December. Before I know it, it was December. It has come around quickly. This would be my last race of the year. The final event in my race calendar. 1st December would mark the date I’d complete my challenge. Originally persuaded by Jack and Alex (that dude who went blue in the face Brighton) to come to their neck of the woods and hit the trails. I couldn’t resist and went for the longest option (the Ultra ‘plus’). After booking earlier in the year, a group of the Wild Trail Runners then also signed up to some of the various distances on offer so I tagged along for the journey. This is great as I’ve come to love running such events with others. Not just the run itself but the lead up, day before and things you do post run which are all better celebrated together.
I’m going to keep this one pretty short and as a straight forward review of the race. Partly because I’m tired. My mind is still wired and my body aching. Secondly, as you’ll soon read, the day was pretty grim and there’s probably not a lot to say about the course and hours that went past!
Leading up to the event I was on the back of two previous ultras (Brecon and TBU). This was number 3 in 15 days. I was heading into the run tired and a little complacent. My mind wasn’t focused (and truthfully hasn’t been since Berlin). Evident in the amount of fathing I did packing my bag the night before – Rocking up at the race I didn’t use the bag drop but left some stuff in Maggie’s car. Later realising I’d brought bugger all else and not even spare shorts or trousers for afterwards!
Arriving at the start in the morning it was indeed pretty grim. We’d seen the weather forecasts and event updates in the days preceding the start and they didn’t disappoint. It was cold. It was very windy and it was hammering down with rain. We registered and huddled in the tent and listened to the race briefing. Shivering. The would be a diverted route today due to the high winds and a part of the coastal path would be avoided. We didn’t realise at the time that this would lead to a slight increase in the distance. First out where the Ultra and Ultra plus (yep, it’s a thing for Endurance Life) Runners.
Along with Kirsty, Tamas and Weronica I was doing the Ultra plus. The route would be a figure of 8 along the coast, then repeating the first half of the figure of 8 and then repeating a smaller loop of the first half of the figure of 8. Got it? Yeah, as a route that sounds as boring as it was. As the race director acknowledged, we’d see the ‘one mile to go’ sign 3 times before it applied to us. Great. Tagging in to the start/finish each time would be a test of our will power to continue!
We huddled for a group picture and were then sent off, out to do battle with nature. The route first took us up the steps towards Durdle Door. These were some long steps. Everyone was walking. No one was talking. We were all hiding inside our waterproofs. Hoods on, heads buried into our chests. The rain and wind was relentless. Visibility was close to non-existent. Durdle Door was there somewhere. You just couldn’t see it.
After this section was the diversion. We carried on climbing the second incline and found ourselves running through some very muddy fields. There was plenty of space but runners sliding all over the place. Again maybe just a few metres visible ahead. We were soaked through. Wet feet was going to be a stand out memory of the day! It wouldn’t make a difference that I wore my S-LAB ultras that had a hole in them!
The good thing about the lack of visibility was that you couldn’t see what was coming up or how far you’d come. You’d just plod on. That might make the second lap easier!! We passed a few checkpoints, a nice section through a woodland and were back running through the muddy fields in the opposite direction. I hadn’t realised how much of the course we’d run back along. It was only after passing Maggie, Daniel and Matt who were starting out on their Marathon journey (they’d complete the initial figure of 8 route).
First loop done, now came the really big climbs. A few hours had passed and the morning had started to brighten up a little. As we climbed, the cliffs were visible. The white chalk glistening in the gloomy day. The climbs came thick and fast. And they were big. Lunging up steps and, at times, using your hands to grab at the land in front of your face. Each summit presenting new views to savour.
Along the coast I was amused as we ran along side a military training facility. The constant warnings to ‘keep out’ and ‘danger’ were a reminder of the area we were in. But soon the route would take us to the other side of the fence and it felt we were now running in the danger zone.
