Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Monday, 9 May 2016

6th December: CTS Dorset

There is nothing happier on this fair planet than a dog with its head out the window of a moving car, and today I managed to experience exactly why they enjoy it so much, complete with jowls flapping in the wind!… Yep, today was a little bit on the blowy side to say the least!

The Coastal Trail Series Dorset marathon course is rated as a 5/5 difficulty and labelled ‘Extreme’ by the organisers Endurancelife.  This has to be one of my favourite courses out there: Yes its hard, but it also rewards you with the beauty of the views the tricky nature of the course throws your way.

Underfoot the course never seems to be too heavy-going even after prolonged bad weather with the majority of it covering the grass-covered chalk cliffs of the area which drain well and the only mud really to be found is the crossing of a farmer’s field at the most easterly point of the route… Rather than overcoming slippery conditions underfoot, the difficulty of this course is found in getting up and down the very steep and numerous cliff hills along the way.

Over the preceding week we had been warned by the Met Office about gale-force winds blowing-in that would make life interesting on exposed parts of the south coast, but at least it was forecast to stay dry for the duration, although with it supposed to be overcast all day and with the shortest day approaching, light may prove to be an issue for any late finishers on the marathon, with those in the ultra & ultra plus, bar the quickest in the field all but guaranteed a finish in darkness.

All registered in the simple quick, effective and painless Endurancelife ‘conveyor belt’ manner, I joined the throng awaiting the start in the relative shelter of Lulworth Cove, although the howl of the wind on the hills above could already be heard even from down where we were!

The upwards procession from Lulworth.
Off and running - or should that be hiking - up the steep ascent from the start line to the cliff-tops, we were soon exposed to the delights of the wind - blowing consistently strong the whole time, with gusts that forced you to a near standstill as you advanced in the face of it.

Looking back on passing the 'Dor
Scaling the first hill everyone was forced to tighten-up any loose clothing flapping in the persistent wind to prevent it from creating progression-hindering drag. At least we found shelter on the steep uphills as the ground shielded us from the onslaught, which kind of made you look forward to them for a change! Soon we had passed Durdle Dor, squinting to stare at the beautiful rock and its cove as your eyes struggled to stay open in the blast of the wind… Which was so strong on the way down the hills that it was physically blowing me off balance: I would line-up a step only to have the wind take me - all 15 stone of this idiot - and blow me a couple of inches sideways whilst airborne in mid stride, so my foot was landing away from where I would expect it to be. The problem was it was not consistent, as if it was you would simply aim a set distance to the side and land where you expect every time, but with the wind varying in speed and gusts you did not know how much you would be moved and trying to get your foot to land in a rutted track just over a foot-width wide was tricky and required a lot of concentration!

A good 10k of these to conquer!
After my experience on the Gower last time out with the wind driving rain and severely impairing visibility, I have decided to add another item to my kit to help me see in such conditions. With the tint on my sunnies too strong to be useful for seeing clearly in overcast conditions, I realised the clear lensed cycling glasses I use for night riding (which allow me to keep my eyes open and look at the road whilst protecting them from foreign bodies and the slipstream) would be perfect! So at one point where the wind was picking-up sand off the ground and blowing it into our faces I made the decision to stop, get them out of my pack and put them on; and immediately I began to scamper past those forced to slow-down with their hands in front of their eye to protect them.

The slow upwards slog.
This run from the start to the furthest westerly point of the course was an absolute hoot, and with the turn inland to the first checkpoint gave us some wooded shelter and a bit of respite before heading back to Lulworth a little higher up on the cliff-top ridge but now with the wind behind us. The mostly grassy undulating trail culminated with its sharp descent to the start line, with the added fun of the wind trying to blow you down the hill which felt like having two hands on your back pushing you downwards… This meant leaning back as much as you could but at the same time not altering your centre of balance so much that your feet slid out in front of you putting you on your arse on the very steep slope down to the visitor centre!

Along here I was blown sideways mid-air :)
About to descend to the visitor centre.
A trip around the shore of the cove itself and we were climbing up on to the cliffs and across the firing range… and the most evil hill of hills that is by far the biggest of these beasts on the whole Coastal Trail Series! The ascent was not as bad as my previous times through having the welcome assistance of the wind at our backs, so much so that as you approached the summit and the gradient levelled-off, the strength of it forced you in to a run over the final few metres… All well and good except after those final few metres is a barbed-wire fence with a narrow gate in it, so you had to aim for it whilst trying to slow down so as not to find yourself unwittingly blown on to the barbed wire.

Around Lulworth Cove itself.
A small respite was to be found on the flat cliff summit, being blown on our way from the wind at our backs roaring past our ears like a jet engine, passing the derelict tanks on the firing range before hitting the next of the hills. All the half marathoners were out here at the same time as us marathoners and going up and down the peaks was a steady procession of runners, each watching the other being buffeted in the winds, trying to get a clue as to how to deal with the conditions, sometimes nearly being blown over as they went, groups of people moving tightly-packed together trying to utilise fellow runners as wind-breaks with plenty of shouted conversations and laughter to be heard.

'That' hill!
This section has a series of steep ups and downs punctuated by the third checkpoint and its welcome respite, before continuing a couple more miles eastward over farmland to the edge of Kimmeridge Bay with its nodding donkey pumping the oil and our turn for home.

Another tricky descent!
Crossing the muddy farmer’s field, we turned from the wind at our backs to being hit broadside, to being blown backwards again as we ascended on to the coastal ridge and a dawning realisation that this return was going to be fun as the wind ripped in to us once more… A good 7 miles of slog in to the relentless blast that was strengthening as the day went on.

It was a case of safety specs on again, lean in to wind and make as quick a pace as I could. The downhills were very amusing being almost blown back up them, allowing you to lean ridiculously far forwards without losing balance; the blast so strong as to catch your cheeks and blow them out. At times I was struggling to breath with the force of the wind at my mouth so had to cup a hand over my face as I went to cope better.  Along the ridge and over the hills, another respite was offered with our descent from the ridges north side towards the abandoned village of Tyneham, mercifully affording us some more shelter. although the pay-back was the long slow ascent to the final aid station, the most exposed of the day, and the last leg to the finish line.

Counting the bumps to the finish.
From the aid station we were back on to the ridge and the rest of the course to the finish was laid out to see before us. Scanning the horizon for the finish it was a case of working-out how many ‘bumps’ were needed to be traversed till the final descent in to the cove and the finish.

Cloud descending onto us blown in on the gale.
Eventually I made it to the line, exhausted but having loved every step, in what today was a proper battle with the elements… My time was not too hot, but hey, today was not about that as these CTS races are not flat-track PB routes, it was about getting to the end in one piece and enjoying yourself as much as you could along the way! Just a few hours away from the mundanity of a daily life out there jogging in interesting conditions and some cracking scenery. No music on today's run again either as the sound of the wind would have drowned-out everything and you needed to have total concentration for extended periods of time.

Damned sight more than '39 Steps'.
Leading to the Cove below.
Upon returning home and some homemade burgers, I looked-up the wind speeds for Lulworth out of curiosity and they were recording gusts in the mid seventies mph throughout the time we were on the course!.. I hope the weather calms-down in time for my final marathon of the year down in Portsmouth in a couple of weeks.

As a rule I don't normally 'do' selfies, as these runs are about the landscape in which I am plodding, but I couldn't resist: as you can see in this very unflattering image, I'm doing my impersonation of a dog with its head out of the car window with my jowls flapping away inflated by the wind!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.


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