Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series Dorset ended up being my unintentional ‘A’ Race for the year. With this year being the way it has, just being on a start line for an event or 2 felt strange enough, the fact that it was an Ultra Marathon made it a whole lot stranger. Its no secret that my triathlon performances have always been built around strong swim and bike legs and then surviving the runs, so to voluntarily take on an ultra was a big deal in itself. Although apprehensive going into it I was certainly keen to see what I could do, how it felt mentally and physically and what I could learn and apply to training for triathlon and Ironman distance events.
With training for the event having gone well, by the time race day came around and I had tapered and fueled up, I was ready to rumble and test the body and mind over 53km of running and 6000ft of elevation. A fairly early start time meant back to the early race day alarm, breakfast of peanut butter, banana and honey on a bagel accompanied by a good amount of coffee. An hours drive to the race venue gave us time to start to assess the weather and conditions, the forecast had been deteriorating as the week went on and some seriously heavy rain showers on the drive was a sure sign we were going to be up against it. The rain however did bring me confidence in my shoe choice. Although still a rookie trail runner the sections of the SWCP we had done in the weeks prior had been a priceless experience in learning about what was needed to ensure solid grip underfoot when the conditions got tough. Travelling out with Kirsty who was also racing made the whole race morning a lot easier. We knew we were both in for tough days but had trained well and were ready to empty the tank.
As a race this event also had a real competitive element, a head to head battle between myself and fellow out of his depth triathlete and friend Giles. The whole idea was born on one of those rare social occasions this year where egos fueled by alcohol got slightly out of hand and we both got on our phones and paid our entry fees! Whilst ultimately this race was all about completion we both knew that if there was any sniff of a race and a competitive element then the gloves were off and the race was on. We worked it out so that although the starts were socially distanced and we were being set of individually we got consecutive start times so Giles went 1st approx 30 seconds ahead of me. He set off slowly, I hammered off the start line so we were side by side and then we settled in up to the first climb, knowing we were in for a long day. The first 10km was out over steep climbs and descents to Lulworth Cove and then back to the car park before doing half that loop again to add in some of the mileage to make up the ultra distance. Once back at the car park after a loop and a half it was roughly a half marathon in the other direction to round out the course.
The conditions were wet and slippy as anticipated but the wind was much stronger than expected. As the day broke and we could turn off the head torches it was pretty obvious the weather was going to be like this all day. The first 10km out to Lulworth ticked by nicely, first feed in after 30 minutes and walking up the steep hills whilst running the rest. On the return leg we were passing other runners going out from later starts. Seeing Kirsty going strong lifted the spirits and the general camaraderie with other runners on the trail was brilliant. First loop done quite comfortably and it was back up the first climb to to do loop the 10km runners were taking on the following day. The condition of the trails were now getting a lot worse underfoot though and grip was disappearing fast. My shoe choice was now really shining through as they gripped on the descents and held strong on the flats and climbs as well and as Giles took the first of what was to be his fair share of falls for the day I was incredibly grateful to still be on my feet.
On the return to the car park at Kimmeridge the wind was really kicking off now, even at my weight it was able to stop me dead in my tracks and provide some serious resistance! As we dropped down the hill to the car park Giles took a big fall and looked hurt. He put on a brave face and told me to crack on which I did hesitantly, knowing that whilst I wanted to beat him I didn’t want to do it like this. However we had gone through the first 30km pretty much together so it was getting to the point that we had to race our own races anyway. I grabbed an extra cup of water at the aid station before heading out through the car park and up the steps to Clavell Tower the other side. Instantly the head wind hit and it was grim! 10km straight out into this, up some mega steep hills, slippy mud, sea spray smashing you in the face and fatigue building. A couple of glances back and Giles actually was only about 20 metres or so behind so whilst I was glad he was relatively OK I knew I had a fight on my hands. I also knew that I had to settle into my race and pace and keep on top of the nutrition to keep moving forwards. Whilst I had felt pretty good through the first 20 miles at this point the fatigue and darker thoughts were starting to creep in. Giles caught me and pushed up as we hiked up one of the steep hills and now as we hit the long sets of steps and steep climbs it was my turn to sit 20 metres behind and try and hang on. Emergency Clif Bar was opened whilst walking a steep hill to try and boost the calories and this actually worked a bit.
