The Endurance Life Dorset Ultra was my first ultra-marathon and what a whirlwind experience it was. The course on the Jurassic Coast and follows large sections of the South West Coastal Path going past Durdle Door. The climbs along the path are brutal, both steep and long. Being at the beginning of December, getting nice, hot sunny weather was definitely out of the question. It was always going to be a tough one.
Endurance Life is a well-established racing company in the UK. They are well known for picking tough courses in beautiful locations. The race was well organised with plenty of marshals and feed stations along the route. As is with many of these races, it did however lack some of variety in the food available but that is why I carry a few essentials to keep me going.
I drove down in my van the night register. It took roughly 3 hours to drive from Bristol, the thought of doing that before the event was quickly ruled out. The days coming into the event were dry and sunny. That was not what I experienced during the event. Constant heavy rain & strong on shore winds were the grim reality.
Upon arrival, I registered, picked up my race number and then jumped back in my van. I parked in the corner of the event car park where I stayed the night. The evening was spent preparing my race kit, eating (carb loading essentials) and listening to Terry Pratchett audio books. Feeling full, warm and cosy I got to sleep in good time but that didn’t last long. The forecasted rain and wind came with a vengeance. Being inside a small van, the sound was deafening even with ear buds in. When the morning came, if I said I was well rested, I would have been lying. No point crying over spilt milk, I was here to race!!
While the rain continued to lash down, I wolfed down my breakfast, got my kit on and headed to the briefing tent. I dropped a sandwich at the marathon point where I could “resupply” before continuing the ultra. I then squeezed into the briefing tent with the other Ultra runners all huddling out of the rain. There was a lot of morose faces in the gazebo looking out at the horrendous conditions, but it became humorous seeing more and more people trying to find space in the dry. A quick brief later we filed out to the start line. 10, 9, 8…. 3, 2, 1 and I was off.
At the beginning there was a steep climb and having learnt from past events, I always take it easy at first to ensure I don’t burn out later. The rain combined with my warming body caused my glasses quickly steamed up in the first few kilometres. This rendered them completely useless so for the rest of the event I ran with my impaired vision. We don’t do these things because they’re easy though right?
The entire course felt like constant ascending and descending making it impossible to set into a steady tempo. The elevation profile can be seen in the GPX file above, it was even more savage as it looks!
The first 10 km follow the coast and then head in land before returning to the race HQ by the half marathon point. The unrelenting rain and wind had bitten through every item of clothing making it very tempting to call it a day, especially as I could hear the music of the race HQ.
To make matters worse, the South West Coastal path follows a stunning part of the country. The views are breath taking and for the most part I could see nothing. The first past of Durdle Door the clouds passed enough to give a great view but as the race went on, the conditions deteriorated further.
None the less, I ignored the decision to stop and continued onto the second section which heads down the coastal path in the opposite direction. At stages in the poor visibility I was running totally alone, unable to pick out another runner through the fog. Isolation can let the mental demons play but I kept them at bay.
The combination of heavy rain and the participants in the event running the course meant the ground was obliterated. This made what should have been quick descents, torturously slow. The ground was churned into slick mud which needed to be navigated with care. It was an extraordinary sight; runners spread wide across the hills, zig zagging down, others sliding on backs and bums. It felt so chaotic but down we went.
After reaching the 30 km mark, again I headed inland and then turned back towards the race HQ again along the side of the Ministry of Defence site in Lulworth.
At 45 km I was back at the HQ, soaked through to the skin, legs burning and feeling massively fatigued. The course being this way, an out and back followed by another out and back made it very mentally challenge. I am used to doing big loops which means that you can’t get back to the start without finishing. This made escaping the course temptingly easy.
I devoured my sandwich that I had left in the morning, grateful to eat real food for the first time in many hours. I swapped my socks, in hindsight this was pointless as they went straight into wet shoes, but it gave a mental boost, and then I departed again. This time, the final 10 km was along a section of the first loop.
This section was soul destroying. I felt that the turn around point was just over the next hill, but it never seemed to come. I caught up with a runner who I had chatted to earlier on in the race and we continued to plod our way up the wet slopes until finally we reached the turnaround point.
5 km left!!
These 5 km were the most enjoyable of the entire race. We ran together the entire way back without stopping, spurred on by the thought of the finish line being so close. The sound of the race HQ music getting louder and louder. Then through the fog. the finish came into sight. We ran through together and celebrated our successes!!
I ran my first Ultra-marathon in the worst conditions I have done a race in and on a particularly brutal course. A total of 55 km of endless rain, strong wind and with poor visibility but a success. I completed the course in 7 hours and 31 minutes.
Tired, aching, wet but I felt like a champion.
The lessons learnt from this race was to ditch the gels and sweets. Reliance on sugary food for ultras give me indigestion which is uncomfortable when running. I always carry a couple as “get out of jail free cards” but having real food; nuts, sandwiches, fruit, etc, helps me so much along the way. I can then pack in a wider variety of carbohydrates and nutrients. By no means am I a professional runner but this works for me. And bagels with peanut butter and Nutella are an evil combination which can make you feel better even when you aren’t running!!
To note: I moustache for Movember. A lesson learnt is to never repeat this again….