Looping back at the tip of the ‘8’ the route took us onto one of the hardest parts of the course. A field of mud. Really really muddy soft ground. On an incline. The snake of runners immediate slowed. We weren’t walking. We were sludging and sliding our way through. Eventually emerging the other side to more of the same. A cabbage field. Equally muddy and even steeper. This whole section was a drain on the energy. At the top runners were pulling each other up the final inclines. It was all quite amusing, but tiring and I was glad we wouldn’t be coming back here later!
Sometime later we were back at the coastal paths and joined by the half marathoners and 10km runners. I didn’t realise we’d run those cliffs again and sure they felt steeper this time around. One in particular was really tough and took quite some time to over come. As I powered up we passed a guy being slid down the hill by some helpers. He looked in a bad place. Adam, one of the Wild TR coaches was one of those helping.
We arrived back at the starting point to complete the first figure of 8. I was ready for a rest. With the diversion we’d just done a little over a marathon distance. I knew Kirsty wasn’t far behind me as we’d been passing each other over the last few hours. As I sipped back coke and some (many) and jelly babies she arrived. We were both so glad to see each other and agreed to keep each other company for the next half of the race. The wind and rain made the day quite miserable so far and the lift from company was needed.
It had stopped raining at least and I decided I needed to re-jig my kit. I no longer wanted to run in my waterproof jacket so removed it to go with the t-shirt and arm warmer combo. I was soaked through from sweat as well as rain. I feared I’d be instantly cold but hoped the wind would sort of dry me out (it did). As I was changing Amy (Alex’s wife appeared). Alex was on the half and expected quite soon into the finish. Then as we were talking, Paul appeared. I’d been speaking to Paul for quite some time but we hadn’t yet met. I didn’t expect to see him as he was contemplating not doing the half as he was running the Hurtwood50 the next day.
Time was up. Time to head back out and climb those hills again. First off those steps! Immediately I felt better having Kirsty about. The afternoon also cleared up as we reached Durdle door so we had some views to absorb. We stopped to take some pictures and make those memories before carrying on. Unlike the first loop, there was a lot more walking this time round. But still enjoyable. The volunteers and the checkpoints were full of energy and encouragement and we joked our way through. Passing all the muddy fields before the brief stint along the paved roads and the forest paths (which were stunning now the mist had moved on). Emerging into a field we could see the steep decline down to the second checkpoint at the bottom. We set off but could see a very muddy section half way down which we joked about. As I hit it I immediately slid and did my best ice skating impression as my arms waved about and I spun 180 degree to look back up at the top of the hill and a runner behind me laughing. A good save. Or so I thought. As I continued behind the runner I stacked it. My legs slid forward out from under me and I sat straight down into the mud. Squishy. We all laughed. At least I picked the softest place to fall!! I wiped mud on my face to mark the occasion. The ladies at the check point laughed and greeted me as I arrived, they’d seen the whole thing.
We ploughed on, retracing the route towards the start again. Darkness descended upon us quickly in the overcast sky and we needed to stop to get the torches out. As frustrating as this was, it was certainly the right decision. It was hard enough to see and stay stable in the light! The quick reshuffle of kit though did unbalance my packed kit. I planned to fix this when we reached the start – about 2 miles to go.
As we arrived back at the start, I took time to change my clothes, putting on a long sleeved layer and using my windproof jacket as padding in the bag. It all worked well. It took me far to long to do though, I’d kept Kirsty waiting for what felt like an eternity! But I was eventually ready. Back out we went. Time for those steps and inclines yet again.
No surprise, this final 10km was tough. Obviously we knew now we’d finish now as we’d left the comfort of the start. But we were exhausted and walked/run our way around. No sights to see this anymore. Just the few metres lit up by our head torches. Pretty uneventful this time round, we just persevered. Getting over those hills and through the mud. That sign ‘one mile to go’ came into view and our mood picked up. We would’t have to pass it again. This time it was for us! We ran. We kept running. We could hear the hustle of the camp not too far away and plodded down the final stretch into the finish line. Medals and pictures received. We were done.
Shortly after finishing, Maggie and Yvette arrived in the car to collect us and soon after that Weronica arrived too. Time to head home to shower and eat!!
I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!