ll probably be back next year! Why not, I now work just up the road.