Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series Dorset Ultra

Dorset coast with Durdle Dor in the distance
I have mixed feelings for this event. So much so that I probably wouldn't do this particular event again and maybe not even an Endurance Life event again either.

Dramatic words to start off a race report, but that's how I'm feeling a day after sort-of completing the race (I'll get to the sort-of bit). It will take me a few days to write this up, so let's see if my views change as I type (they did).

Start at the start

I was up at 04:00, gone by 04:30 and arrived at the tranquil village of Lulworth on the Dorset coast at around 06:30. I was probably one of the first to arrive which meant I had first access to the toilets and first access to a lot of people milling around. I went back to the car to faff with my kit and eat whatever I brought with me (Quavers!?).

Returning at 07:00 I registered with the 'support' of 4 people who didn't seem to really know what they were doing. I asked whether I had to fill out an insurance form that was on one of the tables, and I was met with a shrug. Equally, I had the exact same shrug for what size t-shirt I wanted. Hmm.

The briefing was better and the guy promised that the navigation was obvious. What was really important to me was that a) all the mandatory items were never asked for, checked or even mentioned. And that b) this was a self-supported race and that only water and jelly beans would be provided on the course. Oh and I did like that we were asked to pick up one piece of rubbish along the route as a way of giving back to the local area.

Barefoot running

Whilst waiting for the start horn to fire us out into the first hill, an animated chap was smiling at me and made his way over, "You're brave doing this in them. Your Neos" he said pointing at the barefoot trail trainers that were on my feet. "I've done 40 miles in a set before, but I won't tell you how it ended".

I loved the coastline
If I wasn't sure whether to run in them before, I was now even less so after his comments. But I had heard that it has rained recently and the first leg of the race was only 12 miles and came back past the car so I always had the option to switch them out if I needed to. Also, running barefoot was in-line with my views that anything that makes something that's already absurdly difficult, even more difficult is to be only welcomed.

On the first 12 miles (which became more like 16), the rain had softened the ground enough to make running in the Neo's comfortable enough. Sure I felt every bit of the ups and downs of the hills, but overall I was flying along and happy.

Pity then that when I went past the car, the East side of Lulworth clearly hadn't gotten any rain and was solid hard-pack. No give, no comfort, just barefoot-to-ground contact for the next umpteen miles. Didn't help that the hills to the East were also a lot longer and steeper either.

Still, I did 50k in them and I would do it again. I do feel though that I would have been a lot faster in a more forgiving pair of shoes.

Ultra, but not the ultra I was meant to do

50km? Wait, the Dorset marathon was 27.2 mile / 43.8 km and the Ultra was 53.1 km.

West of Lulworth with softer trails
So how did I do 50?

Going back to the promise that the navigation was obvious, well, it wasn't. After the first check point I met a nice chap called Jerome. We got chatting and funnily enough, we both in some way have worked with Tesco. He knew where I worked, dunnhumby, (no one ever knows where I work) and so we spent a sunny morning chatting shop.

Following a long trail to the bottom of a hill with him we came to a T-junction with no signage. A few other runners had already gone ahead and were now out of site. This wasn't right. 3 of us were now at the T-junction with the same shared bad feeling. Yup, this must be wrong.

As we ran back up the hill we increasingly came across more runners who had also taken our route. We formed up in one pack and a check of a map confirmed that we had gone too far. There were probably around 40 of us. That's why I had done an extra 6km over the marathon distance.

But that doesn't explain why I didn't do more than the ultra distance though. Well, it didn't happen for
Caribbean blue waters
two reasons, 1) I was past the time limit for starting out from the last check point (I was annoyed for most of the run that I was 40 minutes behind on time) and 2) rather surreally, I was pacing a guy in to the finish line for him (he was doing the half) and I just carried on and finished too. It wasn't a concious decision, I had wanted to ask whether they would let me go out on the final loop, but the half-marathon runner just said "Go ahead" and so I did. And then when I got the medal at the end (I had to ask for one and whether I could have a Clif bar), it dawned that I hadn't actually finished. Totally weird to be honest.

The weather, the people and the scenery

For all the awkwardness I'm feeling around the event, I really couldn't fault the weather and the scenery. Simply breathtaking. I will endeavour to come back here one day for a walk with a decent camera.

The people were equally really nice and I think the shared grimaces of the hills brought us together. At one point, I was trading places for a good 5 miles with a chap called Julian. I would run ahead and then he would overtake as I took on water or food and then vice versa. Why we didn't run together I have no idea.

The course

A real beast. I generally love hills, but these were something else. Looking back, sat comfortably at work (on my lunch break, boss), I smile and remember the enormity of the challenge. But when I was there, at the bottom, or even at the top waiting to come down it was really hard work.

Checking the time when I roughly hit the marathon distance I came in at 05:55. My last marathon was 04:13 with 4,000 feet of climbing, I just wouldn't expect it to take another 1:40 to do an extra 2,000 feet.

Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series Dorset elevation

So why aren't I coming away really happy with the run?

I'm probably just getting old and grumpy. Writing this on Tuesday, 3 days after the event, I've calmed down about the navigational error and the lack of engagement from some of the support group at the start and finish. Still though, I'm mystified at the high cost of the event (£55) compared to other similarly supported events.

Overall it was a good day and yes, I probably would do it again. If only to actually finish what I was meant to do.

Garmin data for the nerds.