I have run the middle section of the Jurassic Quarter a few times as part of the Dorset Coastal Trail Series marathon, so I was well aware of how taxing the cliffs along this part are, but the first and last 15 mile sections are all new to me!
This is the inaugural running of the event by Endurancelife and it follows their template of their well-established Classic Quarter race in Cornwall where you run a quarter of the compass-face from the southernmost at the Lizard Point to the westernmost at Land’s End. You can run the distance either as a solo or in teams of 2 or 4, so in effect there are 3 races running simultaneously.
The Jurassic Quarter course starts at the lighthouse in Portland Bill, the most southerly part of the world heritage site Jurassic Coast and continues anti clockwise around the clock-face for 46 miles until you reach the most easterly point at ‘Old Harry Rocks’… And a pub in which to eat drink and be merry at your achievement!
Even though its only an hour and a half drive from home I decided to get down the previous evening and register at the National Sailing Academy on the edge of Portland to get it done. This meant there was one less thing to worry about before retiring for the night in the van at the middle-of-the-night pick-up point at Studland by the chain-ferry to Sandbanks. Whilst registering I had been warned to look out for the wallabies on Portland, which had me intrigued and certain to look out for them!
The transport to the start was due to leave at 4am so I was glad to have registered the previous night to maximise my time asleep - but to be honest I was buzzing for the race so sleeping was not the easiest thing to do.
All aboard with the rest of the competitors who had chosen the transport option and we were driven along to Portland Bill as the dawn slowly broke en-route.
We arrived at the lighthouse shortly after 5 in a strong wind driving a light rain. With the toilet block still locked at this time of the morning and no open buildings for shelter to be had in the area we thought we would be fine to remain on the bus for a while, but the complete twat of a driver insisted on throwing us all off and immediately drove away as soon as the last person had disembarked - abandoning us all to the elements.
|Where it all starts at the lighthouse.|
Eventually someone came to open-up, which was a relief to us all (in more ways than one) as the rain stiffened in the increasing strength of the wind.
Mercifully the owners of the cafe at the lighthouse had arrived to open-up early and took pity upon all us runners who were struggling to stay dry and sheltered from the wind and opened their doors to us, the field of competitors rapidly filling the space… They also allowed the event briefing able to be held in here and one less worry for everyone about keeping warm and dry.
All briefed we dumped our drop-bags in to the transport to the halfway check point at Lulworth and finalised any prep ready for the 6:30 start. As a unit we shuffled outside and sheltered out of the wind by a wall of the building awaiting the final call for the race start at the base of the lighthouse.
|Huddling penguin stylee.|
|Awaiting the hooter.|
|Running away from the Bill.|
|Through a former quarry.|
|A remote cove with its lining of beach huts.|
|Looking north to the harbour walls as we hit the top.|
|Chesil Beach stretching off in to the murk.|
Off the causeway linking Portland to the mainland we found our way on to the former railway, now known as the Rodwell Trail which forms a traffic-free link from Portland to the centre of Weymouth. With it being a former railway bed the now fully tarmaced path was pretty flat along its length and at this time in the morning totally empty save for a few dog-walkers looking bemused by a long stream of people running past them.
Whilst on the Rodwell Trail the weather took a distinct turn for the worst and the rain properly set-in, so in the shelter of one of the tunnels I put my waterproof back on but rather than zipped-up only closed by its velcro tabs on the storm flap to assist with the escape of heat and I continued on my merry way, with the path spitting me out in the middle of Weymouth itself.
Skipping around all the puddles I hit the promenade and the wide paved featureless couple of miles of sea-front with its still shuttered ice cream parlours and beach huts, my hood up all the time to help shelter from the rain. I looked at my watch to see that it was just turning 9am: Parkrun o’clock and at 12 miles in to the run we’d all managed to put a good 4 of them under our belt as the local Weymouth one got itself underway!
The cliffs of the Jurassic Coast now loomed large in front of us, spreading eastwards into the low cloud. The climb to them began at the end of the promenade as we passed through the first check point of the day and the changeover point on the relay for the second leg.
Not wasting time I went straight through the check point grabbing a handful of jelly babies and began the slow ascent over the slick mud churned by everyone who had gone before me making grip an extreme premium and reducing me to a sliding walk as I attempted to maintain the vertical.
|Onwards in to the sea-mist rolling over the cliff tops.|
This aid station is at the furthest westerly point of the Dorset CTS marathon so I knew exactly what I was about to face over the following 10k to the next check-point in Lulworth Cove: Unrelenting fierce steep climbs and descents, although having never traversed them in this direction I at least would be seeing a different viewpoint along the way; running towards Durdle Dor rather than having it behind me as has previously been the case.
Leaving the aid station I attempted to jog onwards but in no time I was reduced to a wincing walk with the extreme pain from the cramp. This was the first time I had ever suffered this to such an extent. Every step was agony to the point you just wanted to give-up, but I had taken the first steps in to no-man’s-land where there is no chance of stopping until Lulworth… Rationalising my situation, well if you are alone on the trail with your thoughts then these things happen as you drift into introspection; I realised exactly what had happened and why.
