Since I started trail running I had wanted to get signed up for one of Coastal Trail Series’ events. They are run at several locations along the UK coastline, and usually include a 10k, half marathon, marathon and ultra course. They are also very popular, often selling out many months in advance, so this year I booked a place on CTS Dorset Marathon as soon as I could.
Booking on the Dorset marathon, which was to take place on 6 December 2014, was a bit of a gamble for me, firstly because it was a marathon (and I have not yet run one), secondly because it had a LOT of vertical metres to ascend (and descend) – around 1,500m, and finally because it was in DECEMBER and could have been incredibly cold, wet and muddy. However I didn’t have much choice as the other events closer to home had either already sold out or taken place so I thought I’d give this one a go. Plus, there would be stunning scenery.
As it turned out, race day was the most beautiful, perfect December day you could wish for – a blue sky, crisp and dry weather, but not too cold or windy: a great start!
The race check-in process was slick and well-organised, with chip timing and the free T-shirt and Clif Bar given out at the same time. Somehow someone else had already checked in with my race chip, but getting an alternative chip assigned to me was no problem – it must happen often!
The race start was fairly relaxed; I wasn’t going to be chasing down a great time – my objectives for the day were to just enjoy myself and try and finish the course before it got dark! Having admittedly not done a huge amount training in terms of going longer distances with many metres of ascent, I was unsure whether I would indeed get around the course before it got dark. As we started at 9am, this gave me until around 4.30pm ie 7.5 hours to finish the course. To put this into context, the average female time for this marathon course was 6h10 – a bit longer than your average flat road marathon!
The course runs a figure of eight out along the coastline west from Lulworth Cove, up and down the cliffside, before running back in-land, crossing over the central start area in Lulworth Cove, and then out along the coast to the east and back again inland. The first 5k were tough – mostly uphill right from the start! After about 7k the pack of marathon runners had spread out and I was running with a couple of others at a comfortable pace. I got chatting to one runner, Gerry, who has run many marathons and helped keep me motivated by assuring me that our relatively slow pace would mean we start to make up time later in the course as others were likely to tire. I kept up with Gerry until around 12-15k when we merged with the later-starting half marathon runners. It was from then that the going got really tough for me.
Starting to suffer
I lost sight of Gerry and found myself being overtaken by around 200 half marathon runners. This was really demoralising and also quite hard work on some of the single tracks and climbs where I needed to step aside frequently to let others pass. This in itself was quite tiring, and I also found that my stash of cakes and energy drink did not really do much to keep my energy levels at a suitable level – so I started flagging, walking all of the uphills and some of the steeper downhills on the cliffsides. Most people walked them, but it was particularly slow-going for me. The aid stations didn’t really help either, as by the time I got to them there was only water and gummy sweets and I had really hoped for some gels or more substantial snacks.
Making a tough call
When I got to around 22k I projected my finish time would be after 4pm and getting dark – still within the race cut-off, but I knew I wasn’t going to get any quicker and didn’t much fancy another 4 or so hours of running at that point. It was at a particularly low moment when hiking up one of the cliffs that my husband called from the next water stop at around 27k – he was getting leg cramps (through a similar nutrition fail!) and wanted to know if I’d had enough.
It wasn’t an easy decision for me to drop out of the race at 27k – however I had promised myself a great day out, and having been going over 4 hours and getting slower and slower I decided that I would call it a day at the water stop.
It wasn’t the ideal end to my race but I am comfortable with my decision and have a great respect for anyone who progressed to complete it, especially if it took them more than 7 hours, as it would have done for me. I was happy to stop running with no major physical issues – my feet were a little sore, and I had a niggly hip and ITB rub on the side of my knee, but nothing I didn’t expect – so I am seeing this as a positive, that I was back in running condition within a couple of days of the event, and didn’t damage anything. Having said this who knows how much worse they would have got over another 3-4 hours on the go!
I’m signed up to another trail marathon in March, and I’m determined to finish that one, so watch this space…