Running for the pies

Running for the pies

Sunday, 22 January 2017

May 22nd: Jurassic Quarter

With my tilt at the Lakeland 50 on the last Saturday of July I have built this summer’s racing around a plan of hitting the start line with the best possible chance of getting to the finish line in one piece (and hopefully with a qualifier time for the 100). As such I had booked myself in to two ultras as preparation, the Ultimate Trails 55k which takes me over 55k in the Lake District including some of the same trail the Lakeland 50 covers and the Endurancelife Jurassic Quarter which at 46 miles over the Jurassic Coast takes me as near as dammit to the 50 mile mark in a race.

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.
The only sensible thing to do was for everyone to gather around the leeward side of the toilet block for shelter, packing fairly tight like penguins in the antarctic with everyone donning the waterproofs we were all carrying as part of the compulsory kit and anything else we could to keep us warm and the wind at bay whilst we waited for someone to come and open the toilet block.

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.
Soon the hooter went and we were off in the drizzle and wind along the coastal path heading northwards along the eastern side of the island… After about a mile the first problem for a large chunk of us runners was realised: overheating.

Awaiting the hooter.
Most of us had started wearing a waterproof to keep ourselves dry and protected from the wind as without a waterproof layer you were getting soaked by the rain, with the wind blowing the heat you generated by moving out of you and risking hypothermia… This is understandable when running in the cold winter months, however this is ‘summer’ and the air temperature on the day was about 16 degrees centigrade. The consequences of wearing the waterproof were you trapped all the generated heat inside and began sweating profusely with the effort, in effect getting soaked from the inside-out rather than from the outside in and not cooling off either because of the air temperature… Shedding the waterproof was rapidly becoming a preference for most, with pretty much the entire field having to remove their outer layer as it was just too uncomfortable to be running in and getting wet was the preferable option!

Running away from the Bill.
Passing through the old abandoned quarries on the eastern side of the peninsula with cubes of Portland stone half hewn from the ground and the cliffs, rounding the occasional cove we soon had our first climb of the day up on to the top of the promontory by the prison and the diagonal cut across to the north west of the peninsula before the descent and the crossing of the causeway to the first of the day’s aid station at around 10k.

Through a former quarry.
A remote cove with its lining of beach huts.
The stretch up and over the middle of the peninsula seemed to be a trip between prisons, passing by 2 of them and a Victorian era tunnel rear entrance in to one of them… and the Wallabies we were promised. Up by the prison walls on the very top of the island was a petting zoo which had a pen full of them all gambolling around and playing with one another in the soggy summer morning.

Looking north to the harbour walls as we hit the top.
The wallabies.
Crossing Portland meant we needed to descend to the west of the island and the road off it, which turned out to be in the rain a very slippery treacherous smoothed concrete path overlooking the expanse of Chesil Beach through the murk of the low cloud as it took us all the way from the summit to sea level.

Chesil Beach stretching off in to the murk.
Once at the bottom we hit tarmac that was to be our companion for the next 10k or so, starting with a run past the Sailing Centre and the first aid station of the day before an extended blast at sea level all the way through Weymouth.

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.

Cracking cliff!
Reaching the top of the cliffs I joined with David, a local fella running the race, sharing a few miles over the undulations chatting about various races and challenges undertaken and on the bucket list… It was whilst chatting that I realised how it was a struggle to keep going with cramp spreading all the way through my right hamstring, then right calf and beginning on the left side as well.

Onwards in to the sea-mist rolling over the cliff tops.
We reached the next aid station and a compulsory equipment check just before the start of the particularly fiendish undulations on the way to Lulworth. This came at precisely the wrong time for me as having to stop for my pack to be examined for all the mandatory items my legs began to lock-up. I attempted to massage them and apply ‘deep heat’ to try and get them going again, but it was not happening.

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.
Waddling from the aid station I slowly I made my way over the stunning cliff-top hills to Lulworth, all the while moving backwards through the field as most of the solo runners overtook me along with the entire relay field of pairs and foursomes… Eventually Lulworth village hoved in to view and I descended to the aid station marking the halfway point and my drop bag with its manna from heaven of salted peanuts… Wincing audibly I sat down and devoured handful after handful of them savouring the salty goodness. I necked a can of Red Bull that was also in the bag in an attempt to kick-start my ‘va-va-voom’ and stuffed the other 2 in to my back pack.

Looking down on the 'Dor in passing.
From sitting on the floor I attempted to stand and found the pain had not yet subsided as the electric bolts of it fired their way down my legs… After much oohing and aahing I managed to get on to my feet and get going again, acutely aware of the fact no-one seemed to come in to the aid station behind me over the 15 minutes or so I had been there. I anticipated I had lost at least one hour on this 10k stretch from the aid station to the check point with this enforced lingering costing me even more.

The descent in to Lulworth & the halfway point.
I cajoled myself onwards and miraculously by the time I was across Lulworth Cove and the climb on to the ranges the pain was subsiding to the point it was no longer making me yelp occasionally.

The evil hill climb on to the ranges and in to the fog.
This section is very familiar as the next 10k or so from here to Kimmeridge are identical to the CTS Dorset course, so I was well and truly prepared for the monster climbs up to and over the firing range… What I was not prepared for was once on top of the range was I had ascended in to thick fog… In summer! I blundered along the course, catching a couple of runners who were taking it slow in the reduced visibility. Chatting merrily we wandered along until we suddenly heard voices coming towards us in the fog. ‘We’re off course, we’ve taken the wrong turn’… At this point I realised that we were descending slightly inland towards the abandoned village of Tyneham rather than keeping tight to the cliff-tops. I knew you could keep going on this route then tab round to the right to catch the course again, and I also knew exactly where we made the wrong turn, which was less than a 1/4 mile back up the hill, so I turned-round with everyone and we made our way back on to the course and the ups and downs on the correct route towards Kimmeridge… It was about a mile later that the moisture in the fog turned in to drizzle, then rain, then heavy rain.

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 up on the other side around the next inlet we passed the Commando Memorial and rounded St. Alban’s Head, the most southerly point of the Purbeck Peninsula. The trail was now well and truly churned-up and the clay soil had been turned in to a slick that could not be run over, especially for us back-markers following in the steps of those who have already ploughed through it. All you could do was try and run or speed-hike on the little bits of grass on the sides and attempt to remain upright, seeing the marks in the mud where people had slid, fallen and landed, sometimes several different people within a metre or so. Boy was it a slow drawn-out miserable trudge, unable to look up a lot of the time with the rain driving into your face and progress was very slow!

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!
Crossing the finish line I had a medal hung round my neck with congratulations and was directed towards the pub in Studland, where the event finish was based, the half mile walk acting as a warm-down and relief of the knowledge that a pint and hot food was waiting for all who wanted it.

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!

Eat pies.
Drink beer.
Run far.

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