We slogged it out to the turn around point and headed inland a bit on some firmer paths, whilst my shoes were phenomenal on the soft stuff, on the harder paths and road sections they were not so good. We were running side by side again at this point and both quite openly in a position where we were down to one speed and could do no more to push on. We ticked off the marathon mark and from there started counting down the KM’s for the last 11km. Some downhill road sections saw Giles drop me and me have to use the uphill that followed to catch up again. The nutrition was getting a little harder to stomach and the internal battle between letting him go and continuing to fight was building. So many times when I fell 5-10 metres back I wanted to shout out you “go ahead” because I was done, but just couldn’t bring myself to actually do it. A couple of longer road sections saw a few faster KM’s ticked off but still not much separated us. Both of us desperate to walk but neither willing to give in. We were both nursing cramp attacks but I was getting off slightly lighter, every time one of us got cramp the other using it as an opportunity to walk and take a few seconds recovery.
Just over 3km to go and the finish line in the car park started to come into sight, we had done all the climbing and it was now a long descent into the finish. At this point the gloves were properly off and the race was on. Giles knowing that he had to beat me by a second more than the time he started ahead of me and me knowing I just had to hang on. He hit it as we started heading down using his better running fitness to try and drop me but I was hanging on. My feet were hurting but being this close to the finish line thankfully the negative thoughts were gone and the racer in me had taken over. A road crossing over a stile left me slightly further behind so I pushed hard down a field and had a proper head over heels tumble like a little kid whose legs were getting away. I was grateful that it was my first and only tumble of the day and I got back to my feet and started playing catch up. Giles was still just ahead, not pulling away but not getting any closer. I was counting down each 400 metres of my watch telling myself that each one was another lap of a track done, playing the games to get down to a mile, then to 1km, 800, 400 etc to go. Into the last 1km and we were properly hauling given the wet field we were running through and 50+km in our legs already. Neither of us knowing the exact way to the finish line we popped out of the field and onto a road, I kicked with all I had left and as we came round the corner the finish line appeared and we crossed only a few seconds apart.
At this point my first words were to call Giles a “massive Tw@t” for pushing like that and forcing the pace, on reflection we were clocking low 4min/km pace in those last 3km which I was surprised at. We got our breaths back and collected T-shirts and medals and made our way back to the cars to speculate about results and breakdown the day. Only at this point when trying to change into warmer dry clothes did I realise how smashed my body was. Everything just cramping when I moved it too fast, reaching to put clean socks on becoming a monumental effort and the cold kicking in hard. Chocolate flapjacks consumed, bit of a race debrief between us and may race day was done and it was onto support duty for Kirsty. She had gone through the car park in good spirits and was well on her way to smash the race herself also having put in a great block of training and being in awesome shape. As I watched the finish line whilst slowly warming up and starting to consume my own body weight in food she crossed the line with a huge smile and excitement extremely happy with her performance.
A nervous 24 hour wait for the results showed what we thought we knew, me beating Giles by just seconds to end up taking 3rd and him 4th. Regardless of that though what this race really represented for me was the massive reminder that I love racing and pushing myself. The place I went to in the last 10km of that run mentally and physically I feel is comparable to an Ironman run. Despite having run a trail marathon and another Ultra this autumn this one became the real reminder that I love racing, love pushing myself and seeing what I am capable of and it took one hell of a battle to do that. Whilst smashing my body to pieces it massively refreshed my mind. To be fair the whole trail running experience this year has been a blessing in disguise. A change of environment and focus to my training has been refreshing and with no triathlon races to focus on has brought me so much joy again. Ultra running whilst not the focus of my training and years I think will now be something I revisit once or twice each winter!
Kit Walker – 5h35m20s – 3rd Overall
Kirsty Eveleigh – 7h46m12s – 7th Overall