Normally I run ‘cold’ - just a base layer and a tech tee on top so as to not overheat, but with the weather forcing me to use the waterproof for a couple of hours I had been running ‘hot’… I had been aware of the amount I had been sweating by the pools of it that had gathered in the elbows of the waterproof and had poured-out when I dropped my arms… Lovely! Since about mile 3 I had been running at a hard pace and sweating far more than I normally would, removing all the salts from my system and the deficit of them causing the cramp.
Note to self: From now on I will be robbing the fast food joints I come across between races for the little salt sachets to put in my running pack to give myself a hit of it should it be needed. From now on, on very hot races or in ultras I should seek to neck one every couple of hours to ward-off any repeat in the future… Fortunately I had packed a bag of salted peanuts in to my drop-bag so I had access to some salt at the next stop, it was just a question of getting to it.
|Down one side...|
|...And up the other.|
|Looking down on the 'Dor in passing.|
|The descent in to Lulworth & the halfway point.|
|The evil hill climb on to the ranges and in to the fog.|
Reaching Kimmeridge in the heavy rain we at least had descended to sea level and were out of the fog so could see where we were going, although progress was miserable in the conditions. Shortly after I went beyond my knowledge of the route as we passed round Kimmeridge Bay where we had the next aid station with those manning it looking incredibly miserable in the hammering rain. I went up to the table and when they asked if there was anything I’d like I asked them for a cup of tea and a warm shower… They were not amused!
Leaving the aid-station as the rain continued to teem, within a mile or so I was confronted by a delight I was not prepared for… steps… a flight of over 200 of the feckers down one side of a hill and 218 up the other side - yes I counted every damned one of them! They were all of uneven height and spacing so getting a rhythm was a nightmare. After a jarring plod down to the base I made my way up in blocks of 20, stopping for a quick breather at the end of each block!
|What goes down must go up.|
|Definitely not the stairway to heaven!|
Once through the third and final Check-Point at Worth Matravers (at least this one was situated next to a toilet block that at least afforded those manning it some form of shelter from the elements) I had the sense the end of the run was approaching… Swanage was only about 5k away round the next headland, the back of the race was well and truly broken and this psychological boost lifted my spirits.
Once round Durlston head and across Peveril Point we began our descent to sea level as we reached the outskirts of Swanage and the first extended section of tarmac since leaving the promenade at Weymouth nearly 20 miles back!
Along the promenade we then hit the beach and the energy sapping crossing - which wouldn’t have been so bad except for having to climb over all the groynes that prevent the sand from being pushed off the beach by the sea. Scaling each one of these wooden bastards was excruciating - you had to lift your leg up high to get on to them and feeling the tension and cramping in the hamstrings and quads was agony… Reaching the end of them was an unbelievable relief, although it meant another climb up a flight of steps to get back on to the cliff tops and the end of the final climb of the day… At least it had a rail to hold on to!
Once back on to the wide grassy cliff tops I was able to muster a shuffle, then a jog and soon found myself making good pace once more and running the last few miles in to the finish, passing a few other runners along the way who were completely at the limit of their energy or carrying injuries just as pleased as me to be near the end of the journey.
Watching Old Harry Rocks appear out of the mist was an awesome sight… It had been a long hard day, a real test of endurance for me with the cramping, the weather and the conditions underfoot, but on this final mile mercifully on the downslope I had made it to the headland and ran across the finish line to put my furthest race distance so far in to my legs.
|Old Harry Rocks: The end is nigh!|
Chatting along the way with a couple of other finishers after enough time for a pint the organisers kindly offered the 3 of us a lift back to the parking where the bus had left this morning rather than waiting for the shuttle bus which was a lovely touch… Although by stopping moving after so long my body had begun to do its trick of going in to shock with me getting very cold quickly and shivering uncontrollably - which was difficult to try and keep a lid on to not freak-out those around me!
Back at the van I was able to clean myself up, dry off and crawl in to my sleeping bag for a recovery kip in order to fortify myself for the drive home that was mercifully only a couple of hours as I certainly was not in a position to be driving straight away.
I was fortunate enough that the aftermath of the run was not too severe on my body and I was fully recovered in a couple of days… Living in the same region of the country as the race was held I can now bore everyone when the local weather report is on and physically point out that I have run from ‘here to there’ on their map as they do the daily forecast - something LSS is already tired of. Time-wise I was a bit disappointed in what I recorded, although I was certainly not the last across the line. I was frustrated with my cramping that cost me a good hour in time which meant I was running through the rain for far longer than I could have been and as a knock-on I was affected by the very slippery mud which I think cost me another hour as well.
I have certainly learnt a valuable lesson with my cramping-up as if it has happened the once then the chances are it will happen again in similar circumstances. From now on I will be carrying salt sachets with me in the medical kit and when passing through an aid station where there are crisps I will have a handful, especially if I am having to run in a waterproof in the summer!.. The slippery trail, well there’s nothing I can do about that, except to run faster so I am further along the field and it is less of an issue for me! A case of learn from your mistakes and experience and move-on stronger and more prepared for the future.
Still 46 miles run, my longest distance so far… Happy with that!